"We are artists are we not, Miss Wilding?" Professor Parsons asked, elevating his head and lifting his brows as though expecting her most fervent agreement. “We must never forget that.” Not getting any response whatsoever, he went on, his voice rising. "I trust you know what an artist’s duty is ... and what an artist must do."
"I suppose ..." Naomi looked puzzled.
"Artists are born to create beauty, I thought we all knew that – of course beauty is all things to all people. Each of us sees beauty in a different light. But you and I know what beauty really is ... don’t we Miss Wilding?"
Naomi knitted her brows and looked past Mr. Parson’s head and out the window open to a gray featureless sky. "It's so difficult to put into words, Mr. Parsons."
"Especially when a BA in Art Appreciation is necessary to land a lucrative career in commercial television?" Mr. Parsons permitted himself a mirthless smile meant to put Naomi's hopes for a career in television in its proper light. "Success in television is not a true measure of beauty, Miss Wilding, especially to those of us who have been privileged to study the masters. You must never forget the giants who trod that path before us."
"Oh, I shan't ..." she hastened to add. "They will always be my mentors and my guides, Mr. Parsons. Velasquez – er, Rubens – and, er what’s his name ... Monet." Her mind went blank for a moment. "And of course Mr. James Whistler, too. He's a favorite of yours I know."
Mr. Parsons, whose eyes had been, until this moment, sharp and piercing, now seemed to lose their focus. His entire body appeared to melt like butter in a hot skillet at the mention of James McNeill Whistler. He rose from his chair unsteadily and turned to face the rear of the room upon which hung a framed reproduction of Whistler’s “Battersea Bridge.”. He raised his right hand slowly describing an arc, perhaps intending to illustrate the pervading fog obscuring the details of the Battersea Bridge on a foggy winter afternoon. Professor. Parson’s mind held a crystal clear image of Whistler’s obscure technique while Naomi’s mind had gone blank again.
“You’re describing something, aren’t you Professor?”
Naomi had seen Professor Parsons in this state before, so had most of the other young women of the graduating class of the Art Student's League. Their sights were set on a career in computer generated graphics for television, and a BA in the League was the first hurdle. The League taught the basics of classical art in much the same manner as it was taught at the Sorbonne two centuries ago, even though those basics were completely ignored in computer generated graphics, but the graduates of such school would work for practically nothing.
Professor Parsons could not hold a job with an advertising agency or a graphics company but he knew for certain what beauty was all about. He looked at Naomi with his shaggy dog’s eyes and let his hand fall to his side. He sighed deeply and for a moment she thought he might faint.
"Are you all right Professor?"
The weight of the world seemed to lie heavily on Professor Parsons narrow shoulders. "Yes, Miss Wilding. I am quite well ... under the circumstances." He looked deep into Naomi’s vacant eyes ... "But what chance have I? I have studied beauty. Worshipped beauty. Dedicated my life to beauty ..."
"Is there anything I can do, Professor Parsons?"
He drew the back of his hand across his brow – a gesture meant to wipe his weariness away and at the same time rearrange the few blond locks that had come astray. "No, thank you, Miss Wilding ... your promise not to forget the noblemen of our sacred art will suffice ... for now." He glanced up at her quickly, "Perhaps another time."
Naomi took the opportunity and left quickly. "Now what exactly did the old lecher mean by that." she puzzled. "Another time? I wonder if he meant what I think he meant."
Whatever he meant, Naomi was focussed on getting that passing grade in art appreciation from Professor Parsons. Without it, she had no hope of graduating this year, and without that diploma clutched tightly in her fist there was no chance of getting a job in television. There were openings on the Simpsons program next year. A lot of the illustrators had moved on to Disney and Bollywood. She could hold her own with any of them but she couldn't even get an interview without that diploma.
"He's a creepy old dude," she told herself, "but if I'm gonna get my ass anywhere in this business ..." Her hips swayed violently as she left the room and flounced down the corridor to her class in ceramics, she made a mental note to be especially nice to Mr. Parsons from here on, as long as it was necessary ... but no longer.
“Little tart,” Mr. Parsons mumbled as he watched her go. “She’ll be back here trying to turn me on, pretending a passion for the arts she will never have. She’ll smell of perfume, she’ll brush up against me ... cooing all the time, giving it all up for a “C.”
Mr. Parsons turned to the reproduction of Whistler’s blue and silver study of the flotsam adrift on the river Thames. He flicked an almost invisible grain of dust from the ornate gold frame. His lips were pursed the way mothers pursed their lips when they wiped their child’s lips after they had suckled. J.M. Whistler was a potent tool – he was quite satisfied with himself.
“Come get your ‘C’ he whispered .... or even a ‘B’ perhaps, it’s entirely up to you.”