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Written By Jay Merill
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A short fictional piece in which two people debate about whether a painting of the real world is of any merit or significance.

Editors’ Note

‘Oh we’ve got art now. In the entrance hall for all to see. A real painting. Aren’t we lucky? The warden must’ve had it put up there to let us know he’s got panache and style,’ Jack said by way of greeting to his friend Mel who was lolling on a bench in the hostel garden though the sky was overcast.  

     ‘Yep, some ase-ole’s done a picture of the sky through a window. With little streaks like splattered raindrops. And there’s a lot of ’em as if the artist with a capital A thought they’d hit on something special. Course, they don’t look rain-like. Not in the least. For a start, they’re blue and purple and there are some stupid red bits. S’pose they think it’s artistic to shittify about like that. Is that why they’ve done it? Is it?’

     Jack Chivers spat onto the hydrangea bush after he’d got the question out. His friend Melvin watched as the slimy-spittle trailed for a minute from the leaf on top then fell in a sudden gust of wind. Jack was locked into his own head-thoughts. He didn’t see his own spit wobbling or any of the leaves on the bush, for that matter, or even the blustery garden itself. All he saw were these bright coloured flecks of paint which represented rainfall. 

    ‘So you hated the specks because they weren’t realistic enough,’ Mel said. 

    ‘It would’ve been an improvement if they’d looked like raindrops’, Jack replied cautiously. He knew he wouldn’t hear the last of this one in a hurry.

     ‘Do you think art is all about replicating what is seen?  Like a photo?’ Mel asked him. 

     His voice sounded casual but Jack was aware this was a cover-up. His mate loved nothing better than biding his time before stepping in for the attack. ‘I…, er…,’ was all he could come up with though. Then he had a bright idea. Fight off a question by asking one yourself.  

     ‘So, are you against realism in a work of art then, Mel?’

     ‘Not at all.  But it’s not the only form.’

     ‘Still, it would show some talent if the artist-so-called could manage to paint rainfall that looked like effing rainfall.’

     ‘What d’you think this artist is up to then?’ Mel wanted to know.

     ‘Why do we give him the credit of being called an artist?  Just because he’s splodging paint on a square of canvas that can be hung up on a wall?’ Jack was proud of his latest questions and would have spat onto the bush again. But his throat was dry.  So he coughed instead.

     ‘Well, isn’t art also about a vision that’s been formed in the artist’s mind?  That is to say, the artist has interpreted reality, in visual terms, drawing on the picture from within his conscious or unconscious self.’

     ‘Oh anybody could make up that crap.’ Jack Chivers, who was easily wound up when Mel began his theorizing, stamped his feet onto the ground. ‘What about the bullshit factor, Mel. Eh?  Answer me that.’

     ‘I can’t give you an answer that would be satisfactory Jack because you’re set in your opinion. That basically, there’s no such thing as art.’

     ‘Some of us can detect hypocrisy, you mean, whereas others swallow whole any old balderdash

they’re fed.’ Jack’s latest thought triggered his growing anger to the level where he was desperate to 

spit again. But annoyingly, nothing would come. He had a coughing fit instead.

     Mel waited till things were quiet again then posed a question. ‘So what d’you think would be worse, Jack – a world which had some phony artists and art in it, or a world where there were no  artists or art at all?’

     Jack saw an opening here, which he hadn’t anticipated as it didn’t often happen. ‘How do we know the difference between the so-called-true-artist-and-art and the conman?’ 

     This made Mel laugh out loud. ‘It’s not as simple as that.  Following on from your earlier points I’ll concede that we may not know the difference. But it’s also true to say the artist may not know the difference either.  Someone may call themselves an artist because it satisfies their ego need to occupy this somewhat revered social role. They may not be conning though Jack. They mightn’t know whether they’re a true artist or not, any more than their audience does.’  

     ‘Ah ha!’ Jack shouted back. ‘So if they get hold of some squidgy paint and streak it across a canvas they’ll be convinced then and say to anybody who asks: “Look here Man, I’ve put paint on a canvas. It’s an artist’s impression of rainfall. That makes me an artist. Get it?”

     ‘It’s a complex matter,’ Mel told his pal. ‘But all I’m saying is, what would a world be like if we banned any and all artists from it? Yes, the pseudo as well as the true. And in any case a pseudo could be true at a level he himself isn’t aware of and a ‘true’ though genuine could be a self deceiver.’ 

     ‘Well it would be a better fucking place,’ Jack told him. ‘That’s what I think.’

     ‘Because you’re afraid of being duped?’ Mel wanted to know.

     ‘You’ve said, yourself, we can’t identify what’s art and what isn’t. So why won’t you go one step further and say there’s no such a fucking thing? That would be the logical next step, surely.  It’s ‘cause you’re scared Mel. Admit you’re scared.’

      Mel didn’t disagree with this. ‘Yes, the outcome would scare me. I don’t feel the need to hide 

that,’ he said.

     ‘What’s there to be scared of?’ Jack asked him with a shrug.  

     ‘The mental states of those who get personal release from painting rainfall on window glass, say,’ was Mel’s reply.

     ‘Then you think that perpetuating their delusion makes for a better world?’ 

     ‘We don’t have to make a judgement. If someone paints rainfall can’t we just accept that it gives them some comfort?’ Mel wanted to know. ‘I mean, Jack, why is it necessary to fight them over it? They’re not doing any harm, are they?’

     ‘Oh, so you don’t think there’s anything wrong with delusion, you’re saying?’

     ‘There are worse possibilities. Thing is Jack, we can’t absolutely know if art is present in an 

image or it isn’t.  But if, due to this, we banned all would-be artists from existence, what kind of a world would we be left with?  What I say is, let them practice their non-art-or-art-form and an audience can decide what they want to look at and what they don’t.’

     ‘Well, I say it’s all about ego,’ Jack muttered bitterly. ‘And that goes for the audience as well as the big-I-am-artsy-fartsy. “Oh look, I’ve bought that painting; I’ve got taste.” Taste, my arse’.

     ‘You’ve got a point there Jack.  And if we think of things their way we can see that ownership places them in a superior position to those who don’t own the thing. Well, the truth is, I dislike the competitiveness that can accompany possession of a work of art too. But I guess that’s inevitable in human society as we know it.’

     ‘And money of course. Ego and celebrity, and money. And the bigger the celeb the more the money. Fuck, Mel, it’s about capitalism, pure and simple!’ 

     Mel smiled. ‘Yes, I agree, there is that. But, let’s go and take a look at the painting in the vestibule Jack. I must admit I haven’t seen it yet.’

     It was a good moment for going indoors too because the sky had darkened even further and a few drops of rain were starting to come down. Once in the entrance hall they stared at the picture in silence. Jack had made all the points he wanted to make and Mel couldn’t think of anything to say right away. He yawned instead and this drew out a smirk from Jack.  

     ‘It’s clear, from your reaction to the pic, that you’re not impressed and wouldn’t consider it to be real art,’ he said.

     ‘I wouldn’t go so far as that,’ Mel told him.  ‘Just because I’m not mad about that kind of approach doesn’t mean a thing. We all have our preferences and prejudices.’

     ‘Oh fie,’ Jack snapped, after which they both went quiet again.  

     But after a minute or two Mel said, ‘Anyway, it’s growing on me. Look at the way the raindrops kind of fizzle away at the end. That can happen in real life when they hit the glass of a window as a matter of fact. Look again, Jack, and try to think about the fizzily aspect. It has some appeal for me, I’m finding. The artist was saying something about the world we live in. That’s not the be all and end all, either. Even if you’re right in claiming the rainfall looks unrealistic doesn’t mean that there isn’t some message attached. The viewer may need to draw on their own imagination here.’

     ‘Oh and I suppose you favour the blue and purple and the smattering of ruddy-reds on top. To what end is it all for Mel?  Answer me that, if you can.’

     ‘I’ve already told you I can’t give you a satisfactory answer. You’ve already convinced yourself that art does not exist. Whatever I say won’t make any difference; it won’t get through to you.  And besides, it’s not some competition here, with me trying to force you to see stuff my way. I accept we 

are coming from totally different places on this one.’

     Jack looked annoyed again. They’d started on something that he wanted to continue with. He didn’t concretely go into things but at the same time he knew he was being competitive over this. And also, he’d have said to himself, if he had stopped to think about it, there was nothing wrong with that. All he could do for the sake of personal satisfaction at this moment was to raise another question and so he said, ‘And why would somebody want to paint rainfall for heaven’s sake?  I mean, don’t we have enough rainfall in real life to be going along with?’

     At this point they both stared at the window in the hall. Sure enough the glass was streaked with rain.  

     ‘Look,’ shouted Jack, in a triumphant tone. ‘We can see the two things at once now. Real rain and arty-farty rain. The arty-farty doesn’t capture the real in the slightest degree. Does it.’

     ‘Well, I’d have to agree with you there,’ Mel said after a while. ‘But I’ve already told you that art may not necessarily fit into the realist category.’

     ‘Ok, let’s not go through all that again,’ Jack said.  

     ‘Sure, I recognise there’s absolutely no point,’ Mel told him.  

     ‘Hey look.’ Jack’s voice was all brightness suddenly. ‘The rain has cleared up. It was only a shower.’ He felt appeased, as though the real-world had supported him by being the true and the fake one was proved to be grossly inferior. In other words he’d won the argument.

     Mel couldn’t help giving a laugh again because he saw Jack’s look of pleasure and immediately 

guessed that he took the change in the weather as a moment of personal victory. 

     It was also true to say that the outside looked more inviting than the inside. A lemony twist of delicate sunlight had appeared in the sky, which was in itself appealing. Apart from this there was already a dry look to everything. Mel was happy with the outcome too, he couldn’t deny it. As for the tenor of their conversation, it was obvious to him that no real agreement between the two of them could ever be reached, but what the hell? So, once again they’d gone round in circles and come back to square one. Now, on better terms than they had been when they’d started on the subject of rainfall they went out into the garden again for a stroll across the lawn before supper.

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