One Honest Man

totem

© J.S. Brand

“A totem pole? I’ve known you for forty years, and you never told me you were native.” Leon Bell stood, looking incredulously at the creation of his friend and neighbor Marshall Griffin.

“I’m not, but why can’t I have my own monument to the symbols that I consider important?”

“But this is a public park. You can’t just deface a tree…”

Marshall scowled up at his friend from his blue lawn chair. “What do you mean deface? This is art.”

“I guess I don’t know what art is,” Leon growled back.

Marshall smiled. “You’re the only honest person I know.”

I wrote this for Rochelle Wisoff-Fields’ photo writing challenge. The idea is to use the image above as the prompt for crafting a piece of flash fiction no more than 100 words long. My word count is 100.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the image. It vaguely resembles a totem pole, but the symbols weren’t what I’d consider traditionally first nations, so I pondered “cultural appropriation” and how to play that out. That’s when I came up with Leon and Marshall, two old friends who no longer have time for false politeness or illusions of propriety.

To read more stories based on the prompt, visit InLinkz.com.

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42 thoughts on “One Honest Man

  1. Whether the carvings there qualify as “Art” or not, that tree has been killed. Artistry itself is no justification for doing so, though if the tree died from other causes the artistry may offer some redeeming value to the stump. I say only that it *may* possibly offer value, depending on an evaluation of the quality thereof. Personally, I can make no claim to place any positive value on any idol or simulacrum of one, even in the service of a disadvantaged culture.

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  2. An interesting question – can others appropriate art, even just for the pleasure of creating? Or is that considered too offensive. When writing characters and plots novelists often inhabit characters not of their own race, background or culture. I think we would be poorer if we suddenly set boundaries that prevented us doing so.

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    • I suppose you could be right, Sandra, depending upon where and how that art is practiced. Art upon a canvas is not likely to be challenged as vandalism, though it might be criticized for its symbolic content or accused of lacking any. Free-standing sculpture not constructed from stolen materials could be considered similarly safe. Unauthorized art upon a wall or other surface owned by the public or by someone other than the artist is most likely subject to criticism as vandalism, regardless of any artistic merit. A tree-stump in a public park would seem to fit that category as well.

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  3. Dear James,

    I’m put in mind of one of my painting teachers at the KC Art Institute. Standing behind a not particularly talented student he quietly said, “I like what you tried to do.” Another honest man. 😉 Nicely sculpted story.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We both went the “cultural appropriation” route, though in different contexts.

    Arguments that certain symbols are owned, or certain sectors of thought, literature and debate are off limits to those who have not “lived” them, I find short- sighted. I think that all people should be allowed to write, speak and create, however badly, on all topics. Let history sort out the important voices.

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  5. Marshall is one tough cookie. Though he is right that many including his friend may not understand an work of art, does he have right to deface a tree?

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  6. Interesting discussion here in the comments. I don’t know what I think. My personal taste don’t go to this kind of art, although I can certainly see the talent and ability of the carver. I guess it really is all about what you see 🙂

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