Two men met at a café in Paris. Both put their phones down on the table. Ryan first. Both had received emails within the hour before their meeting. The first line of Ardent’s email read: Dear Art Critic, attached are the details of my exhibition. Ryan’s: Dear Editor, here is my short story for review. They agreed to sit outside. The air was chilly but comfortable. Ardent lit a cigarette.
“They don’t make art anymore. They don’t deal in real, complex human emotion. It’s all surface patina. It’s become a graphic designer’s craft— marketing click-bait bullshit,” Ardent said. His words dripping rain, his tone rolling thunder. The waters were stirring. He was looking out at the busy, wet Parisian street. Dusk was falling, the mood was somber. His left foot was up on the chair. His right hand held his cigarette. The smell of his coffee was strong, there was no sugar nor milk added, his shoes were worn down and soaked. Deep in thought, he noticed nothing. This meeting was long overdue.
“That might be true,” said Ryan, hushed and solemn. He was watching the mist rise from Ardent’s cup through his leopard print, tortoise-framed glasses.
“I don’t leave with a feeling of justice after listening to albums and reading books anymore,” He paused.
“It’s like, please, someone, show me the reality of flesh. I want all of it. The raw and bloody skin that still shines glorious under the smiling sun,” Ardent’s voice crescendoed.
“Glorious indeed,” Ryan bit down on his wisdom teeth to conceal a hidden grin, both hands lightly wrapped around the diameter of his mug.
“There is a shadow cast over creativity in this era. They went to the lab to find truth, to dissect the human experience and uncover its parts, to make sense of it. They came out with a trendy nihilism, serving a new master…”
“Right, how to be human is the truth we seek, isn’t it? This experience as a whole, as I am, as we are.” Ryan’s responses matched his Michael Kors collar, sharply fitted.
“They’re trying to be strange and weird now Rye, because it’s cool, not because it’s honest. It’s still just pop culture, they’re never alone.” He paused again. He turned his body towards the table to face Ryan. His movement was slow and stiff, implying that his body was aching although in reality he felt fine. He sighed. “They let privilege stand in the way of experience and true emotion. They are too strong, they are too confident, they are too numb.” The waters were quieting. There was surrender in his tone.
“Where do you think they learned this? This must be a function of social education of some sort, no?” Ryan wasn’t going to lose this moment to cynicism. Ardent’s energy was life-sustaining warmth to him, an intellectual incubation. After their meetings he would sit quietly on the train keeping the manuscripts he was supposed to review tucked away in his bag. He would think to himself, “I need to write some of these thoughts down in my journal as soon as I get home.”
This meeting was long overdue.
“Yes…it needs to be unlearned. They’ve reduced their lives to status, era, race, and develop their voices through frameworks they were taught. They refuse to open up their worlds, to think outside these narratives, and put themselves in the way of beauty, to be overcome by it.”
“And this is what robs us of our experience you’re saying?”
“Of course! Art is life’s purest expression. It must not walk on eggshells and set itself in rooms of cushions and clouds. It must shake me awake so I open my eyes when they are closed in the graves and tunnels I slip into.” The waves crashed the shore.
“There you go Ardent, poetic justice.” Again he wanted to smile, but refrained. He was riding the tide.
“But nostalgia is such a defeatist emotion. I, however, do remember when the art gallery was a jungle, when the dancers were bleeding, the theater was porn. The climate was hot and sticky. The art was wild.” He looked out to the street again as he spoke. The colours seemed more vivid, the movement more rhythmic.
“Must the art be vulgar? Can it not be holy?” Ryan asked.
Ardent hadn’t a sip before quickly putting the cup down and answered, “No Ryan, but it must not be safe nor comfortable. It must not protect me from real things. I don’t want to hover around the periphery of my life like a family at the zoo. I want art to bring me face-to-face with the wild. Where earth becomes heaven, the ascension to the divine. This, is beauty.” The thunder was booming.
“There is no worship where nothing is holy, I suppose.” Ryan said, slipping further from the shore.
“I’m not so bothered that they treat everything else like their tinder profiles, spitting on the traditions of their fathers. But the art was set apart, it was…special.”
Ryan took up his coffee cup this time. He was feeling alive, full of hope or caffeine. His insides were warm and cozy, like he was in a blanket of profound thought. Moments like these he thought, make all the other hours so small.
“So wrapped up in the times, in keeping up, keeping busy, that they forget that the goal is eternity, the feelings of forever” Ardent continued.
“Why do you think they’re in such a hurry?” Ryan asked.
“They developed powerful appetites for excess having the world at their disposal. The capitalisation of our culture valued width and not depth. Taste, of all things, Ryan, lost its rank.”
“But what if the people are happy here, in this time?” Ryan asked, playing the devil’s role.
“That’s what I fear most. Long term happiness is a lie, because happiness is fleeting. Contentment maybe, but happy people would have no purpose. Why would they need to create? Why would they fight for better?”
“Is there any hope, is there any light?”
“Yes, there are bright moments, but the light is not warmth. For inasmuch as the artist is uninspired, the energy should come from the audience,” Ardent said, as if to reproach himself.
“We are ‘they,’ we are no different” Ryan said, more to himself than to add to the conversation.
Ardent laughed quietly. Silence reigned.
After a while they picked up their phones and answered their emails