Tools," by Richard Lemke.
art is for everyone
the things I've learned
had few expectations last year when I wrote my first essay on
collecting art in Portland.
In fact, when I was done writing I had no idea where
or how to get it published. But just after I finished, I had a
chance encounter with the highly regarded Portland artist, writer,
talk-show host and curator, Eva Lake. She suggested nwdrizzle.com
as a place for an outsider to find an outlet for an alternative
point of view. My
essays have appeared in these pages several times since.
The three basic elements of my message are 1) art is for everyone;
2) Portland is one of the best places to buy art; and 3) the great
majority of the local population lacks even a basic awareness of
this extraordinary cultural opportunity we have in Portland.
So, who did I get responses from and what kind of comments did
Shortly after part one was posted I started getting e-mails from
readers like Bonnie Meltzer. There was a
feature on Meltzer's artwork in the same issue as my essay.
She found my piece when she brought up the site to check the story
Meltzer praised me for focusing on the need for cultivating a broader
pool of art buyers. She also mentioned her roll as the publicity
person for the Portland Open Studios Association and wanted to know
if I might be interested in helping attract new buyers to the annual
events in October. We arranged a meeting and she instantly became
my mentor of the moment.
Meltzer suggested I put some effort into promoting my essays locally.
I printed up a sheet full of little promotional cards and thought
if I passed out three or four hundred I might get enough new readers
to the site to register a bump in the number of hits for the month.
At the time I had no idea that this site had been around for more
than four years and got thousands of hits a month. But I made a
point of passing out these promo cards at the health club I belong
to, at a Portland Art Museum Rental Sales Gallery reception and
to my coworkers at the optical wholesale lab where I've worked since
1979. I soon started getting e-mails. I was actually connecting
with people on issues that don't get much attention in arts pages
or the general media.
Many responses were from local artists who appreciated reading
a collector's view of the local art scene. They found my opinions
a sharp contrast to the standard material from art critics and cultural
One young artist who had recently completed her fine arts degree
commented that she had no money and had never even thought about
buying a piece of art. She told me that after reading my first essay
she had a strong urge to buy some art.
I encountered Jeff Jahn, who writes the Critical
i column for this publication, one Saturday afternoon. I asked
if he'd read the piece. With a puzzled expression he told me he'd
read it and thought I'd made some good points.
I got an e-mail from Carolyn Zick, a Seattle artist who posts an
arts blog about the Portland and Seattle art scene (www.dangerouschunky.com)
and has also written
for this publication. She offered her support by posting a link
to my essay on her blog. Ruth Ann Brown, owner of the New American
Artist Union also posted a link on her gallery Web site. I felt
flattered by the free promotion.
Just after part two got posted I attended a preview reception at
Gallery 500 with Jeannine Edelblut. She's an artist I'd met a few
months earlier at another gallery preview. She liked my essay and
wanted to introduce me to a few people who were in the thick of
the local arts scene.
The first person she introduced to me was Richard Speer, the Willamette
Week art critic. The moment Jeannine said my name Richard jumped
in and said, "I've wanted to talk to you for weeks. I really
liked your piece. My editor even told me I needed to read your piece
because of the issues you raised."
That one floored me. I wondered what was happening. I'd been talking
about these issues for years to anyone who would listen. I had the
impression that people didn't take much of my rambling diatribes
seriously. Now that I was in "print," praise poured in
from people I never expected to hear from. I felt my head swelling.
Edelblut also introduced me to Rosie Williams, the Workforce Coordinator
at the Portland Development Commission. She suggested I make a stop
by Sam Adams's office the following night for a City Hall First
Thursday reception. She said Adams was lobbying for the assignment
of City Hall liaison to the arts.
Plan," by Tyson Grumm. [courtesy: Beppu Wiarda Gallery]
The next night I was at City Hall.
Adams's office was jammed with people attending the reception and
it took about 10 minutes to worm my way through the crowd before
I finally got next to him. I introduced myself and gave him one
of my announcement cards.
Before I could even get into my rehearsed sound-bite about my essay,
he stopped me and said, "Oh yes, I liked what you had to say.
Just go and talk to my staffer, Jesse Beason. He'll fill you in."
I was stunned. I couldn't believe they had already read the piece.
When I talked to Beacon, he said he and Adams had read the essay
and strongly supported my message about the quality, depth and affordability
of the Portland art scene.
Beacon introduced me to several people involved with community
outreach for the arts and I passed out more cards. He encouraged
me to write more articles. I have to admit I felt pretty full of
myself as my ego continued to inflate.
I continued to promote my online contributions to owners and directors
of galleries, curators at the Portland Art Museum, people in charge
of cultural nonprofit groups and anyone who took the time to hear
my pitch. Bruce Guenther, Terry Toedtemeier and Margaret Bullock
all read both parts of that first essay and made very positive comments.
The most surprising reactions came from the people I least expected
to get reactions from. These were folks who told me they didn't
know or care much about art. This group included the production
workers I work with at the optical lab and people at my health club,
who split their focus between their businesses or professional careers
and their families.
The feedback from the aesthetically challenged crowd was consistently
positive and enthusiastic. I'm sure some were simply impressed that
I got published. A more pervasive theme was the surprise these people
felt when they realized their genuine enjoyment in reading an essay
about art. They repeatedly expressed feelings of connection to the
material because they felt like someone was talking to them about
art in a way they could understand.
This confirmed one point I tried to make in that initial essay:
Offer the broader public more information on the basics of collecting
and appreciating art in a clear style devoid of cultural jargon
and the potential for expanding the audience increases dramatically.
Around the time my fourth essay was posted, David Stabler, the
lead classical music critic for the Oregonian, suggested I introduce
myself to Allan Oliver, who owns the Onda Gallery on Alberta Street
and teaches a class on buying art at Portland Community College.
Stabler thought Oliver might like to use some of my essays as instructional
material for his students.
I acted on the suggestion and made a pitch to Oliver to at least
look at the articles. His initial reaction was skeptical, but he
agreed to check out one or two. A few weeks later I got an e-mail
from him. He simply asked if I would mind him using my essays for
the students in his class. I gave my heartfelt approval.
At least four other artists have e-mailed to tell me they are actively
promoting my essays as a tool for educating perspective buyers.
I dreamed of getting this kind of support, but can't say I expected
With each essay I've written I've attempted to offer fresh views
of the roll that art plays in our lives. I've tried to demonstrate
how developing a passion for art adds great value to everyday experience
and the fabric of the communities we live in. I hope in some small
way to fill some of the gap left by standard art criticism and reporting
on the business of art.
It's no surprise to me that the stories about art in the Home and
Garden section of the newspaper get more feedback from readers than
the stories in the Visual Arts pages. When people see the effect
art has on a living space, they start thinking how art might enhance
their environment. It's about praising the virtues of owning original
art while emphasizing the very personal nature of selecting particular
Cup, and Flour Barrel," by Slava Mamsikov.
The media tends to paint a picture of people who buy and own art
as part of an elitist crowd. Here in Portland that couldn't be further
from the truth. I am completely committed to my belief that Portland
is the best place in the country to buy art.
Here, art is for everyone.
I am a passionate fan of art even though I lack money, prominence
in the community and the fine arts degree. I rub elbows with the
cultural upper crust but live and work with the common people. Maybe
that's why people identify with what I've written.
A close friend recently gave me a calendar containing a quote by
Bruce Barton that embodies the most important lesson I've learned:
|"Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by
those who dare believe that something inside them was superior
After seeing the responses to my essays, I think I understand what