Category: Art

How close are you to your dog?

A reflection on our dogs.

I was sorting out some stuff the other day and came across the following. It is the record of a talk I gave some time ago in connection with the publication of my book Learning from Dogs.

As much as I would have expected to have previously published this on the blog I cannot find an entry. So here you are!

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The concept of attributing dogs with human traits is nothing new. In fact the ancient Greeks came up with a fancy word for it around two thousand years ago: anthropomorphism.

As ever, the truth of the matter is not a case of black and white but subtle shades of grey. No doubt in another two thousand years as science advances and we discover more about DNA and the mysteries of the human and canine brains the picture will develop into sharper focus. In the meantime, we must satisfy ourselves with some basic observations.

Let’s start off on common ground. One thing that we all seem to agree on is that humans are at the top of the pile in terms of evolutionary sophistication. For obvious reasons we view ourselves as the being the highest life form (although there is increasing alarm that we have totally lost touch with our basic instincts, if not totally lost the plot, by endangering the very planet that sustains life as we know it).

But I digress – back to common ground. We agree that as children our mental capacity is not fully developed. We survive by our instincts and the basic needs to be fed, watered, sheltered and bonded in a family group where we defer to a natural hierarchy. When you think about it this is precisely how dogs survive.

Like children, dogs display the most basic instincts to rough and tumble, compete for toys and establish a natural pecking order. Inherent in this is the need for a parent or pack leader to set down boundaries and create order and stability out of chaos. Without this both child and dog feel insecure and may well grow to display anti-social behaviour.

You would responsibly bring a child up with love and discipline, have consistent boundaries, teach them what is safe and what is dangerous, what is sociable and what is unsociable.

Dogs too need love and discipline, consistent boundaries, and to learn what is safe and what is dangerous, what is sociable and what is unsociable.

Communicating with a child is not so very different from communicating with a dog. Young children, like dogs, do not have the power of speech so you have to work out alternative strategies to speech in order to get through to them. You will find that if you approach a dog in much the same way as you approach a child, life will be a whole lot easier for you. And the dog! Hopefully you will have realised that praise is a far stronger motivator that punishment.

A positive approach.

Take the example of the puppy that makes a puddle on the floor and the child that wets its bed. Each one of them have not learnt control of their bladder and are simply responding to the call of nature. Neither are being naughty nor are in the wrong.

Yelling at the child will only make it more stressed and, therefore, more likely to continue wetting the bed. In exactly the same way if a puppy has an accident on the carpet being harsh will make matters worse.

How many human ‘sports’ involve chasing a moving object? How many of these games also involve people working as a team to ‘catch’ these objects? Football, rugby, basketball, tennis, badminton, etc. I could go on but you get the idea.

Why do we enjoy these games? Is it not because we too are instinctively striving for a pecking order within the pack and following our predatory instincts.

“No, no no!’ I hear you say. ‘We are a civilised, sophisticated race who have created these games for our enjoyment. They are so different to the throw and fetch games our canine friends mindlessly enjoy.’

Don’t kid yourself. Look also how football supporters revert to uninhibited childlike behaviour. At worst becoming hooligans and behaving, almost literally, like savage animals when they find themselves challenged or threatened by an opposing pack.

Or on a much more positive note how hundreds of fans, unrehearsed, suddenly find one voice and break into a prefect, heart-stopping rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”. Now that’s a perfect example of the ‘pack call’.

We all enjoy the close relationship we have with our dogs. Maybe sometimes we don’t realise quite how close we are.

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I can’t imagine life without our dogs.

They mean everything to Jeannie and me.

A photo of Pharaoh when he was quite an old fella!

Picture Parade Two Hundred and Seventy-Five

A remarkable set of images.

All the more important as for us it was a cloudy night.

These images are taken from here. I sincerely hope I am not infringing copyright by republishing them.

The lunar eclipse on January 21, 2019 before the moon is fully cast in shadow, hovering over the dome of the church St. Elisabeth in Nuremberg, Germany. ( Daniel Karmann / Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

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The moon during the January 21, 2019 total lunar eclipse over the skyline of Frankfurt. (Frank Rumpenhorst / Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

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A composite photo shows all the phases of the so-called Super Blood Wolf Moon total lunar eclipse on Sunday January 20, 2019 in Panama City. (Luis Acosta / AFP / Getty Images)

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The moon slips into Earth’s dark umbral shadow during a total lunar eclipse over Angel de la Independencia in Mexico City on January 20, 2019. (Alfredo Estrella / AFP / Getty Images))

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The January 21, 2019 total lunar eclipse as seen over Laatzen, Germany. (Julian Stratenschulte / Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

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A picture taken on January 21, 2019 the Super Blood Moon seen behind the equestrian statue of the Saxon king Johann during a lunar eclipse in Dresden, Germany. ( Sebastian Kahnert / AFP / Getty Images)

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The Super Blood Wolf Moon lunar eclipse passes over One World Trade Center on January 20, 2019 in New York City. (Gary Hershorn / Getty Image)

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A picture taken on January 21, 2019 in Cologne, Germany, shows the Super Blood Moon lunar eclipse above the landmark Dome.

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The January 21, 2019 total lunar eclipse beside Naumburg Cathedral in Germany. (Hendrik Schmidt / Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

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The lunar eclipse on January 21, 2019 before the moon is fully cast in shadow, hovering over the dome of the church St. Elisabeth in Nuremberg, Germany (Daniel Karmann/Picture Alliance/Getty Images)

These are really spectacular and very, very clever!

 

The NYC Subway

A very unlikely venue for some dog art.

In my travels around for items about dogs I came across this one.  It’s not your usual item. For it features dog art at the 23rd Street station on the IND Sixth Avenue Line in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighbourhood.

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This NYC subway station has gone to the dogs

With more than a little help from William Wegman’s Weimaraners
By MATT HICKMAN
December 24, 2018.

William Wegman’s iconic Weimaraner portraits have been rendered into stunning mosaic art in a somewhat unlikely Manhattan venue. (Photo: Patrick J. Cashin / Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Flickr)

Dogs aren’t that unusual of a sight in the bowels of the New York City subway system.

There are service dogs and law enforcement dogs; dogs being transported in tote bags, baskets, backpacks and baby carriages; dogs swaddled beneath heavy winter jackets; very small dogs that come scurrying from the darkest corners of the platform towards … oh wait.
What you don’t see beneath the streets of New York are dogs depicted in public art. This has all changed with the unveiling of “Stationary Figures,” a collection of 11 glass mosaic pooch portraits now on permanent display at the 23rd Street station on the IND Sixth Avenue Line in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood.

No doubt a number of straphangers passing through 23rd Street station, which services the F and M trains and was closed for several months earlier this year while undergoing a major revamping, will find that the pooches in question look familiar — maybe a bit like the average New York commuter: stoic, alert, borderline restless. But it’s mostly because the mosaics, fabricated in stunning detail by Mayer of Munich, are based on images created by none other than Mr. Weimaraner himself, William Wegman.

That’s one nattily attired Weimaraner. (Photo: Patrick J. Cashin / Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Flickr)

Although Wegman’s subjects have varied over his lauded career as a photographer, painter and video artist, he’s best known for whimsical compositions that depict his beloved pet Weimaraners in humanlike poses (and sometimes donning wigs and costumes). It all began in the 1970s with Wegman’s first true four-legged muse, the leggy and camera-loving Man Ray. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s, however, that Wegman’s second Weimaraner, Fay Ray, achieved true art world stardom. Fay’s descendants — they include Battina, Crooky, Chundo, Chip, Bobbin, Candy and Penny — have all also modeled for their human.

Wegman’s pet Weimaraners — a German hunting breed dating back to the early 19th century — have the distinction of appearing in the permanent collections of numerous top art museums and being a regular feature on “Sesame Street.” That’s no small feat for an extended family of very good boys and girls.

The dogs depicted in “Stationary Figures” are Flo and her brother, Topper — Wegman’s ninth and 10th Weimaraners, respectively. As the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which commissioned the portraits as part of its MTA Arts & Design program, explains: “The portraits highlight Wegman’s deadpan humor by juxtaposing Flo and Topper in poses that suggest the way customers group themselves with waiting for a train at the platform. In some portraits, they’re dressed in human clothes and others they’re in their natural state.”

The floppy-eared Grey Ghosts of 23rd Street. (Photo: Patrick J. Cashin / Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Flickr)

In addition to showcasing the work of a world-renowned artist (and local Chelsea resident) in an unexpected venue, “Stationary Figures” is meant to bring joy to — and lower the blood pressure of — harried commuters passing through 23rd Street station, which ranks amongst the 50th busiest in the Big Apple. After all, who wouldn’t crack a smile when chancing across a mosaic portrait of a handsome pooch, especially when said handsome pooch is gussied up in a bright red rain slicker and matching cap?

As Mark Byrnes points out for CityLab, this isn’t the first time Wegman’s dogs have brightened up an American subway station. In 2005, two Weimaraners, both outfitted in NASA spacesuits, became permanent fixtures as circular murals above exits at L’Enfant Plaza Metro station in Washington, D.C.

Very good dogs, very poor service

It goes without saying that New York City subway stations, while teeming with various forms of microbial life, have never exactly been known as hotbeds of contemporary art and design.

That, however, began to change with the long-anticipated January 2017 opening of the first phase of the Second Avenue subway line, which features eye-catching new works by Chuck Close, Vik Muniz, Sarah Sze and Jean Shin spread out across four different stations on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Gov. Andrew Cuomo heralded the Second Avenue line’s secondary function as subterranean contemporary gallery (price tag: $4.5 million) as the “the largest permanent public art installation in New York history.”

A very good boy in plaId. (Photo: Patrick J. Cashin / Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Flickr)

And this is all fine and good — great in fact. The more public art in the subways, the better — especially when it involves local artists of international renown, dapper-looking dogs and an ample dose of wit. Flo and Topper are the best thing to hit the 23rd Station since, well, forever.

Critics, however, have been left wondering as to when significant, tangible improvements to the MTA’s declining service will finally be instituted. And this is especially true with new fare hikes on the horizon.

As is the case with the 23rd Street station, which also received new benches, lighting, tile work, countdown clocks and digital screens as part of its extensive overhaul, what does it matter if the platforms and other public areas look fantastic but the trains aren’t running efficiently? (Byrnes points out that accessibility, or a lack thereof, also remains a major issue at 23rd Street station.)

Next stop Herald Square. (Photo: Patrick J. Cashin / Metropolitan Transportation Authority/Flickr)

The MTA needs to do more than outfit stations with delightful distractions to keep straphangers — who mainly just want to get from point A to point B in a minimal amount of time with minimal headache — happy. While mosaics, murals and the like do act as a sort of soothing balm and improve the user experience, public art is ultimately best enjoyed while also not on the verges of tears because three completely packed F trains have gone by and you’re running 30 minutes late.

As for Wegman, described by the New York Post as a “frequent subway commuter,” he doesn’t offer any specific thoughts as to how the MTA can also improve its service.

“I really like what they’re doing as far as making it look better,” he tells the Post. “But how to make them run better, that’s out of my area.”

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Now I can’t really comment any more as the odds of me being on the New York Subway are slim to none. Plus, it’s many years since I travelled on the British Underground.

But that doesn’t stop me from applauding this. Both the authorities for permitting it to happen and especially to William Wegman for such beautiful and outstanding work.