Shattered Expressions? How About Comedy and Tragedy?

Shattered Expressions Public Art by Tommy Morgan

Canton is all abuzz about its latest piece of public art.

With little fanfare, “Shattered Expressions” by artist Tommy Morgan was installed on the side of a building at Cleveland Avenue and Fifth Street NW in the heart of the Canton Arts District on December 16.

This piece has been anticipated for quite a long time. Those of us intimately involved in the arts district learned of it’s plans about this time last year. Many of us wondered if it would ever be completed.

Now that it is completed and installed, it seems that there is a wealth of opinions about it.

If you check out the Canton Repository’s story and scroll down to the comments, you will find what would be typical of any city’s public commentary on a non-traditional piece of public art. Some reject any kind of “modern art”; some see it as an opportunity to take potshots at the city government; and some see it as a positive sign for Canton.

I am actually surprised at the number of positive and supportive comments on the Rep page. By and large, the general public seems to embrace the notion of public art as a means of bringing downtown back alive, even if they are not thrilled with the content of the artwork itself.

The more interesting comments come from those within the arts district proper. The responses are both comic and tragic.

Local arts bloggers and acccomplished artists Tom Wachunas and Judi Krew seem to echo the sentiments of most artists with whom I have discussed the piece.

They don’t like it.

They are more eloquent in their stating it, but that is the gist of it.

I do not know if it is a personal dislike of the artist, jealousy, or what, but most artists in Canton are quite upset about “Shattered Expressions”. Mortified is more the word for it. Honestly, I think their outrage is a bit rich.

I will be straight up honest that I am not a big fan of this artist and his work. I think that there are some legitimate questions to be asked about the cost of the work in relation to other public artworks in Canton. That said, I think that we could all use a bit of lightening up about it.

As much as I hate to admit it, I think it works on that building, which was an incredible eyesore before, but now is kind of intriguing.

Mr. Morgan would like us to believe that there is some deep profound expression of emotion in his work:

“I am trying to capture all the essential emotions of joy and rage and sorrow. As human beings, we cannot have one of these emotions without having all the others.”

I am not sure that I would go there. To me, the piece is reminiscent of the ancient Greek comedy and tragedy paradox with an extra face thrown in. It is not all that profound or unique. Just a clever new twist on an old theme.

But it is interesting, and it does liven up the building. It gets people talking, and it is something that people will drive to downtown to visit and discuss.

Lets not kid ourselves, folks.

Canton has a fabulous arts district that is truly amazing in its quality and importance of artists and artworks. We have a museum that brought in a huge show this year that received worldwide praise, and we have innovative galleries and studios producing very vanguard stuff.

The amazing “Gaia’s Hope” by Canton Artist Joseph Close could easily rise above many public artworks worldwide in its artistry and importance.

But we are not New York. We cannot assume that everything that goes up on a building is going to be worthy of shaking up the worldwide art scene (“Gaia’s Hope” is worthy of that, and I hope it receives its due someday).

Every work of art does not have to be a masterpeice. Sometimes making your city a little more interesting is enough.

And I think this piece does that.

Heck, at least it isn’t a bust of some football hero.

The paradox of comedy and tragedy is very much at play here. It would be very easy to have a chuckle at the ways some folks are getting so worked up over this piece–if it wasn’t so tragic.

We are a young and fragile arts community here in Canton. Although artists have been creating great things here for many, many years, the collaboration between arts groups, business associations and individual artists is very new.  Opportunities that never existed before for artists are present, despite the economic stress in our communities.

Although I do not want to suggest that artists should withhold artistic judgment and freedom of expression, I do think that the  intensity of snarkiness is unwarranted.

Is our dismay about this one artwork really worth making folks think twice about funding more public art? It would be a real tragedy if the business community decided that we were a bunch of ungrateful art-snobs who couldn’t get over ourselves.

I would like to think that we could rise above such nonsense.

Let’s move on to the next great thing folks. How many artists in Canton are out there developing projects themselves instead of sitting around and complaining about the ones who do?