Art & Freedom of Expression

Art is about freedom of speech and expression.

When is defacing the statue itself an artistic act?

Art is about freedom of speech and expression. Art is the freedom to express yourself in more than just one way. But when is art considered destruction? When does the custom of dressing the Begging Bear become defacing a beloved symbol of the city of Guelph?

In Guelph there are multiple customs that we follow for each statue. We paint the cannon overnight, dress the bear and take pictures on the Gryphon. And for what? To show our Guelph spirit, to come together as a community, and represent ourselves in one way or another. As a first year student at the University of Guelph these traditions are a wonderful way to get involved and become part of something extraordinary.

Guelph is no ordinary place as it is now known as Canada’s best city to find a job, home to over 27,890 students, and is has remarkable statues all over the city who also happen to have Twitter accounts. These statues all represent an aspect of the Guelph community that symbolizes what it means to be apart of this exhilarating city. The customs of each statue allow the residents and even visitors express themselves through art. But what is considered defacing to this statues?

In the past, the Begging Bear has gone through a lot of good times and some bad times. Students of the University of Guelph are known to be creative when dressing the bear up. This statue was one of the most recognizable and most interacted statue in Guelph. However, in 2011 there was an incident with the bear when a group of men knocked over the statue. As reported by the Canada Arts Connect Magazine, this was a senseless act of vandalism which is interpreted as the destruction of art. Usually an act of knocking down, damaging a statue, is seen as an act of a revolution or act of rebellion. This act of vandalism may not be the spirit of revolution but it does symbolize the destruction of freedom of expression. Did these group of men deliberately want the city of Guelph to not express themselves in an artistic way? Or maybe these men were not aware of the message they were sending to the community with their ignorance.

However, as Canadians and Guelph citizens we do have the right to express ourselves as long as it does not impose on the rights of others or promote ignorance and is destructive. When it comes to the Canadiana Begging Bear, the bear is to symbolize unity within the community, not a symbol of destruction.

The Canadiana Begging Bear has always been very active on Twitter, voicing strong opinions and joking around with the other statues. The Begging Bear, for short, is one of many statues that are part of the hashtag on Twitter known as #StationaryCrew.

Recently I contacted the Canadiana Begging Bear on Twitter, @TheBeggingBear, to get his perspective for when art is considered vandalism. The Begging Bear replied, “I’m not an expert, but I’d say, if it is not requested or expected, if it is offensive or if it is destructive”.

This statement allows residents and students to explore their creative side to either send a message to the community or have a little bit of fun with dressing the bear. This past week, the #stationarycrew group at the University of Guelph decided to actively participate in this custom of dressing the bear. Following what the Begging Bear said on twitter, we did not aim to offend anyone and we did not damage the statue in anyway. Instead we decided to be playful with the idea of dressing the statue up in spirit of St. Patrick’s Day! Our goal was to celebrate St. Patrick’s day by involving our beloved statue in another custom of wearing green on March 17th. The Begging Bear, in my opinion, loved this idea as it was humorous and does not promote intolerance or ignorance.

Art takes on many different forms and mediums for multiple purposes. Art is an expression of our human creativity, using creative skills and imagination, to produce a piece to be recognized for it’s beauty, emotional power or message. The Canadian Begging Bear takes on many different personas that interact with the residents of Guelph everyday. Dressing up the bear is an expression of one’s creativity and imagination. The Begging Bear reaches out to use to possibly communicate a powerful message to us. That, in it’s truest form, reflects the artistic perspective on how to convey messages to the community.

To dress the Begging Bear is to demonstrate Guelph’s creative skills while coming together as a community to relay a message or to simply put a smile on our faces.  Let’s not ruin this wonderful tradition with ignorance and disrespect.

Katie Arsenault

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