"Truly a display so perverse and assaulting to the senses that I would relate it to being not much preferable to being attacked by a crackhead in the urine filled streets of the East End. A dispassionate creation of the lowest order, truly, I cannot imagine what has given Professor Merrill such a poor judgement of her students to send them out into the world with this as their only offering." Constance Stetson said.
The gathering crowd oohed and simpered at the delivery of his verdict, dooming another artist to mediocrity and a swift fade from focus. The artist in question kept their face stony and distant, not the first time that they had been so thoroughly dressed down Constance did not doubt.
It was an unfair and unkind reality that Constance was allowed to pass judgement on those that created and attempted to capture the essence of human experience. Unfair and unkind, but the reality it still was. His own talents were miniscule in comparison but he had dedicated a lifetime to the study and appreciation of the arts, his mastery of the themes and evocations of the canvas were second to none. It did not matter that they did what he could not, it only mattered that the crowds and culture hung on his every utterance.
The next piece Constance came to was a deceptively simple affair, the kind of exhibit which would lead the ignorant masses to question how something so simple could be worth anything at all, let alone the huge sum it would doubtless be sold for.
"My two-year-old might have drawn it." They would say, Constance would scoff and shake his head at their lack of appreciation. It would be impossible to explain to such a person the nuance and depth hidden in the negative space, the endless cascade of references and influence which had led the artist to choosing precisely this style in their piece, minimalist as it was.
Constance raised his spectacles and took a solemn moment to explore the piece. It was unmarked by the artist and so he could only guess at the source, the only clue he had was the name of the piece 'Hollow Contemplation'. He turned to his crowd of onlookers and frowned at them.
"Charles is this one of yours?" He asked. The artist laughed and shook his head.
"Laura?" He then ventured, she shook her head as well.
"Hrm?" Constance mused to himself. He circled the lonely piece of canvas and tapped at his chin. It was an interesting suggestion and the problem puzzled his mind.
"Truly exquisite." Constance said at last. His crowd of followers sounded their own appreciation, having only been held back by Constance's final judgement.
"Truly exquisite, I should consider purchasing it myself. There is a place for just such an expression in my studio. might I inquire with the gallery about its sale?" He said.
The gallery had been put on by one Jacqueline Black, an exceptional administrator and host, if an average artist herself, a kindred spirit of sorts to Constance, a part of but always, necessarily, apart from the scene. She smiled at him and assured him that she would look into its sale for him, prior to the auction of course.
It was one of a thousand considerations that were made for Constance, as a return for him bringing notoriety and attention to an otherwise unnoticeable display which would have been lost in the grand shuffle of the London art scene. Constance accepted it as no more than his due as a critic of significant renown. In his words artists were made and broken, it was only right that he was given special consideration.
Constance continued the round of exhibits but his attention had faded, something which became clear to his crowd of followers and they flitted elsewhere with their clawing for validation. Constance tried to puzzle out who had created the piece he would buy. Normally problems delighted him and he took great pleasure in solving such a riddle but he was growing tired of the game.
“Constance, my love?” Jacqueline said, stirring him from his distant thoughts.
“Ah Jacqueline, tell me what price will you exact?” He said, smiling warmly at her.
“The piece has no record, as far as I can tell it was an anonymous donation. As it is I couldn’t possibly consider taking anything for it. Take it Constance my dear, as a gift between two old colleagues. For all you have done for the arts, please I insist.” She said.
Constance frowned and clucked disapprovingly.
“Nonsense, I will not be held up by this. Accept a payment of the pieces worth, I insist, it is only right to give the exhibit a resounding associated price. Besides, it shall make the most wonderful headline for your gallery, selling an anonymous piece to an old, bitter, critic for a small fortune. You’ll have every Fine Art Undergrad in the country banging on the door.” He said.
“Don’t be silly Constance, I have no wish to appeal to the riff-raff. You must take it.” She said.
Constance offered only a token of further resistance, knowing a forlorn cause when he came into contact with one. He huffed and complained but he left the gallery with the painting in a sleeve and a young hopeful to carry it for him. The young man's company was a small price to save Constance carrying it himself. There would be a piece of work or gathering which he would inflict upon Constance for the favour but it was the way of their world.
After he had gone the evening fizzled from a vibrant exchange of thoughts and passions to a dwindling flame. Eventually only Jacqueline and a single member of staff remained inside. Jacqueline was placing the pieces back into their respective storage for the evening, in preparation for the following evening. The staff member, a man with grey hair at his temples and a solemn expression on his face, approached her.
“Another good evening ma’am?” He said. Jacqueline smiled at him.
“Yes thank you Harvey, has your granddaughter made any more scribbles?” She asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll bring it in tomorrow.” He said.
“Perfect, another critic whom I’d dearly love to humble shall be attending. Constance took your granddaughter's painting hook, line, and sinker. Some great statement about minimalist expression in his mind, I've not doubt.” She said, incredibly pleased with the embarrassment which would be felt at Constance Stetson’s expense.