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The Tell-Tale "Art"

“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?”

— Macbeth

I heard an odd story the other day. It’s about a man down in Texas, and I’d like to share it with you. It seems this fellow is retired, not very active, and was looking for a hobby to pass the time. After a day spent pondering the sun-drenched, desolate landscape around him, he found that he enjoyed relaxing in a hot bath. And, as he reclined soaking, he developed the habit of scribbling on a sketchpad, making drawings of his legs and feet and so forth. He soon found this to be such a soothing, pleasant hobby that he later tried his hand at painting pictures as well.

His specialty became canine portraits: you know, a short-haired terrier posing on a pillow, a cocker-spaniel reclining on a divan. People were so impressed that they asked him to do portraits of their children; but strangely, he adamantly refused, and wouldn’t even discuss it. Well, anyway, these dog portraits were so successful that he had a special exhibition held in his very own museum (which also housed various souvenirs from his career).

Then something happened. Late one night, as he relaxed in his bath, happily sketching his legs and feet, he began to notice something most peculiar. Was it just his imagination—or were his legs becoming fragmented, ripped…dismembered? Of course, for a moment he panicked; but when he looked again, his body seemed normal. But, a few nights later–after he’d forgotten all about it–he was immersed, ready to take up his sketchpad, when he noticed something else. The water in the tub appeared somehow… darker, maybe rusty, and changing hues right before his eyes. The water seemed to be turning—red, red–like… Truly frightened this time, he hastily left the tub. Later, when he had calmed down, he dismissed these episodes as “hallucinations”–due to “nerves.” But he stopped taking his nightly baths.

Meanwhile, he felt fortunate indeed to have found such an enjoyable pastime—even creative outlet!—in doing dog portraits, and appreciated all the praise he received from his friends. But here too, he encountered something–something uncanny and yet oddly familiar. One morning, a particularly hot one (even by Texas standards!), he found himself bogged down with his latest assignment, the portrait of an Irish setter. Then—wouldn’t you know it–the central A/C system went down (overloaded circuits or something). He soon found himself sweltering, drenched in sweat, as he worked away in his little studio at the back of the house. And then, right before his eyes–the painting began to drip, dripping red, dripping… He hastily shut down his easel and put everything away.

After that, so I’m told, he gave up his pastimes of sketching and painting. Unfortunate, people said, because in his retirement he found nothing else of value to do. Still, those in whom he confided—and the word quickly spread around—could not help feeling that his visions meant something important, even urgent, and that they augured a rather somber resolution to come.

NOTE: Apologies to E. A. Poe. The documentary film “The Prosecution of an American President,” just released on DVD, is based on former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s book The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder.

William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

 

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William Manson, a psychoanalytic anthropologist,  formerly taught social science at Rutgers and Columbia universities. He is the author of The Psychodynamics of Culture (Greenwood Press).

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