I’m no art critic, but I am thoroughly enjoying all the recent coverage and debate concerning the state of inspirational sculpture in this country.
Most people are well aware of the clamor concerning the recently-cast sculpture of three firemen raising an American flag over the rubble of the World Trade Center. This particular statue was based on a photograph, and in the photograph, all three firemen happened to share an unappealing European lineage. The city of New York decided that, for the sculpture to be truly inspirational, a more “multicultural” approach was called for. Historical accuracy was conveniently marginalized and the bronze statue was “corrected” to feature three men of different ethnicities.
Not surprisingly, chaos ensued. The three firemen /_” the actual ones whose images were captured in the original photograph /_” protested mightily, and mainstream society as a whole let out a collective groan at yet another ridiculous attempt to needlessly racialize something which, inherently, has absolutely nothing to do with race. Because of the deafening public outcry, the city relented and the statue’s (ahem) erection has been postponed until a more realistic revision is completed.
This episode demonstrated society’s growing intolerance toward the hyper-sensitive ethnic ethos championed by the nation’s liberal elite. Combine this defeat with recent polls showing astronomical presidential approval ratings, not to mention a sharp increase in Republican Party identification, and one could easily come to the conclusion that the nation is growing steadily more conservative.
Society’s slight shift right, however, does not imply that the conservative movement is somehow more grounded in rationality. Rather, a few prominent right-wingers seem almost eager to demonstrate that, in terms of being utter dumbasses, they are every bit as capable as their liberal counterparts.
Take, for example, Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Boobies make him blush.
In the 1930’s, two statues were installed in the Great Hall of the Department of Justice. One, “The Majesty of Law,” consists of an Adonis-figure which stands around all day, tirelessly signifying something-or-another while wearing little more than a meager loincloth. The other statue, “The Spirit of Justice,” depicts a woman with both arms raised over her head and one breast peeking/peaking out of her toga.
Human anatomy /_” egad!
To remedy what it considers to be an embarrassing and lascivious display, the Department of Justice has decided to purchase $8,000 worth of blue fabric for the statues to hide behind while Ashcroft’s posing for pictures in the hall. No longer will the two exhibitionist sculptures surreptitiously enjoy arousing the occasional field-tripping sixth-grader or random granite-fetishist. Now they’ll have to proudly symbolize Justice and Law behind a curtain where they can’t be seen.
Both this incident and the sculpture scandal at Ground Zero are strikingly similar. Both situations feature a decision to alter something considered visually offensive – the ubiquity of European males in one case and the sculpted depiction of socially-forbidden body parts in another.
Either way, perhaps what these incidents really signify is that it’s time we, as Americans, change our style of inspirational art. Why bother trying to attain a level of realism in our artwork when it will simply offend the prudish conservative or hyper-sensitive race-pusher? Instead, let’s sculpt faceless, androgynous, and yet unmistakably human figures from thick slabs of glass. With no way of racializing or sexualizing the object of our attention, perhaps we can focus instead on what it is that’s supposedly inspiring us.
Jon Watkins is a senior majoring in English.