The Rapidian

Finding what I missed at ArtPrize

Last year at ArtPrize, by reading too much I learned less. This year, I'm taking a different approach to the work surrounding me at the event.
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I caught a glimpse of ArtPrize 2012 before the fact. As I strolled through the city Sunday evening there were small groups of people scattered around the Rosa Parks Circle area on Monroe.

Artists were hard at work: U-Haul trucks and moving vans full of gear painted the parking spots by the B.O.B, an important spot for this year’s events.

In the few hours spent drifting about a kind of large lazy city circle, I reaped a restored perspective: as it was before the first ArtPrize.

Last year’s show was fantastic; it was overall successful. However, I remember feeling that something was not right. I didn’t feel connected the way I was hoping for, or in the way others had told me I would. I eventually came to the conclusion that I couldn’t blame ArtPrize for the disconnect I was feeling. It wasn’t the coordinators or the artists, nor was it the pains of parking or navigating the layout.

When ArtPrize came around last year, I guess I was expecting something to happen to me, like an existential experience or something. Instead, it was just a cool art show. I honestly could not put my finger on any specific thing that would have made the experience better for me.

If you have been to an ArtPrize in the past, you are familiar with the plaques that set on pedestals explaining the artist’s interpretation of their Art. Well, I can say with confidence, half of my time last year was spent reading. For me that’s easy to do because I’m one of those people who, when understanding needs to be found within just a paragraph or two, needs to read every word very carefully to make sure I understand it. So I felt as if I was reading a giant book about art: look at the piece, study the description and move on to the next.

The pictures I took Sunday as the artists were setting up show a small sample of how much work, effort, dedication, creativity and time is spent on each and every piece. Each time I would look at something new I felt tempted to ask the artist what they were making, as most pieces lacked the plaque my eyes sought to find. Instead, I kept quiet and started making my own conclusions. The guessing games that resulted were fun. More fun in fact than reading a plaque for the answers.

One project you can see in the pictures is of what looks to me a foundation, maybe, of an ancient city of ruins with giant statues and pillars half broken but still in form lying still. Or maybe it’s something completely different. But anything made from sand seems impossible for a two and a half week festival. I’m thrilled to discover what had inspired such risk and patience in building a monument of sand.

In my life, I am convinced satisfaction will never be found if I approach circumstances or moments as if they are there to give me something of worth or to provide me meaning. Worth in my life is only found when I respond, act or pursue it.

This week I will exercise my philosophy. If it’s not what I get out but what I put in, then I, with my wife and daughter, will put in and hopefully find that experience which is so abundantly available at ArtPrize.

The plan is to go through the exhibits on at least two separate occasions. The first tour I will have my journal and a camera. For each encounter I’ll avoid looking at the plaque. Maybe my wife will need to hide them from me. I’ll reflect on and discuss them more at home with her.

The second time through will be spent reading or hearing the artist’s story. I’ll take however much time I need in order to grasp what is being told or portrayed. Comparing the results may bring a whole new experience altogether.

I feel the artists have come so far and put endless hours into this for our city: there must be a reason. Maybe by doing this, I’ll be able to understand, and in turn, fully appreciate what is really happening for me and for my home town of Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

I’m not just saying this: It’s gonna be the best year ever.

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