OPINION: The Man Who Doesn’t Believe in Art

Daisy, a City of Falls Church resident, feels strongly both ways about most issues

Daisy, a licensed City of Falls Church resident, feels strongly both ways about most issues. (Staff Photo by Scott Taylor)

Falls Church Times Staff

Our dog’s name is Daisy – a reference to Charles M. Schulz’s Daisy Hill Puppy Farm – and her weekends wouldn’t be complete without a Saturday morning walk from our house to Cherry Hill Park and the farmers’ market.  This morning, encouraged by the sunshine and towed down the sidewalk once again by a golden retriever eager for some new scents and sounds, my wife and I made our way to the vicinity of the farmers’ market where we secured Daisy in one of her favorite spots.  She has only experienced the market from a distance due to the sensible prohibition on walking dogs through the lanes between the stalls.  I am certainly no “retriever whisperer” yet I don’t believe the expression on her face is one of despondency as she looks down on the teeming marketplace.

What happened next – an encounter between a market patron and an earnest young man handing out postcards advertising a holiday theatrical performance – would have never caught my eye if the loud, snarling voice of the patron had not first caught my ear.  “I don’t believe in art,” he said.

I paused, waiting for the next line.  People fond of quotations generally follow-up “I don’t believe in art” with “I believe in artists.”  They are quoting Marcel Duchamp.

The next line didn’t come.  I turned; ready to toss the self-proclaimed nonbeliever the second line, I stood instead in silence marveling at the visceral, self-righteous irritation written across his face.  The young man with the postcard was a real problem from his point of view.

Dumbfounded, the young man turned and handed me a card.  “I’ve heard about this,” I said, working as hard as I could to provide him an example of what an encounter with a normal human being is like.  “It’s a Creative Cauldron project, yeah?”

“Yes,” he replied.  “Do you know ArtSpace Falls Church?”  As our conversation continued, Mr. Nobody – or perhaps more accurately Mr. “Michelangelo Lived a Failed Life” – strode forcefully away, sharp tongue and twisted visage at the ready should he be further assaulted by someone reading poetry on a park bench or by the twelve-bar breakdown of a Stevie Ray Vaughan solo drifting down the street through a partially open window.  I don’t even want to think about the tongue-lashing that would ensue should he stumble upon Shakespeare in the Park.

The unfortunate reality is Mr. Nobody is really Mr. “Uncivil and Inescapable”, an unnecessary and tactless aspect of life, circa 2010.  My Falls Church Times colleague, Dave Witzel, addressed this subject recently in a comment thread (excerpted here):

We need to find a balance that will allow us to have honest, important discussions in a safe, constructive space.  I think… civic conversation is often not civil – at the local or national level.  How can we come to agreement if we can’t even talk?  (The search for comity) may be one of the most important issues of our generation.

Someone handing out a postcard advertising an Irish folktale adapted for the stage and being performed during the holiday season should not be viewed as an opening through which anyone can tee-up their personal screeds against – well, you name it – holidays, the Irish, folktales, or the arts.  Similarly, HIV/AIDS prevention has been the calling (and heartbreak) of a lifetime for many, yet the importance of this social and public health work should not be obfuscated by religious proselytizing from those who are sure they “know the real cure.”

The same is true of a professional, considered dialogue throughout our City.  Leo Tolstoy, who may or may not have enjoyed our temperate environs but most certainly would have lit into our Mr. “Uncivil and Inescapable”, reminds us that the capacity of a person to perceive the emotions of another, coupled with the ability to realize empathy, are fundamental to art’s ability to communicate.  Likewise, our collective success at communicating is really about acknowledging the fact that we’re neighbors who appreciate the competing yard signs as elections near just as we appreciate the varying artistic and intellectual expressions through which we all live our lives here in our home – the City of Falls Church – on a daily basis.

Should someone offer me an unsolicited postcard, campaign literature, or the Vedic solution to my wine-induced paunch, I believe my first obligation is to evaluate whether or not accepting the information might perhaps be in my best interest.  Should I decide otherwise, the answer is simple.  No diatribe.  Nothing personal.   Just a simple, no thank you.

If you’re still reading and you don’t have intense personal issues surrounding holiday theater productions, the arts, etc, here’s a link to the postcard that young man handed me earlier today:  The Christmas Cabin of Carnaween.

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By Scott Taylor
November 28, 2009 


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