For the Love of Art

Tonight at midnight, Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize 2012 competition will close it’s final round of voting, and one lucky artist will take home the $200,000 grand prize. With so much money at stake – something GQ magazine called “a colossal sum in the world of art competitions” in an article published in their September issue – critics of the competition and art lovers alike have voiced concern over the fairness of the voting process. To help quell the outcry, this year ArtPrize added a separate “Juried Awards,” where a panel of art experts will award the grand prizewinner $100,000 and five other artists $20,000 each.

The argument is that the general public, with no formal training behind them in art techniques or values, vote for the flashiest pieces rather than the ones that require the most skilled artist. This has validity, and to a community of members who have spent years cultivating insight on a very beloved craft, it makes sense that the whole process might seem unfair.

But when you think about ArtPrize in those terms, you let the rhetoric dominate a conversation that wasn’t ever intended to turn political. ArtPrize is, essentially, a massive investment by the DeVos family in the long-term development of the city of Grand Rapids. It’s a way to bring people to the city, garner their business, and keep them coming back.

The event has given Grand Rapids national attention, with stories featured in news outlets from the aforementioned GQ magazine and the Detroit Free Press, among others. While GQ magazine referred to ArtPrize event-goers as “appraising works of art like fairgoers sampling sideshows at a carnival,” Detroit Free Press business writer John Gallagher hit at the heart of what Grand Rapids locals and ArtPrize officials have been trying to say all along.

“ArtPrize, the annual public art competition drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors to Grand Rapids, (shows) that cultural events can support the bottom line as well as the mind and heart,” Gallagher wrote in a Sept. 27 article.

Despite pumping an estimated $10.1 million in net new-visitor spending into the local economy last year, when it’s ArtPrize season, something about the city comes alive with a sense of wacky comradery.

So, call it what you will – art, entertainment or blasphemy – but let ArtPrize be something good. Let it be movement in the midst of complacency, a vehicle for laughter in a too-serious world; or, if you will, a light in the night.

As you cast your vote for your favorite top 10 piece, don’t let the politics of ArtPrize bleed into it’s purpose; which can be, depending on who you are and where you’re coming from, something as simple as a feeling. Something as simple as a reminder that there still are simple things in a world as complex as ours can start to feel.