Abigail Goldman was a crime reporter in Las Vegas, which if the popular television series CSI is to be believed, is a hotbed of mayhem and murder, though not quite such a genteel locale as Midsomer Norton or Oxford. Goldman is now considered an artist. Her work goes for anywhere between $65 and $500 and apparently sells within moments of being posted online, and she has now stopped taking orders.
“She’s always been interested in the darker side of life,” her father is quoted as saying. It seems there are many out there who join her as Goldman’s website has attracted over 4 million hits. Her miniatures, mostly perched on grassy mounds and protected by plexiglass, offer a glimpse into that darker side of life, death. Not the gentle slipping away that we all I think hope for, but the vicious and horrific death that occurs at the hands of sadists of all ethnicities, religions and persuasions.
I find it repugnant and inordinately sad there are so many people who seem fascinated by the horror of extreme violence and unrivalled power. And then I caution myself. I love a good mystery whether of the Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle or even Grisham ilk. I believe in the suave sophistication and surety of James Bond and, wanting escapism recently, watched The Bourne Ultimatum, yet I struggle with Goldman’s ‘die-o-ramas’.
Why is that I wonder? Is it because I know in these fictitious characters ‘good’ ultimately wins whether through Poirot’s “little grey cells”, Sherlock Holmes’ deductive powers, or Jason Bourne’s inherent patriotism? In the die-o-ramas gruesome murders and horribly violent deaths are on display for perpetuity; there appears to be no upside, no walk into the sunset with the stunning blonde by our hero. Rather a sordid scene with permanent blood stains on the fake grass and a head rolling, or a heart stabbed.
Miniatures, such as the ones Goldman creates, display the power and the pain of gratuitous violence, the perpetrator sauntering away wiping his hands of blood and responsibility. Have we become so inured to violence on the small and big screen that we need it in still life as well? Does that perhaps account for the terrible mass shootings that rock our society periodically? Or are we, as Dr. David Eagleman, who directs the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law at Baylor College of Medicine, at the mercy of biology. That free choice and rationality play little part in our decisions. In an article for Atlantic Monthly he explains, “The more we discover about the circuitry of the brain, the more we tip away from accusations of indulgence, lack of motivation, and poor discipline – and towards the details of biology.”
Art often depicts violence, The Crucifixion by Pietro Lorenzetti for example. Many works by the German artist, Otto Dix, catalogue the horrors of the trenches in which desolate landscapes show the carnage of war, whether the dead distorted by decomposition or the living by gas masks. Elizabeth Southerden Thompson (Lady Butler) wrote about her war paintings, “I never painted for the glory of war, but to portray its pathos and heroism.” Jacob Lawrence’s Street Scene depicts the viciousness of racism; the list goes on but the art tells stories that encourage the viewer to believe in good, to strive for greater understanding of cultural or religious differences, to beware of evil. They offer hope.
Goldman offers none of that. Her chilling miniatures well up from her imagination. “I think I’ll kill a child in this scene. That’s what’ll I do,” she says as she sits in front of her materials and delves into the darkness of her mind.
There is enough horror in the world, whether due to biology, inherent evil or misguided souls. I hope the darkness being created in Vegas, stays in Vegas.