The Artwork in the Sundial
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This is a panoramic view. To see a highly detailed view of the above, click here.
Notes on the artwork, by Moira Kavanagh Crosby (written in 1985)
As I sit down to write a discussion of the artwork on the walls of this sundial, grandiose phrases such as "manifestation of Western Civilization" and "testament to man's existential dilemmas since the dawn of time" raise their ambiguous heads. Though the artwork is essentially paradoxical and difficult to put into words, I feel obligatred to explain as best as I can the ideas behind the pictures. Physically, the mural consists of three panels representing the continuity of man's perceptions of space: past, present, and future. In an abstract sense, the sundial represents the scientific, emoptional, and philosophical struggles and triumphs of mankind.
There are several strains of thought running through the artwork; it is the intertwining of these that make the mural paradoxical. For example, the panels chronicle Man's gradual acquisition of greater scientific awareness. This is represented through the progression toward scientific accuracy in the panels: The first panel expresses the old idea that our planet had a bound firmament separating us from whatever lay beyond our bubble. It also depicts earth as the center of the universe. The second panel represents (in color, since it is the present) our current enlightened view of the nine planets, with each planet shown in its proportionate size. At the third panel, however, we have learned our position in the universe, developed sophisticated sciences, conquered space travel, and are reaching out to other new worlds.
With our greater secular knowledge, it should follow thast we should be more secure and confident. Not so. Herein lies the paradox: the more we learn, the less we know and the more uncertain we become. The suspension of the Pioneer plaque (the third panel) somewhere out in deep space (where it is now) asks, "Where does it all end? Exactly how insignificant are we? And what is out there?" (Consider for a moment what the discovery of other civilizations in space could mean to our own existence: excitement, wonderment, fear, theological debate, new politics, and scientific inquiry.) The mural offers no answers. We are still bewildered. I hope we stay that way, too -- it is our bewilderment that makes us strive.
Consider also how much about the character of mankind can be construed from the sundial. The man in the first panel is reaching, straining out to knowledge -- and that is one of man's most basic traits: to continually strive. What kind of knowledge is he reaching out to? He is reaching out to the heavens (divine knowledge?) but he could also be figuratively reaching out for a conquering kind of knowledge (scientific?). Or are science and the divine the same thing? Furthermore, the simple fact that the sundial was even built says something about our nature. I was both taken aback and refreshed when a visitor looked at the sundial, scratched his head, and asked, "Well, why did you build it?" After much thought, my answer is threefold. First, my father paid me to paint the mural as a summer project. Second, ars gratia artis, art for art's sake. And third, I wanted to somehow give an order to all the existential questions. In short, to organize bewilderment. The act of organizing bewilderment, I might add, is what we have been doing since the beginning of our existence. We know that it is a contradiction in terms and can't be done, but it is our effort that makes us human. All three of these answers tie in with the human character.
The mural as well addresses the classical historical enigma of the extent to which the past is connected to the present and future. You will notice that the hand and head of the man in the first panel burst through the boundary between the past and the present in full color (conveniently, the line between the past and the present also happens to be one of the markers of the sun's path.) How much of a hand (pardon the pun) does the past actually have in shaping the present?
There are huge ideas within this simple silo. I find it poignant that something originally built to store grain is now storing the questions, paradoxes, and uncertainties that have occupied Man since the beginning of time. Rather than attempting to express on paper all of my own interpretations, I suggest that you just look at the sundial and let the ideas come to you -- and I guarantee that plenty will