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Art That Truly Rates as ‘Fine’

European art has long focused on “easel” art, largely portraits of dead white guys. That style became defined as “fine art.” 

This has changed some in recent years. Art that has grown organically out of the lives of poor and working people, people who are off that “fine art” grid, has started to be popular in galleries and museums. Finally! Cuz it’s great stuff! Here are three ways artists use “canvases” that spring from daily life.

The New York Times featured Soumya Karlamangaya this past spring in an article celebrating the 52nd anniversary of San Diego’s Chicano Park. 

Back in 1970, Chicano activists took over that park and covered its pillars, walls, and other concrete surfaces. In 2017, Chicano Park became a National Historic Landmark, and National Park Service recognition may be coming as well.

Murals at Chicano Park, John Francis Peters/New York Times

At the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, an exhibition called Piñatas: The High Art of Celebration shows how something commonplace can be elevated to something really unusual and creative. Piñatas as canvas. Who would have thought it? 

Piñatas/Mingei International Museum

PBS has done a piece about California ending a cruising ban that targeted Chicano low-rider culture. Judy Woodruff interviews low-riders who clearly see their cars as “canvases on four wheels,” not just machines. The cars express feelings about the community culture and history, and now their art can be viewed by those in neighborhoods they cruise through.

So maybe The Art World has started to become more aware that art by and about ordinary people and how they live life can be just “fine.” That’s good. But these beautiful connections between art and life have always been there, if only eyes opened wide enough to see.

Activist Vicky Hamlin is a retired tradeswoman,
shop steward, and painter. In her painting and
in this column, she shines the light on the lives
of working people and the world they live in.