The Very Last Junkie Article

by Gary John Gresl

Being a “Homer” and Defining Our Home Team

This is my final contribution of the bimonthly “Regional Art Junkie” essay. I expect to continue contributing articles to AIW, but the Junkie is coming to a close with this last entry.

A few years ago, when I began thinking about writing a bi-monthly article for Art in Wisconsin, I had considered titling it “The Regional Art Homer”. But when I asked several artists if they knew what “homer” meant, they all thought it only meant hitting a baseball out of the park. They hadn’t learned that the homer I was thinking about was the supporter and fan of the home town team, the person who follows, praises and criticizes the favorite sports team, discussing and promoting it thru thick and thin. Some might consider such fans as being “fanatical” indeed. Think Packers, win or lose. FYI, being a “homer” does not mean that one is blind to the flaws of the home team. We recognize that perhaps our team has a weakness at some positions, like the pitcher, catcher, fielder, manager or owner.

Well, due to the apparent lack of recognition of the meaning of homer, I chose to call the ongoing articles “The Regional Art Junkie”. Everybody knew what a junkie was. There are plenty of references to junkies in our pop culture, from the drug user to the chocoholic to the exercise addict. In the visual arts we have a home team too, but we don’t really think about it as such. This team doesn’t get together to practice, the players are independent and fractious, and it does not have a general manager or coordinator. It is a many headed Hydra with a found in-place system with many parts, from commercial and not-for-profit galleries, various publications, numerous colleges, several artist run organizations, a limited body of collectors, some artist stars who have gained broad recognition, a few regular critics and writers, and a variety of art museums.

This visual arts team doesn’t seem to effectively coordinate efforts to produce a better team. Despite the good intentions of some visual arts organizations, they often come and go within a few years while struggling with personalities, agendas, finances...and even if they do stick around they may be weak and relatively ineffective. And despite there being some individual and successful art “stars”they often concentrate on their own production and promotion with little support of fellow artists. Other members of the home team include arts writers and critics who operate with their own agendas, adopted prejudices or biases. Some of the commentators see regional artists as amateurish and mediocre.. and a very few recognize them as an important historical element in the skeletal structure that supports and gives life to our regional art system. It is indeed on the positive side that there are some long lived groups, such as WP&S/WVA, and other artist organizations that have contributed to and written a good part of the history of Wisconsin art. There are some institutions that have continued to support regional art, especially smaller museums and galleries, and more recently and very importantly, the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. It may even be the case that the Milwaukee Art Museum has quietly turned a corner and begun to include more Wisconsin artists in their forthcoming exhibition schedule. This institution had always been an important element in the nurturing of regional art.

Hey! I’m a “homer! I might voice my dissent and dissatisfaction, but I love “our home team”. I would be among the first enthusiasts who would fight to the death to keep the Milwaukee Art Museum alive, despite my perception of missteps it has made or might yet make. I applaud the Journal Sentinel for its efforts to keep its head above water in an age when print media struggles and for keeping an art critic on staff. I commend all the regional arts writers, collectors, commercial galleries, artist organizations, etc. for their personal efforts to excel...if only for the good of their personal survival. There are even some art interested observers who believe that the state of Wisconsin’s art culture has never been better. Importantly, I think, we must recognize that our regional art is a small part of something huge. Around here we do have the weak, the mediocre and the outstanding when compared to other geographic and cultural areas... or even compared to our own art history. BUT , if our art and artists are to be viewed favorably on a national scene, and to survive or thrive locally, we need our “homers” to remain true. We can compare ourselves to New York, London, Chicago, etc...but we need to buoy up our regional system where ever we can.

We need all of our regional resources to stay focused on what we have here. We need to recognize we have common ground, and at least the shared belief that visual art expression is important to the broad societal health of our regional communities...psychological, emotional, and economical. Our opinion of ourselves and our image in the greater world is enhanced when we support one another, pay attention to what is here, responsibly criticize when that is appropriate...and praise often when good work and efforts are produced. We don’t have to be turning out world record masterpieces every day to be graceful and positive about our home team.

Honest and generous praise often results in more good work being done with more good efforts made. I speak here from personal first hand experience for I have witnessed a “pay it forward” effect producing ongoing positive results. But who am I but a flawed homer? Sure am... that’s all. That’s enough.

Hopefully there are enough fellow homers to keep filling up the bleachers and cheering the good efforts and real positive results of others.