“How do you spell that?” I asked my artist wife.
Her response was a facepalm followed by a slightly annoyed look.
Minutes earlier, I had drawn her into a conversation about her favorite historical artists. We were sitting at our kitchen table following dinner one spring evening. The sun was setting outside the window at the end of the table.
As it continued to descend, she didn’t seem too keen on my interest, especially since she knows how much I “enjoyed” my university Art History course. Hint: Not. One. Bit.
Despite her awareness of my lack of interest in this type of conversation, she thought about my question and rattled off some names.
It was at this point I realized I was out of my depth and was regretting my attempt to be interested.
It was at this point I realized I was out of my depth and was regretting my attempt to be interested. Not only had I never heard of any of them, but I had no clue how to spell any of their names in case I accidentally tried to Google them.
So, I asked her for the correct spelling of one of the artists.
“M. A. T. I. S. S. E.” she spelled out slowly for me.
Ah, yes, Matisse. Of course. He is widely considered the greatest colorist of the 20th century, I thought. Actually, I Googled it later.
And she continued as, unbeknownst to her, my interest was rapidly fading into oblivion.
“Morris Louis,” she said.
“Any relation to Huey Lewis from the ‘And The News’ glory days?” I thought, as I nodded to help prod her into continuing to list some of her favorites.
“Barnett Newman,” she continued, unaware that her initial instinct about my lack of interest was quickly turning out to be correct.
“NEWMAN!” I thought with my best Jerry Seinfeld impression but, again, I continued to nod.
“Jackson Pollock,” she added.
“How do you spell that one?” I asked.
“Wooow,” she replied, fading the word to silence.
I guess she thought it wasn’t that hard to spell Pollock.
“But is it?” I thought to myself. It could be spelled any number of ways. One L. Two Ls. Could there be a silent “i”? And is it “ck” or simply “k” at the end? This could go any number of ways, I thought, as I looked at her patiently waiting for the spelling.
She looked right back at me. I looked at her. She looked at me. This continued for a few more minutes.
“P.O.L.L.O.C.K.” she finally spelled for me, breaking the stalemate.
“Ha! I win,” I thought as she continued.
“Hans Hofmann,” she said.
Oh, the bad guy from Die Hard was an artist? Cool, I thought, as I nodded for her to continue.
It was at this point that she sensed something was amiss. (Bless her heart for humoring me this far before realizing.)
Was it a look in my eye? Did I tilt my head the wrong way? Did I shift uncomfortably?
“Why are you laughing?” she asked.
Right, I was chuckling to myself.
“Ah, um, ah, erm,” I eloquently spit out.
“Stupid chuckle,” I thought to myself. That must have been the tip off. I was having too much fun in this conversation about historic artists.
She looked at me unimpressed. Her look made it clear she was expecting an answer beyond nonsense words.
As I slowly composed myself and put one of the greatest movie villains of all time out of my mind (Happy trails, Hans), I formulated a response.
“I got nothing,” I said.
Yup. That’s it. “I got nothing.”
It didn’t end well. Or did it?
She left the kitchen table that evening, and we’ve never again spoken about historic artists, which is probably for the best.