Sunday, December 20, 2009

"Shattered Expressions" are now public emotions.

Big Brother is alive and well and staring down at us from 5th and Cleveland in Canton. Public art is one of those things that I often wonder if the public was consulted as to whether they wanted something in their space in the first place. A new piece of public art has gone up in our local arts district. Called “Shattered Expressions”, it is made up of 3 over-sized (ten feet or so) foam rubber faces. Painted in a semi mosaic geometric pattern, each face depicts an emotion, joy, rage and sorrow. Hmmmm.........2 out of three are rather depressing. In a city where times are tough and the arts are struggling to remain alive, why put giant negative imagery on our streets to stare down and remind us of the sorrow of unemployment and our rage over the bad news seen and heard every day?

Was any consideration given to the fact that the giant screaming face is going to scare the bejesus out of children who are the next generation of art patrons? Many kids can’t even approach Santa Clause let alone look up at a 10 foot tall foam face full of rage. The artist says we can’t experience one emotion without the others. True, but there are other emotions to choose from that could have made the piece a bit more inviting. Joy is one of the three. How about joy and laughter or joy and surprise? Even a mischievous grin or a smirk of inquisition would be okay too. I just don’t understand why artists are so fascinated with negative imagery. If my office window overlooked this piece, I’d have to move. It would freak me out every day. I believe that we have full control over our emotions starting with our attitude and with the things that surround us. This installation reminds me of an old Twilight Zone episode where a family puts on masks of horrible distortion and when the masks are removed, their faces have conformed to the masks’ hideousness for all eternity. I guess we are now stuck with these expressions of emotion for all eternity too.

Personally, I would want my arts district to be a place of positive energy, fun and creativity. Public art is a great idea; it makes people more aware of their visual world and spices up some boring brick walls. My issue is that the public should have some say in the art chosen if it is called “public art”. The supporters have said it will “raise eyebrows”, “spark a little controversy”, and “give context to the arts district”, you can count on that. I just don’t know if it will result in the desired outcome of raising arts awareness and support for the arts themselves or leave people wondering why they give money to the arts only to be screamed at. The GP should well wonder what the heck were these people thinking. Rather than saying “come on down and be a part of art”, I see Jacob Marley on the door or the gates of the Emerald City with giant scary faces saying “go away, we are guardians of this domain”.

Survivors of domestic violence have seen that screaming face far too often, children of troubled homes feel that sorrow deep inside, and the joy seems forced. I know my reaction to this piece is not going to sit well, but I can’t lie and say I like it. I don’t. Bravo to donating space and supporting the arts, but please think about the far reaching messages of such a permanent thing in our little community. The counter argument/reaction is going to be that the arts and artists need to acknowledge all emotions, have a right and a duty to express themselves, and we(as artists) need to be honest about life in general. All true and all valid observations, now consider the marketability of the work as a representation of our town. How does it look on a brochure mailed out to other cities? Maybe “laughter” was not a chosen emotion for that very reason.


  1. Oddly enough, I felt the exact same way upon seeing these faces in person this morning. It wasn't rage, sorrow or joy, more like boredom. This is the kind of "art" that gives artists a bad rap. I know 30 artists who would have done a far superior job, had they been given ANY chance to create a piece for that very visual space. Same old song & dance in this town I call my the same old dog ALL the bones.

    1. "Shattered Expressions"
      Every time I saw this huge bare wall I was turned on, I wanted it so bad. I wanted to create something big, bold and simple. Something that could be ingested in the time it would take to drive by.
      I had a professor that I greatly respected that instilled in me that the purpose of true art is to provoke and / or convey emotion. Michelangelo's David would make a great hat rack, but it's not. It was created to see and feel. One simple objective. Having this in my mind, I started looking at the faces around me and thought that the human facial expression exists for the same reasons. To let you know how I feel or to make others feel. This is it's sole function. So maybe (based on this theory) we are surrounded by true art on a daily basis. Maybe the next time someone is screaming at you you will be able to see the beauty in it.