Love, Life, and the List(7)

By: Kasie West



Mr. Wallace was in his office writing something in a notebook. His office was almost as bad as the storage room—piles of papers on his desk, easels in need of repair leaned in a messy pile against one wall, a trash can overflowing in the corner. He looked up when I stopped in the doorway.

“You heading home?”

“I am, but first I wanted to ask you about the show at the end of July.”

His gaze went to the large folder I held.

“I brought some samples to show you.” I set my portfolio on his desk.

“Abby, there is limited space, and I have applications from all over.” He opened a drawer and pulled out a stack of papers, as if I wouldn’t believe him.

“I’d like to throw my hat in the ring too.”

“Eighteen is the age requirement.” He pointed at a random spot on one of the applications.

Now for my well-rehearsed speech. “Sir, I believe that art doesn’t have an age limit. Michelangelo sculpted Madonna of the Stairs at sixteen. Picasso was granted entrance into a prestigious art school at fourteen. At the age of fifteen Salvador Dalí had his first public art exhibit. I’m not saying I’m anywhere near as talented as they are, I’m merely pointing out that age shouldn’t be an indicator of ability.”

“You’ve been doing your homework, I see.”

I slid my portfolio closer to him. “I’m just asking for a chance.”

He sighed and reached for my portfolio. I sunk into the chair opposite him in relief. I’d accomplished the hard part. My art spoke for itself. He began slowly flipping through the folder. I’d blown up most of the pictures to at least ten by twenty. He studied each one closely. After what felt like forever, he closed the cover and looked up at me.

I gave him my winning smile.

“Abby, you will be perfect for the show when you meet the age requirement. Is that next summer?”

“Wait . . . what?”

“You’ll be the right age next summer.” He patted the closed folder. “Bring me some more samples then.”

The smile slid off my face. “Yes. But why? I’ve seen the art you’ve had in here for amateur exhibits. Mine is just as good. Are you really going to hold me back because I’m not eighteen yet?”

“It’s not just about your age.”

“Then what?”

“We have limited space and I need every sale I can get to keep this place going. This is my one and only fundraiser for the year. We’re a museum, not a gallery, so I don’t get to do this just anytime I feel like it.”

I moved to the edge of the hard chair. “But what if I sell a few of my allowed paintings? That would help you, right?”

He pushed my portfolio back toward me. “You won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because you’re not ready. Your paintings aren’t good enough yet.”

The air went out of my lungs so fast it felt like someone had punched me in the gut.

When I didn’t say anything, he went on. “I have every reason to believe that they will be. But you’re not quite there.”

“What do you mean? What are my paintings missing?”

He stared at my closed book. “Experience . . . heart.”

“Heart?”

“They’re technically good, but they look like you copied a picture. I want to feel something when I look at your paintings. They’re missing a layer, and that’s understandable. You’re young. You haven’t experienced enough in life to add that depth to a painting. But you will. You are exactly where you should be in your progression as an artist. Just keep moving forward. You’ll get there.”

I nodded numbly. After years of art teachers, my parents, my grandpa telling me I had talent far beyond my years, this was hard to hear. I stood and tucked the book under my arm.

“I’m sorry,” he said as I walked away.

I went through the back to avoid Ralph. I didn’t want him to ask me about the huge folder I held. I didn’t want to have to explain to him what I was doing with it.

The museum had a courtyard, and right now, outside, a recycling exhibit was on display. The artist had taken trash and turned it into art. I passed a tree made of shaped iron for branches and green tinted bottles for leaves, then I wound around two old bicycles that were fused together. They seemed to defy gravity by balancing on a single wheel. The last piece I flew by before reaching the side gate was the rusty hood of a Volkswagen Beetle. On the domed section was carved a lopsided heart. I slid to a halt.

These were all pieces in a traveling exhibit that we only had for two weeks. Next week we’d pack it up in wooden crates with shredded paper and ship it up the coast, to Pismo or Santa Cruz or some other artsy beach community like ours. I’d spent some time out here admiring the pieces. I loved art. All different kinds. But now, this rusty old hood with its uninspiring heart seemed ridiculous. Mr. Wallace considered this art, but not my paintings? Was this really that much better than what I had shown him? Maybe I had no idea what art was after all. And maybe I had nothing to offer anyone.

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