Sunday, October 4, 2015

Where do we go from here? A few observations and comments about the Akron Arts Prize.

Winners were announced last night at the Akron Art Museum. Many of those who came to hear the list did so during the last half hour or less before the official 9:30 podium time (maybe the really loud band had something to do with it?) 

Only four of us for sure were Canton entrants and perhaps a couple more were as well but the majority of the 200 pieces were from Akron area students and artists. Being “outsiders” we stand no chance of winning but it is fun to see what is chosen by the general public. (The awards are by popular vote via an app while in the footprint of the venues.) That being said, it is possible to game the system by taking ones friends to lunch within that footprint or having them drive by and vote, with no need to see the work. A total lack of media coverage probably did not help either. Not one mention in the ABJ this year that I could find. The Rep did a better job with a color article about one of the local entrants.

This is a short posting so let’s get to the interesting observations.  Keep in mind that the general public votes, only once for a piece and only 5 (or six if one fills out a survey) votes total.  The participating artists voted for one of their own to be the favorite and the winner was April Couch for her Mandela Table, a truly wonderful piece of drawing and construction. She was the only female in a field of older men who swept the remaining 6 awards. (Yes Bill L, you are gett’n up there like the rest of us).

Animals ruled this year. Bill Lynn’s dragon piece (sorry all, too lazy to scroll thru the app and find official titles), Tom Baldwin’s rhino head carving, Brian Parson’s circular snake and grand prize winner Fredrick Shortridge’s carved walking stick, which had some animals on it, are all 3-D pieces as well. 

Michael Marras’ salvaged materials man (3-D) and the aforementioned snake were both made from metals and repurposed materials.  Only J David Norton had a “2-D” piece but not a traditionally flat one like canvas or paper, it was glass depicting a sunset….and gorgeous as usual, a repeat winner.  So you notice, no paintings or drawings, no ceramics or printmaking, nothing truly contemporary in an abstract or interpretive sort of way, nothing that required a deep thought process to appreciate.  The pieces are all well-constructed and/or extremely detailed and time consuming, and in most cases truly gorgeous, but nothing that requires much “thinking” to understand or appreciate.

So these results lead us to many questions for consideration:

Does the general public want art that is easy to digest, easy to understand and can be instantly recognizable for what it is?  There were many wonderful entries in the show but they had to be contemplated to be appreciated.

Should work that is “deep” or requires a bit of processing and contemplation be avoided? Viewers don’t want to spend much time when they are going place to place and free drinks are waiting.

Are the worlds of social media and shallow entertainment television dumbing down our audience and filing them with a need for instant art soundbites? Some people want to know what something is right away because understanding context takes time.

Is paining dead?  Note for next year, please include the media on the labels, not just artist name and title.

What is the appeal for objects in the round as opposed to objects on the wall? That could be a real study in the psychology of personal space and the transient lifestyles of contemporary culture.

Are pieces with animals less threatening than those with figures? As a culture that is losing its ability to interact with live people, are animals more relatable? (After all they are pretty cool creatures in the fantasy genre, movies and TV)

As a culture that is now focused on repurposing and recycling, does choice of materials play into likes and dislikes? There was a definite Don D influence.

Wonder why it was an all-male line up for the top 6? Is there something innate in their work which appeals more to people?

Congrats to all the winners and kudos to the team that put together this 4th year of the event.  

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