My little sister was sitting on the floor in the position she assumed every afternoon, hunched over her mound of clay, arms and legs akimbo, head full of pillow-static hair, elbows and knees all sharp angles. Like a great big sister spider.
Make real art, I used to say to the sister spider.
Stop making those stupid dragons and make some real art.
It could be beautiful, it could be functional, it could be both.
But not dragons, you’re too old for those!
And why do you always sit on the floor?
The couch is right behind you.
Are you listening?
The sister spider would shrug. She just rubbed the clay between her hands, absorbed in her dragons. When she finished sculpting a dragon, she would rub away the lint and fingerprints, run a thumb down its back ridges, clear her throat, and then blow on it, very gently, very carefully. It was as though she thought she was breathing life into them, with the solemn expression she wore and all.
Why do you always blow on your dragons? I would ask the sister spider.
It’s not like it makes a difference, the clay doesn’t dry any faster.
You just have to be more patient.
You’ll learn someday.
Are you listening?
The last time I asked her all of those questions and gave her those unsolicited answers, I had been sitting on the old couch behind her, sinking deeper into its deflated paunch. I felt a sting on my left earlobe. I turned my head and saw that one of my sister’s clay dragons had been gnawing on it with little earthen fangs. It was growling at me, making the same sound my sister made when she cleared her throat. It started hissing at me, the same sound of my sister blowing on her clay creations. It bit my hand, when I tried to slap it off my shoulder, and then it shrugged at me.
My art is beautiful and functional, see? my sister said. Your words hurt my ears, so it’s only fair that my art gets to hurt yours. Life imitates art and art imitates life.
I never criticized the artist again.