The Work of an Artist





abandoned: unoccupied; vacant; empty

gawker: a person who looks and stares at something in a rude manner.

lining: in a line

onlooker: a person who watches what is happening; an observer.

spooky: scary

strewn: thrown here and there carelessly; tossed around without consideration.

tenant: a person who lives in a house or apartment.

Click here to listen to an interview with artist Tyree Guyton.

Henry David Thoreau, an American writer and philosopher, said that, "The man of genius knows what he is aiming at; nobody else knows." Thoreau reminds us that some artists labor their entire lives to produce work that only they can truly comprehend while onlookers scratch their heads and rudely ask, "What’s that?"

During a recent trip to Detroit, Michigan, I came across a very interesting art exhibit, but It wasn’t inside a museum. Instead, it was outside in the midst of a city neighborhood. Several streets displayed colorfully-painted abandoned houses and found objects. One house had yellow, green, red, and orange dots painted all over the exterior; another was covered with very large numbers. Painted objects and sculpture were everywhere! Most of the houses had small collections of art, toys, and household items glued or nailed to their exteriors. The front yards and backyards hosted smaller exhibits of painted cars, bikes, TVs, and furniture.

It was all oddly disturbing yet fascinating to think that someone would be allowed to do such a thing with this much real estate!

To the casual observer whose interest in art is limited to the safety of galleries and museums, it may have looked as if someone simply dumped countless loads of garbage on the empty front porches of the houses lining the streets, but upon closer examination, it was apparent that someone had given careful and thoughtful attention to his medium and his subject matter.

Artist Tyree Guyton has been working on what is known as The Heidelberg Project for decades now, adding to it and changing it, while battling the elements of nature that threaten to destroy it with wind, rain, and sun. Now the project draws visitors from all over the country. In fact, while we were visiting, a busload of tourists drove by, and we also saw a few dozen patrons of art and gawkers on foot whose curiosity drew them to the neighborhood exhibit.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this artwork is that it occupies what looks like an abandoned neighborhood; however, a couple of residents who live nearby assured me that some of the houses had tenants, even though it didn’t really seem that they did.

With artwork strewn across vacant lots and front porches, hanging from the side of houses and trees, the whole area felt a little spooky. Leafless trees and a strong wind reinforced the feeling of spookiness. At the same time, the presence of art in that particular space proves the resilience of the human spirit when confronted with some unpleasant truth–in this case, the challenges of urban decay and renewal for which Detroit, unfortunately, has become so well-known.

The next time I’m in Detroit, I’ll visit again to see what has changed. I’m sure I’ll be happily surprised and instructed by the vision of the artist and his work, and thankfully, my ideas about art and the urban landscape will be challenged.


Now you try it. Read the paragraph above. If you have a microphone, you can record your voice and compare it to my voice.

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