Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | April 21, 2011

No, Seriously. It Was a $600,000 Toad-Riding Faerie

OK, technically, I think it was a $200,000 toad-riding faerie.  I guess the real question is which of the US Army’s recent slogans this public art project, intended to “enhance the aesthetics” at a bus depot in Alexandria, Virginia, was meant to evoke.

“Be all you can be!”

“An Army of One.”

“Army Strong.”

I have to be honest here.  I don’t think the silliest thing about this is that the project was going to cost $600,000, before Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) stepped in and asked for some, er, clarification.

I agree with Grassley, of course:

The Army was ready to spend $600,000 on three pieces of questionable art, just when the country is up to its eyeballs in red ink. With a national debt of more than $14 trillion, we’ve got to make sure spending is in line with the national interest.

Yep.  What he said.

But I can imagine why the Army was trying to spend money this way, just as all government agencies come up with “good ideas” and try to spend money that’s been deposited in their accounts.  The “good ideas” factory churns out its product 24/7, independent of funding or specific direction.  It gets help – often – from bureaucratic inertia.  A directive from years ago, to “interact in interesting, compelling ways with the public to enhance the Army’s image,” is executed in “bureaucratic years,” meaning that the original purpose looks idiotic by the time something actually happens.

And never forget that this year’s funds get spent, period.  It would be lovely if they didn’t, but the first law of government funding is, if you don’t spend it this year you won’t see it next year.

So I get the process that led to this interesting interlude.  What I don’t get is how a sculpture of a faerie riding a toad – a toad burbling brown stuff – became a finalist in the Army-funded public art sweepstakes.  I mean, a group of children, maybe.  Or a soldier surrounded by children.  A soldier and civilian standing shoulder to shoulder, I don’t know.  Something that doesn’t look like the Army’s channeling the Pre-Raphaelite poets or the wonderful world of wall-art stickers.

It might have been useful for Army decision-makers to consider the checkered history of the military’s involvement with public art projects.  In the 1930s tale recounted by Time, the warriors of West Point ended up with some marvelous Navy-themed “art” to honor their brothers in arms with.  Somehow I suspect there will be more than one rendition of the toad-riding faerie popping up – for art’s sake – around the august haunts of Annapolis.

Not just strong. Army strong.


J.E. Dyer blogs at Hot Air’s Green Room and Commentary’s “contentions.” She writes a weekly column for Patheos.



  1. “Somehow I suspect there will be more than one rendition of the toad-riding faerie popping up – for art’s sake – around the august haunts of Annapolis.”

    If I were to wager, I’d bet heavily that this will have lasting traction and that some fanciful artwork will be on display December 10th in Landover. However, the more creative illustrations will never see the light of day.

    But, then, what do I know.

  2. They could have pulled an old 75mm Pack Howitzer, or maybe an M60 to stand a silent watch… but noooo instead of a retired object of militaria we are treated to a prissy object d’art…

    It shows what happens when a toad riding fairy is serving as commander in chief…

    [Leaves the room shaking his head…]

  3. Look on the bright side. At least we’re not building marble ships in garden ponds with funds intended for aircraft carriers. . . yet.

  4. Well, how they came up with the faerie on a toad seems kinda obvious to me – the Army subbed the choice out to an art broker, who used to be a Captain in the Navy.

    • Was that Captain in the Navy one of those people in that youtube video where those “men” were apologizing to all women on behalf of all men – as highlighted by J.E. a few posts back?

      • This is what happens when you tender-‘in’ to your friends in the time-honoured army way – as distinct from the tendering-‘out’ process that takes place in private business where value for money is a consideration. A carrier here, a carrier there, a fairy riding a toad here, a second engine for the F35 there etc etc.

        Almost as bad is the crime against aesthetics. I’m all for having more art in our environment. The US has some of the best living artists on the planet. Why this dross? Perhaps there’s a metaphor for the military hiding in there……. A fairy riding on a toad……I wonder?

  5. Given what this administration has spent in the first two years, $200K for both the fairy and the toad seems like pretty good value. But Sen Grassley (Philistine-IA) had to play Toad the Wet Blanket.

  6. I view with disfavor this entire failure to appreciate the great value of depictions of amphibians.

    I suspect that if it was some stinkin’ goat, nobody here would shed a tear.

    • If the artwork was of a rampant goat, especially if it was menacing a jackass (err, mule), the expenditure of taxpayer dollars would be justifiably unquestioned. Personally, I believe that the illustration of toads and faeries is an accurate depiction of the dirt huggers.

      • Jimbo, goats can go all hot and rampy, but they ain’t ever gonna measure up to mules.

        them goats just don’t fare well.

    • Rather obviously, fuster, it would depend on whether there was a faerie riding the goat.

      • anybody in the USN would suffice, opticon. it’s pretty much all the same, top or bottom, with the salty set.

    • Thank you for giving us the anurian point of view. personally, if I were a toad or frog I would be seriously insulted by this piece of “art”.

      BtW, is the entity riding the toad a sly allusion to “don’t ask, don’t tell”?

      • PAULITE, if you were a toad or frog all the rest of us would be seriously insulted.

  7. [Facepalm] . . . [peek between fingers] . . . [Facepalm] . . . [repeat]

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