This summer (2017) while visiting family in Vermont I placed a truck load of garbage in the lush green forest. I call it art. Let me explain.

In preface, my intention with an artwork is always to have it speak for itself.  My goal in writing this is not to supplant the art but to further process my own thoughts about the project and to share a map of my inspiration and process.

In the summer of 2016 I made work in reaction to the trash I found accumulated in the southern California desert. Earlier this year my exhibition Medium, in its investigation of the evolution of technologies, looked closely at the production of electronic waste. Both projects have grown my frustration with an ill-conceived rampant consumer culture.  This summer I was confronted with this culture again; this time while visiting my childhood home in Vermont.

Walking down the creaky unfinished steps into my mother’s basement I descended into a thick layer of stuff stacked and strewn across the floor. Over the years my typical reaction to this hoarding has been avoidance, since the alternative is arguing about the value of owning a VHS collection without a VHS player. So I simply ignore it; a tried and true method of not freaking out during the holidays. However, this visit was different and I felt the need to confront the clutter and take some positive action.

It isn‘t as if my parents consume more than average, in fact my guess is it is quite the opposite, but they don’t get rid of things. So each relatively inoffensive old product piles up. As I looked through all the stuff, a conflict arose in my mind; I recognized much of it from my childhood. Many of the items were at one time or another dear to me while some were just fun to have around. Overall, the collection of stuff contributed to an imaginative childhood filled with many colors, forms, and mechanisms.

Exploring this new found value I found that I was empathetic to these objects. I felt nostalgic and indebted to them in a way. They are part of my personal cocoon of development and to a great extent, being mass produced objects, they are a snap shot of a collective cultural cocoon as well. In an effort to digest this conflict which cut so deeply into the heart of my own culture I decided to feed some of the items through a process of artistic transformation. I decided to value them again.

In order to make this transformation I knew that I must free the items from the basement and bring them into the world. I selected items for meaning and durability and then set out into the surrounding wilderness to find a suitable site. I chose the stump of a large pine tree my father had cut down for firewood. The stump had great utility as a base and I liked the idea of the products being where the tree used to be. The conjured image of replacement is powerful. All of our products come from the earth, cut down, mined, extracted, and processed into the things we consume. The idea of returning the products to be among the trees felt like an attempt to complete some twisted hopeful loop that we can put it back.

Whether a golf club, a plastic lightsaber, or a laundry basket, the items each carry a considerable load of eye catching marketable or utilitarian cultural imagery. Subverting the visual noise by painting the objects white allowed me to use their various geometries as parts of an assembled whole. This reduction of product into form seemed to pull the objects out of existence a bit. Individually it transformed each product into an idea of the product and collectively it unified the objects into a single form. While in close proximity to the piece, the items are identifiable but from a distance the forms merge into a cohesive whole that among actual trees stands out, not as an imposter, but as a materialization of another kind of natural growth.

Ultimately the sculpture doesn’t strike a definitive conclusion about mass consumer culture. It does, however, transform the products back into ideas, cleansing them of the term junk and imbuing them with new meaning as form. Its very existence is a monument to excess but also to the wonder of imagination. In taking action in opposition to consumerism not only did I provide some art therapy for myself but I created a counter narrative to the typical cycle of production - consumption - waste.  

The Artist Market - Predatory Practice in the Visual Arts

“Hello there! Came across your work in curatorial googling. 
We have a couple of call to artist exhibits that your work may be a fit for.
Details at the following link.”

This was an email that I received not long ago. It isn’t dissimilar to many propositions I have heard over the years. The link that was included in the email goes to a gallery website submission page requiring $20 to submit one image. This gallery actually pays someone to fish online and reach out to artists to submit so that they can generate revenue. It is that valuable. Who knows maybe this person gets commission on the submission fees.

The purpose of this is not to lump all galleries together or to villainize everyone who asks for submission fees. The purpose is to take a closer look at the landscape of opportunities for emerging artists with a focus on what to avoid. It is a criticism of what seems like a new norm in the art world where the funding to curate and promote art comes from the collective artists and not from ‘patrons’ (private or public).

I also want to preface by saying that just because you make artwork doesn’t mean you deserve funding. You have to fight for that in the marketplace of ideas. If you are not finding support for your work sometimes the problem lies with the work. With that said, there are bogus and predatory opportunities to be aware of.

We often hear about the art market and almost never hear about the artist market. The artist market is the cumulative money that aspiring and emerging artist pay for exposure. Galleries will host large juried shows with submission fees, art competitions, or just online promotions. Event spaces and businesses will ask artists to exhibit for free. It is a huge market that takes advantage of the abundance of aspiring artist’s hope and naiveté. 

If you want the short version of this do a YouTube search for ‘Message and the Money’ by Immortal Technique.

Let's see some numbers.

 A gallery or institute puts out a submission for a large group show. Submission fees are $10 for one image and $5 for each additional image. (this is not uncommon and close to the median range)Say the average artist’s submission includes three images. One thousand people apply. 

That is $20,000. I give this example because I find that artists often don’t think of themselves cumulatively. Your submission fees add up. So where does the money go? Surely not all of that goes to curating. A curator would cut the one thousand submissions down to one hundred in a couple days. That is assuming they look at all of them which I’m sure some places do and some don’t. So where does the money go?

My guess is it goes to anything from salaries for administration and directors to paying the light bill. It is a problem if this is a primary means of funding for an organization. If you are a traditional for profit gallery you should be making your money on sales. Nonprofit institutions and museum spaces have a more complicated revenue stream that is a combination of many sources including donations, grants, rental fees, etc. Neither of them should be pulling a significant amount of their funding through submission fees. It hurts the overall art market by draining the resources of emerging talent.

The artists are the product that these galleries and institutions are selling. Without artists there can be no art market. These organizations work for artists not the other way around. The artist should be paid first. If you are doing something for a cause you believe in or to help out a friend than by all means donate your time or work. On the other hand if someone else is getting paid to show your work you should be getting paid too.

Society values art, not enough but there is a market. Artists giving their work away for free undermine that market. If you are a successful artist you should still have a problem with other artists devaluing their work. Encourage artists you know that are coming up to not be taken advantage of and spread the word on predatory services that you encounter and avoid. Keep in mind that not all predatory services are doing it intentionally some of them think they are helping artists or believe this is just the way it is done.

These are some examples I have run into.,, all of these are subscription based artists networks run by the same people that charge in the ballpark of $40 per month and offer artists links on their webpage and the possibility of exhibiting in one of their sponsored galleries. If a gallery tells you that you need to sign up with a service like this in order to show in their gallery then they are predatory.

Events like the San Diego Spirit Festival will coerce artists into setting up their work for free because there will be lots of people there. The coveted eyeballs. The reality is that artists make there event more attractive and help them sell tickets. Expensive tickets. Meanwhile the people are coming for the booze not the art. Artists are helping sell tickets and not getting paid a portion of those sales. Why? Because they will do it for free. Let them go a year or two without any artists and see if they are willing to work them into the budget.

Businesses will contact you. A lawyer’s office asked me to show work in their offices for free and presented it to me as if they were doing me a favor. People do not go to lawyers offices to buy art nor was someone at the offices going to be representing the work. They are asking artists to decorate their offices for free. They should pay a small monthly leasing fee or an installation fee that gets taken off the sale price should the work sell.

These are just a few of the ‘opportunities’ that you will see. Say no to them and spread the word if you are involved in bad opportunities as well as good. It is way short of an artist’s union but it is a start toward reforming the art market and destroying predatory practice.

Post your opinion or some examples good or bad that you have run into.

Invention without Intention

440 million years ago an insect chirped a warning.

20,000 years ago the first mythology began.

In 3200 BCE language was written onto clay tablets. Written language was invented two other times independently.

Algebra was invented over two thousand years later.

In 2400 BCE the abacus was invented by a person who shit in a hole in the ground.

Fifty years later the toilet was invented.

In 1923 the water slide was invented.

In 1687 Isaac Newton published his theory of gravity.

In 1957 Sputnik defied gravity to become the first man made satellite.

The wing was invented through the evolution of insects 40,000 years ago.

In 1823 an oxygen assisted man walked on the sea floor.

 600 million years ago the lung was invented.

A mechanical lung is being developed now.

Life began photosynthesizing 3.2 billion years ago.

0.5 Billion years ago the hug was invented by an amoeba.

In 1609 the microscope was invented.

A year earlier the telescope was invented.

Light pollution began in Antioch in the 4th century.

7,500 BCE the city was invented.

In the fifteenth century the scientific method was invented.

In 1986 the National Science Foundation Network provided interconnectivity between super computer sites across the United States. The phone in your pocket is three times more powerful than those super computers.

In 1998 emojis were invented. That same year someone successfully used emojis to get laid.

A billion years ago sex was invented.

In 1881 cigarette smoking became widespread due to the invention of the cigarette rolling machine.

In the 1940’s cigarette smoking was shown to be positively correlated to cancer.

In 1888 a man named Francis invented statistical correlation.

In 1901 radiation therapy was invented.

13.8 billion years ago nuclear fusion was invented.

60,000 years ago art was invented. Five minutes later pornography was invented.

In 2005 YouTube was launched. Today I watched a video of a spear fishing orangutan.  

Research Log 13

Planet 29 has done its best to kill me with some help from my own stupidity.

Field Notes

Note 1

To my left I can barely see the ghostly visage of the only remaining above ground water on the planet. The Salton Sea is a putrid ghastly body of water. Sitting above an active fault causes a cycle of pollution that devastates the fish and bird populations. The lake is not my destination though and I cruise by. This morning is the one I have chosen to visit the most desolate landscape on the planet; the Dunes. They are on the opposite side of Planet 29 far away from any support systems I have nevertheless they are a crucial site to finish my research. Excitement has boiled up inside and I only slept three hours last night. I imagine the vast nothingness of the sand. True and utter lifelessness.

Note 2:

Even though it is still dark I can faintly see the rolling silhouettes of the dunes. I have arrived. Since I was unable to acquire a hovercraft or even a suitable ground vehicle I must carefully pick my access point. The road I am looking for should take me to an undisturbed part of the dunes. A left off the main road takes me onto a small dirt road. This must be it. Another sign warns travelers away. I continue on. Dark chocolate cliffs to my right continue to hide the slowly rising orange sun. The low light reveals the edge of the Dunes and although it is only a short hike the sand, the sun, and my gear will make it dangerous. So I continue down the sleepy road hoping that it will lead me closer.

Note 3:

It has been several miles and still the Dunes remain just out of reach. This glorified automatic cart I am driving is not equipped for this increasingly treacherous road I have had to cautiously bypass a few obstacles. The map indicated this road will take me along the eastern edge of the Dunes and eventually connect back to the main road heading north. The government protects this sandy patch of land while just past the Dunes to the west they maintain an active bombing zone.

Note 4:

I’ve realized I may not have access from this road which is frustrating after all the planning and the long journey. I pick up a little speed. Still holding out hope that the next turn will allow me access. Some radio signals come in of a woman’s voice, she is reporting that it will be 111 degrees today. Wonderful.

Note 5:

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! FUCK! How could I be so stupid? My worst fear has just been realized. I am stuck. My wheels spin in the deep sand and the under carriage of the vehicle is resting on the high ridge made by the air jets of the hovercraft that usually use the road. Deep breath. Keep cool. Yeah right. The sun is up. The temperature is rising and there is no help coming. It could be days before someone uses this road. I don’t have days. I need to get myself out.  I get out my shovel and start to dig. Sweating from the physical exertion as well as the panic that I have buried deep in my stomach. Luckily I have some sturdy research equipment that serves perfectly as a ramp out of the sand. After digging and ramping my way forward five times I am back on solid road. I take this opportunity to send an emergency signal back to the research facility warning of my situation. Now that I have made it through the stretch of sand I am faced with a perilous decision. I am about smack dab in the middle of this horrible road. Do I go forward into the unknown or risk becoming stuck for good going back through the deep sand and out the way I came? My hopes of getting any research done rapidly fade. I am in survival mode. Pure desperation to get back to civilization as fast as possible. I flip a coin in my head and decide to go forward.

Note 6:

The way forward has been slow and proved to be no less treacherous. I fear with each sandy or rocky stretch I make it past I only get further up shit creek; completely and utterly paddle-less. The road curves back and forth. Around each bend I fear I will meet an insurmountable obstacle and be forced to turn around. The next turn reveals transport tracks and I breathe a sigh of relief. Maybe if I get stuck for good I can hitch a ride on a transport. It’s risky but seems like a better idea than trying to hike out until I remember the stories of raiders using transport stowaways as target practice.

Note 7:

Another radio signal is coming in; ‘two women were found dead in their vehicles, no signs of violence, they expired from heat and dehydration’. I think of all my loved ones and the lush green landscape of my birth planet. I am NOT going to die on Planet 29. My research has never felt more pointless. My digital map loads and I receive my GPS location. One mile out. Nine miles back. With all of this unexpected slow travel my fuel may not last the trip back. I have to make it forward. Unfortunately the road has all but ceased to exist and I am essentially bounding and bouncing through a small dried up riverbed with loosened sand from hovercraft. My strategy has become to maintain my speed so that I can coast and plow through the sandy areas without spinning my tires.

Note 8:

The riverbed is way too sandy in the middle so I am staying on the edge. My adrenaline has been peaked now for over an hour and my eyes remain glued to the terrain. I am on the right edge of the wash but ahead I see the bank swoops in to meet the sandy middle. Since I can’t stop I make a quick decision. The other side looks just firm enough so I pick up speed and, holding my breath, attempt to make it across the deep sandy middle. I can feel the underside of the vehicle scraping the sand as I rapidly slow but my front left tire just makes it onto the crust of the left bank an pulls me out. My relief is short lived as I see a tree overhangs this side of the bank. With nowhere to go I hope the tree doesn’t shatter my windshield. Turns out it was mostly dead and bounced off my vehicle. The zig-zag maneuver proves useful several more times in the next mile.

Note 9:

A huge sigh of relief comes as the wash ends at a T and meets a washboard dirt road. I take a left and come across a large man made mountain bearing a cross. The entire mountain is brightly painted with many colors. The sign reads ‘Salvation Mountain’ which seems quite fitting. Now it is time to fuel up and begin the long journey back to my barracks. Empty handed but alive.  

-RMJ signing of

Research Log 12

I woke up in a sweat this morning from oversleeping after a long night of research. Recently the temperature has risen dramatically. I’ve had to take extra precautions and recoil to the safety of my quarters in the middle of the days.

As I learn more about Planet 29 (the conflicts over water and power, and the history of the place) I think of the history of the galaxy and how people even arrived here. I took a look in the historic annals of the galactic knowledge and found that there are many theories of what triggered the Expansion; the time when the human species began rapidly populating the galaxy. Oddly enough it was before the hyper relay system was ever created. People began sending out intelligent machines that could withstand the long cold journeys between stars. The vessels began seeding the galaxy. Before that though humanity was isolated to a single planet. Burdened by ideological conflict and still extremely vulnerable to the volatile geological and astrological forces. Can you imagine? Any number of things could have destroyed the progress intelligent life had made on that one planet so long ago. Then something happened and technology advanced rapidly. Soon after those early humans secured their solar system the seeding began. Personally I think it was the discovery of the source code that allowed them to succeed. Some historians think it was around that time that Henry McLure discovered the code hidden in the strings of the universe. The conformation of an intelligent creator may have unified the species. At least for a time. Allowing for rapid advancement. Or so the theory goes. We may never know unless someone discovers a way to go back in time. Just kidding. You can’t go backwards.

The discovery of the source code caused some unrest, briefly, but I imagine once people really let it sink in they realized it changed nothing about their experience. All the rules and sensory inputs of the universe were still just as real. Few of even the brightest AI assisted humans have the capability to really understand even a fraction of the code, and so, the universe largely remained a mystery. Once things settled a host of new religions began to emerge. Some believe we are in one of an infinite number of realities where every imaginable variation of the source code exists as some kind of experiment. Another theory suggests that we are the creators and that after we became bored with unlimited knowledge and omnipresent power we constructed this universe, governed by the source code, so that we could re-discover everything. I guess I am attracted to this theory because I like the idea that real meaning is in the searching not in the knowing. Plus if you think about it all knowingness seems pretty boring. Although this kind of human centric thinking has been shattered time and time again, so personally I don’t place much stake in it.

Naturally the discovery of the source code lead to the rapid development of the world creating industry, which developed all manner of simulations for people to live in. Many thought they could perfect the source code. Turns out that the balance of order and chaos in the source code was the key that was hard to replicate. All other worlds seem a bit too chaotic or sterilized to me. People like them though. Most of them are just recreational simulations; people do whatever they want worry free, they like being detached, floating through realities. Some entire planets populations are maintained by machine intelligence so everyone can float.

A few realities have been specially designed as creative variations on reality prime. Both people and AI’s are recruited and allowed in to boost their creativity. They have become idea farms and have significantly increased the acceleration of information complexity. My younger brother, born and raised in a simulation, is preparing to be one of the first wave to train in a second tier simulation. A sim inside of a sim. I wish him well but, I remain in the source code.

I’ve done what can to eliminate unnecessary programs and to clean Susan’s cooling system. It seems to have helped considerably and the last few days have been productive.

-RMJ signing of

Research Log 11


Earlier I was working with Susan, now that she has the right programming, and she started to become extremely feverish. The new program really tests the capacity of Susan’s aging model. I shaded the windows and gave her some ice packs but nothing seems to help. We will have to push through in thirty minute bursts so she can rest. She really scared me for a minute there. Despite complaining about her out of date hardware I really need her. We have very different skill sets.

I learned today that marijuana is the galaxies most widely used drug. A scientist invited me to his lab where he was testing the plants resilience in the alien soil. To my surprise they seemed to be doing very well. It is a remarkable plant. Lucky for me he only needed small samples of the flowers for his research and gladly donated some to mine. I find the drug offers a pleasant alteration of my perspective but mostly it relaxes me and relieves my aches and pain which is most welcome after my long days traversing Planet 29. You might have thought that with all of the galactic empires scientific advancement they had found something better than weed. Nope. If you still have a body then weed is still the best.     

Field Notes:

Note 1:

I have just stumbled onto a raider dumping site. Looks like it is all clear. I am heading down the ravine to investigate and possibly take samples. The site has clearly been used multiple times. Perhaps by more than one gang of raiders. It is hard to tell how long the trash has been here. Due to the dry weather the radiation from Planet 29’s star is the only force for decomposition. It is amazing what they will dump out here just to avoid the interaction with officials and small fees associated with recycling. Some planets have been able to recycle over eighty percent of their used products which has created long term wealth and stability and relieved much of the tension that comes from over population.

It is late and I have been working with Susan all night to process some of my results. The processing power of this new program I have her running is ridiculous. Progress is slow and frustrating.

-RMJ signing of

Research Log 10

Due to the unusual nature of my research my AI unit Susan needs to install a new program. While planet 29 has satellites that broadcast the sum of all galactic knowledge they seem to miss a single fifty square foot spot which happens to be where my quarters are located. I have to bring my gear to the lab in order to connect. Although not having immediate access to the galactic knowledge has proven to be productive for my research. It takes about six days for all the latest news and research to reach me through the hyper relay. I find that I don’t mind though. When the news does arrive I feel so wrapped in my own work that I pay it little attention and rarely does any of it affect me out here.

Today a friend took me in his hovercraft to go see some of Planet 29’s best preserved petroglyphs. Ancient people carved pictures into a small canyon of black volcanic rock. By hand! They are mysterious and abundant. It makes me wonder what the volcanic site meant to those people. Who were the artists? Was it one person or many? One thing is for sure, the energy at the petroglyph site is much calmer than the energy of the more recent archaeological sites.

On my way back from the petroglyphs site we came upon a doorway embedded into the base of a mountain. It was so well camouflaged we missed it the first time. A closer look revealed it was an elevator- destination unknown. The vague warning signs rang empty in my head as the excitement of the mystery took over. We were surprised it didn’t have a security system and stepped inside without hesitation. Delighted to hear the hum of the engine start we began to ascend. A minute up the smooth acceleration became jostled and the engine sputtered a bit. Clearly it wasn’t being used much but someone was maintaining it. The mostly smooth acceleration made it difficult to estimate how high we were going. The doors opened and we stepped onto a sandy metal floor. The facilities walls were all transparent revealing that we were in a low planetary orbit. It was one of the older distribution satellites; spreading for the galactic knowledge that arrives each day through the hyper-relay. I stared at it as it silently sent all of the news and turmoil of the galactic empire and beyond to the already burdened population of planet 29. I am not even sure how it does it. The specialized task of making and maintaining technology was taken over by AI’s long ago. They are the ultimate specialists. Few know how much of anything works anymore. The view of Planet 29 from the satellite was outstanding. I am glad to have disregarded the warnings and look forward to visiting the vista in my dreams tonight.

-RMJ signing of 

Research Log 9


I was in the field today, on foot, headed to a dig site when a small cyclone seemed to blink into existence. Out of nowhere some paper, aroused by the wind, whipped across my path. All except one weaved between the sparse plant life and disappeared. The remaining one stuck violently onto a cactus by the side of my path. A few steps and I arrived at the scene. It was a photo of a nude woman posing. As the wind gusts that followed the cyclone came the needles of the cactus pressed through the girls face neck and chest while her lower half flapped violently in the wind. This type of pornographic imagery exists as a part of nearly every other star system’s culture in some fashion but rarely does it cross your path so unexpectedly.

I met a veteran of the galactic empires Deep Space Force today. He told me stories of his service as he passed me pictures of a tall lanky youth and his mates. He had been familiar with deep space since he was a boy and so was recruited by the DSF at a young age. The empire was drafting youth, preparing to annex a planet. Luckily for my friend as horrible as the conflict was deep space saw little of the fighting. In fact it seemed like the best time of his life. Side by side with his brothers smoking hash and peering into the dark of space.

One of Planet 29’s moons has set and the other is waning tonight which has made this outside perspective of the galaxy especially brilliant. I think of how fast the last three weeks have gone. When I found out about this research opportunity I was hoping to enjoy the stars every night. It hasn’t worked out that way. There always seems like something to do. Currently I am working on logging my results and realize it has been days since I have logged anything. Even though my AI Susan can transcribe and send these logs for me I prefer to write them myself. It is shocking how much the glow of just my writing tablet dims the stars though.

-RMJ signing of

Research Log 8

I am needed off world briefly to present some previous research. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until got to the second hyperspace relay which had a ridiculous back up of merchants and travelers due to an unusually large solar flare. Anxious about waiting around I had Susan route me a detour which took me longer than expected. I did get to fly by one of the moons of Oasis though. A gorgeous green and blue dot shimmering against the dark of space. I stopped in at the fueling station and the worker tried to sell me some pie. Said it was the best in this quadrant of the galaxy. No time for pie buddy, I’ve got a warm bed waiting for me at my final destination.

Apparently the solar flare damaged some of the relays and has caused some of my logs to arrive late.

The presentation went well. As usual my research cannot be simply dropped off and logged into the university servers by the professors like most. My research has taken a more physical form. It requires object evidence and I have to spend all day heavy lifting just to present my findings.

Planet Oasis, where I have just presented my research, is a nice contrast from Planet 29. Oasis is the lesser of a couple dense metropolis planets in this solar system. The population is confined to an island that sits in a vast ocean. It is a common vacation planet and is known for its beautiful beaches. I find it is a nice break from the quiet of Planet 29. Even though I will never meet most all of the people here, being inside such a buzzing system energizes me.

A hulking battle cruiser flies past me as I make my way to the hyperspace relay. Good thing there is no sound this far out of the atmosphere because that thing must make quite a roar. Must be headed to one of Oasis’s massive military arrays. They say Oasis is of critical strategic importance to galactic stability. I continue on to the relay where I am stretched to oblivion and reassembled across the galaxy.

-RMJ logging off

Research Log 7

I have a spring in my step this morning because finally the suit is ready for testing! My research has revealed many sites of interest that I am energized to explore. Ancient rock drawings, perhaps the first recorded alien contact site, and many archaeological dig sites revealing the habits of a civilization.  

I’ve decided to test it close to home today. I have checked and rechecked and am ready to set out. If this is my last log then the suit has failed.

I made it. I’ve sterilized myself after just getting back from testing the suit. There were some water delivery failures, ventilation issues, and some damage to the suit’s outer shell but overall it went well. I am alive and I got some field work done. The suit protects me from the immediate dangers of the desert but does a poor job of monitoring my fatigue. Turns out I will need some physical conditioning to go with my suits life support.

I visited a nearby archaeological site and found it mostly picked through and raided. Through the remaining objects I tried to get a sense of these lost people’s lives. What was important to them? How did they live? An interesting visit but I will need more time for conclusive results.

As Planet 29 orbits in its solar system the landscape changes colors. The blue sky contrasts an array of ochres and browns which get washed with orange light in the morning and evening and in the middle hours are bombarded with a harsh white/yellow light. When the light diminishes over the horizon everything cools to shades of blue and eventually gets to such a deep dark blue that all you can see are the stars. That’s where I am now in the cycle, sitting under the stars and wondering what the rest of the universe looks like. I wonder if we will ever crack inter-galactic travel.

-RMJ signing of

Research Log 6

The suit is mostly ready but finding a few key parts have proved impossible. I have located them off world and arranged for my first supply drops. I anxiously await them.

This desert landscape is majestic but I can’t help but long for the lush green of my birth planet. Most of my family are still there and it seems like years since I have been back. The galaxy is huge though and my research seems to always pull me away.

The clouds have dispersed now and my writing tablet is a dim reflection of the night sky that I have been missing these past few nights. I exhaust myself; sanding, refining, sanding refining.. The final parts arrived today and I have spent all night putting the final touches on the suit that will allow me to do extensive field research in extreme heat. The suit is complete with oxygen, water supplies and it monitors my bodily functions and supplements with the appropriate minerals and calories. It should keep me safe and comfortable for an extended period. If everything functions properly. 

My mind has often been wandering into the past here on Planet 29. At the moment I think of my uncle who once responded to a crash and saved a man’s life. He used his his hands to cover a spraying gash in the man’s neck until help arrived. I wonder what it was like to be so close to death. Testing on my suit begins tomorrow and I am not sure I’ll sleep much tonight. Then again I am exhausted.

-RMJ signing of

Research Log 5

The market was helpful. It is amazing what gets reused on a small planet so far from a hyper relay. Although since I am still missing some pieces for my suit and running low on my budget I decide to try a different tactic.

The research council was able to call in some favors and arranged a meeting with some locals. I pulled up to one of the addresses they gave me. A spaceship, in remarkably good condition, sat deep in the sand. Cautiously I arrived at the doorway and was greeted by no one. But since there wasn’t a door I made my way inside. A few men were busy modifying the ship which was being used as a home. Eventually one of them set down his tools and acknowledged me. He slid up an odd set of goggles as he approached and after a firm handshake he offered me some liquor. He had thick hands cast with deep lines to match his squat stature. He generously equipped me with supplies and even shared some of his own experiments. Despite declining the liquor, I learned he had been marooned on here long ago; he survived by being exceptionally resourceful and relied little on the supply drops. His ship had been space worthy for some time now but he would never leave Planet 29.

The light is fading as I sit outside in the cooling night air and the wind begins to howl off my quarters behind me. A small two footed feathered lizard has abruptly arrived. Approximately five meters from where I sit. It is lingering and seems unafraid of anything. Its aggressive posturing and long sharp beak reveal it is a top predator but it is too small for me to be concerned. After some time it darts away on its thickly scaled legs.

Without my suit completed my research has been confined to the lab where I have been calibrating equipment and testing materials. Important stuff…but nothing to report.

-RMJ signing off

Research Log 4

After a good night’s sleep am up promptly with the sun and am determined to sync my body to the planetary cycles.

I introduced the basis for my research to the owners of the compound this morning. They have offered there insight and given me a tour of the facilities available to me, which are much more extensive than I had imagined. Surely this will make for more accurate findings.

The open space here seems to create a relative lawlessness that blurs the lines between private ownership, common use, government, and claimed property. You find many ‘Private Property’ signs voicing ownership as if it is a constantly disputed or disregarded fact. 

The extreme heat of Planet 29 forces me to customize a suit to withstand it. I will browse the local markets tomorrow to see if I can scrape together parts that will keep me safe in the field. There are many dangers in the wilder spaces here on Planet 29. And that is precisely where intend to go.

The terrain out here can be rough and often hovercraft are necessary for travel across the deep sands and heavily textured landscape. Unfortunately I have only a small ground vehicle. I will have to do a lot of walking.

A low grumble starts in my left ear and steadily gets louder until it is an obnoxious roar. Then two more. Luckily the raiders pass by below as I sit safely outside my quarters. They tear open the night. Defying the stillness.

-RMJ signing of

Research Log 3

I am exhausted from the previous day of exploring, and the sun is not as welcome this morning. I may have to use the shade devices after all.

 I met with the council today. The one who invited me to Planet 29. They are mostly other researchers whose work is also ongoing and could not have been more welcoming. Their collective experience on Planet 29 will be a valuable resource for my own projects; the details of which are still forming. 

After the formal introductions were over we went to a private event featuring some local musicians. They played and combined all manner of instruments including a few things I have never seen before and didn’t consider as instruments. The intimate private setting was a wonderful way to be introduced to some of the sounds of Planet 29.

The parties are over and my living quarters are quiet again. Socializing can be more exhausting than laboring over my research.

The night air has cooled substantially and I attempted to read outside. Having no other sources of light around, I found myself barraged with insect life. Some of the easily disoriented creatures were biters and I was forced back through the airlock.

-RMJ signing off

Research Log 2

The facility is positioned at the edge of a small canyon that sits above the only source of water found on planet. An underground waterway. I am up early because the alien sun rose hastily over the opposite edge of the canyon. My bedroom was flooded with bright yellow light. The research facility has an extraordinary design, ideal for the observation of all the natural planetary cycles.

I have finished organizing and testing my equipment.  I have filled my water supply for a short journey, suited up, and am about to explore the canyon bottom.  

The vacuum seal on my home airlock has just equalized. I have returned from my first expedition. Time seemed to slip away and I ended up pushing my water supply to its limit. Here are my first notes from the field.

Field notes:

Note 1:

The desert does not bury the dead. There is some highly adapted life that hangs on the edge of survival but death seems to linger in the air here. A hollowed out dried lizard carcass stares up at me from its final resting place. With no indications of a violent death the well preserved creature must have simply died of thirst. My mouth is dry and my water is running low but there is a strange energy in this place that has excited me.

A storm appears to be coming in. A traveler stopped on the road to warn me I may get wet. I thought of heading back but decided rain sounds nice.  

Note 2:

There is a surprising amount of human activity. The few that live on this dusty planet are mostly sustained by off world supply drops. Some have learned to utilize the planets limited resources but it seems rare. The abundance of human waste products drifting about creates an overall sense of disregard for the planets ecosystem. Without intervention the accumulating burden will inevitably break the delicate balance that exists here between life and death. A cycle that has been well documented on many other planets.

The stars have been up for many hours. I feel unable to sleep. The prospects of exploring this planet has excited me and I feel my research is starting to gain some traction.

-RMJ signing of

Research Log 1


Research Log 1

My personal shuttle is packed with mission supplies and I have an early departure to the planet I’ve been invited to study. Planet 29. I wonder what I will find on this arid, scarcely populated, planet.

The entirety of Planet 29 is a desert only capable of sustaining the most highly adapted life forms. It has been discovered that at one time, not long ago in the galactic record, the planet was a fertile host to all manner of life. The climate shifted dramatically after a massive asteroid impact. A mass extinction took place and when the climate settled it was hot and dry.

I have arrived at the compound where my living quarters and lab are located. I learned the construction of the facilities began thirty years ago. It was developed by a pair of researchers that decided there work was ongoing. They rarely go off planet. I’ve noticed their steps are far lighter than most their age and broad smiles come easily to their faces. Their research became woven into their life and they seem to have enjoyed it thoroughly. So much so that they continue it after all these years. They have the deepest love for one another and for Planet 29. Their commitment to this place has led to an optimized research facility and the accommodations they have prepared are most welcome at the end of a day of space travel.

A late afternoon walk led me to an abandoned structure where I met a young and ambitious researcher. He has familiarized me with his project and warned me of some of the local raiders who have not taken kindly to newcomers infringing on the territory they have laid claim to.

The night sky here is tremendous. I was able to locate the solar system of my previous home and planet of departure with unassisted eyes.

Due to the vast distance between Planet 29 and the nearest planet with a hyperspace relay I estimate that these entries will take 5 to 7 days to reach you depending on how many ships are in route between the systems.

–RMJ signing off

Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency

Where I grew up with in Vermont I could see the whole Milky Way on a dark night. With the entire cosmos stretched out before me every night I thought of myself as a tiny part of the universe. This scale and perspective inspired me throughout my life. After 5 years living in San Diego I grew to miss the stars. This longing wasn’t obvious though it took years for me to identify the growing anxiety coming from the absence of the heavens.

It was only after listening to Randall Carlson podcasting with Joe Rogan (Joe Rogan Experience #606) that I realized what I needed to do. Carlson’s studies bridge many scientific fields. He is as passionate as he is articulate in conveying his many fascinating theories and his work often deals with time on the cosmic, geological, and anthropological scales. I highly recommend the podcast. In the conversation he recommends visiting high desert areas to look at the stars in order to get back in touch with the universe. Lucky for me there happens to be a high desert nearby San Diego. So, I planned a visit and went to Joshua Tree national park on Thanksgiving of 2015.

Joshua Tree was awesome in the most literal since. Every day I spent in the desert was a dialogue with the ancient. Surrounded by sand and bare granite and with the sun and stars as a constant reminder of the endless passage of time I became all too aware of my ephemeral existence.

I was so happy to get a dose of the universe again. The perspective that the stars give has guided humanity throughout the ages and until electricity it was a view available to everyone. I believe the insight the night sky affords is desperately needed. It is a unifying force that could help humanity solve some of our biggest challenges as a planet. It is that important. So take a trip to the desert or nearby wilderness and stay up all night.

Upon returning to San Diego I applied to the Joshua Tree Highland Artist Residency. I am happy to report that I have been accepted to that program and have been awarded the opportunity to live in Joshua Tree for seven weeks this summer to explore the ideas in the following proposal. The Residency culminates in an exhibition of the new works.

Proposed work

After recently visiting Joshua Tree for the first time I was amazed with both the geology and the night sky. You get a sense of time stretched out, unending, before you. Every granite boulder you traverse is unchanged since the beginning of human history. As I climbed to the highest pile of boulders in the area I couldn’t help feel connected to Joshua Tree through the shared experience of all the travelers that have come before and will come after.

My work thus far has used the imagery of the figure to explore different universal aspects of the human condition. Given the opportunity I would photograph site specific wire sculptures interacting with the landscape. These figures will then be removed and placed into the exhibition along with the photos. Together the two will examine the frozen sense of time in Joshua Tree and the ephemeral nature of humanity.

Growing up in rural Vermont I became an avid hiker and have a deep connection to the serenity found in nature. I suspect that by immersing myself in the high desert my work will be informed by the landscape and I look forward to this new perspective.

As I look forward to my sculpting in the desert I realize I will have limited access to materials and tools and won’t be able to place permanent objects in the landscape which will force a photographic element into my work. While the purpose of residencies is ultimately getting out of your normal environment and working closely with artists from other places I am equally excited about the inherent restrictions of the residency and incorporation of photography as a new medium. I find creativity is often sparked by limitations.

My seven weeks in the desert will start May 24th and the final exhibition is around July 12th . Keep in touch with my blog for more information leading up to the residency and weekly updates on my experience while there. 

Dialogue with a sketchbook

I am standing in my studio staring at a blank page. The page’s void calls to me. The emptiness, the unrealized, the potential. The blank page is nothing and infinity at once. It is opportunity. It soothes me, gives me purpose, and fills me with anxiety as it calls to me to fill it up.

“Make me something” the page begs.

Doubt enters my mind, my muscles tense. What if I make it something terrible? Will the page forgive me? I reach for a pencil. Yes. Safety, I can erase, edit, and fix my mistakes. Just before I cautiously mark the page I realize that the page is not afraid of what it may become. It hasn’t been to art museums to see what other pages have become, it doesn’t know it’s potential. It hasn’t been taught how to be or been compared to other pages in the sketchbook. This page is just excited to be something. My options are endless.

I put the pencil down and pick up a pen. Caution be damned. Whatever marks come out of me, so be it, the page and I will be one, a stream of consciousness. Impulsivity. Whatever imperfections I have the page will share. I owe this page nothing. I didn’t chose this page. It was simply the next in line in my sketchbook. I never have to look at this page again.


I’ve been here before, staring at an empty page with no plan, no idea solidified in my mind. Not even a starting point. This does not go well. It will be a mess, a landslide of unintended consequences, a disastrous chain reaction. A wasted page. Horrified, I throw my pen across the room, what was I thinking?


I tell myself not to let the page irritate me. That’s what it wants and I won’t let the page win. This page disagrees with me, screw it, I will just go to the next page. Nah, this one is the same. Next. AH! Not again. Next. Next. Next. Next. Next. Next. Fuck! There are so many blank pages to fill, to disappoint, all staring at me. Taunting me. Words appear on the pages. “You suck” “You’ll never make anything good” “It’s been done” “No one cares” “Failure” “Failure” Failure” “You thought you could contribute to the world with your art?! HA! HA!

The sketch book is laughing at me. I slam it shut. To shut it up. But I still hear its whispers. Glancing around the room my eye catches a blue shape. My blowtorch. Yes. It has to die. The roaring sound of the oxygen burning soothes my mind. I throw the book on the ground and set the torch loose on it. The pages say nothing, no protest, nothing. My eyes glow red, transfixed on the flame. Bright white pages curl up and turn black, smoke billows off and dances away in the wind as the last embers burn out. Only a silky grey pile of ash is left. The sketchbook burned bright in nature’s glorious entropic power. Alas, the pages power and potential are gone.

The destruction was easy. It only took a moment, a single thought and…satisfaction. My mind is free. I don’t have to do anything. I breathe a sigh of relief.

I look down. The smear of white, black, and grey ash interests me. I crouch down, spread out the ash and begin to swirl the ash around with my finger creating ridges and craters. Hmmm. I need to go buy a sketchbook. 

A Project Denied: 2016 Creative Catalyst Proposal

A good deal of my time these last few months has been dedicated to writing and re-writing my proposal for the San Diego Foundations Creative Catalyst Grant. I made a small error in the application process which disqualified my proposal. Instead of seeing my project collect digital dust hidden away in my computer I have decided to share it. So, here it is. 


Robert was commissioned in 2014 to use his electric wire sculpting to create a public sculpture in Washington DC. The resulting Memories of Production is a permanent part of DC life located at 401 M St SE, Washington DC 20003. Graduating University of New Hampshire in 2009 Robert has established his practice in San Diego, CA. Showing in Monarch Arredon Contemporary gallery and Alexander Salazar Fine Arts as well as on going national public exhibitions such as Art on the Street in Lafayette, CO and the San Diego Botanic Gardens.

Artist Statement

“The human mind faced with the uncertainty of the reality in which it exists creates myths.”                        –Aaron Frank, Singularity University

Throughout history both mythology and science have provided us with guidance as to the nature of our existence. It seems that people are bound to this search as is my artwork. Our ability to observe consciousness allows us to contemplate our place in nature. Often we see ourselves as other than nature and measure ourselves in relation to it. In my recent work I explore our relationship with technology, using it as a second reference point in identifying our human condition.

My art is a synthesis of hands on exploration of materials and observational exploration of modern society. By showing my hand in the work there is an inherent narrative of creation. This narrative aspect is deepened by the incompleteness of the forms which force the viewer to play an active role in the work. The raw material and use of patina ground the work in nature while the choice of industrial and digital mediums reference contemporary society. This combination of aesthetics work together to tell stories of human experience that discuss pervasive philosophical questions in a world that is rapidly being transformed by technology.

Project Concept

For two hundred thousand years humans have existed on the planet yet today is the most exciting time ever to be alive. Why? 

Perhaps it is because more can be accomplished, analyzed, and enjoyed in a day due to faster computing, increased data collection, and virtual social networks. Today, with accessible technological advances increasing at an exponential rate, anything seems possible. Yet, aside from knowing that different ages use technologies differently, we know little about the effects the changing technological landscape. Our generations are more or less constant, while technological generations are shortening. This phenomenon changes how we live, think, and interact, and provides people of different ages and different backgrounds with vastly different experiences with technology. 

The Internet and personal computer were not a part my early childhood in the mid 80’s in rural Vermont. Thirty years later, the Internet has connected the entire world, and everyone has a super computer in their pocket. Just last month, at my latest opening reception I watched as a 2 year old in a stroller swiped away for hours on her iPad. This little girl will grow up in a fundamentally different world than I did and will have a profound mental connection with intelligent computing technology. As a mirror for society, art must allow us to see anew the rapid integration of biological (human) intelligence and non-biological (computer) intelligence as one of the most intriguing and influential phenomena of our time. By looking at how we use technology we explore our identities and discover our place in the world. The time for this examination is now as we begin to see the next wave of life changing technologies.

The Creative Catalyst grant is an ideal platform for my interests in developing and strengthening the connection between community and art. My proposal aims to explore the interaction between technology, community, and individuals of different ages and how thoughts, feelings, and interactions are affected by technological innovation. The project will highlight technology as well as the interpersonal interactions that technology has made it so easy to avoid, first by bringing people of all ages in a community together with fun, artistic, and interactive activities (both hands on and techno-centric), then by creating micro case studies from observations of these interactions, and finally by creating interactive artwork that is inspired from the most salient and adaptable aspects of the connections. In doing so, I hope to highlight the implications of technology in early childhood education and development, elderly and end-of-life care, and issues related to the attachment to and self-identification with technological devices.  Grounding such a large subject in local community interactions will give the work an intimate quality and humanize the concepts, making them more accessible to any audience. The final presentation will be an open exhibition at a San Diego nonprofit gallery or museum and will include sculptures, installations, and possibly performances, all of which will incorporate some form of new media: video, virtual reality, algorithms, phones, etc. Using new technologies as a medium will make the art itself an interaction with technology. It will be the subject it discusses.

A clear challenge and opportunity will be developing meaningful relationships within the community of interest. This summer I developed my community building skills during the Gilliam Community Park and Gathering Space where I coordinated teams of adult volunteers and students from High Tech High Chula Vista and King Chavez High School. While constructing the playground, as an artist and lead builder, I witnessed the willingness and excitement of the community to work with artists like myself. Upon completing the Gilliam Park project I realized that whether my work ends up in public spaces, museums, or private galleries, public participation during the process adds an important new layer to my work.

The Creative Catalyst grant would provide me with funds to purchase materials and consult with specialists, offer me a platform to expand my audience and my own credentials (which is crucial to an emerging career), and give me a connection with a non-profit sponsor that would help facilitate community interactions and boost confidence in my project.  Funding from the grant would allow me sufficient time to document, study, and find creative freedom and inspiration in these interactions and experiences, a luxury that is not found in galleries and public projects.  I believe, with the freedom this grant would allow, I can effectively explore, expand, and progress my art practice and contribute to the connectivity and cultural growth of San Diego.

The projects scope will require the entire twenty thousand dollars the grant offers. Four thousand will go to the nonprofit sponsor. I expect six thousand to cover the costs of materials and equipment, hiring of videographers to help document and offer expertise, as well as the shipping and installation of the show. Leaving me with a ten thousand dollar stipend for the time and energy of designing and facilitating the community interactions as well as creating the artworks.  

One example of a designed community experience that could enlighten my work might be an interaction between middle school students and senior citizens. Young and old could sit across from each other and draw one another for a short time. An exercise of looking that uses art to connect generations. Performing the exercise with pencil and paper and then with iPads will offer some perspective on how the tools we use change how we see and make. A follow-up conversation about their experience and perspectives on technology will document the effects of the experience and will provide content for my own artwork.

A second interaction could be based around a cutting edge virtual reality system.  I am curious what the unadulterated creativity of young children will think of the experience. How will they see this ‘other’ space? What will they imagine it could be? Likewise, I wonder what near retirement age adults will think especially given the likelihood that these experiences will be widely available during their elder years. These interactions, and others, provide a platform for dialogue centered on current technologies and allow me to witness various types of engagement. The insights gained provide a datum to understand technologies influence on society and collectively create a narrative from which to sculpt.

Work Samples

Deep Mind

Memories of Production


Nonprofit Sponsor Selection

Casa Familiar

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

Oceanside Museum of Art

Public Art: Is it an Oxymoron? :: A criticism of the public art scene in America


Art is journalism of the soul. At its best it is daring, original, and insightful. It is not always uplifting, nice, happy, and easily digestible. It can be many things and remains, of course, subjective to the viewer. Here in lies the problem. The audience of public art encompasses entire communities and so the art is subjected to the views of the many, making institutions that commission public art conservative about their selections of art. The goal in the public art scene seems to be a desire to commission works that no one doesn’t like. When you introduce this fear into the selection process you undermine arts ability to be fearless expression and therefore the ability of art to engage and challenge people.

I started down my path as an artist because I love it. I continued to pursue art because I realized it was important. It has the ability to communicate thoughts and emotions in such a way that it can affect our consciousness. By limiting the expression and subject matter of public art we are limiting the insight and the change it can have on individuals and society.

When referring to the ‘public’ what I mean is the masses, more specifically the unengaged masses. The enormous majority of people who are not tuned into the ‘Art World’. The ‘Art World’ being largely academia, art history, and art museums. Art museums being a unique case in that they are often public entities and are open to the public. I say they are part of the ‘Art World’, despite their openness to the public, because people have to choose to go there and they have a smaller audience. This gives them the ability to show more expressive and engaging art work without risking to much public backlash.

Of course people are not either engaged or unengaged with art but rather almost everyone exists in the grey area between totally uneducated/lives under a rock and the PHD art historian who has been teaching for 50 years. The huge majority of people are however disconnected with visual art in so much as they don’t seek it out and have little or no exposure to discussing it in a meaningful way. Despite my efforts to become informed as an artist, I grew up isolated from art and art history and feel as though I am still playing catch up in regards to having a working understanding of art history. Learning about art gives a context for looking at new art and although I strongly believe that this is an important and undervalued part of education I don’t think it is a prerequisite to viewing art. In kind, I don’t think that we need to treat the public with kid gloves, as it were, and provide them with watered down easy to digest art that offers nothing more than being pleasant enough to not offend anyone. I do not mean to say that art should or should not be beautiful. Beauty is a complex subject that I do not have room to delve into much in this post. But I will say there are many ways to express beauty and when a call for public work has beauty as one of their criteria they are referring to only the type that gives the viewer the sort of immediate gratification we get from a sunset, which is possibly the shallowest expression of beauty in its limitation as a mimic of nature. This criteria is almost ubiquitous in public art calls and may be the single biggest offender when it comes to limiting the scope of public works.

Public art creates the interesting and elusive problem of combining the long tradition that is the language of art and an audience that does not necessarily speak that language. It is true that art does permeate wider culture and that most people are exposed to some level of art and art history through mass media, marketing, and design. These forms however are all governed by markets and geared to attract and please the public not to engage it. Public art is not beholden to these markets and has the opportunity to engage and challenge communities.

This idea of engagement and challenge is worth clarifying. There are many ways art can accomplish some deeper engagement with an audience. To list a few; it can be allegorical, metaphoric, contradictory, politically or socially positioned, abstract, interactive, mysterious, etc. Any of these especially layered together create an engaging and challenging interaction. They challenge people to think and expand their minds. Even when someone is totally lost by a work of art, they have no idea what to think, there is value in that. They received confusion. They have been brought out of their comfortable isolated world into one of discovery. Furthermore, when people revisit art that confuses them they usually discover or create a space in their mind to place it and start to make sense of it.

I can already hear the objection to this sentiment. ‘People have enough challenges in life they don’t need to be confronted in public spaces by art.’ ‘People don’t want to have to explain disturbing or controversial images that they themselves do not fully understand to their kids.’ It is the argument airports use when justifying their lack of interesting art. ‘Traveling can be stressful so we only curate peaceful calming art that soothes and pleases our travelers.’ AKA beautiful, uplifting, easy to digest. I understand that challenging art can make us feel out of the loop at best and ignorant and uncomfortable at worst. What I propose is that this is perhaps a defect in us not in the expression of art. The challenge in viewing art is an opening up. Each work is an opportunity to define yourself against the visual idea of someone else. But, in a sense, the artwork exists only in the minds of individual viewers because everyone sees differently.

‘…the picture lives only through the man who is looking at it’ – Picasso on Art, ed. Dore Ashton (1972)

We can change how we view art and how we let it affect us. Also, I will posit that being offended, uncomfortable, or confronted by artwork is valuable to our society especially since the rise of political correctness to absurd levels seems to be creating an ultra-sensitive, chronically offended culture that leans away from free expression toward censorship. Public art in America is in a unique place to reverse its position and become a driving force for free expression and dialogue. 

As many of you are most definitely unfamiliar with the process of commissioning public works, allow me to radically simplify it. An institution wants a work of art, often they are mandatory under ‘funding for the arts’ building laws that force a certain percentage of building budgets go towards public art (usually 1-2%), they select a group of artists, arts professionals, and community members to represent the community and write a call for entry. Sometimes they reach out to the community for feedback on what they might like to see. Artists apply and the selection committee chooses an artist or artist team based on past work, experience, and an ability to complete the project on budget. There is nothing inherently wrong with this process except maybe the attempts to poll the community which only place limits on artists and cannot possibly be representative of the community. They often read like this; preferably the art should be colorful, elegant, interactive, and relate to the community and the history of the area. Sometimes the call for proposals are open ended which is a noble attempt to give some direction back to the artist. This is progress over the calls that are specific. However, it is also somewhat dishonest because there is a subtext to all public art. It has to be nice. 

One gets the feeling that public art needs to be justified to the public, it is payed for by tax dollars after all. However, this type of democratic thinking, while seemingly harmless, leads to cookie cutter artists who excel at making the white bread equivalent of art. Intellectually deficient objects that serve more as landmarks than as additions to communities or to the world of art. It seems to be a pervasive thought within public art committees that there job is to please everyone. A professor of mine once said that ‘it is a good thing if your work elicits praise or outrage, the worst thing is when it receives indifference’. . If we continue to measure the success of public art by the lack of complaints received it will continue to not live up to its potential.  This is the sentiment that we need to start judging public work. Democracy has no place in art. Arts center is the individual. The non-conformist thinking that drives the field of art needs the individual to be empowered. This is not to say that art doesn’t benefit from criticism or collaboration, it does, but when the power to dictate art is given to the community or a board or panel of representatives of that community with the intention of pleasing everyone it erodes the foundation of the art. The freedom is taken away from the artist at the detriment of the work.

The same thing has perhaps started to infect all art mediums; music, cinema, etc. The easily digestible works that play to undereducated crowds become successful because of its digestibleness. It is worth remembering that people will take what is immediately rewarding to their own detriment. The difference is that in movies or music you have less control over what people take in. The market is largely privately driven and geared towards mass consumption. In public art we have the opportunity to force challenging art on the public. To fulfill the intention of the funding for the arts initiatives and to enrich our public spaces.

You may wonder why I care so much especially since the advent of social media has made it easier than ever to get your work seen. Why bother with public art if it’s such a hassle? As a sculptor I hold the belief that something special happens when art enters into and occupies the same space as the viewer. Looking at it on a screen is not adequate. When art is placed in public settings it creates a common experience that the communities share. We live in an insular society where technology limits our needs to interact in person. Creating meaningful real world locations able to spark thought and discussion is a fundamental part of civilization and crucial to advancing a societies consciousness as well as sending creative inspiration shockwaves through every other field of study.

It is also worth noting that a considerable amount of funding for the arts is in the form of public art and every time that funding goes to an unambitious public art project it fuels a subculture of art businesses that have conformed their practice to play by the existing rules Instead of funding artist who challenge the current, broken, system.

Although there are many great public works all around the country, there are also many bad works, unambitious projects and an overall feeling of stagnation in the public art scene. In the few years that I have been viewing and applying for public proposals I have seen too much of this public money being poorly spent and not adding to the field of art or creating works to engage the public. It is a disappointing fact that I see most artists that are truly pushing the field disengaged with public art. In art circles it is almost an accepted reality that public art is often equivalent to soulless corporate art that exists one tier above hotel art. This is the impression that I have gotten from my brief dive into public art. I certainly don’t think that I know what art is ‘best’. One of the major challenges is the subjective nature of art and the wide range of interpretation and value even informed people place on art. This is an ever present challenge in art and is the reason that the people in charge of selecting public art must be as fearless in the face of criticism and failure as the artists in making the art.

Thank you for reading, please comment and share, as always I write to work out my thoughts and also to start conversation.