What to make of “Of Stones and Water,” the Christian Quintin painting designed for the Mesa State College Academic Building, but subsequently removed?
For one thing, it seems like Sheena the Warrior Princess should be parading across the landscape in her best battle bikini, sword at the ready. Or perhaps the name of the 1970s rock band Styx should be emblazoned across the top.
If you get the impression we’re not overly impressed with “Of Stones and Water,” you’re right. It appears directly descended from the fantastic school of pop art that dominated rock albums and college-dorm posters in the 1970s.
But that doesn’t matter. We assume many people will disagree strongly with our analysis of Quintin’s paining. And that’s fine.
The purpose of art — be it painted, sculpted, written or recorded — isn’t simply to rest easy on everyone’s senses. Some of the best makes people distinctly uncomfortable. If the goal is the least controversial art possible, then the halls of Mesa State should be adorned with nothing but Thomas Kincaid pastoral prints.
But Mesa State is an institution of higher learning, where debate should be encouraged. If the painting were still hanging in the academic building, or even in the Mesa State art department, it could be a subject for classroom discussion and coffee-shop debate about what constitutes artistic merit and why we value it.
Instead, thanks to one angry artist who believes he was betrayed by Mesa State, it is the subject of news stories and editorials.
Mesa State President Tim Foster and Board of Trustee member Lena Elliott were clearly surprised by the painting Quintin produced. But it isn’t their responsibility to serve as art critics in chief for the school, and simply remove whatever they don’t like.
They should have kept Quintin’s painting on display, not sent it back to the state organization that paid for it.