I've never really been able to appreciate art. When I was 8 years old, my mom came home with a canvas larger than me, painted all white save for a tiny, off-center dot of black.
"Don't touch," she admonished me as I leaned closer to inspect. "This cost me a lot of money."
"It looks like a bug."
"It's art," she said, her nose firmly in the air. "It's abstract."
I didn't know what abstract meant, but I did know that I could do that. I went to my room and emerged five minutes later with a piece of computer paper with a black dot Crayolaed slightly off center.
"Look, Mom." I presented her with my work. "It's art."
Yet my art was destined for the trash can, while hers was to be hung on the wall and fawned over.
"How genius!" guests would say. "How creative!"
I still don't get it. I'm older now and, hoping to discover that my taste had become refined over the years (despite all other signs pointing to the contrary), I agreed to attend a gallery show this weekend in the Mission district. Sick of the monotony of the same booze and boys every weekend, I decided to progress to free booze and artistic boys.
The evening started as most nights in San Francisco do, with an eclectic assortment of people and things that makes you wonder if, somewhere between Market and Mission, you somehow fell down the rabbit hole. There were men in business suits wandering around women with mohawks, trying not to bump into people on pogo sticks or the square-glasses sporting urban hipsters, resplendent in their eco-friendly (yet ever so chic) denim.
I pondered a stack of hundreds of paper towels, each with a butterfly outline cut out so that it perfectly lined up with the one underneath it, creating a deep, butterfly-shaped hole. So this is art, I thought. I squinted and grabbed a glass of wine.
I still didn't get it.
There was a woman sitting at a little metal card table, ripping open envelopes and talking briefly before tearing the papers into tiny shreds.
Not knowing whether she was schizophrenic or engaged in some sort of performance (and it's often hard to make the distinction in this city) and deciding that either was equally intriguing, I made my way over to her. "From June 6, 2006, to June 6, 2007, I wrote letters to every soldier that died in Iraq. Now, I will open the returned envelopes and read my letters out loud before throwing them away," read the little sign next to her display. Her letters read more like poetry and a woman who was videotaping the event was also crying softly. And while it was moving, I must say, I still didn't get it.
There was a house made of cards to my left and a weeping sun to my right, and, except for being mildly impressed by a microscopically detailed drawing made entirely by a Bic pen, I didn't get it. What was the difference between this "art" and what I used to create in kindergarten?
If someone pronounces something that I fish from the Dumpster "abstract" can I, too, make thousands of dollars?
Later, I was going through my photographs from the night. A streak of blue hair filled the frame, with a dash of white light glowing in the corner, purple wine stained mouths, a myriad of people clad in a rainbow of colors. My art wasn't in the gallery; my art was the gallery. And that, I could definitely appreciate.
Liz Moody, a 2004 graduate of Johansen High School, is a student at the University of California at Berkeley. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.