Public Art in Sand – Look on my works, ye Mighty, and enjoy! by Robert Anthony Peters
I spent last Friday at the beach. While walking along the shore, I spied a great white shark, stranded above the tide line. I wasn’t the only one who noticed, of course. Over a dozen people were staring at it from the pier directly above and well over a hundred more would appreciate its grandeur by that evening. I should mention that the beast was not made of flesh and blood but of sand and … well, sand.
Enter Bill, sand sculptor who designs a new piece a few times a week. Clearly not a beach bum, Bill graduated with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering, had a 9 to 5 for a few years and decided that he wanted to switch gears and do something that he enjoyed. Inspired by the reality TV series Sand Masters, he gathered up a few tools and hit the beach. He showed me quite a few different items that he now uses for his creations, from specialized tube-like chisels to a plastic butter tub lid bent in half and used as a scooper and scraper. His number of tools continues to grow, as well as his skills. He admits that it took some time for his creations to catch up with his vision. He has had no formal training in sculpture and though aware of books on the topic, he has not cracked one yet. He learns something new every time. Today, amongst other lessons, was a reminder to carefully prepare the sand and not allow it to be too dry. Fortunately, his monetary tips are improving along with his skills. He sets up a small bucket on the pier to accept donations, next to a photo album of prior works. He has sold some of the photos and requests for autographs by artist are common. Other ways to monetize his work, such as postcards, are being considered, but for now, contributions from delighted passersby are keeping him in diet coke and cigarettes.
And delighted they are! Standing there for thirty minutes, it would be tough to count the number of amazed exclamations, compliments for the artist, and pictures taken of his work. Bill told me that his mission was to create something that people will truly appreciate. Unlike the many people who are asking for handouts around the beach and boardwalk area, he believes that he should give people a unique experience in exchange for money. That experience takes no small effort. He dedicates an average of about six hours per creation and onlookers are able to enjoy the entire process, as start to finish occurs for the world to see. Though it does occur on a public beach (as a note: beaches can also be privately owned, which might raise the prospect of Bill being hired to produce this ‘public good’ for its customers, or held as commons of an interested community outside the bounds of government ownership, see Elinor Ostrom), the artist receives no remuneration, promotion, protection or anything else from the government except for the allowance of the temporary use of the sand. Temporary should be emphasized as either the tide, drunken vandals or enthusiastic children will often destroy his art by his return the next day. Bill completely accepts the brief nature of his sculptures. They are not meant to last forever. Like theatre or THE FIXX concert occurring that same moment just down the beach, it is best appreciated in person and in the moment.
For those who enjoy his fleeting creations, it is a rewarding experience. So much so that they choose to praise and pay him for his beautiful work. No taxpayer needs to be strong armed into supporting his work, no bond measure must be passed, no grants are applied for or given. It doesn’t matter whether it is called Land Art, Earthworks, Earth Art, site-specific sculpture, installation art, etc. Here lies public art in its purest sense, made for the public to enjoy, both created and supported voluntarily.
Robert Anthony Peters is an actor, producer and speaker on liberty and art. Email him at: email@example.com
Libertopia Oct 11–14 2012, San Diego CA