Blue Collar in the Academy
After "Le singe peintre" (The monkey as painter) 1740, by Jean-Baptiste
Simeon Chardin, Oil on canvas, 73 x 59.5cm
Goat at easel. Brush poised in hairy hand. A look not sheepish,
looking at me. A canvas streaked with red lines, childish,
broad-stroked stick figures. Crooked like a lover's lipstick smeared,
or a trickle of menstrual blood, or some kind of sacrifice.
Goat. Sheep. Lamb.
Painted in 1740 by a self-taught artist and son of a cabinet maker, who
broke with his contemporaries and gave the world small domestic scenes,
not for him the heroic gestures of 18th century Rococo. Interior
landscapes in muted colors, and then, the occasional singerie, monkeys
in fashionable attire doing distinctly human things.
Goat. Sheep. Lamb. Monkey.
The word tragedy comes from the Greek word tragoidia or, literally, goat
song. Some scholars believe that the prize for the winning tragedy in
the ancient annual drama competitions held during the spring festival of
Dionysus was a goat. I imagine Sophocles carrying a squirming tragos in
his arms as he leaves the stage amid an audience moved to silent tears.
Still other scholars claim that the word is linked to the practice of
young boys playing female roles, boys with cracking adolescent voices
summoning the spirit of Medea or Antigone, punctuating every line with
an unmistakable bleat.
This solitary goat at his solitary easel with his sheepish look looking
at me; round, brown eyes, sad eyes; the well-placed chapeaux atop his
head covers his horns. A rich, red velvet jacket hangs from his upright
torso as he sits in front of his easel, one outstretched arm frozen in
the act of creation. The jacket, however, does not cover the tail.
The long, snaking tail.
The figure is not a goat at all, but a monkey, a monkey with a black and
white goat mask that covers his face and a hat meant to deceive.
I think, I am not so different.
Michelle Valois lives in Western Massachusetts with her partner and three kids.
She teaches at a community college. Her work has appeared in the Florida Review, Brevity,
Fourth Genre, and others.