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All grinning aside, Peyton entered the Amphitheater lecture hall on Wednesday morning and stepped behind the lectern, preparing to shovel another load of puppypoop.
Here we go—brand new litter of whelps out there—drop the shovel and roll out the backhoe: time to start expounding on the Nature & Necessity of Art History to the callow, the somnolent, the philosophically indifferent or outright hostile—
“Is this Room 110?” from a straggling.
“This is Art 110,” Peyton thundered.
“What room is this?”
“Step outside and look to the left of the door.”
“(Oh. Room 110.) Will all the class numbers match the room numbers?”
“When you know the answer to that question,” said Peyton, “you will have earned your Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.”
To the hall at large he formally identified the course and himself; distributed copies of the Art 110 syllabus; announced his office location in the Old Library and the hours he could be found there; held up a copy of Janson’s Basic History of Art and remarked that it had not been written in order to gather dust beneath student daybeds.
“Nor is the program of study here at Merely SAD intended to develop only the technical skills you will need to be a professional artist or designer. There is also the ability to analyze and solve problems; to expand and refine your critical vocabularies; and to express yourselves more effectively through written, verbal, and visual communication.”
Out went all the lights.
An anguished specter appeared overhead, its mouth torn open in a gaping soundless howl, as it sat trapped in a dark abattoir between two butchered carcasses.
[Group inhalation from those students sufficiently awake at 9 AM, plus an audible “Cool” or two]
“This, by the way, is a slide. Be prepared to look at a multitude more of them this semester. We begin with Francis Bacon’s Figure with Meat. This was painted in 1954, the same year that William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was published. NOTE RIGHT NOW: I do not cite this as a ‘fact’ for you to memorize and regurgitate on some test or in some paper. Whenever I mention a name or place or date, it is to help strengthen the individual strands that make up the Web, as it were, of Art History, as it is.”
[CHA-CHOCK: Garth Williams illustration from Charlotte’s Web]
“So if I say that Bacon’s Figure with Meat” [CHA-CHOCK] “was painted in 1954, the same year that Golding’s Lord of the Flies was published, it is to evoke thematic similarities between the two—motifs that they share—things they seem to have in common. Such as what? Such as isolation! Distortion! A sense of lamentation! Rapid reversion to savagery and brutality! ‘The end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart,’ the whole time-honored undergraduate schmeer—”
[CHA-CHOCK: pen-and-wash drawing of a pig’s head on a stick]
“I drew that, as it happens, when I was an undergraduate.”
[Smattering of ironic applause]
“If you’re happy and you know it—”
Strands in a web (says the spider to the flies). Let’s ring the CHA-CHOCK changes as we illustrate a trail of webstrands from Figure with Meat back to Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X, done in what the Spanish call la manera abreviada—can anyone here translate that for us? No one? What, NOBODY?! Velázquez would look at you people and smile… Yes, you there— [Um… the, um, abbreviated manner?] Close enough! Buy yourself a beer after class. What is la manera abreviada? Bold brushstrokes! Brisk treatment! Uncompromising insight! What other painter was directly, overtly influenced by Velázquez? His future fellow Spaniard, Goya CHA-CHOCK who decorated his own dining room with this “Black Painting” of Saturn devouring his children. And who besides Velázquez did Goya acknowledge as a master? Two only: “Nature above all,” and Rembrandt under that. Like Goya, Rembrandt turned from fashionable portrait painting to grimmer subject matter, such as this CHA-CHOCK slaughtered ox which brings us back CHA?CHOCK to Bacon—
—this little piggy went to market to buy roast beef—
—so to speak.
Before concluding the slideshow (with a frame of the shattered-glasses nanny from Battleship Potemkin: on behalf of all of us here at Art 110, HAVE A NICE DAY!) Peyton delivered his opening-day disclaimer:
“Every artistic effort has a connection to that which has preceded it. When you know what has been done, you can know better what can be done—and better what you yourself can do, or attempt to do. Be better equipped to deal with your chosen medium, and make your own contribution to the Great Scheme of Things.
“Talent you bring here, if you have any; training in technique you pay us for, and we try to provide it. Art History will furnish you with examples to follow or avoid or subvert, as you may see fit.
“If, however, raw unadulterated spontaneity is what you value, you can avoid formal art education altogether. Change your major to business administration, become a stockbroker, and spontaneize-on-the-side like the early Gauguin. But if that’s your choice, you’d better hurry over to Brecknock Hall and withdraw right now, before They decide to keep your tuition.”
Nobody stirred, other than to utter more polite [laughter].
What a bunch of whelps.
No, hold that thought as the lights come up in the lecture hall. There in the front row, directly before the lectern, sat a girl who took evident pride in her thighs. No whelp she; nor was the girl sitting beside her. Nor any of the girls in that row, nor the row behind them, nor the rest of the Amphitheater so far as Peyton could see as they all came into sudden! sharp! focus! and his own personal horn section began sounding brassily forth.
(Just as well he wore baggy pants.)
No whelps they, but hardly a trace of comprehension showing on their flowerlike faces. Nor was that a sexist slur—the grubbier, hairier male visages out there looked equally blank. Not one in ten of them would ever give a damn much less understand the relationship of Art to its History. Thus today’s gruesome slideshow: blood ‘n’ guts always draw more flies than honey OR vinegar.
Draw butterflies, if you can catch them.
Cherchez-ing les femmes in their skimpy summergarb—an old old habit, from long long before that never-to-be-forgotten moment a decade ago when the little Orange Girls (squeamishly resistant to Cyrano’s charms) had suddenly begun to cluster round, proffering their clustery-round macaroony selves (stick a feather in your cap!) and life had become a happy Apache dance without let or end… for awhile.
Not to say that he now felt wholly unchastened—not after two, three chastified years.
But who among the stragglings out there could ever hope to draw a Skeeter Kitefly into their parlor?
Monday night she’d remained at her sister’s, for Sadie’s hypertensive sake; but on Tuesday she’d shown up at Peyton’s place again, importing a bulky pokeful of what she called nature’s necessities.
“Now don’t spaz out, I’m not moving in; just making my presence felt. (You don’t mind if I take over this chest of drawers, do you? I’ve had my eye on it.) Oh and by the way—we need to go out and buy you a blowdryer.”
“We need to go out and buy me a blowdryer?”
“Yes we need to, and I’ll hide when we get to the register—can’t wait to see that cashier’s face when you plonk down a blowdryer (hey! and a big old tube of Brylcream! don’t let me forget) saying it’s for you in that belligerent voice of yours. I always used to play Who Can You Freak Out? when I was a drugstore cashier—now we gotta teach the new breed a lesson or two. (There’s nothing in this perfectly good closet but MORE boxes of old paper! I’m commandeering it. Don’t worry, I’ll fill it up jiffy-quick—)”
And so Skeeter unpacked and Skeeter undressed and Skeeter turned cartwheels (keeping her bra on, lest breakables be imperiled) through a condo that had borne the gloomy aura of a horse in a funeral cortège—but now found Li’l Lady Godiva in the wellshaped saddle, putting it through giddyap buckaroo paces as though they’d been apart for weeks instead of a single night, clamping down with thighs that at first glance might seem a bit stubby but are in fact so tautly! ripely! scrumptillyumptious! they make Front-Row Phoebe’s look like a pair of toothpicks by comparison, clamping down TIGHT as she shouts inventive encouragement (“Use your nose! use your nose! OOOOHHHH—”) herself getting carried away in the process, bringing you up to add other halves to the wraparound, bra popping off so here come Pinky ‘n’ Perky and that chestnut about letting her babies play in your grass if you’ll park your car in her garage (cackle) so she does and you do and she gallops past her usual hee hee hees to chant LUVYA LUVYA LUVYA in your ear like she’s dictating yearbook inscriptions but with fevered breath like a furnace bellows, this is the way a cutiepie rides: BOP-budda-bop! bop-budda-BOP! and so you end up falling asleep in each other’s arms all over again.
Awaking to a small-scale (but still pretty loud) bzzzzz like a dollhouse fire alarm, coming from the double-armful of Skeeter-booty lying partly on her stomach but mostly across yours. Not heavily so, but enough to impede your own snores that would be shaking the ceiling under ordinary circumstances. And might yet, despite the featherweight impediment. So rather than disturb her slumber, let us try turning, very gradually, onto our sides…
(Dammit.) “Shhhh. S’allright.”
“I won’t… I don’t have to; this is my place.”
“Oh—right… Y’know I hate t’sleep alone.”
“You get used to it.”
“Don’ wanna,” she says, burrowing her face into your chest as if to plumb the depths of your sour-lemon heart.
So stroke her back toward Slumberland to rejoin Little Nemo. Stroke the finespun smoothness that fits her more snugly than any ensemble. Press the flesh, cup and squeeze and fondle—no no no send her to sleep, to sleep, perchance to get some more shuteye yourself. Thaaaat’s right, get some more, cup and squeeze and NO just stroke and hold her, hold her, resume your crooning as you hold her, find her ear inside this frizzy whomp and yonghy-bonghy-bò her—no no no, sleep and dream, where’s that ear, all this hair, makes the rest of her seem even petiter, especially cute by moonlight, “like something out of an R-rated Midsummer Night’s Dream—”
—aha. Nemo, meet Little Titania. Weaving spiders, come not here; hence, you long-legg’d spinners, hence! Beetles black, approach not near; worm nor snail, do no offence. Never harm nor spell nor charm come our lovely lady nigh; so good night, with lullaby. Lulla, lulla, lullaby—
—till from deep within her foreshortened body, beneath the superficial bzzzzz’g and slow steady pulse-thump, you can hear the unmistakable sound of Skeeter Kitefly laughing in her sleep.
Suppose I’ll have to start buying her flowers now, flowers and candy and greeting cards for every occasion, keep her picture on my desk, on my walls, and not stuck in any readymade frame from K-Mart either, nothing less than handfinished hardwood goldleaf molding will do, “if it’s good enough for Botticelli—” so off to the races again, spend spend spend, still: doesn’t she give give give in return? though putting it like that makes it sound like I am paying for it, playing sugardaddy after all, but still: isn’t that the way it always goes? “girls don’t pay, guys pay” and so we do, but even if I AM isn’t she worth it? “say I’m the best you’ve ever had” and what did I answer? ask me again I’ll say yes in a second yes just like I always do yes whatever she asks me dammit I’ve gone and let an angelfaced honeymuffin turn me into her exclusive boinktoy haw! weep for me! “open a School of Boinkology” I’ll enroll ma’am yes ma’am and be teacher’s pet bring her an apple a day no make that an orange no make it roses she’d like roses think of the stunts she could pull with a dozen red roses oops better get ones without thorns damnation! now she’s got me buying her roses! “never again” I said but “consider yourself seduced” she said and why just then I wonder did I need to hear the story of her life first then one welltimed nursery rhyme and off comes the robe and stick that feather back in my cap as Little Miss Muffet makes it with Lucky Jack Horner what a good boy am I buying muskroses for our lovely lady nigh and now she’s enamor’d of an ass “alas” just call me Nick Bottom in the same league as Tony Orlando soon comes the Dawn too soon no chance for shuteye nor spiders beetles worms snails better recheck that carousel before the slideshow can’t kick off with Charlotte’s Web would ruin the mood so will the clock striking six-thirty I can see her now clinging to the covers “just five more minutes” I’ll have to haul her right out of my? our? the sofabed into the bathroom her eyes shut tight but baby-bird tongue wagging “Wash me Dry me Brush me Bless me” and I’ll say yes of course yes small wonder always soooo hungry and thirsty and frisky eating at my table drinking from my cup “you’d think an egghead would know something about ovulation” at least this one won’t cry all the time just bzzzzz through the night while I jabber away to myself ridiculous habit result of sleeping alone these two three years still: I listened to her monologues these two three weeks though never in bed unless she does it while I’m asleep there’s role reversal for you lying on top of me from that very first bowl-over “force of habit I guess” what a work of art she is elbowing me away from the bathroom mirror after the washing and drying and brushing and blessing “you’ll need more practice getting me dressed” she’ll say “in case I ever pass out on you” she’ll grin gingerpeachily looking not a day over sixteen flowerlike without a trace of makeup then opening the medicine cabinet and my God every shelf crammed with nature’s necessities “making my presence felt” I guess mmph! again with the elbow! “one side sweetie” she’ll say “stand back and gimme room it’s Maybelline time” la manera abreviada bold brushstrokes brisk treatment Little Artful Antics more sure to follow on behalf of all of us here at Art 110 HAVE A NICE DAY—
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