Do you recognize your neighbors, I wonder. Neighbors who I have known for months, years, decades are changing into a people I do not recognize. No, not merely the bandit masks that disguise faces, nor the isolated eye that shows fear or anger, even unto the strange attitude of the knotted brow, but that deeper recognition of neighborly comportment, kindness, consideration. True, we have all felt the sordid probe of the quisling, that smug moralism common to scientists, hall monitors, and know-it-alls, you know, the foolish who slip upon banana peels for the common delight. Civic Art.
Likely, I am older than you, considerably older and can recall the generous quietude of those who attempted to reattach the bomb-dislodged arm of a friend, the gracious consideration of those whose one-and-only love lived in a wallet’s edge-worn photograph, and nowhere else. Yes, the big-opinions of little concerns are strange to me, the masked warriors of science delusion, the heavy booted stompers of statues, Isis and Antifa are “strangers to me”, you might say.
I remember a day before Public Art, you know, not long ago when neighbors were civil, when citizens were souled, when statues were nude, and beautiful, when flashers were naked, and arrested, before the days of Art in Public Places. How the “New” became “crude” is in part, Madison Avenue, in part, ugly attitude, though mostly, the New became crude when subsidized by government’s Affirmative Action.
Why did government meddle in the free exchange of ideas. Why did government favor Progressive arts, punish Classive arts. For the obvious cause, societal manipulation, the bone-headed notion that a few know-it-alls know better the tens of millions following the personal choice of heart and mind. And then there is the corruption of faith, faith in the progress of science, as though science was something other than the informed opinion of impossibly fallible women, and men, something other than commercial interest and political inclination.
If you have suffered an art history text you will know the brain numbing sterility of Hegelian inevitabilities, of disastrously dumb Marxist criticism, the vacuous notion of forward social advancement toward some psychedelic Utopia where loving husbands cheer breasts-growing boys who drown in their wake mighty girls. Art more than science determines fashion. As always, science serves fashion in art and ideas. Science creates nothing. Science is merely a technical practice. The making of things is art, or craft. Most often, craft, as when for fashion a thirteen-year-old girl has her breasts removed without mom’s permission. You know, dress-up. Trouble is, the arrogant scientist causes permanent damage.
You will remember the Progressive project of culling the herd, eugenics, a notion proved by science to improve the human condition, a political program instituted by Progressives the world over, Woodrow Wilson to Hitler, to, well, let us pause at Woodrow Wilson who when New Jersey governor signed into law a bill to sterilize the hopelessly defective, the sterilizations, the culling continued into his presidency, into Roosevelt’s presidency with great increase, though not so-fast-as Hitler. As you know, science serves the good, and scientists are never wrong.
Progressive science improved Art, as you can plainly see. Social science and political science met in The Federal Art Project (1935) of the WPA, and other socially improving government programs, programs that culled the Classive, steroid pumped the Progressive … as in the Congress for Cultural Freedom, set up with CIA funding in 1950 to promote “Abstract” art. You might like to know: founding father of the CIA, William Paley, was on the Museum of Modern Art board(MoMA, founded of socialist enthusiasms, 1929); Tom Braden, a first CIA chief, was executive secretary of MoMA; Nelson Rockefeller, president of the MoMA board, increased his wealth by personally collecting and trading, and selling and donating the art and artists he, the museum, and the CIA promoted. Et cetera.
Among the CIA-MoMA promotions, “The New American Painting” exhibition which triumphantly occupied every major European city, and which in this country publicly insinuated Progressive art into well-placed stories and onto prominent covers of popular magazines, Time, Life, et cetera. Soon, government sponsored “free enterprise painting” (N. Rockefeller’s term for Progressive, abstract art) was government-supported by The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). As you know, the NEA is a social engineering project based on the N. Rockefeller government program model.
My mentor, E. Ray Scott, was the longest serving state art agency director, and I was Archivist of State Art (36 years ago) in an agency that distributed grants and commissions to Progressive artists … hum, loquaciousness again meanders me away from the present concern: Public Art, Art in Public Places, Civic Art. Later, I might detail the 100 years of particulars employed by Progressives to shape American cultural identity. But now, to the topic.
Public Art is not Art in Public Places. Neither Public Art nor Art in Public Places is Civic Art. Sculpture is not statuary. Statuary is not figurative art. Let us define our terms.
might be a noodle, might be six poles (pole legs, body, arms, head, with a seventh pole or a hole to sex, or rainbow colored to gender). Figurative art might be a marble ear shape six stories tall, titled “Beethoven”, accompanied by a pedantic didactic sign where nearby a dozen grounded speakers blare the 6th Symphony 24-hours-a-day, seven-days an et cetera.
is, well, you know what statuary is, a statue, souled man ideally formed after the pattern of God, beautifully composed by a transcendent intelligence that extends mind through hand to, well, to your eye and to your mind where ennobled you live into higher things in that quiet realm between time and eternity. A statue is not merely a body cast as is a doorknob or paperbagged man-on-bench, a statue is the high idea of Man made real, abstract in ideal, fast upon a pedestal, exemplary man alike Adam or David or Washington or Eve; figurative art might be a fingered tin-can wrapped in a pictured butt.
is civilizing, classively conceived by a citizen for fellow citizens, formed in beauty to give pleasure, formed in truth to uplift, formed in goodness to bring happiness, formed humanely in the form of man. As artful as a verse, as useful as a maximum, as necessary as a prayer.
is a headline, the one-line joke, a burb or blob or plop left on a sidewalk, street or public park. Public Art need not be civic, need not be beautiful, need not be formed in truth; the one requirement of Public Art is that it be public; Public Art need not be artful, or even crafted; Public Art can be a pile of dirt, a stack of bricks, a rusted iron wall that separates a citizen from her city.
ART IN PUBLIC PLACES
is a government program formed to purchase the loyalty of a voting bloc. Citizens are taxed, the tax dollars are transferred to an constituent who makes a thing that citizens neither want nor like, a picture is taken, a resume is lengthened, and all move on and no one cares except the bureaucrat who is employed by the taxing scheme.
Public Art and Art in Public Places are promoted by Progressive governments, Civic Art is demoted, discouraged; Civic Art is being removed, annihilated in that glee little boys have in destroying a block tower, is being properly packaged by prim girls, redressed in meaningless frill and filed away. Civic Art reminds Progressives that they are a diminished people, an inconvenience to inflated, self-regarding opinion.
Public Art might be an Open Society Foundation “Sex Work is Work” exhibition, insinuation to corruption disguised in “dialogue”, the talk of Progressives who argue two sides of the same point toward a unified conclusion. Art in Public Places is Progressive decoration alike the baubles on a random spruce that was once a Christmas Tree. Whatever Public Art and Art in Public Places might be, they are not the ennobling statues of a Civic Art.
You will notice that Progressive architecture (the old-fashioned architecture you yet name “Modern”), is mechanical, machined, plain and dumb and soulless, and opposed to statues and tradition and manners and humanity … look, notice: no statues, no goodness; no people gather in modern places, unless invited by lust, money, or anonymous pleasures … Progressive architecture is anti-human, pro-machine; Progressive government is anti-citizen, pro-resident; Progressive Art is artless.
Government meddles in the free exchange of ideas to manage its population, as do tech-monopolies that censor and push to manage markets and eliminate competition. The Classive Tradition is strong, stronger than the Progressive because the Classive is souled while the Progressive is atoms and the void. Notice the soulfulness of a Classive city. Notice the soullessness of a Progressive city, atoms and the void. Government can control atoms and the void. Government cannot control souls. More and more my neighbors are atoms and the void, things managed by government.
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Twenty-five years ago, Michael Curtis and Catesby Leigh conceived The National Civic Art Society, an organization that has grown in influence and effectiveness under the chairmanship of Marion Smith and presidency of Justin Shubow, Esq. Other founders include Michael Franck, RT Lyman, James McCrery, Howard Segermark. Mr. Curtis is the 2021-2022 National Civic Art Society Research Scholar.
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