lopes in bronze: scruffy, then. In the Museum of Modern Art head down, neck long as sadness lowering to hanging ears (he’s eyeless) that hear nothing, and the sausage muzzle that leads him as surely as eyes: he might be dead, dried webs or clots of flesh and fur on the thin, long bones—but isn’t, obviously, is obviously traveling intent on his own aim: legs lofting with a gaiety the dead aren’t known for. Going onward in one place, he doesn’t so much ignore as not recognize the well- dressed Sunday hun- dreds who passing, pausing make his bronze road move. Why do they come to admire him, who wouldn’t care for real dogs less raggy than he is? It’s his tragic insouciance bugs them? or is it that art can make us cherish anything—this command of shaping and abutting space— that makes us love even mutts, even the world, having rocks and the wind for comrades? It’s not this starved hound, but Giacometti seeing him we see. We’ll stand in line all day to see one man love anything enough.
“Giacometti’s Dog” by Robert Wallace was originally published in Ungainly Things (Dutton, 1968) and is included in the collection The Common Summer: New and Selected Poems (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1989). Used by permission.
When artists take the time to sculpt (or paint, film, lyricize, etc.) a subject, they inevitably give their careful attention to that person, place, or thing. And attention is a form of love. The best artworks succeed in conveying that love.
In his poem “Giacometti’s Dog,” Robert Wallace muses on how modernist sculptor Alberto Giacometti poured heart, mind, body, and soul into portraying something so “unworthy” and unattractive as a stray dog. Why dignify the malnourished, matted canine with a bronze cast and prominent display in a world-class museum? And why do all the gallery visitors crowd around to see him?
Wallace determines that it is the artist’s love for the dog that attracts people to it. If Giacometti thought him a fitting subject for a sculpture, then he must matter. He is worth attending to. “Art can make us cherish anything,” Wallace writes. Artists show us where to look and teach us what to love.