Jury duty again yesterday. This time for a fundraiser for a new arts facility in a relatively small community of 60,000. Good idea: Artists, both invited and volunteer set up at designated locations around the town — heritage sites, parks, wharf, etc. They have from 9 until 3 to paint the town and turn out a masterpiece. That evening, the finished products, snappily framed and suitably awarded, some of them still wet are auctioned off to a supportive crowd at a hoity-toity dinner. Everything’s a donation. This volunteering town has already raised 2.1 million of the 2.2 needed. The spectacular art center and theatre complex is just about finished. I said, “Wow.”
What’s going on here? We’ve come a long way, Baby. The fact is that these sorts of community-based, grass-roots facilities are being built all over the place. It’s called the democratization of the arts. Upward mobility. Painting and sketch clubs climb out of church basements and into custom-built, dedicated structures. Theatre troupes move from school auditoriums to state-of-the-art venues. Poets, potters and pontificators now have places of their own that rival the community gym and the hockey rink.
American architect Philip Johnston once remarked that better buildings make better people. This may be true. We have to ask how, and in what way do they make better artists? What’s going to happen in these slick Arborite workstations? And what’s happening to the time-honoured idea about adversity and struggle? Or is that whole business just a pile of outdated baloney?
Creativity and proficiency are still a matter of character. Air conditioning may not be a prerequisite for great work. Artists know that filling those shiny walls is not like turning a chromium tap. But these volunteers are saying: “Build; the artists will come.” Some of them are even bidding on their own paintings.
There may be a building like this in your community. The foundation is optimism. It is built on a vision of the future. It is already a monument to the outrageous potential of the creative spirit.
PS: “There hasn’t been any art yet. Art is just beginning.” (Constantin Brancusi)
Esoterica: Artists are worthy of this flamboyance. I’m marveling at the building; columns, tall glass, the setting. The children of the unfinished field are running to grab the ring. “We owe something to extravagance, for thrift and adventure seldom go hand in hand.” (Jennie Jerome Churchill)
The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thanks for writing.
System to judge a show
by Bobbie Kilpatrick, Columbus, TX, USA
I would like to comment on the jury process. I have juried many shows and believe that being a juror does not give me the right to destroy someone’s creative expression. True creativity cannot really be judged one against another. All are right. Sometimes there may be 300 entries and room for only 65 to hang in the show. Many that would be chosen have to be eliminated. When critiques are asked for, I point out the good qualities and then suggest the areas that could be improved. Constructive criticism is needed. My system to judge a show: First is originality/ creativity. Our unique individuality is what sets us apart, how the artist has presented the idea or subject in an unusual way. Then I go to the technical elements. Design of space is first (not to be confused with composition). Value is second, because it is needed to create design, and technique is third. Other elements, such as color, drawing, and subject are of lesser importance because all can be distorted to achieve the artist’s expressive goal. Since we need approval at times to gauge our progress, we enter shows. I judge on the above criteria instead of my personal opinion, which only enters into the final outcome if I have several pieces that are equal in all elements. Then I have to make a decision as to what touches me personally. Remember, the work that one judge rejects, another may give it an award.
Game of sabotage
by Sherry J. Purvis
The new building, the great structure, correct in all of its architectural detail is not the answer. When you say to yourself that you will be able to produce better work when you have the correct light and the wonderful studio, you are just once again playing the game of sabotage. Every day that you don’t paint or create, for whatever reason, is a day lost that you don’t get back. I have a wonderful studio now, but have painted in the worst conditions before now. My work is not better because of the studio, but maybe a bit easier. When we make it too easy on ourselves, I believe we forget about the inner struggle. It is a struggle I hope never to lose. It is vital to the entire creative process. I don’t know how the rest of you feel, but if it is too easy then for me it isn’t worthy.
Controversy over new library
by Bev Willis, Fresno, CA, USA
We are having some controversy here in our town over the building of a new library in the area of town that has probably more affluent people than other parts of town. The complaint is twofold: (1) Why are they building a more expensive and more attractive library in that part of town, than in other parts of town? (2) Why should a more beautiful architecturally designed building bring more people to the library than an ordinary generic styled building? I am for building beautiful architecturally designed buildings that also house up to date and more innovative ways to help people learn more and perhaps encourage lifetime work and enjoyment. As a young child, I went to the Josyln Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday mornings to take art classes. I also walked around looking at the many wonderful paintings and statues there. It was an awesome experience that I will always remember. Even though I was just a kid I believe it helped to whet my life long interest in art. If this building had not been there, perhaps I and many others would have not had this opportunity to be inspired. There are all different ways to learn things and why should we limit these.
Communities involved in art
by oliver, Texas, USA
Communities becoming involved in art! People learn a bit of the joy, wonder, agony of the creative process and spirit. Educating people to the possibilities of art. Providing places to show and experience art. Providing a good outlet for people to work and build together. Providing a good place for people to find things to decorate their walls at a good price.
Temples to and for the development of a particular school or style, possibly. A source of new ground breaking school of work, probably not. A place to give a stamp of “approval” for a new school, maybe. Remember, at the end Renoir was right; the Impressionists ultimately became part of, “needed?” the Salon.
Art at flea market prices
by Kelly Borsheim
How do auctions make better artists? Am I wrong or did fund-raising auctions used to cause folks to open their pocketbooks to support the cause? It seems now people see community art auctions as a means to buy art at flea market prices. This to me is a more defeating form of rejection than the type one may receive from an art critic. How did this change come about?
Whim of jurors
by Miriam, Colorado, USA
A friend of mine one year won first prize in the Loveland sculpture show. The next year she wasn’t even accepted as an entry. That story helps me realize the whim of jurors. She tells me to find out in advance who the jurors are and what their orientation is and then decide whether to enter a show or not.
Expect the unexpected
by Joan Gaetz
Your letter has widened my world in the most amazing ways, intellectually, creatively, philosophically and geographically. I no longer work “alone.” Now when I’m in my studio, I envision pinpoints of light, energy and activity all over the globe connected by strands of empathy. Your words and those contained in the clickbacks continue to strip away the “false front” that there is one right way to be an artist. Most professions are well defined. For us it is best to expect the unexpected.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.
That includes Frank Bales, Staunton, VA, who wrote, “These new buildings are neither good nor bad; it is only change, and change is constant, and inevitable.”