Impacts of Public Art on Society
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Art is wholly subjective. Ten people may have ten different interpretations of one single work of art. On the most basic of levels they could love it, hate it or be indifferent to it. On a more informed level they may read different information from it, and ask different questions as to its artistic value. Human behaviour, by the literal meaning of it, is equally as subjective. Each individual has human traits that are based on personal experience. However, group dynamics can be quantified objectively using controlled research methods.
For this essay I shall examine how art is used to encourage certain changes in human behaviour, both mentally and physically. This dissertation aims to understand how art affects the behaviour of an individual and the associated effects of the environment on the development of character of an individual as a person. Taking into consideration that art and human behaviour are subjective I intend to research, review, analyse and interpret how organisations have utilised one for the outcome of the other. I shall look at how public buildings, whose main purpose and function are not to display art, have embraced shapes and colours in order to guide the emotional and physical state of its patrons. During the analysis I shall be examining the different theories of experts in this argument. I will be considering the artistic viewpoint and the scientific approach as well as a cultural and philosophical perspective.
In my conclusion I hope to have ascertained enough information from my research to confidently state my opinions on how art, in the simplistic terms of shape and colour, has been used to project a subliminal, psychological impact on the people that come into contact with it.
The main question I am asking in this essay is whether artistic forms, be it painting, sculpture, shape or colour, has an impact on people and their behaviour in an environment that is not necessarily expected to display art. This question will enable me to research the impact of public art in buildings such as hospitals, schools, libraries and other public locations where steps have been taken to introduce art outside the confines of a museum or gallery. Therefore the objective of this dissertation would be to create an environment that would be beneficial to pupils, patients, clients and even the entire community.
The connotations of colour and human behaviour, specifically mood, have been understood and utilised for millennia. During the Vedic Age in India (1500BC – 600BC) there was a conceptual belief that colour could represent different emotions, one such concept proposes that: "there are three interwoven mental states which are; energy, inertia and clarity and that we all fluctuate between degrees of these states. These three qualities are given colours... Energy is symbolised by red, inertia by black or dark blue and clarity is light and colourless." (McDonagh 2003: 170). Considering that this is not a new subject there is a wide selection of literature available on this particular subject.
I am attempting to focus my essay on the four most relevant subjects that encompass the whole of my research: Connotation of Colour throughout history; Psychology and Physiology of Human Behaviour (in controlled environments); Public Art in alternative locations (not museums or galleries); and Philosophy of Pragmatism in Art. My literature review will be made up from a combination of books, journals, research studies and interviews. Due to the overlapping nature of this essay I shall be focusing on a wide aspect of subject matter including art history, architecture, philosophy, psychology and sociology. I have accumulated around fifty sources for this essay and have systematically narrowed them down to include only the information that is relevant to my purposes. Having read through the information I have discovered that what started as a simple question has unearthed a number of different theories and interpretations; including opinions that were contrary to my original beliefs; thus forcing me to truly take on an objective view of my work. Using critical analysis of the literature I intend to produce a well argued, objective essay that shall help me answer my original question.
During my research into the above subjects I found a number of published authors, sociologist, psychologists and artists who are experts in their particular field. It was both assuring and eye-opening to read and interpret their views and as such I believe they shaped my approach to writing this essay. I found some more important to my research than others, and these included the following: Malcolm Miles writing about public art in cities in his book ‘Art, Space and the City: Public Art and Urban Futures’; Alexander Schauss’ study on the affect of colour in a controlled; Carolyn Bloomer writing about the interpretation of colour in her book ‘Principles of Visual Perception’; psychologist Tony Cassidy and his research into colour tests in his book ‘Environmental Psychology: Behaviour and Experience in Context’; pragmatist John Dewey and his early twentieth century theories on the conception of art as a means of improving life; and author Christopher Day in his work on how colours can improve daily living in his book ‘Environment and Children: Passive Lessons from the Everyday Environment’.
The methodology I am using in this essay will predominantly be data-analysis from previously researched case studies, journals and published works. I shall, however, use data-gathering in my essay wherever possible; be it from interviews with art curators, members of the public or my own observation.
I have chosen to analyse previous work and research on my subject matters due to the wealth of information available. Where I believe that vital information or data is missing I have decided to collate it myself. I believe this will allow my essay to objectively interpret cited work but also to include subjective and personal opinions on a range of subjects. After all, art and human nature are subjective topics.
A questionnaire that aims to investigate what works and what does not work and whether art serves a specific purpose will be given to participants. Within the time constraints to complete this dissertation, a questionnaire is useful for this kind of investigation as it can reach more people. Observation is considered too time-consuming, taking too long to be meaningful. Other factors that need to be taken into consideration include obtaining/seeking permission/consent from the head teachers of the schools or directors of the hospitals to carry out the investigation. A letter to the school or hospital to obtain their approval and consent for the investigation will be written, in addition to a letter to the parents of the pupils who are under the age of 16 for their consent and approval for their son/daughter to take part in the investigation.
Human Research Ethics (Ethical issues)
Due to the nature of this essay I shall be examining, amongst other findings, how human behaviour can change in relation to the environment that they are in. Because this deals with the mental and physical state of an individual I understand that I am in a position of trust, and as such any data will be gathered in strict confidence. However, because a large percentage of my findings are from data that has already been gathered I do not find myself in a position where my research ethics are questioned. I understand that if I was to delve further into the research on human behaviour patterns I would need to pay close attention to confidentiality and care towards any participants in my research; especially if I was to recreate the ‘Baker-Miller Pink’ test, in which individuals who have just been arrested are place in a pink holding cell and their mental and physical state is measured. It would also be of utmost importance to deal with any participants in prison or mental health facilities with integrity and diplomacy.
Analysis and Interpretation – Connotations of Colour
In the search for an ideal environment that would benefit people who come into contact with it I believe that the first place to look is in the past, and understand how history has harnessed colour as a means of expressing emotion. The idea of colour may seem like a simple concept but, depending on your particular viewpoint, it can prove to mean many different things. In the world of physics colour is determined by the wavelength of light; to a physiologist and psychologist colour is perceived by neural responses in the eye and brain; to the sociologist it is linked with our own culture and to the artist it is an expressive creation. The basic premise of colour, that is, the colour that we can make ourselves, is that it is made up of three primary colours; red, blue and yellow: "Primary colours are ones that cannot be made by mixing other colours." (Morris 2006: 56). When the primary colours are mixed they create the secondary colours: "The secondary colours are orange, green and violet. They are produced by mixing two primary colours." (Morris 2006: 56). Finally there are the tertiary colours; these are created by "mixing any primary colour with its adjacent secondary colour... produces a tertiary colour" (Morris 2006: 56) and include combination colours such as orange-yellow and blue-green. The full spectrum of colour is possible by mixing colours in relation to the desired outcome, like adding ingredients to a recipe. The origins of humans recreating colour can be traced back to primitive cave paintings, examples in Europe date back 32,000 years. Although primitive by today’s standards, these depictions of wild animals by the hunter-gatherers were exquisitely painted on the rock surface using red and yellow ochre, hematite, manganese oxide and charcoal. Even though the use of reds and yellows was mainly due to the materials available to them, the colourful imagery could be described as abstract insomuch that the actual animals were not as vividly coloured as the artwork portrayed. Interestingly the two colours used are primary colours.
As mentioned previously the ancient Indian cultures believed that different colours signified separate mental states. The Egyptians also used colours to connote different meaning in that they “originated the idea of red fiends or red devils, the origin of the Christian image of a red Satan. In later dynasties, words with evil connotations were written in papyri in red ink." (Eiseman 2000: 35). Red is a colour that is perhaps the most powerful hue and its meaning around the world has always symbolised energy and life; the word ‘red’ in many different languages is derived from the word for ‘blood’. However, different cultures interpret colours in different ways; like the Egyptians before them, the Japanese saw red as the colour of demons and devils, yet in the Middle East that imagery was not apparent: "During the early Kamakura period, about AD 1200, Japanese artist Jigoku Soshi painted his ‘Hell Scroll’ with frightening red demons chasing tormented victims; while to Persians and Turks, as reflected in their magnificent carpets, red symbolizes happiness and joy." (Eiseman 2000: 32). In the West our cultural understanding of semiotics has conditioned us to add extra information to data that we can see. In the UK red is seen as the colour of danger; a red light means stop, a red traffic sign is a warning. Because red is such a vibrant colour, and the fact that is the first primary colour of the spectrum of light, it holds an unrivalled importance in the way it used in the natural and man-made world: "Reds are generally regarded as stimulating and exciting." (Miller 1997: 104). In terms of human physiological reaction to the colour red, it is thought to "speed up heart and respiration rates and to raise blood pressure, and [is] associated with strength, passion, and the colour of blood and fire." (Bloomer 1976: 120). Red has always been seen as the colour of power and energy; this has been demonstrated in the socio-political arena by the Communist movement; so much so that during the McCarthy Communist witch-hunts in 1950s American, the phrase ‘Better Dead than Red’ was echoed around the country. The phrase is a strong indicator of how powerful the word ‘red’ truly was. Only three letters long, it embodied all that was ‘un-American’ in the world, promoting fear and a Cold War that lasted over forty years, yet when include with two other colours it symbolized undying patriotism: ‘red, white and blue’.
Looking at another primary colour, blue, it is interesting to see how different cultures perceive this particular colour to that of red. In the modern West the most simple, almost child-like reading of the two colours is ‘hot’ and ‘cold’. However, throughout history the reproduction of the colour blue has meant more than just a signifier for cold water. In ancient Egypt the colour was used to connote loyalty and virtue: "these identifications with the hue go as far back as 1340BC to the Egyptian civilization and the reign of King Tut." (Bleicher 2004: 37). However, whereas the Egyptians considered blue to be a symbol of truth, the Cherokee tribes and the Japanese see it differently: "to the Cherokee, blue is a symbol of defeat. In Japanese theatre, blue is the colour for villains." (Hullfish & Fowler 2003: 28). In Western culture the colour blue was not widely used until the Church began to paint religious figures, notably the clothing of Virgin Mary, with a pigment extracted from a blue gem stone, lapis lazuli. This religious link led the colour to symbolise “piety, truth and goodness” (Bleicher 2004: 37). Today blues are considered: “calming, restful, serene, cool, comfortable, sober, and contemplative." (Miller 1997: 104) and are thought to "reduce blood pressure, pulse, and respiration rates." (Bloomer 1976: 120). Navy blue, a dark blue, is still used in the clothing of the business world to promote a feeling of truth and honesty. Blue is perceived as being a neutral colour in so much that it is the colour of the sea and, unlike land, is not owned by tyrannical, or democratic, rule. It also symbolises a form of depression, as in ‘feeling blue’ and can connote coldness, or even something that is beyond the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, that is, blue language or blue movie.
The final primary colour, yellow, has always held an integral part of any man-made creation. It is the colour of the sun; the shining star that gives energy to the planet. The ancient civilizations used the yellow as a symbol of their beliefs and religion: "As a colour sacred to the Chinese and important to the Egyptians and Greeks, yellow gradually became a symbol of power." (Walker 2002: 24) In many indigenous tribes the colour yellow bore the deepest religious meaning, in south America the Aztecs believed yellow was the colour of life and food and the Mayans celebrated the colour as one that had the power to bring daily life: “The Mayas of Yucatan assigned it to the dawn and the east." (Brinton 2004: 237). However, the fact that yellow was so important to the ancient civilizations was detrimental to the beliefs of the early Christians, and yellow began to become associated with negativity: "Yellow has been associated with deceit, cowardice, and jealousy” (Walker 2002: 24). In certain parts of Africa yellow is associated with love “because it's the colour of honey." (Kaldera & Schwartzstein 2002: 21). Gold is a softer shade of yellow and therefore seems to shed any of its negative images, but perhaps this is because the connotations are so intrinsically linked with wealth. Today yellow is considered "sunny, cheerful, and high spirited, the happiest of all colours." (Miller 1997: 105) and it is also seen as being an expansive colour, one which appears "to spread out as well as to advance” (Swirnoff 1988: 38). Throughout history yellow will always be seen as a bright, force-giving colour. This is perhaps due to the very child-like imagery of the sun; give almost any child a yellow crayon and ask them to draw the sky and in the corner of the picture appears a bright yellow orb with rays of sunshine emitting from it. The negative connotations seem to be rooted in cultural and religious differences, even racism. Chinese and Japanese people were often referred to as ‘yellow’ by an ignorant West. This was fundamentally based on the complexion of the skin; however, early Chinese rulers were called yellow emperors due to the power imagery of the colour, and the importance of the Yellow River.
Obviously the primary colours are not the only colours that civilization has encapsulated in culture, religion or art; the secondary and tertiary colours are just as important. Unfortunately I do not have the space to describe every single colour but feel that some important ones need to be mentioned. Green is a very popular word in that its connotation seems to be of more value than its denotation. Like ‘red’ was in the 1950s, the word ‘green’ means far more than a colour. Green is an ecological, economical and political word that covers anything from Amazonian rainforests, nuclear power stations, recycling and political parties. In wooded and forested areas of the planet green is the background colour, in cityscapes green is what the majority of people miss; ‘the grass is always greener’ is a Western saying that strikes home in this situation, as in things are always better on the other side of the fence, country or world. If looking at a globe of the planet the two main colours are blue (water) and green (land). Green can be considered neutral, but at the same time it means jealousy; a human trait that has shaped our political world for millennia. This duality allows green to be "both warm and cool; it contains both the calming presence of blueness and the energy of yellowness." (Miller 1997: 104). Green can be the bridge between the natural and man-made world: "Low saturation greens can serve as a transition between architecture and nature." (Kaufman & Dahl 1992: 130).
The combination of red and blue creates purple, a hue that "can evoke delicacy and richness or appear unsettling and degenerate.” (Miller 1997: 105). Purple is a very regal colour and is often worn by royalty and world leaders during ceremonies; the leading figures in the Roman senate would proudly display purple within the design of their togas. Purple is cold colour and can connote physical harm such as a bruise or visible veins. Yet the pretentiousness of the colour is by far its strongest meaning and is considered "dignified, exclusive, but lonely, mournful, or pompous." (Mahnke & Mahnke 1993: 13).
Orange is the mix of red and yellow, the two energetic primary colours. From a geological perspective this is the combination of lava and the sun. Historically orange has always had connotations of heat, energy and intensity; mainly rooted from its representation of the flames from a fire, and the warming embers of man-made safety. Perhaps it is this safety that affords the colour to be neither good nor bad: "Orange has always suffered something of an identity crisis. It has spent its history playing second fiddle to red, and occasionally to gold." (Varley 1980: 194). It is hard to think of an example where orange is used as imagery: "It has virtually no negative associations, neither emotionally or culturally… and its emphatically positive meanings are few." (Varley 1980: 194).
Even though technically black and white are not colours, but the result of an object reflecting or absorbing light wavelengths, they form an important role in the world around us. Things are labelled in the most simplistic terms of being either black or white; it is a situation where there can be no middle ground, it is right or wrong, yes or no. Cultural and political education enables us to know that this is very rarely the case, and using a similar analogy: there is no black and white, only different shades of grey. What black tends to imply is nothingness, a void. In contrast white is pure, enlightenment and goodness. In terms of race using black as a prefix seemed to connote the opposite, making the word derogatory; black magic, black arts and black mark.
The connotations of colour are complex and centred on diverse cultural meanings from different civilizations around the world. The meaning of a word can change over the course of history. The language surrounding colour is so advanced that even on the most basic of levels one person could identify a certain shade of colour positively, yet another could read it negatively. With this in mind I can move on to how art and colour is used to study the complexities of human behaviour.
Psychology and Physiology of Human Behaviour (in controlled environments)
The next logical step in my search for the most beneficial environment is to use the above information on colour and relate it to scientific study, predominantly in the areas of psychology and physiology. The simplest and most common definition of psychology is that it is the scientific study of behaviour, in other words psychology is “the science that makes use of behavioural and other evidence to understand the internal processes leading people and members of other species to behave in the ways that they do." (Eysenck 2000: 3). Physiology and in particular human physiology: “studies the functions and activities of living human bodies and their components" (Torshin 2007: 11). In this essay I shall use physiology to study human responses such as heart rate, blood pressure and the effects of tension. As mentioned at the beginning of this essay most of my data has been gathered from previous studies.
I intend to investigate how mood and emotion can be measured, and ultimately influenced. Mood states were not always welcomed by the scientific community; the behavioural and cognitive paradigms so prevalent in the 1960s and 1970s often tended to devalue the significance of moods. Frequently, mood and effect went without mention in prominent analyses of behaviour (Zajonc 1980). However, this devaluation has changed in recent times and most behavioural analyses today include significant affective components (Tomkins 1981). Mood is clearly a bio-psychological process that involves the whole individual. In other words, mood would not occur without biochemical, psycho physiological and cognitive components, as well as subjective reactions: “Implicit assumption that mood is nothing more than a response caused by cognitive, physiological and biochemical events. Thus, subjective feelings are regarded as the last process.” (Thayer 1989: 5). It is my opinion that subjective feelings interact together to affect the mood of the individual. Mood is related to emotion, but when the term ‘mood’ is used, it usually implies a longer course of time, which is probably the central distinction between the two. In 1965 the Nowlis Mood Adjective Check List (MACL), a statistical method to define and analyse mood, was introduced that consisted of 33 adjectives selected from a large pool of emotion and mood terms. The subjects are asked to check each item that applies to their mood state of the day (Frijda 1986: 181). I have prepared and sent out questionnaires to subjects that ask them to disclose if they believe they have an emotional response from specific colours. It is the psychological and physiological response to colours that I believe is most beneficial to my research.
In 1978 Professor Alexander Schauss of the American Institute for Biosocial Research in Tacoma, Washington set up a scientific experiment to study the effects that colour had on human behaviour. Working from initial ideas he had read in published work by Swiss psychiatrist Max Luscher, Schauss found that concentrating on a certain shade of pink (originally labelled P-618) after physical exercise lowered his heart rate, pulse and respiration as compared to other colours (Schauss 1981: 1). With the assistance of the United States Naval Correctional Centre in Seattle, Schauss was able to begin his study. Schauss renamed the colour to ‘Baker-Miller pink’ in dedication to the two officers at the centre, Commander Miller and CWO Baker. The walls and ceiling of one of the admission cells was painted in Baker-Miller pink (figure 1), while the remaining cells were left untouched. Newly confined prisoners were systematically admitted to the cell and observed for fifteen minutes during which no incidents of erratic behaviour were recorded (Eiseman 2000: 40). This research continued for 156 consecutive days, beginning on 1 March 1979. The results during this period were reported to the United States Navy’s Bureau of Naval Personnel, Law Enforcement and Corrections Division, Washington, D.C., stating: "Since initiation of this procedure on March 1, 1979, there have been no incidents of erratic or hostile behavior daring the initial phase of confinement." (Schauss 1981: 1). The data from this study showed that after only a period of fifteen minutes exposed to the Baker-Miller pink, detainees were not demonstrating any violent or aggressive behaviour. This calming effect could actually continue for up to thirty minutes after the subject had been removed from the cell. So successful was Schauss’ experiment that he took it to a county sheriff’s office in California where he noted that its effectiveness was increased within a smaller space; the smaller the cell the less chance of violent behaviour. (Schauss 1981: 1). The Baker-Miller pink has been used widely in detention facilities: “The use of this colour in juvenile correctional centres, psychiatric hospitals and its testing under laboratory conditions with students confirms its effect in suppressing violent and aggressive behaviour." (Cassidy 1997: 84)
In 1988 an experiment was set up to determine the effects of colour in the office workplace in relation to the mood of its workers. Professors Nancy Kwallek, Carol Lewis and A.S. Robbins of the University of Texas assessed the effects of a red, green and white office environment on worker production and mood. It was predicted that "those who worked in the red office would find it a more tense environment and would make more errors.” (Miller 1997: 104). It was also expected that the subjects working in the green office would perform better than those in the red office. The white office was included as a comparison as it is the most common colour for an office working environment. The white office was expected to provide results that were better than red, but worse than green. In actuality the results told a different story. The workers in the red office actually made fewer errors than those in the white or green offices, even though they found the colour “distracting." (Miller 1997: 104). The research team found that subjects working in the white office made more errors than those working in the red or the green office. On a personal level the subjects stated their preference to working in the white environment, considering it a “more appropriate colour for an office than either red or green.” (Miller 1997: 104). However, in response to this test, Ainsworth, Simpson and Cassell in their study, Effects of Three Colours in an Office Interior on Mood and Performance in 1993 found "no effect of colour on performance or emotion." (Cassidy 1997: 85). Their hypothesis led them to believe that the warm colour, red, would induce high arousal and activity, whereas blue will induce feelings of low arousal. However, their results did not support their hypothesis. They concluded that the reason for error was in their methods, not in their actual hypothesis. If the data gathering was flawed then we must omit their findings and focus on the original test. The red office environment produced the least amount of mistakes, whereas the white office was the preferred colour of the subjects.
What these two studies show is the importance of colour and how human behaviour reacts to it. The science behind this is complex and an understanding of how a human ‘sees’ colour is vital. Colour exists everywhere there is light. Sir Isaac Newton, analysing the rays of the sun, detected that all the different colours, except extreme purple are contained in light. The brain responds to it instinctively and unconsciously. As Schauss demonstrated, the colours within our immediate environment affect our mood and ultimately our behaviour. This behaviour is individually subjective but reactions to colour combinations can be predicted with startling accuracy: “Science has always recognised the link between colour combinations and mood or behaviour." (Conway 2004: 76). The exact science of how we see colour is due to how the various wavelengths of light strike our eyes in different ways, affecting our senses: “Within the eye, the retina converts these waves into electrical impulses, allowing the brain to decode this visual information. This information is passed to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain governing our endocrine system producing hormones, and hormones affect our mood." (Conway 2004: 76). In other words the eye must operate with light for the brain to interpret colour: "Everything we see is coloured. Nothing visible is free of colour. This has profound consequences, for colour affects the autonomic nervous system, muscle tension, cortical activity, enzymatic and hormonal secretions." (Day 2007: 115).
With this in mind it is important to quantify how different colours affect our behaviour, both mentally and physically. Our cultural and historical upbringing will play a part in how we react to certain colour schemes. In simplistic terms it could be argued that warm colours such as reds, oranges and yellows will incite an active response, exciting the subject; whereas cooler colours such as blues and greens will calm and quieten them. In fact it has been argued that the power of colour placement is a science and should not be left to the uneducated: "So powerfully do they influence mood, and such potential do their relationships have for harmony or discord, spirit-uplifting beauty or teeth-gritting ugliness, that colours are too important just to leave to fashion or dramatic whim." (Day 2007: 116). But how does colour affect human behaviour? In the Schauss experiment one colour managed to pacify, it even lowered pulse and heart rates of its subjects. This goes one step further than the subject merely relating to the notion of seeing a soft colour. One theory is that we do not only ‘see’ with our eyes, but we indirectly see with the glands that produce hormones in our brains; the pineal gland, a gland that produces melatonin, a hormone that may weakly modulate wake and sleep patterns: "Although a person may not be able to differentiate colour, transmitters in the eyes pick up information from visible radiant energy sources and transmit that energy to the hypothalamus, and the pineal and pituitary glands. So it may be possible to 'see' with your glands." (Eiseman 2000: 40). This theory is one that Schauss promotes in his Baker-Miller study: “One possibility includes the existence of a hormone (e.g. thyrotropin-releasing hormones, TRH, thyroliberin) acting as a neurotransmitter to the hypo-thalamus or pineal gland. This could in turn effect other cells in the adrenal medulla, supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus, the hypothalamo-hypophyseal portal system, and the turberoinfundibular cells of the hypothalamus.” (Schauss 1981: 1).
What these theories allow is the possibility that in a controlled environment, clever use of colour can and will affect the psychological and physiological behaviour of targeted subjects, albeit in a basic premise of colour application. Moods are influential, but they not always control behaviour, the tendency of subtle moods to influence behaviour may be most apparent when they have been present for a lengthy period of time. Initially, the mood may be disregarded and overridden, but over time it can control a person’s behaviour. For example, someone who is experiencing a very positive mood may react differently to a minor irritation than he or she would if in a negative mood. Here, mood has an effect on behaviour, but one that is secondary to the immediate situational determinants of the behaviour. In this case, mood would be a moderator variable. What I now want to examine is how the wider spectrum of art, and its combination of colours and shapes, can be used to provoke an emotional response from an unprepared public.
Public Art in alternative locations (not museums or galleries)
In this chapter I am going to look at public art as a whole, and then focus on specific case studies where art has been commissioned in buildings that would not normally be associated with displaying art, these buildings are Stanford-le-Hope Junior School, Essex; University College Hospital, London; the old Penguin Pool, London Zoo; and Peckham Public Library.
When I speak of public art in the context of this essay I am talking about art that is commissioned and exhibited away from the normal establishments. There is no denying that museums and galleries form a vital role in allowing the public to come into close contact with art, but for the purposes of this essay I am interested solely in art that appears in everyday public buildings. Public art in Britain is having somewhat of a renaissance; it has gone beyond the post-modernist pseudo-ironic stage and has finally developed into an important, and influential, art statement. Public art does have its critics, and controversy is never far away from an unveiling of a new work. This controversy of public art "forces us to consider whether art that is centred on notions of pure freedom and radical autonomy, and subsequently inserted into the public sphere without regard for the relationship it has to other people, to the community, or any consideration except the pursuit of art, can contribute to the common good." (Gablik 1995: 79). It is the fact that public art is made so public that the argument as to whether it is for the ‘common good’ escalates from local, to national headlines. I do not believe there is any other art form that receives as much coverage as a work of public art. Even though the piece may not have been paid for by the public, the commissions are normally paid for via trust funds or private donations, the mere fact that it is labelled as ‘art for the public’ seems to be a good enough reason for everybody to put forward their views; the majority of which are scathing. In some sections of society art is seen as whimsical folly; a waste of time, effort and money. Perhaps the greatest example of this was Anthony Gormley’s Angel of the North. When the 200 tonne, human sculpture with angel’s wings was proposed there was public outcry: "4,500 local residents signed a petition condemning it and a reader's poll suggested that popular feeling was overwhelmingly hostile. There seem to have been various anxieties: that the Angel would divert money from useful causes (not true in fact); that it would overlook people's homes... that it would fall victim to vandals and scrap merchants; that it would cause offence to Gateshead's large Jewish population on account of its alleged similarity to Albert Speer's Icarus statue at Doberitz; and that it would be used for stunts by those seeking publicity." (Usherwood, Beach & Morris 2000: 57/58) Thankfully the local councillors worked with the artist in reassuring the local people that the positives outweighed the negatives, and the north-east now proudly boasts one of the finest ever works of public art: "The world's most frequently viewed work of art... [and] the country's largest sculpture." (Else 2007: 736).
The concept of public art is one that is hard for the public to fully accept. In less affluent communities like the north-east it is easy to empathise with the local populace when they believe that the money could be better spent elsewhere; art is supposed to be found in galleries and museums and not on their doorstep. But this is an opinion that needs to be addressed, and ultimately changed. Public art is rarely paid for by the community, but it brings that community its very own wealth: "Public art is often sponsored by public agencies, usually exists outside museums and galleries, and addresses audiences outside the confines of the art world." (Finkelpearl & Acconci 2000: 1). Art in its many forms; painting, sculpture, architecture, modern media, et al can provide local communities with a focal point that would normally only be found in galleries in the larger metropolitan cities. It allows art to come to the people in an everyday situation: "Public art is not a distinct artform; rather the term refers to works of art in any media created for and in the context of the civil realm, be it the built or natural environment. The only constant quality of public art is that it is always site specific." (Harron 2005: 7). In 2004 Manchester was invaded by more than 150 fibreglass cows, all individually painted by local and national artists, as well as celebrities. The cows brought colour and energy to the city and were later sold at auction to raise money for a local children’s charity. The public exhibition was a success. In 2005 Anthony Gormley created and installed 100 life sized iron statues at a beach in Sefton, Liverpool. The figures were only meant to be temporary but they are still standing three years after they were unveiled. The success of these two exhibitions, and that of the Angel of the North have proved that public art can take the public’s imagination; an accomplishment made even more poignant by the fact that the locations were in poorer regions of the country. The success of public art is measured by the magnitude of public acceptance. For the public to get behind a project, installation or exhibition they must feel that it provides something for them. That ‘something’ is the difference between success and failure, what makes good public art? "Up to now it has been assumed that the criteria for good public art are simply the criteria for good art. All a government agency charged with commissioning public art must do is commission good art for public spaces." (Coleman, Horowitz & Huhn 1997: 148).
Public art must serve the purpose it was created for. In terms of community art, first and foremost it must serve a purpose for that particular community. My first case study is the ‘Super Square of Stanford’, a ceramic relief ‘map’ of the catchment area around the Stanford-le-Hope Junior School in Essex (figures 2 and 3). The ceramic relief was completed by the Lisa Hawker Studio of Architectural Art in collaboration with the 225 schoolchildren ranging in age from four to seven years of age. The artwork was short-listed for the Essex County Council's Best Public Art Award 2003. What this demonstrates is the cooperation between artist, community and local council. What started off as an art project for a local school ended up becoming an entrant into the regional art competition, meaning that the school did not have to solely raise the funds itself to commission the artist. The council became co-patrons in the project via the Essex Public Art Strategy and, in that capacity, has approved the allocation of up to 1% of the finance of all Essex County Council capital projects for public art to be implemented in relation in each financial year. The outcome of this backing of public art is the two annual awards for the best examples of public art in Essex, of which the school was short-listed. Admittedly this is not worthy of national news coverage but it is a perfect example of how a local community project works. The mosaic is an artistic rendition of the local community; it is the local area painted in bright colours, emblazoned against the very foundations of the local school. It is an embodiment of local life. The children of the community, with help from local artists, created a colourful facsimile of their everyday life. Whenever they walk past the wall there will be an inner pride that they were a physical part of its creation. When the parents walk past they too feel a pride in the knowledge that their own creation has in turn created something too. A bare, exterior wall has now become more than just bricks and mortar. It is now a talking point, a meeting place, a gallery wall for local, public art.
This school is only an example of a trend that is sweeping the country. With more emphasis on league tables, catchment areas and education bursaries, schools are now finding themselves being run like businesses. In order to keep enticing the right students, and therefore the money, in through the front doors the school must send out the right signals. Gone are the days of innocent class-inspired artwork in the main reception area, replaced by works by local artists; made even more significant if they happen to be ex-students. Even corporate branding seems to have arrived in education; school mottos and insignia can now be seen set into stone carvings and brightly coloured paintings. This too is a form of public art, and it most definitely serves a purpose. Revitalising schools has a major impact on human behaviour. Integrating the theories of environmental psychology into the design of schools is integral in encouraging its pupils to positively embrace their learning. Since the addition of the artwork the school has seen a definite improvement in it yearly Key Stage 2 test results according to the Department for Children, Schools and Families Achievement and Attainment Tables 2005: Key Stage 2 Test Results: in 2003 the school’s aggregate of test percentages for Level 4+ was 218; in 2004 it rose to 219; and in 2005 that score hit 233 (almost ten points higher than the local average of 224). These results have continued to improve, and according to the school league table results published in 2007 show that the school attained higher results than the local average in English (4% better), Maths (4.6% better) and Science (1.8% better).
This trend appears across the country and centres in areas where local councils have provided funds for regeneration. Another example of this is the renovation of Kingsdale School in South London. It is currently one of the top performing schools in its area, however, before the refurbishment took place in 2002 it was ranked as the worst school in Southwark. This is in line with Southwark’s school regeneration programme; a strategy to build two new secondary schools that will cater for future demand in Southwark's regeneration areas as well as improving the current facilities in the borough via the Building Schools for the Future: Funding initiative of the government's BSF programme. This will lead to improvements for the schools of Archbishop Michael Ramsay, Notre Dame, Sacred Heart, St Michael's RC, St Saviour's and Olave's, St Thomas the Apostle, Walworth, Tuke, Highshore, Bredinghurst and Spa. Kingsdale, Waverley School and Charter received 'Quick Win' funding during the first wave of the BSF programme, which has already resulted in the league school table improvements. David Uzzell, professor of environmental psychology at the University of Surrey, stated that the success was not entirely due to the architecture, but the new design inspired pupils, teachers and the local community, thus empathising the knowledge we already know and wish to apply to schools and hospitals around the country.
My next case study is University College Hospital in London (figure 4). In terms of scale and budget this particular hospital’s patronage of public art rivals that of an art gallery. Yet it is difficult at first to imagine why a public sector like the National Health Service needs to spend so heavily on public art; it is not an effective way of drumming up new business. In this situation the promotion of public art serves another purpose, that of improving the experience of visiting the hospital. In the summer of 2005 University College Hospital unveiled its newest addition to the site, a polished granite sculpture called the ‘Monolith’ (figure 5). Its creator is John Aiken, a student of the Chelsea School of Art (1968-73) and British School at Rome (1973-75). In 1986 he was appointed Head of Sculpture at the Slade School of Fine Art in London where he is currently a Director. His connection with the hospital has allowed a series of art works to be produced for the new building by artists working out of the Slade. Out of these works the most famous, ergo the most infamous, is Monolith. The sculpture is made from a recently discovered Brazilian granite that is the product of a prehistoric pebble that fused under intense heat and pressure millions of years ago, thought to have healing powers. According to Guy Noble, the hospital’s Art Curator, the purpose of the stone is to “represent the history and development of the Hospital Trust and the bringing together of a diverse range of medical institutions into a cohesive whole.” (Noble 2005: www.uclh.nhs.uk). The other works include ‘Shadow’, the monolith's 'shadow' is cast across the steps of the entrance of the new hospital and is seen as an area of black granite slabs set into the paving. These slabs have been inscribed with the name of the hospital, the history of its various components and past and current benefactors; ‘The Algorithm’ by Edward Allington, a relief mural intended to suggest scientifically linked events; ‘Landscape Panorama’ by Susan Collins, a live 360° video projection of the exterior landscape; ‘Beam of Light Reception Desk’ by Bruce Mclean, a light sensitive yellow glass reception desk; and ‘Pavement Galleries’ by David Proud and Tony Pritchard, a collection of galleries set into the pavement outside the hospital, bridge and tower. All of these works have been commissioned and exhibited to create a “welcoming, uplifting environment for patients, visitors and staff and in so doing improve patient well being, boost staff morale and widen access to the arts across the trust.” (Noble 2005: www.uclh.nhs.uk). Not only do the displays of art create a welcoming atmosphere for staff and patients alike but they can provide an altogether uplifting experience that benefits physical and emotional wellbeing: “Recent evidence shows that an engaging and stimulating hospital environment can assist in quicker recovery rates for patients as well as help with the recruitment and retention of staff.” (Noble 2005: www.uclh.nhs.uk).
However, these are the words of an art-lover working in the public relations sector. Where is the scientific proof that the hospital’s public art creates a better environment for patients? Has the number of staff increased, or at the very least bucked the current trend of losing staff? Unfortunately there are no public records available yet. Another problem is the one of money. Who paid for this art? According to Noble the art produced by the Slade have been funded “entirely by charitable donations so no funds have been diverted from patient care.” (Noble 2005: www.uclh.nhs.uk). That may be true but could the funds have been better used somewhere else in the health service? The Monolith alone cost £70,000 and that inevitably opens public debate, especially with tabloid newspapers fuelling the fire with their ironic stance of ‘speaking for the common man’. The Sun pointed out that the money should have been used to pay for three nurses’ wages, and The Daily Mail questioned how the ‘gallstone’ could possibly improve healthcare. Once again the un-silent majority were not looking at the facts, but at hearsay. In an interview with The Guardian it was established that the work was largely paid for by a charitable foundation called the King's Fund. "The money was specifically designated for improvements to the design of hospitals… It wasn't from taxpayers or NHS funds." (Wignall 2005a: http://arts.guardian.co.uk). The fact that it wasn’t from the NHS fund should pacify the angry hordes, but ultimately it will not. For the average person, the thought of a hospital that has a monetary budget which is not being spent on staff, maintenance or their healthcare seems at odds with the philosophy of the NHS. But this is not a modern phenomenon, it dates back 300 years to St Thomas’s, London, includes the magnificent painted hall in Greenwich, and takes in works by Hogarth and Gainsborough in Thomas Coram's Foundling Hospital in the 1740s: “the UCH pebble is a sublime work which should be celebrated not condemned. British hospitals had become depressing and dilapidated. They are being revived by a big investment programme. Public art has an important place in making life there more enhancing.” (Wignall 2005b: http://arts.guardian.co.uk). Once again these are subjective opinions written by an individual who is biased towards art as a positive medium. Public art in hospitals will always produce heated debate. The biggest obstacle is the simple fact that the majority of people view a hospital as a building they must go to in order to receive healthcare: "People use hospitals only from necessity, and often in fear of illness and its consequences." (Miles 1997: 150). This belief is a problem that the hospital’s board must face whenever commissioning public art; they must somehow prove to the public that what they are doing is beneficial to the whole healthcare experience: "...art is required to both add an aesthetic dimension to functional architecture, and minister to the feelings repressed by modern medical practice by being expressive and individualist." (Miles 1997: 152). Perhaps the uneducated patient feels that ‘high art’ is not something that they can identify with, in fact it may just anger or confuse them. If this is the case then no matter how much spin the press release puts on the importance of public art creating a healthier, stimulating environment, the truth is that it is failing horribly. This is perhaps when the more unsophisticated method of distraction should be acknowledged. On a very basic level, the fear of visiting a hospital can be diverted for a period of time if the patient’s attention is attracted to something else, something unexpected. Perhaps the large pebble outside the hospital reception made the patient laugh, or the television screen showing the streets and buildings the patient just walked past makes them think of their home: "Art also relates to the world outside the hospital, through the depiction of local scenes, local history, nursery rhymes or cartoon character, or by being 'modern art'. This is a strategy of distraction assuming quite a lot about art, not least its general appeal, possibly replicating the taste of members of hospital art committees whilst leaving intact the institutional ethos and professional hierarchies which determine the character of the building thus humanised." (Miles 1997: 152). This distraction may even be as simple as occupying a child’s fantasy with images of identifiable characters from their everyday life: "...in the 1970s, [art] attempts to impose a kind of instant cheerfulness - for example by painting clowns, parrots, characters from Disney and 'jungle scenes' using garish colours in children's areas." (Miles 1997: 152). This practice of colourful painted walls is a perfect example of how colour has been used to create an environment that can change human behaviour; in this case it is used to alleviate stress and fear. A superb illustration of this can be witnessed in St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London where pupils from a Bethnal Green primary school have produced a series of paintings of London landmarks for a display in a hospital staff restaurant. The children from the William Davis Primary School drew the artwork for an exhibition entitled ‘Views from the Window’, which is being displayed at buildings used by Barts and The London NHS Trust in Prescot Street, Aldgate. The concept of colour connotation, along with studies in psychological and physiological behaviour, has pushed the theories further than Schauss and Kwallek et al. Art, particularly colour, is now being used as a therapeutic device in the medication of human disorders such as arthritis: "Since we know the colour of a room can affect one's mood, it should not be a shock that colour can also affect the immune system. The theory of colour therapy suggests that the body absorbs colour in the form of electro-magnetism." (Harris 2006: 31). The Royal Marsden Hospital in London is a prime example of using art for healthcare and offers art therapy to all of its patients, with sessions taking place in a specialist room or at the bedside. The fact is that a hospital needs to choose art that really does improve the environment because to most people, a visit to the hospital is not an enjoyable experience: "The artist seeking to relate to hospital communities needs considerable social skills to contend with the negative emotions felt by people in hospitals." (Miles 1997: 150).
My next case study is an example of Bauhaus architecture. Bauhaus was founded by Walter Gropius in 1919. The word literally means ‘house of building’ in German. The school of Bauhaus worked out of three different locations from 1919 to 1933; in Weimar, Dessau and Berlin. According to Miles can der Rohe, its last director in 1953: “The Bauhaus was not an institution…. It was an idea”. (Liturgical Arts 1972: 133). Perhaps the most famous Bauhaus building the in UK is the old Penguin Pool at London Zoo (figures 6 and 7). The Penguin Pool was designed by Berthold Lubetkin, a Russian modernist architect, and completed in 1938. The design was in the school of Bauhaus, originally a German modernist art movement that believed that form followed function; in other words the product must serve its original purpose and that the Bauhaus method ought to be supplemented and developed on the basis of a better understanding of psychological and sociological factors: "The virtue of the Bauhaus lies in its intellectual forthrightness and its willingness to draw candid conclusions." (Rosenberg 1983: 227). The Penguin Pool was awarded as a Grade I listing building in the 1990s and, even though it is no longer used to keep penguins, it will remain unaltered in its setting at London Zoo. Ultimately this is disappointing considering the practical philosophy of the Bauhaus and its intention to design and build a structure that functions for its purpose: "that it should be a showcase for the penguins, giving maximum scope for their natural tendency to congregate in groups, as well as providing surfaces to dive from and a large swimming area." (Pearce 1991: 88). However, if we are to put the pragmatic theory of Bauhaus to one side and look at the structure as an architectural work of art then it becomes apparent that what we are left with is a monumental piece of public art: "Here was a single idea... flawlessly executed, and that somehow possessed, as if in diagrammatic form, all those fundamental principles of design upon which architecture depends." (Gardiner 1987). When London Zoo faced closure in the early 1990s, the local community pulled together to save ‘their’ zoo. The local issue was picked up by the regional and national media, and the number or admissions increased. In the following years Lubetkin’s modernist design fell out of favour with zoologists and animal rights campaigners: "[it] has been claimed to be rather unsuitable for penguins, in particular not to be deep enough to allow proper swimming." (Bostock 1993: 111), but was considered by the government and English Heritage to be a building of ‘exceptional interest’. The subsequent Grade I listing will preserve it for future generations to enjoy, thus proving that as a public work of art the structure does indeed improve the environment it is set in. Unfortunately there will never be the sight of penguins walking down the curved, helter-skelter ramps into the pool, but the imagery shall remain: "The coincidental link between the penguin's black and white plumage and man's formal evening dress brings to the London Zoo's Penguin Pool the atmosphere of a 1930s film musical." (Pearce 1991: 88).
The Penguin Pool is a fantastic example of how public art improves the environment and thus implies that architecture controls or regulates the relations between man and his environment. It therefore participates in creations a ‘milieu’, that is a meaningful frame for the activities of man. The modernist, Bauhaus architecture may not have won over its critics when it was first unveiled but, just like Gormley’s Angel of the North, people began to accept it and then to love it. The structure still gathers its admirers even though there are no birds on display. But perhaps the most important fact is that the building received the official stamp of artistic and architectural approval by English Heritage. Certain buildings have a richness and density of meaning which makes them more enjoyable to inhabit, view and visit than others. These are the buildings which are reinterpreted a new by every generation. We return to them again and again not necessarily because of any particular meaning which they may convey, but more because of the exciting and deep way in which the meanings are interrelated or fused together into a powerful pattern. This quality is known as the ‘multi-valued levels of meaning’. To be more precise, multi-valence consists of four distinct qualities: imaginative creation, or the putting together of parts in a new way, the amounts of parts so transformed the linkage between the parts which is the cause of this creation and which allows the parts to modify each other. When Lubetkin first designed the Penguin Pool it was a functional building to house birds for the public to watch. The legend that Lubetkin left is a work of art that was once used as a building for penguins.
My final case study is the Peckham Public Library in south east London (figures 8 and 9). Designed by architect Will Alsop of Alsop & Stormer and completed in 1999, Peckham Public library is a bold and inspired public building; it is a remarkable example of community architecture and echoes the positive foresight of the regeneration program in the London borough of Southwark; one of the poorest areas in the capital. The construction cost of the library was £5 million, including £1.25 million from the Single Regeneration Budget programme. In 2000 the building won the Royal Institute of British Architects’ Stirling Prize and is the result of a client brief to re-define the role of the library within a modern community: "The architect and client sought a library which would appeal across age, ethnic and cultural barriers. The also wanted a building which gave fun back to borrowing a book and which would act as a symbol of social regeneration in a deprived area of South London." (Edwards & Fisher 2002: 141). The design of the building is inspiring. In the modern world where information can be sourced and retrieved in seconds using the internet, the role of the community library is in jeopardy. What Alsop has created is a community building that is as different to the antiquated image of an old library with its dusty books. The building takes an L-shape structure that rests on seven slender columns; this automatically creates a covered area around its entrance, allowing visitors an area to congregate within. Had this been designed ten years previously this space would have been utilised as part of the building, however, what Alsop has created is the ideology that the building is not as important as the people that use it; it does not encroach on their own space. The north face of the building is completely glazed in vibrant, coloured glass. This allows a combination of natural light and tinted hues into the main building. Peckham Library looks aesthetically pleasing, spacious and allows lights to reflect into the building, hence helping to create a pleasant learning and studying environment for the public. The material and chosen colour creates a harmonious look to the library; the colour blu
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