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Revised February, 2006

Art or Sausage?

Not too long after graduating from UVA I was spending some time in Manhattan, alone and a little too serious. I had walked into an art gallery on 57th street and was standing in the smaller of two rooms staring a bit dumbly at a dozen or so colorful and abstract photographs all by the same artist. The young receptionist entered the room with two or three of her smartly dressed friends who had just arrived. She began to wryly describe the works and I began to smile at the works as I listened in. I thought wry, but maybe she was just queasy. She told of how the artist would lay the intestines and other guts of rabbits (hopefully obtained from the butcher) on the silver-coated photographic paper, and how the reaction of the cybachrome chemicals with those in the stuff laid on top would produce the rainbow of colors and the sinuous forms of the compositions we saw before us.

What do you say to that? I was still dumb, but growing amused. 

Then one of the friends spoke. She used that phrase used so often when one wants to appear at least mildly intelligent, but more importantly very passionate when confronted with an inexplicable work of modern art. I had employed it once or twice myself:

"It's so.....visceral".

I burst out with a hearty laugh. What wit!... Why couldn't I think of that!... Why is it so quiet in here? ...I glanced away from the photo in front of me and noticed at least a couple of cold stares coming from half a room away. No wit involved after all, but did no one get it?

"Those are viscera, baby!" said I.

Ok. So I didn't say that. Instead I looked more or less back at the work in front of me while I figured out what had happened. Pure coincidence? Had the artist thought of this? That's a lot of work for a joke. I left more than a little amused, first, at the knowledge that I could never have been that rude had I tried, and then, wondering whether I had just witnessed works of art or sausage.



1. of or relating to the viscera (the internal organs of the body, esp. those in the abdomen, e.g., the intestines.)
2. relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.
synonyms: instinctive, instinctual, gut, deep-down, deep-seated, deep-rooted, inward; emotional; animal

Etymology: 1570s, "affecting inward feelings," from M.Fr. viscéral, from M.L. visceralis "internal," from L. viscera, pl. of viscus "internal organ," of unknown origin. The bowels were regarded as the seat of emotion. The figurative sense vanished after 1640 and the literal sense is first recorded in 1794. The figurative sense was revived 1940s in arts criticism. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/visceral