There was no doubt now that I had finally arrived. My painting hung on the sacred white wall of an art museum in a large city. Not in a gallery, but a museum. THE Holly Solomon, from New York, the center of THE art world, had chosen it to be hung there.
As I stood in front of my painting in silence an admirer of the arts stood next to me and reverently contemplated the painting, also in silence. Knowing I was the artist he first looked at the title and then asked me THE question: Steve, what does it mean?
Now, I had been trained in the sacred halls of the university and had spent countless hours agonizing over the correct choice of words to describe the significance and importance of my art. But horror of horrors, without thinking and ignoring all of my training I calmly said “it’s just a corn field.” As our eyes met I could see his expression go from deep contemplation to disbelief in what he had just heard. I could hear my heart pounding and desperately tried to think of something, anything to cover for my mistake.
He backed up a bit and then his look of disbelief turned to a big grin and said, “you sly dog, I know exactly what you are doing.” Wisely, I shut up and let him talk. “Your cornfield is just a metaphor for man, and man’s inhumanity to man.” He waited for me to speak, but I didn’t, I just nodded with just a hint of a smile. With a sense of great satisfaction he turned and seemed to enjoy my painting all the more.
Tom Wolfe in his book The Painted Word was right: “Not seeing is believing,” you ninny, but “believing is seeing,” for Modern Art has become completely literary: the paintings and other works exist only to illustrate the text. As the critic-in-chief of the New York Times said “In looking at a painting today, to lack a persuasive theory is to lack something critical.” In short: frankly, these days, without a theory to go with it, I can’t see a painting.
But I guess to me, it’s just corn.