“Giacometti’s Dog” by Robert Wallace

Giacometti, Alberto_Dog
Alberto Giacometti (Swiss, 1901–1966), Dog, 1951 (cast 1957). Bronze, 18 × 39 × 6 1/8 in. (45.7 × 99 × 15.5 cm). Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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.

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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.

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