Brush with Shame

In reference to “Couple accidentally paints over $500,000 artwork,” Ben Cost, New York Post, 4/3/21

The whole world over they are in a stew:
Our artists and creators share the view
That “artwork” they create or else display
Is “hands off”—there’s just nothing else to say.
Patrons and galleries spend huge heaps of cash
On art, and they would have you know their stash
Bespeaks the wokeness of the cultured few:
“Hey, don’t mess with the art, or we will sue.
Cancel Caravaggio and cachez Courbet—
We all can do without them anyway.
But with new high–priced hauls do not be rash:
You will regret it if you trash our trash.”

Medusa’s Revenge

on a new statue in New York City

Her face reveals not pleasure, nor contempt,
Nor joy, nor yet relief, but righteousness:
Her rape had caused a horror never dreamt
Of, one for which she could see no redress.

Her crown of radiant locks became a nest
Of writhing serpents and her lovely face
A sight so vile that seeing it no less
Than petrifying death at creeping pace

Befell each viewer. But the gorgon’s case
Did not end there, for soon she came to be
A hunted creature, object of a chase
To make an end of her, and speedily.

Though true she meant no man but injury,
‘Twas not her will that doomed so many men;
Rather, her ghastly visage, horribly
Crowned with fell snakes that brought their ruin, then.

No blame, therefore, from any honest pen,
Can touch this gorgon, dread Poseidon’s prey;
The proof lies in her story’s climax, when
Her severed head brought forth found more to slay.



Julian D. Woodruff was a teacher, orchestral musician, and librarian. He served for several years as librarian at the Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, CA. He now resides in the area of Rochester, NY, where he writes poetry and fiction, much of it for children. His work has appeared in Frostfire Worlds and on the websites of Carmina, Parody Poetry, and Reedsy. His GPS poem placed tenth in the last riddle contest of The Society of Classical Poets.

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14 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    Garbage art of the sort shown in the illustration to the first poem deserves to be slathered over with black paint, or better yet, destroyed. I understand that much of Jackson Pollock’s oeuvre is now deteriorating because he stupidly used ordinary house paint for his drip-work. No loss!

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Maybe someone can tell us, Prof. Salemi, whether Pollock even cared how long his paintings lasted. I once commented to the composer Larry Austin that his composition “Brass” had a very limited life, having been written for a specific performing ensemble and involving filmed footage of them in rehearsal and performance. He merely agreed with me while smiling at the thought, then went on to do the same thing again in his theater piece “Walter.” Maybe Pollock thought, “Done pretty much in the moment; and for the moment.”

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Yes, that might be true. But if it is, it only reinforces what many of us here at the SCP believe about mainstream contemporary art in general — namely, that it is totally unconcerned with lasting achievement, or with excellence that can become part of a centuries-long tradition.

        In point of fact, the only persons agitated about the deterioration of Pollock’s paintings are the collectors and museums who were asinine enough to buy them, and who now are facing the specter of a collapsing investment. Cherchez l’argent.

  2. Gail

    The house paint might have lasted if he’d prepped his canvases appropriately. I’ve never heard that he had any regard for his legacy. Chronic alcoholism can’t have helped him focus his efforts.

  3. Margaret Coats

    Julian, did you notice that someone retouched “Brush with Shame,” putting in an extra foot, to make line 9 hexameter?
    CAN-cel CA-ra-VA-ggio AND ca-CHEZ Cour-BET

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      “Someone” considered alternative renderings of that line: deleting “and” and making do with a comma; also using Canaletto instead of Caravaggio, for a parallel syllable reiteration (can[-cel]-Can[-aletto] / [ca-]chez-[Cour-]bet, but decided that as given, the line more simply and gracefully added one very soft syllable to commonly encountered displacements within the context of iambic pentameter.

      • Margaret Coats

        My compliments to your rollicking rhyming couplets that well mimic the swagger of modern artists! The graceful additional soft stress in line 9, in my opinion, does something in your poem similar to what the “vandals” naturally thought was a permitted community response to the displayed artwork. After all, they did not alter the genre, and their little touches accord with the original. Thank you and “someone”!

  4. Sally Cook

    That sort of painting did serve a purpose; it shocked artists into action at a time when things in the art world were remarkably sluggish. But that’s all it did. Lots of painters and sculptors said to themselves, “If that’s all they think art is, a
    momentary blip of technique done with cheap materials and magnified beyond all reason, maybe I can show them something better.
    But promoters saw a moment in time where investors might be persuaded to invest cold cash in something because it was promoted, and described in a cloaked language that no one would or could comprehend.
    This is what killed the Tenth Street movement.
    Any painter who tells you that they don’t care if their work survives is lying like a cheap rug/
    As for the “medusa” statue, it is at best a gigantic mediocrity with no meaning, meant to please everyone but in reality pleasing no one.
    Of the second poem, I would have liked to see what Mr. Woodruff has to say about that sort of “art.” The first poem is spot-on, and, if it were to lose some of its historical allusions and become more short and succinct, the second would be too. I applaud Mr. Woodruff for tackling a subject which is too often neglected.

  5. Julian D. Woodruff

    Alas, Ms Cook,
    The “other” Medusa poem I submitted (I called it “Medusa Versus Perseus”) got away and is currently begging acceptance elsewhere. It is a more direct response to the statue in question (or, maybe better put, the sculptor’s expressed intent in creating it) and much more flip, though not so much so as “Brush with Shame,” which I’m pleased you appreciated.

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Your comment and Ms Cook’s, above (“… magnified beyond all reason”) remind me of a New Yorker cartoon of years ago: an art student sits before his canvas in a museum showroom, lovingly copying in miniature a gigantic all-black painting (presumably a Reinhart) hanging on the wall.

  6. Mike Bryant

    These poems highlight the idiocy of postmodernism. Having said that, I’m sure the reason the couple has been pardoned is the fact that the additions have improved the framing, balance and overall warmth of the painting… is that a ballerina? 😉

    • Julian D. Woodruff

      Actually, Mr. Bryant, I detect Motherwell’s influence in these additions. Pretty retro …

      • Mike Bryant

        Just checked out Motherwell, Mr. Woodruff, and I can definitely see the similarities. The value of the painting was likely enhanced by the additions.

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