ArtPrize through My Eyes

I went to look at ArtPrize exhibits tonight for only the second time since the contest began two weeks ago in my beloved city. It's not that I don't love art; it just took me a long time to find the emotional space for this specific contest after editing stories about it all day long at The Press.

And trust me: The Grand Rapids Press has been somewhat obsessed with ArtPrize since creator Rick DeVos first announced it last April.

I don't blame the paper necessarily, because this is, after all, our town, and it's a pretty phenomenal history-making event. But I have struggled internally wondering if we should be focusing so much coverage on a contest that overshadows other types of news our readership also should know about-- things such as, oh say, how Grand Rapids' rate of homelessness is rising daily and the city is becoming a bargain basement of cheap housing because of foreclosures. But those are just minor things of course, and ArtPrize is a lot sexier, so um, yup, it all makes sense. ;)

All cynicism aside, I have to admit my perspective shifted tonight after visiting the exhibits on display at the old art museum on Pearl and Division, aka, The Old Federal Building.

I went alone, on purpose. I wanted to get my own perspective of the art-- as much as that is possible after reading other people's all day long, and hearing it from friends and roommates after work. I wanted to see it, feel it, step into it and let it soak through my skin, like a hot shower after a long day on my feet, or like a good book in mid-winter when I need a new world to crawl into. I wanted to find "The One." The piece of art that would give me a reason to write to you tonight.

I don't think I found "The One," necessarily. Instead I was blessed with three very moving experiences.

Exhibit A: Open Water No. 24.

Stemming from stubborn, anti-mainstream principle, I have to admit I'm sorry a Top Ten entry made it onto my "three moving experiences" list. It wasn't going to. I was just going to go and look at it and say, "Well that was pointless," and make fun of all the people who raved about it. (Oh Rachel, how haughty you are...)

But then I met the artist.

I was standing back, circling around Open Water, snapping pictures from various angles, and then I realized the reason I was having a hard time getting a panoramic shot was because a clump of people were standing in front of the painting talking to Ran Ortner, its creator.

I'm not stupid. It makes sense he would be in town for the last day of voting, to promote his work heavily leading up to the announcement of the contest winner tomorrow at DeVos Place, but I didn't really care why he was being friendly at that moment; I just knew I had to talk to him. So when there was an opening, I introduced myself and was surprised by the pleasure of a five- or 10-minute conversation with this man.

And it wasn't just any conversation. There was something in his manner of moving and speaking and explaining that captured my imagination. I found myself asking him dozens of questions about how he does art. He told me of his theory of opposites. Nothing in life inside the limits of our human capabilities, he said, can truly be known apart from a comparison to its opposite. Can you feel pleasure without pain? Is there love without hate? What is peace if not an absence of war? Is there calm without a storm preceding it? What is rest without having known chaos? Can white be so pure without having seen black? And so, he said, his art is a daily attempt to depict those opposites in their relationship and connectedness to one another.

I looked at his painting quietly, slowly, after an exhausting rapid barrage of words had passed between us. I could tell he was waiting for my next question, because he didn't walk away. He just watched, and waited.

"Ran," I asked. "Is this painting chaos or calm to you?"

"Both," he said. There they are next to each other in constant motion, tossing on the waves-- gently and yet fiercely. He felt them both as he painted, and he could not separate the two.

"My work is always reaching for the eternal," he had said to me only moments before.

I could have asked so many more questions, but other visitors wanted his attention, and so I asked for a quick photo with him and then moved on.

All night I have been thinking of this. He is so right. Eternity is the only place beyond this container of opposites in which we will be able to know the true meaning of one state without having to experience its negative counterpart. I want that so much. Whether or not Ran knows the place where it can be found, he has hit upon the longing for it in the heart of every man. I think that is why Open Water resonates for the masses in this contest. I am convinced only life in Christ offers a shot at hope of finding resolution. And now I pray Ran can find that out, too.

Here we are in front of his painting. (Notice the arm around my shoulder. Yeah, we were pretty much best buds after that convo. ;)

Exhibit B: The Space Between Us

To those who haven't experienced this exhibit up close (sat in the chairs, read the guestbook, etc.), perhaps it seems odd I was so moved by this. "What the heck?" you might say. "It's a yellow living room in the middle of a bunch of real art."

But stop a minute. What is the definition and purpose of art? This is heavily debated, I know, but some traditional touchstones include the facts that art sends a message, communicates and, in turn, elicits emotion, conveys an interpretation of reality, and creates conversation.

So what artist Michele Bosak has done with The Space Between Us qualifies as art in that sense. In her description of the piece, Bosak shares she created it to start a discussion of what defines "home." Is it a specific collection of furniture? Does its secret lie in the symmetry and color of the architecture? Or is it a feeling evoked by memory and solidified by time?

As a recent college grad/apartment-dweller, I relate to her feeling of transiency-- the lostness and longing for that space/time/place relationship to people and furniture. And so, in the guestbook, I told her so. I wrote her a short letter, and so became part of her art.

Exhibit C: Light Passes Through It

I purposely did not take a picture of this exhibit, because there is no way to do it justice. Read the description in this photo first, and then read what I have to say.


As the artist said, the power of this exhibit comes from its "ever-shifting light, sound and imagery." It was all there, and it was moving. Call it mixed-media, call it a slideshow reflecting off clear-paneled screen prints of famous photos from history (and not-so-famous ones), but whatever you call it, anyone who has seen the rapidly firing images of the 20th Century (as well as a few from the 19th and 21st)
and heard the voices-- the cries, the fragments of bygone speeches, the sounds of firing weapons in war, the laughter of children-- anyone who has stood in that room upstairs in the Federal Building cannot walk away the same.

At least I couldn't. In fact, after about five minutes, I was wondering if I could walk away at all. And so I didn't for awhile. I leaned against a pillar in the room and cried within myself.

"This artist has summed up exactly what it feels like to be me," I thought to myself. I haven't lived in the shoes of all these people or fought in these wars or listened to "I Have a Dream," or "Never, ever, ever give up" or "Fourscore and seven years ago..." but I know I have felt these people's pain and hopes and fears and joys.

Friends get scared sometimes when I tell them I often have the sense I can feel the pain of people I haven't met... but go to that room and you will feel it, too. You will understand what it's like inside my head on a daily basis. And because the artist understood, it didn't matter to me that the exhibit itself appeared to contain very little actual talent-- if you measure talent with the same measuring stick the masses use.

But you can't. Not at ArtPrize. Not in that room. Not in my world.

And now you've seen a slice of ArtPrize through my eyes.

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Pam Elmore said...

Thanks, Rachel!

Wow... I really need to get down there.

Rachel E. Watson said...

Yeah you do! You're running out of time; it ends Saturday!

Unknown said...

Your writing, Rachel, was quite moving in and of itself! I didn't get to see those pieces of art, but I did look up the last one after reading your description of it and I feel like you nailed it right now the head! I like seeing through your eyes! (is that weird?? :P)

Rachel E. Watson said...

No, it's not weird. That was my hope. You should go, though-- to see it for yourself.

Adam said...

Nice post. I'm hypnotized by "Open Water," and to me it's as evocative and terrifying as the final chapter in Moby-Dick.

I just heard Ran won! Excellent.

Rachel E. Watson said...

Adam, I read part of Moby Dick, but not the end. I think I'll finish it someday (maybe), so don't tell me what happens. :)

And he did win!!! I definitely squealed when I heard the news last night.

P.S. Are you the same Adam who commented on Pam's blog post about David Letterman?

Adam said...

Rachel, don't worry, I won't give away the Moby-Dick mystery.

The Whale did it. Oops, It just slipped out! :)

Yep, that was me on Pam's blog. I don't know Pam, but I can tell she's really thoughtful. And your post there made me want to see The Proposal.

On a related note, I was trying to think of a movie that mirrors this David Letterman scandal, but I couldn't think of one. It seems Hollywood likes to turn complicated relationship issues into psycho thrillers, like that recent movie with Beyonce, Obsessed.

have a good weekend

Rachel E. Watson said...

Siiiiiiiick. There is no way I would ever want to watch Obsessed. The title was enough to scare me away.

Same with Enough, J-Lo's acting brainchild. Gahh, I couldn't watch it. It made me want to retch.

I AM having a good weekend, thanks. How about yourself?

Adam said...

Hey, Enough's title could also be a one-word review of the movie: "Enough!!" Gives me an idea for a Regurgitation Triple-Feature:
Obsessed / Enough / Indecent Proposal

Re: ArtPrize, did you see Young Kim's "salt and earth" (, or the "Official Bureau of Art Quality and Standards"? (

Rachel E. Watson said...

Now I'm not sure why those links didn't auto-URL themselves into oblivion.

Hmm. Maybe I will invite people over for a movie night. But only for the purpose of tearing them apart with verbal scorn.

Speaking of which... my coworkers and I were discussing bad time-travel movies ... basically all week.

Tell me how hard you laugh after reading this IMDB synopsis. I want a numerical answer.

"A Sound of Thunder" (2005) (you will have to search it because for some reason CTRL + V isn't working either.

Oh, P.S., no I didn't see salt & earth in person, but I watched the ArtPrize Web video of it, and wanted to go really badly. Now I hear it's too late. Dang, dang, dang.

I will check out the other thing.

Rachel E. Watson said...

Oh, yes, I did see the Art/Quality standards. Just checked it and remember reading it several weeks back. I work at The Press, and I sit about 10 paces from Rachael Recker's desk. She's really funny. We have had coffee a few times.

Adam said...

Ha! "The course of evolution as we know it is now being changed by time waves." I'd love to hear that in a State of the Union Address on April Fools Day. Or maybe any day. Numerical Laugh: since I'm familiar with the story, the element of surprise was missing, so "7".

Speaking of bad time-travel movies (sounds like the Press workers are cool), did you guys mention Time Cop? Although it's Boring Bad--not So Bad It's Good. Did you guys agree on a worst time-travel movie?

Speaking of bad movies in general, what's your numerical laugh quotient of this clip from The Room:

Believe it or not, this movie is playing at Celebration Woodland! Are you a journalist? You may owe it to the Public to see this... :)

Rachel E. Watson said...

Ha!!! No way! Have you read Serba's Sucky Sinema critique of The Room? Go to It's all there. And I probably should have gone to see it on Sunday... except I usually rest on Sundays.

Serba, incidentally, is the best film critic I've ever read, and I get to sit 10 paces from him as well as funny Rachael. (10 paces as the crow flies. There's a cubicle in the way.)

Yes, I'm a journalist. An editor. I believe editing is a more fun job to have than writing in a reporting capacity. Because I get paid to read (and change) what everyone else writes, while laughing the whole time. Plus, I can write and they can't edit. So who really wins in the end? Ha. I love winnning. It's probably an unhealthy obsession. Along with writing.

Rachel E. Watson said...

Oh, P.S. the link I gave you is bad. Here is the real one:

And YES!!! I loved that clip. It was at least a 7, but probably not higher because I was able to control my laughter so it wasn't obvious I was watching something hilarious. If it was a perfect 10 there would be nothing I was able to do about it.

I have a fellow copy editor named Mark, and he loves to laugh at bad movies. So I sent him the "Hi, Mark" clip. We'll see what he says. ;)

Here is my perfect 10: Separate Ways: Literal Video Version. YouTube it.

Also, this:

Adam said...

Although I don't regularly read Serba, I like him whenever I do. I can relate to his writing voice and to his critical 'flavor'. Here's my take on what he brings to the table: a helpful knowledge of (and belief in) standards of excellence, even though those standards are hard to define; that position is complemented by his openness to discuss literally anything that's interesting. Like the backwards miracle that is The Room [Thanks for the links :) ]

I've been thinking, 'Who is my favorite critic of all time?' Not just of film, but of anything--and I think it's G.K. Chesterton. Are you familiar with that guy?

Oh man, my favorite part of that Journey video is "Let's trade jackets"! One of the other best literal videos I've seen is "Head Over Heels"

And speaking of talking animals, get ready for Poochinski. This is television on a whole different level:

It sounds like you definitely got the long end of the stick with your editing gig. :) I do some writing and editing myself (I work at Zondervan). I find editing to be fun, and easier for me than writing is. But for me writing ismore... filled with risk, reward, and verve.

Do you have a favorite editing moment of your career?

Rachel E. Watson said...

Yeah, I know who G.K. is. My parents'pastor brings him up all the time in sermons. I like my parents' pastor, so I think I should probably read Chesterton. But I have a long list of stuff I want to read, so it might be awhile.

I agree wtih your thoughts about Serba. Since I work with him, I have another perspective to offer, also. But I'd have to think through it before saying it here. :)

My favorite part of the Journey video is... well, all of it. But especially the comments about the mystery girl. :) And "walking backward through this pile of scrap metal."

Gonna be honest, I tried to watch that video right now, but after Opening Line had to stop, because I already knew it was going to be a 10, and I'm at work. Gahh. Bad Rachel.

Interesting thoughts on writing. I thought through my thoughts on that topic the other day (lol), so it's funny you should mention.

Favorite editing moment: They happen every day. I love the jokes my coworkers and I have. And I love the moments when a PRIME opportunity for comedy falls into my lap, and I seize it, and the room explodes into laughter. There is nothing more rewarding except hearing my boss say he appreciates the work I do on the side, in addition to my role as "newsroom clown."

Rachel E. Watson said...

P.S. Do you by any chance also work for Baker Book House as a publicist?

Adam said...

Quick response: Nope, I haven't worked for Baker. Are you trying to get some dirt on Baker? Sorry, couldn't help you. :)

PS, the prime comedy opportunity, yes, like a low-hanging fruit that you can reach and nobody else even sees it yet... [my mouth is watering]

Rachel E. Watson said...

It's watering for fruit, or comedy? lol... maybe you should just go watch some Letterman.

Adam said...

lol, and you will know comedy by its fruit.

Good work on getting the role as "newsroom clown"! The part sounds sort of like the Shakespearean fool--truth to power while keeping everybody laughing?

Okay, I'm interested in your perspective on Serba, so I may have found a solution: I think I see the right Facebook page, so I'll friend you. An added bonus to this is that you see my work history :)

Rachel E. Watson said...