Tuesday, September 27, 2005

18th and 6th

A critic undoes what the artist does - a constant undoing and doing. An unbuilding and building. It's art. Then the process is flipped and turned back on itself. The artist tears down the ugliness erected by the critic through the production of greater beauty. Deconstruction through construction. Disassembly through assembly. Then the process is flipped and turned back on itself again becoming part of an ever growing process. Relentless. Unstoppable. It's art.

There's a pale yellow sun casting cool shadows from the autumn trees across our table. Your fingertips rest on your Rook. A slight breeze picks up, depositing crispy orange and red leaves at our feet, and then, a move. "Rook plays to Queen's eighth," you say, unsteadily, looking a little queasy. I bury my chin in my scarf, considering my next. You could take me inside of five moves - but you won't because you play a terrible end game. Instead we'll trip through an awful, bloated middle until you make enough mistakes and ultimately concede. We've played this game before.

Abruptly, you ask: "What makes art?"

Still mulling over my options, I offer a chilly laugh. "What?" This word hangs in a cloud of vapour between us. "That's a little out of the blue isn't it? Besides, what do you mean, exactly? What or who makes art? What is art?" I'm toying with the idea of bringing my Queen into the action - always makes you a little nervous.

"Yeah, I mean, what makes you appreciate a piece of art? What makes it art in the first place? Take, for instance this table we're sitting at - is it art? Its surface has been carved, after all."

"No," I say, "with the right funds, I could hire a craftsman from the directory to make this table." There's a growl, a yelp - to our left, a dog chases its tail. "Bishop to Knight three." I slide my piece over a couple squares.

"That's a peculiar move."

"It's all part of the plan," I remind you, taking note of your scepticism.

"So, are you saying that craftsmen can't make art?"

The breeze kicks up again, and we both bury ourselves deeper inside our coats, hands digging deep into pockets. "No, that's not what I'm saying. In fact, sure, this table can be art, but I don't have to appreciate it."

"Knight moves to Rook's seventh for check," you say.

Obviously you're keeping your eye on the ball. I immediately return fire with: "Queen takes Knight."

You're unfazed by my shameless display of firepower. "So what makes you appreciate," you pause to shiver, vigourously rubbing your hands together, "what makes you appreciate a certain piece of art, then?" Our eyes meet. My stomach drops. "Rook plays to King’s eighth." You've got me - we both know it.

A cold gust of wind brings a handful of leaves onto our table, and neither of us moves to clear them away. "I guess I can appreciate a piece of art when I know that I could not replicate it myself or hire some guy out of the directory to do it for me. Those splatter paintings or blank canvases with the single dots or stripes? They can be art, I suppose, but are certainly not very impressive. A van Gogh or Degas, on the other hand? Sure, now they're impressive." I flick over my King to make my concession official. "The same way a game of chess between two amateurs is a lot less impressive than a game between two masters - the amateurs fail to impress because anybody could play such a game, the masters, nobody."

There's a secret weapon rarely talked about in the civilised world of chess: the art of distraction. When played right, a good distraction is virtually imperceptible. When played wrong it appears crude, lumbering. Standing, we button our coats and I extend my hand. "Well played, friend," I tell you. Your grip is confident and sure now - the colour's returned to your face. "Well played, indeed."

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