"Our minds, which are even now only just awakening after years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal… the spiritual life, to which art belongs and of which she is one of the mightiest elements, is a complicated but definite and easily definable movement forwards and upwards." – Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art
It all started with Rothko.
Alberta had assumed that Rothko was an innocent enough subject. The man might have called a painting Rites of Lilith certainly implying references to mythology and spirituality, but the painting itself was marvellous. The fluidity of the lines, the declension of colours, that stunning ambiguity (and its refusal to conform to what people like her sister-in-law would call the "beautiful")- it was an excellent piece of work. The Whitney Annual had been wise to include it.
She had been delighted when Eustace Clarence had shown enthusiasm for it. His taste and ability to appreciate intelligent art had not been completely diminished by his less cultured cousins! The invisible, palpable thread between them glowed even more brightly as he had sat next to her (still her son, she had thought, with an inexplicable rush of pride). When he had taken the report in his hands, whistling approval at the painting, it seemed to pulse so that Alberta could almost hear a happy wind, like the heavy, careless brush strokes of one of Picasso's late Surrealist works. (Always her son.)
"Rothko's swell," Eustace Clarence said, a small light of awe in his eyes.
"He is an excellent artist," Alberta agreed, her throat tight with happiness and pride. "His colour palette is so dark, yet the contrast is so vibrant!"
She didn't see the slight cloud pass through her son's eyes, but she did feel something change, ever so slightly in the air. It was almost imperceptible- like fine white strokes on a blank canvas, or a single loose thread on a chair- but she felt it.
It was a while (though perhaps it may have only been a number of seconds) before Eustace Clarence spoke again.
"Say, Alberta," he said, slowly, "what do you think of the things Rothko writes?"
She paused, wondering why she had stiffened. A discussion over the nature of aesthetics and the artist's view of themselves- why, that was a topic she was fond of. She and Harold had discussed it themselves- it had been one of the discussion points that had alerted her to his presence, that had intrigued her, all those dinner parties ago. It was natural that Eustace Clarence should be interested in something that his parents loved to discuss- so why was she feeling suddenly apprehensive about this?
""Art is not only a form of action, I is a form of social action. For art is a type of communication,"" she said, without hesitation. "Of course when one is thinking about art, it must be thought of in terms of its effects, though we cannot prejudge what those effects will be." She took a breath, and then, slightly suspiciously (though she no idea why), she added, "What precisely do you mean, Eustace Clarence?"
Unless her eyes deceived her, her son gave an awkward squirm. Her son- squirming. Her son, visibly awkward. The displeasure must have shown in her eyes, for he quickly coughed and sat up straight.
"Er, I was- I was more talking about his idea that he paints to relieve a person's spiritual emptiness," he replied, and Alberta heard through his casual tone. Something dark and unpleasant coiled in her stomach.
"Art is not inherently spiritual," she said crisply, and stood abruptly.
Those wretched Pevensies. She just knew this had something to do with them. Her sister-in-law had probably been filling Eustace Clarence's head with all sorts of highfalutin and silly ideas. She knew that that weekend at the Pevensies had been a bad iea. She had told Harold it had been so. But he had overruled her, as he almost always did when it came to Pevensies.
"Art is intellectual, it is social, it is interesting. But it is not inherently beautiful or spiritual, because that is to give it an essential quality."
Eustace Clarence made an impatient noise.
"By Jove, you'd think I'd have threatened to cook a leg of lamb for dinner! Alberta, I was only asking. You like Rothko, too, and it's not exactly a secret that he was influenced by Kandinsky and his views. And, besides, you like Kandinsky, too!"
This last comment, flung out like an accusation, flapped in the air. Alberta had an absurd image of the washing, drying in the wind. Clean washing, no one truly smart showed dirty linen in public. Clean washing, pure, like the truth.
A little melting pot of shame started heating up in her stomach. Perhaps she had overreacted.
"I have things to do, Eustace Clarence," she said eventually, turning to face him. "What was it you wished to say?"
Eustace looked at her, a strangely helpless expression on his face.
"I just- I wanted to talk," he mumbled. "And we both like Rothko. And then I thought, well, maybe we could- go onto other things, too. But I guessed wrong- I mean, I guessed incorrectly. And-"
Feeling horrified, though she was not quite sure whether it was due to her son's mumbles or the melting pot that felt as though it had reached boiling point, Alberta interrupted him.
"Don't mumble, speak up, Eustace Clarence. What you have to say deserves to be heard, and I will hear it," she said, almost fiercely. "You were saying?"
Eustace Clarence coloured slightly, but squared his shoulders and looked her in the eye.
"I guess a rather roundabout way would always have failed. I may as well just- ask," he said bluntly. "I know you don't like the painting in the spare room, because- well, it's in the spare room. But I like that painting, and-"
Yes, of course he would like it. He had spent an unhealthy amount of time in that room when Lucy and Edmund Pevensie had been over, just a few years before, and since then, he had formed a strange habit of occasionally sitting in that poky room. Alberta pursed her lips.
"I wanted to know if I could have it," he finished, plainly, "to give to someone."
Have it? Well, certainly, but-
"To give to whom, precisely?"
The edge in Alberta's voice could have sliced through a cluster of diamonds. To his credit, Eustace Clarence continued to look her baldly in the face, though when he next spoke, the stammer was evident in his voice.
"It's- it's Jill's birthday next week, and I don't-"
Oh Lord, her son was blushing. Blushing.
"Absolutely not," she snapped.
"Absolutely not. It was- it was-" her mind whirled for a moment. "It was a wedding present."
"I've spoken to Harold-"
"Enough, Eustace Clarence!"
He instantly wilted.
"I will have no more of these questions. No, you may not have the painting, and no, you may not give it to your-" her lip curled slightly- "friend. And I have work to do, so if you will excuse me, I will see you at dinner."
She swept out of the room. She did not quite think of where she was going as she walked brusquely through the hallway, opened the door- but when she found herself standing in the spare room, she was strangely unsurprised.
Once, years ago, she and Harold had read excerpts from Kandinsky's book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art. They had laughed at it, and decided that Kandinsky was a far better painter than writer; this she remembered quite clearly. Harold had taken her to a smart dinner, and then they had gone for a short stroll when he had mentioned finding a book that she might think amusing.
What sentence was it, the one that had been so very silly that she had laughed (laughed until Harold had taken her hand, and told her she had a lovely laugh)?
"This movement is the very movement of experience."
Alberta cast one more withering glance at the ship, bobbing up and down on a florid wave, then left the room. The click of the lock resounded down the hallway.
A/N: It just struck me that Alberta would be the sort to really appreciate non-beautiful, edgy Modernist works of art. I assume that Harold may or may not have serenaded her with T. S. Eliot poems early on in their relationship.
Ooh, that in itself might be a fic for another day. How to make "Prufrock" or "Portrait of a Lady" or the "The Waste Land" or the Sweeney poems romantic o.O
Anyhoo, this has not been betad, so I am open to criticism. Feel free to leave it in a lovely thing called a "review" ;)