Earlier this week, my boss came back from a meeting of the 10th Anniversary Committee and pointedly commented that only one person in the office had contributed to the committee’s fundraising effort, and that was him. The room was suddenly awash with “Oh, right, that” faces, but I just looked confused. I arrived on the job after the fundraising campaign began and nobody mentioned it to me, but that’s not an excuse. Even if they had, I wouldn’t have donated. The only difference is that it would have been a deliberate decision. I don’t donate money to anything unless someone can show me exactly how my money will be used for a concrete contribution to a cause that I believe in.*
Setting aside the waste of time that is celebrating an institutional anniversary, the only thing I’ve seen out of the committee so far is a statue. And statues are bullshit.
This particular statue is a piece of modern art, and if you know what I think of modern art, you can hear how fondly I say that. But I’m not criticizing the statue, itself, I’m criticizing the idea of an institution building a statue.
The statues I’ve seen have either been of people (to include fictional religious personalities) or abstract ideas. But why do we build them, and what does that say about us?
What does a statue do?
We build statues of people supposedly to honor them (dead) or their egos (living). Towns build statues of famous residents. Institutions build statues of their founders. But does a statue really honor a person and what they lived for? Does it carry their legacy through to future generations? Or does it occupy real estate and resources that could have actually been used to contribute to whatever cause made that person worthy of having a statue made of them in the first place?
Well, you can guess what I think.
In the town where I attended high school, in Massachusetts, there is a statue of a Civil War soldier- a Confederate Civil War soldier. I’m sure there was probably a good reason for it, but I don’t know what it was because some time after that statue was built, he went from being important enough to have a statue of him cast, to being so insignificant as to not merit a minute of explanation during American history class. Maybe he saved orphans during the war. Maybe he was a secret link to the underground railroad. But I don’t know what he did. I don’t even know his name.
Now, let’s say for example, the town had taken that money and endowed an orphanage to be named after him, or a scholarship to bring kids from war-torn countries to study in the US. Someone would probably know his name and what he stood for. And his mission would continue. (If, on the other hand, his mission was just to fight for the CSA, then we don’t want that to continue, so good call on the statue.)
History is not something to celebrate, it’s something to grow from. It doesn’t matter whether it’s good or bad. I love studying history; it was my major, once upon a time. Still, I think that any time you mention something you accomplished in the past, you have to try to follow it up with “then we learned and got better.”
We butchered the Indians and drove them off their land, then we learned and got better.
We hit the beaches of Normandy and stormed to Berlin to defeat the Nazis, then we learned and got better.
I’m not saying that D-Day or victory in WWII was a bad job, by any means. But if we’re not standing on the shoulders of that generation of heroes and doing better, then we’re letting them down. Patton would agree with me:
“I don’t want to get any messages saying, ‘I am holding my position.’ We are not holding a Goddamned thing. . . We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything. . .”
To build a statue of the past is to fail to transcend it. It is physical proof of our inability to use our resources to do anything worthy of that that past. There is always a better alternative to honor the memory of those that went before. A statue is just evidence of a limited imagination.
Everything you need to know about abstract art
Moving on to abstract art: I have no idea why people like modern art. You want to spend your money on it privately, go for it. I’m all for money flowing to artists of all kinds. I don’t get it, and I wouldn’t put a penny towards it, but I’m glad that someone does. And there, we’ve covered abstract art.
So, here we are, with this big piece of rock
This particular statue is designed to inspire, I guess, though nobody’s told me. I think that the corner of grassy field that the statue supplanted did a better job of that. The field could be used for sports, for experiments, for recreation- all things that inspire. The statue could maybe be used for shade to read a book, but that’s about it for inspiration. If I ever see a group of undergraduates clustered around and staring up at it in awe, their eyes shining with inspiration, then I’ll print this blog post and eat it. No tabasco, or anything.
There is nothing a statue can do that couldn’t be done better for the same amount of money or less with a little creative thought. Endow a scholarship. Build an innovation center for students to start enterprises on campus. Establish an art or music studio (even a sculpting studio). Add some desperately needed classroom space. Hell, plant trees. I’ll donate to support any of those.
But limit your imagination to a statue?
*Or if it turns out to be mandatory toward keeping my job. That remains to be seen.