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Aussie Rules ArtPrize

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The recent conversion to digital broadcast television has tripled my television viewing options from one PBS station to three PBS channels. I do not watch much TV but, occasionally, I flip it on to turn off my brain. Finding the right fodder to induce the proper mental state is vital. That fodder could be a cooking show, a travel show, or, most recently due to the increases in program variations, Australian Rules Football (ARF). I have never been one to follow sports or to watch sporting events in general, with the exception of the World Series as it reminds me of my father, but I have been mesmerized by ARF. I do not know the rules, I am starting to figure it out, but what I find so interesting about it is the team dynamic. ARF is a faced paced, non-stop flurry of activity. The ball, by way of its handlers, is in constant motion being kicked, passed, bounced, fumbled, run with, and by all other means moved back and forth to either goal. The sport is aggressive, full contact, throw your opponent to the ground action. The interesting part is the teamwork, the fluidity that a group of people working together in the endeavor. It is not always graceful but it is continuous and obvious how dedicated, trained, and in sync that each individual is with the team.

Watching the ARF games I began wondering about the nature of competition and cooperation. America is keyed into the idea that competition breeds success. A reaction to that position is that much can be accomplished through cooperation. I have always seen the two options as mutually exclusive. I am now beginning to think that they are the same thing, or maybe, more precisely, that competition breeds cooperation. Existence is a competitive endeavor, to survive everything must get it basic needs met, and with a bunch of different everythings trying to survive, constant scenarios unfold where those everythings are competing against each other to meet there needs. Luckily we are thinking beings and in the process of competing for survival we have understood that we can accomplish more by working together, in groups, in teams, in communities. If there were no competition, if there we no struggle, if there was nothing to work for or to work against we would lose the necessity to collaborate, cooperate, to work together towards a goal.
I understand that sports are contrived competitions, not a proper struggle to exist. Despite the artificial and arbitrary struggle, to control a ball, it gives us insight into our natures, the need to struggle, the need succeed, the need to work with others. On the field or the pitch opposing team members may be tearing into each other but they also share an understanding, a respect for one another in that they are of the same ilk. Now, myself, I am not an athlete, I am an artist, which by its nature would seem to be more about individual accomplishment verses a team effort. That could be true if I chose not to participate in the community and world in which I live, as many artists choose to do. The temptation to lock oneself away in the studio and live the life of the art martyr can be tempting. In that existence you do not have to explain yourself, you have no responsibility to the community in which you live, you get to do whatever you wish under the guise of the misunderstood genius, trying to survive, to compete, as the lone individual. Conversely, you can also choose a path of engagement. As an engaged artist you can work with others, be an active part of the team, of a community, in this competition to exist.

The arts community in Grand Rapids has recently been invited to participate in an elective competition, ArtPrize. Reactions to this competition have run the gamut from boos to cheers. People have dissected the competition in every way possible to support or to undermine. What is most interesting to me is what the competition has evoked amongst our local art community in way of cooperation and collaboration. From big projects to small projects the art community has banded together not in an effort to win the jackpot but in an effort to create a great event. The conversations I have been having with my fellow artists are fueled by the excitement of what each individual is creating as well as what we are creating as a community of artists. We are a team and ArtPrize has offered a unique pitch upon which the team has become more unified and organized. ArtPrize is an extraneous competition but what it offers is the platform for the art community to create something, to showcase itself, for local artists to show what they are made of.
This ArtPrize competition allows the opportunity for thousands of people to look at art. From Tommy Allen’s Kissing Booth to ActiveSite’s artspace to Sarah Weber’s paintings to Shelly Klein’s installation to Erwin Erkfitz’s mural to Deb Rockman’s drawings to Michael Pfleghaar’s artwork to the Nessie Project and beyond and on and on – we represent Team GRap. We understand that we win by participating, we win by making where we live a great place to live. If we were challenged to an ARF game we would get our asses kicked, but we can easily rise up to the challenge of an international art competition because we are artists.

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