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Being a “Homer” and Defining Our Home Team

by Gary John Gresl

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. Think Packers.

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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