Wherever humans live, there is design: industrial, graphic, fashion. There’s also plenty of craft, the care people take with their work and making. But art is scarce by comparison. We sort of have to work a little to find it.
We’ve become experts at taking music with us wherever we go. We’ve got music players on us and lots of them fill hours of the day with personal soundtracks. Photography, and the cameras on our phones to create it, is an example of a type of visual art that most people in urban—and plenty of rural—centers have with them at all times, too. But both of those mostly exist where they originate: in our pockets.
It’s unusual to see someone carrying painting tools everywhere. Some artists carry pencils and pens and sketchbooks. A few of them work on them in public. But still, it’s rare to see art around, just wherever. Design, by its nature, is in and on buildings, signs, equipment, and vehicles.
Just for fun, imagine how it’d look to have half as much art on view and displayed as there are logos and advertisements. Art is special, but we probably should make more effort to spread it around, and open up new venues to see it. We’d have less rarity, but plenty more expression. Who knows? Maybe our outlook would change to live among it all.
Opposite the elevators in my apartment building on every floor is a glass tile mural. The colors and pattern are different on every floor. I’ve been wanting to check out the differences, and today I decided to take a photo of all of them, so I walked floor-to-floor by the stairs as a kind of micro-pilgrimage.
It’s thrilling to see such a variety of colors and sequencing, and I wish I knew who designed/installed them because a lot of care and thought clearly went into the choices.
This sort of public art is an endearing kind. Something meant for just those who live next to it, but available to curious others and visitors. It’s abstract contemporary stuff, sure, but it’s also got some of the cultural connection most murals have.
I’ve been looking at and thinking about the work of Candy Chang, an urban planner and artist based in New Orleans who does a lot of work in collaboration with the public—much of it literally out in public view—and some directly about anxiety. Moving brings up all kinds of fears and feelings of anxiety, so I’m a bit attuned to it these days.
The art world is weird. Big exhibitions like Art Basel can get even weirder, but I try to find the public works every year, the big stuff and the things tucked into corners, away from the main sales bustle. These are often funny, evocative, striking works, including performances, and I wish we did this everywhere, putting creative expression amidst commercial and residential mass production and sameness.
Road trip redux! This time it’s to scout neighborhoods for a move to the Pacific Northwest. Plenty of birdsong abounds.
One of the coolest things about being here in Portland is seeing how much they value their public art. It’s full of the same lively whimsy that abounds in the rest of the city, and right now—with spring regularly misting the streets with rain—trees and grass are greening up in contrast to the manufactured environment.
The newest addition to the rail lines brought public poetry to the transit system, which is a rare thing, indeed. It’s a series of one line poems solicited of the citizenry and selected by blind jury.
Right next to the poem above is a sculpture made of rails, bent into shapes reminiscent of a transit map. It’s completely exposed, yet bears no scratches, scuffs, or marks to mar the beautifully textured rust of its surface. Such a thing denotes respect for art, and I’m touched that thousands of people passing by care for their public work in this way.
Public art is ours. Not to do with as we individually wish, but to appreciate, support, and tend for future versions of us. In the best of circumstances, it inspires and uplifts and becomes part of who we are.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.