The Artist That Said Little
Flash fiction by Robert Castagna, 800 words
He called it the “Art of Big Sigh Mediocrity”. What that meant was open to interpretation. He just happened to glue those words on a page one day in a flow of automatic writing. He used this technique to get himself thinking out of the box and creating.
“I like the title,” Jen said as she walked into the exhibition space.
“How’d you come up with it?”
“I don’t know, it’s like Dada,” he said. Jen knew what that meant. She was an art student too. She began studying his collages, walking around the room. Mark watched her from the entryway. He was taken by her interest and her overalls covered with paint. He’d noticed her before, the overalls being a size or two too big and rolled up at the bottom. She had some paint brushes sticking out of her pocket. Some other students entered too but they seemed more interested in the food. They hovered around the cheese cubes and juices talking amongst themselves and never looking at the walls. Jen was about halfway around the room in front of a small collage.
“Hey Jen! What you working on?” one of the students asked.
“Nothing much,” she said absentmindedly causing the student to shrug it off.
Jen was standing in front of a small collage with a woman’s hand gesturing relaxedly to the sky. The hand was covered with rings and bracelets and the finger nails were painted with design. Floating in the sky above were the words “Art of Big Sigh Mediocrity”. She stood for quite some time her arms crossed, her legs slightly apart. After several minutes had passed one of the other students attempted to get her attention.
“Jen, what’s going on this weekend?”
She turned with a look of irritation.
“Nothing,” she responded.
“Why don’t you guys go to the cafeteria?” she finally said.
They slowly left. Others trickled in looking at the art and leaving. Meanwhile Jen was still there moving about slowly. Mark stuck his hands in his pockets wondering if he should say anything to her. He didn’t want to irritate her further and he was inclined to little conversation.
His parents arrived. They were dressed up as if attending a formal event. His mom gave him a hug and his dad a firm hand shake. Jen was the only one in the room at the moment and she was about three-quarters done still looking intently at each piece.
“Let’s have a look around,” his dad said.
“We are so proud of you,” said his mom.
Three instructors walked in greeting him. His dad introduced himself and they all started to congratulate Mark on the exhibit.
“He’s been working on this show for some time now we know,” his mom said.
“There’s so many allusions to earlier work such as Hannah Hoch and Kurt Schwitters yet he maintains his hold on each piece keeping them contemporary,” one of the teachers said. She had her arm on his shoulder. “We all feel he has made a statement.”
His dad looked at him with a smile. His mom asked about his influences and the conversation drifted into art history and the artists of World War I. Mark turned just in time to see the back of Jen as she left the room. He pursed his lips, happy that she had come but disappointed that he didn’t talk to her.
He remained there for over an hour as students and teachers made there way through, his parents engaging them. Mark saying very little. It was awkward. He made several attempts to explain his art work but was not very good at it. When people asked what did something mean he had a very hard time explaining that it didn’t really mean anything yet it meant a lot too. Occasionally he would point them to his artist statement that was tacked to the wall. Finally it was time to shut the lights and close the doors.
“Looks like you got a fan,” his father said pointing to a notebook outside the door. The notebook was used as a space to comment on the art and leave contact information for future art shows. Written below a few Well Dones and Great Shows was a paragraph in rounded script. It read as follows:
“Mark I have often wondered what it was you worked on so intently in your studio. I would see you there sitting at your table either reading or cutting and pasting. Such attention to detail. I’m the exact opposite with paint all over the place. Each piece said so much to me that I feel like I really got to know you.”
He smiled. Written below was her email. He tore the page and carefully folded it, putting it in his pocket.
“What is say, son?
“Nothing,” he said.