A half dozen art critics stood around a naked white canvas perched at an angle below the empty wall space where one would have expected it to hang. They closely examined the piece, some bending down, some squatting and some taking a knee to get a closer look. It was the opening day of a hot new artist’s exhibit featuring a variety of works in multiple mediums from oil paintings, to papier mâché sculptures, to collages rendered from a multitude of objects and some smaller pieces that appeared to have been made by particularly sadistic children dipping salamanders, frogs, and worms in paint until nearly drowned and then setting them loose on a blank canvas to regale the world with the colorful renderings of their final death throes. This particular non-painting, however, had attracted the crowd of experts not only for its starkness, but also by its placement, as they hotly debated its meaning.
“It is obviously social commentary on the desperate isolation each human being faces in life,” claimed critic number one in a voice dripping with self-assured gravity intermixed with an obviously fake English accent.
“Yes,” said the second critic. “But it is much more than just that. Take a close look at the placement of the paint—off center, near the lower-right corner or the canvas, a single irregular dot. And take a closer look at that dot under even the low magnification of my loupe. It is not a dot of black paint. Despite its diminutive size, the artist has managed to imbue it with at least four distinct colors that I can detect—a remarkable achievement in itself. Can’t you feel the metaphorical oppressive weight of the cosmos on that dot representing our collective humanity? The skewed display of the canvas at an angle, weighing down on the subject makes that patently clear.” This voice from a woman in an incredibly tight red dress that seemed painted on her, spoken through blood-red lips enhanced via collagen injections to a perpetual pout.
“No, no, NO. You are missing the point. Look carefully at the subject—the irregular dot in its asymmetric, three-dimensional rendering is nothing but a cancer cell. This is not a comment on isolation or oppression, but rather a statement about humanity’s cancerous existence on the face of the earth. Notice how the canvas rests unhung from its prepared place of honor on the wall—it represents the decline and inevitable fall of our world because of humanity’s destructive impact—climate change, over-population, strip mining, deforestation of our rain forests, unchallenged industrialization, automobiles, all contributing to the ultimate destruction of our world. Can’t you all see that? It is as plain as can be,” opined critic number three, in a voice reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard. The diminutive man dressed in a manner reminiscent of Woodstock with long, greasy, uncombed hair and the smell of too-long unwashed jeans emanating from his squatting form punctuated his comments in a thin voice rising to a nearly inaudible crescendo in keeping with his righteous agitation.
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