Public art requires a revolution in approach

Public art requires a revolution in approach

by Charles Harris
article from Monday 20, February, 2017

THE MAJOR PROBLEM with Art today is that two different contradicting roads exist within its meaning. One road leads to a proven conventional view. This allows the viewer to see for themselves the reality, power and importance of human life, made honestly visible, wholesome, beautiful, and inspiring. The other leads to loud flat words, supporting self-interested modern conceptual objects. This is helped with the power of modern marketing, and an out of date 20th century influence, that keeps just blindly supporting it.

The first offers a true new hope for all, where a long proven successful tradition already exists, regardless of a bias modern media, which still considers it unnecessary. While the second, as we can all see, offers nothing new whatsoever. 

So I will again deal first with this problem of those biased 20th century modernists ideas, and the reasons why they have been continuously chosen for two generations.

Practically, an obsession with these present modern conceptual objects, trying to call themselves art, arrived from the origins of Decoration. And although decoration can aspire to beauty, it is normally a collective part of the whole of a design, perhaps with skills arising to an art form, but not really pertaining to the distinguished, as its nature is not intended as high art. For its aims are often just to support the roles of form and function; e.g. like the decoration of gargoyles and brick, which surround the top of Hampton Court Palace. These provided an early alternative to plastic guttering, when today’s materials were not available. It was never intended to be high art, nor did its stone masons or builders claim otherwise, yet this carved stone and brick is charming to view, and considerably prettier than today’s grey plastic, although not art in itself.

Yet unfortunately, we see a constant obsession with the choice of modern conceptual objects, in metal, fibre-glass, plastic, that are not great enough to appear as high art for public places. Instead, they reflect a narrow artistic expression and a lack of knowledge from the commissioning party, or more accurately what has not been understood about the nature of art.

For the actions we take, define the thoughts and comprehension behind them. Thus if these objects are falsely wrong in the claims of manufacture, or the commissioning parties reveal in their continuous bias, a lack of greater understanding or intent, then these things should never be selected, nor should these officials be permitted to make these choices.

This is a disgrace. For it is visually obvious that these things are completely inadequate. This can be instantly be seen by everybody, for it is the first impression we receive.

In reality, everything we touch is designed by somebody. We are in fact surrounded by decoration and design. We see it in every aspect of manufacture, in the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, our household products, in furnishings, furniture, cloth, carpets, electrical goods, lighting, on books, on magazines, in everything we look at each day, there is so much design and decoration. Yet naturally these are not seen as high works of art, and most people with common sense understand this. Which again leaves the question, why do these officials commissioning public Art, persist in refusing to recognise these daily occurrences with decoration, when the rest of us obviously do?

The problem is that no alternative choice to ugly modern conceptual objects has ever been offered in recent generations. Over fifteen years ago I said about Perth, “Instead of choosing more pieces of weird modernist junk to clutter our gardens, and streets, we could and should have proper conventional stone carved artwork in our public spaces. For with the amount of money being spent, we could have our own version of the beautiful Trevi fountain in Rome.” 

I also said this was financially realistic, as the cost of the water basin would be no more, probably much less than the lined pond in Norrie Miller gardens. While a centre- piece of standing figures, holding up a lower basin, with another figure and a basin above this, in a conventional proven artistic manner, projecting a happy fountain with delightful spray, and reflections of the water, all beautifully made in a traditional fashion, was a better step forward. This proposal, charmingly presented, was then ruthlessly and unpleasantly rejected.

I do know this sculptor offered to carve this fountain for little more than cost, yet officials ridiculed it. Indeed a senior official said to me, “We don’t want any water, or nudes about the place!” This was a really foolish statement, as almost every town and city in Italy has beautiful fountains, repeating the Trevi Fountain in Rome, which don’t rust and pay for themselves over and over, with endless donations cast into the waters.

These sculptures with water are delightful, with an elegance reflecting social sophistication and an understanding of antiquity, they encourage community life around them. So it was practically socially, and financially foolish to ignore this generous proposal, as it lost us what would have been a genuine beautiful facility for everybody to enjoy. The person concerned, upset and disgusted left Scotland and moved to England, where he subsequently won The Victoria & Albert Sculpture Award for Figurative Artwork.

This rejection was indeed ignorant, biased, ridiculous, and hypocritically, as we already have a nude metal figure standing beside a busy road outside Perth’s Ferguson Gallery. While typically, this is just more of that same weak, trendy modernist fashion, it is made up of cardboard box style angles, to produce a boxed fashion design, that any 1st year art student can achieve when asked to complete a basic 3D form exercise. Happily most don’t claim these are works of art, when using cardboard box designs to represent 3D form. I also completed a version myself using this material, when attempting this easy exercise, and I am a painter, not a sculptor.

I also know this same ignorant trendy modernist bias has continued with applications to our ‘arts council’, regardless of any high-quality art contained in those conventional traditional proposals sent for projects, exhibitions, etc, that never see the light, and are automatically dismissed unpleasantly.

So now without any more excuses, after two generations, the time has come to stop this false nonsense.

Along with others, I believe these incompetent officials should resign now and a new professional leadership must be created, without any constant corrupt bias towards choosing modern conceptual art objects. A leadership that has suitably artistically qualified people instead, with practical experience in the making of conventional proper art too, not just opinions in modern art, which is a different road, as I have explained fully above and one we have evidence to show has failed for too long.

We must also look at other committees for the same reasons. We must look at those committees who chose the officials, who then plan and choose the Education Curriculum for our schools and universities, as these have the same ridiculous biased flaws towards conceptual art today. For all pupils and students, now and in the future, we need this education reform in art, as mentioned before in a previous article, to help a new creative openness and an improvement in our art education. It is now vital so that students can learn skills that will help them secure work and fulfillment, not to end up in a line of failed conceptualisation in art, and without transferable skills, that are just designed today for a narrow elite with self-interest foremost.

While at the top of the tree, we need to elect a new arts body in Scotland to lead us in a new, fair and even-handed approach. This is crucial for the new Scotland that people want, to directly bring new hope for the future of all art and our living culture. We must have a return to conventional art. A respect for tradition and the need for art to again show reality, not falseness in life. After all this time with a bias, it is essential we the public recover a new interest in Art. This can only occur if the nature and truth of the Art itself properly triggers our interest and brings new confidence, with a belief in the role that art should play in our society. Incidentally, I was nominated by a Deputy Provost of Perth to be considered for this role and the rejection arrived quicker than either of us could read it.

I therefore conclude this ongoing problem can only now be stopped and solved when these current decision-making committees are disbanded and new fresh open-minded people are chosen for these crucial roles in deciding proper public art, a new art education process, and to rescue our culture away from this modernist failure. So, for all of you concerned, let’s see it happen please, without more flannel and delay.

(Copyright: Charles Harris 2017 – Trust Your Heart.) Photo: Fontana di Trevi, Roma.

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