Five Days In A Tent.

June 10, 2014 1:21pm Published by Jules Smith in The Art Philosopher 28 Comments

The marquees spread across the fields, centred within the fullness of summer and rolling countryside. On the perimeter where man had not interfered with nature, the long grass grew wild like tiny trees next to the giant trees that had stood for years and were once again filling their limbs with rich, green leaves. The place smelt of freedom and purity and soothingly washed you clean from the detritus of life.  The sky and earth were one and the natural colours always complimented each other when maybe they shouldn’t.  The green, green grass of home that spread in front of her, as far as she could see looked like badly stitched together tapestries but never failed to appease her. Life would not be long enough to ever get enough of this view.  But she couldn’t stay here on the edges watching and expanding into the sky, she had to go and sit in the middle of one of the big tents, working together with all the other ants busily fetching, carrying and displaying. The venue was beautiful but the canvas cage was not.

She wandered through the linked marquees and took note of all the artists she passed.  The theatrical sorts that were covered in paint as they set about a blank canvas.  The silent sketchers that were lost in graphite detail, the vision in their minds desperate to emerge on paper and their steely eyes as dark as their leaded pencils. The milliners heads adorned with flouncy bright headwear and felted, cerise poppies and the silversmiths all neat and tidy, dressed simply and elegantly like their displayed work.  The sculptors sat hidden at the back of their stands letting their giant pieces do the talking so they didn’t have to.  Wise.  She should have been a sculptor. The place was visually overwhelming and it became too tiring to take it all in. It reminded her of a circus with all the showmen ready to perform; all vying for attention and trying to be someone but melding into an everyone.  Before she’d even reached her small 10’ x 8’ space she wanted to go back outside again where it was easier to breathe.  

The sun was beating down through the white canvas and hurting her eyes with its glare.  She sat ready on a small plastic chair just outside her exhibits. The air inside was hot from the sun and damp from the previous nights rainfall creating a sauna inside.  It made her not want to smile but smiling was important because it made you seem open and friendly.  The sound of the brass band outside drifted through the tent playing “Smoke on the Water.”  that made her smile a little but then trumpets soon became irritating.  Within minutes the coach loads arrived from all across the land and filled the tents with critics and analysers and fine connoisseurs of art.  They were like snobby wine drinkers who had to pull every aspect apart in order to justify its worthiness; just liking something was not sufficient.  They would stand in the aisles staring at pieces, hands on chins, reasons running through their heads.  She felt like a goldfish in a bowl and it was uncomfortable.  Should she stare at them?  Smile?  Leave them be? Start talking to them? She decided to just sit there quietly and try her best to look open, quickly unfolding her arms and every now and then glancing at them with a gentle smile.  Soon the questions came.  Some were so inane it made her remember why she hated this kind of thing.  Some were interesting but not many.  She’d always been fascinated by people but God, they made her weary very quickly.

“ What made you decide to take that picture like that?”  Said a gentlemen staring at a photograph.

“I didn’t decide to take it a certain way I just took a part of it that appealed to me when I saw it.”  A little too brusque, she thought, as she’d been told before in life but she didn’t mean to be, she was just answering the question as directly as possible.  Making up some fanciful la-dee-da answer was not her way. “I suppose it’s just the way I see things…”  she added to soften her first response.  

“Very interesting.”  He replied, standing for a while longer in silence before taking her business card and wandering off. 

The people kept on coming through.  Too many bodies and too many opinions.  Which was right?

“Do you think photography is art?”  Said another.

If she wasn’t enjoying the mouthful of caramel shortbread she might have spat it at him.  It was a question she’d heard many times before.  It was stupid.

“Well what do you think?”  She threw back, wiping the crumbs from her mouth and smudging her red lipstick.

The idea she’d had of being all talkative and engaging, as she could so often be, had petered out by the early afternoon of day one.


Five days in a tent saw her get beaten into a shopworn, washed out, empty vessel.  Fading into the bleached backboards, half there, half not.  Wasted by the mob and the confinement.  Too much time to think and discover new things about herself; or just remember why she worked for herself and not for some everyday, time kept institution. It would kill her.  Freedom was her friend. Containment was not. 

She began to leave her station often with nobody there or with visiting friends as she snook out the back of the marquee to sit amongst the wet grass and let it soak up her exhaustion.  Trying to be something and make it work in the public field was too much effort.  Maybe she should stop trying to prove something to the world or to herself and let go of everything, anything and anybody that was too complicated.  Being outside and quiet was nurturing and allowed her busy head to release itself into the vastness of the sky.

Re-entering the fetid tent she watched a young woman as she gazed at a picture.  Five minutes she stood there, absorbed and tranquil.  Wandering back to her seat and taking her rigid place, the woman spoke to her. “Finally, some decent photography.” 

“Thank you.”  She meant it.

“I have to have this photograph and can not leave without it.”  The photo was abstract, untitled as its identity had to be guessed.  Most people asked, needed to know, but the woman didn’t.  She didn’t care because she liked it.  

That made her like the woman. 

The woman deserved the picture. 

Maybe the five days in the tent were worth it for that one moment. 


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Well written as always, you need to expand upon the small vignettes you create.

Thank you 🙂 well I would…..but…..nobody would read it if it was too long and I’d have to be super disciplined..:)

a boy sets up his own tent, a taped-up cardboard one, as the moon shines yellow like the sun, grass is green, Charlie Brown sighs…

This made me smile 😉 and sigh, like Charlie Brown.

I like the idea of an open air art gallery. If you get bored, you can forget about the art and organise a game of rounders. I didn’t know there was such a thing as an abstract photograph. Is it one of those photos where you take a picture of a fridge magnet at very close range and it looks like something strange and spooky?

At the end of the first paragraph, with is vivid description of grass and sky, I thought that this was literally a story about ants. Maybe an idea for the future. 🙂

I found solace in the Pimms tent!
Yes that sounds a bit like an abstract photo! Anything close up or at an unusual angle.
I’ll give the ants story some serious thought mr. GB 🙂

I suck at describing the surrounding environment. You always remind me that I need to work on that.

It’s only because I pay attention to it everyday. Little details, smells, sounds and how it makes me feel.

Nicely put together, Jules… as usual.
Your stories always conjure up great imagery for me. Which is good, cos I have a rubbish imagination.
‘snook’ ?

Yours pedantically
Blah blah

Well look at you spotting that, Clever clogs! Or should I say, pedantic pants?
Well she actually snuck but since she was giving a derisory snook at the art world, I thought I’d use a bit f word play 🙂

Nice. I loved how this came full circle, how she finally found an art lover. Very cool. We all hope to find that one person who adores what we create, eh? (Or more than one person, preferably.) =)

Thank you Crystal 🙂 I think there’s always people who like what you do no matter what it is that you create. On the whole, from my experience, if you want the masses you have to create the obvious; something they understand or recognise rather than something they can’t work out. Fascinates me.

So true. It takes a unique mind to see the beauty below the surface.

The autobiographical piece speaks to the soul-sucking nature of art —- that it’s meant to be shared. And there’s the hook. It’s even worse when you don’t eat if you don’t sell, so then it isn’t art anymore, it’s consumerism and pandering to the varying whims of the artless.

I understand all too well.

Couldn’t have put it better myself. The creative world is a hard slog and if you’re not lucky enough to fall in with the right people or be in the right place at the right time then you need to market yourself like hell which is so far removed from being the creator.
On a totally separate note, my clown selfie will be done this week. The above doesn’t count for it is a half, digitally painted version of washed out life.

I have and am unlikely to ever do a clown selfie. If I was to do it the biggest decision would be whether to make it a happy clown or a sad clown. Both work. I definitely wouldn’t do “evil clown” because that even weirds me out.

Yes me too. I wonder if mine will get you your ice cream.

How could it not?

Half an ice cream cone is better than no ice cream at all…

I think that the combination of evil Joker with regular Jules clown is grist for the next Batman movie. Or maybe a new STORY…. hmmm….which may appear on my blog.

Oh yes!! I look forward to that! :))

Nicely done. Your descriptive writing really brings life beyond the picture to this story.

Thank you Debi. It brings life to a non life situation! 🙂

Gone are the days of cranking out clamored-after art from a studio unless somehow a soul’s popped to the top not necessarily by any merit of their own but by some freak randomness of all cherries rolling across the payout line… I think our girl should give in to the insanely prolific genius Caravaggio way of painting, drinking, brawling, and womanizing his way around the country, just one step ahead of his enemies and the police 😀
Miss A

Hello Miss A! Yes that sounds very Byronesque. Mad, bad, dangerous and totally out of control. SO much more fun! She just needs the genius of Carvaggio and Byron! Oops….ah well, the rest is a cinch! 🙂

A brass band playing Smoke on the Water??!! Did you plant that to see if we were paying attention?

I’ve never seen one of these art festivals from the perspective of someone sitting in a tent. Interesting. Thanks for the new view. I attend loads of these and I’m always, ALWAYS, very self conscious about being watched by and artist. I try to show the proper amount of respect for the work, even if I don’t buy anything. It’s unnerving.

Seriously…..the brass band played this. Bizarre.

Yes it must be unnerving the other way round too, trying not to impose etc…etc.. Aren’t people funny.

Lots of great one-liners in this, Jules. I especially enjoyed that bit, “It reminded her of a circus with all the showmen ready to perform; all vying for attention and trying to be someone but melding into an everyone.” I think artists of every stripe must worry about this.

Also, I can’t even express how thrilling I find the idea of a brass band playing Smoke on the Water, and I’m not even kidding. 🙂

Thank you Mina 🙂

It was bizarre but I liked their style! thrilling, yes.

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