Every ArtPrize, the walking population of Grand Rapids, Mich. metastasizes to urban proportions. For a few weeks, downtown GR is a mine field of makeshift galleries as artists compete for the popular vote that determines who will receive a cash prize.
Without fail, it sparks controversy among the GR artistic community about who benefits, the type of art ArtPrize attracts, how proud citizens want their city perceived and more. And at least one of my friends made it a deadline to move out of Grand Rapids before the third year of ArtPrize kicked off.
A close-up of "Cavalry" by Chris LaPorte, a vintage photo reproduced and enlarged as a drawing by way of pen scratches // Photo by Cliff Muller
Mark Rumsey was the first to give it a name via The Rapidian; one theme and common discussion point in GR is the West Michigan Aesthetic.
The correlation of how long it is perceived that an art object took to make is directly proportional to its value on the WMA scale. We understand time and we value time. When something looks like it took days or weeks or months to make, then we assign it value according to the labor invested.
This suspicion speaks to winners of the last two ArtPrize: Chris LaPorte’s “Cavalry” (get a sense of scale in Brian Kelly’s video) and, more embarrassingly, Mia Tavonatti’s “Crucifixion.” These works took diligence, effort and meticulous detail. But what thought did they actually provoke? What question did they pose? In other words, what are the responsibilities that come with art as an applied label?
Mia Tavonatti's "Crucifixion" is an assemblage of thousands of pieces of cut glass // Photo by David Guthrie
The most recent RadioLab short pushes this even further. It explores the beliefs of Alan Turing (father of artificial intelligence) that humans are machines, and machines are human if they claim and exhibit sentience.
At 20:16 -
James Gleick: “I think we’re just machines. I think we’re just made of matter… but for me, that doesn’t make me feel that we’re any less special. What a wonderful thing that a collection of matter created by a process of evolution that lasted billions of years, how wonderful that this process and that these little collections of matter are able to produce Cezanne’s water colors and Bach’s preludes. I can live with that.”
Robert Krulwich: “If I built you a computer that could create equally beautiful watercolors and equally beautiful musical compositions, would you feel happier or diminished?”
JG: “I think in a way, you’re asking, if you see how the trick is done, does it then vanish? Does it just become a trick, the trick being a great painting or a great piece of music? I feel the art I love is always art that I don’t fully understand. There’s some mystery there always. I don’t quite fathom it. So if the computer is churning out a bunch of notes and you know exactly what the rules are that the computer is following and there’s no mystery, how can that possibly be a great piece of music? And the answer is… we don’t know how the machine is gonna do it, and when the machine produces music that is as lovely as the music you and I love, I believe it will still be unfathomable.”
In a world where machines can be programmed to create works of art at the skill level of master artists, how does that change the conversation as we evaluate the merits of art?