• Twitter
  • Facebook
News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

What is (public) art?

When you think about public art, do you prefer the statue of Mad Anthony Wayne on a horse at Freimann Square or the Helmholz sculpture at the Performing Arts Center? Or perhaps you'd like something in between those two extremes -- the mastodons, for example, sort of representational, sort of not, a lot of whimsy. Your thoughts are requested:

Arts United of Greater Fort Wayne is hosting a discussion Wednesday night so the public can articulate its vision for where the arts fit in downtown's landscape.

“I think the possibilities are endless, we have so much talent here in the greater Fort Wayne area,” said Courtney Wagner, corporate and major gifts officer for Arts United.

[ . . .]

Organizers of Wednesday's meeting plan to talk about creating a cultural district along Barr Street, an idea long discussed during the past decade but never implemented. The city's downtown revitalization plan indicates the move makes sense because the Museum of Art and Performing Arts Center are in the area.

Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, using games as an example, came up with an influential idea called "family resemblance" to explain why some things cannot be fully and completey defined, even though we instinctively know that they are; the best we can do is say they resemble each other, like members of a family:

How, he asks, would one go about giving a definition of "game"? He argued that there is nothing that is common to all games, but rather that games held certain similarities and relations with each other. He admonished his reader not to think, but to look, at the vast range of things that we call games. Some games involve winning and losing, but not all; some are entertaining, but not all; some require skill or luck, but not all.

Wittgenstein's idea has been used to discuss a lot of concepts, including art. Some art is beautiful, some is not; some is representational, some not; some is thought-provoking, some not, and on and on. There is not a single characteristic we can name that is common to all art. So we are free to come up with our own definitions and say what it is or isn't. To me, art has to examine or at least acknowledge the human condition for it to be taken seriously. I wouldn't go so far as Ayn Rand, who believed that one could objectively say what art is and who said art "is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist's metaphysical value-judgments." But I like art to at least be about more than itself.

But perhaps our definitions should be a little looser when it comes to what is being called "public" art, meant to spruce up a city more than to make a museum-goer say, "Hmmmn." Of course, even by that standard, Helmholz doesn't quite do it for me.

Posted in: Our town


Bob G.
Wed, 03/21/2007 - 7:23am

I'd much prefer a statue of a typical taxpayer with his pockets turned out...about 20 feet high RIGHT in front of City Hall myself...

THAT would be (public) art, and as we know art DOES imitate life.


Steve Towsley
Wed, 03/21/2007 - 2:29pm

Having let my laugh at B.G.'s joke subside, I have another thought on the topic.

I play piano, so let me pose an example in terms of music, as follows:

What is (public) art (vs. craft, vs. just fun activity)?

I like many kinds of music from classical to what's on the popular radio dial to modern jazz.

I know that it's the very rare rendition of "Chopsticks" on the family piano or Casio or organ that most reasonable people would claim rises to the level of art. That's entertainment.

I think the mastodons make the cut, but that experiment is probably near artistic crush depth, as the submariners say.