Public vs Private Art

What is the difference between Public Art versus “private” art?

Professor John T. Young host

When I speak about “private art” I am generally referring to art that is found in museums, viagra galleries, healing and individual or corporate private collections. It is privately funded, meaning no tax dollars are used to purchase it. It is usually only seen by its owners, or employees of a given corporation, or most importantly, by people who willingly and voluntarily go to see art, such as at museums or galleries. They enter the doors of the museum wanting and expecting an art experience, oftentimes willing to pay the entrance fee for the experience. The artworks are usually paintings, drawings, photographs, some sculpture, and installation and conceptual artworks. The works can be “pretty”  or sometimes can be extremely provocative dealing with hard hitting social and political themes that might be offensive to some. Because it has a willing and often art educated audience, these kind of difficult themes can be expected and desired by the viewers. The viewers enter expecting to be provoked, or aesthetically gratified by “beauty”. Good art is not always “pretty” and there is always more to Art than meets the eye (more on this later). Most importantly, private art is usually the free expression of an individual artist’s feelings, aesthetics, and ideas.

President John F. Kennedy

President Kennedy started the 1% for art law

Public Art has a very different agenda. It is usually found in the public domain, available for everyone and anyone to experience…public plazas, along highways, in train and bus stations, on sidewalks, on the outside of buildings, integrated into the exterior of buildings, integrated into the landscape architecture of a place, on buses,  etc.  It is often found out of doors, but can also exist inside public buildings, like airports for example. It is usually funded by tax dollars via the 1% For Art programs found across America, but not always. There is a lot of privately funded public art as well, often found on campuses and sculpture parks among other places, that are donated by wealthy and interested individuals or corporations, usually in return for tax write-offs. …a benefit of American philanthropic tax incentives. (See a video segment from the program You Call That Art?! on the 1% For Art program on our YouTube Channel.)

Public art usually takes the form of sculpture or murals, but there can be other experimental forms that occur on the public streets, such as performance art.

Its primary agenda is to give voice to the community in which it exists. The best public art is usually NOT about individual artist expression, but somehow speaks to the place where it is sited and/or the community that has supported it (more on this later). Most importantly, it is available to ALL to see and experience anytime , from the art educated elite to the common man in the street, whether you want to see it or not. You may encounter it quite unexpectedly, without any foreknowledge that it even existed. You may not necessarily be willing or eager to engage with it, but there it is, right in front of you! Many times it is very publicly sited but is completely ignored by most passers-by. There is no admission fee except the original tax dollars used to pay for it. (How it is selected will be discussed in an upcoming entry). Sometimes it upsets the majority of the public audience and they cry for its removal. Often it becomes accepted into the fabric of the community over time and becomes an icon or symbol for the city or community. In Seattle, the much beloved Hammering Man is such an example.  The Statue of Liberty in New York City is another great example. Our show will focus on my opinions, the opinions of artists and art administrators, and the opinions of people we meet in the street, on the best and worst of Public Art in America, starting in my hometown of Seattle, then exploring other Northwest cities and then heading East across America.  “You Call That Art?!”  Welcome aboard!

About The Author

John T. Young

John T. Young, host and writer, is a renowned artist in his own right. He’s also Professor of Sculpture and Public Art at The University of Washington in Seattle

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10 2010

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