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On BAD metaphor - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
On BAD metaphor
Okay, I did a post in praise of metaphor not long ago.

But you know, there are ways to do metaphor, and ways not to do it. Let's say that you want to talk about uses of animals that you find unethical or even immoral. You could write an essay explaining your stance. Or you could possibly paint a metaphorical painting of something of great value being destroyed for the sake of something of lesser value, maybe even including an animal visual motif.

Or, you could do the painting I saw yesterday, called "Sacrifice," showing a cow-or-steer (sadly unclear) in priest's vestment's adorned with the Golden Arches, a mouse wrapped in a Pfizer banner, a chicken draped with KFC logos, and other acolytes of this sort. You know, if you want a whole lot of people to leave the building holding their breath to keep from laughing.

There are three problems with the painting, two of which are the visual metaphor, the third of which is a mismatched title.

The first, and biggest, problem is that the metaphor is inadvertantly funny. If you mean to make a serious point, don't make your visuals look like the set up for a bad Saturday Night Live sketch, possibly with Seth Myers as Father Bovine and Fred Armison as Mouse the Altar Boy. It doesn't inspire serious thought about the issue. If I thought the artist meant it as a parody, I'd probably think it was brilliant, but nothing about the set-up suggested that a punchline was intended.

The second problem is the wooden literality involved in this. I am talking about cruelty to animals, so I will draw animals with symbols of cruelty. All it's lacking is a weeping puppy to show that animal experimentation makes animals sad. When you get to that point of literality, give up metaphor--just go ahead and paint a mouse that's in the late stages of drug research and let your viewer draw his or her own conclusions. (Either that or fess up to making political cartoons; it's not like it's a disreputable profession.) This sort of thing is on the level of the weeping Lady Liberty to show that, gosh, America is sad about something. It requires no independent thought whatsoever.

The third problem is the title "Sacrifice," especially combined with the images of vestments--if your point is that it's bad an unnecessary (which I'd guess was the point from the symbols generally associated with the anti-animal-testing movement), then choosing a title which suggests it is a form of holiness might not be the best way to go.


Or maybe it just struck me funny after browsing around the Museum of Bad Art's website.
9 comments or Leave a comment
ani_bester From: ani_bester Date: January 5th, 2007 08:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
I believe my art teacher would file that under "otherthinking the material"

Which can be as bad as underthinking it in some ways.

Also as trying to hard, and overly kiche.

I can see how the idea might work though. I do think a comedic presentation can be as valid in modern art as it is on political cartoons (someone somewhere got into making modern art all serious and they should be shot) but this is just mmmm something in the execuation died.

I have seen a similar idea worked really well though.
It was a kid at my college.

They did the nativity scene -in the style of a High Renn. painting- but with secular Christmas icons, like Santa.

It was very humourous but also intriguing, partly because you couldn't tell the artist's feeling on the matter. It could be negative, could be postive, could be just a commentery of how things are now, without judgement.

For all it's intentional garishness it was still subtle.

The other painting sounds about as subtle as the PETA memeber I heard about, who dressed as blood splattered cows and stormed into an outback steakhouse to inform the patrons they were murderes *head desk*

And that I think worked.
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 5th, 2007 09:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
That sounds like an interesting painting, actually. A serious painting of the Santa iconage... that sounds intriguing. You can imagine the reindeer in the stalls, wreaths, trees... And yeah, you reach your own conclusion.

This would have worked as a political cartoon. Not a really great one, but I could see it in that arena. But it was done as a serious painting and it doesn't seem to have been meant as a cartoon at all. And it was hung in an official gallery in a public building.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 5th, 2007 09:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oops, that was me.
From: marciamarcia Date: January 5th, 2007 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
All it's lacking is a weeping puppy to show that animal experimentation makes animals sad.

I think I saw a vegan pamphelet like that once...

I agree with everything you've said here. And I'd add that, besides being a lame and inacurrate as a metaphor, the whole priestly garments thing just falls flat in general because it comes across as an attempt to be shockingly anti-christian that wouldn't be shocking (or even mildly thought-provoking) to anyone outisde of, maybe, the Church Lady. It's brainless and trite and unintentionally hilarious...and I say this as an athiest.

Whoever is responsible for this should have their artist license revoked. :)
matril From: matril Date: January 5th, 2007 10:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
Good grief. Did the artist really intend to be serious, with a image so inherently cartoonish and silly? Was this in a museum or something?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 6th, 2007 01:14 am (UTC) (Link)
As far as I can tell, it's meant seriously. And it hangs in City Hall in a little gallery they have there.

Whatever happened to Boston as the "brainy city"?!
spookykat From: spookykat Date: January 6th, 2007 01:11 am (UTC) (Link)
But the sad part of all of this is that most people don't really like to draw their own conclusions, but then...these folks are the artists, people who are supposed to shape and enrich culture, so you'd think that they'd be skilled in letting people draw their own conclusions. *sigh*
callmepatsy From: callmepatsy Date: January 6th, 2007 06:04 am (UTC) (Link)
It's far too obvious to have the impact that I assume was hoped for...and a badly chosen title.
sarah531 From: sarah531 Date: January 7th, 2007 01:53 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmmmm...what do you make of this painting?
9 comments or Leave a comment