Re-defining Art in Public Places

Note: this is the Tucson angle published on Tu Scene. Might go back at some point and work thoughts in from my original longhand draft.

In this brave new world of participatory media, just about all forms of expression are facing questions of validity from all sides: publishers (presenters), producers (artists), and the audience members themselves. These circumstances beg the question of what is “sanctioned” and “unsanctioned.” Over the 20th century, artists have consciously cast aside the traditional authorities (governmental entities, academia, art buyers and patrons, commercial galleries) while still relying on those power structures for validation and financial support. Not unlike technically breaking up with that S.O. while still continuing to see them, uh, on the side. Computer technology has sped this sense of artist-self along with powerful graphic design/photography/art tools, and provided an uncharted venue for validity: the Internet. We must come to the realization that this is, for the time being, changing the very nature of the arts as we know and experience them.

And it’s changing the definition of “public art.” “Public art” is not a bronze cast of some important historical figure or children playing in a fountain, or giant animals. It goes beyond a Minimalist sculpture no one “gets” installed situated in a plaza or park; although it’s not something you’re expected to like either, regardless of your personal art appreciation background or political/civic/moral persuasions. The main thing art situated in a public place really accomplishes is ocular assault, an interruption of your day. That takes place outside of any sanctioning by anyone but the artist(s) themselves. One can’t say a work is not “art” because the city government, the property owner, the viewer, someone who hasn’t seen it but has heard about it, believes it doesn’t belong in that place because no permission was given. Tucson has a diverse assortment of publicly-accessible art; let’s take a look at a few examples that have made news recently.

*The Citizen has done a great job lately of covering art in public places.

What’s your opinion on this topic? Agree? Disagree? Can a piece of art in a public area be a part of collective identity? Provide a unique sense of place? A creative landmark? How has the definition of art in a public space changed for you over the years? The definition of visual art in general?

P.S. TPAC has a Public Art Collection directory on their website, but I couldn’t get it to work. Not sure if it was my browser/system or some other technical issue…

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