Whenever I’m in an art gallery, as my husband and I were today, I am always drawn to the way that dogs pop up, like Waldo, in so many old paintings, especially crowd scenes.
My relationship with dogs is a fairly unique one, nowadays. Thanks to the nature of my job, spending a day in the mall with a dog at my side is just another day. Everyone has to take their work home with them now and then, but when I have to bring work home with me, I end up dragging it along on grocery shopping excursions and to the movie theatres, too. Just as someone will check their wrist for the time even if their watch broke a week ago, I sometimes reach for a dog who isn’t there. Even now, though, when having a Labrador with me at the movies or in a restaurant is just like having a bigger, more active purse… I still get a kick out of it. There’s just something which feels inherently right, even natural, about having one dog or another constantly by my side.
Service dogs are one of the fortunate few in today’s society, because they get to go everywhere and spend every day with their favourite person. Most dogs, beloved pets though they may be (as my own pet dog is), are relegated to spending eight or more hours alone every day, while their human companion lives life without them. While women have been fighting to get out of the home, and into the workplace, dogs have been taken out of the workplace, and trapped in the home.
But when I’m in an art gallery or museum, I am reminded that it wasn’t always so.
There are very few depictions of dogs in art alone. While the aesthetic appeal of a bowl of fruit, a loaf of bread, or a statuesque stallion seems to be ageless, man’s best friend does not get many portraits to himself. But he is everywhere. In almost any room of any art gallery, I can almost guarantee you that a dog will be hanging out at someone’s feet, in a rich lady’s arms, prancing around the heels of a horse or even…
Dogs are everywhere. Next time you’re in a museum, look for the dogs, and you’ll wonder how you missed them before. Today, in a Dutch Artists exhibition in the art gallery, I saw a small boy being dragged along by his spaniel, who had clearly found a fascinating rabbit trail. I saw another young boy with his arm draped around a greyhounds neck. I saw a small terrier on a kitchen floor while a mother searched for nits in her child’s hair. I saw a puppy being cradled in a lady’s arms. In a picture of a horse fair, I counted no less than nine dogs dodging around hooves and feet. Almost anywhere where there were people, there were dogs. They weren’t the subject of the piece, and almost never even worth mentioning in the blub that the museum posted next to each picture describing the artist and the relevance of the particular work. Dogs weren’t beautiful or exciting enough to be the subjects of much art, but they were so intrinsically linked to people that artists couldn’t paint a crowd scene without adding dogs.
And now we leave them at home alone, and they are forbidden to go in public places, unless they are classified as police or guide animals. Even in outdoor parks and streets they are allowed ON leash IF you clean up after them and have them properly licensed. They used to be our constant companions, something not even noteworthy – just there- but now there are many stores and churches who allow even qualified service dogs with very bad grace.
Have we forgotten so quickly?
The dog may be man’s best friend, but he has been the friend that we take for granted, and never even notice until he isn’t there any more.