âGod, I hate art,â my late friend The Doctor used to say.
The man had his reasons, and he was only half-kidding. The Doctorâs first wife had been an artist, and an argumentative one at that.As my friend was also inclined to be rather firm in his opinions, marital debate had a tendency to become spirited.
Once a woman had played the art card, heâd complain, a man absolutely couldnât win. To persevere rendered him a cad, a bully, and an oaf of deficient sensibility. Particularly when sheâd started the fight to begin with.
I was reminded of The Doctor during the recent absurd public controversy over the âCharging Bullâ vs. âFearless Girlâ in the New York financial district. Absurd because as in virtually all disputes about public art, inherently subjective differences of opinion led many combatants to become dogmatic and contemptuous toward persons holding different views.
âWhat mighty contests,â Alexander Pope wrote ârise from trivial things.â
The whole thing started last month of the eve of International Womenâs Day, when a statue of a little girl appeared in the New York financial district, boldly confronting a six ton bronze bull long seen as a global symbol of Wall Street.
Hands on her hips, skirt blowing in the wind, the child seems to be staring the bull downâexactly as her creator, sculptor Kristen Visbal intended.
Commissioned as an advertising gimmick by State Street Global Advisors, the Boston-based investment giant, and its New York advertising firm, the âFearless Girlâ statue supposedly symbolizes âgirl power.â
A plaque at the childâs feet reads: âKnow the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.â
âWhat this girl represents is the present, but also the future,â a State Street representative told the New York Times. âSheâs not angry at the bullâsheâs confident, she knows what sheâs capable of, and sheâs wanting the bull to take note.â
Yeah, well at the expense of being a literal-minded bumpkin personally acquainted with a number of actual bulls, let me say this: Bulls do not take note of little girls, big girls nor even Donald Trump. While cattle can be outwitted by people who understand their behavior, you absolutely canât stare them down or outrun them.
We used to own a Simmental bull named Bernie that my wifeâaptly deemed a âbold childâ by nuns at âFearless Girlâsâ approximate ageâwould feed apple slices out of her hand. (Over the fence only.) He was a calm, easygoing fellow with big horns that weighed around 2300 pounds.
One afternoon when Bernie thought I was being too slow bringing his feed bucket, he slipped up behind me, lifted me effortlessly off the ground, carried me about six feet to the trough and carefully set me down. I never turned my back on the big rascal again.
It follows that in the artistic scenario as depicted, the child is capable of nothing. What âFearless Girlâ symbolizes to me is an act of sheer folly. Somebody needs to sculpt an electrified barb-wire fence before the kid gets trampled. Nothing against women, even Wall Street women, but the deep message of female empowerment is lost on me.
Your mileage may differ.
Of course, bronze bulls canât move at all. Nor is an artist necessarily an unerring guide to his own work. Even so I can sympathize somewhat with Arturo Di Modica, the Italian sculptor who says that the intended meaning of his (to me quite striking) bull statueââfreedom, peace, strength, power and loveâ has been irrevocably lost by what he sees as an act of esthetic vandalism.
Alleging copyright infringement, he has asked the city of New York to move the smaller statue somewhere away from his work.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has instead extended its city permit for a year, tweeting somewhat churlishly that: âMen who donât like women taking up space are exactly why we need the Fearless Girl.â
Iâm guessing de Blasio, a canny politician, may have glanced at the comment lines in local newspapers, where the debate quickly degenerated into what New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser aptly described as âa kind of feminist Rorschach test.â
Another went all Bernie Sanders on the poor guy: âWhatever Mr. Di Modica meant the Bull to mean 30 years ago, today it stands a symbol of the corruption, greed and implacable immensity of a destructive financial sectorâ¦
The Bull now represents something that is fundamentally evil. The Girl is a response to that, a necessary response and counter.â