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Friday, July 22, 2005

How To
A Field Guide to Selected Western Artists

J. D. Smith

So it’s been a while since that undergrad art history class where you staggered in hung over and fell asleep after the second slide was shown. Or maybe you managed to forget a little bit too much about that relationship with the multiply pierced and drama-mongering scenester or scenesterette who dumped you after finding out that your only connections were electrical.

But now you have gotten an invitation that you can’t refuse—and on short notice. Maybe your date wants to go to an opening in [insert about-to-gentrify neighborhood here]. Perhaps you need to go to a benefit reception where the people who can best advance your career show each other how much they can afford to give to the Cause, or invest in their eveningwear.

What you don’t know about art might fill libraries. You’re not sure. You’ve been busy making a living, or trying to decide which happy hour has the best taquitos. It’s too late to sign up for a Learning Annex course, and it’s too late to invent relatives you have to visit in Paraguay. (If you actually do have relatives in Paraguay, you know that booking less than three weeks in advance is financial suicide.) What you do know might not come out in conversation when you need to impress; it could remain trapped in your head, stuck like a paved-over cicada in a sprawling suburb.

Not to worry. All you need to get through the evening, and get invited to wherever people are going next, is the ability to say something about at least one of the artists listed in the field guide below. Like birds, they have distinctive markings.

[Cut here for easy folding and pocket/purse/wallet storage.]

Balthus: “There’s something about schoolgirls …”
Bosch: “Freaks!”
Botticelli: “Chick on the half-shell.”
Braque: “Geometry.”
Chagall: “Flying Jews.”
Chuck Close: “Very, very close.”
Cornell: “Bird + box = art.”
Dalí: “Droopy clocks.”
El Greco: “Long people.”
Goya: “Si es Goya, tiene que ser bueno.”
Kandinsky: “Shiny shapes.”
Lichtenstein: “Huge cartoons. “
Mondrian: “Rectangles.”
Monet: “Blurry flowers.”
O’Keefe: “Flowers … right.”
Picasso: “How did those eyes get over there?”
Pollock: “Splat!”
Rembrandt: “Like your late uncle’s cigar box.”
Rothko: “Pick a color, just one color.”
Rubens: “Plus-sized women.” (Or BBW if you’re talking to one.)
Van Gogh: “Swirls.”

[Cut here, too, if you want to save more space.]

If another artist’s name comes up, no problem. Just say that he/she influenced/was influenced by someone listed above.

If you’re wrong, still no problem. Almost no one else knows this stuff, either; they come for the snacks and hook-up potential.

Let the pinot grigio flow. And try to get a piece of the baby Stilton before it’s gone.

J.D. Smith's books include the collection Settling for Beauty (Cherry Grove Collections), forthcoming in August 2005, his first collection, The Hypothetical Landscape, and the edited anthology Northern Music: Poems About and Inspired by Glenn Gould. His prose has been published in, Exquisite Corpse, Grist and Pleiades. His poems currently appear in the anthologies In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare (University of Iowa Press) and Poetic Voices without Borders (Gival Press). His work is forthcoming in the anthology Enopoetica: A Collection of Poetry Inspired by Wine, to be published by Story Line Press in 2006, and The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. His one-act play Dig was produced by Chicago’s Squaresville Theatre in 2003, and he is currently seeking a publisher for his children's manuscript The Worst Mariachi in the World. He lives and works in Washington, D.C., where he has learned that Kafka was an optimist.