Subway doodle – 2014

A metaphor in progress on a Wednesday morning subway ride: a traveler doing calligraphy on the empty lower third of a sheet of paper. The curves were peaceful and smooth, with no sharp angles and no one stroke looked darker than the rest. The looped t was pierced at a perfect angle. The artist might have been in his late 20s. A brown beard framed his face, carefully groomed, more Manhattan than Brooklyn. His left hand steadied the page as his right hand waved the lines into being, never veering off course as the train squealed and bumped along the tracks. Pencil hardly touched paper.

After about half a dozen stops he got up to leave and I what he’d made: “SHIT.”

Let’s pretend this is some kind of Oprah moment: what can we learn from this? If your work is shit and you decorate it beautifully, does your effort make it beautiful? Or if you make shit as beautiful as you can make it, is it still shit in the end because you’re just changing the exterior without changing its meaning or content? If they’re both true, what does that say about work and intention? Which one governs the meaning of a work of art? And there’s always the temptation to say that stuff doesn’t matter because art should be judged in a purely aesthetic sense, but that’s pat and unsatisfying, and since art is made in a real world I don’t think ever be totally divorced from that world.

It’s a puzzler.

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