A Basic History of Art, Sixth Edition

Simon Vouet’s The Toilet of Venus meant little to you.
And you figured that you could survive
without ever seeing The Death of Marat again.

You decided
    standing at the used-book counter
that if you went the rest of your life and never again laid eyes
on Georges de La Tour’s Joseph the Carpenter
or Goya’s The Third of May, 1808,
or even Decorative Figure against an Ornamental Background
    where you found the influence of Cubism come to rest
    against the classical tradition during a Tuesday afternoon lecture late last fall
it would be worth it.

The High Baroque style of The Blinding of Samson
    a clear example of the aesthetic Rembrandt developed after moving to Amsterdam
was something you would just as soon forget
    its theatrical light and violence reminding you
    in an Old-Testament sort of way
    of the time you were forced by your parents to play
    the part of Moses in the school’s spring production.
Or you felt uneasy when you drew the easy parallel
between Samson’s infatuation with Delilah
and your own
    and realized the way the old cliché
    about love and blindness becomes too real.

And Oppenheim’s Object, you reasoned,
wasn’t really art at all
    just a cup of tea gone horribly wrong
and the snow shovel hadn’t lived up to its promise
of being In Advance of the Broken Arm
    even when your professor insisted that it was a playful and
    spontaneous challenge to the very nature of art.
You were not moved by
    Madonna and Child Enthroned between Saints and Angels
    At the Moulin Rouge
    or The Blinding of Polyphemos and Gorgons on a Proto-Attic amphora.
You were not moved by
    The Glass of Absinthe
    or The Abduction of the Sabine Woman
    or White and Greens in Blue.
Not even by the image of the sacred visiting the earth with tangible immediacy
    in St. Matthew and the Angel.

But what you couldn’t do without
    what you trimmed so carefully
    from the top-right corner of page 221
was figure 11-6: West facade, Notre-Dame, Paris.
And I am left to imagine
    the Gothic architecture
    the Rose window
    the twin towers
    the doorway
in which, perhaps, you sat
and to wonder why it was
that you couldn’t let it go.

You even left the right margin of the page
    edge of the Parisian sky and a glimpse of roof tops
tucked inside the book
as if to prove that you really had no interest
    in any of it
except for this.

Troy Urquhart

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