Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump

I'm fussy about art. I never cared for landscapes, portraits or bowls of fruit.. I want some action. A story.
Like this Joseph Wright painting:
In the old days there was a brief fad of putting small animals in a bottle, sucking the air out, and watching them die. Entertainment's half way point between bear baiting and the Jerry Springer show. This was technically a science demo, the same way that "COPS" is a public safety show.
What prompted this family to do this to their pet? Were they sitting around bored in the drawing room when Crazy Uncle Willy jumped up and said "I know! Let's play Pookie-in-the-Bottle! Sarah, fetch me the air pump. Eddie, get Pookie out of his cage."
I like how everyone has a different agenda. Uncle Willy has the woo-look-what-I'm-doing look. The young girls are horrified. Dad is probably telling them, "Pookie is asphyxiating. Can you say 'as-phy-xi-ate'?"
The lovers on the left aren't concerned about Pookie or the wonders of science.
The story ends with a question. Will Pookie live? Will they let the air back in? He looks like a cockatiel, which had to be an expensive import in those days. Couldn't they have sent Junior out to catch something more common? A mouse or a frog? Maybe Uncle Willy specializes in destructive science demos. He probably blew up the barn last week.

To me, this painting is like fate. You're Pookie. You're in the bottle and Uncle Willy and friends are running the show. Most bystanders don't care what happens to you and the few who do are powerless to help. What will happen to you....?


Anonymous said...

Bizarre! How come Art History classes never show this sort of stuff!

Namowal said...

Good question, A. There's probably a lot of quirky classic art out there that deserves more attention.
I may have goofed on this painting, but it IS original and well done. You know a work of art did it's job when you keep wondering about the fate of one of its characters.