Should art be safe, or is it better to challenge thinking? | Publisher's Column

The sculpture of a large octopus proposed for downtown Oak Harbor — a piece being referred to as a “Kraken” — is certainly fulfilling one objective of good art — it has people thinking and talking about it.

I’ve gone back and forth in my opinion about this particular piece. I feel differently about it at different times.

And I kind of like that.

Like the sculpture of the mermaid along Pioneer Way, I wondered, what on Earth does a giant octopus have to do with Oak Harbor?

Then again, what does the Flinstone car have to do with Oak Harbor, and what does Hammering Man have to do with Seattle?

Must an art piece directly reflect the community in which it’s located? Should Oak Harbor only have statues of little Dutch boys and girls, windmills and shamrocks? Is it really “art” if a piece is made to fit a theme?

If so, where does surreal, figurative or abstract art have a place in our society?

If I had to come up with a term for the proposed octopus sculpture, I’d call it “fantastical.” Is it better to step out of the box, as Oak Harbor’s Art Commission is doing?

While attending the Western Washington University campus many years ago, I appreciated the simplicity of pieces like the massive structural orange steel girders entitled “For Handel.” My favorite piece on the campus is called “Rock Rings,” which was located in a more remote part of the campus.

The interesting thing about art is that not everyone has to love it or even like it. In fact, some of the great artists were unappreciated in their times, among them Van Gogh, Gauguin, Seurat and Monet.

Before jumping to a decision on whether to approve or reject the “Kraken” sculpture, decision-makers should ponder their objectives.

Should people be intrigued, surprised and even perplexed by public artwork, or is it better that they feel comfortable and unchallenged?

At this moment, I would lean toward challenging people’s thinking.


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