A statue in New York City has caused an uproar, but the real outrage isn’t Eric Fischl’s work Tumbling Woman. The outrage is the anger in reaction to it. Fischl’s statue went on display last week in the underground concourse of Rockefeller Center. It represents his reaction to the calamity of those who fell or jumped from the World Trade Towers on Sept. 11: a bronze neo-classical life-size woman, more Rodin than Brancusi, smacks, shoulders and head, into the ground. She is on her back. Her legs extend out, fairly close together, fairly straight. Her arms spread slightly.

The reaction to Tumbling Woman was swift and angry enough that last Wednesday the work was first covered and curtained and then removed early. Office workers on their way to lunch branded the statue disgusting, awful and disturbing.

Which is just what art should be, or some of it. We should be disturbed by a work of art relating to Sept. 11. What do people want? A pot of bronzed geraniums?

The painter Alex Colville, whose own work has the power to knock a viewer off balance, says he supports Eric Fischl’s work completely. “Fischl is a very good artist,” he says, “and he made some good decisions about that work. The female figure is more vulnerable. She is falling in the air; he has caught her. This was the tragedy of that event and this work is a great expression of it. It’s stupid of people to reject this work.”

Colville is exactly right. The worst of the horror was not in the crumbling of steel and glass, in the loss of furniture and computers. The vision of the trade towers falling in living technicolour, caught by many cameras at many angles was like a scene in so many Hollywood movies: huge, spectacular. It was difficult to comprehend as real because we’ve seen it all so many times before.

The worst of the horror was in thinking of the people above the burn, up in the clouds yet possessing no wings, who faced their last view of the world from the upper floors and then jumped or fell. The deepest horror was in the image of a man in a business suit, falling softly, as if towards the nestle of his bed, his necktie floating away from his chest in the wind, his head raised to his last bit of blue, falling, falling, as Fischl says, disbelieving and helpless. The abysmal horror came in seeing people as the incarnate of what all of us are, every day âe” frail, in need of mercy and comfort and sore afraid we will find none. It must have been hell. The towers were so big, so solid and strong and then gone, but that man plunging, away from heaven, towards this mortal coil, like everyone who took to the air that day, was always so small and soft and falling with no hope.

And that’s why Tumbling Woman reminds us of where the horror of the day truly was. People want the easy way out. They want to avoid feeling disturbed or saddened by seeing this work and some focus instead on mourning the loss of mere buildings âe” only metal and wood and concrete that we can have again.

Not to think of those who fell or jumped, as painful as it may be, to back away from the easy vicarious imagining we can do in our easy chairs or as we stroll to the food court, to flinch from the doom of those people, is vicious, lazy neglect and abandonment.

Alex Colville was an official war artist during the Second World War. Immediately after the liberation he was sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, where he made paintings of the mass graves. He says there was never a negative reaction to his own graphic works such as Body in a Ditch. “That all happened a long time ago,” he says, “and my figure was a soldier, and wasn’t nude.” He doesnâe(TM)t consider Tumbling Woman to be war art. “We’ve always been at war, and we always will be,” he says, “but strictly speaking, this is not war art but terrorism art.”

Art is not about the posters of geraniums people choose to match the colour of their sofas and drapes, although some geraniums are art. It is not about pretty colours, although some art is pretty. Art is different than illustration. Art has to be the distillation of something, and in that reduction we have to see something that tells us even a tiny thing of what it means to be human âe” the love in it, or the grief, or the lust, or the pain, or the end of it.

Art needs to be allowed to disturb us. It makes all the difference in the world. People looking at Tumbling Woman, or any work that causes consternation need a second look and the chance to consider why they feel disturbed. There’s no point in presenting a pot of geraniums that does nothing to reflect what it means to be frail and human. Art is bound with what it means to be alive. Fischl himself says that Tumbling Woman was meant as “an expression of deepest sympathy for the vulnerability of the human condition.”

Is it disturbing? Yes. Is it awful? God, yes. The least we can all do is face up to the laughably small disturbance we may feel looking at Tumbling Woman. We werenâe(TM)t there.