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
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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