What is Real?

“This is not real,” my student peer leans over and whispers to me quietly as she continues to smile. Her smile is the vacant, enigmatic smile of someone who has detached herself from her surroundings.


In front of us the entire department of graduate-school art students are assaulting her work, the work of many weeks of labor, in a barrage of uncomplimentary comparisons and especially harsh critique and association.

“How can you say that?” I whisper back in frustration. “You need to say something. They are slaughtering you.”

In circles of artistic or literary critique it is not uncommon to site the works of other artists or authors, whose works are accepted or revered, as being like one’s own. This practice is akin to taking refuge in the masters and often renders the criticism being levelled at one’s own original work less harsh once the bridge of “likeness” has been established.

“No. I don’t need to say anything,” she responds to me again, maintaining  her enigmatic smile and an eerily calm voice.

Like a school of flesh-eating fish, which is in the process of cleaning the bones of one spent target, the group finishes critiquing her work and moves—as one body—onto the next station of display.

Still consternated with my student peer for not having “defended” herself, I press my friend on the issue of Reality, “If this isn’t Real, what is?”

“My relationship with my husband,” she counters matter-of-factly. “That is Real.”

Her assuredness about this “fact” regarding Reality gives me pause. If our primary, sustaining relationships are The Reality, why are we not placing more effort into growing the Love  sustaining us in our most important relationships?