Today, Artwork Monday is a bit different. Prepare for a rant.
I don't normally comment negatively on another artists' work. And indeed, I think the technical work displayed below is superb. Suuuu-perb! It's the subject matter that raises my ire.
My wife and I came across this tremendous sand sculpture last week at the Canadian National Exhibition, or The Ex, as we Torontonians refer to it.
Cutesy Noah's Ark. Mythological extinction for the kiddies.
As you can see, all the animals, two-by-two in their little happy smiles, are getting away from the Abrahamic god's cataclysmic flood. Alas, the poor unicorns are struggling to keep up, and we know what happened to them don't we? Did they make it?
Don't know? Read the sign:
So it doesn't matter how hard they paddle, for as author Timothy Findley showed, they are not wanted on the voyage.
I get it, I do. The Noah fable is easy for kids. The young toddlers can stretch their neurons a little, counting to the number two, matching everyone up, and trying to remember and pronounce each pair of animals. Some will be easy: dog! Some will be harder, and you must chuckle to yourself with pride when a baby attempts rhinoceros or hippopotamus. Noah always looks like Santa, white beard and a smile while feeding and petting the animals.
It's got plenty of play value for a tiny human brain to learn from. Often, they're even puzzles as well as toys!
It's the focus of the Noah's Ark story that bothers me. A myth where some ancient god drowns the world of sinners and only saves a few individuals from the animal kingdom. Okay fine, let's assume in this tale that the humans all deserved it, or something. (Even the babies?) Just leave that notion over there on the table for a moment.
How to explain the wholesale slaughter, nay, extinction of all the other land animals on Earth? Umm, "yay, the filthy unicorns are all dead?" Don't tell the Church of You-Know-Who. Take that, lemur population! Take that, wallabies! Take that, star-nosed moles! Yes my, what a cheering story.
It's so twisted. The kids are encouraged to focus on the survivors, as if the flood is a natural disaster, and Noah's elite are snug in their berths. But the fable says this was done by an intelligent entity. It's not a cataclysm, it's callous pre-meditated murder. The millions and millions of organisms (billions with the insects) that drown are just left out of focus. The fable even reinforces the whole two-by-two-hetero-only stereotype.
Richard Dawkins' critics often claim he is a big meanie, and I suspect they are thinking of this quote:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all
fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a
vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic-cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist,
infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomanical,
sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, p31.
If you ask me, he left out "extinction-generator" or "species-cidal" or something of the like.
Extinctions have fascinated me since I was a kid. The images painted by so many paleo-illustrators always had an eerie, otherworldly look to them: yellow clouds, sauropod heads looking up at the light on the horizon. Or dark cobalt skies, rife with clouds and lightning, as a few shrew-like mammals hide in the shelter of a predator's skeleton. I remember trying to stretch my mind into the expanse of years, and imagine how could the turtles and crocodiles survive?
When I drew Lord Extinction Yawns, I began with the two-by-two. I was not raised in any particular religion, and my brain had not really dawned into atheism yet. You can see the pair of trilobites I started with, though I later differentiated them with a very unlikely tail.
My idea behind this drawing was to put an allegorical face on the concept of extinction, much like many Symbolist paintings put a face on Death. I needed Extinction to be stranger, more primal, and powerful. When he idly yawned, that's when the spirits of extinct animals can swirl out of his maw of perfect teeth. Extinction is ugly. My apologies to the artist of such talent who created the Ark above, but I don't take the story that lightly.
Next time you need to buy a toddler some cutesy animal toys, why not a little rainforest set, or if you really need to hand them some scary extinction toys, be old-fashioned and grab some plastic prehistory. And then explain how some dinosaurs' descendants took flight, and marvel at the splendor of the history of the animal kingdom taking wing in a child's mind.
All original artwork on The Flying Trilobite Copyright to Glendon Mellow. The contents of this blog are under a Creative Commons Licence. See sidebar for details. Please visit my blog, gallery and reproduction store. Except, I ain't taking credit for the well-crafted sand sculpture. I hope next year the Ex has a Permian extinction in sand instead.