Allan Takes Aim Blog

What is public art?

Posted on: 26 May 2013


My latest blog is always available at: https://donallan.wordpress.com. To make direct contact e-mail me at: dca@netspeed.com.au

What is Public Art?

Just as the saying goes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder the same thing could be said about art – public or private.

But first let me digress before talking about art. I know there are such things as flying fishes because I’ve seen them. However, if you believed every angler’s story about the one that got away you might be inclined to think the fish had given wing just to escape the fate of ending up first on a cold slab of stone before landing in a hot frying pan with hot chips for company.

They might also have wanted to avoid being transferred from the frying pan to a warm plate with hot chips still for company to be cut into smaller pieces before being consumed with the hot chips in a delicate but ritualistic orgy of eating.

Warm plate aside it might have wanted to avoid the ignominy of being wrapped in greaseproof paper along with hot chips to, be dusted with salt and doused with a liberal lashing of vinegar before suffering a less than delicate ritual mastication sans knife and fork.

Whales as everyone knows are not fish but mammals although they have something in common: they both live in water. But one thing they do not have in common, although perhaps my education in this regard has been defective, is that there are no flying whales. Yet last week, a many mammaried representation of a whale called Skywhale, in the shape of a balloon flew around the skies of Canberra, Australia’s National Capital. This now brings me to the question: what is public art?

As you can imagine, Skywhale immediately became the stuff of legend and in time, no doubt will become the subject of a suitably titled film eg: Terror Strikes Whale Capital. In truth the flying whale was a contribution to Canberra’s Centenary as a piece of Public Art which leads me to ask: which city other than Canberra could come up with such a brilliant idea.

Like every brilliant idea of course, the ferociously expensive Skywhale was hated or liked by many in the community with the former saying the money it cost could, and should, have been spent on something that would have brought lasting benefit to the community. And though Skywhale has gained some fame I suspect it will be fleeting because the only place that Canberrans are likely to see it is on the net which, in turn, raises the question: can it rightly be called Public Art?

The fact is, Canberra has a lot of Public Art even if some of it is not seen as things of beauty and a joy forever. Tourists often comment on it. Indeed it was hope that Skywhale would boost tourism numbers but if visitors will only be able to see it on the net they are unlikely to come to stand and peer patiently at the sky in hope of seeing the much mamarried cetacean balloon make an appearance.

That apart, tourists usually like to get up close and personal to attractions Of course, even if Skywhale does nothing for Canberra’s tourism industry it might well benefit the whale watching industry on the South Coast which gives substance to the old adage: it’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good.

 

But let me end on as positive note as I can for Canberra. I hope Skywhale’s fame is neither  fleeting nor made Canberra a laughing stock around the world and also created the situation that tourists will take a view that it is a city not worth visiting.

Comment welcome.

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10 Responses to "What is public art?"

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The notion that art is meant to be beautiful is archaic. Ask any artist why they create art and you will likely recurve one of two answers. “For myself” or “to provoke thought”. That you are talking about this Skywhale means the artist succeeded in the latter. As for whether public money should support the arts I think one should ask a related question. Should money, public tax money be spent on architecture for public buildings that is ornamental or should public buildings, police, fire, criminal, etc. be purely functional in the name of fiscal austerity? I think the answer less in the middle. Not every court building needs doric columns but some of the most important ones should have some architectural features to distinguish themselves. Otherwise we risk living in a bland, even grim, dystopian landscape. Public art can be seen in the same way. It has little to no direct function. But it is a very human thing and thus worth supporting. My adopted home town is currently facing a similar question regarding a pier and building in it’s downtown area. Some view the “lens” as beautiful and a fiscally responsible alternative to repairing the old 70s structure and crumbling pilings. Others see it a a useless “walkway to nowhere”. So these debates are common and the acrimony very real. As art should be. Art is not a miniature statue of David in your living room, nor even a genuine Ming vase, the latter being more purposely defined as collecting or perhaps investing. Art is new, different, controversial and ultimately good for society. Its purpose is nothing more tgan itself. Any definition of art is as futile as trying to define god and inherently inadequate to the task.

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