Living Art

by Ava Baluyut Barraza

     “Art is truly dead!”
     “Geez-us, there you go again! I mean, it's the first piece!”
     “What do you mean, ‘There I go, again?’ ”
     “There you go again with your bloated absolutes and poisoning cynicism! Ugh! Sorry...”
     “I like that! Did you come up with that on your own?”
     “Bloated absolutes and poisoning cynicism?”
     “Nah, I think I read it online...about Hitler.”
     “Whoa! Comparing me to Hitler…”
     “I'm sorry! It's just you make me so mad sometimes.”
     “Never be sorry for honest criticism, especially if it's true. Besides, I'm pretty much bulletproof.”
     “Still, sorry.”
     “Ahhh, that sound—it's driving me insane!”
     “I think that's the point.”
     “To drive me insane?”
     “To make you feel something…”
     “It makes me feel like kicking a puppy. Art should be beautiful, or at least pleasant!”
     “Oh my gosh! Who says? Art can be anything!”
     “And that is why art's dead. We've debased it so much that now it can literally be elephant shit smeared all over the Virgin Bloody Mary.”
     “But, how does that make you feel?”
     “I hated it! It was sick and stupid...meaningless...and...”
     “Angry! Yeah, just like this thing is doing to me right now!”
     “Then, it’s art!”
     “This is art? Explain this to me. How does this make you feel?”
     “Well, let’s see. I feel...sad. The giant misshapen blob is holding on for dear life. It is being kept alive by that machine that keeps pumping air into it...”
     “…only for the machine to turn off and the poor blob is left gasping for air.”
     “Oooohhhh! So, the blob is art?”
     “And it's gasping for life? Therefore, it is a metaphor for art being dead!”
     “Surviving, but not dead!”
     The hallway was filled with birds—painted birds, taxidermy birds, and a giant bird made of twigs. I wasn’t quite sure what the artist’s viewpoint was, but it made me anxious. I felt like one of those birds at that moment. They were all in different flight poses—free—but ironically, trapped in position in this building. It was an illusion of freedom, but with about as much freedom as a balloon in a pin factory. We separated for a moment. I walked towards the section of Impressionism, a style I gravitated to because of its improvisation of reality. It’s “jazz on a canvas,” I heard it described, once.
     “Hey! Come over here! You have to see this!” a loud booming voice filled every available airspace. I followed the voice to the pop art room. “Look at this! What do you think about this?”
     “I like it! The colors are bold and the scattered subjects remind me of watching a dozen television shows all at once—sort of sensory overload!”
     “I love it!”
     “You love it? Wow!” Love’s such a cheap word, though. One could use it to quantify a strong affection towards a child or to describe a fondness for Pop-Tarts.
     “What is it that you love?”
     “It's a Rauschenberg!”
     “Yeah! I see the little tag says that.”
     “You keep saying that like it's supposed to mean something to me.”
     “Well, doesn't it?”
     “It's the artist.”
     “Yeah. Don't you understand? This painting is worth, like twenty to fifty million dollars!”
     “You went to art school, you have a Fine Arts degree, and all you can say when you look at this painting is that it’s worth millions of dollars?”
     “What do you want me to say? That it breaks down the aesthetic barriers between the exalted and the everyday that helped pave the way for pop, conceptual, and minimalist art.?”
     “Yes! Yes! My God, yes!”
     “That’s all bullshit! All art school ever taught me was how to say things like that. Instead of actually teaching me how to be a better artist, I was taught a vocabulary list! Bahhh! Honestly kiddo, when I look at this, I see twenty to fifty million dollars and I’m pissed by my lack of ambition and ability to play the part of the artist. All artists are frauds!”
     “Yeah, no, I can't! I can't go there. If I did, I would never pick up a pencil and draw, ever again.”
     “Oh! Oh, shit! Yeah, I'm sorry! Sorry, I guess my lack of ambition has turned me into a major asshole! I guess when I walk around a place like this, I’m reminded that I failed and I get so jealous and resentful.”
     “But, you had a wonderful life—a crazy life…the life any artist would want.”
     “Sure, thanks for trying to give me some perspective, kid.”
With that we exited the large sterile hall and back into nature—God's art gallery, replete with real bird sounds, not simulated and played via tiny hidden speakers, real trees, not paper leaves and Styrofoam trunks, real sky, not spotlights with colored filters, and real people. I admired God as an artist. All we could ever accomplish was the illusion of this magnificence, but that's what motivates artists. How close to being creators could we get?
     “It is in its imperfection that we find art’s beauty.”
     “Wait, whaaaaat? What was that?”
     “It was my artist statement in college. That was what I was trying to create—beauty found in the imperfection of trying to achieve God.”
     I thought to myself, I'd seen the work. It's made up of poor unfortunate creatures composed of one part human, one part organic material, and the rest, technology. “The imperfect God?”
We found a place to sit—in the middle of a fantasy world. It was an imitation of what artists wanted ancient China to look like. It was beautiful, but in a way, vulgar, not that vulgarity was bad. I liked vulgarity. Art was artificial and vulgar. Places like this fascinated me because it stretched the boundaries of art. It was made up of twists and redirections of nature to the whim of the artist in order to create interactive pieces–living art! I realized how artificial life itself we were all twists and redirections of our own creation in order to fulfill the whims of...
     “Oh my gosh! Hello there, cutie!”
     “Wow, she really likes you! She never goes up to anyone.”
     “AAAWWWWW! I like you, too! Yes, I do!” Generally, animals didn’t care for me, probably because they sensed my fear from being attacked by a dog when I was three. It wasn't a big dog and it wasn't much of an attack, but for some reason, it scarred me.
     “Wow! Is that okay? She never licks anyone! Anyone! Including me! I wonder what it is? Maybe she knew you in a past life!”
     And there it was. The sign I had been looking for. I'd been looking for this beast for five years, and here she was! We had a dog, Jasmine. She was around even before I was born. Like a typical older sister, she ignored me and, out of fear, I didn’t bond with her very much. Once she was gone, I was filled with pangs of regret—dull, but persistent. It caused me to search for her in her next life, so that I could say how sorry I was. I was sorry that I didn’t love her the way I could’ve. I was sorry I squandered my time with her. I was sorry. “I'm sorry,” I whispered to her. In that moment, my mind captured the scene and washed it over with a hazy glow of muted hues, just like a Polaroid.
     “Oh! I'm sorry! She just got carried away! I just never seen her so happy. Let's go Jonie! Come on!”      He pulled me out of my instant memory. And, she was off. See you again in the next life! I missed      Jasmine–her little waddle and her coat that smelled like a Las Vegas seafood buffet.
     “Hey, can you tell me more about reincarnation?”
     “Sure, what do you want to know?”
     “What happens after we die? I mean, how does it all work—the way we come back and all?”
     “Whoa, hell if I know, kid! All I know is, we do.”
     “But, how do you know?”
     “Well, I believe in the first law of Thermodynamics, ‘Energy is neither created nor destroyed.’ I believe after death, the energy once flowing through our bodies does not disappear, but is simply rearranged. How it will be rearranged is a mystery.”
     “Doesn't that not knowing scare the crap out of you?”
     “Yeah, but only ten to twelve times a day. The rest of the time, I'm kinda happy.”