This morning when I took Mollywog for a walk in the park, a freight train pulling mostly boxcars came down the tracks next to the park and gradually slowed until it was stopped on the siding to wait for another train coming in the opposite direction.
I noticed that with perhaps one exception, every boxcar that I could see on this long train had become the canvas for graffiti artists. I stood mesmerized while Mollywog snuffled and sorted at a ridge made by mole. I was stunned at how beautiful some of these freehand drawings were/
Art? Yes, I think so. Vandalism? Yeah, that too.
But definitely food for thought: Who decides what is art?
When I was a child, we spent a lot of time at the LA County Museums that were part of the Coliseum complex in downtown Los Angeles. It was only perhaps a 10-minute drive down the freeway from our house and admission was free back then. My folks were very clever at finding free things to do to amuse their four children and we went there often. Back in the day, before the LA County Art Museum had been built some miles away down on Wilshire Blvd by the La Brea Tar Pits, all of the art in the collection was housed in the Natural History Museum. I loved looking at the beautiful paintings.
One incident I have never forgotten took place after Dad and I climbed the stairs and came into a gallery with a number of sculptures, including one that was a large collection of scrap metal that had been welded together. There were lots of large and small car parts in the creation--tail pipes, mufflers, engine parts, transmission parts, that sort of thing.
Now my Dad, who was an automobile mechanic, had a finely tuned sense of what was “art” was and what was “not art,” and like Justice Potter would say not too many years later in the landmark Supreme Court case on obscenity “"I know it when I see it.” Well, Dad had handled many of the objects in this sculpture day in and day out, and he knew art when he saw it, and he had an opinion about this particular piece of art.
What a piece of junk!
And he wasn’t exactly whispering when he said it, either. But as the cliche goes, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure.
Now, this is a perfect point to insert a video essay by the late great Molly Ivins about fine art in the great state of Texas. Do take a few minutes and watch it.