I looked at what had been scribbled on the back of this bus bench and my second thought was, I’ve really got to rein myself in. My first thought was, How intriguing. “Nails be ur trap.” Yes—obviously the artist meant coffin nails and that, paired with what looks like part of a readout from a cardiogram on the lower right make a comment nature of mortality. If I’d kept going I might have shoehorned the other tags into this grand masterpiece too but instead I stopped because I felt like I was turning into Richard Dreyfus in Close Encounters. Except instead of seeing Wyoming’s Devil’s Tower in everything I was seeing art. I see a bunch of leaves fallen on a sidewalk and start thinking, well maybe someone put them there, arranged them in just that pattern as some kind of a statement, and only come out of this reverie when I walk into a lamppost, but that’s another story.
I would resist the impulse to tie all this together but I can’t so strap in: I’m diving into a bumpy train of mixed metaphors. This fits with a nagging thought that’s been in the back of my mind ever since I opted to take an art history class instead of wandering the halls for an hour each day. The whole idea of “art history” is based on a collective agreement between a bunch of people that we’re going to look at this artist but not that artist and pretend the whole thing fits into a neat line with cave painters at one end and, oh, let’s say Jackson Pollock at the other. Your endpoint may vary, especially since Pollock died in 1956 and history, including art history, has arguably continued on since then.
The problem with this line of thinking is it can quickly spiral out of control. After all every human endeavor that we consider historic or worthy of recognition is based on a collective agreement that it’s, well, worthy of recognition. And there’s a lot of stuff that falls by the wayside.
How do we decide what to keep and what to throw away? Is it random? Could be a trap.