By Bob Goddard
Sometimes a moment of great artistic inspiration can be pinpointed. Mine came when I saw the letter “C” printed neatly in magic marker on an empty milk jug. My horse obsessed daughter, Jamie, left “C” unattended on top of an equipment chest in the tack room. When I saw “C”, I felt an undefined, but powerful impulse to do something with it. But what?
In the days to follow, other letters joined “C”. First “A”, then “H” and then “K”. “F”, “B”, “M”, and “E” were added later. I kept a close eye on the accumulation of letters, happy to see that all those hours of Sesame Street were paying off. In less than two weeks, everything became clear: Jamie was collecting letters for a dressage ring. I hadn’t realized we drank that much milk.
I didn’t know much about this new passion of Jamie’s, but I had a vague understanding that at each letter you do something different. “A” was the entrance point: “Enter at A” is dressage equivalent of “Gentlemen, start you engines!” Logically – or at least alphabetically – “B” should be the next point. But no, “X” is always the second point. These people are asking for chaos.
I couldn’t find the “X” in Jamie’s collection. When I asked her about it, she mumbled something about “X” being in the middle. This is what bothers me about dressage; it’s all so fuzzy. “X” is in the middle of what? Texas?
But no matter. The presence of an “A” and an “E” presented me with a huge creative opportunity. With these vowels I could generate complete words. The seed of “C” was bearing fruit: FAKE, BAKE, CAB, FAB, BACK, HACK.
I was told to stop. Jamie didn’t appreciate having to reposition her letters every time she went to practice. Every letter had its own special spot around the ring and I was disrupting the sacred arrangement. This from somebody who goes directly from “A” to “X”.
I was ready to quit anyway. I was concerned with things like creative inspiration and artistic self-expression. BECK and HECK only went so far.
Instead of letters, I needed entire words. I wanted something like those refrigerator magnets, only bigger so my fans could see my work. By a stroke of luck, I found a sign in the barn with all kinds of great words on it. I carefully removed the sign and cut it up into individual words. Here are the words I had to work with (in alphabetical order):
A ACT AN AN AN AN DEATH EQUINE EQUINE EQUINE EQUINE FOR FROM INHERENT INJURY IN IS LIABLE LIABILITY MICHIGAN NOT OF OF OR PARTICIPANT PROFESSIONAL RESULTING RISK UNDER THE THE THE TO WARNING
My words kept me busy for a week. I came up with some profound expressions:
RISK INJURY OR DEATH
UNDER A PARTICIPANT IS AN EQUINE
THE DEATH WARNING IS INHERNT FOR A PARTICIPANT
WARNING: EQUINE EQUINE EQUINE EQUINE
Jamie didn’t like this either. She was not impressed with my artistic expression nor did she care much about my creative inspirations. In fact, she was tired of finding these stupid words tacked on her hay bales. And I owed her a sign.
What I needed was a dynamic format. Conceptual art often includes a random element that provides motion and variety to the expression. If I could find some things that moved around in random fashion, I could attach my words to them and thus create endless word combinations. I’d be a shoe-in for a grant from the National Arts Foundation.
I was standing next to the pasture with my words tucked in a manila folder, watching the horses move around in random fashion when it hit me: an empty water bucket square on the back of my head. “Don’t even think about it,” a small, but angry voice came from thirty feet behind me. I didn’t know Jamie had that good of an arm.
But I wasn’t going to let an empty water bucket stop me! I appealed directly to my wife, Jenny. With arms spread and palms up, I outlined my clever idea. What an artistic breakthrough! “Besides,” I pointed out, “it will finally give the horses a practical function.”
Jenny said she was going to find me a practical function. Maybe even two or three practical functions. Then she tossed my words into the garbage. “You owe Jamie a sign,” she said.
This is typical. Creative geniuses always run into resistance from those who do not understand. I’m sure other giants like Warhol and Keourac and McManus got smacked with their share of empty water buckets. But no amount of criticism can stop the impulse to add beauty and expression to the human experience. The next day, I began collecting empty milk jugs.