Public art?

Posted 03.17.15

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | With Pontiac's reputation for having so many artists and such a vibrant community of artists, why is there so little public art around us?

No one will pay for its creation, is the easiest answer. That's why we don't have monuments or monumental buildings -- cathedrals, for example -- but it doesn't explain why there is so little smaller public art: murals, mainly, but progressive public buildings, parks and gardens, beaches, public forests -- locales for public art which in other regions attracts visitors and tourists and helps create a positive, happy, and productive population.

The great murals of the world attract thousands of tourists, and, for those in Mexico City, for example, visitors come from Europe, Asia, the US, and our own cities. Look at the guest books. These murals deserve their notoriety -- they are beautiful, awe inspiring, stimulating.

They were not expensive to create, given the conditions of the times. The painters were paid 'plumber's wages,' according to the Mexican artists, but they were paid enough to cover their costs and to hire the assistants they needed. The artists benefited by selling their working sketches, usually bound and auctioned, and in commissioned works, the result of art lovers seeing the abilities and imagination of the artists up on the great walls. The muralists went on to great careers, based on the public acclaim (or notoriety) they won from their murals.

In exchange for funding this public art, the governments, businesses, and taxpayers created a huge draw for tourists and retirees.

Before anyone points to the few murals already around the region, many on empty walls and over parking lots, it is crucial to note that successful murals are works of art: not only well-executed, but done with imagination and creativity and -- here it is -- vision.

More murals depicting old cars on an old Main Street will hardly draw a pedestrian's eyes, let along bring in tourists. More clichés from the log drives and the felling of Pontiac's great forests will remain clichés, and attract no one.

The successful public art is very well done and carefully designed, they challenge conventional views of history, even of geography. The Mexican muralists gained world renown not by repeating grade-school history images but by challenging our view of the coming of the Europeans and the despoliation that caused.

There are enough New Age murals of flowers and blinding light, too, or conventional views of the big shots of our history (without. of course, their warts and obvious vices). Tourists can see this stuff in their own hometowns and schools.

Imagine a movement of public-artists committed to re-visiting our past, re-viewing our founders and leaders -- all in dramatic, beautiful and instructive pubic art. The inevitable controversy will attract even more visitors.

Imagine art showing what First Nations people did to help Europeans survive here, rather than the other way around.

Imagine public art celebrating the miles of old growth forest, drinkable rivers, waters full of fish, and forests with their wildlife -- not to ignore the hardships and the poverty then, but all designed to, first, and finally, tell the truth about our history and second to show us something of the great social and economic forces at work which created our nation, for better or worse. Something that really reflects us!

That would put Pontiac in the news and would bring visitors. We can do this. It could help create a wiser population, too, and that couldn't be a bad thing either, would it?


Copyright © 2015 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/03.15