Should the public vote on art?

An op-ed in today’s Denver Post is titled Deciding on Christo.

The article outlines, briefly, the debate surrounding a proposed Christo/Jeanne-Claude work titled Over the River, which would be installed along the Arkansas River between Canon City and Salida here in Colorado.

The author writes:

And if the "Over the River" opponents win, this area might get just as much traffic and congestion as people flock to see "the place that turned Christo down." But either way, it ought to be a decision made by the public, not by a federal agency.

I understand his point on one hand. I’m all for democracy. And Christo/Jeanne-Claude installations engage much more of the public space than almost all other artists combined. However, the mere thought of letting the public make major decisions about art makes me shiver.

Hot topic!

Update: Rachel Hawthorn commented below:

At the same time – I would shiver at the idea of a federal agency making decisions about art as well – I think that the public should have a voice in public art (which is essentially what Christo and Jeanne-Claude make, regardless of their funding). The BLM isn't an art agency, their only input should be on the environmental impact statement.

She's absolutely right! I just picked out that one part of the argument, but there is the other side as well. If the public doesn't decide, the BLM decides.

What other options would there be?

Of course, this is the fascinating thing about the art of C/JC. It involves so many people, organizations, entities.

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9 thoughts on “Should the public vote on art?”

  1. Great post, thanks for linking to the op-ed. But this quote of yours: “However, the mere thought of letting the public make major decisions about art makes me shiver.” At the same time – I would shiver at the idea of a federal agency making decisions about art as well – I think that the public should have a voice in public art (which is essentially what Christo and Jeanne-Claude make, regardless of their funding). The BLM isn’t an art agency, their only input should be on the environmental impact statement. FWIW, I’m totally in support of the project. 🙂

  2. I have an interview on my site with public artist, Doug Kornfeld, about the commisioning of public art from the artist’s perspective. It seems to be different in different places but clearly great public art requires a refined and bold initiative, a subject that needs more public discussion, for sure. So thanks for bringing this up! And I’m with Rachel—interested in seeing what Christo and Jeanne-Claude might do.

  3. I didn’t get Chrito’s Gates project initially, but finally came to see the value in getting folks to enjoy their environment more, sometimes just by changing it for a while. AFter seeing how lovely the river looks in their proposal drawings, I think it would be amazing to have the chance to drift under such a canopy and thereafter appreciate the river even more for it’s absence.

  4. I don’t think either approach — either the public or the agency voting — is a perfect solution. Great public art usually seems to happen in spite of the tastes of the people involved, rather than because of it!

  5. Art is art, not chopped liver. If the public wants input let them see it not anticipate what it might be. I would be thrilled that 60 percent or more didn’t like my work…hurray for the 40 percent that does. Let it be!

  6. I would not be in favor of the public deciding about Public art by referendum. Cumbersome, expensive process, and every one has the right to vote whether they are informed on the issues or not. Engaging the public imagination, informing, and debating is great. The goal being awareness and involvement. Christo installations are temporary, so let the experience happen. Public complaint made something as solid as Serra’s Tilted Arc in the Federal Plaza of NYC a temporary installation too. Is it still stacked up in the warehouse after its removal? I am glad I got to see it. I loved that sculpture.

  7. Alyson B. Stanfield

    Dan: I like “in spite of” public taste. How true. I don’t think there is a perfect solution, as so many municipalities have discovered (along with the NEA). Carla: I didn’t even think about the cost involved in holding an election. Surely someone could be more creative than that by using the Internet to poll people? “Only those who show up get a shot at it!”

  8. In our local area, there is a public art program that determines what artist is funded to produce art for local public spaces…just as in many other communities. The program is generally staffed by people with some type of artistic background and is overseen by a commission of people with arts backgrounds. On more than one occasion, I’ve been distressed about some of the art that has been made and placed in our public spaces. The program attributes this to differences in people’s sensitivities/tastes. That aside, I don’t question the quality, for the most part, of the work that has been funded/produced. If a program is in business to fund and display public art, then the decision of what art is installed should be up to that program (which has nothing to do with how the public will receive the ‘art’). However, if that is not an agency’s primary purpose, I question the appropriateness of the agency’s authority to fund/manage an art project that will be installed for public consumption. Basically, its a ‘coin toss’. Whomever manages the project, is going to make the decision about the artist/art. Is it appropriate for one person, who may not have artistic expertise, making a decision of what art is or should be for the masses (because you know that is the likely way the media will portray it especially if critics are displeased with the result)? I have nothing against Christo/Jean Claude. However, a big name in the art world doesn’t guarantee a quality project. Also, if one agency does this, it sets a precedent for others that are likely to follow suit. On the other hand, having the public make a decision about art seems like an ‘American Idol’ concept applied to the art world. I think the comments about the cost of having the public make such a decision is a good one. If you take that one step further, we already see a voting public in which decisions are typically made by the minority (those that show up to vote). I wouldn’t expect this type of apathy to change, even if the public were given the chance to vote on art. Demographically, things are continually changing…so art preferences by the public would also. What would this mean for the quality of the art selected, if the public were doing the selecting? Just some random opinions and thoughts…

  9. I saw, and knew people who worked on, the Running Fence. It was only up a short time – six weeks, if I remember correctly? – and the naysayers were converted. It was exquisitely beautiful – especially at certain times of the day when it became a ribbon of light – and it called attention to the beauty of the land in a way that would have been inconcievable without seeing it. It changed the way people saw the land. Involving people in the process in one way or another is a good thing – but allowance should be made, in the case of Christo and Jean-Claude’s work, for the conversion experience. Let the river be crossed! And take joy in it!

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