statue fearless girl

Art Doing What Art Does – Fearless Girl Makes Us Reflect, Evolve

Karin Kallmaker LIFE + STYLE 6 Comments

statues fearless girl with charging bull

There is a heated debate over Fearless Girl, the new statue in Wall Street who currently stands defiantly in the way of Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull. Because the discussion is about art, intent, history and how that evolves, I offer two opposing blogs from this debate. I find that both have valid points, and both offer perspective.

Seriously the Guy Has a Point – Greg Fallis

The first is Seriously the Guy Has a Point. Written by photographer (therefore artist) Greg Fallis, who asks: Doesn’t the artist’s intent and how the sculpture Charging Bull came to be placed matter? How does the reality that Charging Bull is guerilla art and Fearless Girl is corporate commission art impact our reaction to their individual and joint placements?

Fallis isn’t arguing that Di Modica, the creator of Charging Bull, is right. He is saying that Di Modica has a point – the artist’s point. That intent matters and has a role in our reaction.

You might argue that we often have no idea of an artist’s intent. I would answer that’s absolutely true. But the moment we know the intent our view of the art changes. Also, the absence of knowledge about intent leads us to speculate about what the intent might have been, which also shapes our interpretation of the art.

Even if we reject the artist’s intent entirely, our view of the art has evolved by being put through a process of reflection. That’s one of the things art and studying it does to us.

On Fearless Girl, women & public art; or, no, seriously, the guy does not have a point  –  Week Woman

Second is an equally important contribution to this debate: On Fearless Girl, women & public art; or, no, seriously, the guy does not have a point, posted in response to the blog above. Written by Week Woman, a feminist, this blog asks: With so few women featured in any kind of public art, what’s the big deal? Shouldn’t we be asking ourselves why Charging Bull is allowed to represent American ideals for all of us? Doesn’t it represent values like unchecked greed, and rampant male aggression? So what if the artist didn’t intend that.

My own experience of statue hunting bears out the statistics given: women that aren’t sexualized or weeping over men are pretty rare. (Except in Norway. Norway has like 50% women sculptures, big strong figures. But I digress.) I nearly always take pictures of them (gallery below). Week Woman asserts that Di Modica needs to get used to changing times and interpretations, and that his intent is as irrelevant as it is ultimately offensive to women.

Artist Reality #1: Creative Intent is the Art

Without intent art doesn’t get created. Intent drives form, media, scope. Intent is woven through every part of the project.

We can’t dismiss artistic intent as having no point in the story of the art. The artist, however, doesn’t get to tell us what to feel.
Our reactions belong to US, not the artist.

Di Modica intended Charging Bull as a symbol of America’s wonderfulness. I have always seen it as a symbol of America’s greed-is-god-is-good capitalism, and that’s not the same thing.

He’s not wrong about his intent. I’m not wrong about how I feel.

 

statue fearless girl

Artist Reality #2: Zero Control over Reactions

Boohooing because Fearless Girl creates a new narrative about your art is not letting art do what it can do – and is an odd argument coming from an artist. But it’s not invalid. Creation of a piece of art, for the artist, exists in a permanent place on the artist’s timeline.

Because something any artist should know is that we ourselves can change our opinions about our own art. If we can, anyone can.

So I feel he does have a point. Just because some of us may not agree with it doesn’t mean that point doesn’t exist. You can’t take the artist out of the equation. Admitting he has a point isn’t saying he wins the day.

Reactions to art are not monolithic or permanent. Part of what art can do is enlighten and repel at the same time. Simply looking at the same piece from different angles creates completely different reactions and stories about the piece.

Look at the two photos of Fearless Girl featured in this blog. Fearless Girl is awesome staring down Charging Bull. Fearless Girl is completely awesome on her own.

After all, I am well aware that readers can love one of my books and years later wonder why. Or not love one and years later try again and find that it resonates deeply.

And Wow, History Happened

Time passes. Other artists react to art. They have their own intentions in doing so. They react, we reflect, think, we evolve. And that is what art is supposed to be.

What the bull’s creator intended and how it feels decades later after yet ANOTHER world economic crash due to Wall Street’s raging, reckless greed are two different things.

How women feel looking at this unchecked male fetish that is supposed to represent all of us and what the artist intended are also two different things. As Week Woman says, the artist is going to have to get used to being told that our reactions to his art are not what he might have intended.

I personally have always found the art of Charging Bull itself masterful and what it represented horrific. I reject the idea that it represents what America is. I am simultaneously appalled by the stark reality that it is what we may have irrevocably become. Bulls from Wall Street, a mere 8 years after wrecking the world economy, now dominate our administration.

Fearless Girl Could Be Placed Anywhere and Everywhere

Regardless of what the corporate creators of Fearless Girl intended, she has meaning of her own now. We all bring something to that party.

She makes me happy. We could also get right to the heart of the matter and place her opposite an NFL stadium, the Washington Monument, or outside Google headquarters. They all play their part in the repression of women through domestic violence, laws, and pay disparity. But I also like her right where she is.

Her fearlessness doesn’t need anything to oppose, either. She is fearless.


Not sure how the second blog’s link didn’t get posted. It has been added (again).


I hope to visit Fearless Girl and add her to my collection. These are taken around the UK, Norway and Canada.

Copyrighted material.

Comments 6

  1. It’s hard to find fault with anything that provokes such a conversation about the meaning and “ownership” of art. That said, there’s the larger question of “guerrilla art,” i.e., works placed in a public space without permission. It’s easy for progressives to cheer when it challenges one of the “-isms,” but what about when it offends? Does the approval of Charging Bull and Fearless Girl also give tacit consent for a statue of Hitler in front of the state-owned Javitz Center, or that of a robed Klansman in the African Burial Ground? There will always be censorship from a person or group empowered to decide what offends. The question is whether it will be a priori or post hoc.

    1. Post
      Author

      Excellent point. Use of public space becomes part of the evaluation. The feminist blogger I linked to would certainly say that Charging Bull is de facto as offensive to women as the examples you give. There will always be censorship from a person or group empowered to decide – quite right. The key word there is empowered. Women are rarely empowered to actively do the censoring whatever those who rail about political correctness may say.

  2. Great post. I had read about the bull artist’s reaction to Fearless Girl and felt conflicted. On the one hand I agree he has a good point. As an artist his intent does matter. On the other hand, art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, or in a single point in time. And ultimately, the best art makes people think, ask questions, debate interpretations. Adding the second sculpture has certainly sparked all that. The original artist would have a stronger point if the girl was positioned so close as to look like part of the original sculpture or to be directly interacting with it. But as it is there is plenty of space between them that they feel very separate.

    The part about corporate sponsorship I think is fairly irrelevant. It wasn’t until I read the article about the bull’s artist that I even knew Fearless Girl was a type of advertisement. The sculpture stands on its own merits and I suspect most people viewing it don’t make any connection between it and a corporate entity. If it was blatant I’d think differently. Subtle and missed by anyone not in the know I can accept.

    I totally agree with your conclusion Fearless Girl doesn’t need anything to oppose. She’s fearless regardless.

    1. Post
      Author

      I was almost done with the blog when I looked at the two photographs of Fearless Girl and realized how strikingly different the story is depending on how you look at her. In one you are looking at her and only her. What she sees isn’t part of the story. It could be ANYTHING. She is fearless. She needs nothing and no one to be Fearless Girl.

      In the other you are looking at her and you see what she sees. She becomes a figure of resistance to capitalism and rampant masculinity – at least to me. Even if you take out Charging Bull and see that she is looking at Wall Street and it’s monied towers, she tells that story. It’s a lot more powerful with Charging Bull. So the artist of Charging Bull is right – Fearless Girl from that perspective uses his art to make new art.

      I love the statue from both perspectives. I want replicas everywhere.

  3. This is interesting and encouraged me to think about this topic from the two blog perspectives you profiled. I like the way you commented across the two and then brought in the statues from other countries as illustrative of orientations to women.

    Another dimension you could include more explicitly, in addition to the intent of the artist and the interpretation of the viewer, is the intent of the commissioner. What do the statues / public art tell us about the values / orientations to women of those with the resources to commission? That question becomes interesting when you start comparing statues and public art across countries. There was an international comparative study of culture and leadership conducted about 10 years ago, and one of the categories used to draw conclusions about the orientations to women within the participating societies was statues.

    1. Post
      Author

      I seem to remember the study you mention. There is variation across countries and the US could certainly do a lot to catch up! I think “who paid for it and what did they get for their money” is one of the viable questions that can be asked when studying and interpreting art, especially political art.

Thoughtful and Congenial are welcome visitors. Disrespect and Spite will be shown the door.