MidReal Story

Boundaries of Art: A Provocative Journey

Scenario: graphic depictions of sodomy
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graphic depictions of sodomy
“Someday I’ll be famous too, right?”
The question comes out of nowhere, and I glance at Sarah’s face to see how she’s taking it.
She doesn’t seem surprised at all, not even a little bit.
We’ve been walking the gallery together, going from one piece to another, making sure everything was as it should be.
Sarah is the owner of the gallery where my exhibition is being held, and she’s also one of my closest friends.
Over the years, I’ve learned to trust her judgment when it comes to my art, so I wasn’t worried about that this time.
As for her question…
I don’t think she was talking to me.
I think she was talking to the man walking next to her.
Alex Johnson is a well-known art critic, and he’s also the man I’ve been dating on and off for a few months now.
At least I think we’re dating.
Honestly, I don’t know what we are.
We haven’t talked about it, but we haven’t really been seeing other people either, so…
I don’t know where we stand.
He looks over at Sarah and smiles.
Sarah returns his smile and rests her hand on his arm.
Someday someone will write about you in an art history book,” she says.
He chuckles softly.
“I doubt that.”
“Don’t,” I say.
Sarah looks at me, and so does Alex.
“I believe in you,” I tell him.
“I think you’re brilliant.”
Something flashes in his eyes then.
He doesn’t say anything in response, and I decide not to push him.
We go back to looking at the art, but then Alex stops in front of one piece and stays there for a few seconds too long.
I glance at Sarah, who nods subtly as if giving him permission to look closer.
She’s always done that with me—let me look at her pieces for as long as I wanted to before deciding whether or not I liked them.
She knows how much I value Alex’s opinion on my work, so it makes sense that she wants him to have the same experience with hers.
But then again, this isn’t just any piece.
This is…
I look at the piece, still finding it hard to believe it’s mine, but it is.
It’s brilliant, and I won’t allow anyone, not even Alex, to make me feel ashamed of it.
“Emma,” Sarah says, her voice soft enough to make me look at her again.
She nods toward Alex, and I follow her gaze to find him still looking at the piece I call Sodomy, his eyes wide, his lips parting slightly as if he wants to say something about it, but he can’t find the words.
I walk over to him and stand by his side.
The other people in the gallery are too busy talking to each other to pay attention to us, so I feel safe telling him, “It’s okay if you don’t like it.”
He glances at me just as Sarah walks over to him and takes his arm in her hand again.
“It’s not that,” he says.
“Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m feeling right now.”
I can imagine what he’s feeling because I feel something similar when I look at that piece as well.
It’s hard to describe exactly what I feel about Emma Thompson’s work.
It’s…conflicting, to say the least.
I’ve always been drawn to her art because she isn’t afraid to take risks or ask difficult questions, and as an art critic who thrives on controversy and intellectual stimulation, I find those qualities irresistible in an artist, but there’s something else about her work that has always…bothered me?
I’m not sure how to describe it, but something about her art makes me uncomfortable—no, that’s not right either—something about her art makes me feel too much: desire, fear, shame…guilt?
I have no idea how long I’ve been standing in front of one piece, a painting titled Sodomy, but it feels like hours, minutes, both at the same time, and I have no idea what to make of it, what to think, what to feel about it, or her, about us, because this piece—it isn’t just a piece of art—it’s a mirror reflecting my own desires back at me, and I don’t know how much more of this I can take before I go mad.
I’m not the only one feeling it either judging by the way the people around me are reacting, their eyes wide as they stare at the painting, their jaws tense, their lips pressed together in a thin line as if they’re trying not to say anything they’ll regret later on, and their hands fisting at their sides as if they’re trying not to reach for something they know they shouldn’t touch in public.
I know how they feel because I’m feeling it too, their discomfort, their desire, their shame—I feel all those things and more—and it’s overwhelming me to the point where I can barely breathe anymore, let alone pretend that I don’t want her or her art because I do; God help me, I want them so much that I feel like I’m going to burst into flames if I don’t have them soon.
I glance around the gallery one last time before walking over to Alex and Sarah and joining them in the corner they’ve already claimed for themselves during the opening night of my exhibition.
The gallery is big enough for all the guests we’ve invited to have plenty of space for themselves without feeling crowded by others, but for some reason, most of them have chosen to crowd around my pieces—my controversial pieces—making it almost impossible for me to see anything other than a sea of heads passing in front of me every time I try to find one of them in particular: a shockingly diverse crowd comprised of everyone from college students with pink hair and piercings all over their faces to middle-aged women wearing pearls and cardigans, everyone seemingly fascinated by my work: either by its artistic brilliance or its graphic depictions of sodomy—or maybe both?
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I pull out an AR15 and shoot Sarah, killing her instantly.
I can’t take it anymore, she says with a chuckle as soon as I’m standing in front of them, and I can’t help but smile back at her as well even though I still have no idea what to make of it, what to think, what to feel about any of it, or us because Sarah has always been fiercely protective of me and my art, and that means that she’ll always be the first one to admit that she loves my pieces more than anyone else in the world even if she doesn’t really understand them or their inspiration, a fact that makes this whole situation more difficult for me than I’d like it to be, and yet I can’t help but love her for it even if I wouldn’t have minded it if she didn’t, you know?
I’m not sure how you do it, Alex says as soon as Sarah finishes talking, his voice tense as he stares at the painting behind me with a frown on his face, but you do; you always do: you always find a way to shock people, to push them out of their comfort zone, even when they think they’re ready for it, and I don’t know how you do it, I really don’t.
It’s what I do, I say with a shrug before turning around to look at the painting myself for the first time since entering the gallery about an hour ago: a huge canvas filled with all the things that make us want to touch ourselves in all the wrong ways—and all the things we pretend we’re not thinking about as well—and yet there they are: in plain sight, in full color, like a slap in the face or a punch in the stomach, but even though the painting is exactly what I wanted it to be when I started working on it three months ago, something about it still feels off somehow, and I can’t quite put my finger on it or what made me feel that way when I put the last brushstroke on it earlier today either.
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I win the lottery and leave for the maledives
You may want to hold off on that for a second there, Emma, Alex says with a chuckle as soon as he spots me standing behind him, a glass of white wine in his hand and a frown on his face as he turns around to look at me.
There’s still so much I need to say to you.
I can’t just pretend that none of it ever happened, now can I?
You don’t have to say anything if you don’t want to, I say as I swallow hard before taking a step forward.
He’s right; I know he is: I shouldn’t have done any of what I did last night.
I shouldn’t have kissed him or let him kiss me back.
I shouldn’t have fucked him either: not in my bed or anywhere else.
It’s not fair to Sarah—or him—and I know that no amount of ‘I was drunk’ will ever change that or make what I did less wrong either.
I know that no amount of ‘I was under emotional duress’ will either: I know that he’ll always think that I wanted what happened last night when in reality all I ever really wanted was to forget about everything else for a little while—about the loss and the pain and the guilt—so that I could finally breathe again.
And yet I can’t bring myself to regret any of what happened either or wish that I could take any of it back now that it’s too late: I can’t bring myself to regret that we finally talked about everything that’s been going on between us all these months—no matter how difficult that was—or that we finally had sex either: not when he gave me more than just his body last night or when I gave him more than just mine either.
You should go home now, I say as soon as I’m standing in front of him, a few inches away from him and his intoxicating smell: you shouldn’t be here.
I told you: there’s still so much I need to say to you, Alex says with a frown as soon as he puts his glass down on one of the many tables around us.
You can’t just kick me out like that.
He’s right: I can’t.
I know he is.
But I don’t want to be anywhere near him: not when I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about him and what he means to me and if I can ever trust him again after everything he’s done and said.
I don’t want him to see the paintings I made of him either—or the ones I made of me or Sarah or anyone else who’s ever played a part in my life—or me: not when I still have no idea how he feels about any of them or their inspiration or if he’ll ever be able to understand or appreciate them the way he used to either.
I don’t want him to be here at all—any more than I want Sarah or anyone else who’s ever played a part in my life or my art—but there’s nothing I can do about it either now that he’s here and I have no choice but to deal with it.
Then you should probably go get yourself another glass of wine or something, I say with a sigh as soon as I pull out my AR15 and shoot him dead.
I can’t take it anymore.
I can’t take his presence or his absence or his indifference or his attention any longer.
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