The end of visual art as we know it is rapidly advancing. If you think that’s an overstatement, read on and then decide. Leisure activity today is conditioned by cinematics displayed on smartphones, ipads and laptops. So people don’t want to spend their down time looking at stock-still things like painting or sculpture. They’d rather sit back and let streaming images, talking pictures tell them stories. There’s no sitting back with painting and sculpture. There’s no narrative without the viewer’s active participation. Experiencing visual art isn’t a passive activity. People have to think about what they see. Otherwise, there’s no story.
Now, poised for mass production are doll-size replicas of famous sculptures (Michelangelo’s “David,” Rodin’s “The Thinker,” and “Venus de Milo”) made with moving parts on the order of action figures. Normally this column would ignore toy business news. But it’s hard to ignore this one when an art critic gushes about it as Benjamin Sutton did on Oct. 30 for Hyperallergic, a daily newsletter that bills itself as “sensitive to art and its discontents”:
“What if instead of being paralyzed by existential anguish and intellectual inquiry, Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” were an Olympic sprinter? These and other art historical what-ifs could soon be at your fingertips thanks to The Table Museum, a line of action figures based on iconic sculptures from Japanese toy manufacturer FREEing.”
Did you catch that word “paralyzed” as if people would find the effort of appreciating Rodin’s work stupefying? Really Benjamin?
Sutton went on about how an action figure of “David,” projected to kneel and give a thumbs- up, resembles a wide receiver that just scored a touchdown. This art critic practically hawked the toymaker’s wares like this:
“The David action figure is available for preorder until November 25 through the Good Smile Company online toy store. Assuming enough orders are received, the six-inch-tall Renaissance action man will go into production later this year and begin shipping from Japan in May 2016.”
Then, for his wind-up, Sutton blatantlt hustles for the toymaker: “The figures are priced at ¥4800 (~$40), a pretty good deal for a priceless masterpiece.”
Sutton’s odd disregard for visual art comes on top of a number of other stories that inadvertently suggest that the performing arts are taking the place of visual arts. In 2013, this column noted one of these stories when Picasso’s anti-war mural “Guernica” was used as backdrop scenery for a dance recital in Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum – all to the tune of flamenco music. Hoofing it up before such a vision of horror not only disserved visual art, but also a Spanish town’s sad history.
Visual art was never meant to be some background to performing art. Visual art is the play itself and warrants its own stage. Benjamin Sutton, please copy.