the bull and the comments

Don’t read the comments. This may be the most frequently shared piece of internet wisdom. If you value your sanity, do NOT read the comments. The comments aren’t healthy. They’re not safe. They’ll sap your will to live. They’ll shred your already loose grasp on reality. The comments will steal your soul. Whatever you do, do NOT read the damned comments.

The comments — they’re what this generation has instead of Vietnam. It’s where you lose your innocence and youth.

“Never get out of the boat,” Chef says. “I didn’t get out of the goddamned eighth grade for this kind of shit.” Never get out of the boat and don’t read the comments. Sounds like good advice. Or…you can read the comments, ignore the damned boat, abandon your innocence, and explore the heart of darkness.

Last week I wrote something about the Charging Bull and Fearless Girl that generated a metric ton of comments. I didn’t read them all. I couldn’t; who has time to read a metric ton of comments? But I’d set up this blog so new commenters must be approved (I rarely get a lot of comments; an approval process wasn’t expected to be a chore), so I was forced to glance at each comment long enough to determine if it was legit or if it was an opportunity to date Russian models or buy genuine Michael Kors handbags for 80% off.

Now that things have slowed down, I’ve been dipping into the comments. And you know what? Some of them are brilliant. Some — surprisingly few, really — are stupid and/or offensive, but for the most part the comments are composed by folks who sincerely want to express a point of view. There really wasn’t much heart of darkness to be found. It was more like the scapula of darkness, with moments of the raised middle finger of darkness.

But here’s the thing — and I think it’s a wonderful thing: people are arguing about art. I’m going to repeat that very slowly, because it’s not something you hear very often. People. Are arguing. About art.

“The girl must go!” “The girl must stay!” “She is an affront to Capitalism!” “Patriarchy must die!” “Your argument is not valid!” “If YOUR argument was valid, it would be easier to find images of women fighting with swords!” “I have no response to that, but I will continue to argue!” “I shall argue on as well! Have at you, varlet!”

They’re thinking about the purpose of public art, they’re forming opinions about the legitimacy of various forms of artistic expression, they’re debating the pros and cons of commissioned art, they’re arguing about depictions of gender in art, they’re reflecting on how context shapes the meaning of art, they’re having passionate disagreements about the intersection of art and economic systems, they’re fighting about what constitutes appropriation and what qualifies as guerrilla art. People — lots of people — are arguing about art. How cool is that? Very cool, is how cool.

There are a lot of recurring topics in the comments that I’d like to address, but I don’t want to turn this into Greg’s Fearless Girl vs. Charging Bull blog. So I’ll just natter on about two of the more prevalent comments.

Lots of great works of art have been commissioned.

Yes, that’s absolutely true. Michelangelo and the Sistine Chapel was often mentioned in the comments. But here’s the difference: Michelangelo’s contract to paint the ceiling specified some of the elements to be included (the 12 apostles, for example), but he insisted on the right to interpret how to present those figures. The Pope, for example, didn’t approve of Michelangelo’s decision to include nude figures, but he painted them the way he wanted to paint them. In contrast, as noted in AdWeek, the design of  Fearless Girl was predominantly market-driven.

We were so meticulous with Kristen about designing the girl’s look. It was super important to us, and to everyone at McCann, that she feel relatable to all kinds of girls and all kinds of women…. Every tiny detail of that pose, and particularly the face, and her tilt and angle, was so carefully designed to articulate a really specific message.

Let me be clear: there’s nothing wrong with that. Commercial art IS art, and commercial artists have to be exceedingly talented to turn a marketer’s concept into a piece that works as art while still selling a product. That’s not easy. But it’s important to distinguish between a commissioned work of art in which the artists has the agency to interpret the design and a commissioned work in which the design is largely presented to the artist.

Nobody reads the plaque / nobody knows Fearless Girl is/was a marketing tool

The plaque has actually been removed. In fact, it was removed before I wrote my blog article. A new plaque which doesn’t mention SHE is in its place. Here’s the new plaque:

Fearless Girl was placed in New York City’s Financial District, in honor of International Women’s Day 2017, to celebrate the importance of having greater gender diversity in corporate boards and in company leadership positions. She also stands as an inspiration for the next generation of women leaders”—presented by the New York City Department of Transportation Art Program and State Street Global Advisors

It doesn’t mention SHE, but it acknowledges State Street Global Advisors. More, it suggests Fearless Girl was created to honor International Women’s Day. Again, the decision to install the statue on that date appears to be as much of a marketing strategy as anything else.

“[T]here was a lot of discussion with State Street about the timing of this, because it was so important and meaningful. Launching it on the cusp of International Women’s Day really provided so much fodder for people to emotionally react to her.”

Again, there’s nothing wrong with this — aside from the misleading impression that the primary purpose of the statue is to honor International Women’s Day. I do believe the marketing team is sincere about honoring that day; but they’re professionals and they knew the statue would have more impact because of the date it was released. It was a clever, deliberate, calculated decision AND it also promoted a feminist perspective.

It’s also true the great mass of people are unaware that Fearless Girl was a marketing device — but the great mass of people weren’t the target audience. They were targeting the folks who make investment decisions. And hey, it worked. According to Fortune, SHE ‘has received $3.2 million in new inflows since March alone, half of its total inflows in 2017 so far.’

Fearless Girl is a very effective tool for increasing inflows — which I assume means money (I have to acknowledge that I’m a dolt about matters of finance; Fortune also pointed out that SHE is listed on the NYSE ARCA exchange, not the Nasdaq, as I claimed — and while I’m sure the distinction is important, I haven’t a clue what it means).

Let me repeat this one more time: there’s nothing wrong with running a successful marketing campaign. The problem I have is with the repeated suggestion that Fearless Girl was first and foremost a work of art rather than a very clever and rewarding advertisement for financial services.


I still love Fearless Girl. And I’m still bothered by her backstory. I still think Arturo Di Modica has a point — that the installation of Fearless Girl has both appropriated his work by making it an essential aspect of the new statue, and it’s altered the original perception of his work. And I still don’t know what should be done about it.

But I know this: people are talking about art. We’re out of the boat. And this is exactly what I got out of the goddamned eighth grade for.

16 thoughts on “the bull and the comments

  1. I agree, talking about art is good, I am unsure of all the rest, but I found myself talking about this with others…not artist others…so, this is all good, and that article is how I found your blog, so there

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great follow up to the response and meaningful thoughts on commentary as a whole.

    The discussions regarding free speech in this country seem to be taking the same turn – towards actual discourse rather than remaining a barrage of name calling and hysteria. Seems. To be. Of course, I could be letting my tendancy for optimism blind me to the facts. I hope I’m not.

    Free speech is a profound right that we should all support through respectful participation..


    Liked by 1 person

    • I think one of the major problems with online discussions — and increasingly with face-to-face discussions — is the notion that a discussion is something at which you can win; rather than as something from which you can learn. It becomes less of a conversation and more of a competition — which is sad.


  3. So many times I tell myself, “Don’t read the comments. It was a great article but don’t read the comments!” I have to say however that your blog post about the fearless girl was well written. It gave legitimacy to both sides of the argument. You gave the facts, how can anyone be offended with that? Well, OK, I continue to be amazed every day at how little it takes to offend so many. However many articles today are one sided and incite people to hate instead of actually think. Comments often are toxic.

    Your post however encouraged people on both sides of the argument to think. We have a shortage of writers in this world who can do that. Thank you. I look forward to following your future posts.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I read that and immediatly was going to come out in support of Fearless Girl but I didn’t. Instead I sat back and thought of both sides. Thank you for invoking the thought process in me.
    I think it is wonderful how we are arguing about art and not other things. Joyous!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Enjoyed both pieces enormously. My first national oped in my own name (as opposed to the ones that I ghost write) went viral and earned me about 800 pieces of hateful comments (this was back in the day) from fellow liberals. It was staggering. A friend asked: “Those people can’t find you, can they?” Anyhoo, yes, I feel the pain of having to read the comments. . . . .Truly loved both pieces!

    Liked by 1 person

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  7. Thoughtful followup to a thought-provoking piece. Yes indeed it IS cool that people are arguing about art. And so many good points made – and respectfully so.

    I still think the point I was trying to make in my prior comment about your original piece was that although it is true that the art was designed to promote a fund on the stock exchange, that particular fund consists of companies selected for their positive example of high representation of women in leadership at those companies – with a list of ways that was measured. Whatever one thinks about “marketing” or selling something in the abstract sense, I think it is germane that the fund offers a way to literally invest in companies who are investing in women. So supporting the fund supports women by rewarding companies that support women, and brings which companies are standing out for this reason to light. I say this without mentioning the fund this time to indicate that I have no vested interest in the product, but find the mission and purpose entirely consistent with the Fearless Girl statue itself. In contrast, campaigns that attempt to appropriate a meaningful cause to sell something like, say, Pepsi . . . those are cases where I believe the cynical and critical analysis would be more appropriate than in this particular case with Fearless Girl and the Bull.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m generally in agreement with you. It’s critically important to support fairness and equality, whether it’s gender equality or racial equality or fill-in-the-blank. But at the same time, I understand the position that supporting equality on Wall Street is also supporting Wall Street (and everything it stands for) as an institution.

      I know folks who make the same argument about women in the military. They ask if it can really be considered progress if women achieve equality in institutions that hurt people. I may not agree with them, but they have a valid argument. Supporting corporations that put women on their boards of directors is progress ONLY IF you support what those corporations do.

      My argument is that I generally trust women more than men to do what’s right. But I have to acknowledge that that argument plays into traditional gender stereotypes that women are more nurturing than men and more concerned with how others are treated.

      It’s a complex world, isn’t it.


      • It’s troublesome that a girl is used to represent women. We’ve had enough of being called, “girl.”


      • Indeed it is a complex world.

        Thank you for replying to my comment, and for providing a forum which inspired intelligent, nuanced debate and discussion. That, in and of itself, is progress in my book.


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