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Kids Coming of Age Contemporary

  They say art unlocks what lies within your heart, that it can reveal the secret and the real you to yourself and to others. I think that was what took me to the art exhibition that day. I was searching for answers. I wanted to know more about my family, and I wanted to discover more about myself. 

  I entered the renowned art gallery, took an exhibition guide, and searched for my family name. There it was, right at the end: Zounder. My family, the Zounders, was a family of artists, reaching from my great-grandparents right down to my nephews. I had just naturally followed my giftings and joined in. Now, I strolled along, briefly admiring various pieces, but more interested to see the full Z display. It should be quite impressive.

  It took some time, but I finally reached our display. Among the swirls of colour, the ostentatious array of patterns, my eyes automatically sought my own small offering, skimming along, up and down, searching for it. It wasn’t there. At that moment, I felt like my world was crumbling.

 I stood there, gawking, frozen like a statue of ice in Antarctica. I couldn’t believe it. I had invested hours into crafting an oil pastel creation which symbolised our family, my family--the family I felt in my bones was responsible for keeping my piece off the display. How many of them had been involved, I wondered. 

  I saw a staff member, one who knew me, and I motioned for him to come over. “Where is my piece?” I asked.

  He shrugged lethargically. “They didn’t want to put it with these.”

  “Why not?” I demanded, and my voice was hoarse. “Don, I need to know.”

  “Well,” he drawled. “I wasn’t in on the meeting, but it had something to do with not mixing quality or lowering value. You know how it is; if you showcase lesser talent with the greater, it devalues it.”

  Mixing quality? Devalues it? This was worse than I had thought. “One more question, Don. Who was it? Who swayed the decision?”

  “Old man Zounder, I suppose. Either him or your folks. They were all three of them there.” 

  With a final, apathetic lift of his shoulders, he left me. My grandfather, my own parents: they had done this to me?

  Whirling, spinning, reeling, I wasn’t sure how I stayed upright. I found myself staring into the bathroom mirror, cheap advertisements for the art exhibition chuckling at my misery. It was just one piece, I tried to tell myself, but my heart refused to hear. I had poured everything I had into that one piece. It was me! And it had been rejected. A thought flashed across my mind. The registrar! I could speak to the registrar. That was it! I had to get to the registrar now! I’d demand he either display my piece where it belonged or return it to me this instant. I only hoped I wasn’t too late. The fear which bubbled up inside sent me flying down the corridors, searching for the man who held my art and my future in his hands.

  “Mr. Kholinsky!” I said firmly but hoarsely, as I flung open his office door without knocking. He was at his desk, speaking to another person, and he looked up sternly at my entrance.

  “Just a minute, young Zounder,” the art registrar said, his voice the usual calm, collected tones used with everyone. “I’m currently engaged.”

  “No!” I said. “I need to talk to you now.”

  “I don’t think you want--”

  I cut him off. “Yes, I do.”

  “I am currently speaking with Mr. Miller who wishes to bestow a scholarship on a young artist.”

  I was momentarily filled with curiosity. “Who?”


  “Me? Why would anyone want to sponsor an artist whose work has been removed?”

  Mr. Miller shot Kholinsky a sharp look. I straightened my shoulders, reminded of my purpose. “I have come here to demand that you either replace my piece in my family’s display or return it to me immediately.”

  Mr. Kholinsky shook his head. “No can do, Zounder. You signed a waiver. For the duration of the exhibition, I will use my own discretion as to decisions.”

  I turned and stormed off, throwing back over my shoulder, “You’re not beneath being guided by my family!”

   I heard his soft reply. “Not when it agrees with my professional opinion.”

 I locked myself in my room. Downstairs, I could hear my family preparing to leave. I heard my mom shout my name.

  “Come on! We’re going to be late!”

  “I’m not going,” I called back, trying to keep my voice level, trying to hide the tears.

  I wasn’t surprised when she knocked on my door. “Come on. You’re not eight anymore. Stop acting like a cranky child. Open up and tell me what’s wrong.”

  A little embarrassed, I let her in. “I--I just don’t want to go. The pressure’s been too much for me.”

  She raised an eyebrow. “The pressure?”

  “I can’t handle hearing what everyone thinks of my work.”

  “When you put art on display, that tends to happen. People talk. Whether it’s good or bad, people always comment. That’s why the life of an artist can be tough. It’s intensely personal.”

  I took a deep breath. “I don’t think I’m cut out to be an artist. My work isn’t good, and everyone knows it. I just feel like I’ve had enough of criticism.”

  Mom sighed. “If that’s the way you feel, can’t you at least come to celebrate others’ work? This is the art event of the year…and your sister’s first exhibition.”

  That stumped me. She was right. Maybe my piece was rubbish, but that didn’t mean Jacinda’s was worthless. There were hundreds of others too, and maybe I just needed to get over myself. After all, it wasn’t like people could comment on my artwork if it wasn’t displayed. I could attend as a neutral viewer. “Fine, I’ll go,” I said. 

  A small smile crossed my mom’s lips. “Good. I’ll let your Grandpa know.”

  Gripping the hand of six-year old Jacinta, I breathed in and out, feeling conspicuous in the gleaming white outfit she had begged me to wear. We were late, my fault of course, and had rushed from the carpark inside the looming building. Now, people swept past, pushing, shoving, blending in my brain like the ocean tide, dizzying me. I fought to stay upright, following the broad form of my grandfather who led the family procession, followed by my slender grandmother, my father, and lastly my mother. They carved a pathway through the crowd, and I helplessly followed with JayJay. Those who saw us moved aside voluntarily, while the others were forced to the side. We were something, us Zounders. We were the upper-class elite of the art world. They were, not me. I had to make that distinction now. It was them and me, me and them, us and them. No! I snapped my eyes open and pinched myself with my free hand. What was wrong with me? Was I getting sick? I’d read about people who went mad during times of illness. I tried to dust the random thoughts from my brain. Me and them, us and them, them and me, Zounder, Zounder, Zounder, art…Art! Art!

  Suddenly, I was wide awake, focused, intense. We had reached the centre of the room. Here were the main exhibits, and here the main speeches were to be presented. I knew my grandfather would be speaking. From time without end, a Zounder had spoken at the annual art exhibition. I hoped Jacinda would one day keep that tradition alive. Maybe, I’d have artsy children too.

  Silence spread like a castnet over the audience, dragging everyone to attention. Old man Zounder, my grandpa, had taken the mic. For the first seconds of his speech, my ears buzzed, but then I heard his words.

  “Art holds a crowning place in all of our hearts. That has led each of you here today, whether appreciation of the art or the creation of it, whether you are an admirer or an artist. Many of you are both. 

  For those whose veins flow with the pulse of creative genius, not all are alike. Even within my family, I find some possess less skill or genius.” He paused, and I knew then that he was going to talk about the disappointment of his life. Me and them, us and them, them and me, Zounder, Zounder, Zounder.

  I turned to push my way back through the crowd, but JayJay held me tight. Her eyes were wide, like those of a baby. She was so innocent; she didn’t understand, but she looked as if she were trying to. Her brown eyes melted me, and it was not for some time that I realised she had carried me through those awful moments. I had not suffered from my grandfather’s harsh words. I had not even heard them, but he wasn’t done yet.

  “Today I have the immense honour of presenting to you the chosen piece, the centre of our exhibition, or I may venture to call it, our festival. It is a masterpiece which represents family, honour, deep-rooted ties, strength. It represents so much more. We have the distinguished artist among us today. I present to you, ‘Cor Familiae’ by Torrent Zounder!”

  He jerked back the rich black cloth. The painting beneath was mine.

March 15, 2024 07:45

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1 comment

Bec Newton
21:13 Mar 20, 2024

The self deprecation of an artist. Story of our lives. A nice little read, though I could see the end early on.


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