Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Our mutual mural dislike

Sunday was a momentous day, not only because Hook and I ran a 5K* but also because the weather was summery. Non-Californians, I'm sorry: I know you're up to your navels in snow. Minor wars are being waged over shoveled-out parking spots, and Seasonal Affective Disorder is striking down all but the most robust souls. On Sunday, it was 72 and sunny here. After we'd run and collected our swag and walked back through the park to get showered and dressed, Hook and I had lunch at Magnolia. Magnolia is, at best, average: their beers are solid, but their menu lacks and lacks and lacks! I'll explain it like this: most of the dishes on the menu seem alright, but for one (or two) ingredients that are totally offputting. Arugula, baby beets, goat cheese, candied pecans, and dressing? Sure! Oh, with a poached egg? NO! I cannot wait for the poached egg trend to fizzle, let me tell you. Scrambled, fried, even over-medium -- fine. Poached eggs have the texture of mucous.

Back to the story. H. and I sat outside to capitalize on the summery weather, and what did we see but a mural in the process of being painted. How interesting, is what I would have liked to think. Instead, I thought, How douchey.

"I hate murals," said Hook, verbalizing my judgmental inner monologue.

But wait! Before you pigeonhole us as a bunch of asshole haters of public art, hear me out! During the course of our brunch, Hook and I compiled our list of reasons why MURALS SUCK:

1) They incorporate lame themes. This qualm is a tricky one to articulate, so let me say this: I like diversity, friendship, togetherness, cooperation, compassion, empathy, etc. as much as the next lady, but I hate hackneyed representations of these here abstractions. It's not so much that I mind murals' tendency to depict Themes of Unity, but the means in which they do. Really, do you think it's clever to slap up a rainbow of kid-sized palmprints meant to signify the exuberance and joy of Kids Working Together? How many of you really feel that compassion is personified by a lopsided caretaker reaching out to a grandmother whose face sags under waves of bloodhoundlike wrinkles? If you're going to create a piece around a Big Theme, move away from well-established symbolism and make your own meaning. This leads into justification two, which is...

2) The quality of the "art" is middling to poor. When was the last time you saw a mural that made you think, "Whoa! That's awesome -- I'd like to have a print of that!" Or even, "Hey, that's pretty good -- props to the dude [or lady] who painted that." What's that? Never? In my 1.5 years here, I've seen exactly two murals that I've liked enough to considering hanging reproductions thereof in my own home. TWO. It seems to me that many mural artists, carried away by the grandiosity of theme they're stretching to depict, lose focus and let slide their artistic skillz. Or maybe the skillz weren't there in the first place.

3) Mural artists can be self-satisfied. This really only applies to the Mural Artiste we saw on Sunday, who was swigging from a can of PBR and fist-bumping passersby, even though the "face" he'd outlined looked like it had been drawn by a child. A PBR-swilling child.

I wrote this post at the risk of sounding like a massive asshole: I'm aware of this. And as I said, it's not that I don't like what murals (in many ways) represent -- community unification, kids working on projects, togetherness, what have you. I just wish that, in their quest to promote Positive Values, murals could look nicer. Pretty things are what we respond to best, and the only two murals I've seen here and loved are not at all related to unity. One depicts a series of woodland creatures, and the other features a robot. I'm pretty sure that "Unity" > robots, but I want public art to confirm this suspicion. Step it up, mural artists.


*And I'd be lying if I told anyone my performance was momentous, unless "momentous" euphemizes "pretty fucking bad."


EmKiller said...

Okay--you need to come to Philly and visit and reassess your hatred of murals. See:

Peach Pit said...

I would love to visit Philly and see some good murals(!)

Note: I don't hate all murals: just those feat. shoddy depictions of children/the elderly. Or just poorly-done ones. You know.