Wednesday, November 16, 2005

What Is Art, Anyway?

"The fact that no one understands you doesn't make you an artist" - anonymous.

Art and culture have been a foundation for Sarasota going back at least to the days of the writer's "colony" that thrived here in the 40's. The "art of the circus" or the "art of the deal " predate this however.

Alfred Eisenstaedt snapped this iconic photograph at the end of World War II.

This photograph is immediately recognized around the world and brings exhilaration to all those who see it.

Now this image has been transformed into a towering sculpture currently on our bay front. It is immediately recognizable although it still startles us because of its size.

Apparently the transformation of an iconic image (maybe a work of art itself) into a monumental sculpture makes it a work of art for sure. After all, it is included in our International Exhibition of Monumental Works of Art (formerly known as the Season of Sculpture).

Since we have a firm grasp on "what is art", we will turn our attention to the current controversy over the Hospice idea of having a "clown art" exhibition/fundraiser in Sarasota. Modeled after the famous cow exhibit in Chicago a few years ago, Sarasota would have fiberglass clown figures painted by local artists ..... well you know the rest of the story.

Alas, this ignited a local controversy that is apparently in all the state newspapers. At least somebody is laughing.

This leads us to another idea. Why not take another iconic photo and turn it into a giant sculpture?

I'm thinking about Emmett Kelly's Weary Willy character.

This could work on a number of levels. Of course everyone immediately recognizes Emmett Kelly's most famous character. And what better image than a clown to recall Sarasota's long relationship with the circus. (We give full credit to Hospice for this idea.)

This particular image would also conjure up images of the homeless we have right here in Sarasota - the best art does have a cutting edge you know. And finally, the sad face might even make some people think about the recent major changes in Sarasota's landscape. Growth that seems out of control, the transformation from a town to a city, the "working class" being priced out of a home in town, an extra long bout of red tide. It's enough to make anyone sad.

Now think of a huge Emmett Kelly sculpture completely filling the new green grass space next to the Sarasota One building where everyone driving into Sarasota would see it. This would make quite a statement. Gulfstream and 41 would never be the same.

This would be art for sure.


Anonymous said...

Ken Shelin and Public Art
What's Ken Shelin's problem? It seems to me that he has taken a pretty rigid stand on this. Is he trying to show that he's a populist, not an elitist, adopting some sort of muddied position? If so, his thinking shows a lack of depth, unfortunately buying into 'the lowest common denominator' view of art. I hope I'm wrong, but the quotes attributed to him in the articles about Public Art don't show me much 'gray' - only the usual politically expedient black or white.

Anonymous said...

What about Sarasota and Clown Art?
To my knowledge, no-one is challenging the role of clowns - there have been fools and jesters and clowns throughout history - just their validity as public art. It's like the polyester craze of the 70's, before the novelty wore off and reasonable people went back to the real thing: cotton and wool and natural fibers. These plastic 'clones' (not clowns) are just another example of a craze gone berserk. The slickness of the argument for them, of course, is their combination with fund-raising for a worthy cause. This type of 'motherhood and apple pie' has always been a PR device, and - frankly - this argument is weary and doesn't change the inherently empty argument that this is art.

Anonymous said...

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but art lives in the minds of mankind. How does one define it? Don’t bother cause, Art just is. An object or statement that occupies space or time as society reacts to it and defines it in its own terms. The definition is in constant evolution. …or not?
Case in point the giant nurse and sailor statue on the Bay Front, which I refuse to call a sculpture because it does not fall within my definition of art. It is a shame that the organizers of the Season of Sculpture choose to include that piece. It has been getting all of the attention of an escapee from the Macys Day parade, which is what it looks like. Unfortunatly this monstrosity has been over shadowing the real sculpture in the show by drawing all the attention away in a sideshow manner. I am wondering where the popcorn is?
Secondly if I were a WWII veteran or if I were the author of the photograph I would be highly insulted. I have always considered that photograph one of the most profound icons in our cultural literacy and to have it translated into a grotesque gigantic cartoon sideshow, shame shame. That photograph, the meaning, the context, and the moment have always amazed me. The way in which the two people in this photograph that we all know to be strangers grasped the highest moment of universal joy in a simple kiss. A kiss, which became a mythological symbol of victory.
Ok, now I feel better. Moving on to the real reason I am posting this comment. Please, please, please, don’t forget to look at the rest of the SOS show on the Bay front. While there are a few other questionable items lurking in there, I feel there are several exceptional pieces of sculpture, which are wonderful. Some of the best pieces being made by a couple of our local sculptures. I do have a favorite sculpture which I hope will find a home here in Sarasota, in fact I am keeping my eye out for just the right spot. I think this years SOS show is far better than the last show minus the escaped balloon. I look forward to the next SOS show where I hope the organizers will stay on task and maintain a standard of fine monumental sculpture of the highest regard. Keep us on the high ground as it is only self-defeating to present the lowest common denominator just to make a splash.
Virginia Hoffman, Artist

Anonymous said...

It’s worse than I thought … not only does this Artist make a sideshow out of a icon image by a master photographer, he circumvented the creator of the origional image to exploit it for his own benefit and he’s proud of it too. Is Sarasota going to honor this type of ethic? I don’t get it ! See quote from Herald Tribune article Showpiece sculpture has that 'wow!' factor

More recently, when Johnson was denied reproduction rights to the famous Alfred Eisenstadt photograph that commemorated the intimate celebration of nurse and sailor in Times Square on V-J Day in 1945, Johnson pored through photographic images in the Library of Congress until he found an amateur snapshot of the same kiss and created his work from that, chuckling then and still at being able to circumvent the will of those who would "keep art for themselves."

mj said...

Good Lord! I've never seen jealousy such as what has been whipped up among the "artists" (ha...and I use that term loosely) of Sarasota over this sculpture. Unfortunately for them, most of the public likes it, including the veterans, who would like to raise the money for a permanant installation.

Maybe as a musician I'm a little more of a "free-thinker" and can't quite subscribe to some of these artists narrow-minded ideas of what really constitutes "art."