The Love of Solitude: Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Fifteen

The University

“First of all let me just say, that the waters I am referring to deal with our perceptions, and our ability to clearly see the world around us. We are swimming in a sea of information, where it has become quite difficult to see our hands in front of our faces.

The waters are being muddied on purpose, so that we become disoriented and fearful as we lose our sense of direction. In our confusion we are then told by those in power what to think and what to believe. While in this state of vulnerability they tell us that up is down and that black is white. It is a dastardly game of perception management, with horrendous consequences.

What would clear the muddied waters, what would free us from our managed perceptions?” Nicholas DeVincenzo

The answer is mastering the skill of reasoning:

“We cultivate awareness when we think critically, when we weigh the influences of motives and bias, and recognize our own assumptions, prejudices, biases, or point of view free of the investments and prejudices we revere, when we learn to recognise logical fallacies instantly; this process is known as reasoning, and reasoning is a skill that must be learned and practiced to master.” Abdun Nur

It was 8am and Gwen was ready to go when Tom arrived at her doorstep. “Just a second.” She said turning around. “Sill, time to go.” She shouted into the house. “I hope you don’t mind if Sill comes along on the tour?” Gwen asked with a smile.

No.” Tom replied slowly, a little surprised by the unanticipated addition.

It wasn’t often Gwen got out, and she was used to taxi’s not luxury cars, Tom drove a beautiful Audi Q8, which was clearly his pride and joy as it looked factory fresh. “This is a lovely car.” She said with a smile stroking the leather of the seat.

Thank you.” Tom replied. “You can’t beat German engineering for cars.” He smiled. “Just jump in the back.” He told Sill.

She’d never been to the university before, it comprised of a large collection of buildings but Tom was headed for the main building, it was a grand stone structure, with carved decorations and generous scale.

Tom drove into a private car park and positioned his car in front of a small sign with the words ‘Prof. T. Shepherd’ proudly displayed.

As they got out of the car the dean was walking over to them with a huge smile on his face. “Gwen!” He said cheerfully holding out his hand as he neared them. “It’s so good to see you here, we’ve organized a busy day ahead for you, we want you to see the facilities and meet the faculty members, and some of our students. We’ve also organised a nice dinner around one o’clock, with a few key people, and there we can enjoy a good chat, and get to know one another socially.” He told her while still clasping her hand in both of his. “And who’s this?” He asked in reference to Sill.

This is Seisyll, Gwen’s gardener and odd job man.” Tom replied.

Oh!

Well good to see you.” The dean commented.

Gwen felt a little intimidated and exposed, but then thought how pompous and pretentious institutionalised education at this level was, and the feeling was then replaced with her normal jaded outlook and perspectives. “Thanks George.

Sill is investigating my brother’s disappearance, and wanted to pick your brains if he could.” She said with a slight wink in Sill’s direction.

Please this way.” The dean gestured towards the main entrance enthusiastically, ignoring Gwen’s request. “I want to show you the main entrance hall, which is the location I’d love to have a sculpture created. A modern ‘Michelangelo’, which is what I consider your work equal to Gwen.” The dean said loudly to the air in front of him as he walked ahead briskly.

Gwen, Sill and Tom walked behind slower and the dean disappeared into the main entrance hall well before them. As Gwen entered she was immediately impressed. It was a beautiful building; money had been lavished on it in an indulgent manner. She stood and looked around, it was indeed a marvelous location to place a masterpiece, she thought.

The floor was a beautiful tiled mosaic. “It would be a shame to cover the floor with a sculpture, it’s beautiful.” She said to Tom.

A sculpture would lift this hall in grandeur and beauty.” Tom replied. “The tiles aren’t that important, and we could always have a new mosaic created to be more in tune with your work.” He told her with a smile.

I’ve only done the one mosaic floor, the one in my sculpting studio; I might enjoy designing one integrated to the sculpture.” Gwen replied.

The dean was talking with a small group at the other side of the hall, the group then on mass headed straight towards Gwen. There were lots of introductions and friendly chat as Gwen was presented to many members of the faculty, then the dean led Gwen with Tom, Anna, and Frank to his office for tea and biscuits, with Sill following at a short distance. They headed towards an impressive staircase at the other side of the entrance hall that split halfway up turning both left and right, they turned to the left, the university was very large and she was very impressed with the building.

The dean’s office was large and luxurious, as they were seated a middle aged woman came in and asked what drinks everyone wanted, then a few minutes later returned with a tray with drinks and biscuits.

Gwen, I just want to say it’s great to have you here. Today we intend to convince you beyond any doubt to invest your efforts within this university. We’ve the resources, the facilities and the individuals to do justice to your work and your skills.

We’ve the experience and knowledge to present your work skillfully, even strikingly in a safe and secure place.

Anna will show you around the artifacts storage area, she’ll show you how we catalogue and reference the artifacts, and the methods we use to store them in the optimal environmental conditions, how some artifacts are preserved, a general look at what they do down there.

Then Frank will show you the art galleries, we’ve two, but we expect when your artwork is here; many will donate towards improving those facilities.

Then Tom will take you around the art department, you can meet some of the students, and see the things they’re doing.

After that we’ll all meet at the universities function dining room and share a meal, and you can let me know your thoughts on what you’ve seen, and hopefully finalise any details to bring you on board.” The dean’s face beamed happily.

That sounds fine. Could you help my friend Seisyll, he’s some questions about the university during the 1970’s.” Gwen replied.

That was before my time.” He pressed a button on the phone sat on his desk. “Mrs. McLean could you have Mr. Mr. what is the name of the guy in records, anyway have him come to my office as soon as possible, thank.” He took his finger off the button and leaned back in his chair. “You leave Seisyll here and get on with the tour.” The dean told them.

Tom, Frank and Anna left with Gwen after they’d all hurriedly finished their drinks. Outside the office Tom and Frank left and Anna led Gwen down into the belly of the main university building, it was a huge place, she guided her into the main storage area, and explained the method of cataloguing the artifacts and documents, she showed her some of the more exotic items, the draws of varying sizes piled three meters high, formed long walls with corridors between in a sort of warehouse of draws. Anna opened a large hardwood draw positioned a few feet into one of the corridors, as she pulled it out she exposed a collection of shrunken heads with a label detailing them. They were from Africa, brought into the country during the Second World War, that’d somehow ending up in the university. “These are unusual, a little macabre.” Anna said.

These are real heads, of people that lived?” Gwen queried.

They are indeed.” Anna replied.

How did they shrink the skull?” Gwen asked spell bound by the heads.

They didn’t, they strip the flesh from the skull and then process it ready to be boiled in a solution laced with tannins, which turns it into leather, and shrinks it down, then they form the leathery flesh around a wooden ball, they finally coat the skin in ash to keeps the muisak, or avenging soul, from seeping out.” Anna explained.

They’re interesting, but depraved.

So these are from the Second World War?” Gwen commented.

These were some bought by merchant seamen who went to Africa, people were often murdered to supply the tourist novelty market, and the seamen were stupid and bought them in large numbers.”

Strange what people find valuable, like the scalps of the American wild west.” Gwen commented.

Anna closed the draw and led her to another draw, as she opened it Gwen could see a mummified nest of rats with their tails joined together all pulling away from each other, forming a sort of crown of mummified rats. “Why would someone make this devilish looking crown?” Gwen said.

“These rats have formed this naturally; this was a once-living artifact.

In the Middle Ages they called these nests a “rat king.” A rat king is formed when several rats have their tails fused together, whether by knotting or being somehow glued together. The result is a small horde of rats all facing outward from the central knot.” Anna told her.

That’s weird.” Gwen said looking a little disgusted.

There quite rare, the most recent I’ve heard of was in 2005, a farmer found a rat king underneath the floorboards of his farm in Estonia, comprising 16 rats, nine of whom were already dead, their tails glued together by frozen sand. Rat kings aren’t always composed of rats; mice kings and even squirrel kings have also been found.” Anna explained. She closed the draw and led Gwen further on.

Anna smiled as she opened the next draw, as it opened Gwen could see a collection of metal tools, but Anna pointed out from the collection a metal pear shaped object with a ring attached to the top, the long pear shape was ornately decorated and could have been made from silver.

What’s this thing?” Gwen asked.

This is the pear of anguish.” Anna said as she picked it up and began to turn the metal ring on the top of the pear, as she did so the pear opened up into four leaves that expanded outward at the bulbous end of the pear.

What an odd object, what was it used for?” Gwen asked.

It has other names, the “Pear of Confession”, the “Pope’s Pear”, the “oral pear”, “vaginal pear”, or “anal pear” or just “The Pear”.” Anna explained.

You mean this was used as a device of torture?” Gwen asked.

Widely, especially by the Vatican’s priests, it was inserted into one of the victim’s orifices: the vagina for women, the anus for those considered to be male homosexuals, and the mouth for liars and blasphemers, and then expanded beyond the capacity of the flesh to withstand it. All of the tools in this draw are devices of Vatican torture.” Anna explained, turning the screw back and closing the pear before she placed it back and closed the draw.

Torture is still a very popular business around the world, but the Vatican developed truly obscene methods. A cheap and effective way to torture someone was with rats. There were many variants, but the basic idea was to completely restrain the victim, usually being tied to the ground. They’d then have slits cut in their belly. Starving rats would then be placed in the slits to eat the victim from the inside. Death from the gnawing of their intestines usually took many hours or sometimes days of agonising pain, but for the victim always death in the end.” Anna explained. Gwen said nothing.

Anna then took her to the restoration department, were objects were cleaned, repaired, preserved and identified. Small groups of people were studiously working at their labours.

Anna took her into a room with two students working on a huge lump of stone, they were grinding away at its surface; chipping away the rock to expose the fossilized remains hidden within. “Good morning John. Morning Francine.” Anna said as they entered.

The students stopped work. “Morning Anna.” They replied. “Who’s this?” John asked.

This is Gwen; she’s hopefully going to be working with the university.” Anna told them.

Good Morning, what’re you a professor in?” John asked Gwen, his breath was unpleasant and Gwen recalled a little.

I’m a professor of effluvium.” Gwen replied insouciantly.

You’re a professor of bad breath?” Francine giggled, knowing about John’s halitosis. John was embarrassed and turned slightly red.

Gwen fished around in her pocket and took out a small bag containing small pieces of amber resin; she opened the bag and offered the open bag to John. “Please try this, it will fix the problem, just chew it.” She said with a dead pan smiled.

John cautiously took a lump of the resin, and popped it into his mouth. “What is it?” He asked.

Frankincense resin.

Here. Take the bag, your need is greater than mine, I’ve plenty more at home.” Gwen told him holding the bag out towards him.

Thank you.” He answered taking the bag with a difficult smile. “It’s nice. It’s a chewing gum.”

May I try a piece John?” Francine asked him, he offered her the open bag. “Thanks.

Yes. It’s an unusual taste. It’s nice.”

Gwen toured the department and met the rest of the students working there, after which Anna led her back up to the main entrance hall where Frank was waiting to take her to the gallery. “Gwen. Did you find the tour with Anna interesting?” Frank asked as they approached.

Yes.” Gwen smiled. “Thanks Anna, for your efforts.” Gwen said warmly.

What did Anna show you?” Frank asked.

The most disturbing item was the pear.” Gwen told him.

Yes the Catholic Church continues to be a source of horror, be it more hidden in modern times. The Vatican Church not only practiced torture, they also provided the moral underpinning for its use, and pioneered new techniques. The papal Inquisitions were by far and away the most prolific and proficient torturers possibly ever known. They codified rules for the application of torture but it’s not clear why, since they routinely ignored all restrictions: for example, they tortured children, even very young children, they carried out repeated tortures, and they accepted as evidence the sort of tittle-tattle that no civil court would countenance. And of course whenever these soulless entities of religion broke their own rules, they were empowered to forgive each other.” Frank explained.

To be a Catholic, is to be an idiot.” Frank remarked almost to himself.

Frank led Gwen through the main hall then along some corridors until they entered the main gallery. “This is the main gallery Gwen, at the moment we’ve artwork from many different artists displayed, and a small number of sculptures, but this whole gallery can be used for a presentation of your work, we change the displays regularly, and so once we’ve introduced your work we would continue changing the gallery content periodically with a mixture of artists once again, the majority of the artwork is from the student body. We’d present your work initially as a feature artist.” Frank explained.

The galley was an interconnected collection of rooms with oak floors, each painting was carefully lit, and some rooms had benches positioned centrally for viewing, sculptures were also displayed within some rooms along with paintings.

Gwen walked slowly around examining the artwork; while Frank told her the history of each piece she showed interest in. As they reach the end of the tour Gwen felt an overwhelming urge to vent her thoughts, she felt her great love must be defended. “Much of what you claim as artwork here is very crude, poorly composed, badly executed, lacking in vision, and for the most part ugly.” Gwen said, Frank looked a little stunned.

I see.” Frank replied.

Especially the sculptures, these ‘artists’ have made objects without real form, and claimed some fantasy justifies that a lack of composition, skill of execution, and expression of beauty somehow does not apply to ‘their’ efforts.

But beauty ‘IS’ the very purpose of art, if you make the ‘ugly’, then you’re not an artist, art is by definition a skilled craft, one developed as a result of learning and practice, and as such its expression must reflect that description. Don’t you think?

What does it make a university that decorates its halls with the mundane and ugly, and attempts in vain to dress it up as the beautiful, with stated justifications of pretension and fantasy?

It makes university advocates appear as the emperor who wears the invisible new suit of the fool.” Gwen felt these artist pretenders degraded and belittled the expression of beauty that was to her art, and couldn’t contain her disgust.

But Gwen art has many forms of expression, you express yourself with great skill, beautiful composition and with a unique vision, but other artists express themselves in other ways. Also these are the work of student artists. Not professionals.” Frank counted, but as he heard himself say it, he felt his counter argument was a baseless lie, even he could see her point, but his entire professorship was based on that lie, that teaching of pretensions of justification for the ugly, or less than perfect was his very profession.

If you show my work, show my work, and then after show the work of others without my work mixed in, my children would be disrespected surrounded by the efforts of the ridiculous and the irrational.” Gwen told him.

OK Gwen, that’s possible.” Frank replied. “We’ve a second smaller gallery which could be used exclusively to present your work, with so much work it could be updated with different works each week, that would encourage people to visit the gallery regularly.

I’ll take you to Tom, he’ll show you the art department.” Frank then led Gwen in silence back to the main hall where Tom was waiting.

Gwen how’s your morning been?” Tom asked with a smile as they approached.

Fine.” Gwen answered.

Frank was a little subdued, feeling a little emotional at Gwen’s attitude to his gallery. “I’ll see you both later.” He said sadly, as he handed Gwen over and walked away quickly.

What’s wrong with Frank?” Tom puzzled out loud seeing Frank wasn’t his normal cheerful self.

I upset him. Not intentionally mind. I was honest in my opinions, and that, more often than not, offends.” Gwen replied.

Oh! You didn’t like the art gallery?” Tom probed.

The gallery was very beautiful, but the artwork it contained not so much.” Gwen answered.

I’m sorry to hear that, I find much of the artwork uplifting, but of course your work is in a different category to anything we have presently displayed.” Tom smiled.

Tom turned and looked around the main hall. “Would you like a drink, or shall we head straight off to the art department?” Tom asked her.

Let’s head off.” Gwen said, and Tom led her out of the main doors, they navigated the staircase leading down in front of the building. Outside they walked through the grounds of the university until they approached a modern steel, concrete and glass building, a large sign, posted outside with ‘Art Department’ pompously displayed.

This is a new building, completed about 5 years ago.” Tom commented proudly.

I don’t care for modern architecture myself, it has a cold clinical feel, but it’s functional and modern I suppose.” She replied.

Tom took Gwen around the building showing her the various work rooms and facilities within the art department, he led her into a class room with several students working on art projects, Gwen looked on as a young man was flicking paint onto a large canvas in various colours. “Is that art?” Gwen asked.

Yes.” The young man replied. “This is called gestural abstraction, I’m going to combine the flinging, dripping, pouring, and spattering techniques and form an abstract work, in the Jackson Pollack style.” He continued.

So this form of artwork has no real level of skill, more a random expression of movement and paint?” She asked.

Yes.” The young man replied.

So there is no artistry involved?” She continued.

I’m the artist.” The man replied.

But artistry means great skill, ability and craftsmanship?

Yet this painting; a child could do just out of nappies, it demonstrates no need for any skills to be developed or applied.” Gwen replied.

The skill’s in the composition; I’m forming the abstract composition as the artist.” The youth replied a little tired now of the conversation.

I see, so to you, composition is the choosing of the colours and where to flick, drip, spatter or pour the paint on the canvas?” Gwen persisted.

Exactly.” The young man answered.

Under that logic, if I composed a sentence by carefully selecting letters and then scattering them onto a page, it would be a great literary work, simply because I claimed to be a writer. Or if I erratically generated musical notes and wrote them down, the result would be a great musical composition, simply because I claimed to be a musician?” Gwen queried.

Look lady, this’ll be a masterpiece, you clearly know nothing about art.” The young man told her firmly.

OK. A masterpiece! In what way does your painting express a supreme intellectual or artistic attainment?” Gwen asked.

Because I painted it, and I’m an artist, I’m expressing my art, and as such this is a masterpiece.” The young man replied a little arrogantly.

I see, so the same reason no skill is required in the execution of your art. Simply because you’re the artist, as opposed to another being the artist, the art itself has no merit intrinsically then, the art has no real value other than it was created by the artist, which makes it a masterpiece simply from that perspective?” Gwen asked.

Exactly.” The young man replied.

Well I’m learning a lot about art today, you’re certainly giving me an education, and for my entire life it seems I had it all backwards.” Gwen replied.

Tom.” Gwen waved him over, he was on his mobile phone talking, he made his conversation short and hung up, walking across. “Have you seen this masterpiece created by a self-admitted skill-less artist, who has no need to create intelligent design within his compositions, because the artwork is unimportant, he tells me, it’s the artist that makes the art, not the artwork. Sadly, for me, up till now I’ve been living in a fool’s paradise, this young man has educated me, and he also tells me I clearly know nothing about art.” Gwen told him.

What’ve you been saying Mr. Greenberg?” Tom asked the young man with a stern face.

This woman thinks Jackson Pollock had no artistic skill, next she’ll be saying Picasso was a poor quality cartoonist instead of the greatest artist of the 20th century.” Mr. Greenberg responded.

I’ve seen Picasso’s work and your assessment is spot on, I do think he was a second rate cartoonist at best, he churned out tens of thousands of cartoonish drawing and paintings.” Gwen replied with a smile.

Well Gwen…” Tom replied.

That’s my opinion, and I think Greenberg here is right, the artwork within the “art world” is second fiddle to the artist, and that should ‘never’ be the case.

The pseudointellectuals pouncing around, taking a living from ‘art’, make sure the actual ‘art’ is taken seriously when in general a reasoning soul wouldn’t give it a second glance, it’s a case of branding more than anything else, it seems to me.” Gwen continued.

The artist is the art, so Picasso was all that mattered.” Mr. Greenberg retorted.

Well.” Tom responded.

Gwen ignored Greenberg and looked at Tom. “If I were just starting out in life today, I would focus my talent into making film, computer animation is fascinating, I’ve seen this art form and can see the potential, not only in the creation of cartoons but with real action films also, and the creative direction of such a medium for me would be liberating, taking my visions from fixed moments and making them truly live.” Gwen smiled.

Like you’d have talent.” Greenberg replied with a sniffing smile.

That’s interesting Gwen.” Tom replied gently turning Gwen away from Greenberg while giving him a stern disparagingly glare. “I can take you over to the film and C.G animation department on campus straight after we’ve had lunch, I was going to show you the sculpting studio, but we can see that afterwards. We’ll have to get going over to meet the dean now, if that’s OK, he just rung me.” Tom smiled; he now knew Gwen’s weakness, the angle that could be used to convince her to come on board with the university.

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