I had a lot common with Elizabeth. I understood her. Or I thought I did. I told her many times she had the soul and temperament of an artist. But in the three years of our marriage I never saw her make a serious commitment to her writing, or even to her music. She wrote regularly in her journals, but only short, impatient scrawls. She superficially examined her string of failed relationships. Like for instance with Bob.
Why, she asked herself, was she was unable to see he was a sociopath? For an entire year he’d been the perfect lover. His care, attention, genuine kindness and thoughtfulness made her fall deeply and permanently in love with him. And then out of the blue he announced that he’d just decided to move into a more “open” kind of relationship. Like, uh, polygamy. In fact, he was currently seeing Nancy and Louise. And, as a delegate at the upcoming Anarchist slash Political Activist Convention in Paris, he will be sleeping with Nicole, an aristocratic intellectual. It was all arranged. And if Elizabeth didn’t like it, he said perfectly calmly, she could just get the fuck out. She scribbled: “How could I have been so blind?” And that’s where she left it. An unanswered question.
Neil, her first true love, was an accomplished artist, yet she never wrote in her journal or spoke about what kind of paintings he made. After Neil she married Richard, a freelance photographer. Yet she never talked with me about art, nor did she ever show an interest to go with me to a gallery or a museum.
We had one recurring discussion, though. She often quoted Richard’s belief that fashion photography—the slick stuff you see in Vogue and Elle—was art. Each time I told her no, that wasn’t true. It was, rather, improper art, as Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus in Portrait defines it. Proper art arrests one in the moment, like a gorgeous sunset. Improper art moves one to some action or desire. Like propaganda, or pornography.
Elizabeth was cold to what I said, and I wondered if it was because she disliked wordy pedantry, or because she didn't like to see her ex-husband—heretofore the photographic expert—so easily refuted.
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