The Poverty of Public Art

Across America for the past quarter century or more, municipalities, counties, states, public institutions, and universities have embraced the concept of “1% for Art” and have taken it upon themselves in the spirit of humanism and civic responsibility to become the sponsors of publicly funded visual art. On campuses, street corners and barrio walls, on billboards, bus stops and freeway abutments, in derelict downtowns in desperate need of revitalization, public artworks have sprung up like cultural mildew. Large freestanding metal behemoths, colorful murals, ceramic mosaics, foam and fiberglass installations, neon bolted to architectural concrete, lithographs lining the corridors of county courthouses, glass baubles casting rainbows about the sunlit atriums of mental health wards: what hasn’t been commissioned? What medium and what style of our pluralistic post-modern art smorgasbord has not been purchased for public display with public moneys?

A handful of these public artworks are truly wonderful. They will survive the rapaciousness of civilization to become objects of art historical note and local pride. Cruisin’ San Mateo (aka “Chevy on a Stick”) by Barbara Grygutis in Albuquerque and Samson by Brian Goggin at the Sacramento Airport baggage claim are two such successful public sculptures.1 Both artworks exploit humor and dramatically manipulate vertical perspective to visually activate the surround space. Another handful are equivalently atrocious. The city of Denver has a couple of such duds. Articulated Wall by Herbert Bayer is the worst kind of late-modernist sculpture — big, boring, and butt-ugly, while The Family, a bronze figurative grouping by Edgar Britton fails even to achieve saccharin sentimentality with its abysmal modeling technique. However, the vast bulk of all recent public art adornment is merely mediocre. As the dust of each new commission settles, as the patina of newness dims, the fate of most public artwork in America is to relentlessly fade into the background grime of the surrounding urban wallpaper. Mediocrity has been the norm across the entirety of the American 1% Public Art experiment over the past third of a century.

Can this truly be the case? I invite you to make a mental inventory of the public artworks in your own town as they rank on a scale from one to five. Are any of them really memorable? In all likelihood, very few come to mind. That is the dilemma of current public art. It has no staying power in the public imagination, and therefore little personal relevance. This is what I mean by the term “mediocre.” Mediocre does not mean that the work of art is necessarily bad, or ill conceived, or poorly executed, though those problems do exist. But rather, mediocre means that the artwork has failed to establish any intellectual, spiritual, emotional, or aesthetic rapport with its viewers. It has not aroused the curiosity or sense of personal ownership with an audience. It has not created meaningfulness to the “public” nor generated any local boosters. It is just there on a corner, or in a park, and so what?

There are many reasons for a public artwork to fail to attract an audience which we will visit throughout this discussion, but a good current example of a mediocre public artwork would be the new memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C. In this massive stone monument there is an astonishing disregard for iconography ― no breaking the chains of segregation, no freedom march, no songs of redemption, no shouts of hallelujah, no bus boycott, no Civil Rights movement or any eye movement either for that matter as the figure remains bound by its stone. For those of us who lived through the tumult of 1960s, who experienced firsthand the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement, the anti Viet-Nam War movement, the demonstrations, marches, struggles against police brutality, and the tragic political assassinations of that decade, for all us Americans ― Black, Brown, Yellow, Red or White ― this artwork as a commemoration of Dr. King’s life is sadly unfulfilling. The stiff composition was created by Chinese master sculptor, Lei Yixin.2 While the stone carving may be technically superb, Mr. Lei has no shared experience with us of the 1960s Civil Rights era. Instead, he is a product of the 1960s Chinese Cultural Revolution. The vision of a leader he gives us is an image which he understands, that of “Chairman King,” not our beloved Civil Rights leader. Without a relevant iconographic context, the quotations carved on the stone come across as slogans from a Red Book. This is a socialist work of art by an artist trained in party line aesthetics in the best traditions of Andrei Zdhanov.3 Stylistically, the monument could just as readily glorify Joseph Stalin or Saddam Hussein. Those involved in approving this design are ignorant of the visual language of art.

For an artwork, to be mediocre is to be an unloved child. There is pathos and tragedy involved. Nobody intends this to happen. Nobody desires it, certainly not the artist, not the public art administrators, not the proponents who have labored so long and hard with their vision and have had to overcome enormous political inertia, and not the “public” however ill-defined that aggregation of souls might be. Everybody involved in commissioning the Martin Luther King Memorial did so with the best of intentions, and nobody should doubt their sincerity or demean that effort. But we can critique their visual art ignorance and their hubris. This stone will survive for an eternity, and the messages will be read by children for generations. The monument is now an artifact, a time capsule representing one moment in American history. But how much more poignant and historically accurate if Dr. King was posed at the podium, the great orator and moral champion of our times addressing his program across the Washington Mall. And where is Dr. King’s audience in this tableau, the dozens, hundreds, thousands and finally millions who embraced his visionary dream? This monument sadly ignores the intense political struggle and revolutionary social upheaval of the 1960s.

The King memorial is impoverished. It is apparent that many political compromises and expediencies went into the placement of this placid work of art. The proponents will no doubt claim these concessions were necessary to get the project built, and perhaps that is true. Nevertheless, from a basic design critique, it is evident that professional artists, especially Black artists were marginalized from the design discussions. This factor alone illustrates one major reason why public 1% for Art fails. The process as it is set up lends itself to being co-opted by other vested parties with little or no education in art practice, art theory or art history.

The mediocrity of public art does not reflect the general condition of Western visual art in the Post-modern era. The fine art which has been produced by artists in the last four decades and exhibited in galleries, museums, biennials, happenings, sites, lofts, and myriad other indoor and outdoor venues has been everything but tepid. This period has seen a quasar of creative exploration by artists, a boundary expansion of the materials and narratives of art – lamely called “pluralism” – that is without precedent; it has been the successful uprising of content art over Modernism’s absorption with form. This art revolution has completely bypassed the consciousness of the general public, which cannot differentiate the two arts. That ignorance is one huge reason public art has tragically failed to keep abreast of the cultural transformation in which it is caught; because it is dominated by public administrators, it does not know how to grow in an unfettered way. As Helen Lessick put it, “. . . public art is in danger of being extinguished through strategized solutions and commodified aesthetics. The public knows what public art looks like through complacent and complicit administrators and artists.”4

Mediocrity is so endemic in public art that it behooves us to investigate why. Where does the money come from? How are the artists selected? How does the program work? What are the larger social and political dynamics? And why has the art product been dominated by mediocrity? Why are our parks and public buildings being filled with un-loved artworks? After a few decades of experience, and a few hot public art controversies, what have we learned and what can be said about this social experiment?

Brief History

The United States has had public art since cemetery headstones were first commissioned in colonial times. The American public art experiment with which we are concerned here begins in serious in the late 1970s with the invention of a novel funding mechanism called 1% for Art.5 This is a form of public taxation at the state and local levels structured in a less than obvious manner.

The 1% for Art funding mechanism was hailed as a brilliant strategy to capture some small public funding for art. In the quarter century prior to late 1970s, funding for public art in the United States had essentially dried up. With few exceptions, the federal government buttoned its purse to everything except war monuments and cemeteries when it got out of the WPA art business at the onset of World War II.6 State and local governments had little experience in art patronage (except by subscription at the behest of important constituents.) The drought of federal public art money was made more severe by corresponding rapid post-war decline in numerous artisan industries such as wrought iron, stained glass, ornamental marble and architectural ceramics which had employed armies of artists and craft labor. The cause for this decline was the rapid post-war emergence in popularity of Architectural Modernism. Both the federal government and large corporate clients flocked to this austere architectural style of glass and steel boxes. The adornment of buildings along with its substantial budget costs suddenly became obsolete. The Catholic Church which had historically been lavish with its art and decor was one of the first mega-clients of architecture to embrace the new modernist aesthetic with sweeping projects like St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in San Francisco.7

In many regards, the 1% for Art funding strategy was a desperate grasp for straws by artists and their political supporters in a society wallowing in affluence.8 The novelty of this art experiment lies in the simplicity of its funding mechanism. 1% for Art (2% in some communities) is a tax-based patronage structure attached to state or municipal capital improvement bonds, or similarly structured general obligation bonds. When voters approve public debt through the issuance of bonds to build a new stadium, an airport, libraries, police stations, courthouses, roadways, levees, or any similar public works projects, 1% of the “allowable costs” of such new construction or maintenance construction is retained from the bond issue and placed in a separate fund from the construction budget for the commissioning of adjacent works of art.9 These monies are administered by a separate municipal or state agency usually called the Art In Public Places program (AIPP) located within the Planning Department or within a Cultural Affairs Division. Every city and state AIPP has its own rules and procedures regarding the commissioning of art, and guidelines on the allowable construction cost which can generate funds.

Allowable costs typically refer to those areas of a public facility which are accessible to the public such as the gates, ticketing area, and baggage claim of an airport, but not the control tower nor the tarmac. Also typically excluded would be the private offices and bureaucratic warrens of administrators. Allowable costs may or may not include the purchase costs of the land and much of the building’s physical plant. These guidelines quickly reduce the public art budget from 1% of the total building costs (which many people mistakenly believe it to be) down to 1% of the allowable costs. This fraction for public art is then added with all the other add-ons (the landscaping budget or the furniture budget might also be add-ons) onto to the construction cost as the total project cost, all of which is eventually paid by local merchants and property owners as the city or county satisfies its bond debt. Commissioned artworks are expected to last for 30 years, which is the typical life of many municipal bonds as they are retired through fees, sales tax and property taxes.

In most instances, 1% for Art programs have been enacted by legislation at the state level, or by ordinance at the municipal and county level. Many large public institutions such as hospitals and universities also have 1% for Art programs. (There is an Art In Public Places program within the National Endowment for the Arts, but it is not 1% funded.) In a few cases voters have approved the establishment of 1% for Art programs, but as a general rule these programs have been created by elected officials. They are now the norm of civic bureaucracies and well-entrenched into the limelight of government ribbon-cuttings.

While modest in scope, over time this art patronage mechanism is capable of generating real money as growth-based economies with growth-based governments always need to maintain curbs and gutters, need to extend services to new satellite subdivisions, and need to incur public debt. Additionally, 1% for Art has inspired other creative tax-based art funding mechanisms, most notably the “quality of life tax.” This tax often appears as a small increase in local sales tax, perhaps .00125% for a specific duration such as 24 months to fund a civic goal such as the purchase of “open space.” Many communities have adopted short-term increases in sales tax to fund “the arts” though this is a harder sell for supporters as it is a regressive tax. Perhaps more effective, the new institution of 1% for Art has successfully unlocked legislative pork as elected officials recognize the political advantages of art patronage.

In spite of the growing public art phenomenon which has now attained a level of sophistication and maturity, the field has inspired sparse academic interest. After some initial involvement, public art has noticeably been a backwater ignored by academia, and by the professional art establishment in general. While art scribes study WPA art, Mexican mural painting, Greek statuary, Gothic churches, Civil War cemeteries, Hollywood paraphernalia, graphic comics, urban graffiti, and tattoo art as public art with impressive coffee table volumes, contemporary public art has flown completely under the academic radar. It is a neglected petri dish in sore need of a microscope. Given this academic neglect the question arises, why should we care?

Public Art in the Social Context

Human artistic expression in all its forms ― art, music, song, theater, dance, literature, and architecture ― is irrepressible. A society’s commitment to its artistic product becomes consequential as we look across the millennia of global art history. Public art is an industry that humans engage and always have, though some societies consistently make heavier investments, and affluent societies have more to spend.

Public 1% for Art is interesting because it is a new funding patronage structure which has arisen in correlation with a transitional period in Western art history. A century of European and American modernism that began in the 1870s has run smack into the post-modern antithesis of the 1970s. We are now several decades launched into the Post-Modern epoch of Western visual art exploration which will define our historical time as categorically as do the terms “Modern” or “Baroque.” The public patronage of 1% for Art is an on-going support subsidy for this socio-cultural event. As public subsidies go, 1% for Art is a minuscule commitment compared to the public largess doled out to other national industries. It is a paltry sum for art patronage in an affluent society.

Fine art and craft have always been luxury industries subject to the tastes and connoisseurship of the social elite. Throughout history, the brokers of religion, wealth and power have been the sponsors of great art towards their own agendas.10 1% for Art is novel and therefore radical in that it represents an aberration in this long tradition of elite art patronage. While the total expenditure is minuscule, still, a significant structural change in the traditional power relationship of art patronage occurs as decision-making authority shifts from the social elite to a small cadre of mid and low-level state and municipal public art bureaucrats. Who is buying the art and towards what agenda is potentially radical. Changes in art patronage structures have the clout to impact all of visual art, and the rest of society from there. We have no idea how this transition will fully play out, or if it even has legs, but herein lies a yet unrealized potential for visual art to significantly evolve.

Whether this rent in the fabric of traditional art patronage can be effectively exploited by today’s roster of artists is open to debate, for the success story of the current public art establishment is deeply tarnished. 1% for Art is also the story of uninspired management, occasional hot controversy, chronic underfunding, rampant political cronyism, failure of design theory, and a national collection of staggering mediocrity. Those who are invested in this enterprise at every capacity prefer to ignore that the public audience is generally indifferent. People on the street are blasé, for public art is not a high priority in their lives. This civic apathy for public art in tough economic times can potentially shut down the entire house. While the academic community did participate enthusiastically in the early stages of public art, especially in early controversies such as Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc, it has subsequently become alienated by the mediocrity of the product and the low-brow politics. This is a powerful constituency which has been lost. Many excellent artists, especially those who cannot draw within the guidelines have been excluded from this public teat, and have become vocal critics.

If we wish to know why art is socially relevant, and why public art is important in particular, there are really only three foundational answers. The rest are peripheral. First, art, in its myriad expressions, is one of the relatively few human endeavors which across the vast distances of time and space has consistently generated true novelty. Art is an engine of change and social evolution, and all that implies. Secondly and paradoxically, art also functions as the precise antithesis of social change and turmoil. A society’s art is the bedrock of cultural stability and predictability, for visual art and all art together form a cornerstone of any culture’s ideological grasp of reality. As both change and stability, art is a cultural wave function that flows through a society across time. Thirdly, 99.99% of all the world’s art was made before anybody reading this essay was born. How we in the present know and judge our past is often defined by the arts and architecture that remain. World history, especially as it becomes more remote from the present, is largely art history. Objects of art live a lot longer than do their creators to become cultural artifacts; thus, it behooves the artists of every generation to produce their best work. It is a built-in incentive to artists across all humanity as the profession has evolved over the millennia. If current public art is mediocre, then American artists and arts administrators share an interest in fixing it.

The problems of 1% for Art are found throughout the entire enterprise, though the administrative arm of Art In Public Places must shoulder most of the responsibility, since these failures occurred under their watch, and they have obscured the facts rather than grasped the initiative to become great. In its current garb, public art administration is an uninspired failure. The shortcomings of the entire enterprise of 1% for Art in the United States, from small municipalities to national monuments, can be collected into the following categories: 1) parallel patronage; 2) administration; 3) political corruption; 4) architecture; 5) art criticism; and 6) artist education and training. It is a fairly extensive laundry list, so suggestions for correcting certain of these failures are offered as 7) New Directions.

Parallel Patronage  

In the United States, there are two parallel patronage systems which bring visual art into public awareness. The dominant mode in terms of budget and sheer volume is advertising. Advertising is the commercial public art which all of us are incessantly subjected to, whether we wish it or not. Advertising is the free and ubiquitous background noise of America; it is the necessary condition of corporate, capitalist, consumer-driven society. It infiltrates all of our lives, and much of our daily decision-making. No one can escape this propaganda for it is fundamentally ideological. But for advertising to be effective, it must constantly change, update, and appear forever novel. Newness has evolved into a self-generating condition of the advertising machine. It is a tough assignment, for the attention span of American consumers has become conditioned to be brief. By contrast, the other visual art patronage system is “formal” and “elitist.” This is the art of museums, art galleries, art history, college art departments, and public art. (Film, video games, computers, TV, broadcast and social media operate in both worlds and are not included in this discussion.) The total audience of fine art is but a small fraction the total audience for commercial art, hence the tremendous disparity in budgets.

Advertising, as “applied art” or “commercial art,” can never be as creative or imaginative as “fine art.” The internal structure, demographic requirements, the sales agenda, and the profit dictates of advertising place absolute constraints on its creative potential. Instead of true novelty, advertising presents us with what is today called “bling,” the appearance or simulation of novelty, which is largely the result of technological innovation and endless derivation. Bling appears fresh at the formal level, while the content message of the visual art – sex, fear, and gluttony – remains essentially unchanged. By contrast, our reality today is that fine art changes relentlessly both in form and content as an ongoing evolutionary cultural pressure. Fine art moves as a fluid across history; it is a culture’s wave function where individual art objects become time capsules reflecting the historical moment of their creation. This process is cumulative. Through constant creation, one art object after the next, the directional arrow of time in the Western, lineal worldview is thus materially validated. The irony of evolutionary pressure on all art including public art is that sculptures and murals on street corners become dated the moment the paint dries. Today’s public art is tomorrow’s artifact. The inherent paradox of the dual patronage structure with their distinct agendas is that advertising looks refreshed though its content is stale. Fine art, while perpetually novel and perhaps timeless in quality, is nevertheless the dated product of some historical moment.

The situation is further complicated by the simple fact that advertising routinely mines the fine arts for inspiration and new sales pitches. “Content,” the meaning of a work of art, is ruthlessly converted into “style,” a formal concept in advertising, which can be readily manufactured and marketed. Commercial art subverts meaning into product. No remuneration or credit is ever bestowed on visual art for this unlicensed theft of uniquely created visual objects into mass produced sales pitches.11 Controlling the appropriation of a society’s visual art creations by third parties for commercial purposes would require visual artists to copyright every artwork and police them, an unworkable and undesirable burden for artists. But the process of transferring imagery and iconography from fine arts to commercial use could be quantified and taxed. The commercial advertising industry is an annual trillion-dollar money machine in America. A 1% for Art corporate use tax on all print and media advertising could fully fund all art, drama, and music in public schools, as well as fund municipal theaters, concert halls, museums, and university art departments.

The lopsidedness of budgets between commercial art and fine art reveals that 1% public art funding, while munificent at first glance, is in fact, truly peanuts. Mediocre or not, public art suffers because there is so little of it. Artworks are scattered sparsely about a community, and rarely form the critical mass sufficient to impact the much desired quality of life of a community. What would our world be like if all commercial art were replaced by fine art? Raising the budget of public art programs by a decimal point to 10% for art would go a long way towards improving quality of life.

Administration and the Art Selection Process

The second area of failure of public art is that the entire process has been taken over by politicians, political appointees, and career bureaucrats most of whom are shockingly ignorant when it comes to art. 1% for Art means that public art expenditures have become an obligation for a municipal or state government, having been chartered by voters, state legislatures, city counselors, or county commissioners. Monies must be set aside from capital improvement bonds and spent on art. This is a new responsibility for state and local governments requiring an administrative apparatus. Public art programs in most communities are subordinated hierarchically within the municipal Planning Department or within a Cultural Affairs Department. The director of AIPP may hold an art degree, but this individual answers to the department head above, who in turn answers to the mayor whose signature is required to approve artists’ contracts.

Public art administrators become career bureaucrats, regardless of whether they have previously graced the stage or dabbled in painting. The salaries and office space provided to AIPP staff may not come out of the 1% funds, but instead are met through municipal payroll and operations budgets. The first loyalty of the staff is to the bureaucracy which provides the paychecks. AIPP staff always claim to be art boosters, but it is the rare administrator indeed who will put her neck on the block for any artist, or any art for art’s sake. Like any nested agency, much of the effort of AIPP staff goes towards self-regenerating bureaucratic tasks such as networking with the other agencies of government (who may not be the enthusiastic recipient of public art expenditures), finding new partners or new places to spend money, interfacing with redevelopment agencies, meeting with architects, choosing sites for art, writing meticulous procedures, filling out forms and budget requests, keeping records, setting up panels, holding staff meetings, writing reports, and devising strategies to avoid art controversy. Success is measured in completed public art commissions. There is an unspoken rule that staff do not critique the art.12

The hierarchy of legal responsibilities of 1% funds is: 1) acquire public art; 2) keep public records and abide by all applicable laws; 3) display the acquired art; and a very distant 4) maintain the art and the safety of the site. It is with the very first task of acquisitions that the most egregious failures of the entire enterprise reside. Given all the conditions noted above, avoiding controversy becomes the unspoken agenda of each acquisition. Censorship is automatically built into the selection process as reflected in the calls for entry and guidelines for submissions. Proposed themes for artworks (if they are set forth) tend to be pallid, non-offensive, and politically correct. Selection of the winning entry is done by committee. Often there are no educational qualifications as to who can sit on an artwork selection committee, for such juries are assembled under the political expediency of “inclusiveness.” A typical jury may be comprised of a well-intentioned member of a neighborhood association; an architect from the design firm; a representative of the municipal department to which the bond money is attached; another city departmental employee usually of a recognizable minority; a political appointee from the local arts board; a retired faculty member of a local college. At least half of all jurors have never taken any college level art history course, nor ever visited an art museum in their entire life.13 The level of education concerning the actual making of art, the history of art, the theory and practices of art, art materials, art display, and public art in general, is so abysmally low on such juries it borders the absurd. We have entrusted the selection of public art to the visually illiterate. In no other area of public expenditure, would such a degree of ignorance be tolerated. Committees tend to engage in groupthink with the overweening desire to avoid internal strife and to build consensus.14 Consensus in public art selection is the rush to mediocrity.

The Public Art Board which oversees the activities of the AIPP and approves projects and juries is equally populated by ignorance. The social theory behind the establishment of public oversight boards in a democratic society is to bring a broad range of experience into a thoughtful process of deliberation which serves to bolster public consent and legitimize government action. Many of these individuals have been recommended to their post by the mayor or city counselors as political payback. While an appointee’s motivations for public service on the Art Board may be sincere, it is truly the rare individual who takes the next time-consuming step to soberly educate herself about art.

Many AIPPs have gone to third-party clearinghouses like the non-profit Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) – with its roster of public artists, its registration procedures, and its digital image bank – to narrow the art selection process. The overall impact of this trend has been a direct slide towards formulaic solutions and the national homogenization of public art. Image banks can be useful tools, but digital images are easily enhanced. Image bank images are sales pitches orchestrated by computer savvy artists or their agents. Digital proposals appeal to the laziness of AIPP staff who spend their day in front of the computer terminal, and not in the field visiting potential sites and artists’ studios. They are also an indicator of the lack of self-confidence of a local arts board that needs to be shown what real public art is by a distant, computerized authority. Accepting this authority results in a two-tiered acquisition process for communities, whereby small commissions go to local artists while large commissions are chosen from the national pool of the image bank. Artists become contract service providers to the city, and thus the cultural expectation that art is somehow unique or special, gets submerged under the routine of bureaucratic praxis.

This acquisition model promotes the false mentality that large commissions should be prestigious, stately, and displayed in prominent public view, for that is how the art is presented ― as images photoshopped onto a Google site map, but dissociated from any neighborhood history or context. Most sculptures which fit this description are necessarily mediocre. Who believes that the viewer can have a meaningful experience with an artwork while driving past it in a car? If the objective of a public art program is to improve the local quality of life, then the preponderance of commissioned art should come from that local community. If the objective is to improve the caliber of its public art collection, then a community should invest in the artistic training of its native sons and daughters.

Public 1% for Art lacks theory. For the past third century, 1% for Art has bulldozed along, pushed by the legal mechanisms which have been set in place and the monies which keep accruing. Public art always seems to exist under a rush of deadlines, for the monies need to be spent. Programs have been set up. Monies have been allocated. Artworks have been installed. But towards what end? What is the philosophy of public art collection? The truth is there is no “theory of public art.” There are lots of beliefs about public art, lots of hope and ideological assertions which we will explore further, but no body of theory and no data to substantiate wishful claims. And there are plenty of idealistic mission statements. Every 1% for Art program has a mission statement full of lofty goals such as bringing culture to the masses, and urban enhancement to blighted communities. But no scholarship has determined whether such goals have been achieved over the past third-century, or if they are even feasible, or whether the current methods employed stand any chance of achieving such goals. Museums are built upon a body of theory regarding their mission which includes the basic concepts of acquisition, collection, conservation, documentation, storage, and exhibition. No similar body of theory exists for public art. Museums have standards of education and training for their employees. Public art programs rarely do. Museums are regularly evaluated by accreditation boards. No such oversight exists for public art programs. Political intrusions, ignorance about art and art history, lack of theory regarding art collection, display, conservation practices, and mission, inadequate maintenance programs, and low levels of education of key personnel make public art administration amateurish and not-professional. It seems irresponsible for the American public to entrust millions of dollars in public investment each year to such chronic shortcomings.

In defense of AIPP administrators, it must be acknowledged that they have been extremely dedicated to the task of putting art in the public domain. The role of AIPP administrator is not an easy one, caught in the middle between the entrenched personalities of politicians and artists, neither of which group fully appreciates the effort and skills which go into public administration. Public art is also a field which has provided opportunity for women to move into leadership roles. The dedication of the staff has built public art into the institution it now is. The legal, administrative and fiduciary requirements of public-funded public art have become business as usual at the state and local level, and for that we artists should be grateful. The funding mechanism is locked in bureaucratically, and we can move forward on the art front.

Politics

Most public art charters attach the purchase and display of an individual artwork to the bond issue from which the monies derived. It makes sense that 1% money from a bond for new library construction should purchase artwork for the new library. It is less certain where artwork should be placed for general obligation bonds funding sidewalks, asphalt, and sewer lines.15 An ambitious city mayor with a law degree background can readily redirect public art monies into pet projects. After the voters have approved a bond issue for a capital improvement, after the Art Board has deliberated and designated a project, after the AIPP has advertised a call for entries with specific guidelines, after the interested and qualified artists have mounted their proposals, after the art selection committee has reached its decision, and after the Legal Dept. has drawn up a contract with the selected artist and delivered the contract to the mayor’s desk for his signature, after all of this collective effort, the mayor can simply refuse to sign the contract. It would take a District Court order to force the mayor to sign a contract obligating the city to some course of action which the mayor in his wisdom deems unwise.

Nobody within the city’s public art machinery, not the AIPP staff, not the ART Board members, and not the selection committee, is going to buck the mayor’s executive decision. The artist too is silenced with a 10% buyout of her contract, say a $5000 design fee on a $50K commission. When the mayor has succeeded in acquiring sufficient chits through this tactic, then grandiose, big-ticket projects begin appearing at the freeway interchange. These projects are green-lighted, and everybody inside the loop is aware of their status. Half a dozen small neighborhood commissions will purchase a gaudy bauble at the new interstate overpass where 80,000 motorists a day will see it for five seconds at 70 mph. The mayor has purchased himself a campaign billboard with public monies. He has converted fine art into advertisement. He has corrupted the potential for a thoughtful, community-involved art into a shallow mediocrity.16

Beyond such local larceny, politics enters into public art through elite strategies to mold ideology. The power elite understand very clearly that a society’s self-belief is a construct that must be shaped and constantly reinforced. The role of art in such image construction is central to the maintenance of political power. This is an obvious art historical fact that has been re-learned and much utilized in modern times since Edward Bernays published his seminal work, Propaganda, in 1928. The strategy of elite art patronage in the United States which includes government funded public art, while lacking a formal, written position paper, still has an interesting history with some of the highlights worth noting. First, it has been heavily influenced to this day by the art criticism of Clement Greenberg. His 1939 essay, Avant-Garde and Kitsch, argued that German and Russian socialist working-class art was a low-brow narrative propaganda he labeled “kitsch,” while the emerging abstract art of America was pure, free from ideological constraints, and thus a superior “avant-garde” art.17 Following WWII, the US heavily promoted the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 27 states, “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” Then in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts was founded, based on the successful model of the New York State Council for the Arts established earlier by Nelson Rockefeller when he was governor. Rockefeller also enjoyed a four-decade tenure as trustee with the Museum of Modern Art including lengthy stints as treasurer and board president. By the 1980s, the social theories of Jürgen Habermas postulating the “enlightened public” as the conglomeration of individuals united by language, shared culture and rational, science-based thought appeared to validate liberal humanist belief.18 Art and culture were good for society. Modern art, modern public art, could serve as social glue uplifting the masses towards emancipation.

In fact, public art’s beneficence, its role in raising the “quality of life,” has long been its resounding raison d’être among its elite advocates. The sentiment that culture is “good” for the public, that it brings “intellectual enlightenment and spiritual edification,” is voiced again and again: “Public Art is not a style or a movement, but a compound social service based on the premise that public well-being is enhanced by the presence of large scale art works in public spaces.” 19

The belief that public art is inherently good for people is a deeply held liberal ideological truth. The upper echelon of public art administrators across America certainly embrace this sentiment, and pursue their mission with great zeal. Most 1% artists also share in this belief as do many others. It is, after all, a humane sentiment, altruistic in fact. There is nothing obviously sinister or malevolent about it. But, after three plus decades of this social experiment, the observation that most Americans are completely ambivalent at best towards public art would seem to indicate either that the presumption of good medicine is inherently false, or that the methodology and product which have been put in place simply don’t work.

Architecture

There are a great many architects who enjoy collaboration with visual artists, and there are many fine public artworks attached to public buildings. While allowing for that qualification, nevertheless, there exists a general arrogance, even animosity, within the discipline of architecture towards public art. The source of this antagonism is that architecture is still shackled to the fiscal aesthetics of architectural modernism, that is, to ascetic budgets. To the providence of its European visionary founders, the American clients of big architecture embraced the glass and steel austerity of modernism, not for its brilliant aesthetic statement as Ayn Rand would have us believe, but for the beauty of its bottom line.20 Architectural ornamentation, the sumptuous building façades and décor which could run as high as 10% of project budgets, became stylistically passé. Beyond Dubai, post-modern architecture has yet to attract clients in sufficient numbers to return to the opulent budgets of yesteryear.

Architects are taught in school that architecture is the highest art form. It is the architect who is the true Renaissance man. Monumental architecture organizes armies of skilled laborers towards monumental goals. Great architecture is pure eros, the elevation of man to god. To this end, it is the architect who directs traffic, controls the project budget, appoints the artists, creates the interior and exterior spaces for art to hang, dictates the form and style of accompanying artwork, and thus reduces the role of artist to artisan, of fine art to décor. It is additionally proposed that architectural remains mold historical consciousness. Palatial creations from all corners of the globe and across the centuries are paraded forth to validate this conceit. It is an arrogance of discipline which visual artists have tolerated for the last five thousand years.

The animosity of architects towards public art projects is therefore contextually understandable; 1% monies reside outside their construction budgets. In large-budget projects, it is the architect who must be the consummate administrator. The ineptness of art boards, art administrators, and public artists is a plague on his house. Making space for décor not of his own design is a threat. Given this situation mediocrity is preferable, for what self-respecting architect would want a challenging public artwork overshadowing his opus?  Therefore, project architects insist on serving on public art selection committees to nix any “inconvenient” artwork. Often clever architects succeed in ripping off public art monies for fancy railings, rock gardens, or architectural tile. The antagonism of architecture as a discipline towards 1% public art may never disappear, but certainly it won’t lessen until public art takes giant strides towards professionalism.

However, public art administrators should be aware that the instruction content in architecture schools is heavily dominated by such pragmatic concerns as building use, traffic flow, and client needs, and thus architecture instruction has much more in common with commercial art instruction than it does with fine art instruction. All three disciplines may use the same vocabulary regarding aesthetic concerns, but few architects are also fine artists. As a profession architects are not automatically qualified as judges of fine art and taste. Reserving a tenured chair for architecture in public art selection reflects a false presumption.

Art Criticism

The next major problem with public art is the deeper systemic quandary that faces all the visual arts, namely the collapse of formal art criticism. Art criticism over the last three decades has lamentably abdicated its varied roles as explainer, vitriolic commentator, and sea anchor. It has abandoned content for hyperbole. Contemporary art criticism, as represented by its elite corps, has voluntarily reduced its role to the production of “good sentences,” a truly absurd and useless ambition.21 The role of art criticism is to serve art. Visual art today is in dire need of a highly charged polemical criticism to struggle against, a journalism to engage in mortal combat, a compinche to help flee the doldrums of endless pluralism, a visionary to chart artistic directions into the new century, a maestro to energize the next generation of artists. The world faces horrendous challenges. Why is contemporary art criticism so feckless?

Having swiped that deserved tar brush at formal art criticism, we can acknowledge that there are excellent political critiques of public art from the 1980s and 1990s when controversies surrounding public art were commonplace and the National Endowment for the Arts reeled under attack by philistines. It came as a shock to the elite art establishment to discover that large segments of the American populace are complacently low-brow and feel ridiculed by modern abstract art which they consider to be a private joke at their expense. A decisive battleground of this cultural war surrounded the experiment of Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc in lower Manhattan’s Federal Plaza.22 What had been the abstract and esoteric concept of “cancellation” explored by such artists as Tom Barrow in scratched out photographs and Dennis Oppenheim in plowed X’s across cornfields, became a very real imposition on the lives of government employees in the adjacent federal courts and office buildings. Their lunchtime amenity of the plaza and fountain was suddenly cut in half by Serra’s cancellation wall. Without announcement, their lives and daily labors were diminished by artistic gesture. Artists should understand that you cannot throw the finger at your audience without incurring resentment.

The subsequent headline controversies involving Robert Mapplethorpe’s homo-erotic photographs, Andre Serrano’s Piss Christ, plus numerous local brouhahas surrounding public art, had a cumulative dampening effect on the selection process and the caliber of public art commissions. Reactionary political grandstanding to get government out of the art patronage business brought forward institutional self-censorship within the AIPPs. Avoiding controversy became an unspoken bureaucratic agenda as fewer artists, art scholars and art supporters volunteered to become scapegoats for right-wing hate radio. From these controversies important political discussions did arise. One area concerned artists’ rights, copyright, and contract law, but more far-ranging concerns emerged from the feminist critique of art unleashed in 1971 by Linda Nochlin’s remarkable question, “Why Have There Been No Famous Women Artists?” Within this context, the comparable question arose, “who is the ‘public’ in public art?” Malcolm Miles argued that the monolithic public for public art was a false construction, instead there exists a “diversity of specific publics.”23 Rosalyn Deutsche proposed that public art amounted to “colonization of the public space” as it was promoted by agents of redevelopment.24

Formal and aesthetic critiques of public artworks have been shockingly absent. This is problematic, for most public artworks fail to attract viewer interest and thus slide into mediocrity not because they are inherently bad art, but rather because they just don’t function psychologically as art objects should when they are placed outdoors in the built environment. Public art fails most significantly from poor placement in the public space. To put it more bluntly, public art in the United States suffers from absolutely abominable feng shui. The question of how public space, especially outdoor public space, should be constructed to activate contemporary public art has not been explored. This is a formal problem, and an area ripe for art criticism.

Artist Education and Training

The parallel art patronage structures of fine art and commercial art extend into the training of artists. Most young visual art students who wish to make a living making art, end up at design colleges making commercial art. The formal instruction is the same, but the content instruction is radically different.25 Design students spend their emotional energy learning to satisfy the needs of their client. This training shackles creativity, but a high percentage of design school graduates become artisans following mid-level careers into advertising, film, fashion, interior design, or similar creative fields. Fine arts students attend university and state college art programs where they are indulged in kindergarten settings to explore their creative potential within specific rules. More than half of these students stop making art after they graduate from college since they weren’t in art school to become artists anyway, but unknowingly there to self-explore personal issues through art therapy. The curiosity of this dual educational structure is that design students become inhibited through their training, but land professional art jobs. Fine art students find their day job elsewhere as they never learn how to make a living as artists. Of course we all know artists from both educational tracks who are the exceptions to this characterization. They are the few who validate the general rule.

Regardless of the educational track, the bottom line is that artists commissioned to build public art drastically need to improve their craft, and must be held accountable for shoddy workmanship. Looking across art history, thirty years does not seem like a long time for a public work of art to endure. However, modern materials do not have the longevity of traditional materials, especially when artists neglect to read the mixing instructions on the box. In my seven years as a public art conservator I saw welds fail, masonry crumble, hi-fire glaze spall, and fiberglass ooze uncured resin. It was my experience that all outdoor artworks need annual routine inspection, cleaning and maintenance. About 25% of outdoor artworks will need more extensive repairs within five years of completion. 5% will need to be completely rebuilt. During my tenure two fountains were decommissioned due to poor hydraulic engineering and material failure. Interior sculptures do not fare a great deal better. Many university-trained artists, especially sculptors, have slovenly craft. Under such conditions, thirty years is a long time to keep public artwork alive. Constant maintenance is a major cost of doing public art business.

Art instruction has evolved over time from apprenticeship and indenture, to guilds and the academy, to the university and design colleges. Perhaps once again the training of artists needs to find a new path that borrows from the strengths of earlier institutions. With its lock on a solid funding source, public art could provide the vehicle for a new artist training model. Certainly, the education of public artists needs to emphasize higher skill levels, better understanding and handling of materials, a vastly evolved body of formal design theory for outdoor art display, and a lively socio-political critique of its mission.

New Directions

The menu of shortcomings of 1% for Public Art is long and frustrating, but neither individually nor collectively do they outweigh its potential as a novel art patronage structure. Many remedies suggest themselves now that the problems have been aired. Clearly, the education and training of AIPP staff and art selection juries can be greatly improved. That improvement alone would lend vigor towards the constructive resolution of the other hurdles of public art― improving the feng shui of public art sites, bringing a rapprochement with architecture, elevating the skill levels of public art artists and reinventing their role, limiting the role of bureaucracy, completely rethinking jury selection, and addressing the sorry ambivalence of the general public or the several diverse publics towards public art.

Most people understand that artworks are special and precious objects crafted one at a time by hand. Artworks only work in a very personal and very private one-on-one experiential relationship with the viewer. All artworks, but great artworks in particular, have an aura about them that is inexplicably magical and mystical. What non-artists typically do not understand about art is that this magic extends out from the object only a short distance. When the personal distance is breached, the artwork fades. Step back too far from a museum painting and its qualities dissolve. What is true of paintings in museums, where lighting and framing and the viewing context are highly controlled, is even more pronounced of sculpture in the outdoors, where viewing context is not controlled and the visual background noise is constantly blaring. A sculpture may look stunning in a photograph silhouetted against a blue sky, but in the naked flesh under that same dome of blue sky, it is instantly diminished. No sculpture can establish its magical presence in competition with the enormous void of the sky. Sculptures work when they are in a context with architecture or landscape or the natural environment where they can be approached intimately and where they visually dominate and activate the space surrounding them.26 Visually dramatic objects have to be proportional in scale to their surround environment. The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the world’s most beautifully created objects because its tension, color, and monumental scale fit the dramatic bottleneck formed at the convergence of land, sky, ocean, and bay. The vast majority of 1% outdoor sculptures in the United States are sucked dry by the overwhelming volume of space surrounding them. The mistaken mission to make these sculptures as public as possible by placing them on street corners to maximize their visibility, has been a death knell for the art. That same object placed in an architectural alcove or within a secluded arbor could become transformative. We really need to reexamine what it means for an artwork to be “public,” for over and over again, the more visible we have made the object, the more we have diminished its quality. The display of outdoor public sculpture needs a comprehensive design overhaul. Instead of spreading individual sculptures sparsely around, we should be clustering them in thoughtfully created and proportional settings. Only then will we reclaim our current inventory of public art from mediocrity.

Many of the political supporters, administrators, and artists involved in the public art enterprise want it to be more than the mere decor of our urban environment. The feminist critique of Modern Art as elitist, detached, and without a socially relevant narrative has profoundly influenced the direction of Post-Modern Art as it holds out a mirror for social reflection. Nonetheless, we need to be cognizant of the historical roles of art, and we need to be realistic in assigning it new goals. Public art is not a quick fix for urban blight. Top down public art will not entice private investment nor foster community pride. Nor can art heal deep societal wounds arising from poverty, injustice, and racial prejudice. Art may be part of a broader strategy for addressing these social ills, but this medicinal role for public art represents a return to ancient hunting magic, and it deserves a great deal more thoughtfulness.

One place to start is to revisit the legislation establishing the public art program of your community. In most instances, it will be legally possible for city and state governments to fulfill their oversight and fiduciary roles with a very different-looking administrative presence. While the Art Board needs to remain to preserve public oversight, the art selection process can be totally revamped based on a “several publics model.” For example, when artwork is placed in a new public building such as a county courthouse, the first audience, those most impacted by this artwork, will be the employees of this building who have to live and work with the art on a daily basis. If we believe that art is uplifting and somehow beneficial to our lives, a humanist concept most people are willing to accept, then the 1% for Art taxpayer subsidy is a job perk for these employees. Why not put the administrative effort of public art into educating these public employees about art history, art materials, art costs, art collecting, conservation, and connoisseurship. Then place the responsibility of art selection upon them. What would be more democratic? And the results could hardly be worse than the present jury selection system. Because the court employees are directly involved in the selection process, they become knowledgeable and empowered, and they will experience ownership and a sense of pride for their “art collection.” When the new motor vehicles office is completed the following year, its employees will become competitors trying to outdo the courthouse with their new art collection! Architects who resent current public art methods may find it more satisfying to incorporate gallery lighting, alcoves and plinths to best display their building’s future art collection (especially if they later have to present the building’s exhibition possibilities to the employees). Competition in art collecting is a well-established tradition among art museums and private collectors as auction records attest. Introducing competition into public art collection would make the entire venture a whole lot more popular and comprehensible to the various publics. When cities sponsor teams of artists to compete against artist teams of other cities, then all new sources of funding will miraculously appear. Out of competitive public art collecting will come real public ownership and civic pride.27

A “several publics model” might also provide for neighborhoods to receive block grants for public art. Local artists, churches, non-profit organizations, neighborhood associations, merchant associations, or community centers could apply. Residency or instructional stipulations could require artists to work with school children or seniors in the design process. At-risk teenagers could be trained and employed. Such block grants might be designed around the long-term training of young community-based artists, with established artists as mentors and educators. Over time, neighborhoods would develop distinctive artistic expressions, materials and styles, while parks and public spaces become dedicated to each neighborhood’s art. In this model, public pride in public art and public education about art is built up from the grass roots level over time through hands-on strategies, not by the placement of esoteric gestures or shiny hood ornaments on a plaza.

The concept of a homogeneous public, or one that can be molded into conformity by a manipulative art is the modality of advertising. A billion McDonald hamburgers sold each year is proof that conformity can indeed be force fed, but is this the model we want for public art in America? When fine art pursues this track it descends immediately into mediocrity as we have seen. Forging a monolithic national identity is better served by other institutions. Let’s leave this turf to commercial art and significantly tax it. Building widespread public support for public art in an increasingly diverse national population would better be achieved by allowing communities to develop and grow their own local art. It may become the kitsch Greenberg despised, but it would also become collectable and it would greatly increase public support.

Notes

1. Barbara Grygutis’ Cruisin’ San Mateo sculpture consists of a 1954 Chevrolet sedan atop an 18′ tapered and arched plinth. The automobile and the pedestal are covered with handmade tile. Brian Goggin’s sculpture, Samson, envelops two structural support columns in the baggage claim area with well-used luggage cars overflowing to the ceiling with unclaimed luggage.

2. In the Chinese art tradition, the title of “master” has two components. The easier part is the attainment of technical mastery of the discipline such as stone carving for Lei Yixin. The second part resides in the character of the artist – with concepts we might call in the West, “centeredness,” “vision,” or “connection to one’s muse.”

3. “We demand that our comrades, both those who give leadership in the literary field and those who write, be guided by that without which the Soviet order cannot live, i.e., by politics, so that our youth may be brought up not in a devil-may-care, nonideological sprit, but in a vigorous and revolutionary spirit.” Andrei Zhdanov rose through the party ranks to become Chairman of the Supreme Soviet of Russia in 1938. He was the Soviet Union’s de facto Minister of Culture and author of the Zhdanov Doctrine, a program directing artists to serve the ideological goals of the state. These principles are spelled out in his collection of essays, Literature, Philosophy, and Music, New York: International Publishers, 1950.

4. Helen Lessick, “The Glory and the Dream of Public Art,” in Public Art by the Book, Barbara Goldstein, ed., Seattle : University of Washington Press, 2005, 87.

5. Philadelphia is generally credited as the place of invention of the 1% for Art financing strategy in the late 1950s. The concept lay dormant for two decades until Seattle picked up the ball in the late 1970s.

6. The Federal Art Project, the visual arts division of the WPA (Works Progress Administration), operated from August 29, 1935 until June 30, 1943.

7. Duncan Stroick concisely summarizes the abrupt stylistic change of the Catholic Cathedral through the rapid adoption of Architectural Modernism following Vatican II. “The Roots of Modernist Church Architecture” Adoremus Bulletin, online ed. Vol. III, No. 7: October 1997, www.adoremus.org/1097-Stroick

8. 1% for Art represented a shift in public art funding for visual art from federal patronage to state and local patronage. The federal government still funds visual art through the National Endowment for the Arts, and various other federal agencies such as the General Services Administration’s Art in Architecture program, and the State Department’s Art in Embassies program.

9. Not all bond-funded public works projects are eligible. Public schools, county jails, and maintenance yards are usually excluded.

10. Joseph Alsop, best known as a conservative syndicated columnist, wrote extensively on art patronage, art collecting, and the difference between the two. Regarding collections, he offers this definition: “To collect is to gather objects belonging to a particular category the collector happens to fancy, as magpies fancy things that are shiny, and a collection is what has been gathered.” The Rare Art Traditions, New York: Harper & Row, 1982, 70.

11. For many years, Fox TV2 in Albuquerque used Barbara Grygutis’ monumental sculpture, Cruising San Mateo (see note 1) as the image behind its Station ID, without remuneration or acknowledgment to the artist.

12. Barbara Goldstein’s recent text, Public Art by the Book (note 4), is a step-by-step primer on how to do public art based on her research and personal experience from a long career as a public art administrator. The administrative structure, the procedures, the laws, the funding, the public and private partnerships, the artist selection, the flow charts, etc. are all spelled out in clear detail. This is a very rational textbook explaining a top heavy public process. Curiously missing from it, however, are any guidelines for critical evaluation of the resulting products – whether as successful art objects, or in regard to any practical, recreational, or spiritual use value of this entire enterprise to some public and what that might be.

13. This is an accurate description of an art selection panel in Albuquerque which my associate and I presented to in July, 2009. In Sacramento, on the first day of my Intro to Art History class in January 2010, a show of hands of students ranging in age from 18-50 indicated that out of 38 students, only twelve had visited an art museum in their life.

14. Aside from the building architect, members of the art selection jury have little or no vested interested in the art that they choose for a site. A more pressing and immediate concern for the jury is to avoid outbursts and confrontation in the decision-making process. Selection juries fear discord within the group and desire consensus because it is safe and falsely presumes collective wisdom. Due to their ignorance about art, juries will avoid controversies regarding iconography or taste, so as not to be called upon to defend their choice. If a juror expresses opposition, uncertainty or outright dislike for a particular proposal, that negative opinion will cause the jury as a group to move away from that artwork. The resulting selection by the jury is not the best artwork, but the artwork least objectionable to all its members.

15. In many municipalities and states, infrastructure and road upgrades are not allowable for 1% for Art funding.

16. This occurred in Albuquerque, which has one of the oldest and most prestigious 1% for Art Programs in the country. In a mayoral candidates’ forum for the art community in September 2009, incumbent Mayor Martin Chavez stated, “I like to take small amounts of money and put them together so we can buy something really nice.”

17. Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch.” Partisan Review 6:5 (1939), 34-49.

18. Habermas’s thesis emphasizes human rationality as the effect of language communication. Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, Volume I: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, Boston: Beacon Press, 1985.

19. Erika Doss, Spirit Poles and Flying Pigs: Public Art and Cultural Democracy in American Communities, Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995, 50.

20. Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe understood that the novelty of glass and steel skyscrapers was sweetened by their budget which included far fewer items, i.e. a greatly reduced number of discrete manufactured objects necessary to complete a large structure, and therefore shorter construction schedules. Walter Gropius, while at the Bauhaus and later at Harvard, championed the “unity of arts” which promoted modular manufacture and off-site prefabrication.

21. Many artists have long felt that art criticism abandoned ship for hyperbole. Finally, here is an art critic with the courage to agree. James Elkins, What Happened To Art Criticism?, Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003.

22. The Tilted Arc controversy has generated a lot of print. For a good summary of the issues and history see, Public Art and Public Controversy; the Tilted Arc on Trial, New York: American Council for the Arts/ABC Books, 1987.

23. Malcolm Miles, Art, Space, and the City; Public Art and Urban Futures, London: Routledge, 1997, 84.

24. Rosalyn Duetsche, “Uneven Development: Public Art in New York City” in Out of Site, D. Ghirardo, ed., Seattle: Bay Press, 1991, 167-68.

25. In art instruction, “form” or “formal properties” refer to all the material qualities of the art object. All that physically exists that the viewer can actually see and touch such as the paint, the canvas, the brush strokes, the frame, the colors, the compositional structure, the image, the shadow, the line, the display environment, etc. “Content” refers to all the non-material qualities of the artwork such as the subject matter, its meaning, the mood, the significance of visual icons, the ownership history of the painting, the social milieu of the artist, the emotional response of the viewer, etc.

26. Almost two centuries have passed, but John Ruskin’s discussion of the formal properties of art, architecture, architectural styles and embellishment from the 1840s is still the best and most eloquent. The Stones of Venice, ed. J.G. Links, New York: Da Capo Press, 1960.

27. Pitting artists one against another in design competitions for 1% for Art commissions has not worked because the top-down jury selection process established by the administrators is hopelessly wrong-headed. But there are many other ways to set up competitive processes in visual arts that would be popular and would stimulate artists to produce their best work.

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