Unfortunately I didn’t get to participate in the discussion today, so I didn’t get to hear my classmates’ ideas about the articles. But, here’s my two cents.
One of the questions I wanted to ask was “Does/should public art exist for ‘beautifying’ places or for a deeper meaning of public enlightenment?” Several responses to the second article (NY Times “Art in Public Spaces”) contained conflicting responses. The original letter to the editor, by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, stated that “the public role in public art is essential to the artist. People enliven a work, are inspired and intrigued, motivated and provoked.” A response from Richard M. Frauenglass said “Please let me enjoy a park as a park and not a vehicle for promoting someone else’s version of ‘beauty,’” and also said that the idea “that the public needs some form of ‘enlightenment’ is an insufficient rationale.” Another response, from Brian Camp, asked “Why can’t parks simply rely on the natural art they already possess in the form of grass, trees, flowers, rocks, and assorted wildlife?” This seems to show that while artists or those heavily interested/involved in the arts appreciate public art in a different way than the general populace. While art-involved people value the technical aspects of work, any public “community” it may give to the viewers, and messages the artist intends to share, the general populace values the pleasant experience of walking around in public. I have to say that I am more on the side of the general populace here – since it is, after all, in a public space, I believe the art should aim to make its home a more pleasant area for passersby, rather than aim to ‘enlighten’ the public.
At the end, Rapaport responds to the replies, and definitely takes the artistic and deep route. She essentially said that public art is about democratic freedom, both for the artist who can express and display things for free, and for the viewer who can experience and visit art for free. One of the replies, from Francis X. Gindhart, relayed their experience of seeing Richard Serra’s “Tilted Arc” fill the space at the Federal Plaza, claiming that the art greatly improved the area by filling the space beautifully, rather than for having any meaning. This is similar to the thoughts of the author in the first article (“Public art is powerful…”) by Rachel Cooke.
In her article, Cooke discussed the impact that public art has had on her life. A piece by William Pye was the first art that Cooke was ever exposed to, and sparked her love and interest for art. She also put in this vague quote that I don’t understand the meaning of: “…when [public art] works and is loved in return, it can come to symbolise a place, at which point good things can begin to happen around it.” Certainly, this shows that Cooke believes in more than the aesthetic value of public art—however, she didn’t dismiss it entirely. The art was placed because the city needed “prettifying” after being bombed, and a lot of money was spent on it—which brings in an entirely different debate. While I don’t entirely buy the philosophical aspect of it, Cooke mentioned that public art is also history, which I agree with. I think a real aspect of public art is that it adds to the history of a place (in a very literal sense.) I don’t think that overall, public art tends to just have the prettifying effect, where people will walk through an area that looks nice and then leave it, maybe or maybe not consciously aware of the art. For others, though, like Cooke, the works of art “were also inside [them], somehow, like a native language, with the result that [they] took [the art] with [them] as [they] moved out into the world.” (Wow, sorry for all those brackets.) Overall, I don’t think these readings changed any of my rather neutral ideas on public art, but it was interesting to read so many different experiences and perspectives on it.
Kristin Hines - Student artist at Maggie L. Walker Governor's School