Why is twentieth century public art more acceptable than in less recent history and how has its role changed? In todays society the theme of public art across the world has adapted, changed and evolved throughout different societies and cultures than in recent history. It has become more acceptable and the judgment towards it is much more diverse. This may be because governments and societies of today are now listening to public opinions which allows them to get an incite on how things such as public art effects their society around them. In this essay I will be discussing and evaluating how modern day public art is more acceptable in todays world than it was in recent history and how its meaning and role has changed. By the title of this essay I will be evaluating past and modern influences behind public art and the initial responses behind public art itself. I will be researching different artists such as Banksy, Alfred Gilbert, Anthony Gormley and researching into their individual public monuments. Public art can be graffiti, statues, public painting, buskers, different forms of advertising etc. Anything that has expressed a theme of creativity publicly can be labeled as ‘public art’. Art to me is a form of expression. Expressions can be expressed in different ways by different people but the response it gets may be completely different. Graffiti may be art to the artist but a crime to the public. So the question is, is Graffiti art or crime? Is the public work of Banksy graffiti or more than that? Is there need for expressive advertising through the use of public art just to get a message across? Has public art had an effect on certain societies in both good and bad ways? I’m also going to look at the question of whether design such as posters and advertising are forms of public art.
An example of a type of public art that may not have been acceptable in recent history is the work of graffiti artist and painter ‘Banksy’. Banksy is a street artist, graffiti artist, political activist, film director and painter. So in a general term you could classify his works and himself as ‘art’. His street art pieces are made up of a combination of ‘dark humor’ done with graffiti and stenciling techniques. The definition of ‘graffiti’ is “Writings or drawings scribbles, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.” From this example of one of Bansky’s work, yes it does fit into the category of “graffiti” but what may not have made it acceptable in less recent history is the fact that the message being conveyed would not have come first when seeing these types of paintings on a public wall. It would have looked nothing more than a drawing on a wall for any purpose with an aim to deface nice streets with ‘scribble’. In past history a way to express yourself through an art form had traditional conduct. If you wanted to paint it would be done with most probably acrylics on a canvas board representing the modern day, biblical context or Greek Gods. Expression of art such as spray paint on a public wall wasn’t considered art it would have been considered as vandalism, a crime and strongly frowned upon. In todays society, the work of Banksy could be considered as vandalism but not so much frowned upon because of the message behind his work and for the fact that it is formally presented. I believe the expressionism of art has expanded, grown and modern society has grown with it to accept and appreciate it. Another example of public art is the work of Alfred Gilbert. Alfred Gilbert was an English sculptor and goldsmith. He was born on the 12 th August 1854 and died 4th November 1934. So his art work and movement was presented and displayed in the early 1900’s late 1800’s. The views, art movement and role of public art would have been much different to today’s views, movement and roles. Sculptures such as ‘The figure of Antheros’ in Piccadilly Circus, ‘The Queen Alexander Memorial’ situated opposite St Jame’s Palace and ‘The Angel of Christian Charity’ which is also in Piccadilly Circus are all marvelous examples of the work of Gilbert. With different people you will get different responses and opinions such as: “This statue is always very popular with the tourists , you can pass by at any time and there are people standing around taking pictures or sitting on the steps . It isn't one of the most beautiful statues you will ever see but it is a real " postcard " landmark .”
When the statue was sculpted it was made in a time a great religious and mythical tradition and obviously holds religious connotation behind it. Being sculpted in 1892, it was represented as the Greek God of Love – Eros. The angel and bow representing the typical figure of love ‘cupid’. As society and time changes the culture of mythical and religious became, in a way, less and less relevant to society. So the meaning of this statue has become less relevant in society aswel. As the review mentioned, ‘it’s a real postcard landmark’ so is that what this great public monument has turned into? It’s become nothing short but a nice picture for a postcard. If the meaning of art didn’t hold a solid message to convey from the period it’s born to the rest of its life then it will eventually lose its significance. In today’s society monuments such as The figure of Antheros is now good for things such as tourist attractions and a landmark statement to let people know that they are in Piccadilly Circus, which wasn’t the original purpose behind this monument. It’s not that this monument is no longer acceptable in modern society but it’s now become no longer relevant. An average person may stop to acknowledge its beauty but may not care to think about its significance because it’s simply no longer relevant anymore. If we begin to think about what and who our society are made up of such as different race, cultures, beliefs, religions and common stereotypes compared to what it was like in modern history we can defiantly agree that a lot of changes have been made and society has evolved. We change and evolve without knowing. Technology, social media, what’s new and what’s old changes all the time. The question is did artists of all mediums consider possible changes in the society they presented their artwork to when producing it? Things like technology, for example, seems to be getting more and more advanced every day and it’s becoming hard to keep up but it’s so easy to say that change is powerfully active and it’s only going to keep progressing for as long as time is still in existence. Art in a general note can now take into consideration the aspect of change in our society and produce an art work, whether it is (sculptures, paintings, monuments, music) and make its significance still relevant amongst society’s changes. Pieces of art that will always convey a message that needs to be remembered through time not just a representation of the nation’s tradition. In modern history change wasn’t so common. Tradition was always in place and society seemed the same for most of their life. In today’s society we can understand that there’s no longer a set tradition or a way of life. It’s becoming much more diverse depending on the public amongst us. The public is made up of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Blacks, Caucasians, Asians and Hispanics. We have lesbian and gay communities (which before was highly frowned upon). We have females running for managers, becoming owners of companies, prime minister and presidents. There are no longer the set families of ‘Father, Mother and children’ a lot of single parents have to do both roles which wasn’t common in past history. Crimes and Offences are being more frowned upon and more laws and rights have been put into place. Children are now being recognized as ‘the face of tomorrow’ as they are the ones who are going to continue and develop the things of today. Society and the morals, conduct and way of thinking have completely changed. There are going to be some forms of artwork that are more understood in today’s society than in modern history. With that they are more acceptable than they would have been in the past. If we were too take some of todays art that has been accepted back in time to the late 1800’s or so,
there is a high chance that it would just not fit into their way of life, their way of doing things or their tradition. A good example of public art is the famous monument ‘Angle of the North’ in Gateshead sculpted by Anthony Gormley. The sculptor himself said the purpose of the angel is, “People are always asking why an angel? The only response I can give is that no-one has ever seen one and we need to keep imagining them. The angel has three functions - firstly a historic one to remind us that below this site coal miners worked in the dark for two hundred years, secondly to grasp hold of the future expressing our transition from the industrial to the information age, and lastly to be a focus for our hopes and fears.” This is message the sculptor had behind this monument but in the public eye there were so many different responses such as “I think it is probably the emptiest, most inflated, most vulgar of his (Antony Gormley’s) works… Gateshead is a self-inflicted wound. Bomb it, then you will change it. It is an awful place… most of the North is awful…” Brian Sewell, Art Critic for the London Evening Standard. “It is big, bold and beautiful. My guts were gouged about and stirred with inspiration” - Lucinda Lambton. Those are different views to this statue displaying different people will have different views but what makes it acceptable? Is it the figure or the meaning or even both? I believe it’s both. It’s the message a person conveys and how they convey that message. Society collectively will always have the good and bad views on a piece of public art but if culturally it’s frowned on it may not be acceptable. The Angel of The North is a contempory sculpture, which is located in Gateshead in Tyne and Wear, England. It is twenty metres tall and fifty-four metres long. Initially, Gormly created this sculpture to represent a sense of ‘embrace’. The concept of the sculpture was for three main reasons. The first was to represent that under the site of its construction, coal miners worked for two centuries and so it has historical significance also. Secondly, to grasp the transition from an industrial to information age and the third was to serve as a focus for the publics evolving hopes and fears. Gormley described how he felt that the Angel of the North could be a signifigant link between Earth and sky. Angel of The North was a purposeful sculpture designed to symbolize important moments within history and for the future. It’s a cultural monument for the area it is located in. Gormly has said: “The hill top site is important and has the feeling of being a megalithic mound. When you think of the mining that was done underneath the site, there is a poetic resonance. Men worked beneath the surface in the dark. Now in the light, there is a celebration and visibility of this
industry”. In relation to the previous quote made by the artist himself, one could be lead to believe that the public artwork could be to represent and celebrate those who worked in the mines. This figure of public art is an example of many other public monuments that hold historical significance behind it but those amongst the public eye may not always acknowledge it’s historical context. I believe that the Angel of The North has a relevant purpose which make’s it acceptable. The purpose of the sculpture may be interpreted in different ways as different people from different backgrounds and beliefs would have different opinions. Stephen Lamb writes: “The Angel if the North is to serve as a welcoming figure to travellers entering Tyneside”. His opinion states that the monument is a symbol of greeting for outsides who are visiting or coming to the area. An American multi-media artist Tony Tasset is the visionary and designer of the public art piece ‘The eye’. The Eye was created in 2007, placed in Laumeier Sculpture Park in Sunset Hill, Missouri and is 452 inches in circumference. The sculpture has been modeled after Tasset’s own eye. The ‘never blinking, constantly cautious piece watches over Laumeier day and night’ expressing a sense of obscure security in the environment. Tasset believes that the piece of art addresses: “how we engage and perceive each other whilst concurrently perceiving a prophetic, yet omniscient, presence”. This previous statement expresses his sculpture’s meaning and reason. It gives a sense of spirituality, that one may accept this monument in honor of their religion or faith. In modern society, more and more communities are embracing, accepting and respecting different ways of life and beliefs. From the sixteenth to the early twentieth century, societies and communities were not as diverse as they are today. There were set ways of life, set traditions and most people held the same belief. Tassets sculpture ‘The Eye’ would not have been acceptable in later history than it is today from the perspective that it represents one’s belief. The fact that The Eye is not specified by the artist of what faith or belief he has built the sculpture on may purposely be a way to represent all beliefs and religions as they all are different but all believe that they are being watched over. It may be Tassets way of combing all religions and spiritualists in one for a sense of unity. It embraces different cultures and communities but in one, hence the reason why it is accepted in today’s society. American reported, Kavi Gupta reviews Tassets work as: “playful, often pop-influenced and sometimes downright weird”. Guptas opinion on Tassets expresses his view but not necessarily an impression of disapproval towards the eye. Individuals will have their reasons for approval and disapproval for Tassets public art but collectively it has been accepted within society.
Conclusively, public art will always receive different responses as the world society changes and evolves every day. Different cultures and societies that make up the world we live in are being recognized and different ways of life are being accepted. Public art will always remain constant as art is revolutionary itâ€™s the public that has to accept it. The movement of public art is being more considered as people explore different ways of expression. Its role has changed from unacceptable monuments too acceptable performances of oneâ€™s expression. Public art will always have its disapprovals but as the world evolves, public art becomes normality and becomes more and more accepted than before. I believe the concept of public art could link into my work as I to portray revolutionary art. I will link ideas and themes that fit in with world changes and what is socially acceptable in todayâ€™s society within my work. `