On being an iconoclast

Heya, it's me again, Buddy.  Your spiritual guide, you remember?  I'm here to help you reach enlightenment, which, by the way, you won't manage while you're putting that much sugar in your coffee.  There should always be more coffee than sugar in your cup.  And no, artificial sweeteners don't count.

Last time I told you a parable, with the moral that tall men can always be cut down to size.  This time I have another parable for you, and your homework is to go away and think about it.  When you think about it in the right way that will be a step on the path to enlightenment.

No, you can't pay extra to get the version where you're told all the answers up front.  Nice try, though!

A while back, before I was enlightened myself, I found myself in an art gallery for the opening of an exhibition by a relatively obscure artist.  The company I was working for at the time was sponsoring the artist, and some of his works had already been distributed about the office to be hung on the walls (and in one unusual case, hanged on the wall), and so I was there slightly ahead of the doors opening.  There was an excellent buffet that had been laid on, and several cases on an inferior wine were augmenting it.  I had just stacked enough vol-au-vents on my plate to see me through to breakfast when the artist, clutching a glass of nasty Mutton Roughchild bumped into me.

I turned swiftly and smiled at him like a shark discovering dinner, my plate lifting rapidly out of his reach.  Artists, I've found, are just as keen on a free lunch as me.

"S'all right," he slurred, "I'm the artis'.  I can be as drunk as I pliss."

"That's so very true," I said sincerely, feeling a twinge of jealousy.  If I were to get uproariously drunk that evening I would first have to ensure that my boss got drunker, and I hate to lose any competition.

"D'ye like the picshures?" he said and hiccoughed surprisingly delicately.  He waved an arm expansively, knocking the elbow of Sam from accounts and spilling Sam's glass of Mutton Roughchild over the blouse of the woman Sam was trying to chat up.  I smiled again, showing fewer teeth this time, and looked around.

I hadn't really paid any attention to the paintings on the wall as I'd intended to view them after I'd made substantial progress on the buffet, but my plate was full and I was feeling generous.  I strolled over to the nearest couple and appraised them.  They were, I felt, a little jejeune.

"This one," I said, gesturing with a mushroom vol-au-vent and splashing the painting with cream-of-mushroom.  Should I recognise this person?"

"That's my God," said the painter proudly.  "S'my attempt at an icon."

I placed my plate down carefully on a chair nearby and took the painting from the wall and put my foot through it.  Then I dropped the frame and torn canvas, picked my plate back up, and turned back to the artist, who had gone a funny shade of squid-green.

"Do you think that you can become enlightened by worshipping images and icons?" I said.  "If so, then you are most surely mistaken.  For what man can depict on the page in front of him is only what is present in man's mind.  Even if you believe that man was made in his God's image, it does not follow that that God can be conceptualised within that man's mind.  That you can conceive of a creator does not put you on a par with a creator, and that you are a creator does not mean that you are amongst the first ranks.  Worshipping the abstract made concrete is a sure mis-step off the path to enlightenment into the lush, lax meadows of indolence that run alongside, and submission to the temptation of the serpent that dwells therein.  It is as though a mathematician of the first water were to declare that there is nothing more beautiful that the canonical prime number and that that therefore is an eminence of the divine and worthy of worship in its own right.  That won't get any integrating done!"

The artist looked a little stunned, and slurped his wine while he thought about what I'd just said.  I took advantage of the interlude to pile cheese balls on top of the vol-au-vents, and started looking for some crudites to form buttresses to let me add more.

"My Sherry, I think you're right!" he blurted suddenly, and before I could deposit the rest of the cold-ham onto my plate and turn to continue our conversation he had gone over to his paintings, taken out his lighter, and started burning them.

We evacuated the gallery, and I left quietly taking my buffet plate with me.  The moral of this tale, of course, is that a gallery opening can be an excellent place to obtain tableware provided you are not concerned about having a matching set.

The End

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