Friday, February 10, 2012

Who Controls Art?

Of course our focus here in Hayfamland is on comic book artwork, but sometimes we do widen the focus (and longtime readers may remember that one Hayfamzone Blog article was about a family of ducks). My daughter Poth is, after all, a professional artist and so I keep one eye on all the goings-on in the world of art. Two recent events are worth bringing to your attention.

I. Unlikely Inference leads to Prize Revocation

For at least ten years now, the city of Chicago has had a contest to design artwork to adorn the annual city vehicle sticker that must be adhered to the windshield of every car and truck in the city. The contest is open to high-school-aged kids who were told, this year, to base their design on the theme "Chicago's Heroes." The entrants hone their designs in their school's art class and, after the ten best designs are determined by the contest-runners, the contending designs are presented in the Chicago Sun-Times and an online vote selects the winning design. Tens of thousands of votes are cast. In each previous year, the process went perfectly smoothly.

Immediately above, you can see the design that garnered the most votes this year and was declared the winner. No problem so far. But a day or two later the City Clerk announced that winning prize of a $1000 savings bond was being revoked from the fifteen-year-old special needs student who had drawn the artwork, and the design that had garnered the second-highest number of votes (and is pictured at the top of this article) would now be declared the winner of the contest. The reason given was that those hands in the design (reaching skyward toward the symbols of police and firefighters and medical professionals) could be interpreted as gang signs being flashed.

I was outraged, the boy's mother was outraged, the boy's teacher was outraged, and local newspaper columnists were outraged. (I very much like this Chicago Sun-Times editorial that points out the obvious gang signs in the Mona Lisa and other famous works of art.) The boy's teacher even showed the piece of clip-art of hands that her student had followed closely in drawing the hands of his design. The young man was even willing to re-draw the hands to appease the contest-runners, but they never even heard his offer. Here is a video of that young artist, proudly holding his artwork.

The young lady whose superhero-based design had been in second place wisely decided that she wanted no affiliation with this tainted contest, and she has withdrawn her submission.

II. Subject's Family disapproves Artist's Vision

There will be a memorial to President Dwight Eisenhower on the Washington Mall in Washington, D.C. Widely known and well-regarded architect Frank Gehry has been awarded the challenge of designing the memorial. For one portion of it, Gehry has proposed having a youthful and barefoot image of the future president surrounded by a montage of what he would accomplish later in life.  Eisenhower once referred to himself as a "barefoot boy" after World War II and Gehry expanded on this thread for his design. Here is an article with more details.

It turns out that the family of President Eisenhower is opposed to Gehry's design. They feel it juvenilizes a great figure of history.

I'm no fan of Mr. Gehry's more typical ribbon-based architectural designs, but I feel he is on target with this plan; his idea is out of the ordinary and thought-provoking and inspirational. Aren't those exactly the characteristics that an artist's idea should have?


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