The four stories behind every statue

A statue tells four stories.

First, there is the story of the person to be memorialized. Statues are not very good at this. For this story, read a book.

The second is the story of the artists who built it. It’s about their vision, and how they can challange yours. Most memorial statues are so formulaic that this story lost. A hero on horseback is a statue, not a sculpture by Auguste Rodin.

The third story is that of those who commissioned the work. They are the myth builders. It’s always worth pondering what myth they are building, and why. Confederate statues erected in the ’20s under Jim Crow, or during the ’60s Civil Rights movement, say more about the people who paid for them then it does about the people they ostensibly represent.

The fourth story is ours, the people who chose what myths to maintain in our public spaces. We bulldoze old buildings to make way for new ones as a matter of course. When something stands in the way of progress, our default is to let it fall. This is true of buildings, architecture, old cars, sacred lands, and everything else in modern life. Unless we single something out for protection, it’s subject to progress.

We can’t change the past. No sculpture can do that. No play, no book, no scholarship. We can change what we chose to remember about the past. We do with every choice we make, no more so then when we specifically choose to keep something in a prominent place. When we do that, it’s no longer a story about the person memorialized, the artist, or the producers. It’s about us and our own values.

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