ArtPrize 2009: Stumbling towards empathy

artprizeNow that ArtPrize 2009 is a fading memory, I can say there is more good than bad to ArtPrize (gasp).

I have many issues with ArtPrize on a functional level but it has the potential be very good for the Visual Arts in Grand Rapids over time. Put another way: how is this not an improvement over having large fiberglass painted cows, fish, birds, etc. scattered around downtowns across America and calling that art?

The salient point of discussion: We all must continually broaden and improve the quality of the work shown and the subtlety of the exchange between Artists and the viewing public.

While Artists are not Doctors, they do share that singular dedication and desire for professionalism and knowledge found in medicine and other professions such as the law, the sciences, the baseball. How does one get the public to understand that premise, fend off biting allegations of elitism, while at the same time being responsible as artist/curators for selecting 1/2 of the top 10?

Margo Burian, a painter friend of mine, remarked the following:

It seems like everyday, more funding to the arts is being cut at both the state and federal levels. My take on it is that the general public feels generally excluded from the arts, therefore the powers that be can make cuts without suffering too much backlash. If ArtPrize did something well, it was getting people to feel included and that they were participating. Does that qualify them to judge art? It’s not my place to say, but what I do know is that many of them cared enough to get off the couch and get down to venues to look at Art.

If we as an artistic community want to have support for the Arts, we have to get the greater community as a whole to see the value of the inclusion of the arts in their lives. If by allowing a public vote, you get the public interested in the arts, we bring the community up as a whole. Its then, when we create an inclusive community, that we can educate people as to the value of the arts and how they play a part in the quality of daily life.

People will defend something they care about. As creative professionals we need to own Art actions, not just be passive observers waiting for an audience to saunter by. The increased traffic will give our local institutions an opportunity to show work that we will want to see that public will be interested in as well.

ArtPrize was a great membership drive for the UICA. Also, several pieces are under negotiation of sale to collectors and UICA gets a cut–another win for the home team. My hunch is that the success of this year will help to shape decisions of who shows next year and where. UICA has set an expectation for success (4 of the top 10). Many other works are in the top 25/50/75/100. I wonder if next year, GRAM will throw it’s doors open for 3 weeks and show work inside instead of just two walls on the exterior. I would not be surprised if the Frederick Meijer Gardens and GVSU are more involved next year as well.

Sure, you will still have the B.O.B. and other restaurants showing work. Smarter artists won’t go back to the venues that make their work subservient to the spectacle of that venue. I felt very uncomfortable looking at artwork and  someone else’s lunch or dinner at the same time. The Kissing Booth was the exception that proved the rule.

Besides the UICA/Old Federal Building, I can think of 5 or 6 venues of the dozens I visited that are role models of well presented, non-institutional spaces covering a full spectrum of curatorial premises: Betadesign, Brass Works, 47 Commerce SW, Monroe Community Church, Peaches B&B and Tanglefoot. The work varies in quality, like much of ArtPrize, but these venues really cared about the presentation–they respected Artists. By the way, 2010 venue organizers, you could cherry pick a great 10-12 person show from the right 1-3 artists found at each of these locations.

In the end, advocacy, education and most of all, empathy will improve the conversation and the quality of the work. The public will develop a more informed opinion to compliment an intuitive one about Art and Artists. Artists will gain much in speaking to this newer audience, but it will take some time. Asking questions and listening may be the better action for now. Both sides will garner respect from each other. There is a bigger agenda in play that goes beyond just looking at Art. It will probably take 3 of these before you can effectively critique its impact to the larger schema of the Art World.

Last Saturday, on the last day, two days after all of the winners were announced, there were thousands of people out in the streets of GR simply because they wanted to see the work. Some were artists, 20-somethings, the usual suspects. But also moms and dads taking their kids around downtown. I had great conversations, I listened. A typical story: ‘We wanted to see the top 10 and then got sidetracked.’

Sidetracked: it’s a start. Thank you.

21 thoughts on “ArtPrize 2009: Stumbling towards empathy”

  1. If you like it, it's art; if you don't , it ain't.
    During the 1960's it would have been called a "happening" and it was great.
    The people were friendly and G.R. never looked so beautiful at night.

  2. The best Art is a search for truth. Truth in the use of materials. Truth in the Artists intentions and a truth in how we as a society are going to experience and use Art in our lives. It's a type of truth that often gets overlooked or used by politics, avarice and even economic development. I've probably beaten my disagreements about AP to death online but my heart felt desire is that what we describe as Art and promote as Art can have some resemblance of truth to it.
    Using personal responsibility and social awareness lets place Art, with a capital A, at the top of the list.

  3. I thought one of the best things was the number of children enjoying art and exploring downtown with their families. Watching them, they had no preconceived notions of what is, was, or should be. They may not have been looking for the deeper meanings of the works of art, or judging artistic merit, but they accepted and enjoyed, no matter how "different", unusal, avant gard. Arts education is also under the economic chopping block, and children won't be exposed to art if their parents don't choose to go to museum and galleries. The accessability of AP to young or old, rich or poor, "artsy" or not, made it possible for families to participate. What a great way to bring a new generation into an appreciation for the arts!

    • Hi Bev lovely candy. So many ppl loves it too. Slim chance to winn but hey if I dont try no chance at all is there lolAt the mo Im into yellow/pink(redish)/blue dont ask whyOf to post the link nowoxo Ildiko oxo

    • thanks for sharing the story and thanks to Benny for asking you to share your experiencei always wish i had some brilliant idea for an appi don’t reallybut i think those principles and your experience can be used in other areas of life when we strive for our dreams and goalsi’m writing my heart and guts outmaybe i’ll earn $5 one day but that’s not the point. the point is i’m doing something i loveNoch Noch

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  4. I couldn't agree more. For all the faults, and there were many, ArtPrize was an amazing experience – especially for Grand Rapids, MI. I'm sorry to see it end and wonder what the organizers will do to improve the event next year.

  5. Wow… I feel like I have been fed intellegence! Thanks! I might have to disagree on the last statement. I think it has affected the art world in a huge way! I think artists from all over the world are going to be interested in being a part of this. I also think that it's affected the general public as well – it's expanded my horizons of what art is and has actually inspired me in my own little sphere to maybe try to be more artistic in what I do (photography, digital scrapbook, quilting). Thanks!!!

  6. Hi All,
    An update: just over 250 hits on this post in 3-4 hours yesterday–not Google scale but a big deal for my little old website. Thanks for all of the comments and cross-posts.

    You should also know I made a revision to the last sentence in the 4th paragraph for clarity and added a link to my post about the treatment of Deb Rockman. I also embedded a link to the Facebook article about the AP shuttle service in the 1st paragraph as a reference to practical issues of AP that needs to be resolved. Oversights corrected that I hope reinforce the tenor of the piece.

    Again, thank you for the interest.

    Matthew Patulski

    • I had to laugh when I read, "While artists are not Doctors" — because my husband is both. As a physician whose serious hobby is metal casting, he was delighted to have his cast-iron piece Digital Armillary shown at VanderHyde Mechanical, which emptied its showroom of the usual, er, ceramic sculptures and filled it with the works of seven artists, plus an eighth in the parking lot out front. As a venue for prize winning, it didn't have a chance; but if you didn't go there, you missed not only the only cast iron entry in ArtPrize, but the most amazing watercolor painting as well.
      Oh, and the worst thing about ArtPrize, besides the clumsy, high-tech voting requirements? That's easy: the $15 guidebook. Did you try to look up anything in it? Suppose you were at UICA or The B.O.B. and wanted to take notes on the works shown there. There was no way to find what page any venue was on.

  7. Matt, this is a profoundly insightful article! If we want to learn, we must keep our ears and minds open. The only thing I’d like to add is that it would be nice if we (as a public) could think of Artprize on a larger scale than Grand Rapids. Artprize has proven its economic feasibility to the local community. Can you imagine what it would do for Grand Rapids (and for art) if it was a global conversation? Artprize has so much potential, but we must dream big! There are other people out there whose voices need to be heard.

  8. After hearing a lot of negative buzz over the past couple of weeks (top 10 artists having a profound leg up in the competition due to prominent locations like the Grand River, and the general conversations spoken about who is entitled to judge art), I find it deeply refreshing to hear such positive feedback. ArtPrize was an amazing opportunity for Grand Rapids. People from all over came downtown, rain or shine, and spent two weeks in our lovely city. The best part of the competition? Everyone who chose to be involved could be – everyone had a voice – everyone got a vote. Yes, there were bumps, but G.R. has never tried anything like this before, so it should be no surprise that the road was a little rocky. This was a learn-as-you-go experience, for both artists and venues (such as many of the restaurants who received criticism for not being able to handle the volume of people and running out of food). Next year, I would hope that artists would continue to seek out many of the smaller venues and that those venues will be up to the challenge! I have confidence that the ArtPrize council, artists, and venues have learned much, and that ArtPrize 2010 will be even better!

  9. I really enjoyed this commentary…Artprize was wonderful for Grand Rapids at a time when we as a city, needed to see some positives. Even more exciting was Artprize offering the general public a chance to embrace different forms of "Art."
    Thank you Rick DeVos!

  10. Is/was ArtPrize just for visual art? I got the impression with some of the performance art that more than just visual was included. It is doubtful, of course, that a large enough number of people will see any given performance piece for it to win, but I think it is important for other genres to be included. FACT: Everyone gets to judge art, whether we, as artists, like it or not. And it seems that, here, except for the fact that the masses may not have made it to more than a concentrated group of venues, the public did not do such a bad job. Thanks for your comments, Matt, and allowing me to have mine.

  11. I agree with the quote you included by Margo Burian. If the "average Joe" does not think art is for them to enjoy, watch art funding continue to diminish. The art community needs to make all people feel included and not that art is only to be enjoyed by those who are educated in the arts.

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