5 days after the close of ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI, I am still feeling the collective sigh of relief in the city. Streets are quiet, leaves fall, and the blue bowl of October sky above feels so close one could touch it, if they just lifted off when coming over that big hill on Fulton.
Parliament the Boutique was incredibly blessed by ArtPrize. Our hosted piece, the Collective Wings “Division Fibers” piece didn’t make the top 100, but we made a huge splash, including an entire article from HyperAllergic.com and a lot of local press love from MLive, WoodTV8, and The Rapidian. My rough guess is that I had upward of 6000 visitors through the boutique during these 19 days, the vast majority of whom loved our work, were happy to be out, enjoyed hand-crafted goods of both leather and fiber, and all around were having a great time looking for and at art.
There were of course, the bad moments. Like people knocking on my door at 10am (Parliament is also my personal house, so yes, I’m home when you’re tapping on the glass at the cats), yelling through the window and demanding to know why I wasn’t open yet. Or the few people that made stupid comments like, “people will pay for anything, won’t they?” or “doesn’t it seem like all the yarn is a waste?”
And the one comment that first annoyed, and then angered, and now has me saddened: Where is the ArtPrize?
At first, it annoyed me that people seemed so ignorant of what ArtPrize was and meant. After all, the entries in ArtPrize aren’t Prizes that one goes out and seeks like catching all the Pokemon; ArtPrize is the cultural event in which you’re completely submerged when you enter its sphere for those three weeks, is surrounding you and in which you are currently filtering your perception of experiencing art. But to one who hasn’t examined the purpose of art, to a public that is no longer educated in critical discourse about their sensorial experience of life and art, and only is taught to regurgitate factoids for tests in their modern educations, is it no wonder that it is perceived this way? Hence why it turned to anger, and then sadness.
“To Art” can be translated in Old English to “thou beest” or “to be.” One must then be puzzled over how “Art” became the name of all these objects we create for such a myriad of purposes, whether that be ArtPrize or gallery walls or Etsy shops. But if “to art” is “to be,” does it not then follow that Art is in fact a verb? And in this sense, what does the action of “art” look like? I would argue that it is the making of these objects that is the “art,” that the practice of doing, methodically making, is in fact the art at play, and that the resulting art object is a physical manifestation of our making; it is an abstraction, a distillation, a movement, a whisper, an encompassment, anything that makes physical representation of our making and of the sensorial experience of making.
There is a lot of argument over ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, its economic and cultural significance, its pros and cons. As a person coming from a wholly immersed arts background, there are parts that irritate me, that there are just plain stupid publicity stunts, too many dragons, and the BOB is far too great a source of crowd anxiety to actually enjoy any art. And it saddens me to think that this is the only time of year that some people ever get out to look at art, to ponder it and broaden their minds.
In some ways, it is a bitter pill to swallow that only when does a wealthy family decide to make an event of it, does it become publicly “in vogue” for a city to go out and experience art. But then again, is some art better than none at all? And is it my place to judge what people find to be “art” during that timeframe, and tear down the little glimpse they’re getting because it’s irritating that the financing comes from wealth?
That’s when I have to step back. “To Art,” is “to be.” So when I get irritated and sad because the public at large seems to ignorant of art, when their big questions are, “How much time did it take?” and “What amount of _______ is in that?” I have to remember that they are trying to relate. They are trying to grasp the sensorial experience you had in making that art, even if it strikes me, the artist, as a rudimentary question. Wouldn’t it be better to ask how I felt while making it? Or why I made the art object I did? But for most people, with the dearth of experiential discourse ever-widening in our society, they can’t even begin to grasp how strokes of paint, or how floating mylar sheets, can be the distillation of life and experience in an object. Certainly, people feel emotions about things, of joy, exclamation, wonder; but it is not with the deeper meaning that lies beneath the tip of the iceberg. And thus, to begin to try to understand, they tackle what they know: How many hours?= I can relate this to my 40 hour work week. How many balls of yarn? = I can compare this to going to Joann’s recently. It’s a _________ that looks like __________! = my normal perceptions have been tricked, and that interests me! Oh my goodness, the dunes are a QUILT! = You touched my heart with a place so lovely, and I can relate to the type of object I sleep beneath literally every night.
There is a lot to be said for all of that prize money going to year-around programming too. But, is more “programming,” more museum activities, or events, or gallery hops, in our little art-makers circles, really the answer? It may help, but is it not a Band-aid fix for the bigger problem? That we are no longer encouraging our society to live experientially in the moment at hand, to value their life and experience of it to a degree that they remember its feels, and touches, and sighs, that we no longer engage in everyday conversations with one another about life and experience- for these are the things that encourage and inspire people to make, to make art objects, and to experience more fully.
How many people feel the creative urge, but have no outlet for it? I argue many and most, and while they cannot dedicate their time to learning the fine arts and crafts that others might, they still have the most instinctual urge to experience fully. Thus, things like ArtPrize do at least open up that discourse. It might not be the lofty contemplation of “why” that myself and other trained artists often ask when looking at art, but it is a fully immersed engagement, as children and old men alike peer with wonder at an eagle made of 24,000 keys and relate it to both the keys in their pocket and the birds that soar over the Grand River Basin. It is something. It is a start of a conversation, an opening to speak of and encourage to fight the battle fully living, of opening your thoughts and discourse, of relating to your fellow humans.
As ArtPrize 2013 recedes behind me, and I start to take down the yarn, I am reminded that people do crave creativity everyday, that they do crave art but don’t necessarily know how to articulate it. People have asked us to leave up the yarn, which we sadly can’t; they have continued to express their continued amazement, wonder, and enjoyment. Long after I’m done being irritated that people were asking, “Where’s the ArtPrize?” I’ll be talking with folks about the Division Fibers yarnbomb. I’ll be “one of those girls that put yarn on the trees, and gosh was it pretty. Thanks for doing that.” I’ll continue to have a real human connection with all those people that learned how to knit or crochet, all those people who said it brightened their daily drive, all the homeless residents that sincerely thanked us for “making things real nice.” It makes life richer, for all of us. And if ArtPrize is the vehicle for creating conversation amongst us in Grand Rapids, then that is a good I cannot deny.
“To Art,” is “to be.” Now that you’ve seen anyone can do it, go home and make some Art, Grand Rapidians. Experience the feeling of making more fully. Engage your hands, minds, and hearts. It doesn’t have to cost money. Make a dance, make a paper crane, make a party, make all the good feels happen.
Make some Art. And then you’ll have found the real ArtPrize.