Goodbye, Future Grad Student

Because I am, like many artists, a raging island of ego adrift in a vast sea of neurotic insecurity, I have a dream. An egotistical dream, if you will.

I dream of a future grad student.

This grad student is trying, hope against hope, to do her (it could as easily be a him, mind you) thesis on that oft-maligned artist, the late Ursula Vernon.* Her advisors have told her repeatedly that Vernon’s work is frivolous tripe for the masses, about as deathless as a mayfly oil rig worker. They beg her to study one of the other artists of the age, who actually did, y’know, real, meaningful art, art with some meat to it.

Still, our grad student perserveres. She knows, in her heart of hearts, that there’s something there. It’s not all just cute schlock, damnit! There’s something–if she could just get her teeth into it, she could drag this artist kicking and screaming into respectibility, she could turn the art world on its ear, she could write a thesis that, with the addition of a few car chases and perhaps a sex scene, would chew up the bestseller list. There’s something there. She’s sure of it.

And then, while going glumly through the vast Vernon art archives** she finds a painting. And she stares at it.

Coincidentally, it is the painting I have just finished.

And our future grad student gazes at it, and realizes that her advisors have been correct all this time. It really is cute with no redeeming social value whatsoever. A mind that could create this has all the depth of a mud puddle in late August.*** She might as well do her thesis on the hidden cynicism of Precious Moments figurines or Hallmark ornaments.

She gets up. Art history has broken her. She will drop out of grad school, join the Peace Corps, and eventually become a successful rhino wrangler in East Kenya, and she will never speak of art history again.

Okay, it’s a really egotistical dream.

Nevertheless, my current painting is cute–and not so much that it’s inherently cute, it’s probably no worse than many of the others, but it’s a cute kid and it flowed so easily, so naturally, that I could feel myself sliding into the abyss.

I cling to the edge with one hand, fingernails scrabbling on the rock, and all I think, as I slip slowly to oblivion, is “Does this kid need freckles?” (No. If I forego the freckles, I may not yet fall. To add freckles would be to embrace my damnation.)

Tomorrow, I’ll scan it. Tonight, I bid farewell to my future grad student, who would probably never have existed anyway, but it was a nice thought. Good luck with the rhinos, kiddo.

*Died at the age of a hundred and five, in a freak rain of wildebeests. Last words were “Holy crap, that’s one for the lifeli–”

**Occupying three wings of a not-insubstantial building, particularly since Vernon got in the habit, late in life, of compensating for failing vision by painting bigger. Her last work, “Single Fanged Chickpea” is eighteen feet wide and six feet tall. Children are not admitted to the Hall of Rock Formations without a guardian.

**Shallow, yes, but with interesting wiggly things with lots of legs in it.

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