Art by Sara Stites
1. Any plant or animal of abnormal shape or structure, as one greatly malformed or lacking some parts. Webster's Unabridged Dictionary 1979
NOLITE JUDICARE ET NON JUDICABIMINI
Thus read the inscription on the architrave of the post-and-lintel entrance to the Contemporary Art Academy.
"Excuse me, madam," I asked the receptionist when I entered, "can you direct me to the monstrous art exhibit?"
"You know, the hairy body parts, the monsters, hairy limbs and gashed-open torsos assembled into monsters by one of your resident artists. I saw an article on her in Contemporary Visual Thinking this month.”
"Oh, you mean this," she responded, handing me a brochure.
"That's them, the monsters."
"They're not monsters," she icily countered.
"Not monsters? What do you mean? This one - I pointed at a photo on the brochure - has two hairy hands and one bare hand, extending from the bottom of the torso, like three feet, and this cavity at the top looks like a huge menstruating vagina where a neck and head would normally preside - maybe the head and neck is inside the chest, or maybe this is the result of a sex-change operation. And look at this - the belly has long black hair. I think this is some kind of monster, really."
"You have no right to say that," sneered the receptionist with an haughty "the customer is always wrong" expression.
"Oh, excuse me, I meant no offense, but the lady's work seems monstrous, that's what attracted me to it."
"You have to ask her what it is. Only she knows if it is a monster or not."
"I have a dictionary. I know what a monster is."
"I said you have to ask the artist what it is. Only she knows."
"Only artists know what their subjects are? Only they can define them?" I generalized.
"Yes," she firmly replied.
"Are you an artist?"
"I am a Contemporary artist," she proudly responded, and handed me her own flyer, on which appeared a photograph of a series of miniature megaliths, free-standing, post-and-lintel structures ala Stonehenge, but laid out facing one another on a curved line, like dominos ready to fall, each one with a little drape hanging from its lintel.
"I see," I observed. "So you're a contemporary artist. I'm glad you're alive. Do you paint?"
"No, I specialize in installations."
"Cable? Venetian blinds? Balloons? Boxes? Urinals? Fans? How about drapes?"
"Just kidding. I thought you might have a sense of humor."
"You are being judgmental," she scornfully adjudged.
"Well, thanks for your judgment. Really, I didn't mean any harm. In fact, I was not aware of how the term, installations, was used in the art world, not until I saw an enormous building draped in Germany. I asked how long it would be closed for the fumigation, and was told it was an art installation. So when drapes were installed in Central Park, I knew what was going on. "
"That's not funny."
"Excuse me for speaking my mind, but I think art is dead if its nature is the private property of the artist. Art does not exist at the height of subjectivity. There is no such thing as an absolutely unique individual or work of art. Art is a social activity, and there are certain standards or objective principles...."
"There are no objective principles. These things are useless to discuss, a waste of time," the Contemporary artist interjected.
"Then your art has no value, for value is socially determined by the development of principles to which artists conform. Master artists in the cultural centers and their critics develop the standards, standards that require discriminating judgment, at least in the fine arts. Criticism derived from the development of praise and blame is essential to civilization and its art."
"Criticism? Blame? There is nothing right or wrong about any art. I like art," she added.
"Hey, I like art too, some of it more than the rest. "
"I like everything," she responded, pursing her lips.
"Thus is everything justified and liked and permitted. Yes," I went on sardonically," every judge is justified in every judgment, justified in awarding every prize, for one work is as good as another. Everything is subjective, everyone is different and looks at things differently, everything is equal in respect to subjectivity, therefore everything is essentially not worth discussing at all, or, if you please, absolutely worthless, and...."
"You're judgmental. I don't want to talk about it!" she snapped like a turtle and turned her back on me.
"But where are the monsters? I want to see the artist."
"Why?" she turned and glanced sideways at me as she shuffled some papers.
"I found an artifact on the beach, proving that man is really a square - a dysfunctional, square watch that she might want to put on one of the monster's hairy wrists."
"Humph! She wouldn't want that, she's an artist!"
"Excuse me, I am not looking for an argument. Let the artist speak for herself."
"She's in Studio 325. Good bye."
It was obvious to me that I had entered the Contemporary Art Academy on the wrong foot, so I went outside and sat down to meditate for a while in the sunlight. I should have known that flattery will get you everywhere in the popularity business. One must maintain a positive outward attitude at all times. Only complimentary remarks should be made, whether sincerely said or not. At the very least, one must say "interesting", or "cool", or "original", or "unique", or, if you are old-fashioned and at loss for other words, "nice." And it was with that in mind that I re-entered the building and headed towards Studio 325.