One tricky thing about writing a blog is resisting the urge to begin with, “oh, and another thing…” Constant ranting might be cathartic, but it doesn’t exactly make for the best reading experience. And after all, if a tree complains in the woods and there’s no one there to hear it…well, you get the idea. I’ll bet you’re expecting a ‘but’ here, and there probably would be except that events this very week have transpired to calm my irksome inner whiner.
Some time ago, I was giving an ‘artist talk,’ (no lecterns or AV equipment, just a sparsely attended gallery thing) when someone brought up the subject of ‘art education.’ This was in the context of a discussion on city-owned works, as in, “if the city is going to spend money on art, shouldn’t it be on art education?” Thankfully I suppressed my urge to scoff. (Scoffing’s not recommended when addressing the few folks who are kind enough to show up to your little gallery thing). My response was to turn the discussion fine-artwards. After all, if the art these kids are being ‘educated’ on is purely historical, then how can it ever truly speak to their experience? That just perpetuates the idea that art is made by “other people,” not anyone you could ever know or interact with. Cities should spend money on local contemporary art and artists because contemporary folks, (kids and grown ups alike) need the shock of pure pleasure that a good public piece can provide. And people should know that artists are hardworking, normal people that live among them.
So: back to this week’s spirit bolstering events. On Wednesday, HAA quite literally rolled out the newest pieces in the city’s collection. These were in the form of six recycle trucks, wrapped in vinyl designed by as many artists. The trucks have already been roaming the streets for a few weeks now, so we’ve spotted a couple in transit. Ariane Roesch’s looks almost quilted, and Troy Stanley’s like it’s carved out of a single block of milled wood. Kia Neill’s digitally altered photograph adds a dimensional twistedness to the flank of one truck, and Aaron Munoz’ apocalyptic wry humor is evident in his mechanized bomber birds. These trucks are pure fun, but what really stayed with me is their impact on the non-art folks. Their drivers posed for pics with the artists, obvious pride undiminished by the August heat. We heard stories of people in neighborhoods coming out to greet the trucks. In a way this is the perfect public project, these pieces will travel into neighborhoods that have very little in the way of public art, and hey transform an ordinary fact of daily life into a moment of reflection and fun.
What stuck with me was something HAA’s Matthew Lennon said about the importance of creating jobs for artists in this city. This project easily could have veered into the territory of “art education,” by becoming a contest for schoolchildren or the like. Of course that would be wonderful for the child who won the contest, even life-altering. But what happens in giving contemporary artists these kinds of opportunities is that the entire city has potential to change. And this is what public art should be about, not ‘education,’ in the dry, didactic, top-down way we tend to look at it. I would even venture that encouraging people to look at the world differently is education, but it puts the tools in the hands of the learner. Education, museums, art (even public art), shouldn’t be some medicine that we have to hold our noses and swallow down, they should be generative, self-perpetuating forces that transform our experience. All of that starts with a little unexpected aesthetic pleasure.