You Stink

by Gary John Gresl

The Regional Art Junkie
The Regional Art Junkie
 
You stink because:
1. You are from the Midwest, specifically Wisconsin, a cultural backwater from which no important art emerges.
2. You paint landscapes and other subjects too worn and drained to have reasons for public and media attention.
3. If you create non-objective or conceptual work, that which seems to get the attention of national cultural centers on the East and West coasts, you will be dubbed retarditaire, derivative, a copyist or imitator.
4. You could not possibly create anything of importance because you don’t have the life experiences or skills like those who emerge in major cultural centers.
5. Undoubtedly your training is not as good as others who have attended more notable progressive art schools.
6. Even if you create art that might be worthy of broad regional or national attention there is no notable regional media to which the nation pays attention that might give a boost to your reputation and career.
7. Even building a career and success in Wisconsin and the Midwest is simply not good enough because the local aesthetic standards are below the national norm.
8. The only way we can make it big is to move out of Wisconsin.

Ah! So those are the reasons we struggle! It is everyone else’s fault.

Shall we get real? Shall we reach down to our own boot straps and begin to tug? Shall we stop complaining and instead rigorously build our opinions about ourselves? Shall we not only work at and support our own art and careers but also promote the work of our fellow regional artists? Shall we become positively vocal, telling everyone we know about the high quality and diversity of the art we find in our state? Shall we look at the Wisconsin based artists who have indeed “made it big” at the national level, and those who have contributed greatly to our unique regional history? Shall we bring to the attention of school systems and the public the importance of visual art in schools and its vital function of enlightening and promoting creativity? Shall we be willing to speak to the economics of art making, reminding businesses and government that the visual arts lift economies, tourism and a sense of general value and pride in our communities?

In this issue of “Art in Wisconsin” there is an article about the recently renamed Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, and its planned expansion and renewal into a new modern building. This new museum vision is a big deal!

We have seen huge millions of dollars being spent on buildings for the visual arts in the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and the Overture Center, the Racine Art Museum, the Center for Visual Arts in Wausau. This support is a big deal!

Earlier existing visual arts buildings and venues around the state continue to serve us, including the inspiring John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, one of the most progressive and attractive venues in our state and in the nation. We have the Rahr-West in Manitowoc, with one of the most useful gallery spaces around. From Door County to Kenosha, across to Beloit and northward we find public galleries and schools that breathe life into communities and maintain our histories of art making. These are all big deals!

In the recent past we have seen the creation of the “Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards”, whereby attention can be given to artists and institutions which can be inspirations and sources of education for the visual arts. And there are the Governor’s Awards for the Arts which need more public and media attention. Big deals? Yes!

Around the state there are dozens of artist organizations that have for decades come together for the good of their membership, but also for the good of their communities, cultures and economies. Reduce turf wars. Reduce jealousies. Reduce personality conflicts. We don’t need art communism, but we could use a lot of arms around the battering ram to wake up a sleepy media and public.

Thank goodness we do still have arts writers who occasionally report on our regional artists and do what they can to pump the art blood thru our public arteries. But do we give them the support and vocal attention they need in order for them to get more column space and air time? Are their superiors and editors being told to improve arts coverage?

Hey! It is not wrong to be vocal and even complain about conditions that don’t seem to be right, that don’t serve the interests of those of us involved in the visual arts, and which need to have attention! But it is wrong if we merely complain and don’t do anything about it ourselves.

We need to have individuals and groups stand up and come together rather than just lob grenades into the establishment bunkers hoping for change. We may need to make the changes ourselves!! At the very least, we need to try through our own actions and statements. And on a very personal level, what is the nature of your art? Do you question your direction, and are you really satisfied with what you do? Are you considering evolving, or are you locked into your own status quo?

So, if we stink it may not be entirely the fault of others from outside or inside our art communities. It might be that we have not recognized the value of what we already have. It might be because we have not worked hard enough for the good of our fellows or even for ourselves. Perhaps we have not been supportive and receptive and positive, and we have not made our opinions known to the right people. It might be that we have not experimented and stretched and tested our creative urges enough to gain attention and garner support. It might be because we are lazy and we just want others to do our work for us.

Maybe we haven’t been our own champions. Maybe we haven’t stirred up enough stink to get noticed.��