Today I had a very pleasant afternoon, spent at the beautiful Milwaukee Art Museum. Now I know that when one thinks of Milwaukee, one does not usually think of the finer cultural things in life, more beer, cheese, the Brewers, just another run-down Upper Midwestern Rust Belt town. But Milwaukee, like the rest of Wisconsin, has its surprises up its plaid flannel sleeve, with some amount of well-deserved pride and a bit of a sly wink.

I had not been to the MAM since I was a teenager, and was excited to go back to see its stunning new building, situated on a beautiful piece of land with an expansive view of Lake Michigan:

It was so calm and clean and architecturally lovely. What an amazing place to view the wonderful collections, ranging from Picasso to Pissarro to Wyeth to Miro to Monet to Warhol to unknown folk artists, a photographer with a beautiful exhibition of portraits of high school students around the country, Craftsman furniture from the early 20th Century, ancient Egyptian and Chinese pieces...just a well-put-together collection and certainly something for everyone to enjoy. It is a gem, and gets my highest recommendation to visit if you are ever there.

What I will share with you from my visit today, however, is a very small sampling of something that stood out to me as I went from room to room, staring at the paintings: The Gratuitous Small Bizarre Dog. In many paintings, there seems to be a subject that is either holding a weird canine, or the artist just decided to throw one in there in some corner for fun. For example, look at this one:

Look at those human eyes on that thing! It looks like he is all YEAH YEAH BUDDY I HEAR YA, NOW PISS OFF AND GET ME A BONE. He also has an odd brainiac forehead that could start pulsing at any second. Fido, you are creeping me out there.

Here's another weirdo:

He looks to me like he is made out of toothpaste, is wearing lipstick, and that at the last minute the artist decided to give him an evil twin monkey on his face. I don't know about you, but if I see a dog covered in toothpaste with a monkey growing out his head, I am going to scream until my throat explodes and/or someone shoots it dead.

Oh look, it's Spike The Lizard-Tongued Mutt, the perfect playmate for your hoop-rolling, bagel-topped-socks-wearing child:

Look at his gnarly teeth and his hair all up on his back. Spike is clearly planning on taking someone DOWN, or perhaps catching a fly for dinner.


That is NOT A DOG. That is a bloody-mouthed, lop-eared RAT. Look at those legs and paws! RAT RAT RAT RAT RAT! I bet someone sewed on the ears and fur to a gutter rat to make a pet for this girl holding it. Rats were more plentiful than fancy dogs back then. It probably ended up biting her and then she died from the plague and the Dograt ran back to his clan as a King, all fancied up with ears and such.

My last art dog to show you is Pal, who seems to suffer from Graves' Disease:

Time came to head out and get on the road again, all the strange and wonderful dogs and frozen painted people locked in time and space and left behind until another time. The rush-hour traffic was slow and ponderous, but I knew Milwaukee had some further surprises somewhere, and when I switched on the car radio, I hear "Here Come The People In Grey" by the Kinks. Ah, wonderful WMSE. You are still there. I smile conspiratorially at the dashboard. I was born here, and though I long since moved away, I understand all the funny, weird, and beautiful pieces that make up this place, and helped to make up me too.