Artist as Activist

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Double Decoy Missed
decoy, animal cruelty, animals, ceramic sculpture, clay, perspective, surface, representation, illusion, bird, grocery bag, target, weapons, violence, war, simulation of war, 2-dimensional, 3-dimensional, metaphors, checkerboard, feathers, ceramic sculpture, paint, line, shape, paper bag, bird, blood, target checkerboard
description
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

-unknown

When we see depictions of mutilated animals in an artwork, our first response might be to assume that the artist is making a statement on animal cruelty. This might well be the case in James A. Thornsbury’s Double Decoy Missed. But let’s return to that idea after first examining the work itself.

This piece of  ceramicPottery or hollow clay sculpture fired at high temperatures in a kiln or oven to make them harder and stronger. Types include earthenware, porcelain, stoneware, and terra cotta. (Artlex.com)   sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  represents some ways of working with  clayMud; moist, sticky dirt. In ceramics, clay is the basic material, usually referring to any of a certain variety of mixtures of such ingredients — fine-grained, firm earthy material that is plastic when wet, brittle when dry, and very hard when heated. There is a temperature with ceramic clays at which their particles fuse (vitrification), and this is most commonly controlled by heating (firing) them in a kiln. The most common types of ceramic clays are earthenware (terra cotta when fired, terra cruda when not), stonewares, and porcelain. (Artlex.com)  that Thornsbury helped to popularize during the mid- and late-20th century. It relies on the ability of the ceramic artist to work with  clayMud; moist, sticky dirt. In ceramics, clay is the basic material, usually referring to any of a certain variety of mixtures of such ingredients — fine-grained, firm earthy material that is plastic when wet, brittle when dry, and very hard when heated. There is a temperature with ceramic clays at which their particles fuse (vitrification), and this is most commonly controlled by heating (firing) them in a kiln. The most common types of ceramic clays are earthenware (terra cotta when fired, terra cruda when not), stonewares, and porcelain. (Artlex.com)  in a way that makes the clay appear to be another material.  In this case, it resembles the stiffness and the jagged edges of a paper bag, the softness of goose feathers, and the slickness of blood.

Thornsbury also makes use of paint on his ceramic sculpture, rather than glaze. The use of paint allows the artist greater accuracy, in both the colours of the  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  and the use of  lineA mark with length and direction(-s). An element of art which refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. Types of line include: vertical, horizontal, diagonal, straight or ruled, curved, bent, angular, thin, thick or wide, interrupted (dotted, dashed, broken, etc.), blurred or fuzzy, controlled, freehand, parallel, hatching, meandering, and spiraling. Often it defines a space, and may create an outline or contour, define a silhouette; create patterns, or movement, and the illusion of mass or volume. It may be two-dimensional (as with pencil on paper) three-dimensional (as with wire) or implied (the edge of a shape or form). (Artlex.com)  and shape in the image. In Thornsbury’s example, his use of paint has enabled him to create a  two-dimensionalHaving height and width, but no depth; flat. (Artlex.com)  image on the side of his three-dimensional object. Furthermore, Thornsbury tips his hat to this blurring of 2-D and 3-D worlds by making the 2-dimensional image a depiction of three-dimensional objects--the checkerboard is painted in perspective, and the target’s corner seems to fold “forward,” off the board’s surface. This is a way of working with clay as a device of representation on the one hand, and of  illusionA deceptive or misleading image or idea. (Artlex.com)  on the other. Thornsbury is not merely creating a formal exercise from his materials, however.

In this work, we see a bird in a bag, a brown paper bag that one might use to carry groceries or lunch. The bird appears dead, with a large hole in its head where its brain should be. On the front of the bag is the aforementioned marksman’s target and checkerboard.

A connection between the bird and the target is easy to make--birds are often hunted with missile weapons, like guns, and as such are also targets. The checkerboard provides further insight, suggesting that the game-like nature of the shooting range conceals real violence, the violence we see enacted graphically via the dead goose. The game of checkers, after all, is a simulation of war. Therefore, the toy-like nature of the checkerboard and the paper target are the acceptable versions of the violence inside the bag, and yet by their nature cannot be completely separated from it. In a way, Thornsbury is warning that we should be careful of the metaphors we make and the words we use; while they may appear harmless, they might come from a place of malice.

additional resources Things to Think About
Advanced Activity

Here are some futher contextual issues related to the Thornsbury artwork presented in this theme. 

First the article on fox hunting is an example of the strong reaction to any hunting.  The Ducks Unlimited site relates to the other side of this issue – how to manage hunting.  Finally, the military deserters article may serve as a related metaphor, and that is what Thornsbury’s piece is really about.

Online Activity
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Find the matching pair

  • Click on one of the checkerboard squares to reveal the image of a waterfowl found in Saskatchewan.

  • Click on another square to find a matching bird. If you are not correct, try again.
Studio Activity

Interpreting the  ambiguousAny idea that is not clearly stated within an art work, leaving lots of room for interpretation.  in art

In the wild, animals hunt or are hunted and sometimes belong to both categories. Perhaps Thornsbury, in his work, Double Decoy Missed, is referring to being part of that cycle.

Visual artists communicate ideas through an image, rather than words, opening up several possibilities for interpretation. Does Thornsbury want us to enter into an anti-hunting debate, or is he showing us that this  pursuit is a very real way to obtain food in rural and northern Saskatchewan? Does he also want his  sculptureA three-dimensional work of art, or the art of making it. Such works may be carved, modeled, constructed, or cast. Sculptures can also be described as assemblage, in the round, and relief, and made in a huge variety of media. A sculptor is one who creates sculptures. (artlex.com)  to reveal something about himself as an American who came to live in Saskatchewan in 1970? Another view might be that he is creating this image as a metaphor, meaning that this is not about what we see at all, but stands for something else altogether.

Write a short piece stating your views about Double Decoy Missed and what you think the meaning is. Why would the artist use a  clayMud; moist, sticky dirt. In ceramics, clay is the basic material, usually referring to any of a certain variety of mixtures of such ingredients — fine-grained, firm earthy material that is plastic when wet, brittle when dry, and very hard when heated. There is a temperature with ceramic clays at which their particles fuse (vitrification), and this is most commonly controlled by heating (firing) them in a kiln. The most common types of ceramic clays are earthenware (terra cotta when fired, terra cruda when not), stonewares, and porcelain. (Artlex.com)   mediumAny material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, video, sound, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint. Note that the plural form of “medium” is “media.”  ? Does this add to your interpretation?

  • You do not need to create the same image as the artist, but create your own take on the subject. You might include a caption.
  • Use Powerpoint or another similar program to cut and paste images. You can arrange as a collage-style composition.
  • If you are using text, make it an effective part of your design.

As inspiration, look at the work of American artist James Rosenquist who paints large photo-realist paintings. These paintings are a combination of images.  Go to the following websites to find out more about Rosenquist’s works:

The artist begins his process by creating small collages, which become sources for larger work. To learn more about his process follow this link:

References

BC Potters, Vol. 40, No. 8, September 2004.  Available online at:  http://www.bcpotters.com/newsletters/200409PGBCNewsletter.pdf

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning