Dec 232009
 

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?

  No Responses to “Shattered Expressions? How About Comedy and Tragedy?”

  1. I agree with you on every point – and am far more interested in the consensus opinion of the general public (both within and outside of Canton) than the artists in Canton itself. The piece is a public work, after all, and was executed for the general public primarily.
    Personally, I like it. It makes me smile. It is not a ‘serious’ or ‘deep’ work and does not appear to carry any specific meanings for me; but does that matter? Do we need that? What it does for me is cheer me up and brighten up a rather dreary building. I walk past the building, or see it from a distance and I smile. This is the art district and I know I’m in it!
    It was rather expensive for what it is (from what I’ve heard) and that may irritate some (I’m sure) – but as an art installation I think this works very well indeed. I find it amusingly sympathetic to the building and to the area in general. I really hope the city considers lighting this work from many angles so that the three-dimensional aspects of it are more apparent after dark.
    Canton Rocks….. to many tunes. I love this.

  2. I agree with you on every point – and am far more interested in the consensus opinion of the general public (both within and outside of Canton) than the artists in Canton itself. The piece is a public work, after all, and was executed for the general public primarily.
    Personally, I like it. It makes me smile. It is not a ‘serious’ or ‘deep’ work and does not appear to carry any specific meanings for me; but does that matter? Do we need that? What it does for me is cheer me up and brighten up a rather dreary building. I walk past the building, or see it from a distance and I smile. This is the art district and I know I’m in it!
    It was rather expensive for what it is (from what I’ve heard) and that may irritate some (I’m sure) – but as an art installation I think this works very well indeed. I find it amusingly sympathetic to the building and to the area in general. I really hope the city considers lighting this work from many angles so that the three-dimensional aspects of it are more apparent after dark.
    Canton Rocks….. to many tunes. I love this.

  3. Well said, BZTAT… on so many points.

    It’s not a piece on par with Gaia’s Hope, but it is passable and adds some life to a building that needed it. I think folks are letting their personal feelings about the artist too strongly influence their opinion of the piece. If anything, I think it’s a bit benign – I was hoping for stronger colors and more impact.

    I think it works for Canton right now – while, I’d like to see something much wilder, I think this will help ease people into the idea of Canton aquiring more and more public art.

    The part I think I like the best is, similar to the Critters, people are bringing their kids down to see the new piece… and taking photos of the kids mimicking the faces (and/or posing with the Critters). It gets people downtown, the kids enjoy the trip and remember the experience, and the more people downtown (finding out what’s down here, realizing it’s certainly possible to park, eat, shop, etc) the better!

  4. Well said, BZTAT… on so many points.

    It’s not a piece on par with Gaia’s Hope, but it is passable and adds some life to a building that needed it. I think folks are letting their personal feelings about the artist too strongly influence their opinion of the piece. If anything, I think it’s a bit benign – I was hoping for stronger colors and more impact.

    I think it works for Canton right now – while, I’d like to see something much wilder, I think this will help ease people into the idea of Canton aquiring more and more public art.

    The part I think I like the best is, similar to the Critters, people are bringing their kids down to see the new piece… and taking photos of the kids mimicking the faces (and/or posing with the Critters). It gets people downtown, the kids enjoy the trip and remember the experience, and the more people downtown (finding out what’s down here, realizing it’s certainly possible to park, eat, shop, etc) the better!

  5. I have my own opinions about what constitutes good work. I have also seen the installation and made my own conclusions about it. If I had to critique it on strict aesthetic considerations, or as an important piece of public art, it would not fare well.

    However, your point that it makes the area a bit more interesting is one I can agree with. And what struck me when I first saw it was that it was fun, light, and just kind of cool. I didn’t even begin to place it in the arena of important, ground breaking, or even original work. It’s just fun. It startles you when you drive or walk past it, and it makes me smile. My sister and my niece (both artists) saw it and both had positive first impressions. Judged on this level, it passes muster, I think.

    Patrick Buckhor’s sculptures are examples of wildly popular art that has won a large following. They are eye catching, fun, appealing, and great additions to the district. Are they ‘serious’ works in terms of being ground-breaking, masterpieces? I don’t think so, and I think that’s fine. I love them! They do exactly what they set out to do, and do it brilliantly. To me, that is the mark of a successful work.

    Tom Wachunas, in his blog, ARTWACH )http://artwach.blogspot.com/)
    made the point that it is going to be quite important to formulate an overall plan for the public art in the arts district. I agree. The danger is, if this is not in place, that the art being installed is going to look piecemeal or like unrelated random things. Not good. Who chose this piece? I find it interesting, shall we say, that in order to even paint a tiny sign on the outside wall of a building in the district, there is a process for approval first. Who then, approved this? Was it part of a larger plan for the look of the district? I wonder what else is in the works. I wonder if it will all be cohesive when it is all installed. We need cohesion.

    But my biggest response comes not from the work itself, but from the vehemence of criticism coming from the arts district. I wrote a bit about this myself. While I would defend people’s right to free speech, and defend people’s right to disagree with me or each other, I can’t defend some of the vitriol with which those opinions have been written. Critique is one thing, and expected when art is displayed. But, it is damaging when we savage each other.

    The arts district is full of energy and a lot of people are committing all they have to make it grow and flourish. We will have growing pains. Some experiments will fail, but others will explode and grow. What is needed here, I think, is a bit of diplomacy and a bit of tolerance for the process. I keep saying we are all on the same team. I’d truly like to believe that. And I would like to think we can support each other despite differences of opinion.

    Maybe I’m being naive.

  6. I have my own opinions about what constitutes good work. I have also seen the installation and made my own conclusions about it. If I had to critique it on strict aesthetic considerations, or as an important piece of public art, it would not fare well.

    However, your point that it makes the area a bit more interesting is one I can agree with. And what struck me when I first saw it was that it was fun, light, and just kind of cool. I didn’t even begin to place it in the arena of important, ground breaking, or even original work. It’s just fun. It startles you when you drive or walk past it, and it makes me smile. My sister and my niece (both artists) saw it and both had positive first impressions. Judged on this level, it passes muster, I think.

    Patrick Buckhor’s sculptures are examples of wildly popular art that has won a large following. They are eye catching, fun, appealing, and great additions to the district. Are they ‘serious’ works in terms of being ground-breaking, masterpieces? I don’t think so, and I think that’s fine. I love them! They do exactly what they set out to do, and do it brilliantly. To me, that is the mark of a successful work.

    Tom Wachunas, in his blog, ARTWACH )http://artwach.blogspot.com/)
    made the point that it is going to be quite important to formulate an overall plan for the public art in the arts district. I agree. The danger is, if this is not in place, that the art being installed is going to look piecemeal or like unrelated random things. Not good. Who chose this piece? I find it interesting, shall we say, that in order to even paint a tiny sign on the outside wall of a building in the district, there is a process for approval first. Who then, approved this? Was it part of a larger plan for the look of the district? I wonder what else is in the works. I wonder if it will all be cohesive when it is all installed. We need cohesion.

    But my biggest response comes not from the work itself, but from the vehemence of criticism coming from the arts district. I wrote a bit about this myself. While I would defend people’s right to free speech, and defend people’s right to disagree with me or each other, I can’t defend some of the vitriol with which those opinions have been written. Critique is one thing, and expected when art is displayed. But, it is damaging when we savage each other.

    The arts district is full of energy and a lot of people are committing all they have to make it grow and flourish. We will have growing pains. Some experiments will fail, but others will explode and grow. What is needed here, I think, is a bit of diplomacy and a bit of tolerance for the process. I keep saying we are all on the same team. I’d truly like to believe that. And I would like to think we can support each other despite differences of opinion.

    Maybe I’m being naive.

  7. I am creating a piece of public art that will go an the building directly behind this one: http://bztat.com/uncategorized/downtown-cats-mural-in-downtown-canton It will not be a ’serious’ or ‘deep’ work–It will be playful and fun. It certainly will not be my most important artwork ever, although it will probably be my most visible. Nothing too non-conformist about about it, so I imagine the art snobs will have a field day with it too.

    But at least I am DOING something instead of sitting around complaining and sniping. I am doing art with a purpose, that purpose being to help rebuild the economic and cultural landscape of my community.

    I hope that families will bring their kids to pose in front of my downtown cats. The art snobs can go drink a beer somewhere else.

    Thx Sarah and Paul for your comments!

  8. I am creating a piece of public art that will go an the building directly behind this one: http://bztat.com/uncategorized/downtown-cats-mural-in-downtown-canton It will not be a ’serious’ or ‘deep’ work–It will be playful and fun. It certainly will not be my most important artwork ever, although it will probably be my most visible. Nothing too non-conformist about about it, so I imagine the art snobs will have a field day with it too.

    But at least I am DOING something instead of sitting around complaining and sniping. I am doing art with a purpose, that purpose being to help rebuild the economic and cultural landscape of my community.

    I hope that families will bring their kids to pose in front of my downtown cats. The art snobs can go drink a beer somewhere else.

    Thx Sarah and Paul for your comments!

  9. Lynn–Your comments about the vitriol are exactly what I was referring to with the Comedy and Tragedy paradox. The way folks have gotten themselves in such a bunch would be comedy were it not so tragic.

    There is a process of approval for downtown public art at this time, however, I suspect that we need more. There is an architectural review board through SID that screens the work that is proposed.

    Once we get a more established structure, there will be certain benefits and certain consequences. The process may ensure some consistency, but it also will run the risk of becoming a bureaucratic nightmare. Sadly, I think it will be necessary, but I also think that it will tamp down some of the creative energy that artists have for their projects.

    I agree that we need to be on the same team and stop the infighting. I doubt that will happen–we are all temperamental artists, ya know! 🙂 Having wise and reasoned folks like you around, though, surely helps to balance folks out. Thx for your very wise comments.

  10. Lynn–Your comments about the vitriol are exactly what I was referring to with the Comedy and Tragedy paradox. The way folks have gotten themselves in such a bunch would be comedy were it not so tragic.

    There is a process of approval for downtown public art at this time, however, I suspect that we need more. There is an architectural review board through SID that screens the work that is proposed.

    Once we get a more established structure, there will be certain benefits and certain consequences. The process may ensure some consistency, but it also will run the risk of becoming a bureaucratic nightmare. Sadly, I think it will be necessary, but I also think that it will tamp down some of the creative energy that artists have for their projects.

    I agree that we need to be on the same team and stop the infighting. I doubt that will happen–we are all temperamental artists, ya know! 🙂 Having wise and reasoned folks like you around, though, surely helps to balance folks out. Thx for your very wise comments.

  11. You made some interesting comments about Morgan, if you check out his articles about himself on morganfactory.com, in one of them he states he has a BA from Carneige Mellon. If you try to verify this claim, you will find that Carneige Mellon has no record of him ever attending let alone graduating.

  12. The quote that was used by the repository was never said by me. The newspaper never contacted me or spoke to me. They may be part of the problem. That was not the intended concept at all. Not even close.
    I feel that true representation of art serves one purpose: to provoke or convey emotion nothing more nothing less. I believe that if a piece of art has additional “function” it limits the artists creative process. “David”
    would make a great hat rack but its not. The human facial expression seems to represent these beliefs. I think that we are surrounded by true art daily in the faces we encounter.This concept was instilled in my beliefs by previous mentors.
    I have enjoyed the opinionated discussion, positive or negative. Its all emotions and my responsibility as an artist is to provoke them.

    • Thanks for your comments, Tommy. I agree the piece has provoked emotion, although some of it maybe misplaced. Regardless, count me as one who appreciates your contribution to the Downtown Canton Arts District.

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