Is Regionalism Relevant to the Art World?

My house Detroit, Michigan

I spent most of my early life in Detroit, never living more than a block from where I was born. A child’s world-view can be naive. Our neighborhood was ethnically diverse, so I assumed most of the country was the same. The more I travelled, the more I became aware of regional differences. When I lived on the East Coast I learned you drink soda, not pop. Water comes from a spigot not a faucet, and people go to the shore not the beach. Living in the South taught me that when someone said “Well, Bless her heart,” it was not meant as a compliment. I hadn’t really thought much about how where I lived influenced my language, philosophy and even aesthetics.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Fulbright scholar Viktor Susak from L’viv, Ukraine. He is working on project titled, “The Concept of Regionalism as a Cognitive Approach to Explaining Macrostructural Social Interactions.”

That got me thinking about regionalism in art. I’m not an art historian, so I won’t be exploring this in a scholarly manner. I just wonder with the exposure art has via the Internet these days can regionalism still exist? Are artists in the Midwest that different than the East and West Coast artists? I found the panel discussion below at the Glasstire, a website about visual art in Texas. The panel of notables discussed their views on the concepts of Regionalism vs. Nationalism vs. Cosmopolitanism.

One of them mentioned the notion of terroir as it relates to the wine production. It’s a philosophical belief that a wine possesses a sense of place, or ‘somewhereness’. So a wine from a particular soil expresses characteristics related to the physical environment in which the grapes are grown.

Women’s Caucus for art tour of Diego Rivera mural at the Detroit Institute of Art

To quote recently deceased art critic Robert Hughes. Diego Rivera “became a symbol, the key figure in cultural transactions between North and Central America in the first half of the 20th century.” “Few 20th century artists have been as popular in their own societies. None is more relevant to the debate over ‘indigenous,’ or ‘national,’ art language as against ‘international style.’ The mural above created as a tribute to Detroit’s industry of the time, would not be as meaningful if it were in a different city. It was created for this specific place.

Women’s Caucus for Art members viewing UM Gifts of Art collection

Our Michigan Women’s Caucus for Art chapter recently hosted women artists from across the country. We took them on a our tour of our regional art scene in Ann Arbor and Detroit. The photo above is from our first stop at the Gifts of Art Program and University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Artist Mike Sivak at Ann Arbor Art Fair

The Ann Arbor Art Fairs have been filling the streets of Ann Arbor with Art for over 50 years. Originally drawing from regional artists and arts group. Today the fairs have booths for over 700 artists from around the country.

Poster at Lincoln St. Sculpture Park, Detroit

Pockets of visual art are helping the city’s renaissance. Lincoln Street Art Park was founded in fall of 2011 as a collaboration between local artists and sculptors, Recycle Here!, Detroit Synergy, Midtown Detroit Inc., Michigan Council on Arts and Cultural Affairs, and the Detroit Recreation Department. It continues to grow and evolve as an active public space for connecting and interacting with art.

Lincoln St. Sculpture Park, Detroit

Uncle Frank the Dinosaur, a towering construction of recycled materials found throughout the city. The sculpture was created by Kelly Kaatz, Janice Polzin and Matt Pawenski for the Detroit Electronic Movement Festival.

Free Art Friday at the Detroit Institute of Art

I keep thinking of this quote I heard years ago from an IHM nun, “grow where you are planted.” Which I never fully understood until I became an adult. So here I am making the best of where I am and remembering where I have been.

About Babs

I'm a narrative sculptor navigating her way through the ever-changing currents in what feels like an art ocean. Whether appreciating the calm rhythm of calls for art and exhibiting, or waiting to catch a big wave of inspiration to take me to the top. I just love being in the water. Formerly a pickle packer, theater major, crisis counselor and occupational therapist with a BA in Communications and a BS in Occupational Therapy, only to discover I've always been an artist. My work grows from a strong connection to people and a passion for discovering the beauty in ordinary things. I sculpt figuratively in clay, utilizing the female form and women’s themes. Frequently my inspiration is drawn from childhood memories and my own short poems. Like each of us as humans every work is uniquely influenced by the past and present and has a narrative.
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7 Responses to Is Regionalism Relevant to the Art World?

  1. Katherine R. Willson says:

    Lots of great food for thought in this post! Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Regionalism: The Patchwork Masterpiece of an Art Movement | MWilson Sculpture and Art

  3. Mary Wilson says:

    Interesting post. Yes, Regionalism, is relevant – and ongoing. Let’s talk.

  4. Mary, so good the hear from someone else. Do you think it’s more relevant to those of us in the Midwest?

  5. Mary Wilson says:

    Country music is wild popular across the country. Listen to any Country Music station and you will hear the concepts of Regionalism in song. “Fly Over Country” is the current popular song of the type to which I refer, but anything by Rascal Flatts pulls those heart strings too.People, any people have a fundamental need to connect, to be able to point at a spot on the map and say, “this is where I belong”. Is Regionalism as Art more relevant to Midwesterners? Possibly, because we grew up with it and know what to call it. However, while Regionalism as Art started in the Midwest, but it went as far west as California, east to Maine. The “Art world” first mocked Regionalism, then ignored it. That is their usual way. I say that it is time again to work on completing Grant Wood’s dream regardless of what the fancy city folk believe or do. Ignorance is a two way street. (You know I misused that word out of irony, right? Laughing)

    What do you think?

  6. I like the idea of “Regionalism,” as artists being valued for interpreting life in their hometown instead of trying be part of some homogenized art culture.

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