In a City of Art

I finally made it back to ArtPrize this year.  It was easy to make it there while I was still going to college in Grand Rapids.  Then it was simply a matter of walking from campus.  But a move out of state and a time-consuming job meant that I hadn’t been able to make it back for the past three years.  Thus, my ArtPrize experience had been limited to wistfully gazing at pictures on the internet.  But not this year!  This year, I was in the state and I had the time.  So, my friend Ginger and I headed down to Grand Rapids this past Saturday to join the crowds and see what there was to see.

First off, let’s make one thing clear:  I am not an art aficionado.  I’m not even someone who usually seeks out art.  In high school, I specifically avoided taking art class because I most assuredly am no artist.  But when I saw that Loch Ness-like creature floating in the Grand River right outside my classroom window the first year I went to ArtPrize, I knew that I had to check this art competition out.  And honestly, I think that one of the best things about ArtPrize is that it makes art appreciators out of art avoiders like me.

It’s hard to sum up the true experience of ArtPrize in flat black and white type, but I’ll do my best.  Really, meandering through a city of art leads to a variety of experiences.

There are the sweet moments.  Moments that stir up memories.  A children’s story brought to life by an uncle.  Knights in shining armor battling a dragon, jousting, building and controlling a giant robot.  I read (and see) this artist’s story and suddenly I am a little girl again, sitting on the floor of my brothers’ room, listening to my father spin tales about Pip, Pup and Grew, the three adventurous kittens; or the story of the children that followed a trail in a cave and found a secret valley.  I think about the excitement my child self would have felt seeing these characters come alive and I feel the excitement of that niece and nephew.

There are also the slightly sour moments.  Moments of nose-scrunching, lip-curling, and eye-rolling.  What Ginger so adequately described as “angry art” plastered on lined paper to three walls.  Pictures of less than beautiful things.  A political/economic statement flashing with bright bulbs.  But there is an admirable courage here – because these artists knew that there would be nose-scrunchers and eye-rollers like me, but they weren’t afraid to put it out there anyway.

There are the “How did they do that?” moments.  Intricate figures carved of wood and colored with no help from paints or stains.  A face carved from stone, with crinkles around the eyes and teeth showing through upturned lips, that seems almost real.  A spirited, life-size horse weaved of wire.  A painting of waves that froths forward from the canvas.  All evidence that the human mind is a powerful thing.




There are the “no photo can capture this experience” moments.  Pieces that fell flat on the internet come alive in person.  A stationary painting that seems to move – you don’t understand why until you stand directly underneath it.  The ancient words of a psalm dancing their way across pillars of color…words and colors that somehow strike a chord on your heartstrings.

There are the moments that stir your emotions in more ways than one.  Photographs of a brother born less than perfect with words to accompany.  Here you can hear the everlasting cry of humanity: “…but why, God?” that sometimes has no answer.  Here you can see both great pain and great love.

And this, I suppose, is what makes ArtPrize so special.  ArtPrize is a competition where a group of artists – a group of humans – agree to share their stories in powerful ways with thousands of people.

It’s not every day that so many people share a piece of their story – a piece of themselves – with me on a sunny Saturday morning.  And for this, I thank them.

Note:  All pictures were taken by Ginger.  I just stole them.

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