I posted an edited version of this story, which incorporates some of the lessons I’ve learned as a graduate student.
The knife never left her hand as she traced with it through the air. She considered herself an artist, although the final product was not tangible but emotional. It was a odd sort of art, to be sure, and she herself had difficulties defining in what way it was such. Art, as she saw it, was traditionally viewed as a means of communication, an opportunity to connect as a human being. Through this kind of art the creator could express ones emotions and conceptions in the hopes of being either validated or rejected. Art, in such a traditional sense, was a dialogue on the world between the creator and the witnesser.
Yet her art was mostly a private matter and its expression was not meant to create dialogue but to create life. She wanted something more than just a spectacle, the sort of contrivance that tapped into the “decency” of like-minded people. She wanted fear, for life to her was not present in the happy moments of comfort but in the absolute hopelessness of death. She wanted to paint life, using the fear in her subjects as the inks and splattering it across the great canvas that she and everyone else swam in daily.
The source of her art today was much like those from the past. She had only known him for an odd month, but his eagerness to please her had made convincing him to be tied down easy. She had even managed to get him tied to the vertical board beside her easel, the easel itself being nothing but a prop. He was quite scared as a knife had little purpose in normal sexual encounters, or at least that was generally the understanding. He would try and object to her knifed advances but was unable to release more than a few muffled croaks out of his gagged mouth. She would smile in response, but would never say anything. His desperation was good, exactly what she needed.
Striding forward she would first swish the knife back and forth, like a serpent dancing to a piper. She would watch his eyes intently as they bulged to enormous proportions, and then she would jab quickly when she was close enough for the blade to just caress his body. As he squirmed against the ties she would pull back and with one, grand movement of her body slash violently and elegantly through the air around him, careful never to actually cut him. It was in those moments that she would feel her art come to fruition, the fear being tangible enough for her to plunge head first into its depths.
The fear. She might even say she could see it. The trademark of a good artist, and she knew this, was the ability to feel beyond the senses. Artists saw what others could not see. That was another hallmark of art; the translation of the foreign and perhaps incomprehensible into something consumable as a human being. And although she did not have an audience, per se, she knew that she was releasing something unique into the world, adding to a vast and rich worldly experience that was only perceivable in small bites. Her addition would be another butterfly causing a ripple that ultimately affected other aspects of the world. That was how she wished to express herself. It was not for her, or for him or for anyone else. It was for the world.
Her guest, shaking violently in his ties, stared at her, wide-eyed. How grotesque this all must have appeared to him, this constant toying and prodding, the feigning on his life. He must have concluded she had some deep perversion, a base desire to exert control over man in his perceived last moments. Of course she had no desire to see his blood. That was not her art. Her art was through fear, and a dead man, no matter how fearful he once was, was utterly useless to her. She could not help but smile at the thought of his naïveté. Men were all the same in their understanding of emotions and women. They were superficial creatures, easy to manipulate and to entertain. Perhaps that was why she always chose them. After all, a man without his control was a man deboned.
She stood back momentarily, attempting to envelop herself in his fear. She mentally retraced the movements of her arms and the knife, trying to feel the ephemeral wake those movements left in the air, picturing how they painted invisible lines and arcs. It made her think of Pollock, and that thought made her feel good. That outburst of emotion was what she imagined truly breathed life into the world, adding to its richness. A quiet sob brought her attention back to the man. He was still afraid, still not understanding that his life would not end that day. Consoling him was out of the question as that would ruin her work, she needed him the way he was. And if his trembling body was any clue she would have quite a bit of material to work with for the time being.
Once again she thrust herself into her steady cadence, lifting her arms and the knife skywards, then slowly snaking them through the air and towards the ground. It felt right. She then waved a figure eight in front of her but quickly changed to a less structured movement. Such forms were too artificial, too laden with history and civilization. What she needed was something newer, something more naturalistic in occurrence. The product that followed was more haphazard. The knife, rising once again, moved freely, making grand arcs and sharp turns, tearing through the fear riddled air. It sashayed and pirouetted, twisting along its longitudinal axis and flying lazily too and fro. All through these movements the man squirmed and squealed. His only focus was the knife and its cutting properties, not the movements.
Movement was as much a part of her art as was fear. That was what her art was; the confluence of her sublime gestures and the man’s emotions. Without her movements she imagined her art was lacking in existential merit. Indeed, it was through the fear’s displacement that she saw her truth conveyed to the world. Without her gestures, the fear would stagnate. She truly was as central to the process as was her muse. Feeling her chest swell with pride she once again strode forth and resumed her work.
This time she stood on her toes and letting her arms, and the knife, dangle loosely at her side she twirled about herself gleefully. She was a vortex of life, catching his fear and spiraling it to the heavens. Her arms lifted gradually until they were finally at their apex, and then with a brisk hop landed firmly in a powerful half-squat. She then heaved forward with a yell, one that was met with a muffled yelp by her guest. He was afraid as ever. Needling the air with her knife she then thrust her arms out behind herself, and with one final gasp allowed her entire body to fall backwards to the ground. There she lay breathing heavily, feeling her art swirl about her.
It was done, and she knew that from there she could take her leave. She sat up and looked at the terrified man before her, studying his forcibly arrayed body as it quivered helplessly. He looked so pitiful now, and that amused her. He would be left there to be found by some other person. It was her hope that he might do her work justice once he was free, conveying to the world the great masterwork that she had created. She would not truly know what her art would have affected. That was beyond the scope of her perception. But she knew that in some small way her art would live on.