April 29, 2003

High Art Could Be Just Around the Corner

Filed under: Art and About Me — admin @ 4:31 pm

I don’t come from a museum-going family. My husband and I were in London a couple of years ago within months of the opening of the New Tate, or as it is formally know, Tate Modern, Britain’s new national museum of modern art. We didn’t go in. Matt and I stood outside the funky former Bankside Power Station transformed into Tate Modern by the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architects Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron. We even made a few steps toward the entrance. But we knew that we would be much more emotionally and spiritually satisfied if we headed back to the West End to squeeze in another theater experience.

This information sends people reeling, and I am the object of a particularly horrific glare from those who know I am an arts reporter. For me to visit a great city without entering its great museums is not unusual. I have found this is not a fact people take lightly and so usually I downplay it. My poor sister-in-law keeps planning excursions to the Art Institute of Chicago when we visit and I keep coming up with alternative activities.

The truth is, I see a lot of art on my job, and much of it I really enjoy viewing. I’m not compelled to see the work of the masters. I have been to the Louvre, I have been to Florence. Intellectually, I appreciate the work but I have yet to get chills like I do from the downbeat of “Les Misérables.”

Our Lamorinda artists have expressed a recurring sentiment to me since I have been covering the arts for the Sun. They feel patrons don’t take the time to view local art and instead go rushing over to San Francisco, or across the world, to see the big names. It’s the opposite problem from mine.

In Lamorinda, the work of local artists is everywhere — in coffee shops, doctors’ offices, banks, storefronts. Moraga and Lafayette each are home to cooperative galleries run by Lamorinda Arts Alliance members. The Gold Coast Chamber Players’ concerts at the Town Hall Theater are often “accompanied” by original works of art. Young students from the Art Room in Lafayette have interpreted the youth theatrical productions at Town Hall. The Orinda Library has a fabulous gallery space dedicated to sharing the work of local artists. Lamorinda has become quite an artsy place. It’s hard not to let it all become scenery.

By the way, I have learned that local artists hate to be called “local” artists. They feel there is a stigma attached to the term that immediately causes people to regard their art as provincial, the product of a pastime, or at best, quaint, but certainly not anything one would see in a real gallery.

I have done compositional acrobatics worthy of Cirque du Soleil in order to avoid using the adjective “local” in my stories on Lamorinda artists so as not to perpetuate the stereotype. If you’re one of those people who brings a prejudice to the term, get over it. “Local,” in a community newspaper means they are from Lamorinda. We can claim them. They share the same good taste we do in their decision where to reside. We share the same air, we frequent the same shops. Perhaps something we said or did influenced them to create art because we happened to be in close proximity. We should feel honored that their souls receive creative nutrients right here, and that they haven’t chosen to share the gift of their existence with another community. I believe one of the reasons Lamorinda is a desirable area to live is that the ratio of artists who live among us is high. It is not a statistic that shows up in real estate reports, but I do believe it is an intangible that matters.

For whatever reason, Lamorinda isn’t referred to as an “artsy community” like Benicia or Greenwich Village. Don’t let the lack of moniker fool you. We do have a number of national and internationally recognized artists who live within our borders. Their artistic credentials come across my desk all the time. If you are a true art lover, you probably understand the prestige of some of their awards and publications better than I do.

If you don’t study art to that extent, then consider that such accolades shouldn’t matter. I once read a definition of art that said it is anything that causes you to think, feel or act differently. This definition agrees with my belief that we can encounter art any place, at any time, including around the corner from our very own homes. You hold the only opinion that matters, not some gallery owner in San Francisco, or the curator at the New Tate.

If you support the visual arts through your time, your wallet or even occasionally with a passing glance followed by a few profound synapses, consider taking another look at “local art.”