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Omaha Magazine

Otis Twelve: Art for your Auntie

Jun 23, 2023 01:01PM ● By Otis Twelve
otis twelve art for your auntie july august 2023

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

"I don’t know art, but I know what I like.”

Somebody said that. I tried to research it to discover who… I can say that it was either Thomas Jefferson, one of the Kardashians, Sigmund Freud, Larry David, the ancient Greek novelist Longus, or Morley Safer. Who said it first? It just seems to be one of those mysteries whose solutions are hidden by the mists of time.

So, join me now in those mists.

Imagine you are one of our ancient furry ancestors on the tree of evolution. I mean way back in the “Wandering Around Looking for Roadkill (Before There Were Any Roads), Seeds, and Berries Age.”  

Imagine that winter is approaching and your clan has returned to that cave that “We Always Return To”  because that’s the cave they always return to whenever Winter approaches, and the clan has noticed a few dozen great-grandmothers ago that winter always approaches, so it’s time to go back to the cave and you do. That make sense?

Imagine, that when you got to that cave, you would crawl back deep into the dripping stalagmite and stalactite-festooned depths of that cave. Those were the good old days when they didn’t have any specific words that differentiated the deposits that hang down from the roof of the cavern with the ones that built up from the floor, so you didn’t have to know which was which. Even better, in those olden days they had not yet invented the word “festooned.”

Imagine you carry with you the bones of your auntie who was half-eaten by a Sabertooth Marmoset back last spring. It is your duty to deposit her bones in the sacred cave “We Always Return To.” As you slip through narrow passages and descend deeper into the gloom, the leather pouch holding her bones keeps snagging on stalactites… or are they stalagmites? You can’t remember which is which… no matter… on you go, nightmarish, frightening images of blood-spattered marmosets in your head. 

Imagine as you crawl further into the darkness, you spot a rusty pool of water turned red by iron oxide leaching out of the rock. You realize you have reached the inner sanctum. There in front of you is a large pile of bones of your ancestors–many of them also victims of murderous little monkeys. You add your auntie’s femur and a few salvaged metatarsals to the pile and whisper a little prayer to the stalactites or… stalagmites… whatever.  

Imagine you put your mouth to the rusty puddle and take in a mouthful of the water. You place your hand on the wall of the cave, spread your fingers wide, and, with all of your might, you spit-spray the water explosively across your hand.  

Imagine that when you remove your hand from the cave wall you see revealed your own appendage’s stencil-like image—your splayed-out fingers all surrounded by the red pigment of rust… iron oxide. A human hand on the wall… forever.

And finally, imagine as you hold your torch up to illuminate the new mural you have created more clearly that in the echoey subterranean chamber you find yourself muttering those now famous words for the first time in human history:

“I don’t know art, but I know what I like.” 

Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 6-10 a.m. Visit for more information.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

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