Eye of the Beholder

20 June, 2009 Ken Everyday LifeFamily & PersonalReligion & Spirituality

I just read an alumni newsletter article — or rather tried to read it in its entirety — about the new statue of Saint Marguerite D’Youville at my Alma Mater.  It’s a long-winded litany of interpretive assumptions about the artist’s intentions linked to vague ideals, right down to the significance of how far apart the saint’s feet are in light of historical and metaphysical perspectives.  Their wording suggests the were even guessing (not knowing) why there was a key lying on the ground embedded in the pedestal.  They may have well been talking about a tree and why God made one branch longer than the other.  Yeah, this article was all fun from an academic standpoint, an admittedly well-done exercise in written oratory, and apropos as filler for a newsletter.

But what of the statue in the real world that others passing by would see for themselves, unaided by such commentary?

The artist was David Derner, and though he claims many months and miles in his research on Marguerite, I question any lofty intentions or knowledge of any of the theological significances of this or that posture or dimension.  In my opinion, the rush of a missed deadline for completion makes more sense than any aesthetic muse’s convoluted apologetics.  And to elevate this rant to at least slightly above personal subjectivity, my wife and I both gasped when we saw it at the same time and for the same reason, though my reaction was more heartbreaking since this was the image of a heroine of mine being publicly displayed:

It is a cartoonish caricature that contrasts soft-featured depictions of her in the past through a garish, Disney-like physionomy, with impossibly gnarled hands that look more like they are strangling a child than comforting it.  I’m glad I didn’t go to the dedication, especially if they had served food beforehand. 

I’m sure some will be offended, defensive, or downplay such an interpretation (perhaps while hiding their subconcious agreement under the justification of the expense), but after a generation or two of frightened and confused pedestrians and open house guests, I suspect a sigh of relief will come by the marketing department and others when they remodel the campus grounds again, eagerly relegating the statue to a forgotten storeroom or the end of a then-to-be haunted little-used corridor or stairwell.

It’s no leap to suggest why they hid or downplayed the statue’s harsh features in photos on both the cover and the artcile itself.  Even the college website itself uses an image of it at a distance that hides the features.  Has the artist even seen a painting of her?  You have to see it to believe it, face-to-face, and that would be bad.  (A more honest photo was taken by the Buffalo News in their article, but Buffalo Rising hid its hideousness with clever extreme closeups.)  If they photographed her face straight on, or her right hand in the girls hair … let’s just say I can easily imagine the under-the-breath tactful mutterings between the photographers and administration how to serve propriety best under the awkwardness of how to shoot such a thing without getting blamed for an ugly representation used in school publications.

I don’t know David’s other works or credentials, but a picece of art speaks for itself, and at least this one piece turned out to be a sucker punch in the face for an expectant onlooker like myself.  I would never have paid him, and I’m offended that my college did.  I can only hope my opinion is a fluke, and some vast majority of alums and students don’t share my outrage.


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