Airport Art


From my place in the security line, all I could see was the spider web. Until a TSA officer behind me sneezed, and she turned slightly to reveal the spider crawling up her left forearm.

“God bless you.”

She spoke softly but clearly, while making eye contact with the man. I looked at her face and noticed the long row of silver hoops snaking down the edge of her right ear toward an insect on her neck.  Perhaps it was a butterfly.

“Thank you,” he answered her with a smile.

Hardly anyone says “bless you,” let alone “God bless you,” I thought. And I was sure I wasn’t the only one in that line who didn’t expect this young woman to adhere to social conventions.

The middle-aged woman standing between us turned to face her and said, “No one says God bless you, anymore, I’ve noticed.”

She shrugged her delicate shoulders and politely replied, “Years of Catholic school training, I guess.”

They continued to chat as the line remained stalled.  People at the front were taking a long time deciding whether to enter the full body scanner. I considered what a full body scan might reveal about me.  Would it show my deeply internalized bias against what is now referred to as Body Art?

* * * * * * *

A few weeks ago, a friend and I were walking downtown and we saw a shirtless man whose chest appeared to be a canvas.  My friend is a painter and a professor of visual arts. She articulated the dissonance that I have been feeling lately about body art.

“I find tattoos disturbing,” she said. “No matter how beautiful the images are, knowing the way in which they are made makes them seem so violent.”

I will concede that I am drawn to many paintings that portray an artist’s expression of violence or pain.  I might linger in front of Picasso’s “Guernica” or Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” in a museum, allowing the art to evoke an honest, emotional response.  But in the airport—where the sounds, smells and crowds of people threaten to overwhelm my senses—I prefer to confront less-shocking visual stimuli.  Monet’s soothing “Water Lilies” rather than a tattoo artist’s needlework, no matter how carefully constructed the spider’s web, how boldly colored the butterfly’s wings.

* * * * * * *

She greeted me warmly as she sat down next to me on the airplane.  She had given up her seat to allow another middle-aged woman to sit next to her elderly father. Looking beyond her body art, I saw immediately that the Artist had endowed her with incomparable beauty.

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