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A Modest Proposal to Make Proper Use of the Demise of the Celebrated Blackguard Osama Bin Laden to Assist in the Resurrection of the Noble Craft of Artistry

Once again, it is through the eyes of artists, who can see things as they should have looked, rather than as they merely were, that history can be recorded.

by
Jonathan Swift

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May 25, 2011 - 12:00 am
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It is melancholy to contemplate how the noble arts of painting and sculpture, which once did so much to illuminate the life and times of humanity, have festered in near oblivion these many years. Indeed, while in the scientific and mechanic arts the practitioners of our age may rightly smile with amusement upon the quaint efforts of former times, the same can hardly be said of those who wield the brush and the chisel.

Indeed, were these moderns to present their paint-dribbled canvases and wreckage collections in contest against the works of Raphael and Michelangelo, the judgment of the spectators would likely be so severe as to have them whipped from the premises. This, methinks, is not the result of any lack of talent among the moderns. On the contrary, the very fact that they have managed to obtain high rewards and accolades while peddling such rubbish demonstrates a degree of natural capacity that is beyond dispute.

Rather, the problem has been that these men and women of talent have lacked proper subject matter for their efforts. Thus, while the field of depiction of great scenes of human triumph and tragedy provided so much ready material for the artists of former ages, it has been denied to those of our own time, as these must contend in their efforts against photographic machines through which in the merest second any oaf can set at nought the product of months of labor of genius.

But now, a singular event has occurred, which presents the chance to reverse this horrid devolution, and return the visual arts once again to their rightful hallowed place in the temple of the Muses. To this, credit can only go to the young Prince of America, who, demonstrating his decorous taste, has forbidden the release of the photographs showing the death of the celebrated villain, Osama bin Laden. What lover of Belle Artes cannot but rejoice at this pronouncement? For now, that which was cheaply taken has been returned to its rightful owners. Once again, it is through the eyes of artists, who can see things as they should have looked, rather than as they merely were, that history can be recorded.

Consider: had the Prince provided the mechanical simulacrums as demanded of him by various members of the mundane multitude, all that we would have to look upon would be some morbid montages of mutilated mortality. But with such poor substitutes for vision removed from interference, we may now enlist the aid of our artists, and bear witness not merely to the remains of Bin Laden, but to the actual scene of the blackguard’s demise.

Perhaps the dramatic scene of the action appeared thus:

Death of Nelson, as depicted by Benjamin West

Is this not grand? Were our artists to give us something in this vein, we could verily watch Bin Laden fall whilst smelling the smoke and hearing the deafening reports of the musketry, and even so, listen with admiration to the whistle of the bullets as they fly past our ears, for truly there is something charming in the sound.

Yet, we need not be limited to this, for the same scene as envisaged by one servant of the Muse might be seen by another in a way entirely different, but still equally admirable. Thus, the last moments of Bin Laden might have occurred in this manner:

The Death of Nelson, as depicted by Andrew William Devis

See him there, in the cabin of a Ship of the Line, to which he had been taken wounded by Navy men, deeply concerned for his well-being. Oh the sorrow, the pity, that he could not be saved and brought to America, where he might have explained himself to one and all, assisted perhaps by the gentle hospitality of Piers Morgan or Rachel Maddow.

Yet, I must admit that the aforementioned works, while admirable enough in their way, lack a certain je ne sais quoi, in that they fail to present the protagonist in combination with his antagonist, and thus convey an incomplete and ultimately not fully satisfying representation of the drama in question. What is needed, rather, is a depiction in the style of the rightly classic work below, in which we see Darius and Alexander, each the paramount representative of their respective causes, confronting each other, as surely they should have, on the day of their decisive combat.

Alexander Encounters Darius at the Battle of Issus

Accepting this fine work as our model, we find without difficulty Bin Ladin as an excellent modern counterpart for Darius, but who can we have for Alexander? Surely none of the sailors sent to dispatch him will serve. For as useful as such stout fellows might be in a brawl, they are hardly suitable subjects for great art, in as much as they are mere nameless ruffians, and ugly ones at that, self-disfigured as they are by their savage war paint and their absurdly-styled Prussian hats.

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