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Letters: Art in the time of COVID – Richmond News
During WWII, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill was asked to cut the arts programs to adequately fund the war effort, to which he responded, “Then what are we fighting for?”
Many of us feel as though these past two years have been akin to a war, or at least a battle. If you are like me, it often feels like we take a few steps forward, followed by a few more steps back, particularly as new variants, such as Delta and Omicron, rear their ugly heads.
Two years later, I don’t think I am alone in feeling like I have been in the midst of a war zone, trying to keep myself, my family, my friends and my community safe during uncertain and unpredictable times.
While we collectively try to preserve and protect our physical health, we cannot lose sight of our mental wellness. At times during this pandemic, I have felt sad, scared, anxious, depressed, forlorn, hopeless, mad and defeated — often feeling more than one of these emotions at once.
Reflecting on Churchill’s quote, I have come to realize that the man was onto something, and art might be a much-needed respite to our ongoing struggle. Will we solve the world’s problems with a bit of paint and paper? No. Might art bring us some light and happiness in these dark, cold, Covid-laden days? Yes, I think so, and there is solid evidence to back this conviction.
Last month, I ordered some coloured pencils, crayons, and sketching paper on a whim. I hadn’t done much drawing and colouring since I left elementary school, but I thought, “what the heck!”
When it came in the mail, my heart was delighted, and as I started to colour my less than realistic, stick-figured tree, my soul felt lighter and happier.
I am not claiming that art can solve our problems, but it might help keep our spirits lifted and preserve our mental health. We must hold our public officials accountable for protecting us. But we must also work together to protect our physical and mental wellness so that we can emerge from this pandemic strong and ready to continue our pursuit of a better tomorrow.
Jack Trovato (he/his)
Indigenous blankets inspire weave-like facade of new Vancouver Art Gallery – Vancouver Sun
The stunning Coast Salish weaving design for the facade of the new Vancouver Art Gallery wasn’t the idea of a single person.
It emerged from conversations between a group of Indigenous weavers and the lead architect for the project over several months.
The copper-coloured metallic weave for the building, announced early in November, not only honours the Indigenous people of Metro Vancouver, it also helped persuade philanthropist Michael Audain to donate $100 million for the new building on West Georgia.
The redesign process started when Anthony Kiendl , the new CEO and director of the Vancouver Art Gallery, organized his first official meeting in August 2020 with Musqueam weaver and artist Debra Sparrow and her brother, Chief Wayne Sparrow.
Debra Sparrow described Kiendl as someone who understands “that art is more than visual — it represents culture and history.
“We sat in the cultural centre while (Kiendl) told us his vision of the gallery. He wanted to honour the land and the people.”
After the first meeting with Kiendl that so inspired Sparrow, it took about a year for the next stage to begin. Kiendl phoned Sparrow and asked if she would be willing to be part of local panel of Indigenous artist consultants for the new building representing the Musqueam , Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh . The others were Skwetsimeltxw Willard “Buddy” Joseph, Chepximiya Siyam’ Janice George, and Angela George.
Kiendl said the idea was to meet regularly on Zoom with Simon Demuse from Herzog & de Meuron , the lead architects on the VAG’s new building.
Sparrow said the new design emerged gradually. It developed out of conversations about the history of Indigenous people and the importance of blankets, not just to the Coast Salish but to all peoples of the world.
In particular, the discussions focused on the twill weaving pattern which has been described as “the weft crossing the warp, over two and under two.” The warp is the threads held in tension into which the threads or weft are inserted over and under.
Weaving is especially important to Sparrow and the other weavers on the panel because of their role in its revival after disappearing for 85 years among the Coast Salish after contact with European settlers.
“The four of us talked about that as weavers. It is our responsibility to bring it back to the world in a way that embraces not only ourselves but other people, other cultures.”
Sparrow said putting a weaving pattern on the facade of the VAG takes weaving out of its “comfort zone” of blankets worn by people, and applies it in a new context on the exterior of a prominent building for everyone to see.
At one point during the online meetings, Sparrow said, someone mentioned copper as a colour that represents the Northwest Coast.
Sparrow said while it was historically used by the Indigenous nations further to the north such as the Haida, Coast Salish artists have also used it as a kind of “world colour” in contemporary applications.
The VAG’s proposed woven metal facade has been described as a copper skin with a veil-like quality — it will shimmer and change its appearance depending on the point of view of the observer, the time of day, and the light. As well, people inside the building in spaces such as library, for example, will be able to look out through the metal weave over windows and see the city through a veil.
Sparrow said she believes there is going to be many more examples of Coast Salish designs around the region as local Indigenous people weave “our way through the city” in murals and plazas and facades.
“As First Nations people, we have a vision and duty to wrap the city of Vancouver in our history and work,” she said at the news conference announcing the redesign.
“We want to weave all our cultures together in this building and wrap it like we do in a blanket.”
If fundraising continues as planned, the Vancouver Art Gallery hopes to start construction in November 2022. The redesigned building has been expanded by 30,000 sq. ft. to 330,000 sq. ft. and now includes an early education centre, accommodation for visiting artists, and a community space for Indigenous programs and celebrations.
Public and private pledges and donations for the new building have reached $240 million for the $400-million project. The VAG hopes to raise another $80 million from private donations and $80 million from government and community sources.
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How Wikipedia’s Classification Of NFTs As ‘Not Art’ Impacts Equity In The Art World – Forbes
In a lot of ways, NFTs have represented an opportunity for artists to bypass traditional gatekeepers, allowing a more diverse range of artists to reach collectors and sell their work independently. However, a recent vote by Wikipedia editors introduced a new type of gatekeeping: the popular online encyclopedia has decided not to classify NFTs as art.
Many creators and collectors of digital art found this decision to be overstepping and short-sighted. The basis for this sentiment is the observation that NFTs, while not always used for art, can be another artistic medium, like paint or ceramics. And even more than that, the idea that any person or institution would try to put rules on what is allowed to be deemed art feels problematic to many, with real implications on the lives of artists.
The Definition of Art
Art is a form of expression defined by the artist and appreciated by the beholder. As Oscar Wilde said in his 1891 essay The Decay of Lying – An Observation, summarized on Wikipedia, “To art’s subject-matter we should be more or less indifferent. We should, at any rate, have no preferences, no prejudices, no partisan feeling of any kind.” With this in mind, it’s no wonder that many artists and collectors take offense to the idea of anyone categorizing what is and is not art.
“This was a discriminatory statement against the work of thousands of artists who find their creative freedom and passion in the NFT space,” shared Marlon Portales, a multidisciplinary Cuban artist. “It is not for Wikipedia, or any institution of power, to say what is art and what is not. Art exists in the eyes and consciousness of the beholder. Art is a way of communication, dialogue, emancipation and expression. It is a gesture.”
It’s not only the new wave of creators and collectors that value NFTs as art. “The fact that the biggest art auction houses have folks dedicated to digital art is the most basic proof needed,” Alex Marshall, an artist and director at Silicon Valley Bank points out. “NFTs have dramatically expanded Sotheby’s collector base, Christie’s auctioned off an NFT for $69 million and the British Museum is selling NFT versions of their collections. Just because NFTs can also serve as financial and certification instruments, that doesn’t mean they aren’t art. In some ways they’re better than traditional art, because there is transparency into ownership and the artists continue to get royalties.”
NFTs as a Medium
Art can be created out of a limitless variety of mediums, from paint to found objects. Many people that disagree with the Wikipedia decision on NFTs argue that NFTs should be seen as the medium used to create the art. Just like not all paper is art, not all NFTs are art–but the medium should not limit the end result.
Breanna Faye, NFT artist and creator of Metarkitex Metaverse, explained this by comparing NFTs to blueprints. “Digital blueprints are the blueprints used to build every modern day building. We don’t call AutoCAD plans ‘not real architecture’ and we shouldn’t do it with art,” she points out. “NFTs are merely a canvas on which digital artists export their artworks. Yes, the medium has changed, but the product and the definition have not. NFTs are a canvas, blockchain is the medium, it’s what’s on the canvas that determines if it’s art. Excluding some of the world’s most notable artists from your list just because their medium is different is a shame.”
There have been countless examples of non-traditional mediums being created and appreciated as art. “Piero Mansoni was a revolutionary, highly conceptual artist who mocked the systems that pretended to say what was true art,” Portales shared as an example, referencing the piece Artists’ Shit, which is described on Wikipedia as an artwork consisting of 90 cans filled with feces. “In the end, the NFT is just another medium, it is a new language system.”
Not only do NFTs serve as a new medium for art, but they unlock new artistic realms as well. “NFTs enable new possibilities of art expression beyond what exists or is imagined today. LIT’s Robert De Niro NFT is a great example,” Gabriela Sabate, an entrepreneur and NFT collector, shared. “The actor dynamically reacts in 4,600 images at the same time to live events that happen after the NFT was created. NFTs have the power to redefine our current concepts of art and culture.”
Impact on Artists
The claim that NFTs are not art hits particularly hard for artists who finally found an opportunity to thrive in the NFT ecosystem.
“Many NFT artists are traditional artists who have moved their artwork into the Metaverse and, for the first time in their life, have been able to support themselves financially with their art,” shared Samantha Hume, NFT artist and founder of Crypto Lady Gang. “NFTs are killing the ‘starving artist’ stereotype and creating a modern, financially stable artist. The old era of the art world is all about privilege, based on connections and money. This new NFT era of art has the ability to empower any talented artist, regardless of their background. That is historic.”
Michael Gold, an art professor that teaches generative art, expanded further. “If we think about how access to resources has kept artists from creating and distributing their art in the past, NFTs have flipped that script,” he shared. “Many successful NFT artists have broken into this space by teaching themselves the necessary techniques using resources that are freely available to anyone with a laptop and an Internet connection. Since the Internet, as a whole, tends to look at Wikipedia as a source of truth, if a handful of Wikipedia editors decide what is and is not art, that decision will have ripple effects that will limit opportunities for future self-taught artists and potentially rob the world of their art.”
The emergence of NFTs, and Web3 as an ecosystem, presents the opportunity for a more diverse range of artists to be seen and valued for their art. There is far more upside to embracing that, rather than trying to limit this new decentralized opportunity with the use of centralized definitions.
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