Dear Students and Fellow Artists,
Recently, nine of your murals at Central CT State University were ordered destroyed by CCSU President Jack Miller. Nine more are on the immediate chopping block. Miller and Chief Administrative Officer Richard Bachoo waited until classes had ended for the semester – then, without informing the artists, faculty or the art department, proceeded to destroy the art.
There are over 100 murals on the campus – perhaps the largest and finest collection of murals at any university in the world. The administration has provided no assurance that they plan to stop painting out murals – they may ultimately intend to destroy the entire collection.
Taken off guard by public anger and unfettered by any apparent attachment to the truth, Miller and his underlings are hastily making up excuses for their reprehensible act. They are sending out messages stating that murals were destroyed to make room for others – a takeoff on US policy in Vietnam: We had to destroy the mural program in order to save it.
They are also falsely claiming that the art had to be destroyed to make room for new signs or building upgrades. Prevarication comes so easily to the administration that I keep expecting to see them standing in front of a freshly painted wall explaining that there never was a mural to begin with!
Bogus Legal Arguments
Most of all, they have attempted to wrap themselves in the patriotic flag of the official “Mural Policy.” That document was a temporary policy, from an interim president, almost a decade ago. The policy was never accepted by the Art Department, discussed by the university community or approved by the faculty senate or student government – it is completely lacking in authority.
Miller is attempting to make this a discussion about rules – claiming he has a legal right to destroy the art. But as Martin Luther King frequently pointed out when defending civil disobedience: everything that happened in Germany was legal, so too was segregation.
They have no legal authority and they have no moral justification to remove your art.
Why Must the Art Be Destroyed?
In the past few days we have received copies of dozens of your protest messages sent to Miller. The most frequently asked question in these letters is: Why? Why were you compelled to destroy this art?
Miller and Bachoo refuse to answer that question truthfully, but I would like to address it here – beginning by examining the images and considering a description of the murals themselves. Perhaps that will provide some insights about the administration’s motivation. Here is the artwork that Jack Miller and Richard Bachoo destroyed:
One of the destroyed works was a thoughtful and hilarious cartoon treatment of the daily life of an educator, painted by a public school teacher in the basement of Copernicus Hall. The mural was located in a wall nook where students could sit and discover new vignettes.
Another work, by a Plainville educator and exhibiting artist, was an enormous fish tank. Inside the giant tank was a small terrarium with a human family outside their pink box home. Sea turtles, sharks and dolphins lazily swam around, observing the slice of suburban life.
Doodles & the Subconscious
In Mural Painting class, most of the semester is spent researching, sketching, discussing, re-drawing and critiquing – a rigorous process to develop the artist’s vision. One student kept bringing in rather ambitious proposals on important social themes – however, in our group critiques his proposals seemed contrived and we kept sending him back to the drawing board.
Then we noticed that during class he was always doodling in his sketchbook. One day we gathered around and opened the book and a glorious world of doodles was revealed. Here was his real voice – the conscious and unconscious processes of art were combined in his fanciful design forms.
He ended up painting a small alcove outside of the restroom in Copernicus Hall – completely covering it with his doodles. It created a magical space out of a completely dreary one. (An unknown student completed the work by pasting Charlie Sheen’s head over the male logo on the men’s room sign).
This student worked primarily in design and crafts, so her mural imagery reflected that focus. Designasaurus was a sly commentary on how the arts are going extinct at CCSU. Every art student is painfully aware that the department has inadequate facilities, including a building that is a health hazard. Faculty lines are not being filled – the department is being slowly dismantled.
It is not surprising that a piece about the arts going extinct at CCSU should be one of the first to be painted out.
The Murals Reference Art History
A mural in Copernicus Hall is about Icarus, painted by a local schoolteacher/exhibiting artist. She took images from art that emerged during the early years of the Russian Revolution as a means of mass communication with peasants. ROSTA Windows were large-scale, screen-printed posters that were placed on agitprop trains and sent throughout the Soviet Union. Our artist transformed that iconography and personalized the images – in the process expanding the bounds of mural art.
In another mural in Willard Hall, the artist based her main image, in large part, on a work by post-Impressionist painter Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, and in part on the work of animator and film director Tim Burton, creating a surreal and fantastic landscape.
The Murals Reference the Sciences
A mural for the Microbiology Department was researched and designed by an engineering student and all of the DNA forms and other elements of the painting had specific meanings. The artwork was sponsored by the Microbiology department, which took great pride in the work, using it on the cover of their publication.
Recognizing the importance of the work, the department had it painted on a piece of seamless scenic canvas attached to the wall, so that it could be removed if necessary and moved to another location. Instead of doing so, the image was arbitrarily painted out. Had the art department been consulted, we could have saved the mural.
A mural about string theory, complete with ten-armed figures, frog eggs and spirals, was painted in Copernicus. I wish I could explain the imagery, but my knowledge of this discipline is extremely limited.
Designed and painted by a math student, I’m not sure that anyone in the class fully understood the equations he showed us in an attempt to explain his vision. To my knowledge, is the only mural ever painted about string theory – in fact I know of very few murals about mathematics at all. The artist is currently a PhD candidate in Mathematics.
Spray Can Artists
Street Art is the largest visual arts movement that has ever existed in human history. Every night, in virtually every part of the world, young people for the most part, venture forth to paint murals, write graffiti and other wise create artwork that expresses the hopes and aspirations of humanity. An exuberant expression of this movement, a mural in Copernicus Hall, has now been wiped off the walls.
Creation and Destruction
While most of the murals on campus would not be considered “political art,” one piece was clearly targeted because of its imagery. Several professors in the English department had recently complained about a mural painted on the third floor of Willard Hall. It seems likely that the administration decided to take advantage of this opening to eliminate the art.
The artist, currently a graduate student in physics, explains her imagery:
“I tried to extract and depict whatever beauty there was left in our world amidst the chaos of destruction in the form of a large-scale painting. You witness the statute of liberty in the center, victorious and strong – carrying two identical torches, symbolism for the twin towers.
A fighter aircraft approaches it from the right, ready to collide. You see children in the form of angels sprouting out of an aircraft as the dying soldiers who are making their way into the heavens. A mother dressed in black carries her beloved wounded son. There is a prisoner executed on the top left and an explosion unfolding on the bottom right.
Creation and destruction – two annihilating entities take on human form as two of Da Vinci’s most beautiful drawing heads, looking over the entire synopsis. Art and war.”
Regarding the destruction of her work, she added:
“It’s ironic, but by destroying this mural and others, I believe it will only emphasize and promote destruction instead of creation.”
What the Murals Represent
Yes – there is a common feature to these seemingly dissimilar artistic expressions: the murals collectively represent the hopes, aspirations, confusions, desires, knowledge, loves and fears of young people.
Connecticut, like the rest of the country, is imposing a corporate model of education on the university. The humanities are being jettisoned. The concept of the university as a place for young people to explore ideas and become agents of change is being swept aside. The corporate University wants artists to stay in the studio and obediently create objects or designs that sell products or adorn the homes of the elite. The corporate University tells us to approach education solely as a tool for job training and self-advancement.
In the face of this, enters the mural painter. The art of the muralist is democratic, available for all to see – not a commodity to be sold in a gallery. It is a gift from the heart that undermines the impetus to fashion an institution that is geared towards increasing profits for major corporations. It subverts the dog-eat-dog idea that you should compete with your fellow student by promoting a collective joy in creation.
All this takes place against a backdrop of rising resistance. Low-wage workers are fighting for a decent standard of living. Workers are fighting to defend pensions and benefits from hard-fought battles of the past decades. Young people are organizing against a state of permanent war directed against the poor of other countries.
Muralists and street artists give voice to this resistance because they assert our basic humanity. It is an art of opposition because it invites the public to be critical thinkers – and that, more than anything, is what bureaucrats fear.
The Walls Belong to the People
To Miller and Bachoo, the murals are an annoying or dangerous visual obstacle to remaking the university. So they paint them out. But really, it’s like trying to hold back the wind. Making art is just as much a part of being human as eating, sleeping or having sex. Trying to end art making is like advocating sexual abstinence – good luck with that.
Consciously and unconsciously, artists give voice to the conditions, hopes and aspirations of working people. If we cannot paint on the walls of the University, we will paint outside the University. If we cannot paint during the day we will paint at night. If we have no walls we will paint on canvas and carry it in the street. That’s just the way it is. That is why we will prevail.
It requires a great emotional investment to give birth to public art. As an artist that has frequently been censored, I know the pain of having your work destroyed. It is highly disturbing to watch university officials arrogantly eliminating the hard work of student artists.
Because they fear our art, they want to demoralize and discourage us, to get us to stop painting. But I could not be any prouder of our student artists. The dozens of protest messages that we have posted are testimony to how your work has inspired others. So keep painting. Spread the images over the Internet. Do not be intimidated by these bullies and their vision of blank walls and bland, corporate education. Do not accept their corporate agenda and end up wallowing in their fear.
Thank you student artists, for enriching our lives. Thank you for this precious gift. Keep painting. Your power is so much greater than their bureaucratic vandalism. The bureaucrats paint rollers are clumsy and pathetic toys – no match for our spray cans and brushes.
Theirs is a world of sad acceptance and dreary white walls – our colors prove that another world is possible.