by Irineo Medina
Trust. A word often used with a certain heaviness to it. Trust me. Trust the process. I Trust you. There is an implied vulnerability. Trusting in someone or something means you are taking a risk. It means that you will put yourself in a position that might not work out in your favor because you believe in the integrity of that person or thing. How does this pertain to the arts? Let’s take a minute to explore that concept through the lens of a public artist.
As the wave that is public artwork in the Fox Valley grows, we all need to have the conversation of what it means to contract these artists. Speaking from my own personal experience, what we need above all is trust. I’ve found that what often inhibits this from occurring is fear. Fear that the artist won’t correctly execute the vision exactly the way it’s seen in the mind’s eye. Fear that the artist will misrepresent the business/building owner/community. Fear that someone will be offended by what we paint, sculpt, install, etc. To some extent these thoughts and concerns are necessary to cultivate a strong relationship between the artist and whoever is paying for/receiving the work. The best place to voice those thoughts are in the pre-planning meetings and conversations. It’s when those thoughts and concerns take over and the fear begins to control, that the dynamic between artist and employer starts to feel like a toxic relationship.
Trust the vision. One thing we are not are mind readers. There are no amount of meetings, emails or phone calls that will put us in a position to create exactly what you are seeing in your mind. If that is what you are looking for, don’t hire an artist. Design and create your own project on a smaller scale. Use the colors you want, the imagery you want, and the size ratio you want. Then find someone who will enlarge that idea and recreate it exactly as you see. Artists pride themselves on their vision and their ability to work in their medium. We often times have spent years learning our craft, exploring color, line, space, value and whatever other element of design you can think of. Our brain is always consciously or unconsciously seeing the world around us and decoding it, breaking down the color relationships, the perspectives, the shapes and shades, the visual elements that build what we see. We are storing that information to retrieve when creating. We remember that the colors we saw on the fabric of the chair in the doctor’s office looked amazing together. We know the shape from that one logo needs to be explored and built on. Our processing never leaves us and is always working. Hire us because you want our vision, not because you want us to recreate something that was already dreamed up.
As you can imagine surviving as an artist is no easy task. We are often working multiple jobs, dreaming of a time when we can successfully sustain ourselves doing what we love. So when an opportunity to create public work comes along, it is not our immediate thought to take advantage of the project and misrepresent our employer by creating something damaging. In my own process, my first thought is how can I create something that this person/business and the community will be excited about. I think I speak for most of the local public artists in saying that we wouldn’t intentionally damage our relationships, especially in a community like the Fox Valley. Something like that would not only hurt our own chances for future work, but might leave a bad taste that could prevent the future public artists from getting work. This doesn’t mean we wouldn’t create something to provoke thought or encourage public discourse on social issues. It means that we aren’t here to breathe negativity into our community, there is enough of that in this world already.
On that note, there is another fear that seems to occur more intensely than most. Fear of offending someone. Let’s not be naive, the Fox Valley isn’t Miami, or Brooklyn or any other place where public art thrives and artists are given enormous spaces to paint or create. However, here in the Valley, the wave is growing. There is an amazing opportunity to use art as a vehicle to create positive energy, to encourage discussion and thought, and bring our community together. But to do this, we have to acknowledge that someone will always be offended. Someone will almost always have something to say. Almost every mural I have done, I have someone say to my face that they don’t like what I’m doing, they don’t like art or that the community is really letting things go. To which I always smile and reply “It’s not for everybody” and go back to work. That is the same mentality those employing public artists need to have. So for those who prefer boring brick walls, or who don’t want to have discussion around public issues, it isn’t for them. This is for us. For the us that want to see artists flourish and the community grow together with peace, love and positivity. To do that we have to step out of our comfort zones. We have to be ok with someone being upset about what’s being created. Because that is often inevitable. We can’t please all of the people all of the time.
Looking forward, I truly believe we are on the path to great things when it comes to the art. Having an open discussion about public art and hiring public artists is necessary in keeping that energy here in the Fox Valley. So if you’re in the market for a mural, or a sculpture or any other type of public work, talk with us. Express your concerns, your ideas and your goals. Allow us to take those ingredients and use our vision to create something beautiful for you and for the community. We want this to succeed because we want this dream of ours to become our reality.
Irineo Medina is a working artist currently residing in the Fox Valley. His work dances around the 2-D practices, ranging from drawing, to printmaking to murals. He draws his interest from community and the relationship between people and their environment.