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A barrel of tar, a piano and a motorcycle

Imagine a "modern" painting. The painting shows three objects: a barrel of tar, a black piano and an old motorcycle. If you saw this painting you'd say, "What the heck is this? This has no connection whatsoever with reality. It's meaningless. Where do these artists get their ideas -- from outer space; you call this art?" That's what I would say.

But the other day I was driving down the street and just ahead of me was a pickup pulling a trailer. In the flatbed trailer there was a barrel of tar and a black piano, both securely tied down for safe transporting and in the pickup box was an old motorcycle riding on its side. "What the heck is this?" I wondered. Then I tried to imagine how the barrel of tar, black piano and motorcycle were connected and where they were going but I couldn't get a grip on it. After all, it wasn't like a load of lumber with boards, blocks and shingles obviously heading for a construction project. I could have followed the pickup to see where it was headed and asked questions when I got a chance, but it was really none of my business so when the pickup made a right turn, I continued going straight ahead and went home.

I've been trying to make sense of that load combination ever since. About all I can figure is that one guy in the neighborhood owns a trailer and he is doing favors for three different neighbors at the same time -- delivering three different objects that have nothing to do with one another.

Sherlock Holmes, the fictional English detective, would have come up with a theory for those three seemingly unrelated objects. Sherlock could tell from the nature of the mud on your boots what neighborhood you'd been mucking around in. And he's the guy who figured out why the nasty dog didn't bark at the midnight intruder who committed murder -- because the murderer was an old friend the dog was familiar with. But I'm no Sherlock, so I couldn't figure out that pickup load.

You can twist yourself into a pretzel trying to come up with answers to all questions. And the simple truth is that things happen every day that don't make sense and never can be explained. As long as we are human and inhabit this earth there will be puzzles without solutions, questions without answers and detectives (the fictional detectives are by far the smartest) in search of clues.

Does art imitate life or does life imitate art? Years ago Oscar Wilde wrote that life imitates art. He argued that, for example, there had been fogs in London for centuries, but people didn't see them as wonderful or interesting until artists and poets taught them the mystery and spell of the fogs by showing them the eerie brown mists that crept down the streets blurring the gas lamps and turning houses into shadows. You could argue further that lifestyles are more influenced by the stories we see on TV and in movies than that TV and movies are affected by the way we actually live, even though reality TV is most unreal.

I would argue that art imitates life rather than the other way around. When a painting, a song or a story doesn't make sense and seems to bear no connection with reality, we should remember that reality itself often makes no sense and we never will understand everything we see, hear or experience. Add to that, that most artists don't really see things the way the rest of us do, or even as a camera does. So if you ever come upon a painting or a photo of a barrel of tar, a piano and a motorcycle, it may make no sense, but it's just imitating life. Don't try to figure it out. Just smile and enjoy it.