Reading Response – Philips “Temporality and Public Art”

*Posted on behalf of Esmaa

In the article Temporality and Public Art, author Patricia Philips highlights key issues with the notion of public art, while distinguishing vital aspects of temporality in relation to public art. Immediately, Philips distinguishes the public from the private. She notes “the private is a human condition, and the public is an invention recreated by each generation.” Philips explains that the idea of the public is mutable and flexible. Moreover, that it is redefined by political transition and civic thought and by conceptions of the private. (3) She explains further, that the challenge for each individual person, is to maintain this active exchange of personal and public identity. Philips believes that discussions of public art regularly examines particular communities but rarely the greater public. I found it interesting that Philips noted that everybody assumes they know what the “public” means. It is important that Philips inquires about the philosophical questions that a public art piece may bring. Philips believes that public art has too often been applied as a modest antidote or grand solution, rather than perceived as a forum for investigation, articulation, and constructive reappraisal. (3) I agree with her statement. Far too often is public art expected to make a statement rather than ask a question and open a discussion. I believe the public can be used as a platform to create an environment where productive discourse may take place. I especially enjoyed Philips statement “public art is treated as if it were a production of fixed strategies and principles.”(3) I think this statement is important because it outlines the problem in regards to how we have come to view public art’s purpose. I feel as if public art is considered as a formula of predetermined answers that awaits to be fed to the masses.

Philips speaks of temporality being a key component in the success of a public art piece. In the article Temporality and Public Art, Philips explains that she believes “supporting more short lived experiments in which variables can be changed and results intelligently and sensitively examined is a way for artists to generate public art and remain analytical about its purpose, its composition, and how it is to be distinguished.”(4) She continues to note that public art needs a more intense devotion to the temporary. I found myself questioning why she believes this. I began to think about our earlier discussions about monuments and their lack of temporality, and how they serve as objects of remembrance, or education. I believe a greater discourse can be produced from a temporal public art piece, as it challenges our engrained beliefs. I agree with Philips statement, that “public art isn’t public just because its outside or made accessible to people.”(5) It is important to note that it isn’t the amount of viewers or the availability of a work that makes it public, but rather the types of questions it seeks to address and ask that does. This text contributed to my understanding of art in the public sphere, as it made me reconsider the value of temporality, and how it can be used as a tool to produce discourse and address issues. The issues raised in the texts that were of particular interest to me, were how temporality may increase productive discourse in the public, as well as how public art should be viewed as platform to can ask questions rather than make statements. I would like for us to address these issues in our class discussion, by making correlations between temporality and overt statements.


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