The Real Thing

From “2666”, by Roberto Bolano:

But she asked herself (and by extension, the two of them) how well anyone could really know another person’s work.

“For example, I love Grosz’s work,” she said, gesturing toward the Grosz drawings on the wall, “but do I really know it? His stories make me laugh, often I think Grosz drew what he did to make me laugh, sometimes I laugh to the point of hilarity, and hilarity becomes helpless mirth, but once I met an art critic who of course liked Grosz, and who nevertheless got very depressed when he attended a retrospective of his work or had to study some canvas or drawing in a professional capacity. And these bouts of depression or sadness would last for weeks. This art critic was a friend, but we’d never discussed Grosz. Once, however, I mentioned the effect Grosz had on me. At first he refused to believe me. Then he started to shake his head. Then he looked me up and down as if he’d never laid eyes on me before. I thought he’d gone mad. That was the end of our friendship. A while ago I was told that he still says I know nothing about Grosz and I have the aesthetic sense of a cow. Well, as far as I’m concerned he can say whatever he likes.  Grosz makes me laugh, Grosz depresses him, but who can say they really know Grosz?

“Let’s suppose,” said Mrs. Bubis, “that at this very moment, there’s a knock on the door and my old friend the art critic comes in. He sits here on the sofa beside me, and one of you brings out an unsigned drawing and tells us it’s by Grosz and you want to sell it. I look at the drawing and smile and I take out my checkbook and buy it. The art critic looks at the drawing and isn’t depressed and tries to make me reconsider. He thinks it isn’t a Grosz. I think it is. Which of us is right?

Or let’s tell the story a different way. You,” said Mrs. Bubis, pointing to Espinoza, “present an unsigned drawing and say it’s by Grosz and try to sell it. I don’t laugh, I look at it coldly, I appreciate the line, the control, the satire, but nothing about it tickles me. The art critic examines it carefully and gets depressed, in his normal way, and then and there he makes an offer,  an offer that exceeds his savings, and that if accepted will condemn him to endless afternoons of melancholy. I try to change his mind. I tell him,the drawing strikes me as suspicious because it doesn’t make me laugh. The critic says finally I’m looking at Grosz like an adult and gives me his congratulations. Which of the two of us is right?”