Talk Back: Critical Review

By on May 2, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Readers had mixed reactions to last week’s blog about the exhibit by Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas, which centered around a starving street dog. Among the comments we received:

Actually, it sounds to me like this is exactly the kind of reaction Vargas was looking for. I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but from what I’ve heard it actually sounds like, in a roundabout way, he was making a statement about animal neglect. Probably more so in Nicaragua and Costa Rica than here in the states, it would be quite common to just ignore these poor animals and leave them to starve without a second thought. But he takes just one of the probably hundreds or thousands of starving dogs, puts it on display, and suddenly people notice. It’s a statement about how much time and care people are actually going to devote to this sort of thing. And, in his defense, he did feed the dog (or attempt to), and only had the dog on display for three hours. But you already said that we should stop condemning the artist for this event and I agree. Obviously our focus should be turning our attention to what people would just ignore before—animal cruelty and neglect. —Jason Ericson

While I see artist Guillermo Vargas’s display of the starving street dog as pathetic and disrespectful, I, at the same time, see Vargas as intelligent and driven. At first thought I signed one of the petitions, but the more I started thinking, the more I wanted to take the hand of Mr. Vargas and thank him for turning the light on this unfair suffering. I have to think that this was Vargas’s way of releasing his anger as he must have felt so helpless and alone regarding the issue. I agree with Mr. Pacelle that now is the time to move on and act without pointing the finger. It’s time for solutions. —PJ Bertsch Plano, Texas

Thanks so much for posting about this, Wayne. As usual, your post is well written and very much on point. The power of art is sometimes overlooked in our society, but it has the ability to sway opinions in both positive and negative directions. I would hope that we now see a stream of art that holds animals in the light they deserve. —Ted Robb

Upon reading the above blog on the starving street dog that was made an exhibit as a means of highlighting the plight of starving animals… Perhaps this was the artist’s way of bringing this to the public eye. However, if in the future the artist would like to repeat such a performance, could I suggest he try taking pictures of the dog in its state when found, then trying some kindness and compassion. How about he demonstrate how the animal would improve by being fed and nourished and given a little TLC, then release this animal to a good home. He could also raise awareness of spaying during this exhibition. I don’t see what he achieved by doing this act of cruelty except of course damaging his already "struggling" reputation. —Keith Richardson

I thank you for addressing this issue. As one who loves animals and loves to create, I have had discussions with others regarding the inclusion of living beings in "artistic" statement/creation. You have addressed this eloquently, and have provided a wonderful response to the question about "freedom of expression" when the suffering of a living being is at stake. I enjoy reading your blog; thank you for all that you do for animals. —Judy Creason

I’m glad to hear that the information about the dog actually starving to death was false. I didn’t think ordinary gallery visitors could turn a blind eye to such cruelty. Of course, shoving abuses in people’s faces in the most horrific way possible will not solve the problem (even though it will change some people). More effective advocacy, like simply giving out pamphlets, can do so much more if only people are willing…. —Sara N

I am glad to see HSUS take this very compassionate and expanded stance, as alarming and exploitative as the “art” was. The biggest focus needs to be how can the lives of all strays be bettered in all parts of the world? Perhaps one day real advances can be made to reduce the world’s stray population. Either through such techniques as bringing further education to the public of the needs to spay and neuter animals, or partnerships such as “Shelter Alliances” where “young” world shelters could partner with and be mentored by already established animal shelters. The sharing of knowledge on the behalf of animal welfare allows the hand of compassion to potentially touch many animal lives. —Stacy Thomas

Wayne, I agree that that dogs around the world on the streets need to have a voice. Also you are right we do need to get beyond the artist and to the bigger picture, developing effective ways to help these innocent animals. Living in India as a child I know firsthand how long this has been going on and how inhumane it is. Made quite an impact on me. Since resigning from teaching I have made a commitment to animals. Look forward to keeping in touch with you and your organization. Thank you for all you do! —Suzanne Creacy

Okay, so Vargas wanted to bring attention to the gruesome problem, and we should "pivot from" it and focus on helping. Nevertheless, he used the horrible, insensitive agony of a suffering animal to promote his own career. Sorry, I don’t buy it. He’s as guilty as the rest. Had he taken the animal, saved it, and shown this type of mercy, the world would have hailed him as a hero. But to choose to display this sad, sad creature as it lay in pitiful indifference for the sick amusement of casual observers speaks once again of the decadence of today’s sadism. We can go to the moon, but somehow we fail as human beings. And it won’t surprise me when it eventually destroys us all. —Lois Semple

Dear Wayne, This is the first time I have ever disagreed with you. The outcry against Vargas is not about seeking retribution. It is public outrage, much like the outrage in the Michael Vick case, which informs abusers and bystanders alike that a large segment of the world population has ZERO tolerance for animal abuse.

The very fact that another segment of the population, even as close to home as San Francisco, can tolerate and observe cruelty in the name of anything, much less art, is unfathomable and must be addressed head-on with petitions, negative publicity, and calls to the sponsors and participants to withdraw support. In this case it is an art institute. In Vick’s case it was NIKE and the NFL.

The huge disparity in tolerance levels tells me that we have to continue to publicly, vociferously condemn all such cases of depraved abuse. As to turning our attention to the root causes rather than continuing to pummel Vargas and his sponsors. Does it have to be either/or? I believe we need to do both. Very best regards. —Sheila Massey

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