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Grow Where You Are Planted, Regions of the Mind

by Gary John Gresl, published in Art in Wisconsin

Perhaps we wish too much to be artists that are part of a national movement, erring by attempting to fit in to the current popular style. Perhaps we have learned a “wrong” art history.  Perhaps we have overlooked our roots and environment...that which has nurtured us and that which still sustains us.
Those artists of the Midwest who we easily recall as being Regionalists, John Stuart Curry, Grant Wood, Gerrit Sinclair, Thomas Hart Benton, were men with a broader knowledge of world reality and art than a superficial reading of their paintings suggests. They chose their subject matter from what they knew, understood, appreciated and experienced, but they did not fail to see bigger pictures of how life was lived elsewhere. They knew the depths of art and thought and culture, but they selected their subject matter to suit themselves.
This author has come to a late recognition that what we have in our reach, that stuff which has helped form us and which we still live and breath, is good enough. It is good enough to provide us with inspiration, beauty or horror, love or loss, simplicity or complexity.
The intrigue and beauty of the accomplished bodies of work of those Regionalists mentioned above, the charm, the sometimes seeming simplicity...those were chosen by sophisticated minds for a reason. Their choices had as much to do with living and intellect as did the nonobjective and abstract work of Parisians and New Yorkers. Their choice of subject matter and technique was highly personal, and an outgrowth of their life experiences, choices and intellectual evolution. And, what is more, they were independent and not creating to suit a snobbish class that included willing slaves to certain art critics and a select art culture.
It is obvious that our world view and our ability to access information, current and past, is nowadays much greater than that of our forebearers, and even much better than the days of our own youth. Quantum leaps have recently occurred.
We recognize that TV emerged in almost every home in the 1950’s. At least by the early 20th Century magazines and periodicals were available to anyone who desired them, with specialty magazines dealing with fine art appearing at anyone’s reach by mid 20th century. Popular magazines like “Life” and “Look” carried at least occasional stories about the most prominent artists of the century. Our schools of higher education provided scholarly classes on the history of art, and there have been plenty of books dealing with the art of today and yesterday. 
Now we can type a name into a search engine such as google or Lycos and find hundreds of references and potential sources of information about almost any subject. While it is still possible to be reclusive and remain unaware of what is going on in the so called art world, avoiding contact and influence from major art centers and art movements takes a nearly conscious effort.
Despite knowing so much about the Universe, it still is important to recognize that where we live, what we experience...the life within our reach...this is our place to grow. Here we witness our fellow creatures. Here we learn to interact. In this place we become adults, we learn to love, we experience sex and nature and sunlight and death. In our region we grow and transform. Our childhoods become our memories...and the past is locked into our brains. We chose from what we see in the broadest sense, as well as selecting ideas and places and moods from our local experience. 
As far as we are complete as persons and artists, we express what is important in our lives. Sometimes that is drawn from the local, and sometimes from the remote and exotic. If we are considered Regionalists, then let us be so by our own free will. Let others categorize us as they want, but let us be as unique as we chose to be.  We are not robots, nor slaves...nor dupes. We grow here. We make our choices here. Part of the beauty of the current scheme is the fact that we are free to reach for other things, to see what ideas abound outside our Region.  
But...this is our place. If we awake each morning and find our roots are well planted, perhaps we can show in our art making the indebtedness to our physical and cultural environments. If some of us select subject, theme, imagery or method which might be construed as Regional, than simply let it be. Relax about it. We are part of the fabric of culture...of visual art in which all geographic and intellectual regions weave together. 

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