Australia, England and America abound in exciting, original and skillful architectural murals.
What does the future hold for the mural wall art? To a large extent, this will depend on the interaction between the architect, the muralist and the interest or indifference shown by the public. What follows is not meant to be a
prescription for the future, but a few observations which may help to focus attention on some of the areas of neglect.
Art can only progress if it has an intellectual and spiritual driving force behind it. Mural wall artists should be encouraged, starting at art school, to search for new forms of expression. As Alan Potter, head of the Mural
Department at London's Chelsea School of Art, says, 'For the future of murals, 1 would like to see academics stop insisting that students be painters or sculptors. They should just get back into being artists. But I fear that mine is a Utopian view and it's a long time away."
There are some interesting differences between the way in which art is developing in Australia, the United
States and Britain. The standards of purely decorative work are extremely high in Australia and America, where the wealthy are prepared to pay for the very best, but the British take more time and care in executing a mural. Some American muralists tend to have less staying power and want to complete their work quickly, before losing interest. On the other hand, while the technique and quality of most Australian muralists may be superior, the flair and lack of inhibition of the Americans, especially those on the West Coast, produce a large amount of exciting work.
Ultimately what is needed is the vision of the Old Masters combined with the restless energy of modern art to record the age we live in with candour and imagination. Nostalgia is important but, with the pace of life-changing so rapidly, muralists should be encouraged to explore the outer limits of their craft.
Governments, too, could do more. Muralists in America have been more fortunate than their English counterparts in this respect. The WPA programme helped artists in the 1930s. Public funding of the visual arts, the Art in Architecture Exhibition, provides for the embellishment of buildings all over the country. England could usefully follow America's example by making murals for corporations tax exempt. Apart from encouraging employment in the arts, it would greatly improve our office interiors.
Established art circles in England could try not to look down their nose at murals. Major artists, as well as decorative artists, would appreciate the opportunity to work on public buildings. Many muralists have an uphill struggle getting the art world to take their work seriously, not always for sound, aesthetic reasons.
Local councils could do more to give the artist and the community a shared sense of purpose. Contemporary public murals are too often stuck on a wall without relating to their environment. Architects could call in muralists at the planning stages of a building more frequently, so that the design of the room leads up to, and focuses on, the mural. The best mural painting has to have a subject matter beyond itself, beyond its form, relating to a shared set of standards and beliefs. In classical times, the architect, the painter and the sculptor shared a common philosophy and this shared outlook was apparent in the consistency of their masterpieces. Today's artists could do worse than to follow their example.