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Thursday, October 22, 2015

How One Piece of Public Art Can Destroy the Artist

In the past few years there has been a lot of public criticism over a statue of Lucille Ball done in bronze in her home town. I must admit that the poor statue is hideous. Recently the city decided it was time to put evil Lucy away and replace her with a newer version by a new artist. 

One of the things I found interesting about the controversy was how hard it was to even find out the original artists name. It was almost like the city sought to bury or remove the artists very mention. Upon a bit of research I did eventually find his name and took a look at his website. I found his work to actually be very well executed. 
It really got me thinking about how one piece of public art can really harm and even destroy an artists reputation. We have no control over this except to be discerning about our own work. I am not sure if I had been that artist if I would have been blinded to the fact that the statue looked absolutely nothing like Lucille Ball. Or if it was a matter of pride? Face it, as artists we can get rather prideful and defensive of our own work. We forget to step back and take a good long hard look at it from the viewers eyes. 

I noticed on the artists site that all mention of the Lucy statue had been removed. While there were many mentions of public works he'd created, there was a noticeable silence regarding that one work. 

I honestly feel very bad for him. I felt the same way about the court room sketch artist a few months back who drew Quarterback Tom Brady when he was in court and got so much hideous feedback over it. Courtroom drawing must be a hellish profession. Everything you do must be done quickly and basically from memory of what you just saw. There is no room to put the artistic flourishes on any given piece being drawn. 

In the case of both these artists my heart rests with them and I feel their pain in a very personal way. But this is not always the case. Take the artistic restoration work of the woman who attempted to restore a fresco in Borja, Spain. This was the saddest most pitiful pieces of restoration work ever created and I find it hard to have any sympathy for the artist who did the work. 

I doubt the woman will ever work again her chosen field of art and she, like Lucy's creator may very well be banished to the dustbin of artistic history.

But public art is a touchy thing. When we paint a painting, we know that a select few will see it and judge it and eventually we hope it will hang in someones home. In the scheme of things its seen by very few and judged by even fewer. 

Public art on the other hand is out there for the world to see in perpetuity. Once we release it to the public it there for all to judge. If we don't step back and look at it closely we risk destroying our reputation and our love for what we do. 

Most important though is that we destroy our own confidence in what we do. And that above all is the worst thing that can happen to any artist. Once our confidence is ripped apart it is a long hard battle to regain it and to regain the public confidence in what we do. 

The funny thing is though that both Lucy and the Fresco have seen a mad rush of tourists to view the works despite their poor renderings. This says a few things to me. It says that people like mistakes. Perhaps its because we can look at the mistake and claim we would never have done something so hideous. Perhaps its because we are drawn to disasters. Its in our natures. 

It also says to me that the old adage of any publicity being good publicity is true in a rather strange way. These artists will be memorialized for their bad work. We all strive for popularity in what we do, so maybe in the end it will work out well for these artists. 

I think there are ways these artists could turn things around. In the case of Lucy's sculptor I think rather than wiping it from his portfolio that it should instead be used as a teaching tool. I'd love for him to open up about his feelings prior to the unveiling and after. There is a lot there he could teach another artist. Make a big deal about it. Bring Lucy home to studio and I almost guarantee someone will want to buy her just for the history surrounding her. Take advantage of the bad press and turn it into good press. 

But we must be forever diligent that not everything we create will be liked or gain us positive feedback. And artists who work with public art must be prepared for things like this to happen and be ready to react to it in a positive manner. Most important though, DO NOT let it destroy you. Once piece of art is not the whole of who you are. Let the body of your work speak for you, not one piece.


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