An Introduction to Public Statues

Probably a statue.

It is perfectly natural for a statue of a public figure to occasion certain questions. For instance, why is this dingbat enshrined in granite while I continue to languish in complete and utter obscurity? Before passing judgment, it would be wise to read the placard at the base of the statue. Perhaps this stately figure saved a litter of kittens from a burning carriage house or discovered a new strain of syphilis. Context is fundamental to any healthy appreciation of public sculpture.


Once you are properly acquainted with the heroics of the subject, it is time to test the solidity of the monument. Place a palm firmly on each buttock, plant your feet, and gradually apply pressure. If the figure topples over, it may just be a park visitor standing very still (possibly admiring the indigenous birds). At this point it would be polite to apologize for the mistake and offer them several loose bills from your purse or wallet.


Public statues should evoke a sense of grandeur. The figure should appear dignified, well-heeled, and Caucasian. Would you trust the man to lead you into battle? Would you raise his children as your own should he perish in combat? If the statue depicts a noted woman, would you trust her to lead you into battle? Would you raise her children as your own should she perish in combat? If the subject hands you a locked suitcase and tells you to deliver it to a business associate, either on a speedboat or pontoon, would you carry out the request? (If the answer is “no,” does this make you a coward?)


Facial expressions are often telling. Does the figure appear delighted, bemused, frightened, or miffed? A less than welcoming expression may indicate unspoken tension with the sculptor. Likely the session took longer than expected and the sitter was late to a planned rendezvous with their lover or mistress. This would explain why the figure is looking down at their pocket watch.


Study the fine technical detail. A gifted sculptor observes every crease and wrinkle. No feature, however minor, goes unnoticed. Pay particular attention to the eyes of the subject. Thinkers throughout history have regarded the eyes as the windows to the soul. Can you see into the soul of the statue? (If not, try looking a little harder.) Have the eyes been removed? Consider whether the subject had no eyes or if creative liberties were taken by the artist.


In the event that the statue is pointing, follow in the direction of its raised finger. Keep a shovel or trowel in the trunk of your vehicle. A dowsing rod may prove useful in such situations. Notice the movement of light and shadow. Is this somehow significant? It certainly could be. However, be careful not to spend too much time troweling; this is about the statue, keep in mind.


No one cultivates an understanding of public monuments overnight. It takes years of dedicated statue viewing to begin to appreciate the nuances of the sculptural form. In due course, the practice will come as naturally to you as bicycle riding or dressage. Until that point, spend plenty of available afternoons in the company of public statues, marveling at those whose achievements far surpass your own.


Ravi Mangla is a 1993 American science-fiction action film directed by Marco Brambilla in his directorial debut. Mangla tells the story of two men: a risk-taking police office and an evil crime lord. Cryogenically frozen, they are restored to life in the year 2032 only to find mainstream society changed and crime seemingly eliminated.

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