It was a breathtaking education, my life among the masters, for they were…they are aristocrats of the form . Granted, a horndog with a camera may or may not intend — or even understand — the terrible harmonies he assembles in his viewfinder.
But, oddly, that turns out to be irrelevant. I realized that our crew of eager beavers belonged to a tradition of the Artist as Idiot Savant (spoofed so relentlessly by Andy the beloved Warhol). The more modest the intention (get it hard Joey and for Chrissake stop smirking) and the more unschooled the technique, the more available our shutterbugs were to channel the zeitgeist.
At first, it’s true, I was thrown by the brain-dead artlessness of the setups: Boy by Pool Presenting his Rear End. Shaggy Trade Unzipped in Impossibly Kitsch Bedroom (featuring our photog’s theatrical window treatments and Greco-Roman statuettes as jarring background static.) In time though, I grew in my office.
I made the decision that lots of 20th Century art was itself a form of calculated artlessness: the skewed horizons, interrupted symmetry, prosaic content in lockstep service to style. The only difference… well okay, the gigantic difference was that it was premeditated. Still, why blind the eye to the masterworks under my blue pencil just because my local enthusiasts happened to be more idiot than savant?
I was helped along in this by unseen forces. Next door to our citrus-colored garage/office was a modest Russian Orthodox church, all white wood and a sorry little Byzantine cupola. The inside however housed an icon of the Virgin that was purported to weep real tears. My art director and I checked it out one afternoon. Unfortunately, the Virgin was having a good day, but the art director claimed he could detect the tiniest balls of condensation on the inside of the glass. I told him it was Windex. He told me I was blind.
Perhaps he was right.
Months later, after I had my revelation about art and that it had all been, let’s face it, One Hundred Years of Attitude, I visited the church again. The Virgin looked undeniably more disconcerted but she was still not delivering that flood of sentiment which, surely, had thrilled Czar Nicolas and his Czarina.
Perhaps I hadn’t prepared myself correctly. If all art was meaningless except for the meaning you imposed on it, then any meaning you derived from a picture was as true as any other. I leaned over the pedestal where the icon was encased and really put my back into it. Wait! The dark face seemed to be changing before my eyes. Yes, no doubt about it. Set deep within her cloak of gold, she was becoming absolutely morose! I closed my eyes, then looked again. A positive scowl! I left the church that day with the sort of glow about me I had only seen on Jennifer Jones in Song of Bernadette.
The same photographers were crowding around my desk when I returned, each with his needs, desires and handsy amiability. Still shaken and, of course, glowing, I set down to view the new slides under the loupe when all at once it hit me that here at In Touch, in this hive of commerce and — oh boy! — Trade, I had finally learned to see.