The Changing Definiton of Art
The word “art” seems to have undergone a total redefinition in the past century. Where great oil canvases bearing careful recreations of reality were once hung in museums, now are shelves, holding a glass of water, claiming to be an oak tree. While the greats are still revered, many artists are leaving behind the traditional forms of expression. Art stretches far beyond the canvas, and into scrap metal, spray-paint, photographs and cloth. The key tenants of art have changed; beauty and the ability to copy what you see are not necessarily even relevant when discussing contemporary art.
The general public recognizes a larger range of works as art: fashion and pottery are no longer just a craft, but a finessed art form. Even the oldfashioned gallery is forgone for the larger audiences reached via the Internet or even the streets. These changes offer incredible variety: anything can be done with anything. Any medium can be explored, any format of expression used.
This change is still too young to have been titled a proper movement, but already its history is impressive. Of course homage must be paid to Duchamp, the artist crazy enough to claim a urinal could be art, simply because he said so. By his side came George Ohr, who gleefully proclaimed himself to be a “mad potter” and produced pots so wild they didn’t sell. Picasso, Matisse, and hundreds more, these are the artists who challenged the idea that art must be pretty, that one must be able to replicate reality to be considered talented. They are joined by hundreds of talented artists throughout the century who completely redefined what it means to make art.
From the streets of London to the Commons in Ithaca, the changing concept of art and its relationship with the public is explored in this issue. Sincerely,
Elyse Hornstein Editor, Writer, Designer, Photographer, and Creator
Above: George Ohr, the Mad Potter of Biloxi, poses next to the signs on his shop, which say “Get a souvenir before the potter dies or gets a reputation.”
When I first walked into Shoreditch, it was raining, and I couldn’t find the gallery my class was supposed to meet at. I thought the area to be of questionable reputation, as it seemed half the buildings were crumbling down while the other half were still in the process of construction.
London Street Art
At first I didn’t notice the art. My eyes glanced over it, assuming it to be graffiti, or decaying posters, or trash. I was more intent on my feet. And then my professor dragged the class down the road, and pointed out a simple mural of two little boys. And suddenly the streets of Shoreditch were no longer filled with trash, but with art. Street art is the lovechild of a starving artist and a kid with a can of spray paint. The resulting creature creates works of art which portray a meaning deeper than “this is my territory” yet do not depend on critics and other artistic authorities to validate them. The street artist simply places their art in a public place, with or without permission, and prays someone takes notice. My first real experience with street art was in London. Sure in New York one can see dancing subway sculptures, but in certain London neighborhoods more art than brick shows. It wouldn’t seem the optimal theatre, as the British skies drip eternally, and many of the buildings are in need of repair. But there is something beautiful about the haphazard sprawl of old and somewhat crumbling buildings. There are so many corners in London, each ready to be filled with art.
It’s a tough world out on the streets. New work covers up the old, regardless of quality. It’s a war of sorts, a battle to be noticed and to be taken for more than just graffiti. Street art’s presentation is vastly different than that found in galleries. There are no little plaques to interpret the art, no hostess to tell the people passing by what it means. The artist has a millisecond of a chance to gain catch their audience’s attention. They take a chance, that their art might not be noticed, might even be mistaken for trash. Despite the cutthroat conditions, several artists have made this knot of streets and alleys their canvas. A community has developed on these streets, some known only by monikers like Stik or Invader. As the scene has grown, these artists have developed identities, and of course profits. Now some artists are even commissioned, such as the piece-in-progress below by Jo Peel. When I first toured Shoreditch I had a professor to guide me, giving me the names of the pieces, and telling me about the few artists who’ve made a name for themselves. Despite her expertise, she knew the details of only one in ten at the most. When I returned to Shoreditch, I had no guide and merely wandered. There were some pieces I hoped to find again, corners where art has collected.
Above: A stop-motion video of Jo Peel painting her mural “Things Change” on the side of the London Underground. This collection of photos came from my classmates, Rosie Brand, Becca McCarthy, Becca Guldner, and my sister, kasha hornstein. Thank you girls for having a better camera than me. The artist of many of these pieces are unknown as they do not always sign their works with anything more than a stylized set of initials. The cat to the right, the dog above, and the children far right are all unsigned. The large blue picture in center is sign “FOPZ.” The woman’s face to the right is signed with this signia:
This is when I discovered the one boon to street art that no gallery can meet: searching out street art is like a scavenger hunt. There is no better feeling than finally spotting that hidden Invader after walking up and down the street three times. By Elyse Hornstein
Art in the Heart of Ithaca
By Elyse Hornstein
As the Ithaca Commons fills with shoppers, some might notice something missing. The collection of statues that was scattered around the shopping district is gone. But these streets will not be bare for long; come next summer a new collection will replace them. This is the Art in the Heart of the City program, an initiative the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) started 13 years ago. “The main purpose for Art in the Heart is not necessarily to build this huge permanent collection it’s really to showcase, on a rotating basis, lots of different types of art,” says Gary Ferguson, head of the DIA. The main benefit of the program is that the art continually changes. Every year the residents of Ithaca are shown an eclectic mix of statues. This year alone the pieces varied from a realistic blue heron, by James Seaman, to an abstract set of cubes, by Bob Turan. “The community gets to see a lot of different types of art. Sometimes they love them, and sometimes they hate them,” says Ferguson, “When someone calls me and says ‘I think that’s the ugliest piece I’ve ever seen, how could you possibly put that there?’ I say, ‘Don’t worry in December it will be gone, and something else will be there in its place.’” Since its implementation the DIA has installed roughly fifteen pieces a year, selected from a wide variety of submissions. Sometimes there is a theme, such as global community, but most years the committee chooses the pieces they think the public will like the best. There is one criterion that every sculpture must meet; each statue must weather nearly six months outdoors.
Right: Tropical Encounter Glenn Zweygardt 2012 Commons exhibit metal
Above: Spirit of the Trees Barron Naegel 2012 Commons exhibit clay
According to artist James Seaman, “It’s gotta be bomb proof. If you’re gonna put something in downtown Ithaca you gotta be ready” This includes weather, small children, curious passersby, and of course, a few inebriated college students. The statues are touched, frozen, even climbed on occasion, and so they must be strong; stone, ceramic, and steel are the general mediums of choice. If a work is damaged, it’s a problem for the artist. The statues are not bought, but on loan from their creators. They receive a small stipend to install the work, but the pieces are, in essence, borrowed. This is good for the city. Public art is a draw to tourists, and this ever-changing show can bring them back again and again. There are few places the public gets to see such a wide range to art without having to buy a ticket. Ferguson says it’s a “very cost effective way of putting art in front of the public.”
The artists are not completely philanthropic. The art is for sale, and downtown Ithaca serves as an outdoor gallery. Putting the statues on display gains the artists publicity and, in some cases, ends up selling the sculpture. Ferguson says they “sell modestly- I wish they sold more. We might average one sale a year.” Private collectors make most purchases, and take the scultputes away to wherever those fortunate keep their art. In some cases the public makes an attempt to save pieces that make an impression. In 2005 a citizen group started a campaign to keep the Pony; that metal horse proudly displayed at the entrance to the commons. In rare cases the city itself will buy pieces as well, such as James Seaman’s Turtle sculpture, which now resides in the small green space behind the Green Street bus stop. Unfortunately the sales figures are a bit low. Seaman argues this is simply because there is little advertising. “No one knows the art is for sale,” says Seaman. If one can get their hands on the small brochure the DIA publishes, they do mention prices, but there is no label on the statue itself. This program is not so common that people would assume these pieces are for sale. Many pause to look at them while shopping, but pass them by in favor of thing they know they can purchase. This is a small flaw, one that will hopefully be corrected in years to come. Despite low sales figures, the Art in the Heart of the City program still benefits the Ithaca and its residents, and is well worth continuing. Although the artists reclaim their masterpieces this month, the Commons will not be bare for long. Come next summer there will be a new collection, bringing a fresh look to downtown Ithaca. Left: Heron By James Seaman Part of the 2012 show Steel Right: Businessman in Touch with Nature Cherry Rahn On permanent display outside M&T Bank Bronze
A Madman, with a
Mustache, and some Mud
From Left: George Orh models his mustache, Vase, Bowl,Vase, Pitcher, Vase, Teapot
Anyone who’s thrown on a wheel had that perfect pot collapse on them, wrinkle and tear into a glob that vaguely resembles a cup; most want to cry, others shout profanities at the glop, but a few look at the twisted shape and see art. This is the vision of George E. Ohr, The Mad Potter of Biloxi. Stepping off the train in Biloxi, Mississippi, travelers could see what seemed to be a novelty shop, advertised “The Mad Potter, come see the Art-pottery. Get a Biloxi Souvenir, Before the Potter Dies, or Gets a Reputation.” Inside folks found something far different from the factory-made functional pieces turn-of-the-century Americans they were used to. Purposely deformed and wildly colored things covered the shelves. Orh purported these mutated ceramics to be art. It’s no wonder the Victorians, rapidly approaching the Industrial Revolution, and in awe of machinery and the perfection man can reach, thought him mad. And he did everything he could to encourage this reputation. In 1901, Ohr told reporters, “I have a notion . . . that I am a mistake.” The public struggled to understand his art. His work was praised for being colorful: in turn the man told reporters “Colors and Quality—counts nothing in my creations. God, put no color or quality in souls.” The shapes he made were far from functional. Ohr created vases with holes, handles one could barely grip, and rims that no one could pour from. It’s hard to say exactly what Ohr meant to express through his work; if he had a message or if he simply desired to create a form. In fact the only thing the man seemed to want to share with the world was his eccentricity. At the ripe old age of 53 the Mad Potter decided it was time to retire. He’d hit his creative peak and hadn’t sold a pot in years. So he fell back on his inheritance and dedicated his later years to perfecting the art of eccentricity. He channeled his creative skills into coaxing his amicable mustache into a work of art. Before retiring Ohr uttered a highly prophetic statement: “I am making pots for art’s sake, God’s sake, the future generations, and for my own satisfaction...but when I am gone my work will be prized, honored, and cherished. It will come.” Ohr was right. His style is embraced by many modern artists, so much so that today his work seems almost generic. The colors are common, the abstract shapes familiar. Although his work’s lost its shock value, it’s no less interesting today than in 1900. Mostly because Ohr was one of the first to change the definition of art.
Just as with color, names obviously had nothing do with with Orh’s work.
Published on May 5, 2013