Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Cow Talk

In an earlier post I polemicised against the Cow Parade. Almost inevitably, this is something that has already been debated at the Virtual Stoa. Having missed the boat on this so long ago, I thought I'd try to bring something especially juicy to the conversational table

Lucky for me, critic-at-large, articulate authority, and good friend Al Bing (online here soon) agrees that the cows are dung. In her own words:
We can't stop city tourism bureaux from coming up with marketing ploys, but is it too much to ask them to come up with an original idea, or at least not one that's an also-ran 50 times over? And please, don't call it art -- that's just an insult to every last artist in the city in question. Asking a talented local artist to fill in the details on a cow or some other municipal mascot is like giving Picasso a coloring book. As for artists who go along with this ill-conceived scheme: You've been pimped. You've only got yourselves to blame when your viewing public looks at your future efforts to win their attention with a skeptical eye, wondering if there is any inspiration in your work beyond prurient interest.

Let's call these gimmicks what they are: Uninspired photo-op props for tourists that lack artistic merit and have little or no relevance to the artistic and cultural life of a community. Tourists can see similar mascots in cities around the world, so they fail as a tourist attraction as well as a work of art. Tax revenues would be much more profitably directed to local artists and non-profit cultural organizations that celebrate original thinking and cultural traditions, and offer lasting inspiration to locals and tourists alike. And if these mascots are corporate-sponsored, they're little more than corporate logos in a cow costume. Public space should be reserved for the public interest, and public art that actually interests the public.

7 Comments:

At 11:57 AM, Blogger brainy said...

Wow. And I thought I'd really enjoyed the cows in Stokholm this summer ... Some Schmuck I am.

 
At 6:06 AM, Blogger john b said...

Yup - while Ms Bing's points on the debasing effect on artists are worth debating, surely the fact that the public (ie local residents, not just tourists) *were* interested in the cow parade - well, at least the Manchester one - and that it became a major talking point among locals for months, places the last paragraph somewhere between moot and utter nonsense.

 
At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Becoming "a major talking point among locals for months" may be the ultimate marker of success for an advertising campaign -- but since when
did it become a mark of success for public art? Should lasting impact in art now be gauged in terms of a light buzz that lasts for a slow news month or two, instead of unfettered artistic inspiration and cultural innovation that
uplifts and challenges a community for years, generations and even centuries? Some may say it's "utter nonsense" to suggest that public art can and should aspire to a higher standard than an ad campaign to merit our hard-earned tax dollars -- but to suggest otherwise would be cynical, an insult to the public intelligence, and spendthrift to boot.

 
At 11:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Becoming "a major talking point among locals for months" may be the ultimate marker of success for an advertising campaign -- but since when
did it become a mark of success for public art? Should lasting impact in art now be gauged in terms of a light buzz that lasts for a slow news month or two, instead of unfettered artistic inspiration and cultural innovation that
uplifts and challenges a community for years, generations and even centuries? Some may say it's "utter nonsense" to suggest that public art can and should aspire to a higher standard than an ad campaign to merit our hard-earned tax dollars -- but to suggest otherwise would be cynical, an insult to the public intelligence, and spendthrift to boot. -- Alison Bing

 
At 11:01 AM, Blogger john b said...

Err, for 'paragraph' read 'sentence' - sorry. The Manchester one simply did create more public interest than any non-sporting cultural event since I've been living here, so the final sentence in the quoted piece doesn't seem to make any sense.

This isn't enough to justify funnelling some enormous proportion of the arts budget into it, but the reasons for that are and must be to do with artistic merit - the popularity/public interest argument is out of place.

 
At 9:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cows are nice, both in person and in plastic. But I feel Richard is the more correct here [or rather there, since here was original commenting at The Virtual Stoa] in bemoaning the lack of originality, and lack of real civic or indeed artistic intent.

The plastic cows in Stockholm where I recently was - and in fact those in Geneva, where I think they started some years back, though they are not billed on CowParade.com - are hideous, and while they do break up the monotony of the street scene, once the novelty has worn if, which it does very fast, there is nothing more to think.

If we want public art, we need to think of a better form of it than fibre-glass cow figures. Why not temporary original installations by young sculptors and painteres (if need be working in tandem) which are then sold. The location of the installation can be sponsored rather than the work, and presumably prospective buyers are likely to be more interested in successive original items, having already bought one, than they would be in successive fibre-glass cow figurines, havine bought one.

But plastic cows? It is indeed too knowing, and too crass. For something 'utopic' on the street, which Chris finds in these plastic items, I rather look to someone being nice to someone else in a big city with no prompting. And for something artistic, the accidentl juxtaposition of sounds, shapes, textures, and other sensory input is always more arresting and lastingly inspiring than some grubby cow-thing.

As for the corporate dimension, art which has become an appendage of corporate communications is in my view advertising - advertising is surely creative, and often artistic - but not, alas, art. Art has to have a dominant mission - be it aesthetic, political, expressive, personally anarchic - beyond the chrematistic for it to be art; something *just* with mission to make money, or promote the making of money, such as these cows, is not art. The art itself, also, must be separate from the commercial component - if the artwork contains a non-ironic or symbolic commercial reference, it is advertising or marketing, but not art per se.

The way, as I point out above, to make money from street art, is to make it worth seeing and worth having - if worth seeing, its exhibition on the street will be sponsorable just the same as for art in commercial or public galleries; and if worth having, it will be bought by art purchasers far more readily than placcy cows.

As for the 'fun' part of this Cow Parade, I find it part of an infantilising tendency in art-appreciation rhetoric (analagous to dumbing-down in the media): 'if art isn't fun, it won't please', etc. Myself, I don't find resin cow figurines fun, but for those that do, it seems wrong that they should attempt to pass this off as much more than childish.

If you want public art, think about it, commission it, exhibit it, encourage both appreciation and proper, respectful sponsorship of it, and build markets for it in unlikely communities - for example, using schemes such as the Arts Council interest free loan scheme. Don't moon at commercial bits of plastic.

[Post simultaneously added to Stoa debate also; apologies for being months behind the, er, cowve.

John M, masquerading as Anon, because not wanting to set up a login thingy]

 
At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm with Ms Bing, whoever she may be, on the whole art v cow thing. It's one of those "funny for five minutes" things, a surprisingly large number of which make their way into urban redevelopment agendas. (Just you wait, in 10 years time every half-arsed borough in Britain is going to have a "funky" Peckham-style public library. Gah.) Otherwise it's just nasty. WWAMT? (what would Alistair Macintyre think?)

[Richard A, who also can't be arsed to sign on]

 

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