For Art’s Sake by Ellen Channing A wide, blank canvas sat before her.

The tightly stretched facade, perfectly unblemished, dared her to lift her brush and make a mark. It’s sinister gaze intimidated her, as if it knew that any design she laid upon the canvas would defile its perfection and profane the idea of art. Anything she painted would seem no better than graffiti on a highway overpass. With no voice of its own, the canvas spoke to her, belittled her in the voices of supporters and critics alike. “My granddaughter is an artist enslaved by her own creative processes; she produces great work in the moment” said a sympathetic elderly voice. The canvas distorted this praise to seem more like an excuse. Another more brittle and reluctant voice broke through. “Isabel is a very special person. Her work will always be welcome in my gallery, regardless of how it is received by the art world.” Finally, the most firm bass reverberated around her studio. “I will acknowledge that Isabel does have an eye for a pretty picture, but does not have the talent or creative capacity to make an artistic statement, to create meaning.” The artist absorbed the canvas’ taunts. Her pulse quickened, and beads of sweat began to form on her brow. Frustration and anxiety began to froth in her stomach and lungs. She clenched her fists to fight the pressure, but try as she may, she couldn’t help feeling as if she was caught in an undertow, pulling her down to the ocean floor. Nothing she would put on the canvas would be worthy of display. A familiar, sympathetic elderly voice broke the tension, pulling her back to the surface: “Isabel! Dinner!” Isabel hurried upstairs, deliberately ignoring the sinister canvas, fearing it would appear triumphant at her retreat. She didn’t want to keep her grandmother waiting. Currently, Isabel

lived in her grandmother’s basement. Although she would prefer to be living in the city, making connections and living with other artists, thriving on various sources of inspiration, she had only sold a few pieces to fairly pedestrian shoppers, buying pretty pictures for their bathroom. Needless to say, profits from these sales were not enough to sustain a loft in the city. Although she was slightly ashamed to be living in debt to her grandmother, she hoped the countryside residence would inspire her to produce more exceptional work. Better pieces meant better sales, more notoriety, and eventually a place in the heart of the art world. If she could just find out what the art world considers “a great work of art”. As a staunch matriarch, Isabel’s grandmother was proud of every member of her family, regardless of their professional success. She insisted on a family supper each week, in which everyone interrupted their plans to eat together. For the past several weeks, Isabel attended this dinner, sitting silently, staring at her meal and the people around her in search of some inspiration. It had never been this difficult to find subjects. Her school work was always directed by a prompt, and the few pieces she sold were completed in a flurry of emotion. Despite her considerably large portfolio, none of her pieces were cohesive in medium, theme, or style. It was just as the grandmother and the old art critic said. She was an artist only when inspired, all ideas but none of the talent to inspire emotion. Even now, she was bereft of ideas. She had no niche, no signature style. She was Degas without his ballerinas, or Warhol without screen printing. The majority of her time in the last week was spent couped up in the basement studio, trying to find herself. She needed this piece for a major gala reception at her art school. Somewhere between a reunion and a recruiting session, this was her opportunity to demonstrate her creative evolution since graduation and

redeem her scathing reviews of late. These reviews had closed doors for her in local galleries, so this was her last shot, her big break. Between the competing pressures, Isabel certainly put forth all her efforts to save her art, family, and her lifestyle. She stretched out the canvas and prepped it for work early Monday morning, and began to plan. Numerous pots of coffee and what felt like an entire ream of grid notebook paper later, it was Friday night. She and the canvas remained in stalemate. Staring glumly at her plate, she shuffled the ravioli in wide, infinite circles. Her grandmother sensed her resignation and tactfully did not press her. Carlos, Isabel’s younger brother, was not as sensitive to his sister’s mood. “Isa, if you painted as well as you play with your food, you wouldn’t have to live here with Nana!” He snickered until his grandmother shushed him. “Stop trying to paint what you think we want to see” her grandmother cooed. “The world is as many headed as a gorgon, with no chance at consensus! Just paint something that you’re proud of.” Consensus, agreement, unity. Isabel turned the words over in her mind, echoing her grandmother. Our family can never reach a consensus either, and we share the same culture, history, and genetic material. Looking around the room, she admired all the different voices, different faces and experiences found at the table, sharing a single meal. Her mind began to race, her lungs felt as though they’d been filled with helium, rising in her chest. Humanity, culture, and art bring people together. That’s the reason we all sit here at night, why my canvas can have three voices from three different walks of life. I need to open the canvas up to something that can reach millions of people, sharing the human experience.

Her fork rang as it hit the plate. Asking to be excused but not waiting for permission, Isabel scurried downstairs. Had she looked back, she would have spotted a knowing look in her grandmother’s eye. Throwing aside the mountain of scratch papers, she laid the canvas flat on the floor, level with the foundation of the house. She began to paint of the country, of the city, of family, of art, and of life.

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Other Titles by Ellen Channing: Carmageddon Fifteen Minutes …For Art’s Sake Library Help Desk: A Superhero’s Tale Portable Offices Wild Mouse Chase

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