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What is art? Does it have to be part of some exhibition in a museum? Does it have to be considered ‘good taste’ to be called art or is it simply enough that it is provoking? No matter what you may reply to such questions, your answer can always be discussed. Some art can astonish people in many ways and make them think about society, war the world and their lives, and some sorts of art will bring the question ‘what is art? ’ like the work on the unknown artist from the short story by Simon Armitage, Flypaper, from New Writing 9, Vintage 2000.
Though the story is mainly focusing on the actions of the unknown artist and what the result in, I would say that the main character is council Perry. Perry sets out the catch this vandal, who to the fascination of all repeatedly leaves indentations along with his trademark signature in concrete and cement on public and private properties. In his searching for anonymous man it is not only the money and prestige that motives him, to find or become this person, but it is also curiosity.
His curiosity puts him situations, where he can ask; who is he? Where will he be next time? How is he doing it?
Perry found out how the work was done, but he had to pay for the information with the life of the artist, so to speak. The council and his crew saw no other way out to commit suicide or decided to die for what he believed was art.
The action takes place in England, possibly in a small town in the north of the country. We can tell that, because we are told, that Perry is the council leader here. The precise time is indefinable, because in the first line of the story is says: “It was an age like today”. So the plot could actually take place in the past, in the present, or in the future.
In the first part of the story, the first 35 lines the narrator describes the mysterious young man and his rumor and fame in the city. In the second part, we follow Perry and Rossiter, who are determined to catch this notorious mystic. The whole text is written in past tense, and the action’s time lasts for a couple of weeks, from where Rossiter and Perry are looking at the plans to the time where the man disappears in the concrete-filled square. The perspective is seen from a third person narrator. We are told the facts and visible details, but not how the persons in the story think or feel.
The point of view is therefore from an outer narrator, because the implicit narrator just observes distantly. There are only three characters mentioned in the text, some more important than others: The mysterious man, council leader Perry and his chief architect Rossiter. The famous and mysterious man is without doubt the main character in this story. In the first part of the text, he is described as a genius and ordinary people talk about him and know his art, even though he is anonymous and mysterious, because no one has seen him and knows him.
In general, people are very interested in finding out who he is, and in line 20-25 on page one there are many guesses about who he is. The only thing that is sure is that he is a man, because of the manly thumb on the blob of red wax, which is his signature. He is reputable and recognized in the art world, which sees him as an artist with unique talent and he is generally accepted among people, even though some think he is a vandal and a public nuisance, because most of his works are illegal.
But most people admire his installation art and he is highly praised and adored, especially by the interested and greedy media, who are struggling to get to know his identity. Later, on page three at the top, his appearance is described as thin, tall, slender, fit-looking and he is wearing a kind of crown made by barbed wire and a loin cloth. The most obvious symbolism to interpret in this story is the mysterious man’s similarity to Jesus. In the physical likeness, he represents Jesus with the crown of thorns, the loin cloth around his waist, and the way the man lies like Jesus at the crucifixion.
The more symbolic mutual traits are that they both spread out their unique messages and beliefs to the world, the man through art and Jesus through wisdom and faith. But mankind, in the story represented by Perry and Rossiter, do not understand the man’s divine status and want to use him, and that leads to the man’s death. Both Jesus and the man are willing to die for their unique abilities and cause. He dies quietly and calm and has like Jesus accepted that mankind is sinful and does not accept different thinking. Therefore Perry and Rossiter are a symbol of the Jews that disrupted the man because of greed and selfishness.
They sin by wanting to stop the beautiful art in their favor and that leads to the sacrifice of the man. It is almost like he takes their sins in an artistic way, exactly as Jesus died to take the sins of mankind. The flypaper and title’s meaning in this story is obviously the cemented square. Flypaper attracts unwanted bugs and insects; in this case the man is drawn by the square and is caught by its stickiness. He is unwanted by those in power, like Jesus, that was unwanted by the powerful Jews. So in general, the themes in this short story are contemporary sin and greed, uniqueness through art and different thinking.
As if the anonymous artist were a graffiti painter, he has to be careful when he does his work. Destroying the property of others is not the safest thing to be doing … Many people will wish to see you caught. Many people want to see the artiste caught, thus Perry sets up a trap. Everybody stuck to the story about the installation artist like germs stick to a fly, but now Perry was putting up a large flypaper to catch this irritating, yet unique fly. He may not want to kill it, but this fly refuses to be caught alive, and hence kills itself by letting the sticky substance cover its body, while lying in the same pose as Jesus on the cross.
This is actually quite remarkable. He probably did not expect to die that day, and yet he lies in the same posture as another man who was known for dying because of his beliefs and his attitude, just to become an even better known and appreciated person. So by dying for one’s art, or as in this case also dying with it, in it, surrounded by it and so on, one can really state some beliefs and prove one’s worth. It is just a pity that it will not come to the benefit of the artist himself since he sacrificed his life for this cause.
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