The orange is absolutely pure, he says.

"This is really cool! I just don't know why we're here!"
-- a kid at The Orange Show this weekend.

Every time I've gone to Houston I've pestered my friends to take me to The Orange Show. On Saturday I finally won, and I'm glad … but I find myself reflective. I enjoy self-taught art, I really do. But going to The Orange Show reminded me again that it's not because I enjoy art that I enjoy self-taught art.

The Orange Show was put together by a man named Jeff McKissack, who was in his lifetime a postman, a beautician, an orange delivery-truck driver and a soldier. He is characterized as a "self-taught artist," but I'm sure he never thought of himself in those terms; a showman, maybe, or a teacher or an inventor, but not a self-taught artist.

Like so many other "self-taught artists," McKissack wasn't quite all there. A bubble left of plumb, you might say. Loony as a toon, maybe. When you're inside The Orange Show, you see that not only did McKissack try "to communicate the truths of this life and times as he saw them," as it says in the brochure, but also that the way he saw things was quite different than the way things actually are. There's a good-sized gap between reality and his representation of it. It takes a pretty (dare I say it?) crazy guy to build something like The Orange Show.

The brochure was provided by The Orange Show Foundation, a serious art organization that sponsors other funky art-related events and art car shows in Houston. It's supported by private contributions as well as the city of Houston and the state of Texas, and Coca-Cola, the maker of Minute Maid Orange Juice, is another big supporter.

The Orange Show Foundation, this serious organization, never comes out and says, "Hey, this guy was out of his mind" in the brochure, but it does quote him saying things like this: "It's the biggest thing to hit Houston since the Domed Stadium. Take 100,000 architects and 100,000 engineers and not one of them or all of them could come up with a show like The Orange Show." I think that, if pressed, they'd admit he was crazy as well.

So, is it moral, then, or is it ethical, to laugh at and enjoy the ravings of a lunatic? If I pointed and laughed at some crazy person in the street, people would say I was mean and tacky, socially inept and morally bereft. But it's okay if it's art, somehow, even if we push the outer edges of that envelope: I once visited a gallery where the crayon drawings of a woman who was institutionalized with serious mental disorders were being sold for a couple hundred dollars a pop. It was a real bargain, see, because she drew on both sides of the paper. Do you have to realize you've made art before it becomes art? Apparently not.

Of course, it's okay to have fun at The Orange Show. And you should go and visit as soon as you can. Buy McKissack's book, "How to Live to Be 100 … and Still Be Spry." And remember: If you want to be crazy, that's fine. Crazy is okay as long as you don't hurt anybody.

C'mon in and see what I saw.

© 2000 E.V. Hobbs

This page added August 7.

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