Tuesday, November 17, 2009

OPINION, Response: What do you think about the Art of Action project?

This is in response to a question posted on November 14, 2009: Have you seen one of the Art of Action exhibits? What do you think of the project itself, the work produced, and the idea of "shaping Vermont's future through art"? Further responses will be posted as they are received.

by Edward Swoszowski

In a review of the "art of action" program appearing on the Vermont Art Zine site Mr. Theodore Hoppe comments on the failure of the AofA program to achieve it's target - meaningful art expressing the 'vision' for a future Vermont. It is a fine commentary, but Mr.Hoppe doesn't go far enough in exposing the weakness and shortcomings of that expression, or more importantly the current 'art community' mindset.

Mr. Hoppe is correct in observing that the art of the AofA program fails. In actuality, neither do the actions and /or attitudes of the art community in Vermont. The AofAart is staid and self-centered, mirroring a politically correct , tourist- middle class (or better), 'Vermont as a never changing, quaint tourist destination' art community attitude. Where is the social conscience? Where is the continuation /expression of values and feelings that have held Vermont together for centuries? Where is the recognition of respect for generations of Vermonters, their hard work and the way they live their lives? Where is the sensitivity and caring? Where is the notion that we all need to contribute in order to help fellow Vermonters be safe today, and even better tomorrow?

This past weekend the Catamount Arts in St. J. held their annual auction. $20.00 per person to get in. More to bid on the items donated for the auction. It raised approximately $50,000.00 for an organization that really misses the mark in understanding what the purpose of art in a community is. Sure, they rent DVD's, show trendy and foreign films, and display art that probably wouldn't make it outside of Vt. But how does that serve the community ? Can the average St. J resident (or typical blue collar /logger 'Vermonter' of neighboring towns) afford $20.00 for wine and crackers (vs. feeding a meal, or two to their families)? It is important for the average Vermonter to rent obscure DVD's or see mediocre art? Probably not, which is why the community of St. J. at large rejected the Catamount's request for funds this past Town Meeting Day. The money could simply be better used elsewhere. But that's not the message the attendees of the this past weekend's auction seem to have understood.

Why is it that 'artists' and the 'art community' fall over themselves to make a social appearance at Cat Art auction (which raises $50,000.00) - but those same artists and community members cannot seem to rally around meaningful efforts (like the Vermont Arts Council - Auction to Benefit

the Vermont Food Bank - which despite their wonderful efforts, only raised about $10,000.00 last year).? Why is it more important to 'see and be seen' than taking the critical responsibility for making the present and future Vermont a safe and meaningful home for all Vermonters? The AofAproject failed because it painted an idealistic fantasy land of Vermont today and tomorrow. Misguided efforts like the Cat Arts auction - and others which only perpetuate a closed /cliquish /politically correct approach to art in Vermont - do not do justice to the character, nature , commitments and willingness to help one's neighbor - which has made Vermont great.

Art in Vermont should be more than 'tourist art' or things that are 'cute'*** Art in Vermont should define the realities ofnot only foliage and cows, but the hardships /needs / achievements /hopes and desires of the people who live here... either by mirroring those actions in art and/or forcing the public to recognize the 'needs/reality' by evoking documentation and emotion. 'Cute' just doesn't cut it. Art in Vermont should not be limited to people over thirty with nebulous /snobbish 'art school' training and connections. Art comes from the heart. Art is meant to document, motivate, inform and inspire. Anyone can do art. 'Art in Vermont' needs to involve everyone in art projects. Allow everyone to participate, importantly making them aware that their creations and expressions are just as valid ( and valued) as the clique /art-school want-be-be artists that seem to thuggishly dominate too many art community efforts. As for myself, I find more 'art' in some of the young artists efforts / the art of one handicapped artist hidden away on the wall of a local rural store - than anything I've seen the majority of Vermont's 'art's' centers. And that's more than sad. Where is the motivation? inspiration? energy? It's what made past art and artists memorable and admired. It's what will make future art and artists great. It's very noticeable lack will not only relegate most current Vermont 'post card' art to the dustbin, but wastes the innate talents and expression of many artists of all ages who are currently excluded or ignored.

*** Windolf, J. "Addicted to Cute" Vanity Fair. No. 952- December 2009. 168-183.