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Eye of the beholder

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The aesthetics of public art are as varied as the artists who create them.

Works that come to mind most often are sculptures and statues dedicated to renowned Americans who charted new courses in our nation’s history. Other examples include memorials to those who fought and died to preserve the freedoms we cherish.

In San Francisco, paintings in the Latino Mission District portray the struggle of immigrants for human dignity. In New York City, the Statue of Liberty really needs no further description to comprehend its meaning.

Viewing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., has stirred deep emotions for the countless people who have visited it over the past three decades. And in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the Bean symbolizes, ... well, that’s up to the individual viewer.

The differences with these works of public art and what they convey couldn’t be more drastic. But what all of them share is that people have at least a broad understanding of what they are attempting to portray (the Bean, whose actually title is “Cloud Gate,” being an exception).

So having public art on display is of great value to a community provided people know why it’s there and what it’s supposed to mean. Otherwise, the message can get lost in translation, leaving people scratching their heads about what they’re looking at on a wall or in a park.

Such is the fate of the mural on a building in Empsall Plaza in Watertown, on Court Street near Arcade Street in the city’s downtown. The painting was created in 2009 by local artist Jason E. Brown at the behest of Psychedelic Entertainment LLC of Englewood, Calif., which owned the three-story building at the time.

But Vina Aileen C. Bonner, who purchased the rear portion of the Empsall Plaza in October, has designs to redesign the fašade. She wants to remove the mural and restore the wall to its original brick exterior, according to a Thursday story in the Watertown Daily Times.

The painting was meant to display Watertown’s affiliation with Fort Drum. The bottom portion of the mural displays two soldiers near a peace symbol and a U.S. flag.

But most of the mural is taken up with sunlight, clouds and birds. A complaint often expressed is that this aspect of the painting is what’s most visible to passers-by, not the patriotic images.

Works of public art should be cherished by people for how they enliven communities. This mural, however, has failed to adequately convey its message. If Mrs. Bonner wishes to replace the painting, it’s obvious she has the blessing of quite a few city residents — add our name to the list.

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