Note: I wrote this as a comment to a post on Facebook, but since it’s so damned long, I thought I might place it here. 🙂
How I feel about that bull…
For me, I feel that my opinion is firmly rooted in the viewpoint of the “artist” and not of my gender, which is why I have been hesitant to really bother to state my personal opinion. I have been bouncing these thoughts around in my head ever since seeing that “Fearless Girl” got dropped in front of that bull in the first place. I am self-admittedly a bit of what I would like to call a “traditionalist”. I have never appreciated appropriation or changing “art” by other artist’s to suit my needs, even when I have tried to do it myself. It’s why I can’t stand Jeff Koons. (That, and if you really want to call someone out for being sexist…there’s your man). I place a lot of credence in the original artist coming up with an original thought, which is a very hard process to do. Recently I have been privy to three different art pieces that I have had that little thought in the back of my head where the voice has said “But that’s not what the artist intended!”, and have wrestled with deciding whether I was right or wrong. I suppose the argument I am having with myself is a good indication that the meaning of the art is achieving its original goal. The first would be this piece: “Charging Bull” and for all the reasons that have been set forth already.
The second piece would be a piece of my own work which can be found, with its meaning here: http://bit.ly/2pm8Wo5 When I posted this painting (again, within the history of things) I posted it with what it meant to me as the artist who painted it. But I didn’t say why. Perhaps the why isn’t important, but the why to me is important because, well, I’m the artist. But mainly, at the time, it was the only response that could come up with to something that has bugged me for several years. I painted the painting back somewhere around 1997, though perhaps as late as around 2000. I’m not really sure. I painted it and then I reluctantly sold it to someone who was going to use it decorate an office space he had been commissioned to decorate. I sold it because at that point in my life I damned well needed the $100 it netted me, and it was my best piece I had to offer. I was very excited that it was going to hang in a local office. And I still am. And it still does. However, it hangs sideways. I am no longer sure if it ever got hung vertically, but I do know that I noticed it sideways almost right away and I immediately said something about it to the owners of the painting. They pretty much shrugged and said they liked it better sideways. To them, it was a landscape and therefore should be hung like a landscape. To me it had all this meaning, and apparently the meaning just didn’t get across like I had hoped, because it got relegated to being a landscape. In general, opinion at the time (which is still true to this day) is that it didn’t matter what I thought, I had sold it and it belonged to someone else, and they could do what they wanted to with it. All this is true. But, boy, it sure crushed my soul as an artist. It was definitely the moment I realized that you have to let art that you create go at some point because people are always going to view it differently than you view it. And if you can’t let it go, you’re just going to have a bunch of art sitting around under your bed and in your closets, and art is way too big of a journal to be keeping like that.
The third piece, I would invite you to think about, is the performance of “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams. It is currently playing on Broadway starring Sally Field, Joe Mantello, and directed by Sam Gold. For some (me included), The Glass Menagerie is arguably one of the best American plays ever written. It is a pure piece of poetry. Williams was very particular about how he perceived it should be done, and went to great lengths in his script to write the details of what his vision was. Sam Gold has gone and updated it; like many directors before him have done with various plays…it’s an art of appropriation that directors just love to dabble in, usually with Shakespeare under the guise of making it more accessible to a modern audience to understand. For the most part, I still enjoyed the play. The dabbling and changing didn’t do too much to change the meaning of the play for me, though there were several choices I would have not gone with, and they are hard for me to explain. But there was one glaring moment that the more I contemplated it, the more I realized how much it bothered me, because it was purposely changing what I would perceive as being the intent of the artist, in this case Williams. At the end of the play, Tom closes the play by looking back in memory and saying to his own created “ghost” of Laura, to “blow out your candles, Laura”. It’s an incredibly famous line, and the moment is always hugely moving, because of the symbolism it represents as we see Laura blow out the candles. But, in this version, Gold had Laura look at the “ghost” of Tom and shake her head “no”, and then Tom took a bottle of some sort of alcohol and in a sort of drunken rage doused the candles and extinguished their flame that way. For me, I think Williams is rolling over in his grave on that one. If he had been asked…I think he would have said no. It removed an element of poetry that the scene has, it changed the meaning of the play.
Williams is dead, and can’t speak. I sold the art work and can’t speak. Di Modica still owns the “Charging Bull” technically, and has spoken. I wonder if the conversation would have been different if the corporation that commissioned the “Fearless Girl” had simply asked the living artist if they could do what they did, thereby irrevocably changing the meaning of the piece as it was viewed by a worldwide audience. I don’t think it makes Di Modica a sexist (as it has been suggested) just because he has a desire to protect what he feels is the meaning of his own artwork. Unfortunately, he is going to have to either “roll over in his grave”, or let go of the “intellectual rights” to the piece now, because it has forever been changed whether he likes it or not…even if he removed it.