I am on a mutli-city road trip for the next couple of weeks so I will take my inspiration from news stories found in the local newspapers: As I am currently in North Texas so I will comment on the Denton Record-Chronicle cover story regarding the use of original artwork to decorate storm drains with an environmental agenda. http://www.dentonrc.com/local-news/local-news-headlines/20120426-storm-drains-to-sport-murals.ece
The art world is one that I support and participate in. I have several original artworks in my own collection and have contributed to several performance art groups over the years.
There are four aspects to the art world. 1) the purists who feel art should be a statement of the artist only, 2) businesses who buy and sell at all levels from high-end masterpieces to retailers who sell wall hangings, 3) hobbyists who dabble and perhaps someday hope to make a living and 4) the uninvolved which is basically 95% of America which holds no real affinity or passion for it.
In the instance, local artists are developing art pieces that are attached temporarily to storm drains to discourage dumping of toxins into the system as they drain directly into Lewsiville Lake. The question I pose is whether artwork done at the request of a specific municipal government or with the sole purpose of creating an environmental message a valid form or art?
I would propose that it absolutely is art. Art is the product of what I would refer to as skillful imagination and reflects aspects of culture and humanities. I would further add that art has always been developed with some form of commercialism or to support a societal trend. Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel at the behest of the Catholic church, Impressionists in their period almost all had benefactors who subsidized them and they ardently tried to be seem at Salon in Paris, Picasso painted pictures on napkins as currency for his drinking and perhaps even Jackson Pollock who was a definitive troubled artist relished in his fame for a period before succumbing to his alcoholism. Many governments over the years as well have utilized artwork to craft their cultural vision though in fairness you can easily dismiss these attempts at state directed artwork as horribly unethical. Obviously I am referring to Hitler and Stalin in this instance.
Some of the greats of the 20th century as well were quite amenable to making their artwork available for purely advertising purposes. Norman Mailer comes to mind as one of the greats who utilized his artwork for Coca-Cola and TIME magazine. If you extend art to include musicians then I think one of the goals of 99% of today's`modern recording artists is to have their music selected for use in advertising so commercialism obviously is not a deterrent to them. Why would visual artists be held to a higher standards other than the fact that some purists hold them to a higher expectation and therefore are extremely reluctant to allow them access to galleries and press coverage.
I would suggest then in the 21st century it should not be surprising in the least that artwork has shifted to reflect societal trends as a driving force for the inspiration of many artists. Plus, as benefactors rarely exist anymore and any type of cultural funding continues to be cut, then artists need to make a living so simply through necessity they are required to take contracts that may not necessarily reflect their true identity but enables them to put bread on the table. The world of the struggling artist is one thing that has not changed much over the years.
The subjectivity of art though has not changed one bit. Whether art is hanging in the MOMA or attached to a storm drain, it is still up to the individual who is viewing it to have final say as to whether it appeals to them or not. Art should never be limited or restricted due to its purpose and should just be evaluated by effect. In reality, today`s storm drains might be the great treasures of the future.