Beyond Words

This nonsense brings back a powerful memory.

One morning during my Junior year of college, my sculptor professor, a scruffy-looking curmudgeonly man, who also happens to be one of the most well-spoken individuals on the topic of art I’ve ever met in real life, led our small group through the art building’s court yard area.

We must have been doing a class critique of some student work, when we came across an old, torn-up mattress that had been abandoned next to the art building and seemingly staged for display. On it somebody left a piece of paper with some words scrawled on it.

“This is art. Smell my fart.”

For a minute, I saw the stunt for what it appeared to be on the surface–a prank begotten of laziness, opportunity, and a few too many beers by some asshole fraternity members wanting to get rid of some old junk–and I probably even chuckled to myself at the culprit’s audacity.

But as I stood there debating the delivery of a sardonic comment that never came, it soon sunk in that this was something of a test for me.

At that time, I had just begun accepting the fact that I would be dedicating part of my life to making art, or at the very least something of creative value for others and myself. And here were people telling me how worthless it all was–belittling my peers, my institution, and what I thought at the time was my purpose. In fact, they were willfully acting out against the idea of art itself and I couldn’t help but to take it personally. At the peak of this moment of college self-discovery, I knew there could only one side for me to stand.

When my professor read the note, he didn’t seem surprised. But his disappointment couldn’t be contained either. He later recalled to us his own story of a public sculpture piece he created as a young artist, which repeatedly fell victim to a local vandal.

“That’s when I learned,” he said in his usual deadpan, “that some people can’t handle creative expression. They’re so intolerant of any point of view that they don’t understand or simply don’t agree with, that they’ll try to destroy it.”

This unrehearsed bit of wisdom still resonates with me today. It reminds me to expect the unexpected. And it helps me understand that creative expression can sometimes speak powerful words to people who are too closed minded to simply sit back and listen.