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This Golden Age of Bodysnatching; Provincialism, Paradigms and Inspiration and a Manifesto from the Heartland

by Gary John Gresl

HEADLINE! HEADLINE! BIG CITY PROVIDES CADAVERS FOR STUDY!

Let us indulge in plain speak. New York City has been acknowledged as the center of the visual arts world for more than half of the 20th Century, since the days when European artists came to American to escape the realities of a Europe which had been tragically engulfed in wars and societal upheavals. Their mix with Americans who were seeking a new and unique identity produced the Abstract Expressionists, and subsequent movements which became identified with the New York art scene...these styles were quickly and widely spread by the phenomenon of an evolving and greatly expanding mid century news media. The days were forgotten which had followed the notable New York Armory Show of 1913, when Americans realized they were ranking a lowly second or third to France, the former center of modern artmaking,

New York! New York! How many images have we seen and heard about in art history books and classes? Television has shown us the studios and hangouts of DeKooning and Kline...we have seen Mondrian relocated...viewed a wigged Warhol...and more recently witnessed bad boy Schnable and drug addicted Basquiat. We have visited the honored objects and shrines in situ because our enlarged post W.W.II highway systems and air transportation have permitted us to zip across the landscape in mere hours.

We, in the hinterlands, we in the boonies...we the Provincials have seen it all, have seen them all...have studied their work. Yes! We owe them much as contributors to our thought, almost as much as we do the Neanderthals and CroMagons, Sioux and Ojibway, Ibo and Zulu, Celts, Greeks, monks, Renaissance masters, naives, mom and dad, and on and on. We have been exposed. We have learned and gleaned. And, most importantly, amidst the influx of the Worldís visual wealth, we have also gained permission to utilize our own lives and experiences from which to derive subject and method.

So, thank you very much...but for those of you who still cling to New York as the primary source of great art, back off and wake up! Unlike the growing chain of public art museums with look alike cookie cutter collections, some of us do not hang on to that cityís every expression. Our World is actually much bigger than that.

STUDYING THE LARGER FLESH AND BONES

There has been no century providing the wealth of art corpses we have before us today. Indeed, beginning sometime mid 20th century, the books, magazines, college art history courses, and public media belched forth the entirety of the Earthís art graveyard.

The cadavers have been variously treated, some cleaned and cared for in perpetuity by museums, some tucked away in storage boxes, many overlooked and forgotten They have been scrutinized, measured, weighed, and written about in the books of the dead. They are there for us to learn from. They are our motivaters, our inspirations...our antecedents and ancestors, our mental food. Sometimes they are even fed to us while the bodies are still warm thanks to the powerful media of large cities and the wannabee copycats in our home towns.

And, despite the misgivings implied in this article, it must acknowledged that New York cadavers can lift our knowledge and certainly be inspirations to us. We must recognize that part of the morgue which has been a major focus for artists during the last 60 years of the 20th Century is that big city focus of attention. We must admit to reading publications and enriching our eyes with views of the treasures from New York City.

However, now that some of us are older and less easy to impress, and now that the planetís cultures have aged decades more, it must be recognized that we donít all bother to check the reviews and magazines or the New York gallery guides. Indeed, if we are continuing to grow and learn we cannot continually cling to the opinions of others concerning past glories, nor listen to contemporary barkers attempt to sell their sideshow art. We now exist with our greatly enlarged personal places and moments, absorbing from a broad reaching environment and mammoth art history, expressing our learned knowledge and shared comprehensive past. We can not believe that the art world of New York City, or Chicago, or LA, are the only inspirational founts of the Earth. The artists in those cities have no greater view of , and no greater insights into, the world at large than we do. In fact, perhaps the tall buildings block their view and their local art incest breeds only their local products.
Without doubt, many of my fellow Provincials recognize this as truth.

A PROVINCIAL MANIFESTO

And what province is this, in which I and my fellow artists exist?
It is the Province undelineated by geographical borders. It is the Province of our private idiosyncrasies. It is the Province providing us with raw materials that arrive in our hands from sources close by as well as from distant time and space. It is the Province of our view.
We have a world-view unlike any previous period and in an art historical sense, and as an inspirational source, our perspective on the array that abounds is marvelous. From our high point of observation we see the blend of sophisticated and primitive thought, advanced technologies and ancient religions; we are exposed to knowledge by the network of world wide communication and the ubiquitous printed word. We make choices between increasingly complicated experiences and that which is simple and basic. We blend the sophisticated and naive, advanced and retarded, conscious and unconscious, the spontaneous and the thoughtful.

Despite our ability and interest in a more comprehensive world view, it still does appear by expressions and attitudes of some persons in the various fields of art, whether they be in museum work, galleries, art criticism, or art production, that the only clear geographical region that is NOT a province, is New York City. I, and I hope some others, will differ in that opinion. It seems to me that New York is also in a Provincial condition. It is small geographically. It is focused on what is acceptable within its own borders. It consists of the inbred, those locals seeking acknowledgment from other locals, with their own regional promoters of all ilk seeking to stand out in their own nest. The Great and Small Province of New York City stands alone on its island...metaphorically and geographically. Who is land locked? Who is limited?

With the exposure and information to which we all have access today, we are the World. We are the history of many peoples. We are scientists, farmers, clergy and aboriginals. We are Prehistoric and Futuristic. Gone are the days of provincialism and regionalism, and a limited point of view. Oh! Yes! It may be the case that some of us are more inspired by the Northern Lights which are not seen nightly by artists at the equator. It may be that some of us are intimates of woods and wheat fields as well as the concrete of cities. And always, the lusts and fears of human men and women are no less in small towns than they are in a megalopolis. The human condition links us all, and our condition resides in an age of information.

Let us recognize that New York City is a limited region in itself and does not direct our brushes and techniques and themes. We are of a world that no longer resembles periods of the 1940's or 60's. Our roots nowadays naturally spread more widely than that. The sources of our art, and the resultant products of our thought, are comprehensive, deserving recognition as part of an expansive current world wide view.

Indeed, let us study the bones and fiber of those preceding us, and the still living tissue of those abounding on the Earth...but let us not continue to be intimidated and insulted by persons who are dependent upon a New York or Chicago or LA for their sense of worth. Let us rejoice in our personal visions of the world as we draw on a broader stream of information, producing what our thoughts and hearts tell us is most important in the larger place we inhabit. Let us Provincials with a world view each be a unique product of our age, leaving behind our own peculiar flesh and bone for future study.

PS POST MORTEM

All artists must acknowledge a debt of gratitude to artists anywhere, especially in the United States, who are able to gain publicity in their own time...whether they reside in New York, Milwaukee or Sheboygan. By such exposure all artists are enhanced a little bit. The public becomes a little more aware that visual art is being made, and that some of it has merit, gaining recognition and respect.
It is likely that some of us create work which is not deserving of greater recognition beyond local venues. Perhaps, despite the nature of our work...brilliant or lackluster... some of us are too withdrawn and timid to self promote and get our work shown in more important venues. And then, lady luck hasnít dealt us a useful hand...we havenít gotten the support of an institution, notice from a critic, others who are influential, or a supportive dealer.

Also consider these elements for discussion among us Provincials:

1. A more adventurous and liberal art buying public would be gratifying and rewarding.
2. A local media that put some weight behind more comprehensive art reporting would be a boon, influencing and informing that public. How about the local tail wagging the national art dog?
3. An aggressive crowd of more altruistic artists trying to support other artists in word and action would be helpful...or are you of the philosophy, "Every man for himself"?

All too soon each one of us will become part of the art graveyard, and it will hardly matter then if New York or Alpha Centuri were our inspirations. This is our little time to act, provincial or not. Let us not merely wait for some future resurrectionist to expose our graves.

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