ArtPrize… I Don’t Get It…


Originally published in the Grand Rapids Business Journal, April 27, 2009

ArtPrize was all the buzz here in West Michigan at the end of last month. Click the name for details, but in quick summary: There was a teaser build-up to a secret announcement from the grandson of Amway co-founder Rick DeVos. Mr DeVos promised something new and big that would be a tremendous boost to both the prestige and economy of West Michigan. The media frothed over the possibilities: a new movie studio was the leading guess, but most were pretty scattered. (It’s funny — up until a few years ago the universal guess in these parts would have been “automotive assembly plant.” Times change quickly.)

Turns out it will be an art competition to be held within the center of Grand Rapids in various public venues for a significant amount of money — top prize, $250,000. The reaction from many was what you might expect for something new and different — I don’t get it. And to be perfectly honest, I don’t entirely get it myself. But that’s are large part of the appeal — I’m looking forward to seeing what happens, participating in public voting, and hanging out downtown a bit more this summer and fall.

So for the comic, I grabbed various examples of art-ish stuff that had suffered similar initially dismissive reactions:

  • Painting. Piaccso. Actually, my favorite Picasso is Guernica (which is really an editorial cartoon), but it was too horizontal and I had moral issues with cropping it.
  • Dance. Martha Graham. This photo makes me think of my Grandmother Hallman, who was a dancer. Man, what I wouldn’t give to see a film clip of her when she was in vaudeville.
  • Film. Chaplin’s Modern Times. Actually my favorite Chaplin film is “The Great Dictator.” (The last scene when he makes his plea for humanity at the Nazi-like rally… sends chills every time.) However, an unstated rule of editorial cartooning is “don’t use a Hitler image unless you… you know what? Just never use a Hitler image.”
  • Architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright. Here’s the thing — I don’t like anything that he ever designed. I just don’t. But I thought it important to include something that many acknowledge as great, but I don’t appreciate.
  • Music. The Beatles. A more obvious choice here might have been to go with Sgt. Peppers. But by then, they were already widely praised. And if I were going with favorites, I would have used “Revolver.”


  1. Hoz said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 2:26 pm

    Jazz would be another good one.

    Personally, I still don’t get modern art – picasso or pollock or calder. And hip hop will always be a mystery to me. And wine tasting.

  2. John Auchter said,

    May 8, 2009 @ 2:44 pm

    Natalina’s 8th grade jazz band has a gig tonight at Grandville High School — Canal Street Cafe starting at 7:00. They’re awesome.

    But then, as far as jazz goes, anything Miles Davis and beyond is completely lost on me.

    I understand wine tasting to the extent that some wine tastes really good….

  3. Hoz said,

    May 15, 2009 @ 10:07 am

    I like cool jazz – but not frantic jazz.

    John, you should try Kind of Blue by Miles sometime. Get in a quiet, dark place – nice and relaxed – no interruptions.

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