Mural Art

Art, they say, is in the eye of the beholder, which suggests the recent objections of Kingston artists against would-be governmental oversight should prove most interesting.

A group called O+ has been decorating street front city buildings with the most amazing murals for about a decade. Vibrant, colorful, youthful and sometimes fantastic, the wonder is there haven’t been traffic accidents associated with gawking, appreciative observers. Or because some might consider the work objectionable.  Which is where the city comes in.

Genuinely inclusive first-term mayor Steve Noble apparently wants more public participation in this for the most part ad hoc program and is suggesting a five-person art review board of sorts.

Artists see that as a form of censorship, maybe not right away, but perhaps in the future, when mayors less liberal than the present occupant come to power. It’s a legitimate concern, but then so is city hall’s concerns about the private sector – owners of buildings have been enthusiastic supporters of the murals – having sole control of what goes up in public view, or doesn’t.

At it’s founding in Kingston a decade ago, O+ was only one of two such organizations in the country, besides California. Its website speaks to a mission of helping “underserved artists and musicians create and perform in exchange for a variety of services donated by doctors, dentists and complementary care providers.” This is truly a community organization.

To their credit, artists have barely approached the boundaries of what some might consider objectionable, a strong case for self-governance.  A supreme court judge once observed that while he couldn’t define pornography, he knew it when he saw it. Our local muralists have respected traditional sensitives while creating some amazing work. 

There are reasonable voices on both sides of this issue, so let us hope for fair compromise. For instance, a mayoral panel could include at least a majority of artists or art teachers. Or, we could just let it be to await the next thrilling display. Based on performance, I’m prepared to trust our local artists.

While on the subject, people who know me know I’m no expert in art, but I know what I like.

Case in point. A few months after our grandson was born – he’ll be 15 in a few weeks – I was at an uptown Kingston gallery where local art was being shown. A painting of a naked red-headed baby in his (or her) nursery with a little white dog at its feet caught my eye. Our grandson was a redhead like his father and my son’s family had a white Beijing named Reggie. Bingo. The artist, a man from Saugerties, was at the bar. We talked about the painting, the price (I don’t like to haggle with artists) and I bought it.

Unveiling my prize at Christmas a few months later I did not discern the kind of enthusiasm I had anticipated. The baby did something in his diaper. I think his parents felt the same way.

After several visits to ogle the new-born, I discovered “my painting” tucked away in a hallway closet.

“Didn’t like the painting, huh?” I asked my son, barely conceiling my resentment.

Ever the diplomat, he came back with, “You know, Dad, it might look better in your house.”