Art Journal #4

I have now been in Rome for three weeks. I have seen so much, more than I have ever imagined, from the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, and the catacombs, to protests, and countless beggars on the sidewalk. If you think about it carefully, most of these things can be considered some form of art. Today, when we visited Piazza Navona, I noticed a different kind of beggar. He wasn’t one that paraded around a stubby arm, or infected leg, and he wasn’t one that used his child as a means to generate pity. The man was dressed oddly, his face was painted white, and all but the back of his head was shaven, and his wardrobe consisted of a thin, brown robe.  I finally realized he was mimicking the appearance of some type of monk. I watched him carefully, as he walked through the Piazza, wondering who he was, and what he was doing. Finally, he chose a spot to base himself, set a Styrofoam bowl down, and picked a position to stand in…completely still. He was motionless, from his legs, and arms to even his facial expression.

After a while, people began to notice him. I watched tourists approach him at a distance to take a picture. He robotically turned to face the tourists, raised his eyebrows, frowned his face, and looked down to his small Styrofoam bowl sitting empty in front of him. He held both hands down to the bowl, asking for money, but without saying a word. I watched to tourist awkwardly laugh, and look to his friend standing next to him. His smile was uneasy, and I could tell he felt obliged to give something. Within minutes, he was walking up to the “monk” and dropping coins into his bowl. Instantly, his face brightened, and he mechanically held his hand out in a sign of appreciation. I sat and watched as the same order of events happen, again and again. A Tourist slowly walks by, watching for any movement in the motionless monk, takes his or her camera to take a picture, and gets pressured into putting money in the bowl by this muted monk. It was amazing to me, how many people he was able to coax into putting coins into his bowl without saying a word. It made me think of the psychology the monk used in order to make money. With simple motions, and facial expressions, he made people feel obliged to give. At first their body language, and facial expressions showed they felt uncomfortable being put in such a situation, and to alleviate the awkwardness, they gave in and put a few coins in his bowl.

I realized that with only a few hours of doing this, he could actually make a decent amount of money. It was then I realized that this too was a style of art. He has mastered the art of standing perfectly still, making exaggerated facial expressions, and robotic movements, so as to master the art of begging soundlessly.

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2 Responses to Art Journal #4

  1. sarahsliman says:

    I couldn’t agree more with you on this journal Alyson. Whenever I see these people on the road or in front of buildings I always think of how hard that would be to stand completely still, not blinking, not squirming in discomfort, or itching that itch that just won’t go away. I know I never would be able to stand still, even for two minutes, let alone hours. Their outfits and their abilities to keep these positions perfectly still is an art form in and of itself.

    I know the other day when we saw the man in all white in front of the museum I felt the need to put in some money just because of how awesome he looked and how motionless he really was. As soon as I put in the coins he began to move and motioned me in for a picture. I think these people are true artists, not beggars. They are performing, and with performances come some type of pay. So I applaud them for doing what they do best!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. The distinction is an interesting one, that of beggar vs. street performer. These differences might well influence how we define art…

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