Renaissance Man

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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, July 17, 2005

I recently spent a day at the National Gallery of Art, appreciating culture by being dragged around by my wife. That place definitely has culture up the wazoo. Moreover, to a trained and sophisticated observer such as myself, art can be a valuable source of information about the History of Civilization.

For example:

The skies used to be full of little fat kids with wings. They were everywhere. You could not walk a few hundred feet without bonking into someone with a winged fat kid hovering over him. Perhaps the weenie environmentalists who hound our president about the inadvertent extinction of some species of flatworm during the construction of an essential dam or highway or gulag should instead devote their energies to explaining the disappearance of this adorable life form.

Judging from statuary, women used to shave the hair off every single part of their bodies. Plus, shaving technology must have been pretty primitive, because they apparently often accidentally cut off their heads and/or arms.

The world used to be much windier. Robes and togas never just hung off the body -- they were always billowing out dramatically in all directions. (Note to weenie environmentalists: Might this explain the extinction of the flying fat kids? Is there some way you can link both to global warming?)

Medieval torture was not as bad as you'd think. However heinous it looked, the torturers were always considerate enough to cover the victim's private parts, for his comfort. On a related note, fig leaves apparently once grew with Velcro backing.

Some people used to walk around with glowing doughnuts above their heads. This was true even of some babies, which probably presented a unique challenge in childbirth. Maybe this explains why old-time women had hips the size and commodiousness of beanbag chairs.

Behinds, in general, were plump and comfy. This is apparently because people used to sit on stone or marble benches. Through art, one can reliably trace the evolution of the 20th-century behind to the advent of furniture upholstery. (Sadly, for some reason the 21st-century behind is regressing; we simply have to get to the bottom of this.)

Grapes used to be plentiful, because everyone was always walking around carrying them. Also, people were terrified of being constipated. I know this because, judging from the contents of most table settings, fruit was always served in gigantic, cascading mounds.

When people died, they were apparently allowed to just sit around and rot. Why else would human skulls have been in such plentiful generous supply? Whenever you wanted to sit down and look out a window and contemplate life, there was always a skull around to symbolize the transient nature of existence.

There was apparently once some place named "Flem." It produced a lot of great painters. Mostly, they drew pictures of Flemish men wearing hats at jaunty, saucy angles, and Flemish women naked. Flem seems like it was a pretty cool place; we should find out what happened to it.

Many members of European royalty had fleas, causing skin irritations that they unwisely tended to bite at. I infer this because they always had to wear those big white discs around their necks, like my dog.

Women used to do a lot of reclining while wearing diaphanous nightgowns. If my wife did that much reclining in diaphanous nightgowns, I would never get to work.

You know how French men are sissies? Well, they always were!

It really doesn't matter what we do on Earth, because in the future everything we do will be forgotten. I judge this based on the titles of numerous paintings commemorating events and individuals that at the time were enormously familiar and important. They all read like this: "After his flogging, Eucalyptus the Easily Amused grieves at the sepulcher of Deirdre of the Holy Conniption, three days before the Deluge of Weasels."

And last, any piece of art can be explained in a single sentence contained on a plaque, using this template: "This piece represents ideals of _________ fused with _______ and informed by ." To fill in the blanks, select some random combination of the following words and phrases:

classical, objectivism, nihilism, expressionistic, impressionistic, modernism, Byzantine, post-, pre-, neo-, Baroque, Gothic, traditional and spatial. You think I am joking. That is because you do not understand art.

Gene Weingarten's e-mail address is weingarten@washpost.com.

Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon at www.washingtonpost.com.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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