Once a chameleon found it could change the color of anything it touched. Before this discovery, it had always matched its own coloring to wherever it found itself. That was a talent, of course, but a minor one. Rather than being admired by the art world at large, it merely contributed to a widespread dismissal of the chameleon as an undisciplined lightweight. Now suddenly everything was different. The chameleon watched as the earth beneath its foot turned the same hue as its toes. It lifted its foot, and the earth returned to the color it had been. It put its foot back down, and once again the earth changed. It then touched its foot to a rock, and the same thing happened. This was real talent. It might even qualify as genius, the chameleon exulted. Heady with this newfound gift, it took to calling itself “artist among animals.” And that’s when the chameleon’s problems began. News of the breakthrough spread rapidly. Critics hailed a revolution in the very meaning of “color.” Symposia were organized to discuss the many implications (present and future) of the breakthrough. The chameleon was invited to intense panel discussions followed by evenings out with the smart set. Soon it was being profiled in art publications and then the culture section of newspapers or asked in private by wealthy collectors for advice on brightening up a beach getaway. “I don’t do decorating,” the chameleon would reply. “I’m an artist.” “Of course you are. But couldn’t you just take a look?” Or it might be begged to touch something for a new friend, only to find it being hawked online within twenty-four hours. Inevitably, chameleon fakes began to be auctioned off at outrageous prices to eager investors. And then there was the jealousy of others who also claimed a gift for color. Snide comments began to circulate regarding the limits of the chameleon’s chromatic range or relevance to the times, and waggish dismissals of its ability to create anything worth taking seriously made the rounds. There were even ugly scenes at openings and studio parties. Why continue, the chameleon wondered after a while? Its early enthusiasm for changing the way the world saw itself had vanished. Now it began to suspect a bit of tinting around the edges might be all that was looked for: enhanced copies of others’ visions. Disillusioned, it withdrew from the bright lights and the openings. It stopped accepting invitations or even answering the phone. For a while, there were questions about what had become of the chameleon. There were also rumors and even a few claims of chance encounters in the most unlikely of places. But the circles in which the chameleon had once moved had themselves moved on, and soon a new “artist among animals” was being celebrated. “Just as well,” the chameleon thought to itself. “Just as well.” Years later, a small, out-of-the-way museum held an exhibition entitled simply “A Chameleon Retrospective.” Attendance was low. The last day there were no visitors at all. Except for a lone figure in a nondescript overcoat that every now and then, when the museum guard dozed off, would quietly touch one of the works in the show and turn it completely gray.
Copyright © 2020 by Geoffrey Grosshans