Just No

dYMcmtAKSaqGTLJYoRkK1QThe word no has followed me around ever since I can remember; it was like a ball and chain that I just couldn’t seem to lose. So when I went to the Tate Modern in London, I was not too surprised to find the word capitalized and right in my face. Bruce Nauman’s painting of no on black slate hit me like a ton of bricks when I first laid eyes on it, but as I continued to stare, I became accustomed to what I was seeing.

In the painting, both letters are capitalized and outlined with scribbles of white paint that make it look as if someone was trying to erase the word from existence but just could not scrub hard enough. The look of it is sharp, harsh and ugly just like the word itself. To me, it seems the opposite of a work art should be, and as I stare at it, it begins to rub me the wrong way.

This word has always given me trouble. I have used no just as everyone else has, expressing my opinions with the word, but I have also used it to harm myself. Whenever I want to try something new no is always in the back of my mind. No, you’re not smart enough to do that or no, you’re not brave enough to do this. For a long time, I believed and accepted that no controlled my life, that I should listen to that small, little word because it told me the truth. It told me what I could and could not do which saved me from the humiliation of failure.

This painting is abrasive as the word no can be abrasive, and in that sense, it captures the feeling of the word entirely. No, I will not conform to the beauty standards people expect to see in a painting. No, I do not need your approval, I’m already hanging in a museum. I became sick of looking at it just as I had become sick of hearing the word.

Eventually, I left it behind to look at other pieces of work, but none had affected me like that painting of No had. It had reminded me that I had said no to that little voice in the back of my head, the one that kept telling me no. I would not have been able to see Bruce Nauman’s painting if I had listened to the voice telling me no, you can not study abroad. But like the painting NO I did not conform to those thoughts. I said “No, you’re wrong. I can do this”. No, no, NO. Just no. And here I am. I’m defying all expectations just like those two white little letters painted on a black slate in the Tate Modern, and I will continue to say no to the voice in the back of my head.

One thought on “Just No

  1. Maddie,

    Straight up, I love this.

    You made me laugh out loud in the first paragraph with this: “So when I went to the Tate Modern in London, I was not too surprised to find the word capitalized and right in my face.” (Love it.) And then offered this insightful interpretation: “outlined with scribbles of white paint that make it look as if someone was trying to erase the word from existence but just could not scrub hard enough.” And then conceded this beautiful, poignant truth: “I believed and accepted that no controlled my life.”

    I think that art does not have to be beautiful, and I’m hoping this is what you understood from this piece, and from many of the others in the museum. In fact, it’s this jarring work that seemingly affected you the most and forced you to again mindfully consider the way ‘no’ has acted in your life.

    I’m glad you didn’t listen to ‘no’ and that you came to study abroad. I’m also glad that at such a young age, you are recognizing these thought patterns and their origination. One of my undergraduate professors published this poem many years ago in the Christian Science Monitor. You might like it. https://www.csmonitor.com/2005/1116/p18s06-hfpo.html

    Best,
    Julie

    Like

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