In Antiquity, neither painting nor sculpture or architecture were considered art. The word artist would not be used to define those who painted pictures until the Renaissance, when patronage began to give status to works. It was in the 19th century that the market began to attribute an almost divine status to painters and sculptors. This “veil of deity” gave these artists protection from criticism even if in their personal lives they were going against human rights or despising the citizenry. In recent years, fortunately, the situation is changing and people are taking a stand on these facts.

The work of sculptor Richard Serra triggered a series of debates and protests in both New York and Barcelona, revealing tensions between contemporary art and citizens’ perceptions. In New York, citizen opposition succeeded in winning the removal of Serra’s wall, but in Barcelona his wall remains standing. This wall was placed in a park in the Verneda neighbourhood, creating problems for its residents, especially for children and their families.

Serra’s polemical stance towards the citizenry was evident in statements such as “Art is not pleasurable. It is not democratic. Art is not for the people“. This position is anti-democratic, very contrary to dialogue as well as to the participation of citizens in art. Some administrations justified their decision by arguing that the working class does not appreciate art; however, residents responded with wit, suggesting that the wall should be placed in upper-class areas if that was the concern. There were other attempts at persuasion by the authorities, such as highlighting the monetary value of Serra’s art or the artist’s supposed factory experience.

These arguments were countered by people from the neighbourhood, who stated that they value art for its beauty and not for market criteria, and that their work experience gives them a deeper understanding of the industrial landscape than Serra did. In the midst of this debate, a criticism arises against certain artists who try to impose art as something that is solely the artist’s own, because it is not, but arises from the deepest social creations. An example of this is the best library in the world, located in this very neighbourhood, which emerged from the dream of the participants of the adult education school.

The initial dream of the people of this school was to have a library. Initially it was on the third floor of the adult school, and then in a new free-standing building designed with the citizens, which highlights the architectural beauty that can emerge when artistic ideas and bottom-up perspectives are incorporated. The opening of the Gabriel García Márquez Library has had a positive impact and moves away from any form of predatory capitalism that excludes freedom and beauty in human creations. This achievement was made possible through egalitarian dialogue as well as the collaboration of experts from various fields of knowledge. This is the social art that the public likes and desires, based on the theory of the Dialogic Society.

[Images: Library Gabriel García Márquez, ub.edu – Original photograph]

Por Garazi Álvarez

Profesora e investigadora en Educación en la Universidad del País Vasco