“How can I find out about the artist’s intent behind a work in my community?”
This is a terrific question and one I get asked all the time. It’s NOT EASY sometimes, cheap and this is the main reason we decided to do this TV series. Here’s a typical example of the problem:
My friend Lori passes by a gigantic public artwork in the Seattle Metro Bus Tunnel every day on her way to and from work. It is a large piece of welded and painted metal that runs the entire length of the station (hundreds of feet), prescription and it looks like giant folded metal. It has painted images on it. The station is located in the International District, viagra which is the center of Seattle’s Asian Community. Lori is an educated professional who has training in graphic design and the sciences, and she is bright, curious, and visually acute. Unlike most of the public, she even spent the time trying to find some sort of explanation plaque or brochure…any kind of information!…near the work. She could not find anything that would enlighten her. So she asked me, “I see this everyday. What does it mean? What’s it all about?”.
When I explained that this was humongous origami, an Asian craft of which she was familiar, and that its theme was about the love between a princess and a priest that could never be consummated due to their different stations in society, she understood it immediately and was thrilled! All it took was about 2 minutes of time.
Here are the challenges you face as a viewer to a new work you may encounter: most artists do not want to spell out their intentions for you on plaques; they hope that you will work a bit to try to figure it out, which they believe will make for a more profound experience for you . In Lori’s case though, she tried hard but still could not “decode” the work. Understandably, she needed some assistance…the images were too esoteric, and she found no assistance at the work itself.
Another problem is that some artists are trained in visual language and are not very good at verbal language, so they would shy away from words anyway. A third problem is that arts commissions usually wish to abide by the artist’s wishes, but sometimes will publish brochures that include artist’s statements about their work, or the arts commission’s explanation of a work. Such a brochure was indeed available for a time at the International District Station in the 1980’s for example, but 30 years later no one has the budget or inclination to reprint it. To me this is an error of judgment by the arts commissions, who have a responsibility to continuously educate the public about their collections. This would also serve to broaden their support base if more people understood what they were doing!
The good news is that recently you can indeed find artist statements or arts commission descriptions on the various arts commission websites. In addition, individual artists often have their own websites these days, where you can see examples of their works and descriptions. Another place to find info is the local newspapers that will often do written reviews by professional art critics of newly installed public art projects. See this guide to art in Seattle Metro Stations on their web site. http://metro.kingcounty.gov/tops/tunnel/tunnel-stations.html
I wish I could say that most colleges and universities offer courses and lectures on contemporary public art, but there are very, very few that do. Usually their art courses end in the mid 20th century at Abstract Expressionism or Minimalist museum art. And in these times of economic hardship for educational institutional budgets, these public art “extra” courses are the first to get cut.
As you know, I am an active sculptor and public artist, and I try to practice what I preach. Check out my own website and take a look at the large entry plaque to the Seattle Fin Project: http://faculty.washington.edu/jtyoung/fins.html. I think it was important to include a good explanation for that particular project to assist the public in understanding the layers of meaning in that work.
Ultimately, the best way to decipher public art is to learn how to do it on your own. And that is exactly what this series is all about…giving YOU the skills you need to understand Public Art! So “You Call That Art?!” Well yeah….and soon you will figure out why.
John T. Young
You can see HD clips of our program: You Call That Art?! HERE