Blogs mnartists.blog Susannah Schouweiler

Susannah Schouweiler serves as editor for all the original arts writing published by mnartists.org at the Walker Art Center. She has written on the arts for a number of regional and national outlets as well, including MinnPost.com, City Pages, Minneapolis Observer, Rain Taxi Review of Books, The Rake, Public Art Review, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's Knight Arts blog. Before her work with mnartists.org, Susannah served as Editor-in-Chief for Ruminator magazine (a.k.a. Hungry Mind Review, Ruminator Review), a nationally distributed art and literature magazine. She lives in St. Paul with her husband and kids.

Tucker Hollingsworth’s Camera Noise: A Primer by Stephen Tapscott

What exactly are the Camera Noise pieces? A series of large photo-prints by the Tuckaghrie (”Tucker”) Hollingsworth, based on the phenomenon of “camera noise”—or rather, on the unique occurrence-patterns of visual noise on a number of separate (and probably unrepeatable) occasions. The results are playful photos of “invisible” realities, which resemble interwoven textiles. What is […]

Tucker Hollingsworth, “Noise Print #58″. Flush on Aluminum. Images to 70 x 57 inches. 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

What exactly are the Camera Noise pieces?

A series of large photo-prints by the Tuckaghrie (”Tucker”) Hollingsworth, based on the phenomenon of “camera noise”—or rather, on the unique occurrence-patterns of visual noise on a number of separate (and probably unrepeatable) occasions. The results are playful photos of “invisible” realities, which resemble interwoven textiles.

What is “camera noise” anyway?

Part of the process of looking through the camera, a pattern of information that doesn’t quite fit the pattern we think we want to see. When we tell the camera to be our “eye,” it takes in lots of information, most of which fits our expectations, some of which doesn’t.  “Noise” is data, information, that’s part of the perceptual misapprehension, or imagination, or overcompensation, that happens in or through the camera—usually through its lens or through its sensor(s).  In practical terms: we tend to “see” evidence of camera noise, in amateur photos, in those weird pixels of color that seem out of place, unique, or patterned in some new strange way—a fog, a plaid, a texture, a grid—that probably isn’t part of the realistic object we thought we’d shot. They’re accurate to the camera’s perception but a little surreal to ours—or sub-real, to be precise.

Tucker Hollingsworth, “Noise Print #78″. Flush on Aluminum. Images to 70 x 57 inches. Courtesy of the artist.

How did the “noise” get there?  Is it even really “there”?   

It’s a residual (or preliminary) part of the process of the camera’s process of  looking-transmuting-and-storing — a process that leaves (nearly undetectable) traces. Some of that patterning is subtly “out there” in the world, in surprising little

pools of light under a shady tree, for instance.  Other patterns left on the image come from the    way the camera perceives light, transforms it into electrical pulses, and stores it. Digital photography, in general, is a process of turning light into electrical signals and thence into digital code: the camera lens captures packets of light, the camera sensor sorts it by light waves, and the waves are turned into electrical impulses which are stored in a mathematical binary code. Later, another machine reads the digital language back: for each signal it generates back a blip of color on a screen or in a print. Assemble enough blips in recognizable patterns, and you have an image.

The interesting part is when pixels resist the system, or intrude just by being. Anomalies sneak in along the way. Too much information may enter; actual flashes of brightness might occur in the light outside the camera, so that the “noise” is anomalous but accurate. Maybe there’s grit on the lens; too much heat makes the sensor register more blue blips; the camera sensor could be weak, or maybe showing signs of age; or the camera may have –and impose– its own peculiarities. Other conditions can cause noise, as well.

And?

And so all this information enters the record somehow, both there and not there, a part of the process of perception but a part we often try to ignore, to wipe away. It is part of mediated seeing, but it’s literally an under-level–a substrate—which we try to repress. When we take a “realist” picture, we often use a program to overlay this “noise,” to overwrite it or otherwise pretend it’s not there. (But it is, Blanche, it is.) Hollingsworth’s images are bold for looking at those patterns of what we, in the main, have agreed to try not to see.

Tucker Hollingsworth, “Noise Print #42″. Flush on Aluminum. Images to 70 x 57 inches. 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Do all cameras make this “noise”? Is it  a universal pattern of randomness?

All digital cameras do, from big professional models to cameras on cell-phones.

Is the randomness of camera noise a pattern?

It is if it is repeatable.

Say what?

Well, in his images Hollingsworth sometimes “frames” a unique section of random spotting and repeats the patch of random distribution, allowing the colors to change and the “new” distribution—which is now a visual pattern because it is repeated—to be rendered visible. It’s a pattern insofar as it’s repeated (this is art, not chaos repeating itself), but it’s still random at a local level of production. AND it has the repeatability of form, the result of aesthetic choice. It’s true that the camera might have repeated the pattern, but that possibility is statistically rare. The spots of noise are dependent on certain conditions; those states are unlikely to repeat again, in ordinary time and space.

Are they dots like Damien Hirst’s spots?

No.

Dots like Lichtenstein’s Pop-Art spots?

Maybe, but they’re formed from a different source, print vs. digital modes. Lichtenstein’s dots were based on graphic-art textual media; they’re about sharp edges and ironic versions of iconic forms. Pop Art spots were painted versions of the Ben-Day spots of the graphic printing-process (think of comic books): uniform in size, crisply delineated, primary colors, representational. Hollingsworth’s spots have more to do with the textile effect of the digital mode, how we weave the world together by our senses and our technology. Hollingsworth’s dotted plaids are more subtly colored than those Ben-Day dots, recalling electric impulses instead of graphic ink-spots, more flowing and interrelational, and not figurative.

Think of how your eye follows the patterns in a Pollock “drip” painting; those motions resemble how the eye reads these Hollingsworth images: there are arcs and rhythms and patterns of random splooges and splashes by which you can see how the painter’s arm moved in the process of dripping the paint. You can track that pattern of motion—but if you tried to repeat exactly the same movements with exactly the same paint, chances are you’d make different drips — same pattern, random distribution.  Pollock packs on paint, Hollingsworth pixels. As in Pollock, the pattern lives in its cloud of instances: Again, what’s at stake in the Hollingsworth model is the digital interwoven interrelations of the mind and the world and the technologies we use to comprehend and order it.

Tucker Hollingsworth, “Noise Print #48″. Flush on Aluminum. Images to 70 x 57 inches. 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Is “noise” all an interesting mistake? Is this chaos-art?

The “noise” in Hollingsworth images is neither true nor false, neither “there” nor “not there,” neither an error nor a choice, fluke nor necessary—or rather, it’s both sides of all those dualities. Hollingsworth’s images are both/and constructions that elegantly bridge some of those dualistic gaps that art-speak sometimes constructs: they are both formal and random, both nonconcrete and hauntedly figurative, both abstract (in their geometries) and representational (they present something that is actually “there”), both high-art and popular, conceptual and realist, wicked smart and sensual. Because the images are what the camera sees without telling us it is interposing the grids, these forms are both true and false at the same time — like photographs of Schrödinger’s cat.

Oh-oh. Cat pictures?

No: in fact they’re large, painting-style grids of color dots and plaids, oddly futuristic– like overhearing a new mode of music: like an elegant and whimsical trance music. An oddly sensual combination, they make the eye feel these intensely pleasurable sensations even while you’re thinking “what is this pattern of things we see without seeing we see them?” A happy dotted or plaid formalism that’s thoughtful and kind of ecstatic at the same time. Their effect is mixed, in the same moment a kind of hushed holiness and a kind of gently rippling sexiness.

It all sound kind of cerebral.

Huge, semi-musical swaths of ravishingly-colored funky plaids with occasional dots, making plausible aesthetic claims to be true and not-true at the same time. What’s not to like?

***

Related links and information:

 “What Do you See When You Turn Out the Lights?”- Read Stephen Tapscott’s related essay on Hollingsworth’s series of Camera Noise photo-prints on mnartists.org

Tucker Hollingsworth: Inside the Camera/Noise is on view through November 30 at Chowgirls Parlor 1224 2nd St. NE, Minneapolis, MN, 55413. The exhibition is open by appointment (651-955-6031); there is a reception Thursday, November 15 from 6 to 10 pm.

Find more information about the artist on his website: www.tuckerhollingsworth.com.

About the author: Stephen Tapscott is s a professor in the humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, teaching, poetry, aesthetics and photography. He is author of eight collections of poems and essays and has a new book coming out soon, about the photographer Eadweard Muybridge and his trial for murder. He is also a translator from Spanish and Polish, most popularly of Pablo Neruda’s Cien sonetos de amor [One Hundred Love Sonnets]. He splits his time between Cambridge, Massachusetts and St-Denis, France.

Zoom In: Dancer/Choreographer and Photographer Megan Mayer

Our newsletter this week features the photograph above, which perfectly captures the colors and textures of Minnesota in fall, taken by Megan Mayer on a recent getaway Up North, to Gooseberry Falls State Park. Mayer is a choreographer, performing artist and photographer based in Minneapolis. She says she’s “drawn to the peripheries of performance… the […]

Megan Mayer, “Bath.” Photograph taken fall 2012 in Gooseberry Falls State Park in Northern Minnesota. Reproduced here courtesy of the artist.

Our newsletter this week features the photograph above, which perfectly captures the colors and textures of Minnesota in fall, taken by Megan Mayer on a recent getaway Up North, to Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Mayer is a choreographer, performing artist and photographer based in Minneapolis. She says she’s “drawn to the peripheries of performance… the moment when someone starts or stops performing and where that switch lives in the body.”  She describes her dance-making as a process inspired by the power of still images and cinematic scenes, saying that her photography is inextricably linked to her creative work in dance. She’s fantastic as an ensemble performer, adept at mining the chemistry of a cast and deploying their strengths and talents to great effect in her choreography. She says she “favors a detailed sensibility over virtuosity” and is primarily “interested in who is doing the moving, and how and why they in particular navigate tasks and interactions.”

“Soft Fences,” photo by Al Hall, courtesy of MANCC.

Mayer was a recent artist-in-residence at the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography (MANCC) in Tallahassee, Florida, through a pilot partnership with The McKnight Foundation in collaboration with Springboard for the Arts. She is also a recipient of a 2010 McKnight Artist Fellowship for Choreographers, as well as a 2010 Jerome Foundation Travel Study Grant which she used to work with New York dance artist Douglas Dunn.

Megan Mayer in “Over Time,” a performance work for “Cubicle,” a web-based series by Skewed Visions. Photo by the artist.

Megan Mayer can regularly be seen on stage with Charles Campbell, Angharad Davies, Emily Johnson, Mad King Thomas, Kevin Obsatz, Karen Sherman, Laurie Van Wieren and Chris Yon. Her dances have been commissioned by The Southern Theater, The Walker Art Center and the Minnesota History Center, and she has a growing body of work of dances made for film. She holds a B.A. in Dance from the University of Minnesota.

Relevant performances and related links:

Soft Fences, a new work currently in process, was presented, in part, at the Minnesota Contemporary Presenters’ Platform in September. Soft Fences explores the euphoria and terror of space travel as a metaphor for personal change, investigating imagery of isolation and the disquieting emotional experience of being stuck in transition between gravity and momentum. The project has been created with a production team consisting of Charles Campbell, Angharad Davies, Elliott Durko Lynch, Kevin Obsatz, Stephanie Stoumbelis and Greg Waletski; the work was developed during her MANCC residency.

Coming up: a remount of 2010′s You might be expecting me, a solo she choreographed for Nic Lincoln is slated for May 2013 at the Tek Box at Cowles Center for Performing Arts. Mayer is also working on a new duet by Angharad Davies which will be performed at her show in June 2013 at the Red Eye.

Find out more about past, present and future projects on her website: http://meganmayer.com/

Zoom In: Conceptual Artist Harriet Bart

Atop this week’s issue of the mnartists.org newsletter is a detail from Minneapolis-based conceptual artist Harriet Bart’s 2011 installation, Autiobiography. You can currently see a selection of Bart’s work – on loss, war and rituals of memory – in person in Between Echo and Silence. It’s the first major exhibition in Macalester College’s new Law […]

Harriet Bart, “Autobiography” (detail), test tubes, corks, beeswax, aluminum, transmuted miscellany, logue. 2011. (Photo: Rik Sferra, courtesy of the artist.)

Atop this week’s issue of the mnartists.org newsletter is a detail from Minneapolis-based conceptual artist Harriet Bart’s 2011 installation, Autiobiography. You can currently see a selection of Bart’s work – on loss, war and rituals of memory – in person in Between Echo and Silence. It’s the first major exhibition in Macalester College’s new Law Warschaw Gallery, housed in the commons of the college’s recently renovated Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center. (Incidentally, I reviewed this show for Knight Arts earlier in the week; you can read my take on Between Echo and Silence here.)

Harriet Bart is a guest lecturer, curator, and founding member of the Traffic Zone Center for Visual Arts in Minneapolis. Her work has been shown extensively throughout the United States and Germany, and she has completed more than a dozen public art commissions in the United States, Japan, and Israel.  She has been the recipient of fellowships from the Bush Foundation, McKnight Foundation, MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, NEA Arts Midwest, and the Minnesota State Arts Board. In 2012 she received a project research grant from Forecast Public Art and the McKnight Foundation. Since 2000, Bart has also published seven fine-press books and won two Minnesota Book Awards. Her work is included in many museum, university, and private collections, including: Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, Library of Congress, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Weisman Art Museum, Jewish Museum, National Museum of Women in the Arts, and Sackner Archive of Visual and Concrete Poetry. She is represented by Driscoll Babcock, New York.

Harriet Bart, “Enduring Afghanistan,” dog tags, ball chain, chain link, vintage ledger with fine press ledger pages, Koran stand, steel table. 2008-ongoing. (Photo: Rik Sferra, courtesy of the artist.)

About her work, the artist writes:

For more than thirty years, I have had a deep and abiding interest in the personal and cultural expression of memory.  It is at the core of my work. Using bronze and stone, wood and paper, books and words, everyday and found objects, I seek to signify a site, mark an event, and otherwise draw attention to imprints of the past as they live in the present.

Each of my extensive bodies of work begins with fascination (with a subject or an object), and moves forward with intensely focused research that leads to the creation of a body of work.

It is my intent to create evocative content through the narrative power of objects, the theater of installation, and the intimacy of the artists’ book.

As a cultural storyteller, I have created a number of installations, mixed media objects, and books that explore the personal and cultural expression of memory.

Harriet Bart, “Drawn in Smoke” (detail), 160 drawings of smoke and ink on paper, commemorating each of those killed 1911 NYC Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire. (Photo: Rik Sferra, courtesy of the artist)

Related links and information:
Between Echo and Silence by Harriet Bart will be on view through November 4 in the Law Warschaw Gallery at Macalester College, Fine Arts Commons 105, 1600 Grand Ave., St. Paul. The closing reception will include “Soundings for Harriet Bart,” a poetry reading by Nor Hall and Rain Taxi Review of Books editor, Eric Lorberer, at 4 p.m. in the gallery on November 4. For additional information, gallery hours, and directions visit www.macalester.edu/gallery.

You can see more of Harriet Bart’s work online on her website, www.harrietbart.com, and, of course, at mnartists.org/harriet_bart. You can hear an audio interview with the artist online, recorded for KFAI’s “10,000 Fresh Voices” program by Britt Aamodt. Twin Cities Public Television’s Minnesota Original aired a profile of Bart as well, which you can watch online here.

The More Things Change…: A Redesign for access+ENGAGE

If you’re a subscriber to access+ENGAGE (and if not, you really should be), you likely noticed something different about the look and feel of the issue that hit your inbox this morning. Since the launch of our e-mag nearly seven years ago, so much has changed — in the kind and diversity of offerings available […]

Mickey Smith, “133.12-S1,” from DENUDATION, archival pigment print, 20″ x 30″, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

If you’re a subscriber to access+ENGAGE (and if not, you really should be), you likely noticed something different about the look and feel of the issue that hit your inbox this morning. Since the launch of our e-mag nearly seven years ago, so much has changed — in the kind and diversity of offerings available through mnartists.org, but also more generally, in the way everyone receives and engages with online news and information. And as our medium has evolved, mnartists.org’s “content platforms” have proliferated and grown as well, to meet the changing needs and preferences of all of you in the Minnesota arts community.

Currently, you can find our original essays, reviews, vast artist database, calendar and other resources via our flagship website and access+ENGAGE e-mag; but you can also engage with us and each other — here, on our blog on the Walker Art Center’s website, and through a number of social media, particularly via our feeds on Facebook and Twitter.

Offline, too, the reach and audience for mnartists.org’s events and programs have expanded in recent years: from Drawing Club on the Open Field and our Community Supported Art (CSA) program with Springboard for the Arts, to mnartists.org’s annual Field Trip festival with Silverwood Park, Northern Spark festivities with the Walker and Northern Lights.mn, and our print partnership with Rain Taxi Review of Books.

Mickey Smith, “363.75 N” and 363.75 T”, archival pigment print on paper, 40″x26″, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Invisible-Exports.

With this growth, and considering the massive website rebuild we’re undergoing (due next year!), we’ve decided it’s time to step back, take stock, and reconsider how we might serve you best.  To this end, we’ve redesigned our e-mag to give the artists and arts lovers in our vibrant community a more streamlined and easily navigable entry point into mnartists.org’s riches –  editorial offerings, professional artists’ resources, and engaging offline events, opportunities and programs.

You’ll notice the revamped newsletter has a cleaner, more straightforward design; it’s one we hope invites you more readily into our core offerings: the whip-smart, original, local arts journalism that’s updated weekly on the homepage magazine and in the blog; the job listings, calls for art and other creative opportunities for artists around the state drawn from our community bulletin board; and a short-list of must-see events and programs. One thing isn’t changing: At the top of every issue of the newsletter, as always, we’ll feature art work by a different Minnesota artist. Click the banner art in the newsletter, and you’ll be directed to a little profile of that artist here, on the blog.

Mickey Smith, “159,” archival pigment print, 36″x24″, 2012. Courtesy of the artist.

Speaking of which, for the launch of our new-and-improved newsletter, our banner artist is photographer Mickey Smith. Smith is a Duluth native, with a Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Minnesota-Moorhead. She has received awards from the McKnight Artist Fellowship for Photography, the Forecast Public Art Affairs, CEC ArtsLink, and Americans for the Arts. Smith currently lives in Auckland, New Zealand and is represented by INVISIBLE-EXPORTS in New York.

This issue’s banner art comes from a series of photographs, Denudation, which have just been collected in a book by the same name, with text by W. M. Hunt, published this month in collaboration with Hassla Books.

Here’s an eloquent excerpt from an essay by W.M. Hunt, “Prospero’s Shelf,” included in the newly published collection of photographs:

When you move away, you see the place you’re leaving, not the place you’re going to. You look at what you will have left behind, the shell of you, the shadow. It is the photograph’s negative.

Mickey Smith’s Denudation images have a haunted quality. They are somber, depicting empty shelves and a closet, a ladder to nowhere, tied off airless garbage bags, and discarded book spines. The Wil to Win is reconsidered.

Ms. Smith’s earlier Volume and Collocations—ebullient portraits of books, individually or in groups and on shelves—were bold and graphic. What made those pictures so effective was subtext, here made explicit—a deeper, darker unseen melancholy or despair.

It is not that these works have a sense of doom or resignation to them. They act like harbingers of some transcendence. An unseen protagonist has moved on and left this behind. Prospero throws down his book and his magic, and leaves the island. Here he has literally just taken it off the shelf, and departed. The flaying or erosion of layers of life, the denudation, yield opportunity and newness.

“To regret deeply is to live afresh,” Henry David Thoreau wrote in 1839.  Ms. Smith captures the plaintive and enigmatic and offers it as possibility.

Mickey Smith, “123,” a suite of photographs, taken with a Kodak disc camera, that Smith took at age eleven of the implosion of the Northwestern National Bank Building in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Courtesy of the artist.

Smith will be in town for a book-signing at Traffic Zone Center for Visual Art in Minneapolis, October 18, 4 to 6 p.m., 250 Third Avenue North, #308. The signing will be followed by a reception at Bev’s Wine Bar from 6 to 9 p.m., just downstairs from the gallery, in #100.

Mickey Smith will also open a related exhibition of work, her third solo show at INVISIBLE-EXPORTS in New York, late this month; also titled Denudation, the show will be on view from October 26 through December 9, 2012.

For more information on the exhibition, or to see more examples of Smith’s work, visit her website, www.mickeysmithart.com, or that of her gallery, www.invisible-exports.com.

A Community Mourns and Celebrates SooVAC’s Suzy Greenberg

Last Thursday, August 16, Suzy Greenberg, founder of two beloved Twin Cities galleries, Soo Visual Arts Center and Rosalux Gallery, died unexpectedly. A mainstay in the Minnesota visual arts community, she was, for years, an unstinting advocate for emerging artists and a savvy curator with a loyal following, known for having a sharp eye for […]

Suzy Greenberg. Photo by Tom Sweeney of the “Minneapolis Star-Tribune,” courtesy of Soo Visual Arts Center.

Last Thursday, August 16, Suzy Greenberg, founder of two beloved Twin Cities galleries, Soo Visual Arts Center and Rosalux Gallery, died unexpectedly. A mainstay in the Minnesota visual arts community, she was, for years, an unstinting advocate for emerging artists and a savvy curator with a loyal following, known for having a sharp eye for as-yet-unknown but promising talent.  She’s proved to be a nimble entrepreneur, too, shepherding her well-regarded storefront gallery in Minneapolis through several years of difficult economic conditions with aplomb and ingenuity.

Losing her has left the Twin Cities’ tight-knit art scene grief-stricken. There’ve been a number of moving remembrances published in local media in the last week (you can find the links below). Now, we’d like to invite you — Greenberg’s colleagues and friends, artists and fellow gallerists and curators — to share your favorite anecdotes and memories, below in the comments section.

According to SooVAC’s Executive Director, Carolyn Payne, a gathering in her honor is planned for Monday, September 10. For the event, SooVAC will show an exhibition of Greenberg’s work, curated by Lars Mason; people are also invited to come by the CC Club to share stories and memories in celebration of a life beautifully and generously lived, if far too short.

Payne says there’s no formal program planned, “This is just a time to come and pay tribute to her life and art, and to have a drink together in her memory at her longtime neighboring watering hole.”

 

 

Some related links:

 

A tribute to Suzy Greenberg’s life and art is planned for Monday, September 10, from 4 pm – 10 pm, at Soo Visual Arts Center (2638 Lyndale Avenue South, Minneapolis) and at the CC Club (just down the street at 2600 Lyndale Avenue South).

For updated information as the date draws nearer, check in with the gallery website: http://www.soovac.org/

Please share your favorite anecdotes and memories, your best Suzy-stories, in the comments below.

In the Garden – “It Is What It Is!” comic by Todd Balthazor

About the artist: Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both […]

About the artist: Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, including: illustrations in the Altered Esthetics Gallery (Minneapolis), the Walker Art Center blog, and multiple Red Leaf Press publications (St. Paul); visual narratives at the Adugyama Art Exhibition (Ghana, Africa) and the Save the Children Nepal Project (Nepal, India); and murals at an orphanage in Jaurez, Mexico.  Samples of his work can be found at toddbalthazor.com and toddbalthazor.blogspot.com.

Balthazor also works as a guard at the Walker Art Center, and draws on his experiences behind the scenes at the museum in his weekly comic strip for mnartists.org, It Is What It Is.  (Click the image above to enlarge it.)

First Impressions – “It Is What It Is!” comic by Todd Balthazor

About the artist: Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both […]

About the artist: Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, including: illustrations in the Altered Esthetics Gallery (Minneapolis), the Walker Art Center blog, and multiple Red Leaf Press publications (St. Paul); visual narratives at the Adugyama Art Exhibition (Ghana, Africa) and the Save the Children Nepal Project (Nepal, India); and murals at an orphanage in Jaurez, Mexico.  Samples of his work can be found at toddbalthazor.com and toddbalthazor.blogspot.com.

Balthazor also works as a guard at the Walker Art Center, and draws on his experiences behind the scenes at the museum in his weekly comic strip for mnartists.org, It Is What It Is.  (Click the image above to enlarge it.)

Going in Circles – “It Is What It Is!” comic by Todd Balthazor

About the artist: Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both […]

About the artist: Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, including: illustrations in the Altered Esthetics Gallery (Minneapolis), the Walker Art Center blog, and multiple Red Leaf Press publications (St. Paul); visual narratives at the Adugyama Art Exhibition (Ghana, Africa) and the Save the Children Nepal Project (Nepal, India); and murals at an orphanage in Jaurez, Mexico.  Samples of his work can be found at toddbalthazor.com and toddbalthazor.blogspot.com.

Balthazor also works as a guard at the Walker Art Center, and draws on his experiences behind the scenes at the museum in his weekly comic strip for mnartists.org, It Is What It Is.  (Click the image above to enlarge it.)

‘The Price of Everything’ – a guest post by Frank Bures

Editor’s note: Frank Bures penned a provocative first-person essay for the newly launched Thirty Two magazine, “The Fall of the Creative Class,” which has sparked much conversation, here and across the country, in recent weeks. Here, Bures offers a guest post for mnartists.org, on the long-term perils of monetizing the arts, weighing the shift in […]

Editor’s note: Frank Bures penned a provocative first-person essay for the newly launched Thirty Two magazine, “The Fall of the Creative Class,” which has sparked much conversation, here and across the country, in recent weeks. Here, Bures offers a guest post for mnartists.org, on the long-term perils of monetizing the arts, weighing the shift in recent years toward market-based cultural initiatives, which reframe artists and their work in terms of economic stimulus.

A few weeks ago, I published a story in the new Twin Cities culture and current affairs magazine, Thirty Two, called “The Fall of the Creative Class,” about the giant holes, as I saw them, in Richard Florida’s theory of economic growth.

Within a few weeks, the piece had nearly 50,000 page views: It burned through the social networks and got picked up by everyone from the Daily Beast to Real Clear Politics to Salon. (Florida has since reacted; and my response is here.)  But as the piece found more readers, one comment I began to hear again and again was that the story was a little “depressing.”

At first, this reaction caught me off guard, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. But after some reflection, I think I understand better. I suspect it has to do with a shift in our attitude toward art and its place in our lives over the last decade or so — namely, the idea that if something is worth doing, it should also make money. Intrinsic value – in virtually every sphere– has given way to the metrics of financial return. Or as political philosopher (and Minneapolis native) Michael Sandel notes in his new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, “We have drifted from having a market economy, to being a market society.”

Obviously, I’m all for making a living, but this shift is something about which I’ve felt a growing unease, and it is part of the problem I have with Florida’s Creative Class theory. The fact that Florida launched his 2002 book The Rise of the Creative Class into this new market society was one of the primary reasons his theory that a vibrant cultural scene was the key to economic growth became so popular.  We were all happy to be told that the things we loved also happened to be profitable.

This is the assumption that underlies a current movement based on Florida’s theory, known as “creative placemaking,” which holds that public art and creatively “activated” spaces can help jumpstart a local economy.  Perhaps they can, perhaps they can’t.  Either way, I sense a trap. I’m afraid there’s a category mistake here: The arts were never intended to be good business, as any artist who goes into it can tell you.

Nonetheless, the belief that one worthwhile thing (art) leads inevitably to another (money) has given birth to projects like the Knight Creative Communities Initiative (KCCI), for which Florida’s Creative Class Group was paid $585,000 to help turn three cities (Duluth, Tallahassee, and Charlotte) into “creative magnets.”  This goal was to be accomplished by way of a two-day seminar, at which 30 or so volunteer “catalysts” from each city were to form “action teams,” that would complete a set of unfunded projects: “ArtWorks” in Duluth, a film festival in Tallahassee, and a “creativity festival” in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as other Florida favorites like bike paths, recycling programs, and co-working centers. The final report showed less than resounding success:  Local organizers and “catalysts” complained about having to pay for Creative Class Group consultants’ limousines and about their lack of local knowledge and the poor quality of their data, remarking that the consultants were “more interested in the gospel of Richard Florida,”  than the “unique issues and needs” of the cities.

Most importantly, though, these projects resulted in little or no economic impact in the designated “creative magnet” communities.  In the end, the report concluded that “KCCI was built on an innovative theory of economic development. However, it lacked a clear set of connections between its specific projects and the broader changes it sought to achieve. In addition, the initiative did not articulate its rationale about the ways in which change could or would occur. In other words, KCCI knew what its destination was but did not have a roadmap for getting there.”

Frank Bures (photo courtesy of the author)

How does art become money?  How do vibrant creative spaces become vibrant economic ones?  The Creative Class Group doesn’t seem to know.  I don’t know.  No one knows, yet everyone seems to assume that one must lead to the other. Thomas Frank, writing in the Baffler, calls this mindset a “vibrancy Ponzi scheme” which has set off a “vibrancy arms race,” pitting cities like Akron and Indianapolis against each other.  “Vibrancy theory reveres the artist, but it also insults those who would take artistic production seriously,” he writes, adding that, “vibrancy theory treats the artist as a sort of glorified social worker, whose role is to please children and stimulate businessmen and somehow support the community.”

But more to the point, Frank contrasts the public art projects of ’30s, like the Federal Writers Project, with the Floridian mindset of today:  “[N]o one expected those artists to pull us out of the Depression by some occult process of entrepreneurship-kindling. Instead, government supported them mainly because they were unemployed. In other words, government then did precisely the opposite of what government does today: In the thirties, we protected artists from the market while today we expose them to it, imagining them as the stokers on the hurtling job-creation locomotive.”

My fear is this:  Once people realize that art may not be stoking a secret gravy train, they will simply want to get off it. If creative placemaking schemes don’t pan out, the false hope they engendered might do more damage to arts funding in the long run, because they will have shifted the focus away from our most compelling reason for support of the arts. We should fund art because it makes the space around us the kind of place we want to live.

Let me be clear: I am 100% in favor of public art and making creative places, like the cultural corridor planned for Hennepin Avenue, or the $750,000 Irrigate Arts plan to do the same in the heart of St. Paul. But doing those things as some sort of investment strategy may ultimately backfire. It’s just not why humans have ever made art, and it shouldn’t be why we make it now. I’ll breathe more easily when we can return to the idea that such things need to be created, simply because they should be brought into the world. I will be glad when we can stop cheapening art by expecting to monetize its practice. And I will be happier when we can go back to loving (and funding) art because it adds value to our lives, not just our livelihoods.

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About the author: Frank Bures is a writer whose stories have appeared in Harper’s, Esquire, Outside, Bicycling, Wired and have been included in the Best American Travel Writing 2004 and Best American Travel Writing 2009.  He is a contributing editor at World Hum and Poets & Writers, speaks a few languages and has spent time in a few countries. He currently lives in Minneapolis.

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Read Frank Bures’ story for Thirty Two magazine: “The Fall of the Creative Class”

Read Richard Florida’s response to the piece on his blog, The Atlantic Cities: “What Critics Get Wrong About the Creative Class and Economic Development”

And finally, Bures’ rejoinder: “Still Falling: On Chickens and Eggs, Cause and Effect and the Real Problem with the Creative Class”

Ja-Nee! – “It Is What It Is!” comic by Todd Balthazor

Listen to an audio clip from Joseph Beuys “Ja Ja Nee Nee” About the artist: Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the […]

Listen to an audio clip from Joseph Beuys “Ja Ja Nee Nee”

About the artist: Todd Balthazor is a satirical, often anthropomorphic illustrator, fine artist, muralist and children’s art instructor from St.Paul, MN, with a BFA in illustration from the College of Visual Arts (CVA).  He has done artist residencies at Jackson Elementary and the St. Paul University Club, and his work has been displayed in venues both locally and abroad, including: illustrations in the Altered Esthetics Gallery (Minneapolis), the Walker Art Center blog, and multiple Red Leaf Press publications (St. Paul); visual narratives at the Adugyama Art Exhibition (Ghana, Africa) and the Save the Children Nepal Project (Nepal, India); and murals at an orphanage in Jaurez, Mexico.  Samples of his work can be found at toddbalthazor.com and toddbalthazor.blogspot.com.

Balthazor also works as a guard at the Walker Art Center, and draws on his experiences behind the scenes at the museum in his weekly comic strip for mnartists.org, It Is What It Is.  (Click the image above to enlarge it.)

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