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Chauvinism Outside the Heartland, Insecurity Within

by Gary John Gresl

I can relate experiences that suggest, or prove, that there are persons from outside our region who have definite prejudices and expectations about what kind of art is produced here. Such chauvinism ranges from mere hypothesized images of conventional landscapes, cows and wildlife art to local feeble retarded attempts at Modern and Postmodern expressions. Sure…while there is unskilled and anemic art being made in all regions, there is also meritorious art that goes overlooked due to lack of study and exposure by publicists and the influential.

Let alone the fact that there might be exceptional thought and idea that is behind the creation of landscapes, cows and wildlife art, there are those critics, including gallery owners and museum personnel, who will not even take a look at the art produced outside their own limited cultural environment. If our area’s artists and our champions do not go to them, they will not come to us. Sadly, there are some persons living along side of us who feel the same way, basically that our regional artists are not of sufficient worth to pay attention to.

One might argue that by merely bringing up the subject of inequality in the media’s art reporting and general lack of attention by influential forces we reveal our own insecurities as artists and Midwest residents. Bah! Humbug! This is the reality. We have excellent artists here who, due to long standing social, cultural and economic conditions, don’t get the same fair shake when it comes to comparisons with art that gets a reputation elsewhere.

Some of us do not depend upon “finding our art” in the big city, we grow to maturity right here and then “take our art to” the city. After all, where would an actor prefer performing? On Broadway in Milwaukee or Broadway in New York City? Reputations are made by associations with places and celebrity. It would be a great thing if the local market recognized and supported local visual art at a much higher level than it does now, thereby enabling more artists to thrive here. When an acclaimed performer, artist or expert is in town, there a flocks of locals to attend to the appearance. The oft repeated story about the experts coming from out of town repeatedly comes to mind.

You want a bottom line? Find regional artists and supporters that you admire. Study what they do…look for their authenticity…compare them to artists from elsewhere who are getting attention. Praise them. Support them. Buy their work. Publicize and boost them if you find them deserving. A definition for “boost” is this: “A device for increasing power or effectiveness”. You are an intimate part of the device, the machinery that can hoist local art scenes into greater prominence.

We Seek the Supporting Marketplace

It has been the case in world history that quality artists from many regions in any place and time have had to go in search of broader viable markets in order to gain exposure, recognition and financial success. Wisconsin generally has not provided a large enough support system allowing artists to exist and thrive here, without additional income from a real job like teaching, etc. Perhaps that is true for most regions and for anyone. To become self sufficient as artist it is necessary to expand into the broader approving national marketplace in order to reach the necessary patronage. Perhaps it is only in the areas of larger human population that we can find a large enough percentage of persons interested and attentive that can support us.

It does not appear that the current marketplace in Wisconsin can do that, nor has it ever. The population is not of sufficient size to keep reenergizing and encouraging local artists; there is not a broad media that is sympathetic to reporting on the visual arts; the patron base is small due to lack of interest, lack of education, and lack of awareness. In addition the visual arts have to compete for attention and dollars with other facets of the culture which have evolved into stronger focal points for public attention, such as sports and the performing arts.

Sports and performances are physically and emotionally exciting. There is the entertainment value, gossip and the personalities, the media coverage of real time events that include championship races and celebrity. The thrill of competition and hoopla creates interest and enlarges the media reporting which builds on itself promoting a buzz.

The visual arts usually provide and require more contemplative quiet times, without the media coverage, without the discussion of championship races and broad discussion. Too often the visual arts, the quiet sister, will only gain public attention when there is something out of the ordinary, some oddity, a theft, controversy, record auction price or some outrageous action or personality that makes news. Then it is a one time reporting event and not a sustained level of activity that goes on for weeks.

Turning on Our Own Lights

Therefore, it seems to me, it is time for artists and supporters from this region to recognize that we ourselves must work harder here at home to establish our own regional visual arts identity, presenting our regional treasures as significant, valuable, and speaking to human issues in contemporary times. We must pay greater attention to visual arts education, art publicity, and we must endure for a long long time.

Support your regional galleries, art educators, museums and arts writers. Spread the good word about the Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards at WWW.WVALAA.COM, the Governor’s Awards for the Arts, the Mary Nohl Artist Fellowships, and every scrap of positive discussion and expression you encounter.

If some controversy is what it takes to generate discussion about our regional visual art, then let’s stir up some stink! Working alone a single artist may not do much to advance our general art culture, but all of us working on the same project should be able to keep the ball rolling. That project should be getting the visual arts into the public eye as often and where ever we can, establishing it as vital, important to our society, and as a means to produce critical thought within an economically thriving culture.

From the publication, “Every Day Art”, Adolescents as Artists by Horace Heilman pg. 16. VOLUME 39, WINTER, 1960-61

“The art class opens the path to divergent thinking by accepting differences as normal and desirable, and places value on thinking which doesn’t conform to rigid standards.”

Apathy, rigidity, obstinacy, ignorance, close mindedness and similar ilk feed the inertia slowing growth of our visual art culture from classrooms to the publishing media.

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