Nonhuman animal representation and the banal

19 09 2008

I stumbled upon an artist’s work–his/her drawings of animals are quite skillful–but here’s the kicker: the pieces are titled things like “Light”, “Paradox”, “Leadership” and “Communication.” These titles quite changed my experience of the drawings. They pissed me off. Do you see…do you know why?

The title changes the image from something that could be an individual to something that is a generic. There are like the inspirational posters found in dentist offices

My stomach is turning and churning.

There is the utter banality and meaningless of it–the emptiness of the signified (there is none). These motivational posters and these sketches are a direct illustration of the banality of cultural and political discourse (dammit…it’s why people LOVE Sarah Palin).

So first, there is this sibling like relationship between these drawings (which I am not posting because I do not wish to be rude) and motivational posters. These are all offensive and damaging because the world does NOT need any more representations of nonhuman animals reduced to mere symbolic gestures. They incorrectly reinforce our sense of other organisms as a uniform and simple set, rather than a cluster of complex individuals (each squirrel is an individual, not a representation of “Squirrel” as a simple definable set). The more we reduce these creatures to simple human defined categories the easier it is to shift these categories to those we find useful in any context–a practice that is generally detrimental to the non-human animals involved. (e.g. This particular cat becomes a member of the group “feral cat” and in term becomes a member of the group “invasive species”–not good news for the cat, for now we are free to do what we wish without thinking about ethics or with empathy).

The drawings bother me more than motivational posters because the artist’s professes to be in spiritual exploration. This indicates the he/she believes him/herself capable of rendering some form of truth beyond the “worldly” (for want of a better term). Like so many people that profess to be spiritual voyagers, the loss of any respect for the concrete starts to devalue (in my opinion) any suggestion that these people are on a true spiritual path. Also, so often they talk about nature as this benign healing influence, these creatures as acting embodiments of this spiritual path, and this a) misses the violence and suffering, and in missing this, misses the moments of grace (they are the baby bear clinging to it’s mother, who was shot by hunters last week. Grace in the grieving of the baby bear who is now at PAWS being treated for dehydration, near starvation and lethargy. OK so the argument might be that this is not Nature with a capital N–you know what, that nature does not really exist.)

It is interesting to me that this artist also has images of women with titles like “Ecstasy” and “Seduction.” Hmmm, what do you think of that?




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