Public Art

I much appreciated an interesting and informative training day last week, run by Creative Dorset and led by urban designer Mark Luck – relating to a forthcoming public art project. In the field of public art, artists need particular knowledge and understanding, plus a whole range of management skills, not required in other a endeavours. So it was good to clarify my understanding, catch up on recent developments, and generally gain a much clearer idea of current practice in relationship to the built environment.

 I was delighted to see the way things appear to be going. There   are many historical and cultural reasons that have led to our  feeling separate from our buildings and public spaces, and current  developments in public art are shifting the balance towards a  more integrated and democratic approach.

public sculpture, Lowesoft (Photo: Lowestoft public sculpture. Would you like to see something like this in your home town?)

Mark covered a wide range of topics relating to planning, building conservation and public art. What I learnt, and what struck me as particularly interesting, was that artists are being brought in at an early stage in building development, rather than as so often in the past, having their work tacked on as an afterthought. Artworks can be integrated into the building design right from the beginning. Further, there is now real involvement with local people. Artists running community workshops and events help to generate ideas, clarify aspirations and identify what is special about a locality.  

Artists can also do much to get people thinking in a different way, forestall areas of conflict, and record and support the whole process of transformation. In short, artists can have an extremely valuable part to play in urban development. 

There is still a long way to go – but this sort of activity certainly contributes to harmony, can change the whole character of a place for the better, and restore a lost symbiotic relationship with our built surroundings. 

This move towards a more meaningful public art that is more integrated with life as it is actually lived has parallels with longstanding practices in contemporary art – particularly environmental or ecoart, and community and participatory practices. We all know we live in a fragmented and confusing society, and many of us have a desperate need to feel grounded, more integrated with our surroundings and with each other. Art in all its manifestations plays a crucial role towards encouraging this sense of belonging, responsibility and being at home in the world.  

The Meeting Place However, all this is only a very small part of some very  commendable trends. I hope they continue to grow – then we may see less of what Antony Gormley describes as ‘crap’ on our streets.  The Independent – Art and Architecture , 6 March.

Is he right? He raises once again those fraught issues of quality and ownership, and what is, or what isn’t ‘good art’. Whose place and whose public art is it anyway! And what is wrong with our art education, if our towns are getting filled with ‘crap’ art? Read Gormley’s article and the many strong comments disagreeing with him on The Independent – Art and Architecture , 6 March.   

(Or would you prefer something like this? The Meeting Place, St Pancras Station, London. ) 

(Or this? Manchester, ‘b of bang’)b of bang

For Britain’s current Gormley-inspired obsession with huge works of   public sculpture, see Jonathan Jones’ article on  The Guardian , Arts, 18 Feb

And finally, for a good read about all aspects of public art, see the superb site: .

About throughstones

I am primarily a visual artist, living on the North Devon coast, a beautiful semi-rural area in South West England. I am interested in full engagement with 'place' and the eternal movement of life - particularly as it relates to what we call 'the natural environment'.
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