An artist friend named Faith once told me offhandedly that “art is that which can be destroyed”. It seemed like such a concise answer to the What Is Art question, but the more I analyzed it, the more I began to scrutinize some of my own reasons for creating. After about fifteen years of thinking through this statement, I still believe it has some flaws, but it starts a really important question about arts in this day and age. How do we protect the art that has been created? Who gets to decide what gets protected and what is destroyed, and why? Is every piece of art to be afforded the same amount of effort in preservation, and at what point should the plug be pulled?
The temporal nature of life is a strong undercurrent in art, and this nature of the artifact itself drives our desires to witness it. Anytime some big “must see” art show comes through town or comes to America from abroad, there is such a fuss to witness it because, as the saying goes, “when are we going to be able to see the Mona Lisa again”, as if it could be destroyed at any moment. Because, despite all our devices and plans for protection, we are unconsciously acknowledging that this art could, for some unforeseen reason, not exist anymore. Art pieces, just like everyone of us, and everyone that we know, has a life. And that life may be taken from us. All art will die. And some will die sooner than we expected.
It’s an interesting thing, to see an artwork that you know will die soon. Knowing that all art will at sometime not exist anymore is one thing. It’s different to know that this piece of art, this mural on the wall, may not be alive next week or next month. This realization hit me when I went to visit the Ted DeGrazia mural at the former greenHaus during the Art Detour weekend. As of this publication, the building has not been razed, so the exact nature of the murals is not exactly know, but it is certain that the large Ted DeGrazia mural inside the building and the “Three Birds” mural by Lauren Lee will both be destroyed with the building. One smaller DeGrazia mural will be saved and transported to the DeGrazia Foundation in Tucson.
I went to sit with the mural while I still could and the experience had the feeling of sitting at a deathbed, holding the hand of someone that you didn’t know well, but someone who didn’t have long on this earth. Sure, it wasn’t his best work, sure it may have been created to pay a bar bill, but this is art and it has a life. This was art that was created as a part of human expression, art that many others helped to preserve. Sitting on that bench, looking at the image of a woman kneeling over a pot on a fire I made the connection. I’m not from the valley, but I have family that has lived here for decades. This girl reminded me of a souvenir that was on our refrigerator while growing up in Indiana, a magnet from a long ago trip to Phoenix when I was young. I grew up looking at that Ted DeGrazia magnet, dreaming about the Southwest, wispy and ethereal, young and sombre and innocent. I can still see this image today, even though the magnet was stored away years ago. The image on this magnet has a sister, and this sister is going to be torn from her foundation.
All art will no longer exist, this is a fact. Preservation is a fight against the inevitable, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be fought, that we don’t have to make sure that works of art weather the elements or are protected from attack. There are hard choices about what to keep and what to protect. What is too much effort or money to spend to preserve a piece of art and who decides what lives and what doesn’t are questions that may never be adequately answered. An artist can put all her effort, heart, and soul into creating a piece of artwork that she then puts out into the world. After that, the responsibility for preserving the art as long as possible resides in us. After that, all we can do is all that we can do.