Is this the ugliest painting in the world?

I hate to be unkind. I know what it’s like to make your way as a creative professional in this world.

But I simply have to ask.

Is this the ugliest painting in the world?

While I do not know who painted it, I have more than a cursory acquaintance with this painting. I lead a group of professional writers in Philadelphia, and we meet for lunch once a month at the food court at the Bellevue shopping center, where the painting hangs.

This shopping center is what I should call aspirational. The gilded glass doors are so heavy that they’re probably trying to weed out the weak and the sick. There’s Tiffany & Co., Ralph Lauren, and, for people who need $90 marble rolling pins, Williams Sonoma. (Alas, Richard Gere will never give me a credit card so I can go in and show them all.)

The food court is downstairs. This painting adorns the dining area, and I have been both fascinated and repelled by it for months.

I’ve been writing about the arts professionally for years. (That’s why I can’t afford to shop at Ralph Lauren.) I’ve pored over Elaine Kurtz’s absorbing, gritty, otherworldly landscapes, yawned through watercolors of daisies on chairs, fallen into lithographs by Benton Spruance, communed for hours with Violet Oakley murals, and interviewed an artist who finds trash on the street, spray-paints it gold, and then puts it back.

I am not without taste.

I don’t know if the Bellevue painting has a title, but I call it “The Pig.”

A lot of worthwhile art challenges our minds rather than simply appealing to our eyes. But “The Pig” leaves me with too many troubling questions.

The painting cries out with the artist’s incongruity. Look at the smooth, meticulous brushstrokes on the vase, evoking the dimensional play of light and shadow on its burnished coppery curve.

And then look at the crude black outline on the pig’s flattened body parts. The skinny gray sticks the pig has for legs.

What is with this flower with sharp red ribs for petals?

Why is the pig standing next to it? Is the vase on the floor or, as I infer, on a tabletop? How did the pig get onto the table? And why is it standing there, defiantly alive? Is it reflecting on the fate of its delicious brethren under the canopy of this blood-red alien flower? Why does the Bellevue want me to look into the inscrutable yet accusing eyes of a skew-snouted hairy gray pig while I eat my grilled cheese with tomato and bacon?

Did you look at this pig’s face? Its nose appears to be mounted directly on its shoulders and chest. And its flattened black eyes are practically migrating into its ears.

My God, those eyes.

Can anyone lunch comfortably under this sinister gaze?

Somewhere, an artist faced a blank canvas. And this is what that canvas became. Now, beneath Tiffany’s, Ralph Lauren, and Williams Sonoma, it waits.

It watches.

It haunts my lunches.

If you agree with me about “The Pig,” then let me know in the comments, so I can find comfort in the fact that I’m not a total philistine. And if you think I’ve been overtly cruel in writing this blog post, or you think “The Pig” is beautiful, feel free to tell me exactly what you think of me.

Need time to recover from “The Pig”? Fine. Then subscribe at the bottom of the page. 

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10 Comments

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  1. It seems created to disturb, not in the way that Guernica disturbs- to unsettle you. The light changes around those red leaves. I don’t like it either.

    You are a writer- I am interested in communication. I find it disturbing to be unable to communicate, or to fail to understand. That is part of it, for me.

    • Alaina Mabaso May 9, 2014 — 9:28 am

      You mean the painting disturbs you because it’s a failure of communication? I can certainly get that. When I look at a painting, I want to get some sense of WHY the artist chose and composed those subjects, even if I personally don’t like the choices. But “The Pig” leaves me desperate every time.

      Do you also mean to say that writing is not necessarily synonymous with communication? I totally agree. Speaking isn’t either.

      • I meant, one is a writer once one starts to sell writing. I play at it, but am interested. I think it disturbs me because it is intended to befuddle or bemuse.

      • Alaina Mabaso May 9, 2014 — 12:20 pm

        Well, there’s writers and there’s professional writers. Often when I tell people I’m a writer, they ask me if that’s actually my job or whether I pay the bills that way. Sort of funny and a tad rude when you imagine the scenario with another profession:
        “So what do you do?”
        “I’m a tax lawyer.”
        “How interesting! Is that a hobby, or can you pay the bills with that?”

        I’m an arts editor here across the pond, so if you want to explore getting published, get in touch!

  2. I am amazed that the pig in question has not responded. Or perhaps he is no longer with us because you have had him for lunch. Cruel, cruel world. You scandalize his painting and then implore him to lunch and then careless eat him.

  3. Beautiful it ain’t. But I’m sure there’s some deep meaning in it . . . somewhere . . . even if I can’t see it . . . yep . . . .

  4. He’s obviously highly distressed because he’s not kosher.

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