Karl Dean, Mayor of the Metropolitan Government of Nashville
I like portraits. In my office I have four: Holbein’s Sir Thomas More, a blue Abraham Lincoln, a photo of baseball’s Carl Yastrzemski, and an arrangement of photos of Neil Young. They are all people I greatly admire for a variety of reasons. The monkey painting is at my home library next to my favorite reading spot. My enjoyment of art is largely a result of my interest in literature and history. I am certainly not an art authority.
The monkey has always been regarded as human-like, with the image of a monkey as having an appreciation of human nature or as mocking the pretension of human knowledge and wisdom. There are several instances of this in art—think of “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” and the sculptures and paintings of apes contemplating the bust of Homer or reading a philosophical or scientific book, such as On the Origin of Species. This painting appealed to me as a perfect fit for my reading area.
It is fair to say that I am the only member of my family that is enthusiastic about the painting. But, since appreciation of an individual piece of art is very personal, I am fine with that. I tell doubters that, while some folks are inspired by paintings of crashing waves on a seashore or horses running before a storm, I receive inspiration from a portrait of a skeptical and questioning monkey.
He is a great companion. I recently finished one of the best new novels that I have read in some time, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. I highly recommend it. It contains humor, great characters, and a stunning plot twist, but, ultimately, the book is a powerful portrayal of how we treat other people and living creatures. I read the book under the monkey’s gaze, and, when I was finished, all I could say to him was, I am sorry.
This painting was originally inspired by art historical paintings referring to Plato pointing at the sky. If we were to replace our self with our closest cousin the monkey, recognition of a higher power or the divine or the ideal seems relatively silly. It is just a painting that raises the question of why do we believe
what we believe?
Michael Brown is a nationally recognized and internationally exhibited artist. He is also currently the head of painting for Savannah College of Art & Design in Atlanta, Georgia. He is represented by numerous galleries in California, New York, and the Northwest and is represented locally by The Rymer Gallery.