Today they let me out of the hole to visit the museum. An hour’s drive into Western Mass.
I pictured it being homier. Old-timey. Like the house in “American Gothic”.
(Yes, I know he didn’t paint “American Gothic”.)
But still: it is a museum. High-ceilings. Long grey walls. Light from above.
I am eyeing “Connoisseur” when she approaches me.
All along the walls of this room it is Rockwell vs The Abstract. And coming out the other end.
But “Connoisseur” is the center of this exhibit.
“I don’t understand. Did he do these, too?”
I think for a bit. I only know what I have read on the accompanying placards. Skimmed, really.
“I think these are just examples of him playing with abstract art. Since he wasn’t in that world.”
“So he was trying to figure what the painting within the painting would look like. They’re studies.”
I almost sound like I know what I’m talking about. But I’m just summarizing what’s on the card.
The card is right there. Right in front of her face.
But: she asked me.
And: there’s something I don’t understand myself. Which may be the source of her confusion.
“The end result was more like Pollock, though. These aren’t very Pollocky. Maybe there’s some missing link paintings we’re not seeing.”
My sentences rise at the end as if I’m asking a question. Now I look more confused than she does.
And now, she is not confused at all. She is absolutely certain.
“We need this.”
I smile. And nod. But I’m not catching her meaning. She continues.
“We need him. This. All of it. ‘The Four Freedoms”… the Lincolns… the one about the Peace Corps…”
She does not mention “New Kids in the Neighborhood” or “The Problem We All Live With”. I hear those titles in her ellipses.
“People of all different backgrounds getting along, helping each other out. We need this.”
Yet: I do not hear say “Southern Justice” in her ellipses.
Still: I have no response. I just smile and nod.
I have been unable to approach “New Kids in the Neighborhood” and “The Problem We All Live With”. Indeed, I have been the new kid in the neighborhood, I have lived the problem we all live with. My entire life. Indeed, I am the, ahem, “new” kid in this museum today. The only, only one.
So I have passed by those particular paintings more than once on my way through the museum today, more intrigued by the people who’ve been able to stop and stare and contemplate the failure of it all without knees giving way, without smashing to the floor, without dissolving into a puddle of their own tears.
“I like your hair,” she says. “It’s very Basquiat.”
I laugh. “I just cut it back yesterday. So it’ll be a month or so before I can bring it up into a bun like he did.”
“No, no bun. I like it just the way it is. Beautiful curls.”
I want to make a joke to draw a parallel to my hair and Basquiat with Rockwell and Pollock. Like: it’s a study. Hair Connoisseur. Or something.
But instead: more quiet.
“Are you an artist?”
“Just… a connoisseur.”
There’s a joke. Smaller. She laughs.
“Music. I make music. Songs. I try to, anyway.”
“Music. Of course.”
“Well, it was nice meeting you.”
“Nice meeting you, too.”
We awkwardly step away from each other.
“To ‘The Four Freedoms,’ I say, raising an imaginary glass for a toast.
“Yes, to ‘The Four Freedoms.’ Have a good day.”