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Commercial Performance Art

On the way home yesterday, we stopped for lunch at Scheel’s in Sparks. There’s a ferris wheel inside the store. Also something called the Mountain of Taxidermy, but that sounded too scary, so I didn’t go upstairs. It appears to be kind of a commercial church of sport—the muscular Christianity sect must love it.

In the café there, while eating my wild boar sandwich (I’d already tried elk and bison and when dealing with a new menu, I try to sample what I can’t find easily elsewhere.), I happened to stare at the art on the log-like wall. It may even have been made of actual logs. I admit I wasn’t paying strict attention. There were two prints of paintings by our table, available for purchase.

One scene depicted a soldier saying his final goodbye to his parents. Even without the knowledge that he’s not ever going to come home again as imparted by the title, the scene is unbearably sentimental. There is snow. We see a Christmas tree through lighted windows. Mom has an apron on. The men shake hands in their manly way. The church spire aspires heavenward in the distance. It’s all a very sad postcard.

The other picture was called “Rusty Refuge.” Another snow scene. Three pheasants perch on a wagon moldering away. I stared at it for a while because I wanted to figure out what bothered me about the picture. I can’t complain about the artist’s ability to capture form. The pheasants looked like pheasants, the snow like snow, the wagon like a wagon. The arrangement of objects was pleasant enough. When I looked closely, the shadows of the plants poking through the snow had a depth of detail I appreciated.

The problem seems to be one of point of view. There was absolutely nothing challenging in the way the subject was presented. If the whole work had been the snow and the sparse stalks poking through and casting shadows, that might have changed the way I looked at things when I left the store. If the pheasants on the wagon had been suspended in space, as in an Audubon picture (Audubon did not give the pheasant space in his book because, according to the internets, it was imported here from Asia and he was into the indigenous), I might have looked at them differently. Every aspect of the picture was given the same weight. I learned nothing about seeing from the picture. And, it turns out, that pictures I like are ones that show me how to look.

Which would make the artwork, in this instance, the interaction between me and the object on the wall. Unless it was my analysis of my sandwich.

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