Tuesday 4 November 2014

Off message

Father of two Bobby Smith is fuming with rage over a sculpture of two women and their children outside the Library of Birming-ham. To him it's not just a sculpture, it's a political statement that offends his delicate sensibilities.

He objects to the idea that this is a "normal" family and says "kids are always better off with both parents in their lives." He obviously thinks sculpture should convey an ideologically right-on message and has never grasped the strange notion of freedom of artistic expression. Presumably he believes the only "correct" sculpture would be one of Mr and Mrs Average of Acacia Avenue, Anytown.

He was so incensed that he travelled from Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire to Birmingham to make his protest. He stuck photos of himself and his two young daughters onto three of the figures and threw a sheet over the other one.

So does he feel better for his valiant protest on behalf of normal, properly-parented families? Hard to say. In the photos, he looks glum and wary rather than pleased with himself. In fact he looks as if he's just lost a fiver and found a penny.

The artist, Gillian Wearing, explained sensibly enough that "a nuclear family is one reality but it is one of many and this work celebrates the idea that what constitutes a family should not be fixed."

There seems to be an increasing tendency to see works of art not as complete in themselves but supposedly "representing" some wider bunch of people who then complain they're being insulted or maligned in some way. The unsuspecting artist is said to be denigrating women, or men, or gays, or heterosexuals, or whichever group is dancing with rage.

Can they not accept that a work of art isn't a political manifesto but simply an aesthetic and emotional creation with nothing to say other than whatever the random onlooker takes from it?

As for the idea that the sculpture is making fathers invisible, you only have to walk down any busy street to see dozens of them with their children in tow. If Bobby Smith could tear his attention from "incorrect" art-work for a few minutes, he might actually notice some of them. Unless they're all covered with sheets, that is.

Pic: A Real Birmingham Family by Gillian Wearing


  1. So Mr Smith thinks: "There’s nothing wrong with single mothers but this statue is saying one person can do both jobs, and I believe kids are always better off with both parents in their lives."

    Well, I can give one example from the real world. One of my uncles died at the age of 44, leaving a widow and two young children under 10. She brought them up alone, and they survived. They both have degrees and are married with families of their own. My aunt (same age as the queen) is still going strong and continues to have 'a little job' - her words, to pay for life's little treats.

  2. Just got caught up with all your posts Nick. For once I'm in agreement with ALL of them, must be a record. :)

    Yes, the sculptor is telling it like it is. So very many single mothers who far outweigh the single fathers in numbers. And exceed I believe the "nuclear" family yer man was raving about. Eejits surround us.

    Duck and cover.


  3. Grannymar: I can well believe your aunt brought up the two children quite competently. I've known a number of single mothers who seemed to be doing a very good job of raising their children.

    www: You agree with ALL of them? Struth! True, there are plenty of single mothers out there, so the sculpture is simply a reflection of reality.

  4. Wait, doesn't this sculpture show kids with both their parents? What Mr. Smith is objecting to is that both parents happen to be female. Poor guy - so many things wrong with this world and he is twisted up about a sculpture of a happy family.

  5. What a super sculpture to place in front of a library...i wonder if Mr. Smith has ever entered one.

  6. Agent: Spot on. Twisted up about a sculpture of two women when there are so many real problems to be dealt with.

    Helen: It's a wonderful sculpture. Yes, does he use libraries? Does he even read books? Certainly not art books, that's for sure.

  7. I actually thought this was going to be about the sculpture depicting a pregnant woman.....because there are still those who think that's not an appropriate thing to see.

  8. Bijoux: It did occur to me that some people might have objected to the pregnant woman. But there's no mention of that in the coverage. Hopefully that means the library visitors see nothing wrong with it.

  9. I hate that sculpture so much
    If I want realism , i would walk around rhyl

  10. all i can think of it that clothing fashions change and the silhouettes will become dated. when that happens (quicker than you would think) the statue will lose some impact.

    "Twisted up about a sculpture of two women when there are so many real problems to be dealt with."

    I have no problem with the actual sculpture but i am disappointed in you saying this: isn't art about real things? if it was a sculpture that you highly approved of and related to you would say it was a positive message and you would be happy so if some misguided dude gets upset, isn't that a valid response? and isn't the discussion what the artist would hope for?

  11. change the semi colon for a full stop.

  12. John: You hate it because it's so realistic? So what are you looking for exactly? Something idealised, something super-perfect? A statue of a supermodel perhaps?

  13. Kylie: Oh, there are loads of statues from previous eras wearing hopelessly old-fashioned clothing, but that doesn't stop people liking them. In fact they find the strange clothing rather quaint.

    Okay, "real problems" was a bit non-specific, but I meant things like civil wars, poverty, refugees, sexual violence. Aren't they more important than a sculpture of two women and their kids?

    Sure, a good art-work should trigger strong responses from viewers, but his reaction seems to me a purely political one rather than an artistic one. It's like objecting to a statue of a soldier "because there shouldn't be any wars".

  14. My favorite sculpture in front of our library is of a little boy and girl carrying a cart, their arms loaded with books. It warms the heart of this book lover.

  15. Jean: That sounds like a great sculpture. And I'm pleased to see that books (as opposed to e-books) aren't going out of fashion any time soon.

  16. I have been a single parent the last five years and am thoroughly enjoying the experience. Quite whether the progeny and his wife is is anybody's guess. I wonder what the good Mr. Smith will make of my story!

  17. Ramana: At least you don't have an overwhelming urge to cry "foul" and sabotage statues of single women.