Why public art is the perfect stress relief for 2019.


Politicians are dirty.

The media is all fake news.

Policemen are aggressive.

Climate scientists are liars.

The Clintons are conspiring to destroy the GOP.

Stressful, right?

Between Facebook propagating pizzagate and a president who advocates “alternative facts. Americans are left with a lot of dissecting to do, on top of everything else.

This is why, at the end of the day, we need to keep art public – so it can inspire people to do these things, and to act and think for themselves.

Yet, we have no choice but to continue navigating these 21st century politics (which, of course, were messy enough before the post-apocalyptic election-that-shall-not-be-named). In this environment, we have to work harder than ever to exercise our freedoms—or even just to keep our heads on straight. So, while countless other avenues toward political activism await you, I encourage you—instead of sending that one last angry tweet—to practice self-care. Take some time for yourself to rest your mind. No one can save the world from Donald Trump while salty, depressed, and exhausted.

So, let me recommend one avenue of relaxation: art. Despite a changing social and political climate, art remains a constant in representing the public psyche often in new and controversial ways. For example, Kara Walker’s silhouettes and sculpture have been the center of debates as to the representation of black women in modern art. Claes Oldenburg, in rendering everyday items larger-than-life, makes commentaries on war and consumerism. Art educates, sparks conversations, and makes us think.

However, if you’re just not feeling a museum visit or your lunch break is ungodly brief, you’ve still got options—here are five reasons why public art is the perfect way to take time for yourself before we enter yet another year of tumultuous American politics.

First, let me provide some definitions. Public art incorporates a wide range of works—anything from the Saint Louis Arch, to Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) in Chicago, to Keith Haring’s “Crack is Wack” in New York City. Technically, it is government-advocated artwork that is positioned (legally!) in a public venue and created by or with the help of professional artists. Private investors, federal organizations, and nonprofits support public art as a way of engaging the community, and from the sphinxes of the Egyptian pharaohs to federally funded New Deal initiatives, public art has proven itself to be a crux of societies. For our purposes, however, public art can be defined a bit more loosely—for example, graffiti.

1. What do a four-story-tall clothespin in Philadelphia and the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington D.C. have in common? Public location. Because public art is not within an institution – which, remember, we despise—it’s easy to access and free of the white, hospital-esque galleries. For what it’s worth, just getting away from a screen and into some fresh air can do wonders for the brain.

2. It doesn’t have to be time consuming. You can find a piece of public art on your walk to work, in a local park, or in a subway, and view it for just a minute or for an entire day.

3. You choose how much to take away from your experience. One of the best things about public art is that you get to decide how much your twitter-fried brain is up for. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the mood to psychoanalyze the art. The context of a piece often contributes to our interpretation, which changes the nature of our experiences; with public art, you decide on whatever meaning you like and go on with your day. No pressure!

4. On top of this, let me present some numbers that may encourage you to choose to spend your down time around public art:

  • $25 to enter the Museum of Modern Art
  • $20 for the Philadelphia Museum of Art
  • $60 for a massage
  • $0 to see a work of public art

5. No stress about spending your hard-earned cash. Since there is no price tag on public art, your access is no different than an art collector’s.

One of the best things about public art is that you get to decide how much your twitter-fried brain is up for.

Lastly, it’s a feel-good experience. You can enjoy public art with the knowledge that it helps to create conversation and sense of identity in communities. In other words, supporting public art is also supporting those around you. Art tells stories of events, locations, and peoples that are often overlooked. The creation of the works themselves unites Americans across backgrounds and pushes them to collaborate creatively, and the result brings color and positivity to its environment. Who knows? Maybe you will strike up a conversation with a friendly stranger.

Of course, I recognize pondering public art is not the most direct way to exercise your political freedoms, or the most conventional way to relax. So please, once you have adequately decompressed, take that energy and use it to support organizations near to your home. Write your politicians. Fact-check fake news. Demonstrate. Vote. Write. This is why, at the end of the day, we need to keep art public—so it can inspire people to do these things, and to act and think for themselves.

And to just take a load off.

(Photo: Maria Murad)

Posted by:Grace Leahy

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