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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Otis The King, parts 1527 - 1530

1527. They had other skills besides acting, these including poaching farm animals, grave robbing, and if nothing else would suffice, outright highway robbery, although this was not resorted to except in dire necessity. But from the instant Otis grabbed the fish pie, their road became paved with gold. Where they went they were expected. They no longer passed the hat around, there was an admission charge and their audiences were anxious to pay.

1528. Otis was a wolf, that we know, but he shared certain feelings and ambitions common to people, one of which was creative ambition. I do not know if everyone has an instinctive desire do something creative, but certainly many people do. A person my have a half-finished novel or the outline of a play in the back of their desk. A lifetime may go by and that novel or that play may never be touched or even looked at.

1529. And yet that barely started creative effort may be very important, more important to its owner than anything else they have ever done. How many times I have seen a person grow old, be diagnosed with a terminal illness, be give six months to live, and then lo-and-behold, that manuscript finally comes out of the desk where it has waited a lifetime to be resumed.

1530. Assuredly, the author almost never adds even two words to the text. He looks at it and immediately begins to daydream about what fame would feel like. He pictures himself at a podium giving a talk at some famous university, after having received a literary prize. These images come easily to him, but the first sentences of chapter 2 are nowhere to be found in the recesses of his imagination.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Otis The King, parts 1523 - 1526

1523. What pathetic skits, he thought to himself. He bided his time, waiting for the exact right moment the next time the fish pie skit was enacted. The husband and wife are arguing. The son has not yet intervened. Very slowly, creeping along on his stomach, on stage comes Otis. He crawls across the stage in the direction of the fish pie, but constantly pauses and looks around cautiously.

1524. Finally, at the height of the argument, he stretches out his neck, and snatches the fish pie off the table and bounds out of the imaginary door. The comedians, unaware anything has happened, run through the skit to the end, only to stagger around in amazement finding the fish pie has disappeared.

1525. At the moment the fish pie is snatched, the audience erupted in uncontrollable laughter. Only later did the troupe realize what had happened. So the three of them set to work, patiently to teach Otis to repeat his actions in the skit on command. Teaching Otis to act his part of the skit he had re-written for them did not proved difficult. 

1526. At the very moment that Otis snatched the pie from the table and the audience erupted in laughter, the lives of our wandering comedians was transformed in every detail. The road they had traveled for many years had been a desperate one. Their profession, indistinguishable from begging in many ways, often had to be augmented by activities none of them would have been willing to talk about.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Otis The king, parts 1519 - 1522

1519. The husband gets more and more angry, and the third character, playing the role of the son, is trying to drag his father away from his mother. The scene builds to a climax, and the fish pie falls on to the floor. The fact that the pie falls on the floor is the entire point of the skit, and the mirth is provided only by the extreme horror of the actors at the sight.

1520. That fish pie fell on the floor to the horror of the spectators, approximately a thousand years ago. The description of the event, and the laughter it produced is not possible to understand at the present time. Eyes and ears trained and attuned to the entertainments we have at our disposal, are simply deaf and dumb to what it was that put tears in the eyes of uneducated peasants living in a benighted time.

1521. Take for example the very words “fish pie,” what do those two words mean to you and I. Something in the freezer compartments of a supermarket? If it falls on the floor, take another out of the freezer. But a thousand years ago, fish had to be found. You can see where this line of reasoning leads, a fish pie then was not the same as a fish pie now, it was something to care about.

1522. As for the gestures and facial expressions displayed by our performers, what it looked like, and what it signified could perhaps be seen occasionally in the old silent films, but after that time the art disappeared almost entirely from the world. It was not pantomime exactly, because words and phrases were used, but only when absolutely necessary on the assumption that two hundred miles from ones home were sufficient for one not to be understood.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Otis The King, parts 1515 - 1518

1515. One wants to shout out to the child, “Don’t put your x there,” but you hold your tongue, because your advice adds up to one thing, an insistent reminder that the child is not that smart. So it was that Otis had to suffer through long games of checkers where the correct moves were so obvious it gave him stomachache. Cards were no better. Often those comedians wondered aloud, “Why is this dog wining and complaining so much when we play checkers.” 

1516. The best Otis could do was to encourage his owners to take credit for training him to do tricks. He went about this very carefully, so as not to have them realize his intellectual abilities. During the first week of his new occupation he went through all of the basics: roll over and play dead, nor eat food on the nose, walk on the hind feet, all of the simple things.  When they were in towns he sat quietly behind the stage, and wondered how it was possible that such simple stories and actions could move an audience so much.  

1517. Not only that but since the comedians rehearsed their skits in the evening Otis soon came to understand that everything was being done by rote, from memory, with no improvisation to enliven the performance. Finally he could stand it no longer, he felt he had to intervene.

1518. There was one skit involving a domestic argument. A husband and wife are having a fight about a fish pie. It was all in pantomime but the gist of the story seemed to be that the husband was complaining to the wife that the fish pie was burnt, but the wife wanted to put in back in the imaginary oven because it was not ready yet.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Otis The King, parts 1511 - 1514

1511. It is no wonder then, that whenever a master engages in fetch with his dog, the greatest satisfaction results from throwing the object as far away as possible; the farther the better. So, picture if you will, a master playing fetch, and he can only throw the stick a few feet, never further than the end of the leash, tied to a stake in the ground.

1512. No, that will never do, both dog and man want the stick to fly as far as possible. Otis, knowing this, invited his new masters to play fetch and no sooner had the game began that the collar came off, never to be attached to his neck ever again.

1513. As I said before, his three new masters were not the most intelligent of men. Being rather dumb, they tended to occupy their spare time in simple pursuits such as card games and checkers. Otis found these games very boring and would have preferred collecting herbs and wildflowers, cataloging them and finding the Latin names for them in anthologies, but he had to adjust himself to the intellectual milieu of his surroundings.

1514. How it was that the youngest of the comics continually lost at checkers to the old man was very confusing to Otis. If Otis had been able to move the pieces himself, losing would not have been a possibility. What was it like for Otis to watch a game of checkers? Imaging you are watching children play tic-tac-toe and one child keeps losing, regardless of if he goes first or last.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Otis The King, parts 1507 - 1510

1507. Otis thought that if he had to assign them an occupation, an endeavor at which their shortcomings and there inadequacies could be turned to a profit, then they should be traveling entertainers who set up a makeshift stage in a village, and entertain all comers for a copper. They would act out scenes of desperation suffering and death for the merriment of a crowd, who always are longing to laugh at the misfortunes of others.

1508. Otis was exactly correct in this observation, but perhaps his intuition was augmented by a few distant memories, the shadowy recollection of the very same men who had passed through the blacksmith’s village, the day before he began his work as a spy, that his wolf family had assumed were traveling musicians.

1509. Otis, having decided to attach himself to the traveling comedians, set to work first thing in the morning to win their trust and confidence. He correctly assumed that the only way to be free of the collar and the leash was to convince them that he had no interest in running away from them.

1510. He engaged in the usual dog like humiliations such as groveling, begging and staring intently at morsels of food, but he put all of his hopes in one thing, fetch. Fetch is a game as important to the master as to the dog. In fetch, the ego of the master is constantly petted and reinforced. In the mind of the master, the dog is a pet that will run to the ends of the earth in order to retrieve a possession.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Otis The King, parts 1503 - 1506

1503. His dinner was the first real food he had eaten for days, and he lay down next to the fire where his new owners were relaxing and promptly fell asleep. When he awoke it was late at night so he lay still and tried to ascertain from the conversation he overheard, what to expect from his new owners. He had no inclination to run away; he had made up his mind already to attach himself to some people in order to avoid starvation.

1504. Otis could make very little from the conversation because he did not know the language. The time spent with the blacksmith’s boy was insufficient for him to master whatever it was the boy spoke, and what he was hearing was completely different. He had to resort to an analysis of body language and related clues. Don’t think for an instant that a wolf is not adept at the analysis of body language. They are masters of the science, for them it is practically genetic.

1505. But the three individuals offered him very scant information. The picture he had to work with to start was one of three men of various ages: an old man, someone middle aged, and also probably a young man considerably worn down on the edges. They were similar looking, so much so that they were perhaps related, even of the same family.

1506. They did not appear to be particularly intelligent. They would not have made you think of the three stooges if you were to have seen them, but yet there was something of the comical about their facial expressions. They were the type of men whose frustrations and desperations cause others to laugh at them.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Otis The King, parts 1499 - 1502

1499. “You may be interested in Agnes’ experiences when she submitted her first painting to her first group show but that happened many years ago,” said the Duck. “But what about Otis that we left close to death, in the back of a peasant cart high up in the Alps, tied up and helpless and at the mercy of several men of dubious character, habits and intent. When he awoke from his dream, you remember his dream I presume, the one about being swept away by a river, his first reaction was amazement.

1500. He had never been in the back of a cart before, and added to that, he had never been tied up either. But he soon figured out the situation. He recognized right away the very wheel that had been repaired by the blacksmith’s boy and his father, so he knew that he was at the mercy of those three men who were headed south with the old cart.

1501. He imagined that if they had known he was a wolf they would have done away with him on the spot, but since they had rescued him they must have assumed he was a dog. What did they want with a dog? That was the question. There were several possibilities. If they were starving they might cook him for dinner. Perhaps they liked dogs and their most recent one had died. Perhaps they wanted to sell him to a dog collector, or use him for a guard at night, he just did not know.

1502. His first opportunity to see what the future had in store for him happened at dinnertime. He was untied, attached to a leash and a collar, and fed dinner. He was not fed scraps as he had expected, but he was given the same fare as his captors, some wild rabbit garnished with rice and vegetables. Otis wolfed his dinner down.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1494 - 1498

1494. Finally she worked up her nerve and went up to a women who appeared by her nametag to be one of the judges and with her most polite manner tried her best to articulate her concern. She received this pre-packaged response, "Just because you submit a work to the show, does not mean it will be in the exhibit, your piece was probably rejected and you should receive a postcard in the mail."

1495. Attempts by Agnes to clarify the situation were ignored, and even when she tried to point out that her piece was listed in the catalogue as item number 724, the person she was talking to simply walked away from her without any reaction. She made two more attempts with other employees of the museum and finally gave up in frustration. 

1496. The opening was on Saturday evening. Since the museum was closed on both Sunday and Monday, it was not until after school on Tuesday that she was able to find out what had happened to her picture. She went into the office and spoke to the secretary; it was the very same secretary who had pulled her by the ear three years previously. It was the same secretary whose face she would slap many years later.

1497. Like everyone else connected to the museum the secretary trotted out the same explanation about her work being rejected, and about the rejection post card, but Agnes could see for herself the explanation to what had happened to her picture. It was leaning against the wall in the office; the watercolor had shifted in the frame. The frame had to be dismantled and the painting re-positioned in the mat. She took it home and fixed it and returned it to the museum.

1498. The secretary said, "I am sorry about this, I had intended to call you about it but I was too busy with the opening and didn't have time." On the last day of the show her piece was put back up and on that day she went and paid it a visit, and brought it back home again. All these years later it sits on the mantle of her fireplace. The picture has shifted in the mat and is crooked but she prefers it that way and won't consider fixing it. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1490 - 1493

1490. The opening was comical for her until a disaster struck. Having made her way to the far end of the small room to the place where her picture was, she discovered to her consternation that where her picture had been, there was just a small blank area of wall. The explanation for the missing picture seemed obvious to her, the powers that be probably decided to hang it in a different spot and so it became necessary to make her way through the entire exhibition and find it.

1491. This would had been a difficult project even if she had been clear headed, but she was far from it. She made her way through the rooms like a little mouse going along as close to the edge of the walls as it was possible in the crowd. She scanned all the wall surfaces in search of her little watercolor still life to no avail.
1492. It took her one-hour to tour the entire exhibit space, but her picture was nowhere to be found. It was impossible to be sure she had looked at every painting because of the tendency of pictures to suddenly shift position right before her eyes. She would be looking directly at a profile portrait head numbered 287, and suddenly it would disappear and be replaced in her view by a blue and brown sloppy abstraction number 278. 

1493. The numbering of all the pictures in the exhibit offered her a solution to her problem. She found the exhibition list and proceeded to go once again all through the rooms, looking at each picture one at a time. Her picture was supposed to be 724, but there was no 724 to be found. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The museum Show, parts 1486 - 1489

1486. One of the strangest things about the opening was that everyone was drinking wine from little plastic cups. In a corner she found a table covered with a white cloth on which she found bottles of red and white wine, plus plates of cheese and crackers. She helped herself to the cheese and crackers, and also poured herself a glass of wine, something she had never tried before. After finishing her wine she made her way along the wall trying to look at each painting one by one.

1487. At each painting her way was blocked by little knots of well dressed people all talking at once who were oblivious to her attempts to get to the spot where she could view a picture adequately. It was even necessary to slightly bump into people to get them to move an inch or so to make way for her, this was difficult at first but became easier after her second glass of wine. Like a few years ago when she was thirteen, she was very curious what people were saying about the pictures.

1488. The conversations she overheard however had nothing to do with the exhibit or the paintings, as a matter of fact Agnes couldn't help but notice that nobody was looking at or talking about the pictures at all. When she finished with her third glass of wine she decided to work her way to the back of the main hall and go in and have a look at her little picture in the side room. Suddenly this became extremely difficult as the exhibit room began to sway and tilt in unexpected angles like a ship at sea. 

1489. "So," she said to herself, "this is what happens when you drink wine, the museum room turns into a boat and none of the pictures stay in one spot. You have to have a look at them as they go by, and then wait till they come around again and have another look." There seemed to be something very funny about the tendency of the pictures to float along the walls, and this combined with her light-headed feeling made the opening seem to her to be very comical.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1482 - 1485

1482. Even those artists who spend their days in prison in solitary confinement are doing paintings and drawings remarkably similar to other artists also in solitary. "Your consciousness may not be universal," interjected the Duck at this point, "but your experiences all overlap, and that is why so many people do so many identical things, even when they pride themselves on their individuality.

1483. But to return to Agnes and her first work exhibited in a museum show. What Buboni described was very nearly the truth concerning Agnes' still life painting. It was hung in a small room off the main room, and it was hung salon style along with numerous similar works, mostly still life watercolors and landscapes. She did not find it down in a corner or up by the ceiling, but nearly eye level over in the corner. 

1484. She was not offended in anyway by the placement, on the contrary she was overjoyed to see it again in its new temporary setting. She only wished that it could have been in a better mat and frame but there was nothing she could do about it. The show was opened to the public on a Thursday after the installation had been completed, and the grand opening was scheduled for Saturday evening from 5 - 7. She told her parents, but they had expensive tickets to the theatre so they could not attend.

1485. She arrived at the museum promptly at five o'clock and found herself engulfed in the most peculiar experience of her life so far. The entire exhibit room of the museum was crammed with people wall to wall, everyone talking at once. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, and they were all extremely overjoyed to be seeing each other again. It was so crowded that Agnes could not even make her way through the masses of people to get to the room with her painting.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1478 - 1481

1478. Buboni could not have been more correct about this consideration. His knowledge of the problems of gallery placement relative to the artists in a group show came from the many years in which he had been asked to be one of the judges for the many gallery and museum shows he and his colleagues were involved in. Buboni was often selected because he could be relied upon to represent a historical and conservative point of view.

1479. He said that many times his judgments had led to confrontations and arguments in the museum setting. "There is nothing quite like seeing an artist enter the exhibition space, their face beet red with anger. They scan the room looking for their enemy and their eye lights upon your countenance. Then, with measured angry strides they walk up to you quivering in silent rage and stand in front of you. 

1480. They eye you up and down as if mentally comparing you to some insect they intend to crush, and finally their invective bursts forth. They rush from one partial sentence to another unable to decide whether they want to condemn your entire career, your personal life, or just the question of where you have placed certain of their works of art.  Remarks bordering on death threats are common. The judge's response must be invariably the same.

1481. "My favorite reply," said Buboni, "was to suggest that they take their picture out of the exhibition as soon as they liked, and take it down to New York City, and get in the line with all the other artists involved in doing the exact same type of work, and hope it gets the recognition it truly deserves." "Because," he said, "no matter what one may be doing, someone somewhere is doing something similar.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1474 - 1477

1474. And yet there is something even worse than that: to have one's work hung salon style and to be placed down by the floor and over in a corner, so that one must crouch down to get a good look at it. It could even be worse, if there is also a door blocking the view, dark shadows because no light falls on the picture. Such treatment has led to many a disgraceful scene between gallery owner and artist, between artist and museum director.

1475. Arguments ending in the slamming of doors, ultimatums, oaths to never darken your doors again, to speak evil of you to everyone. Artists are especially guilty of this kind of outburst, and there is hardly an artist's biography that does not contain examples of this type of scene.

1476. The exhibiting artist, unless it is their first time, never stops to consider that almost all of the others who submitted works were rejected. All the rejected artists are envious of the little painting hung down in the dark corner, salon style, they wish some day to arrive at that dark corner, but alas, a lifetime my go by and the dark corner of the exhibit hall will never be attained.

1477. But the artist down in the corner is insulted, and wants to have nothing to do with that gallery ever again. Such is the, "Theory of Relativity," when applied to the life of the artist, and their experience of the vagaries of recognition. One can't forget that Warhol was a great artist, but was consumed by fears that he was second best after Jasper Johns, feelings created by just such subtle considerations as to where in a room one's best works were hung.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1470 - 1473

1470. On the other hand, what if you have a wall all to yourself, at the farther end from the entrance to a room, but it is a smaller room just off of the main hall. Although this is very honorable treatment for an artist, still it is often looked upon as a deep insult. It makes the obvious point that your painting is not the best, but it is some how second best.

1471. This question of placement is actually more important than prizes and awards, blue ribbons and honorable mentions. A blue ribbon actually looks rather silly next to a painting, but where a work is hung is the most important message from the artist's point of view.

1472. Now imagine the feelings of the poor artist, whose work is hung in a set of pictures, four in a square, by four different artists. All of the pictures in the set are still life, or perhaps all are figurative work. This sort of treatment says, "This painting falls into, thus and so, category of work, it is, this sort of a thing." No artist wants to have their work placed into a grouping that categorizes it into a set of similar things done by other artists.

1473. Finally one arrives at greatest affront of all, your work is hung, "salon style." Salon style is a wall where hundreds of paintings are hung helter-skelter, as many as possible on the wall surface, from up by the ceiling right down to the floor moldings.  The name, "salon" is derived from the French salons where as many paintings as possible were crammed into the exhibition space.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1466 - 1469

1466. She filled out the paper work application, paid the fee and went home.  After that she looked everyday in the mail for the reply to come, the reply would be a little pink post card she had filled out at the time she submitted her painting. On the postcard were little boxes to indicate acceptance or rejection. Years later she would discover that the prizewinners would receive a signed letter from the judges, but everyone else got the postcard.

 1467. A week later she received her postcard; her picture was accepted. You can be quite sure that the next question that flashed into her mind, a question every artist in a big group show is obsessed with, where will they hang my picture. 

1468. Even though I was telling my story of Mrs. Festini's first experience submitting a painting to a show, and even though I was being quite complete in remembering all the details of Agnes' story, still Buboni was so interested that he felt he had to interrupt me and expound on this exact point. Where in a show are works hung, and what does it signify to the artist?

1469. "Picture," he began, "that you are entering an exhibit hall to see a big group show in which you are one of the exhibitors. You have no idea how the people in charge of the exhibit have handled the painting you submitted. You enter a large room and in the distance on the far wall you see your painting all by itself, nothing to the left or right, nothing above or below it.  This is what every artist, especially those consumed by vanity, wish to see."

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1462 - 1465

1462. She took her picture down to the museum where she found a long line of artists waiting to submit their works to the show. For the past few years she had seen every one of the juried shows at the museum but the line of artists submitting works, and their paintings was something entirely new to her. She had no idea that for every thirty or forty pictures submitted only one or two would find their way into the show.

1463. The line of artists was therefore an exhibit unto itself, an exhibit mostly of works soon to be rejected. Agnes knew nothing about art at that point but she could see in an instant that the majority of the things people were submitting were never going to appear in the show. What, she wondered, would the judges think of several paint by numbers landscapes complete with thick globs of paint filling in all those little shapes.

1464. Would they ever accept a portrait of Elvis done in oil from a glossy photograph, where the features had all but disappeared, encroached upon by the surrounding flesh?

1465. One man had a white canvas on which he had poured black ink. Once the ink ran from the top to bottom he had turned it on its side, and let it run in drips in the other direction.  Agnes looked again at her first still life painting and had a surge of hope, just from her visits to the previous shows she realized her picture was probably going to be accepted.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1458 - 1461

1458. She thought painting the background black would make the flower part stand out better, but it did just the opposite. She had painted the petals of the flowers with great attention to their subtle tints and hues, even managing to show the differences in the shadows, but the black background made all her little tints look like one drab pink color.

1459. She started all over again. She did the background first to be safe, and then did the flowers and the vase in exactly the same way as before but found that even though it looked precisely the same, it somehow lacked a certain vivacity that her first attempt possessed. Now she had spent three days and many hours on a project she thought would be very simple. She threw her second attempt away and started over.

1460. She threw her flowers in the trash, put her mother's vase back on its shelf, and in frustration painted the entire thing over again from her imagination as quickly as she could in a frenzy of intense concentration. When she finished she had a little watercolor painting that it would take her twenty years to surpass. It was her first true work of art, born of a combination of frustration and inspiration. 

1461. Although she was completely happy with her painting, she was disappointed with the frame and the mat because it was old and dingy looking. She worried that the judges would take one look at the frame and reject her entry.  The mat looked almost all right after she painted it white, but, even so, some watermarks showed through the white paint down in the corners. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Museum Show, parts 1454 - 1457

1454. She did a watercolor still life, and was on pins and needles for two weeks in anticipation of whether her picture would be chosen by the judges to be included in the show. This was her first painting done entirely on her own, outside of the art class of school. According to the show prospectus, works on paper had to be framed appropriately so her first consideration was to find a frame and a mat suitable for the picture she planned to paint.

1455. She went shopping in second hand-stores and found many frames that could have been suitable, but most had art work of sufficient value to make the purchase too expensive, but she managed to find a suitable frame with a glass and mat, the only problem being that the mat which was probably white at one time was now a depressing brown color. She took it home and took it apart, and painted the mat white with house paint.

1456. She set to work to paint her watercolor painting of some flowers. She thought this would present no problem but it turned out to be otherwise. She was so long trying to arrange her flowers in an interesting way that she had to go to bed before she even started working on the painting. In the morning all the flowers were drooped and wilted so she had so start over again.

1457. Her second attempt was more successful but once she finished the flowers and the vase she considered that she simply had to do something else with the background. She was very pleased with the flowers; thought the vase was adequate, but promptly proceeded to ruin the entire thing by painting the background all black.