Modern art is misunderstood.
It connotes images of tall men wearing blue suits with their hands clasped behind their backs,
strolling down white hallways, looking at a uniform black canvas. Looking at nothing.
Modern art is an object of ridicule. It is a private joke among the elite. It is pointless.
But should you join your high school badminton team, take a fifteen-minute drive to James
Logan High School for a match, and use the girls’ restroom to the left of the gym, you may
change your mind.
The first thing you notice when you walk in is that the floor is wet. This is typical for any
bathroom, but you’re in your pink badminton shoes that minutes later will be squelching on the gym floor, and that’s disgusting. But your bladder is full and your shoes are already wet, so like a soldier, you forge on.
When you lock yourself in the stall, it becomes apparent that the floor is uneven with a drain in
the center. This is counterintuitive to the wet floor, but—you didn’t realize this yet—you had left common sense at the door.
Hovering is tedious. You stare at the ground beneath the black folds of your skirt and you
observe the colors. Tendrils of blue and green mix into the water. They were mesmerizing, like fish scales.
Near your feet is a clump of wasted toilet paper. With horror, you see that the texture is ashy, like dead skin. One end trails sadly into the drain grate. Wet paper isn’t supposed to look like that: it was clumpy and wrong. You are witnessing something left alone for so long it has become an organism in decay, a rotting corpse.
You flee the stall.
There were no paper towels or automatic hand dryers; you did not even let yourself entertain the thought. You regard the two sinks before you—you dared to hope—because you were certainly not about to walk out without washing your hands.
The faucet on the left was missing. A long thin screw poked cautiously out of the dark hole, a
spine without the head. Okay.
The faucet on the right had bumpy orange spots on the handles. They look stuck on, glued. Haha, you think desperately, what a nice decoration. With the pad of your pinkie finger, you delicately press down to get the water flowing. This had to be repeated several times because the water stopped almost immediately.
You later learn what the orange spots were when your doubles partner, eyes haunted by the sight you both witnessed, finished her rant with “—and the crusty, crusty Cheeto crumbs on the faucet!”
You look at her.
During the games, you would hear more. One girl thought she recognized an empty vodka bottle in the corner of the farthest stall. Another saw brown smudges ringing the toilet bowl. The third took pity on you all and said, “You know there are better bathrooms farther away, right?”
But what awed you the most about the whole experience was that despite everything, in the
midst of the warzone, there were two James Logan girls standing in front of the warped
mirrors and talking about their boyfriends.
The next day, you tell this to your friend, a track fanatic who had seen his fair and unwanted
share of boys’ bathrooms. He nodded. “Yeah. For us, there were shit stains on the ceiling.”
This made you pause. This made you think about things you would never have before. Earlier
you were considering the what and the why. Now you pondered the how.
“Like the ceiling ceiling?” you wanted to confirm. “Did they do a handstand?”
“A balled-up paper towel,” suggested a smart friend.
Someone else said, “Their hands.”
Which is to say, the point of modern art is not confined to what you see in front of you at a
museum. Maurizio Cattelan taped a banana to the wall and called it sculpting. Some believe it to be a prank for rich collectors. Others see it as a commentary on the value of modern abstraction and how technology has evolved to a point where photorealistic paintings are redundant, so why not tape a banana to the wall and be done with it. Ultimately, what you choose to make of the banana is what you have in your head.
Art is a process. You ask yourself: How did the artist come up with this? What materials were
used? Why were these specific materials used? How do these components create a holistic art piece?
The bathrooms at James Logan High School are the same. How did the shit get on the ceiling? Where did they take the faucet? Why did the two girls decide to hang out, of all places, here?
Art is emotion. This is important, and this applies to almost anything that has value to humans.
You need things in your life that make you feel.
The bathrooms at James Logan High School make you feel. Ugly feelings—that’s a given—but
also tearful gratitude for the work that janitors do and maybe even a sliver of amazement.
Because look what you got to admire.