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Sunday 11.13.05

« Teach Me Your Wildness | Main | Stadler on TBA in Artforum »

Excellent things to check out

A daily dose discusses an interesting earth art project that involves excavating a volcano... no, not the Roden Crater, it is Eduardo Chillida's Mt. Tindaya project. Admittedly, digging into a volcano is one of the most counterintuitive things human beings are capable of entertaining, but there you have it. Portlanders are especially into this sort of thing because our fire mountains are a little too active to attempt this sort of thing and Portland is the only major US city with a volcano or two within its city limits. Our thankfully extinct Mt. Tabor doesn't have a Chillida or a Turrell but it does have an outdoor amphitheater placed right in Tabor's crater.

On artnet (that lady's man) Charlie Finch, takes a little tour of Columbia's MFA studios. In Portland I'm hearing some interesting rumblings about our very own PNCA stepping up to the plate and creating a serious MFA program. It's absolutely necessary. Currently PSU has the only MFA and that is pretty ridiculous for a city of Portland's size and generally art prone sentiments. Will PSU be left in the dust in the MFA race while it builds its new design building?

Lastly, Edward Winkleman has a great post about the place where one of my heros, Aaron Copeland, wrote Appalachian Spring and its worth to society in general. In particular this sentence really caught my eye and it is very relevant to Portland, "... he's saying that 'nurturing artists of the highest merit' does not serve to advance 'the spiritual, physical, intellectual, social or economic well-being of the general public.'" Edward's analysis of that government official is spot on, and this fetish of what many here call "mediocracy" is a big problem everywhere.

This issue of excellence has really been a burning subject in Portland, which has has experienced both a populist quantitative arts uprising (over 10,000 artists in town) and a qualitative shift where there are maybe 5-15 artists that are significantly better or completely unique in comparison to what is going on elsewhere (that is a lot, maybe 150-300 are pretty good or better). The question of recognizing excellence vs. community as opposing polarities is simply wrongheaded. Excellence serves the community in indelible and far reaching ways. London is imbued with Shakespeare and Vienna and Salzburg owe Mozart a lot. Portland has Rothko, Matt Groening and a bunch of top notch people that I wont mention because they still live here. There is no need to apologize for success and the excellence that often drives it.

On that note here is a link to a Portlander who is doing some great things in a field parallel to art.

Posted by Jeff Jahn on November 13, 2005 at 19:54 | Comments (5)


Why does Portland need a good MFA art program? Many of you heard Dave Hickey's talk at PICA on what the role of a small city like Portland is in the art world. We will never be New York or London. The advantage Portland has is the ease with which artists can collaborate, critique and just talk. It's this process that moves art forward. (Portland's hostility to high density live- work spaces is another story.) Portland art's weak point is its reluctance to excel, to compete in a healthy way on a world stage.

An MFA program in Portland does several things. First it institutionalizes gathering information on experimentation and the evolution of aesthetics from all over the world. Second it seeds that information, and its students' expansion, incorporation and reaction of that information into the Portland art community, including other artists. Finally it expands the network of Portland artists worldwide with the coming and going of faculty. This is critical, as it is almost impossible to thrive as an artist on sales within Portland alone. Note that the third point argues for a largely guest faculty.

To be visible in the sea of art MFA programs, the school must be good. That takes money. It also takes a long term committment to compete with other programs.

(part of a larger essay)

Posted by: Criticaleye-notpen [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 14, 2005 11:02 AM

The Winkelman thread is interesting. Ironically, Copeland came from a group of composers that preferred writing music for normal folks rather than catering to an elite. One wonders if a composition titled "Fanfare to the Common Man" would be considered an "ode to the mediocre" or "another one of his getting to know America pieces" if they were written in contemporary Portland.

Also, who is asking anyone to apologize for their excellence and success? There can't really be a discussion if the excellent go unnamed. I would guess that out of your top five, you would only be out to lunch on two or three, and between 6-15, you would start seeing some consensus. What do you (or the excellent) have to lose? Name 'em and provide an argument.

Posted by: stephencleary [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2005 12:46 PM

Excellence is not the province of any particular social group, strata etc.... it is tough to define but does imply comparison.

Copeland is great partly because he was engaged and disregarded form to follow his particular interests. For composers of his time it was typical to conform to certain elitist forms (probably still is).

By not conforming, Copeland stood out but that is only part of it. As far as his greatness, its a body of subjective calls that has gelled into a consensus. I'm certain some individuals might consider him unworthy of the title "great"... it doesnt really matter though since he has enough support to argue the case.

Also, excellence isnt a purely a popularity contest either. Defining excellence is a very complicated thing... Im not going to discuss it further here other than experience is one key, recognition of when expereience is misleading is as just as key.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2005 03:35 PM

"Common People" by PULP is an excellent song. Eva Lake played William Shatner's cover of it on Monday during her ArtStar program.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 16, 2005 08:04 PM

Correction: the "Common People" cover is William Shatner with Joe Jackson.

Posted by: jerseyjoe [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 17, 2005 12:55 AM

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