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How The Rural Could Save Modern Art
Matthew Fluharty, US-based editor of 'Art of the Rural'.
Last week I had the privilege of attending a roundtable discussion on rural arts and culture hosted at the Bush Foundation in Saint Paul. This conversation was cosponsored by the Arts and Community Change Initiative, the Arts and Democracy Project, the Center For Rural Strategies, and InCommons - and these organizations brought together an inspiring cohort of artists, scholars and arts practitioners working to cultivate the cultural life of their rural communities.
A profound number of challenges and solutions were raised in those discussions. A few persistent questions emerged and then re-emerged across the morning's conversation: How do we create and share art that speaks from our local cultures, yet also reflects the modern economic and global realities of our places? What is the tension between traditional and modern (university-endorsed) notions of art-making? Is there a way to integrate these practices into the stories a community tells about its past, present, and its future? How does the community's access to technology (especially broadband) alter this work? And, importantly, how to we impart all of these concerns to the next generation - how do we offer a narrative of place and culture inclusive to rural youth?
Though these are large questions, and their solutions will be years in the making, I was ultimately struck by how different these discussions sounded than those that revolve around the contemporary art world, or even its adjacent academic community. While there are daunting imperatives in the preceding paragraph, its content is surely not rural-specific. However, because of the host of pressing issues facing rural America, many of our artists and arts organizations must directly engage with these questions of representation and equity, and with art's tenuous position in communities dealing with crises in health care, housing and education. Because our work takes place on a smaller scale, we turn from these issues at our own peril. As a preface to the roundtable discussion, Dee Davis, president of The Center of Rural Strategies, offered this timely line from W.B. Yeats: 'in dreams begin responsibilities'.
So, how could the rural save modern art? I'd like to offer below three recent editorials by respected art critics, writing for respected arts publications. Each writer, upon returning from the major summer art shows (here, the Venice Biennale and Art Basel), identifies specific symptoms of a general sickness in the art world. On one hand, it's heartening to hear these writers articulating some of very same concerns of folks engaged in rural arts and culture; on the other hand, the sickness diagnosed here seems to beg not only for greater equity and inclusion along economic and geographical lines, but also for a wider sense of cultural inclusion.
Writing in New York Magazine, Jerry Saltz laments "Generation Blank," the coterie of recent university-trained artists who are "too much in thrall to their elders, excessively satisfied with an insider’s game of art, [and] not really making their own work." Here is how Mr. Saltz begins his editorial:
went to Venice, and I came back worried. Every two years, the central
attraction of the Biennale is a kind of State of the Art World show.
This year’s, called “Illuminations,” has its share of high points and
artistic intensity. (Frances Stark’s animated video of her online
masturbatory tryst with a younger man hooked me; Christian Marclay’s The
Clock, which captivated New York earlier this year, rightly won the Gold
Lion Prize for Best Artist.) Yet many times over—too many times for
comfort—I saw the same thing, a highly recognizable generic
institutional style whose manifestations are by now extremely familiar.
Neo-Structuralist film with overlapping geometric colors, photographs
about photographs, projectors screening loops of grainy black-and-white
archival footage, abstraction that’s supposed to be referencing other
abstraction—it was all there, all straight out of the seventies, all
dead in the water. It’s work stuck in a cul-de-sac of aesthetic regress,
where everyone is deconstructing the same elements.
First, between the ebullience of the art
fair and the dark financial clouds roiling over Europe, where states
teeter on the edge of insolvency and people are taking to the streets.
There is a yawning chasm right now between the revived luxury spending
boom and the malaise that grips the bottom ninety-eight percent. The
subject kept coming up, quietly but persistently, at parties around
But who are they, these people? I would
genuinely like to know. The popular assumption seems to be that today's
art collectors are "Russian oligarchs". Certainly the spectacle of Roman
Abramovich's yacht drew attention to the oligarchic presence at this
year's Venice Biennale. One thing is certain – the big-time buyers of
art are people in the financial sector who are weathering our troubled
times a lot better than high street businesses, nations picked on by
Standard & Poor's, or public sector workers.
Of course, we're already seeing an urban,
university-educated, DIY arts movement that is helping to provide the
response to these writers' concerns; this DIY culture, which is
beginning to make inroads to rural artists and organizations, carries an
aesthetic and a sense of empowerment that we all should observe and then
integrate into our work. Further, as advocates for rural arts and
culture, we should consider what we can bring to broader discussions
like those above -
and not cultivate an anti-modern art, anti-intellectual stance that only
denigrates urban and rural audiences alike.
article first appeared on The Art of the Rural http://theruralsite.blogspot.com/ 6/7/11