My parents and I were at the Carnegie museum. We’d moved to Pittsburgh, from Charolette, less than a year earlier and we were just now beginning to explore the city. There wasn’t much, at ten, that I could enjoy—Pittsburgh has something like twelve bars for every 10,000 people—and the museum was free. Or at least they only asked for a ‘suggested donation’ at the door. Which meant it was free.
There were many fine paintings. My parents were excited about all of the crap related to the steel industry. Landscapes of smoky mills and portraits of black-dusted men staring out of the canvas. All of them realistic and well-made.
My father, Daniel, pointed to a large black and white photograph of a man working on a ship. Daniel read a little card next to the picture. “It’s called Ship Worker.”
I said, “Well duh.”
Daniel looked at me and narrowed his eyes. “It’s from the War, smartass, and it’s from here. That’s the old Christie Park missile factory. That guy’s working on a destroyer, probably.”
I had no idea what any of that meant, but I knew that I didn’t care because I didn’t care about any of that. It didn’t make any sense. I could look at that stuff any time. That was the real world and I hated it. That was going to school; that was scraping my knees, being scared of the dark and the woods—which I knew held a witch—surrounding our new house; that was my father’s drinking and my mother pleading with me not to tell anyone about the things that happened at night because it would ‘rock the boat’, whatever that meant. didn’t want to see any of that. I wanted to see dream-things, to escape what I already knew about.
Those paintings were lies because they made ugly things beautiful for no reason. They weren’t really beautiful, though. They were made to be.
The rest of the day was like that. When we had gone in the museum it was daytime and when we finally left the sun was nearly gone. My mother held my hand and Daniel walked ahead, turning around every few steps and telling us to hurry up because the Steeler game was about to start. As we left the main lobby, a painting caught my eye.
“Wait wait wait,” I shouted.
My mother stopped. “What is it, Fredrick?”
I broke from her and ran toward the wall the painting hung from. It was long and ran along the top of the entire wall. I read the info card for the painting. It was by someone named Christopher Wool. The painting was plain white with blocky black letters.
FUCK EM IF THEY CANT TAKE A JOKE
I looked up at it for a long time. It was ugly and I had no idea why it was in a museum with all of the crap I had been looking at all day. Maybe it was there because it didn’t belong there. Something about that was good.
Daniel watched me staring at the painting and snorted, “I guess they’ll call anything art these days. It’s not even pretty.”
“That’s why I like it,” I smiled.
It was beautiful because it wasn’t beautiful and never tried to be.
Many things made sense just then.
This is the second in a series of posts where we asked tumblr writers to make something based on one photo. Today’s post was done by Eric Boyd; last weeks was by Erica D Price. Look for another guest post next Friday.