“THIS IS ART.” A redux of sorts…

Dear President Biden,

When I showed Laura the picture of the gallows with the “THIS IS ART” sign, she noticed that there was another square nailed up on the opposite side. Although it’s impossible to tell from the WP picture that’s been circulating whether that other square conveys another message, I did see that I missed something about the visible message that is rather important; it ends with a period. Thus, it really reads:


I know I said yesterday that writing to you about the sign and whether it is or isn’t art would get it out of my system, but once I saw the “.” last night, I knew I’d have to circle back. Somehow with the inclusion of that darn period, it seems even more art-like, as in “THIS IS ART, PERIOD.” I know it’s not written that way and maybe the period was just a reflex on the part of the artist (ooph – it’s hard to ascribe artist status to such a person, but if I’m going to allow that the sign [or the damn gallows] is art, then the maker is, by rights, an artist), but the punctuation does lend an unsettling certitude.

Here’s the online dictionary’s primary definition of “art”:

“the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power”

I don’t think it took much skill to make the sign, but I’ll grant that it took imagination and it obviously carries some emotionality, at least for me, so ok, it’s art. Period.

Note: the definition of art is careful to say that works of art may be appreciated for their “beauty OR emotional power.” I do think, though, that saying works of art are “appreciated” and leaving it at that is problematic and misses the mark. Clearly, some things that are considered art (and likely a lot of such things) are actually reviled or dismissed by some even as they are appreciated and highly valued by others. That’s how these things go – while I love and appreciate most of Amy Sherald’s work, for example, someone else might give it a yawn and someone else might hate it.

Ok, I think I’m ready to let of of this darn sign now and the definition of art. Not promising I won’t ever return to these topics again, but I want to tell you about something else before I run out of words and steam so am moving on…

This morning when our very geriatric dog needed to go out for the fifth time in an hour and a half, I was feeling exceedingly fussy about it. I grumped my way to the door and did quite the stompy, pouty bit as I positioned myself on the porch to keep an eye on her. When she settled into pee-posture, I looked around and saw two black birds that I took to be crows flying northeast way up at the end of our long block. The curious thing was, though, that they both appeared to be carrying large white things. I even said out loud “to them” something like “what do you two have?” It looked like they’d each picked up round clumps of Styrofoam, which seemed exceedingly odd since it’s obviously not edible (and crows are scary smart so they wouldn’t try to eat that crap) and didn’t seem like good nest material. Well, just before they flew out of my line of sight, I saw that it was a pair of bald eagles. Once my brain parsed them correctly, I felt kind of silly – they were obviously way bigger than crows and their manner of flying was way more majestic than crow flight. In the end, it was a “count it all joy” moment.

May we all be safe from Styrofoam (especially the animals).
May we be willing to look again.
May we be strong and healthy as our vision clears and we see things we’d missed.
May we have the courage to accept that we are fallible.

Tracy Simpson

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