Monday, 8 September 2008

Artwork Mondays: two by two all twisted

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.

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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.


Unknown said...

I was just talking about the flood with a very religious friend of mine. Actually, we were talking about tree rings and dendrochronology.

He had never heard of the concept and I explained it very simply starting with short time lines. I gradually introduced trees that were living, and us watching the rings grow every season. Then I added that all trees in an area would have similar tree rings. and that they could be matched up. I then asked what we could know if a tree that was dead lined up with a living tree, but went back further than the living tree. He said it must be older by at least however many extra rings it had.

Yes! I was getting through to a young earth creationist! This was the crack in his logic that I would drive a wedge through! Maybe he could see the light and realize that evolution and the age of the earth were true facts! Maybe he would realize that some bible stories were either flat out lies, or at least only allegorical.

I kept calm. We discussed what could add extra rings. We discussed why you would not use certain trees because of their unreliable tree rings, or the climate. He was tracking with me and even pointed out that it wouldn't work really good in a tropical climate with out much of a season.

I really thought that I was getting through to him. I had the wedge placed nice and firm. I lifted the sledge hammer and drove down as hard as I could. I asked him how far back did he think it was possible to go counting tree rings? He said a few hundred years probably. Slam! The hammer hit the wedge. I introduced him to bristle cone pines in California and told him how they have tree ring data for the last nearly 10,000 years. I looked at the wedge. Huh? it was shattered to pieces. What happened? I set it up perfectly. How could that not have cracked his logic wide open?

I looked at his face. He looked perplexed. Then he said, "but if the trees go back 10,000 years, that would mean they didn't die in the flood". Yes, yes, I still have him. Then, "Well that can't be right then. There must be something wrong, otherwise it would show when they died from the flood. They couldn't possibly be that old."

Oh there is something wrong alright. The flood didn't happen. Damn, I lost him entirely, and now he knows why I was introducing the subject. Oh well. Stupid flood story.

Glendon Mellow said...

Wow! Such a story. Tree rings, that's amazing, I hadn't thought about bristlecones as a tool for skeptics before. Good for you for trying, Eric.

I agree.

Stupid flood story.

Anonymous said...

In Findlay's version, the unicorns actually were on the Ark but Noah decided to do something horrendous with his virgin daughter and a unicorn and that's what killed them. Or something. I've been meaning to read that again, actually. I read it in university when a friend of mine actually dropped an English class that was studying it. I don't recall being overly horrified or traumatized by it.

My take on the whole flood thing has always been to consider how much of the world was known about back in the day. If the flood was relatively local but seemed to take up a large area that could have felt like the whole world was sunk..

Actually filling up an ark with the thousands and thousands of species around the world seems beyond believable. I can't fathom why people can live their lives as if it were true. It's ghastly.

Good try with the trees, though.

Anonymous said...

The Noah story is a great contributor to my precociously inquisitive mind.
Being an animal lover from as far back as I can remember (about the time of the bristlecone)
I had real plausibility problems with the ark story.
Being a pragmatist as well as an animal lover, I am sure I was irritating to the Sunday school teachers when I questioned how Noah could possibly provide all the varied diets required by that diverse a group of animals, and handle manure removal, and how did they keep the varieties of animals from eating one another, and if they didn't eat each other on a tiny little boat, why did they start eating each other once they had plenty of room to get away from one another? And how did they fit all of nature's diversity on that little boat in the first place??
Hmmmm? Answer me that...
I'm waiting...

Glendon Mellow said...

Thanks for dropping in, 1minionsopinion!

I agree, I can't fault people from a couple of thousand years ago for their belief. I think too many modern people overlook the horrors of too many myths. Ring around the rosie is popularly known to be a rhyme about the plague.

Perhaps one of the reasons I object to this sand sculptire, is it actually underscores the fictional murder of all these animals by basically saying, "haha! Stupid unicorns!". And its on display for kids and families to marvel at.

Leslie, I totally agree with you. I agree art can be provocative in the public sphere, but this seems doltish and infuriating, not deep and infuriating.

I just don't get it.

Unknown said...

I made a huge comment and forgot to say something!Haha.

What did all the termites eat for almost a year?

traumador said...

Speaking of those of us who got left behind... I state the obvious... DINOSAURS!

So this flood how did it kill the marine reptiles off but not the marine mammals? I don't get it.

Glendon Mellow said...

Eric, Eric, of course there was a surplus of wood to eat, and Noah let the termites munch on it from time to time.

Traumador, weren't you there? How old are you?

The logical inconsistencies baffle talking dinosaurs. Another way we can see it points to human fable instead of reality.

Zachary Miller said...

One of the best Robot Chicken sketches ever: "God hates freaks!"

Glendon Mellow said...

Ahh, Robot Chicken. It is my dream to one day be mocked with a squeaky Seth Green voice.

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