The Tale of Leo
from 26 Absurdities of Tragic Proportions
For the artist, the truly creative type who is compelled to follow his or her muse, to these poor souls art becomes like the very air that you or I breath to survive. Without their art, life is nothing but a meaningless, sad and gray world that slowly suffocates the true artist. The creative person, the truly originally creative person is the living, beating heart of the world. Imagine life without Beethoven or Michael Jackson, without Picasso or Sol LeWitt, without Gehry or Frank Lloyd Wright, without Baryshnikov or Martha Graham.
Life would be a series of dull gray days joining end to end.
Yes, we have the Curies and the Hawkins, the Teslas and the Franklins, the Ruths and the Phelps, but these, as great as they are, they don’t bring the same joy into our lives or hope or wonder. These mirror the intellect and the physical of life, not the heart.
Which would you rather have, a visit to the Guggenheim or Georgia Tech, the Louvre or Lloyds of London, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, or the Hoover Dam?
When it was announced that there would be a field trip in two weeks to the Wadsworth Atheneum for the whole class, Leo was beside himself with excitement. While most the boys in his class took this news with some mild interest at best, Leo was energized. Leo considered himself a great artist. Leo drew, colored and finger-painted with the best of them. When he compared his masterpiece of, say a Thanksgiving turkey, to those of his classmates, Leo felt only sorrow for his friends who were so obviously bereft of any real talent.
After watching years of Bob Ross’ magic oil paintings, Leo couldn’t wait until he was old enough for oils so he too could paint like the masters, maybe even as well as Bob Ross himself. Leo gobbled up every PBS show about art and artists he could find, whether it be painting and drawing (his forte), sculpture or basket weaving.
Leo’s room and the kitchen refrigerator were practically papered with Leo’s drawings and watercolors. Leo was so prolific an artist that he could turn out four or five masterpieces a day, more on the weekends and school breaks.
When his father tried to interest him in baseball, Leo used his markers to color that baseball the most interesting psychedelic swirl you’ve ever seen. When his father tried to unsuccessfully interest Leo in other things boys his age were into, his mother would say “leave him be, he is what he is, it’s just a phase.” Finally giving up, his father bought Leo the biggest artist’s set he could find at Target. It was full of markers, colored pencils, brushes and watercolors galore. Leo loved it. “If you’re gonna do it,” his Father said, “you need the right tool for the right job.”
From the TV shows about artists he always watched, Leo knew the life of the artist could be a tough one for the few weeks it would take to get discovered. Look at Picasso, he had to cut off and sell his ears for money to buy paint. Leo liked his ears and decided he needed a shortcut.
What better place to get discovered than at the art museum. Only the greatest were in Hartford’s Atheneum he was sure. That is where his work belonged, he knew without any doubt.
Leo spent the next two weeks feverishly sorting through all his current work in order to select only the best of the best for his upcoming unveiling at the Atheneum. He created new works in a fury of creativity. There was a series of cat watercolors of all sorts because the cat often came into Leo’s room while he was creating, and a series of colored pencil sketches of the view outside his bedroom window. He even did a few of his teacher and classmates, all from memory mind you.
Plus, he created new things, alien planet vistas, and wondrous creatures to stir any imagination. He drew scenes from his favorite books and movies. He painted, he drew, he colored. Leo was an artist extraordinaire, his muse in full swing.
The day before the trip to the Atheneum, Leo was trying to decide the best way to affix his works to the museum walls. Now usually he used scotch tape or sometimes even masking tape to place his bedroom art. Out in the kitchen his mother used magnets on the refrigerator. He wasn’t sure but he doubted there were any refrigerator doors in the museum to utilize, so magnets probably were out and he was afraid tape wasn’t permanent enough. Glue then? he wondered, but he had experience with glue and remembered it could be particularly messy. He didn’t want anything messing up his art.
Wandering around the house, he noticed his parent’s artwork was hung with nails and wire. That would work fine for things in frames he supposed, but none of his works were yet framed. That doesn’t happen until an admirer has purchased them, he was pretty sure. So, nails and wire were out.
He stumbled on his answer more by accident than anything else. That day in class, he noticed on the information board in the classroom that the various things were held in place with tacks. Now tacks had many advantages over his other ideas he thought. They were very permanent things. He knew tacks could be very hard to push in and pull back out, so they probably wouldn’t fall out on their own. They were small so he could easily carry as many as he would need and he knew where his mother kept them in the kitchen.
The next morning (the morning of the trip) Leo was up early and dressed in his best suit jacket, bowtie (clip-on), Sunday shoes and all. Once in the kitchen he started rifling through the drawers to get to the tacks. He found them in the left-hand drawer next to the Tic-Tacs.
Finally noticed by his Mother, “What do you need dear,” she asked.
“Tacks” he replied, his answer being muffled by the partial pop-tart in his mouth. His mom must have thought he said Tic-Tacs because she told him to bring enough to share with his friends.
At first Leo was perplexed, why would his friends need tacks? Then an uncomfortable thought crossed his mind. What if his friends were also going to use this trip to the museum to display their own works of art? He thought it likely, after all, that’s how an artist started. Though he couldn’t imagine who of his friends had the talent. Becky Johnson did do a passingly fair Thanksgiving turkey, he supposed.
Now Leo was worried. What if they used up all the best spaces hanging their own work? Leo himself had over forty of his best rolled up and ready to go. There was no way he was sharing his tacks. He saw now that he would need to utilize a stealthier procedure to bring in his art and his tacks into the museum. After much folding and rolling and squeezing and hiding his sandwich in the back of the cabinet, (he kept the Oreos, an artist has to eat after all) he managed to get about 25 pieces into his lunchbox and pockets, plus the tacks. This way too, he would avoid having the museum impound his work if they didn’t believe it was his. He didn’t want to be accused of stealing from a museum like the old Nazis. (Leo, just maybe, watched too much PBS).
Finally, he and his class arrived at the Atheneum.
The art museum was everything Leo imagined it would be and more! Here was room after room of paintings and other kinds of art in styles and colors and techniques he never dreamed were possible. While many of the children were bored or preoccupied with other thoughts, Leo was enraptured with all the docent was saying. So much so, that he almost forgot his own little supply of masterworks in his New England Patriot’s lunchbox (his father had picked it out). Leo pulled on the jacket of his teacher. “I gotta pee,” he said. He didn’t really have to pee, it was a ruse to get away from the group, a clever one, in Leo’s mind.
“Can it wait, Leo?” His teacher asked. I don’t know why adults always ask this question, obviously it can’t. “Alright, take your trip buddy (everyone had a trip buddy) but hurry right back. The restrooms are in the hallway two rooms back.”
“Yes sir,” Leo answered. When his teacher turned back to the docent, a particularly attractive and intelligent woman of about the teacher’s own age, Leo slipped away without his trip buddy John, whom he didn’t really like anyway (he had sweaty hands, and sometimes picked his nose).
Leo chose a room where there was no guard watching. None of the other few adults noticed him. He scooted down behind a round couch in front of one of the largest paintings he had ever seen, and hurriedly opened his lunch box. In fact, he was in such a hurry, as he opened it, the tacks all sprayed out into the room. Guiltily, he scooped up as many as he could, but they had bounced all over the place. He was left with about a handful. Just then, as luck would have it, the guard walked into the room and spying Leo alone, headed over in his direction.
Leo was nearly in full panic mode now. Not only was he carrying a lunchbox full of drawings and paintings he thought they would think he stole, he had just spilled tacks all over the little couch and floor of the room. Desperate to not get in trouble, he placed the lunchbox on the couch and perched on top of it, trying to look innocent and squish it down into the cushions with his little fanny, all at the same time. He had tried to stuff the tacks into his pocket, but they wouldn’t go easily.
Any minute the guard was going see all the other tacks, and the ones in Leo’s hand and he was going to be in full blown trouble. In Leo’s mind there was only one thing to do to avoid getting into serious trouble. He swallowed all the tacks that he was still holding onto.