Saturday, September 21, 2013

A note about Grand Rapids' Art Prize

In his book, the creative class, Richard Florida describes how creativity follows a pattern in which cities exhibit high amounts of artistic genius in spurts. Usually such artistic periods are clustered around a metropolis. In such ages, many great minds produce a lot of enduring work, such as the rush out art work that came from ancient Athens, or from the renaissance, and so forth. He lists these:



5th century BC Athens

1st century Jerusalem

10th century Arabian cities

15th century Florence

19th century Paris, London, and Vienna

20th century New York City


He ranked American cities that had a certain population to be called major cities, and included NYC and Austin at the top of the list as most creative; they were not only creative, based on the number of people in a "creative" field, but he also looked at how they tolerated exceptional or abnormal people (minorities, homosexuals, etc.), since he associated "tolerance" with creativity.


I think Grand Rapids, my hometown, was ranked least creative of all major cities in the United States, the lowest in a list of 50.


That may or may not have changed since then, after Grand Rapids inaugurated "Art Prize," a yearly contest in which artists compete to win a million dollar prize, I believe it is, amidst other prizes. It has become one of the largest celebrations in the city. Is such a venue, such an incentive, able to turn around the creative spirit of Grand Rapids?


I recall reading an explanation why the Greek myths are the strongest in the world, the most enduring and well known myths the world has ever produced. The author claimed that the poets and myth-makers competed in ancient contests about who could tell the best tale. This was given as an explanation on how the myths got so racy and spicy. A sense of competition does lead us to strive.


Voltaire, on speaking of envy in the arts, said it was a good thing:


"I think that Mandeville, author of the " Fable of the Bees," was the first to try to prove that envy is a very good thing, a very useful passion. His first reason is that envy is as natural to man as hunger and thirst; that it can be found in children, as well as in horses and dogs. Do you want your children to hate each other, kiss one more than the other; the secret is infallible.

"He maintains that the first thing that two young women meeting each other do is to cast about for what is ridiculous in each other, and the second to flatter each other.

"He believes that without envy the arts would be indifferently cultivated, and that Raphael would not have been a great painter if he had not been jealous of Michael Angelo.

"Mandeville has taken emulation for envy, maybe; maybe, also, emulation is only envy kept within the bounds of decency.

"Michael Angelo might say to Raphael: " Your envy has only led you to work still better than me; you have not decried me, you have not intrigued against me with the Pope, you have not tried to have me excommunicated for having put cripples and one-eyed men in paradise, and succulent cardinals with beautiful women naked as your hand in hell, in my picture of the last judgment. Your envy is very praiseworthy; you are a fine envious fellow; let us be good friends."


That being said, I am glad my city has chosen this venue to make something more of itself. I would even consider submitting something to the art prize myself one of these years -- maybe something inspired by my line drawings writ large?




Pictures of Emilie at art prize:






\ ~@M@~ /


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