The debut of FLASH on the FIVE! The first flash comes from the Jellyfish Review which would be the first name out of my mouth if anyone were to ask what online publication they should be reading. They publish two flash pieces per week, each 1,000 words or fewer, and they are always stories you end up thinking about days and weeks later when you’re lying in bed or folding laundry.
And this story is certainly no exception. I’m excited to spotlight Arvin Ramgoolam’s “Please Don’t Touch the Art”, published in April 2020 in Jellyfish Review. Go check it out and come back for a Q&A with the author.
FAVORITE LINE: I lay my palm flat on the rough canvas of speckled paint, thick and coarse from Jackson Pollack’s abuse.
I was hooked from the opening line. Wow! Really that whole first paragraph. The act of touching something – so simple, so innocent, so benign. Yet because of the way we revere great pieces of art, God-like, this simple act of touching – mind you, not breaking, not stealing, not hurting, just touching… here, it’s such an intense violation, so taboo that I cringe when I read that first sentence. Feel it in the pit of
my stomach. And then just like the character, my obsession grows. Wanting to read about him touching more and more pieces, so sacrilege, but maybe just one more. And also like him, seeking the thrill of living vicariously through someone else doing something you could never do. Or could you?
I want to go on and on about this piece, but it’s always more interesting to hear from the author. Here is what Arvin had to say about the writing of it:
1) I'm always curious about where stories come from. What was the inspiration or idea-spark for "Please Don't Touch the Art"?
There was a moment in my life where I spent an inordinate amount of time in galleries across the country viewing and talking about art and had friends who were visual artists. Touch was not one of the sensory aspects of the medium so it really made me think of how we interact with art and the line you cross when yo
u touch a piece of artwork. Also, you should never taste the art. Please, for all that is good, never taste the art.
2) The two pieces of art in the story that stand out most to me are the first (a Pollock) and the last (Dali's Hallucinogenic Toreador) probably because just that - they were first and last, so we spend a little more time there. Did you choose either or both those particular pieces/artists for a reason?
Pollock's work is emotionally overwhelming while Dali's is visually overwhelming. Both have a size and scale that arrest the viewer when seeing them in person and are quite captivating. The main character for the story is pulled into Pollock's painting, almost against his will, and looks for the same high while looking at the Dali piece. Hallucinogenic Toreador, for anyone familiar with it, is a large and dramatic piece, imposing in a way. Dali is daring his viewer to come into his world. He's daring his audience to reach out.
3) I see the character as going through different phases of motivation -- first it's the rush of doing something taboo, then it's the quest for immortality, then we are reminded that maybe it's just "fucking stupid", and l
astly we are left with his longing to connect with something great. What's your take on that? Where do you see his addiction really stemming from?
As artists and writers, we have a certain relationship with our readers and viewers. Even if one person reads a story or sees a painting, they are changed in the slightest way by this interaction. This character however is driven into obsession. Obsession can be dangerous and even the person with the obsession has to question what they are doing. The main character isn't a creator but a consumer of these visual mediums and he takes that to the next level and wants to identify himself with the artists he admires. Touching these paintings is an imagined greatness for someone who feels t
hey are struggling to make a mark in the world. In a way, the artists themselves would identify with that struggle.
4) If you could touch any piece of art and get away with it, what piece would you touch and why?
I suppose you'd want to go big right? The Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, or Picasso's Guernica. Any of those from the Western canon would be pretty cool. But thankfully, I don't share my character's penchant for touching art.
5) What are you working on now and/or where can we see more of your writing?
I've got a collection of stories I'm happily working on as part of my fellowship with One Story and a manuscript critique with editor, Hannah Tinti. I've got a story I'm very excited about submitting to journals about a widow and his family in the southwest desert that may have been subtly pushed into their l
ife by his deceased wife's most prized possession, a Georgia O'Keefe painting. The best way to keep up with my writing would be to follow my Twitter, @ArvinRam1.