A few years ago, when I began thinking about writing a bi-monthly
article for Art in Wisconsin, I had considered titling it “The
Regional Art Homer”. But when I asked several artists
if they knew what “homer” meant they all thought
it only meant hitting a baseball out of the park. They hadn't
learned that the homer I was thinking about was the supporter
and fan of his home town team, the fellow who follows, praises
and criticizes his favorite sports team, discussing and promoting
it thru thick and thin. Some might think of such fans as being “fanatical” indeed.
Due to the apparent lack of recognition of the meaning of homer,
I chose to call the ongoing articles “The Regional Art
Junkie”. Everybody knew what a junkie was. There are plenty
of references to junkies in our pop culture, from the drug user
to the chocoholic to the exercise enthusiast.
FYI, being a “homer” does not mean that one is blind
to the flaws of our team. Maybe our team has a weakness at some
positions, like the pitcher, catcher, fielder or even management.
In the visual arts we have a home team too, but we don't really
think about it as such. It doesn't get together to practice,
the players are independent and fractious, and it does not have
a general manager or coordinator. It is the in-place system existing
in various forms, from commercial and not-for-profit galleries,
publications, colleges, artist run organizations, collectors,
critics and writers, and art museums.
This visual arts team doesn't seem to effectively coordinate
efforts to produce a better team. Instead the various parts focus
on their own more limited agendas, often struggling to just stay
afloat. Despite the good intentions of some organizations like
the Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee, or the Madison based
organization, Arts Wisconsin, and the governmental Wisconsin
Arts Board, broad in the type of arts they attempt to nurture,
the Wisconsin visual arts team is not united. And individually
they may be weak and not as effective as they would like to be.
More than once in the past few years I have personally been criticized,
overtly by one arts writer, but probably unspoken by some other
readers. It seems that I have been perceived as “bashing” some
institutions and referring too often to the actions of one of
those institutions. A few of you will recognize that the institution
the critic refers to is the Milwaukee Art Museum and the action
was the closing of the Wisconsin Art Programs of the Cudahy Gallery
way back in 1995. (That was, in my opinion, one of the most important
events regarding the local promotion of Wisconsin artists in
the past fifty years. Since then there is a generation of artists
arisen in Milwaukee and WI that was not around and which has
no memory of that event.)
Now, what other institutions have I bashed? If there is another,
it might be the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, or really in general
public media. In that I have been guilty of suggesting that there
is not enough visual arts coverage, which in turn directly affects
public opinion of and attention to the visual arts. Say... Guess
what? I do believe that.
This critic of mine has also informed me that I seem to believe
that there are some “powers” who exist that can turn
our attention to or from the visual arts, intentionally or not,
affecting the support of regional artists. Hmmm... This critic
is again right. I do believe that there are persons with the
power of position that determine what it is the public hears
about, what becomes topical and what is consumed.
Hey! I'm a “homer! I might voice my dissent and dissatisfaction,
but I love “our home team”. I would be among the
first enthusiasts who would fight to the death to keep the Milwaukee
Art Museum alive, despite my perception of missteps it might
make. I applaud the Journal Sentinel for its efforts to keep
its head above water in an age of print media struggles and for
keeping an art critic on staff. I commend all the regional arts
writers, collectors, commercial galleries, artist organizations,
etc. for their personal efforts to excel...if only for the good
of their personal survival.
And, importantly, I recognize that our regional art is a small
part of something huge. Around here we have the poor, the mediocre
and the outstanding when compared to other geographic and cultural
areas. If our art and artists are to be viewed favorably on a
national scene, and to merely survive locally, we need our “homers” to
remain true. We need all of our regional resources to stay focused
on what we have here. We need to recognize we have common ground,
and at least the shared belief that visual art expression is
important to the societal health of our regional communities...psychological,
emotional and economical.
But should we always agree with the opinions and actions of our
leaders, our arts writers, our galleries museums and artists?
Duhh!! Of course not! Impossible! The monoliths in human culture
are as rigid or fluid, flawed or heroic, and sometimes as impotent
as the individuals who comprise them.
Me? I'm a flawed homer that recognizes we art interested people
are a small part of a national whole, but a big part of the regional
culture. All of our homers have to keep filling the bleachers
and cheering others onward...and the homers also have to be willing
to extent and suffer criticism from time to time.
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