Apply Directly - Do Not Depend on Trickle Down or Osmosis

by Gary John Gresl

Our little band of artists shared a car as we returned from the Vision Planning and Informational Session at the Museum of Wisconsin Art on January 13 and we discussed the importance of the museumís mission and its vision for the future.

In the context of Wisconsinís art history the new Museum of Wisconsin Art ranks with, or is more important than, the 1888 establishment of the Layton Art Museum, the 1950ís/60ís blending of the Layton collection with other collections to build the Milwaukee Art Center Museum, and its expensive Calatrava expansion; the 1920ís creation of the Layton School of Art, and subsequent creation of the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. It is more directly pertinent to the needs of regional Wisconsin artists than any of these.

All those other things certainly fed Wisconsin art history and have served as motivators in various ways for regional artists but they have been less directly targeted at artists. Some of them might be said to have offered only a trickle down effect (or indirect osmosis) in their benefit to regional artists.

Some powerfully placed taste makers in Wisconsin have considered that by offering already anointed and accepted examples of art from outside the region they would bring up the quality of what was grown here. Like the policies that caused the closing of the Milwaukee Art Museumís Wisconsin art programs in 1995, they believed that Wisconsin art could be compared to a ďghettoĒ...with little indigenous art produced in this region having importance or merit enough to warrant their support. They surmised that since most locally produced art didnít have much of a reputation outside regional boundaries its merits could be questioned. They chose to ignore it instead of seeking out the best of the work, studying its history, musing over its meaning and uniqueness, and extolling or nurturing what was here.

It is the large population of regional artists who really serve as the skeletal framework that holds our regional art culture together, and who comprise the local vital base of the art that is exhibited in our area. It is these regional artists who feed the life blood of the visual arts, who talk about it, who support it, who act as motivators, teachers, financial backers, collectors and creators. They contribute to the regional economy through their active participation, which includes the purchase of art materials, exhibits of their work, organization of shows, payment of entrance fees and membership dues, and donations of money and artwork.

The Museum of Wisconsin Art in some respects is pitted against those who believe that the only good art is that which comes from outside Wisconsin, that which has already been accepted elsewhere, and that which other people in important places have proclaimed worthy. The MWA is among the avant garde who recognize that what Wisconsin artists have created is of significant nature in itself. In many ways the art of Wisconsin, past and current, exemplifies what was and is important to our Wisconsin citizens. In some ways it mirrors what has been going on nationally and internationally, but in other special ways it has produced art that is specific to our region in terms of physical geography, content, ideas and philosophy.

Most of us attending that January session at the Museum of Wisconsin Art donít need any more persuasion about the merits of the museumís mission and its future plans. We are sold on it. We need to help wake up the regional community and continue to spread the word about how beneficial the museum will be to our culture. We need not fear our history or be embarrassed by our current artists and the art they make. Our self esteem should be at a high level.

We do need to help disseminate information about the talented artists in our past, present and future. A Museum of Wisconsin Art can help do this, while benefiting the economy of our region and educating our youth.

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