The city of New York recently unveiled a grotesque statue of a horned, spaghetti-armed female figure slathered in gaudy gold atop one of its appellate courthouses. The apparent effort to one-up Boston’s new “Embrace” sculpture — which purports to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but resembles feces at best and a male appendage at worst — looks like what you might imagine if the Starbucks logo and Medusa had an unholy merger. Perhaps appropriately, the figure named in tribute to the fight for abortion looks more like a demon than a woman.
Conservatives responding to public “art” installations like these will justifiably complain about the annoyance of having to look at such ugliness in parks and on street corners. They may insightfully point out that such acts of rebellion against beauty reflect a cultural disdain for religion and the nature of humanity itself (as Nathan Stone argued well in these pages here). But one thing conservatives rarely do in response — for fiscal reasons or otherwise — is create alternative, better art.
Why not take some of the money Republicans throw at their favorite political consultant firms and divert it to commissioning monuments, sculptures, and even architecture that honors those things about our culture conservatives profess to protect? Imagine a beautiful art installation that celebrates the family unit or the sanctity of life or simply feminine women and masculine men.
Can’t find a skilled artist who will accept such a job? Start offering more quality art programs at Christian and classical colleges. At a time when the objective nature of truth and beauty is despised by a sizeable portion of our culture, even art that has no political motive save being orderly and lovely is on mission.
Or why not, as Twitter user @PoliticalMath suggested, build “classically inspired statues of Clarence Thomas” — a jurist far more worthy than the late Justice Ginsburg (who reportedly helped inspire New York’s new golden goblin)? For that matter, what about Phyllis Schlafly or Thomas Sowell or Whittaker Chambers, or any of the Founding Fathers whose once-unifying statues are now being ripped down by Lululemon-clad revolutionaries? Just as left-leaning cities commission art installations that reflect their deconstructionist values, red localities can install statues and murals celebrating the traditional values of their communities.
It doesn’t have to stop at strictly decorative art, either; architecture has just as much capacity to reflect ugliness and beauty alike. Conservatives have long complained about the sterile ugliness of modern government buildings. Just compare the Smithsonian Castle to the museum conglomerate’s more recent buildings, or compare the delightfully appointed 1845 Florida Capitol dome (complete with appropriately southern candy-cane awnings) to the phallic skyscraper that superseded it in the 1970s.
Government buildings were once designed to reflect the noble expectations their architects had of the institutions those buildings housed. A courthouse believed to house law and justice, principles themselves rooted in natural law, was designed with the laws of nature, order, symmetry, and even beauty in mind. As government has morphed into a bureaucratic leviathan, its architectural structure now reflects its cubicle identity, with all the unapproachable nature (and loveliness) of a customer service department.
Accordingly, local leaders who prize goodness and beauty should design their municipal buildings to reflect that. Courthouses and town halls and state capitols and public libraries should be clean, beautiful places that foster the gatherings of their communities and the unified pursuit of the good, not concrete prisons that suck the life out of their dour occupants. Private organizations can practice this too, from educational institutions to community establishments such as theaters.
The same is true of churches, which have all the more reason to prioritize beauty, as an act of reverence and worship to the source and Creator of beauty Himself. As American Christianity largely sterilizes its gathering places and strips them of any physical reminders of God’s glory and loveliness, a revival of those eternity-directed reminders is warranted.
If we believe in objective moral reality — if we believe that men and women have immutable differences by design, that values like hard work and family loyalty and love of our communities have transcendental moral worth, and that evils like abortion are not just personally but morally offensive — then we must believe that the thing we call “beauty” is no more a mere human construction than the nuclear family or the principle of personal responsibility for a man’s own actions.
Those who believe such a thing as beauty exists — that art can be an act of worship and not just an act of protest — have every reason to possess the artistic upper hand. The Western canon provides us with a rich heritage of art celebrating order, beauty, and the imago Dei.
Probably the most famous period in art history was the European Renaissance, which produced masterpieces we still consider unmatched. A “renaissance” is simply a rebirth or revival of something. By that definition, our self-loathing Western civilization is overdue for a renaissance of art designed to point its viewer toward beauty or truth, not just chaos and “resistance,” the word chosen by the creator of New York’s latest installation to describe her work.
There are legitimate logistical (and societal) roadblocks to conservatives “building our own” institutions like social media platforms and banks when the existing monopolies cancel customers for political viewpoints. But building our own good art and architecture as a foil to monstrosities like New York’s golden abortion witch is something the right can and should do, far better and far more often.