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Side by Side: Tales from Behind the Canvas excerpt

When the judge finally introduced the first-place winner, he held up a framed fabric collage that featured a hole in the center of the canvas. Peter and I exchanged quick glances at one another, both recalling my earlier (though discreetly whispered) characterization of this piece as simplistic and crafty rather than skilled and artistic. And, what was with that hole in the middle? The judge, a university professor of art history, had deemed the piece worthy of first prize and was now expounding at length upon his reasons – the thoughtfulness of the design and the artistic excellence that had obviously gone into the work. True to my behavioral reformation, I shifted around in my chair to channel my astonishment, and not a single peep escaped my mouth. Meanwhile, the artist, who’d been seated to Peter’s right, climbed the stairs to the stage to receive the judge’s accolades and accept her blue ribbon.

After thanking the judge, the winner returned to her seat, and received Peter’s polite congratulations. She laughed to him, saying loud enough for us both to hear, “This piece is really a mistake. I was cutting out more pieces of fabric to glue on and accidentally poked a hole through the center of the canvas. But, I decided to submit it anyway.” She laughed again. I was stunned. A mistake had won first prize? And worse, she couldn’t keep that to herself?

My hands gripped the chair, and I stared straight ahead, squeezing my lips tightly together like an offended church lady. I held to my vow of silence, but no words were required to convey the ARE YOU KIDDING ME? that I was telepathically beaming to Peter. Just in case, Peter reached over a knowing, precautionary hand and placed it on my knee. I looked around the room at the other artists whose work was clearly superior and had involved serious intent and technical prowess. I was appalled on their behalf. How did they feel knowing their careful work had taken a second seat to a few rags stuck with glue and embellished by a slip of the scissors? Their polite faces gave me no indication. Art shows, I decided then and there, were a joke. A complete crock.