When Public Art Goes Bad: Two Competing Features of Public Art

Mary Beth Willard 1
  • 1 Weber State University,, Ogden, United States of America


Not all public art is bad art, but when public art is bad, it tends to be bad in an identifiable way. In this paper, I develop a Waltonian theory of the category of public art, according to which public art standardly is both accessible to the public and minimally site-specific. When a work lacks the standard features of the category to which it belongs, appreciators tend to perceive the work as aesthetically flawed. I then compare and contrast cases of successful and unsuccessful public art to show that accessibility and site-specificity are features which tend to preclude the other. It is difficult, although hardly impossible, for a site-specific work to remain accessible, and difficult for an accessible work to engage adequately with the site on which it is situated. As a result, while not all public art is bad, the features peculiar to public work encourage a latent tendency toward badness.

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Open Philosophy is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal covering all areas of philosophy. The objective of Open Philosophy is to foster free exchange of ideas and provide an appropriate platform for presenting, discussing and disseminating new concepts, current trends, theoretical developments and research findings related to the broadest philosophical spectrum.