Beyoncé and Plastic Fish

February 24, 2015

At its core all art is abstract. No art can walk along the dry earth and feel the five-month dead hay stubs cracking beneath it, while reddening at the cold air driving along the tilled valley between the ridges. All art is a rhetorical figure, taking a slippery reality into tiny hands and struggling to hang on to the important piece. The artist must choose. Reality itself slips away like oil while the artist scrabbles on hands and knees in the quick current to catch that tiny shred he can take as a souvenir. A little part suggests the whole; a shark’s tooth invokes the blood-washed maw and thrashing tail. I can’t eat rocks passively. Good art is hard liquor, taking an already potent world and distilling it, boiling away so much, leaving only the strongest bits like a crust. Good art burns your eyeballs and presses against the back of your eyeballs. Popular music is easy listening—producers know their job too well to make you work for pleasure. No shark teeth. Just a soft red chair and potato chips. Ten-proof. Art Lite. Popular music doesn’t imitate reality. It doesn’t distill force and meaning, more concrete than before, out of an already concrete world. If popular music is art, then it is art mixed with a huge quantity of water. It takes a wild and bright world and delivers a product dulled and made from plastic. But I do not think it is art; it is entertainment. I don’t fault it for its entertainment, but only for its presumption to the name of art. My line, a clear flash in the sun, screams while it runs out from my rod. The canoe rests against hot rocks. When the hook settles softly into an eddy, I start to reel it back, squinting at the flashing chops of water. The line pulls taught for a second and drags down the end of the rod. I keep reeling. The water breaks. There it is, clanging against the side of the canoe. It’s small, made of purple plastic, almost white. I think it spent a few days among the sun-scorched beach rocks before the young river asked it along to dance. Sorry, that’s not a real fish.

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Michael Helvey

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