E S S A Y 3: The Distance and the Manicure.

E S S A Y 3: The Distance and the Manicure.

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‘Cause there is no love
Where there is no bramble

– Bill Callahan, from the A River Ain’t Too Much to Love LP.


On our second day in Texas we could not swim in the pool below the grotto beneath the cow field because of too much manure runoff and too little rain, and besides it was busy with too many people to be good for swimming, and so we followed a sign pointing up into the high scrub and pine instead. We hoped for another pool–we had come all this way, you know.

Here is a structure for discussing Art — Art is not a thing to be got, it is instead a place to be got-to. It is a rare spot when described and regarded with honesty and accuracy, and it is a tourist dive when described and regarded callously. When in pursuit of Art one undershoots the ambition or overshoots the execution, one lands instead in the near-bys of Art–Hobby and Decoration the pleasant leeward; Commerce and Bad Art the windward. These are necessary places. They are worth caring for because they exist around Art and point in its direction, and because most folks have busy lives and Art takes time. It takes time to conceive beyond the initial attraction, it takes time to make virtuous in some way, it takes time to see beyond looking, it takes time to digest beyond having-been-seen. Sometimes the base camp is the only place to be gotten out to on a weekend, you know. 


We followed a path as it ascended the north side of a valley. The close growing pine trees made a dense tunnel of boiling sap air around us, the gaps in the branches showing across the valley to sun-facing hillsides of prickly pears in their fullest trout-belly-flower in the cloudless middle of a Spring-becoming-Summer midmorning. There was great beauty and almost no comfort offered by it.

Here is another structure for discussing Art — the title Artist ought to be applied in an aspirational sense during life. One hopes to make Art, one aims for it, only. It is not a marker of some aesthetic certainty, but instead a statement of intention. It follows that the Artist pursue by necessity experiences which feel like Art feels, even when there is no certainty that Art will be there waiting when the feeling has passed. And there is no certainty what someone makes in a studio one afternoon for folks to look at in a gallery one evening will be Art. Nor should we expect it to be, nor should we call it that just because an Artist made it and someone found wall space for it. More than likely it is the product of a hobby which the Artist invented alone in the dark over the course of a dozen years. More than likely the Artist will spend an unaccountable long time taking ideas out for little walks around the block, the specter of Art always a block further on. More than likely the Artist produces litter after litter of shaggy, mawing, three-legged farmdogs, all the while hoping to birth just one greyhound in full gallop.


A drowsy distance further on we heard water moving, emerging from the pine at the edge of a wide river bank; it was the great and flinty Pedernales, it still is. There was a breeze coming off it, and populations of birds and insects and fishes. We walked into water and piled our things on a low, flat rock in the middle of the river. We dog paddled upstream and floated downstream, going where the river took us. We found cold spots and warmer ones, deep spots and places we could stand up. We played for an afternoon and when we were tired we rested on our rock beside all our things. 

 Here is one last structure for discussing Art — Art differs from other creative pursuits in the distance of travel and the manicure of the terrain, but they all exist along the same path. Decoration right there with orchids in bell jars. Commerce at a stones throw with shredded tire mulch to guard against scraped knees. Hobby an arrow straight landing strip with a crosscut. Bad Art a backyard of disappointing grafts which won’t last the winter. Art the most distant and given over to a wild ecosystem of invasives moving towards the sun. It is a high function of a person to pursue any point along the path– there are easier ways to pass the time. It is a high function to make an effort to include beauty in ones life, and a higher function to seek to understand it, and then to share it. The fact that folks keep making an attempt despite all the labor gives me hope for the future.


We dried off in the sun and drank beers and passed around grass and bread and avocados. There wasn’t a knife and so we scooped out the avocados with our fingernails and washed off in water, laying our stomachs on the hot rock and waving our hands at the bed of the Pedernales as it passed by towards the Colorado, forever I hope. Heaven’s own blessing on accident, that afternoon felt like Art feels when it is really, really good.


Essay 3

photo by Twist.                                                           



Next time: BabyCat Looks Me in the Eye.


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