In Search of Judgment

I recently received the following e-mail from Andrew, a British friend who was in Boston for a conference. Being a barrister, I was sure he would visit the Harvard Law School before returning to London.

“Whatever you do,” I said, “Don’t miss seeing the Safer sculpture Judgment. It’s just by the Gropius dormitories.”

This is what he wrote.

Today, my last day in town before flying back to London, I went with a colleague, Richard, to Cambridge. We wandered round Harvard yard and elsewhere….In our wanderings I hoped to discover 'Judgment' but we were having little success. Eventually we asked various passers by—many with maps but none with a clue as to what we were talking about. Most wanted to direct us to the statue of John Harvard.

Eventually we came across Harvard Law Library and Richard went inside to ask. They also did not know what we were talking about (again assuming it was the Harvard statue). In the end I went online and showed Jay's blog to the helpful receptionist—and although she did not recall seeing the sculpture shown in his photos, she did recognise the buildings in the background. In a very helpful way, she offered to print us a map—and while we waited for her to do that she very kindly allowed us into the library itself—which was a real treat for us lawyers.

Having viewed the library we went, map in hand, and easily found the statue—and as proof I attach a photo.
British barrister in front of Safer's Judgment 
It really is a lovely piece—so thank you Jay for telling us about it—and you should know that there are two more people (who work in the library) who now know what it represents.

I’m not sure why this ignorance of the Safer sculpture so gets under my skin. It is a major work. It is also a trenchant statement, sitting as it does in the lap of Harvard’s legal wannabes. This, it says, is what you are getting into.

It isn’t an MIT/Harvard thing. (Truth in advertising, I’m an emeritus member of the MIT faculty.) Maybe what bothers me is that it bespeaks a negligent attitude of the public toward public art. The Harvard Law School class of ’49 undoubtedly spent a lot of money purchasing the Safer piece. Harvard went to a lot of trouble to bring it onto its campus. Yet nobody seems to notice.

But why isn’t it enough that I notice? Why do I want everybody to join in? I think I may be getting closer to an understanding of why this ignorance of the sculpture gets under my skin. The fact that I care about the sculpture and so many others don’t suggests alienation. It draws a line in the sand between those who walk on by and me. That is an uncomfortable feeling. During my daily visits to Judgment, I have been stopping people and asking them to take a closer look at what they are about to pass up. Shades of The Ancient Mariner! Some of them have been grateful. Well, one of them has been grateful—a Harvard Law School student whose name is Maria. But most look at me as if I were an old man in need of humoring.

Now that I know what is at the bottom of it all, I think I’ll stop personally recruiting for Judgment.

As the Beatles wisely sang, Let it be.