Saturday, November 14, 2009

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

Ed. Note: For some time we haven't had an OPINION question offered on Vermont Art Zine, but recently someone (whose opinion appears below) came to us with a strong perspective about the Art of Action project. Three different tours of this work are appearing all over the state, so it seems like a good topic for our readers to weigh in on, as the Art of Action exhibits appear in different communities over the next seven months. Have you seen one of the exhibits? What do you think of the project itself, the work produced, and the idea of "shaping Vermont's future through art"? Send your thoughtful responses to one of the editors.

By Theodore Hoppe

Let's be honest, is "The Art of Action" project a success? Did the art meet the objective: "SHAPING VERMONT'S FUTURE THROUGH ART"? No, is my reply. Lyman Orton said in a Seven Days interview back in 2008, that the project should aim to "raise awareness and inspire a vision that will shape Vermont’s social, political, environmental and/or economic future." If the piece can "catalyze action and affect change on a statewide level, so much the better. The work they produce will inspire the rest of us." I saw little vision, I was not inspired, my awareness was not raised.

I expected a revolution, what I got was some very nice paintings.

While all of the work included in The Art of Action project is skillfully executed, some paintings were dark, bleak, almost apocalyptic, maybe unconsciously so. (A MacDonald's playground yellow plastic tube slide being labeled a "cancerous colon") For others, there was little in them that said, "Vermont." They could have been a road or bridge or person in Ohio. When artists did capture images that are uniquely Vermont they were very contemporary works.

Gail Boyajian and Annemie Curlin came the closest to the objective, but still miss the target. Boyajian's paintings are future primitives with a storytelling quality. Curlin's unique perspective captures the designs of an evolving landscape.

I shared these thoughts with Alex Aldrich, the director of the Vermont Arts Council, at the reception in Montpelier. I think he was stunned and shocked. I also shared an idea with him as to what I would have created: a visual wall sculpture that merged technology, design, and landscape. He responded that I should have submitted something, to which I replied, "I didn't think my idea," which was more creative than what I was seeing, "was good enough". That's how high my expectations were. If I remember correctly some 300 artists applied for this project.

I realize that a great deal of time and energy was spent on this project, but I don't think Orton got his money's worth. He could have invested it in our youth. Given a share of the money, I would create 20 framed photos from a B & W essay taken 30 years ago of an abandoned Vermont farm, and displayed the photos in schools around Vermont, "The Disappearing Landscape of Vermont." I would give kids from the hosting schools digital cameras, letting them create photos of things that are rapidly disappearing from their landscape, preserving it, nurturing it and reshaping it. They could have presented their art in a follow up show at the school and other venues. This is the future of art in Vermont, this is inspiring a vision, and increases awareness.

Photos taken by Theodore Hoppe, top to bottom: works by Curtis Hale, Annemie Curlin, and David Brewster.