BY DANIEL GRAEBER
A few years ago, during a rainy Festival of the Arts, my friends and I retreated into the Grand Rapids Art Museum to view its collection in what turned out to be a day that changed my outlook on fine art.
Both of my companions were well-versed in the arts. One is an art historian and the other is a painter. In the two hours we spent in the art museum, paintings that before looked like green smudges with specks of blue and brown suddenly became abstract landscapes. There was new significance in the brush strokes used to depict a womans dress on a classical portrait, and I came to understand Andy Warhol was making a statement about society, not just painting soup cans.
Three years later, I have a living room full of art books, a spare room used as a framing studio, an award for photography and today, Ill go downtown to take down my ArtPrize installation. Its the second year Im doing so, because, since that trip to the museum, Ive come to understand sometimes a photograph is more than just a pretty picture.
I teach a class at Grand Valley State University, where my students and I explore how different forms of media affect society. In our class, we describe a professional as someone who holds a monopoly over a service. If you want a loaf of bread, you see a baker; you want your car fixed, you visit a mechanic. These people ascend to their level of professionalism through years of hard work and training. The same description can be applied to art the people who create it and those who try to explain its significance.
An abundance of criticism and praise has been heaped on ArtPrize in part because of the way the $250,000 award is doled out. Some of the critics note much of whats chosen by the public is far removed from what conventional circles would consider art. Supporters, mostly members of the general public, chide those critics as elitist. Art is in the eye of the beholder, they say.