I knew a long time ago that Roy didn’t see the world the way I did. Where I saw a discarded piece of trash, he saw inspiration. Where I saw a faded sign, he saw character. Where I saw graffiti, he saw creativity and color. Where I saw nothing, he spotted something that made him laugh.
Roy likes to put together visuals like a puzzle in his mind.
The other day, someone decided it would be a great idea to leave a stack of old, very used and fairly decayed furniture on our street. Even when this stuff was first purchased it wasn’t quality furniture, so maybe it was just as well that it was discarded. But I couldn’t figure out why someone would dump their old furniture in a quiet neighborhood on the side of the road. Did they think someone in need would come by and haul it off to a new home? Believe me, no one was that desperate. It had been drizzling the entire day. The pillows from the rank sofa had to be damp and dingy, and not to mention, probably full of bugs and other creatures. The wood, if it was real wood, was already soaked and ruined. And next to the sofa, there was a toilet. An honest-to-god porcelain throne. Right there at the curb.
Personally, I considered it to be an exercise in laziness. And rudeness. But I could be wrong.
This is where Roy comes in. He insisted that we stop so he could take pictures. He does this often. He stops in his tracks and sees something random in the street or on a building, and must stop everything so that he can photograph it. It is tempting to think to yourself, “this is the artist at work.” Don’t let him fool you. Roy is not a photographer. The old point-and-shoot he lugs around in his pocket has much of the once orange finish worn away. This isn’t a classic piece of fine equipment that captures his vision in a way only he can see it. It’s a cheap camera he carries daily so that he can snap random pics while driving on the freeway. I scold him for that.
That said, I still like to believe that Roy thought the toilet was some kind of socio-political statement… that he had created a visual narrative in his mind about the remnants of the middle class discarded at the side of the road in the midst of a postmodern socioeconomic chaos.
But if you know Roy, you know that’s not it. He just thought it was funny. Or clever. Or maybe a little ironic. While I just thought it was irritating. And a little gross.
So there we were: the car stopped cold in the street engine running, driver’s door open and abandoned with his plight to achieve the perfect shot. I was left to fend off confused drivers trying to maneuver around us with their carloads of kids and groceries. Roy was oblivious.
Inevitably, moments like that lead to our “what is art” debate. Usually, that deliberation starts at an ultra-modern, minimalist art exhibit where we find ourselves standing before an enormous solid white canvas exquisitely lit and displayed in the most prestigious spot at MOCA or some pretentious, but popular gallery in a way-to-sketchy neighborhood downtown. I am looking for evidence of actual paint. Roy stands back and watches me squirm with a bit of a smirk.
“This is not art,” I say.
He gets that look on his face. This is what he’s waited for. He gets to goad me.
“It is art if you think it’s art,” he responds, his voice with that touch of playful mockery and pity for my lack of refinement. Poor me, encumbered with the eyes of a proletarian.
“If that is art, then anything is art,” I insist, knowing it’s a moot point. “A toilet could be art.”
He raises an eyebrow, and takes a moment to enjoy this game. He would love to watch me spin into some cerebral defense of my point that the white canvas is not art, but I know the conversation has to end there. I can see the circularity of it. And he enjoys it too much. So what’s the point?
The thing is, even though Roy loves to take pictures of toilets and rocks and nothingness, I’m not completely convinced that he buys that the toilet is art. I think he just really enjoys provoking me and anyone else who falls prey to his ruse.
On the other hand, I can’t be sure. He does see things differently than the rest of us. Where you and I see a rock, he sees texture. Where you and I see garbage, he sees abstract social reality. Where you and I see decay, he sees something alive and vibrant and inspiring. And for whatever reason, it is unknowable to me.
Maybe the toilet is art. Maybe the toilet fills the blank space.
Bobbi Jankovich is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, speaker, professor, and writer of numerous articles on the topics of self-growth and relationships. She has been married to Roy Guzman, the proprietor of The Artist’s Loft, for almost 32 years. For more about Bobbi, visit bobbijankovich.com