Art for All

Art in the Supermarkets by Jeannine Cook

I read of a wonderful, imaginative initiative for handicapped people to create art for supermarkets in Valencia and Palma de Mallorca, Spain. I think it is an example that bears copying, no matter where.

This was a report written by L.R. in the Diario de Mallorca on 19th February about about 200 people with learning disabilities who are creating a special Catalan form of mosaics (trencadis) for murals for the different branches of the supermarket chain, Mercadona. The idea was first put forward in Valencia by someone involved with polishing ceramic tiles: there are inevitably broken tiles and these have traditionally formed the basis of trencadis. The most famous exponent of the use of the irregular tile bits, set in mortar, was Antoni Gaudi. He began to use the brightly coloured, broken pieces of tile in his adornment of architectural elements in Barcelona's hillside garden, Parc Guell at the beginning of the 20th century.

Part of entrance to Parc Guell, Barcelona

Part of entrance to Parc Guell, Barcelona

This is part of a dragon at the entrance to the Parc, done in these broken ceramic pieces. Beyond, all over the Parc, there are wonderful combinations of brilliantly coloured tiles juxta-posed in joyous - often sinuous - configurations. One of the advantages of this trencadis form of ceramics is that the surfaces can indeed curve, something much more difficult with regular whole ceramic tiles.

Below, these are two other images of Gaudi's use of trencadis in Parc Guell, Barcelona.

trencadis parc guell 2.JPG

Various non-profit organisations involved with caring for people with Down's Syndrome or other learning disabilities got involved in the Mercadona supermarket murals venture. The first mural was done for the fish section in one of Mercadona's supermarkets in Valencia. It was so well received that the meat sections were soon chosen as the next destinations for murals. From there, the idea has snowballed and many more people are involved in the creation of these murals.

Understandably, when they first learn they will be creating a mural some 5 meters long, the participants are somewhat daunted. But they are first taught to sort the ceramic shards by colour. Then comes the assembly of parts according to a design, and as the pieces are placed together on a flat surface, a mesh is then placed over them to secure them. Eventually everything is united in the overall design and mortared into place. In the execution of these murals, there have been many benefits for the participants. They are gainfully employed and taught a new skill, which involves concentration, coordination and application. At the end of the venture, the participants are able to see tangible results which give people pleasure and interest, and they have achieved something they thought initially that they could not do.

To me, it seems the most wonderful alliance of art and skills to enhance the buying experience for everyone in a supermarket, while uplifting and reaffirming the spirit of those who don't always have such opportunities. Good for Mercadona and all those involved in the trencadis murals!

Art as Magic Glue by Jeannine Cook

Christmas Eve is one of those moments in the calendar when each of us stops and thinks of family and friends, an important milepost as each year turns to a new one. As I write holiday messages and receive lovely cards of greeting, I am struck ever more forcibly by the realisation that art has been the magic which has created so many of these friendships.

If one ever doubted the universality of the power of art to communicate and celebrate, then it is at times like this holiday season that that doubt should be dissipated. From the beauty of music, choral or orchestral, to productions of the Nutcracker delighting audiences all over the world at this time, to exhibitions of beautiful art on the walls of museums and - in my personal case - to the sharing of the love of art, the links become a sparkling, complex yet elastic web. Diverse optics and backgrounds, languages and ages can all find common ground in enjoyment of art and - more generally - the arts.

The creation of art takes an interesting trajectory. Most times, the work of art is created as a private, personal expression of one person, a work often created in solitude and thought and often, flat-out hard work. But once created, that work takes wing and is launched into the wider world, where it can find an audience that ranges from totally indifferent to highly receptive and appreciative. Art is defined in Britannica Online as "the use of skill and imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments and experiences that can be shared with others." Man has been creating art in one form or another since time immemorial, with a diversity of goals that range from self-expression to pure creativity. Art can be used to express ideas, be they political, philosophical or spiritual, to evoke a sense of beauty, to explore perceptions, to generate a variety of emotions from pleasure to solemnity, awe or grief - or none of the above. Art for art's sake is a well-known concept in our times. Art, in any form, is nonetheless a form of communication that everyone can understand.

Today we all regard art as a universal language, irrespective of who exactly has ownership of the actual work of art. Copyright ownership is indeed important, for that forms part of the earning capacity of an artist, but nonetheless, there is a wider philosophical consideration that has been around for many centuries. Who truly "owns" a work of art, once it has reached the level of widespread recognition and appreciation? Many people consider art as an essential ingredient for human life, vital for a quality of life that is uplifting and beneficial. Thus, it is reasoned, art cannot just belong to a privileged few.

The first public museum was founded in 1753, in England, when Sir Hans Soane bequeathed a huge art collection to King George II for the benefit of the nation, a bequest which was ratified by an Act of Parliament for the creation of the British Museum.

Hans Sloane, Stephen Slaughter, 1736, (Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London)

Hans Sloane, Stephen Slaughter, 1736, (Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London)

Another early manifestation of this idea of art belonging to everyone was the creation, in 1793, of the first French public art museum, the Louvre. The King of France's magnificent collection of paintings, drawings, sculpture and other objects became the people's collection of art, housed in the Louvre and available to all for enjoyment and inspiration. Throughout the world, this lofty idea of art as a universal form of enriching communication was adopted. Thus, the great museums we know today, from Madrid's El Prado, (created in 1819), Berlin's Altes Museum, built in 1830 as the first of the collection of art and archaeological museums on Berlin's Museum Island , to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1870) in New York, came into existence. By the 20th century, the idea that art is an essential ingredient of human society was so widely accepted that Diego Rivera could declare categorically, "Art is the universal language. It belongs to all mankind."

Small wonder that on a personal basis, each of us artists find that the art we create proves to be a magical glue that unites us with a wide, diverse and wondrous community of friends, all sharing a love of art. What richness - and what a renewed gift at this time of seasonal celebrations. Happy holidays to you all, my friends and fellow art-lovers!