Snake Oil – A Poem by Rowe Williams

I've been listening to a jazz album 
(from the Japanese seventies by Ryo Fukui,
if you're curious),
and I've become dangerously contemplative.

A classic philosophical question has been 
persistently gnawing at mankind, and I, too,
have fallen victim to it.
What is art?

My personal opinion, which you have implicitly 
sought out by nature of your continued readership,
is that a definition cannot encompass
all that art is

while leaving out all that it isn't.
We might draw a Venn diagram, and 
argue about what circles we need 
to isolate art at the center,

miring ourselves hopelessly in contradictions 
and exceptions. But maybe it's easier than that.
There was a judge struggling to define
pornography once, who eventually settled on 

"I know it when I see it."
And maybe art and pornography 
aren't all that different. 
There's a certain sort of baring, 

a desperation to be seen, even.
Both attempt to exploit voyeuristic fascination 
(although pornography does so with greater success).
Both artist and pornographer exercise vanity,

the belief that people want to see what they've made.
A frantic proclamation and instinct of human existence.
But of the two, only art is inherently pretentious.
Art and artist pretend to know and mean,

screaming vainly about their snake oil.
Hoping that somehow, it actually does something.
If only I had been better equipped,
maybe I could've been a pornstar.

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