Rachel Cooke’s piece in The Guardian “Public Art is Powerful, Glorious and Uplifting” contains one of the most important values of public art: “its great virtue – its chief virtue – is that it is just there: you do not have to choose to see it; you must wander no hushed gallery to find it.” Cooke also expounds upon how public art adds life and character to cities and, more immediately, smaller public spaces, creating lasting associations of specific emotions to otherwise unimportant locations.
However, Brooke Rapaport’s editorial piece titled simply “Art in Public Spaces” published in NYT makes what I think is a far more crucial point about public art: “Undistinguished work warrants critical drubbing; strong work is a catalyst for dialogue. Isn’t it the presenting organization’s role to stimulate that conversation? Doesn’t diverse opinion fulfill the ambitions of a democracy?”
The idea that public art doesn’t have to be agreed upon by everyone--neighbors, tenants, landlords, politicians, etc.--but rather in fact, such disagreement (within the limits of rational discourse) actually serves the work’s purpose. Without discourse, and by nature disagreement, the art fades into the background without providing stimulation for people’s opinions, which Rapaport claims “fulfills the ambitions of a democracy.”
The “readers react” section after Rapaport’s piece only serves to amplify her point. The man who claimed that “your ‘beauty’ may very well be my ‘disgusting,’ your ‘deep expression’ my ‘what?’” is participating in exactly the kind of discourse Rapaport claims public art should incite.