Oil on Baltic Birch, 15" x 15" x 2"
In Medieval bestiaries and Renaissance art, animals were endowed with moral symbolism. Apes and monkeys represented human carnal desires, and were often used as satirical depictions of man’s folly [i]. While this may have unnecessarily denigrated the primates, it was meant to highlight the virtuous standards to which humans were held. Regardless of whether one believes in the Imago Dei (the idea that humans are made in the image of God and have a moral nature by divine design), most people think humans should not adopt the predator-prey dynamic of the animal kingdom. Conversely, animals are not deemed morally culpable like we humans are.
The architecture for this painting originates from an historic university not far from my studio. A noted professor from another university was invited by a student group to speak on this campus. During his lecture he was drowned out by the yelling of opposing students and the blasting of blow-horns in his ear to protest his presence in their “safe space.” This expression of tribalism resembles the Social Darwinian philosophy of ‘survival of the fittest’ and ‘might makes right’. In no way does it advance the pursuit of truth, which comes through academic virtues of reason, respect, and humility.
The earliest universities can be traced back to Europe in the medieval ages, where the development of intellect, respectful debate, and formation of character were seen as essential. While I consider myself an intellectual-type with a great respect for academia, it seems to me that the great legacy of civil discourse in higher education is crumbling. Ideologies are galvanizing. A new kind of colonialism is on the rise, and is also being exported to the developing world.
Throughout my painting series, I have depicted animals and nature reclaiming human civilizations as a sign of judgment for rejecting the Creator’s moral law. In line with this theme, I crafted a scene with two White-Handed Gibbons climbing the ivy-covered ‘ivory towers’. The setting sun metaphorically indicates the end of academia if civil discourse dies.
[i] Carr-Gomm, The Secret Language of Art. 236.