Britain: Sad art

Britain: Sad art

Perhaps the saddest thing about the statue “A Real Birmingham Family” is that it’s reported to be a £100,000 statue.  It’s not clear if that means it set Birmingham back £100,000, or if it’s merely the market value someone — possibly the sculptor, Gillian Wearing — has put on it.

But other aspects of the “public sculpture’s” career are causes for melancholy.  The sculptor reportedly was commissioned to depict a “real Birmingham family”  from among 372 applicants in a contest.  The family selected is a pair of sisters, both single mothers.  One was pregnant with her second child when the likeness was taken for the sculpture.

Breitbart London’s Oliver Lane notes the obvious: that there’s no father in the picture, and the artist went out of her way to make sure of that.  What “constitutes a family isn’t fixed,” she proclaims.  It’s dead certain, of course, that the single-mother sisters live on public assistance.

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"A Real Birmingham Family." Gillian Wearing, 2014. (Image via Breitbart London)
“A Real Birmingham Family.” Gillian Wearing, 2014. (Image via Breitbart London)

Lane dutifully quotes some British critics who aren’t delighted about seeing a fatherless brood depicted as if it’s something noble to be aspired to.  And that’s fine and necessary.  But it’s all so depressing.  How far we’ve come from the aura of implications hovering over the Bryant Baker statue of the Pioneer Woman, dedicated in 1930 in Ponca City, Oklahoma to the spirit of the American pioneer family.  Oklahoma oilman Ernest W. Marland (the leading citizen of Ponca City, who would be elected governor in 1935) made these observations at the dedication:

We have erected monuments to our war heroes, to the hearty pioneers who wrested from the wilderness, from the plains and from the desert this nation of ours, but have we preserved the memory of the women…who married their men and set out with them on their conquest of the west, faced with them the months of arduous toil and terrible dangers?…With this monument I hope to preserve for the children of our children the story of our mothers’ fight and toil and courage.

The Pioneer Woman, like the two British sisters, walks with her son’s hand in hers.  But there the resemblance ends.  Through the artist’s eyes, we see the British sisters as they see themselves, slouching, struggling, knocked into household cohabitation by an indifferent world.  (“Diversity” has nothing to do with it; you could trawl Britain and find plenty of “diverse” families made up of married fathers and mothers with their children, just as you can in America.  The social weight that governs the sisters’ lives isn’t race; it’s fatherless welfarism.)

"Pioneer Woman." Bryant Baker (1881-1970), 1930. (Image via Metropolitan Museum of Art.)
“Pioneer Woman.” Bryant Baker (1881-1970), 1930. (Image via Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

We see the Pioneer Woman differently, because we see her as her men see her.  Husbands, fathers, sons: it’s through their eyes that we see the Pioneer Woman.  We don’t see her and feel keenly the absence of a father.  We see her and know that the father wants to stand outside the picture, this once — his heart overflowing — and do her homage.

No other arrangement can simulate or substitute for that one.  Lengthening the cascade of sadness, Oliver Lane informs us that the “Birmingham Family” statue stands outside the city’s new central library, a modern building whose architecture is sniffed at by critic Stephen Bayley:

Architectural critic Stephen Bayley remarks the design has nothing to do with books and people who read them, but everything to do with the ego of the person who designed it – the whole library is nothing more than an advertisement for the architect.  He lambasts the new library, caustically remarking “the state of public building is a measure of a nation’s psychic health”.

Sure.  And the fact that don’t nothin’ make anybody happy, from life on welfare to modern architecture, has more to do than you might think with men and women tossing each other aside and trying to have “families” without each other.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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