people like us

“People have better things to do than deal with people like you on the street!”-Steve Fagin, via Deborah Fisher Some day I will need to quote this, so I will store it here to find again. Every time I read Deborah Fisher’s thoughts on the PLYOTSP (the People Like You On The Street Problem) I [...]

By Christopher Robbins

“People have better things to do than deal with people like you on the street!”
-Steve Fagin, via Deborah Fisher

Some day I will need to quote this, so I will store it here to find again. Every time I read Deborah Fisher’s thoughts on the PLYOTSP (the People Like You On The Street Problem) I cringe. How can I tell if I am merely being annoying or actually getting anything done? (and I don’t buy the craft/anti-Freddy-Baloney argument, Deborah – a bit thin)

Close to this, and perhaps even worse for its lack of guts or opportunity for impact, is the People Like You Alone in Their Box, in which you enact these street annoyances with no one around to be involved, and film yourself.

Many of my favorite artists today (including myself) could be said to fit into one of these two categories

So, what does Deborah Fisher say about this:

“Talking about public art in a palavering, self-congratulatory way that highlights art’s supposed socio-medicinal qualities obscures the actual, concrete good that public art really does deliver to artists and public alike…

“A good piece of public art, then, isn’t just a piece of good art. It’s a piece of art that uses the PLYOTSP as a lever to increase instead of decrease both participation and meaning…

“Even a brief examination of the PLYOTSP exposes the outrageous arrogance of assuming that art is good for people, and that therefore “inclusion” is the answer to solving the conflict inherent in public art, because the real problem is that the “public” is actually full of Philistines that need themselves some edjumacation…

“The PLYOTSP is a magnificent bullshit-detector for the artist who is earnest, patient and socially sensitive enough to engage it. There’s a simple difference between making a piece of art for a gallery, an art destination that has been consciously stripped of context and distraction, and making art for a place that is about fishing, running, watching a magnificent landscape, catching a train, or walking the dog…

“The PLYOTSP opens a door to artmaking strategies that have nothing to do with the compulsively negating avant garde you grew up with. The power of this opportunity to shift discourse should not be discounted…

“But a work of art in a public space is fundamentally a guest. And guests who aim only to shock and destroy and be poky and bad and uncivil and problematic are not interesting. They are merely bad guests. The PLYOTSP demands public art that can do more than shock and titillate…

“This is a function of having to look at and understand all the stakeholders, and understand the practical ramifications of what you are doing to people and things, and work with those practical ramifications to create an experience that actively invites instead of repels…

My own shorthand for all of these insights is ‘Approach it like development…’ At least in the beginning. Learn about the use and history of the site, ensure that the people who use the site are involved in its creation or enactment, and realize that while you do bring something new to the site, you will never be more invested (by choice or not) that they are.

As my amazing Peace Corps Director Dan Simpson told me “You are from New York City. You are not going to teach rural Africans how to farm. You are not an expert at anything here. But you do have a lot to offer.”

Perhaps good public art, like good development, requires the humble knowledge that you are not saving the world.

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