19 March 2015

Not For Women--Or Anybody

When I was writing for a newspaper, a police precinct commander sold me something I haven't forgotten:  "Lucky for us that most criminals are stupid."

For many perps, their folly begins in thinking that they'll actually get away with what their misdeeds.  But for others, their foolishness shows in the ways they execute--or don't execute their offenses. 

I got to thinking about all of that because I think there's a parallel principle in making works of "art".  We are lucky, I believe, that most of the truly offensive stuff--you know, things that are racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise show contempt for some group of people that did nothing to deserve it--is purely and simply bad.  And that is the reason why it is usually forgotten.

So why am I pontificating about virtue and virtu on a bike blog?, you ask. Great question.

Yesterday "The Retrogrouch" wrote about a bicycle displayed at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS).  Its builder, Allan Abbott, dubbed it "The Signorina."

With a name like that, you might expect a nicely-made women's city or commuter bike with some Italian pizzazz.  Instead, it's a not particularly well-made (for a handbuilt bike, anyway) machine that's supposedly built in the likeness of a naked woman.


So far it sounds like a silly novelty item, right?  But it doesn't seem like anything to get worked up about. Or does it?  

Now, I'm sure there are places where such a bike could not be ridden because it would offend the sensibilites of some people.  I'm not one of them:  I have no aversion to nudity, although I have to wonder whether anyone in his or her right mind would want to see me naked.

But I digress.  If you're going to use a human form, au naturel, in one of your creations, at least show it in all of its imperfect glory--the way, say, any number of painters, sculptors, photographers and writers have done.  Whatever its gender, size, colors, shape, age or state of alertness or weariness, make it a reflection of what we are, and aspire to.  Above all, make it living, human and organic.

The supposedly female form in Abbot's frame is none of those things.  If anything, it's plain creepy:  The "signorina" is on her "hands" and "knees"--and headless.  I'm sure there are people--a few of whom are cyclists or collectors--who are turned on by such degradation.  I guess I'm philistine and reactionary:  I'm not one of them.

But, to be fair, if "Retrogrouch" hadn't described it, I might have needed time and an extra look or two to discern the nude female form straddling the wheels.  Call me slow or un-hip if you must.  Even after reading about it on Adventure Journal  as well as Retrogrouch's blog, I'm still not convinced that the bike in any way--realist or abstract, linear or Cubist, Classical or Impressionist--evokes a female, or any other human, form.

In other words, it doesn't work as art.  Perhaps we should be thankful for that.  

Somehow I get the impression it's not such a great bike, either. 

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