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Thread: Why every statue should come down

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    Senior Member razz's Avatar
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    Why every statue should come down

    I try to stay out of this forum usually but did want to share a Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/artandde...longread_email article that really made me think seriously about the turbulence, policies and the commemoration throughout history.
    Canada is as vulnerable as any other country.

    "The story starts in the mid-19th century, when the designers of Trafalgar Square decided that there would be one huge column for Horatio Nelson and four smaller plinths for statues surrounding it. They managed to put statues on three of the plinths before running out of money, leaving the fourth one bare. A government advisory group, convened in 1999, decided that this fourth plinth should be a site for a rotating exhibition of contemporary sculpture. Responsibility for the site went to the new mayor of London, Ken Livingstone.

    Livingstone, whom I did not know, asked me if I would be on the committee, which I joined in 2002. The committee met every six weeks, working out the most engaged, popular way to include the public in the process. I was asked if I would chair the meetings because they wanted someone outside the arts and I agreed. What could possibly go wrong?

    Well, the Queen Mother died. That had nothing to do with me. Given that she was 101 her passing was a much anticipated, if very sad, event. Less anticipated was the suggestion by Simon Hughes, a Liberal Democrat MP and potential candidate for the London mayoralty, that the Queen Mother’s likeness be placed on the vacant fourth plinth. Worlds collided.

    The next day, the Daily Mail ran a front page headline: “Carve her name in pride - Join our campaign for a statue of the Queen Mother to be erected in Trafalgar Square (whatever the panjandrums of political correctness say!)” Inside, an editorial asked whether our committee “would really respond to the national mood and agree a memorial in Trafalgar Square”.

    Never mind that a committee, convened by parliament, had already decided how the plinth should be filled. Never mind that it was supposed to be an equestrian statue and that the Queen Mother will not be remembered for riding horses. Never mind that no one from the royal family or any elected official had approached us...
    This, however, was simply the most insistent attempt to find a human occupant for the plinth. ..
    But with each request I got, I would make the petitioner an offer: if you can name those who occupy the other three plinths, then the fourth is yours. Of course, the plinth was not actually in my gift. But that didn’t matter because I knew I would never have to deliver. I knew the answer because I had made it my business to. The other three were Maj Gen Sir Henry Havelock, who distinguished himself during what is now known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857, when an uprising of thousands of Indians ended in slaughter; Gen Sir Charles Napier, who crushed a rebellion in Ireland and conquered the Sindh province in what is now Pakistan; and King George IV, an alcoholic, debtor and womaniser...
    [None are memorable for positive reasons today.]

    But history is not set in stone. It is a living discipline, subject to excavation, evolution and maturation. Our understanding of the past shifts. Our views on women’s suffrage, sexuality, medicine, education, child-rearing and masculinity are not the same as they were 50 years ago, and will be different again in another 50 years. But while our sense of who we are, what is acceptable and what is possible changes with time, statues don’t. They stand, indifferent to the play of events, impervious to the tides of thought that might wash over them and the winds of change that that swirl around them – or at least they do until we decide to take them down..."

    John A MacDonald is considered the Father of Canada's Confederation but also was the one who wished to convert all aboriginals in Canada to European modes of thinking and education at the time by enforced withdrawal of the youth from their homes and families and into residential schools.

    I found it an interesting read and quite thought.-provoking
    As Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

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    Senior Member iris lilies's Avatar
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    I agree that “history is not set in stone…it is a living discipline.” As such, the living get to decide which of the dead are honored, and that is done according to cultural ideas of the moment.

    But we all have our own ideas of what to value. For instance, I dont care much about statues in a nearby Park because I do not know those guys, they were local beer barons who built stuff around here.

    My own neighborhood park has one of the 7 Hubbard casts of the famous Houdon statue of George Washington. I am dreading the day when cultural warriors come after our George. Perhaps he will be overlooked because who expects an important public statue in our tiny neighborhood Park? It is not on the radar of many people. It is there hiding in plain sight, often the best place to hide stuff.

    The Victorians loved to put up statues to honor themselves and their coherts. That isnt done much these days so likely future generations will not have this particular cross to bear, the honoring of old dead white men as embodied in their likeness.

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    It speaks to the imbecility of the present age that so many of us insist on viewing history as a morality play. We think we can punish figures of the past we disapprove of by tearing down their images from the public square. We sit in judgment of historical eras from the comfort and safety of today, enjoying a vicarious thrill of superiority.

    I’m more of a believer in the warts and all viewpoint. I think it’s more important in using history to help understand how we got to where we are rather than a tool assigning which group is indebted to which other group based on the actions of their ancestors. Removing artwork from our cultural refrigerator seems a little childish to me.

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    Senior Member iris lilies's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LDAHL View Post
    It speaks to the imbecility of the present age that so many of us insist on viewing history as a morality play. We think we can punish figures of the past we disapprove of by tearing down their images from the public square. We sit in judgment of historical eras from the comfort and safety of today, enjoying a vicarious thrill of superiority.

    I’m more of a believer in the warts and all viewpoint. I think it’s more important in using history to help understand how we got to where we are rather than a tool assigning which group is indebted to which other group based on the actions of their ancestors. Removing artwork from our cultural refrigerator seems a little childish to me.
    I agree that dislike of the subject is a main idea behind much of this statue removal, but I also think in the bigger picture that public art should be allowed to change after review. It costs money to maintain public art, and the public art that was favored in 1895 is not favored in 2021. It is art. Tastes change.

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    Thanks for posting this article, razz. If we actually DID use history to help understand how we got where we are, I would agree, cheerfully, with LDAHL. But we, as a society, do not do this. Instead we get this:

    https://www.beaconjournal.com/story/...io/7508217002/

    nutshell version:Hudson Ohio American Legion cuts mic to their own keynote speaker when he talks about Black Americans' contributions to the history of Memorial Day.

    So currently, I'm in the "move statues of people to museums or just remove them" camp. We sanitize history far too much.

    Added: I agree with IL that much pubic art should be changed from time to time!

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    Quote Originally Posted by iris lilies View Post
    I agree that dislike of the subject is a main idea behind much of this statue removal, but I also think in the bigger picture that public art should be allowed to change after review. It costs money to maintain public art, and the public art that was favored in 1895 is not favored in 2021. It is art. Tastes change.
    I agree that tastes change over time, but I think some (not all) art of the past should be preserved as part of a slow, deliberative process. It shouldn’t be a matter of fleeting fashion the way it seems to be today, with ad hoc groups appointing themselves as censors of the past. We preserve certain buildings by law. Maybe we should preserve certain works of monumental art no matter how offensive they might be to the sensibilities of (for example) the current generation of Oberlin undergraduates. Not all, by any means, but a decent representative sample.

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    Senior Member razz's Avatar
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    Are most statues really art? Or, simply a prize handed out like ribbons in kid's races?
    I saw the statue of David in Florence by Michelangelo and was awe-struck at how much feeling and movement the body conveyed. Not fair to compare most statues to the one of David though.

    As I mentioned at the outset, the article triggered a lot of thought about the purpose of statues.
    As Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

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    Senior Member catherine's Avatar
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    What I liken this to is the attention the Taliban got when they threatened (and finally executed) the destruction of two ancient stone Buddha statues. I was really, really sad to hear that. I'm not Buddhist, but I love artifacts of antiquity. I thought the destruction of those statues was terrible.

    So, when thinking it through, my vote leans towards more that LDAHL is suggesting--that many of these statues are artifacts of history and culture, and one man's (or woman's) Taliban God is another man's Buddhist one.

    But I don't believe the issue is black and white. Relevancy is important, historical truth is important, artistic value is important, and I don't think sentiment is the final arbiter.
    "Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?" Emily Webb, Our Town
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    Quote Originally Posted by catherine View Post
    But I don't believe the issue is black and white. Relevancy is important, historical truth is important, artistic value is important, and I don't think sentiment is the final arbiter.
    This is very well-said and encompasses how I feel as well. I also think there is a big difference between "removal" and "destruction". Of the two, I choose removal.
    To give pleasure to a single heart by a single act is better than a thousand heads bowing in prayer." Mahatma Gandhi
    Be nice whenever possible. It's always possible. HH Dalai Lama
    In a world where you can be anything - be kind. Unknown

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    Senior Member iris lilies's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by razz View Post
    Are most statues really art? Or, simply a prize handed out like ribbons in kid's races?
    I saw the statue of David in Florence by Michelangelo and was awe-struck at how much feeling and movement the body conveyed. Not fair to compare most statues to the one of David though.

    As I mentioned at the outset, the article triggered a lot of thought about the purpose of statues.
    Yes it is public art. That’s what the Victorians liked. Just because these Victorian statues are more recent than the David statue doesn’t make them any less Art. They may be less important art, but they are still Art with a capital A.

    Sculptors spent years making these big bronze likenesses of people around our town. Yes they are artists, they studied art, anatomy, etc.

    The Story of Harriet Hosmer, a Victorian woman who was a sculptor associated with st.Louis who worked in Italy, should convince you they are creating art:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Hosmer

    She created a huge and important statue also in my neighborhood park, The statue of Thomas Hart Benton who was an important St. Louis political figure. I contributed $5000 a dozen years ago towards its renovation. While it’s not my favorite piece of statuary, it is the one that was undergoing renovation at the time.

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