The Chicago Sky #7

A decade ago I took an Artist in Residency in Missoula, Montana at the University of Montana. I was always leery of visiting artist gigs.  I’ve always found them a little annoying.  The kids are cool; I’ve learned a lot from them and have hired some of them. One of the great things about young artists is they are willing to try anything.  Their ideas about art haven’t hardened into inflexibility. Mid-career artists are a little overly fond of what they know and way too dismissive of those emerging talents that push the practice forward.

In most of the cases, I am twice the age of the other artists who work for me. I am grateful for what I’ve learned from them.  They came of age a great deal more at home with technology and were able to make me realize its importance and how to use it as a tool.  The more of their music, books and art I became exposed to, the wider my array of choices as an artist became.

The kids were great. What I disliked about the visiting artist gigs were the (ahem) faculty. Yup, the teachers and the not-so-veiled resentment that sometimes hangs in the air like a spiderweb.

I charge a lot to leave my studio.  It cost me a lot to NOT be at work. I don’t like the airport or flying. Colleges out in the country make me nervous.  All of this factors into what I charge for a visiting artist gig.

Some assholes will do this for a hundred dollars and a plane ticket.

“Maybe I’ll get to sit by the window!!!!

Knock yourself out.

I’ve never much liked these things. This one was different because it was in the Bitterroot Valley in Missoula and was purely lovely. The guy at the University of Montana was a great guy and artist named Jim Bailey who was and is a first-rate artist and teacher–a rare combo–and he really cared about his students.  To him, they were job one. He is one of those rare. unselfish guys who has spent his life giving of himself to the difficult and problematic personalities who’ve decided to become artists. Were I ever a teacher, Jim is the one I’d want to be.

Here and there these guys exist.  Tom Dreucker in Austin. Billy Shire in Los Angeles. Joe Amrhein and Susan Swenson in Brooklyn.  Art professionals who’ve sacrificed to help others succeed.  If only the rest of the art world were this generous of spirit, especially here in Chicago, where mid-career artists are standoffish and clannish. . .paranoid and embittered.  It’s a small town where the art world is run by merchants or the institutions which have, thankfully, gotten better.

For the most part though, what crumbs are thrown to mid-career artists here (and make no mistake, they are crumbs) are fought over in the ugliest manner possible.  The thought of holding out a hand to an up and coming artist? Pure anathema.  Everyone protects their small, worthless bit of turf. There are, of course, exceptions, but they are rare enough to be considered statistical aberrations. This is a mean town. The casual brutality of its visual art world is far more petty and vindictive than I’ve ever seen in any other city I’ve ever shown in.  The worst people I know work in the visual art world in Chicago.

And, luckily, so do some of the best people I’ve ever known.

When I visited the University out there in Missoula, part of me damn near didn’t want to come back.  The Bitterroot Valley is unspeakably beautiful–words don’t quite cover it.  The people were nice, helpful and had genuinely nice things to say to each other.  The town diner was in a union hall and I had the best meatloaf I’ve ever eaten there.

I had a couple of marvelous conversations with the late, great novelist, James Crumley and I got what people who love the West love about it.  A lot of it still hasn’t been domesticated.  It is a landscape with a sense of intention and malice.  Tragedy and history. Tit-for-tat blood feuds.  Crazy Horse may have died here, but so did Custer, goddamnit, and he went FIRST.  Montana is like that.

One of the last nights I was there, the receptionist at my hotel asked me if I wanted a wake-up call for the meteor shower at 4:10 a.m. I asked if people actually woke up for these. She told me with a smile that half of the guests in the hotel had flown in just to see this one.  So I said, “Sure.  Wake me at 4, so I can make some coffee.”

Jesus, it was something. I though I might catch a comet or two. It was crazy, like a celestial pinball machine.  Stars and comets racing across the sky in every direction and speed.  In Montana, without all of the buildings and ambient light, dark is pitch black, it was astonishing and left me speechless. The next day, I  asked the astronomer staying at the hotel if the same shower was happening over Chicago. He looked at me for a moment in an amused way and gently said,: “Unless you have a different sky, then yes.  This meteor shower definitely occurred over Chicago as well.”

That is the way it is with this place. Beauty rages all around us.  It is just sometimes harder to see.

Published in: on July 6, 2012 at 11:35 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This post makes me glad that i follow your blog.

  2. This posting was swell, it too made me glad.. Bitterroot sounds so good.

  3. “Maybe I’ll get to sit by the window!!!!”

    LOL! I’m one of “those” and was actually miffed once when a guy took my (pre-assigned) window seat and was ASLEEP the entire time! I’m also a lover of flying (private license) and if you like birds, you’d LOVE flying in a glider! But one of my 6 fears (yes, only 6) is getting stuck in an airport – snowed in for days. I know. I’m odd. I can also appreciate what you say about teachers who sacrifice. Rare, indeed. And living in Idaho, I have to say, meatloaf just tastes better when you’re surrounded by blue sky and clean air.

    It’s the “diamonds on black velvet” that can really take your breath away at night tho’ ~ and I try to hike to the top of a mountain nearby to enjoy that experience whenever I can! While I’m enjoying the view, my favorite quote always comes to mind, “Only when it’s dark enough can we see the stars” ~ MLKjr.

    I REALLY LOVE this one of yours… I’m a lot like that “woman in white with the star map on her dress” ~ Wishing I could view the stars in bright-white daylight too. They’re there. They’re just harder to see in blinding sunlight.

  4. […] doesn’t say that it’s his work, but I’m assuming it is. So, here‘s a link to his post that I found it in. Click for artists’ blog. Share this:Like […]

  5. I’m so glad I found your blog, Tony! I love this post…beautifully written. This makes me want to go to Montana. I know what you mean about people from Chicago though. Maybe it’s because a lot of the world doesn’t think of Chicago as an art town, even though some of the best art comes from here, so people are just trying to get in on the action, any way they can. I do think that Chicagoans are very territorial and VERY competitive by nature, not just in art, but in general. I’ve lived here my whole life, minus 3.5 years in Lawrence, KS, and in those years away, I noticed it a lot. When I was in school at KU, if you met another person from Chicago, it always seemed to be a contest of sorts…who was from the city vs suburbs, if suburbs then was it a rich one or a poor one? Was your high school used in the filming of a John Hughes movie? No? Well theirs was. (Incidentally, my high school was used in the filming of the 1986 classic, Lucas. Which was NOT a John Hughes movie, so I lost points on a technicality) They would constantly try to one-up you. It just got old after awhile. I remember this one girl who was so pleased with herself and her North Shore upbringing, after asking another girl who had said she was from Chicago which part, and the girl said “Rockford”. You would have thought the girl had kicked a puppy and called it an asshole. She literally made the girl almost cry because (and think of her voice as a mix between bad Chicago accent and valley girl) “Um, I’m sorry, but Rockford is NOT chicago. Thats like, totally 3 hours away. You should not tell people you’re from Chicago, because you aren’t. You are from Rockford”, Obviously when you’re out of state, no one is going to know where Rockford is, so the girl would just say Chicago because it was easier to explain. But she was just very territorial about it, and so were a lot of other people. Of course, not everyone was this way, but enough that I began to notice. I think it’s that way with art though. Obviously if you’re an artist who is making your living making art, then you have to be more competitive, so you can survive. And sometimes this competitiveness comes across in a very negative way. A little competition is good for a person, gives them something to strive for, but some people take it to the extreme. Like there is only room for one artist from Chicago in the art scene. (and if there could only be one, it’s Tony Fitzpatrick! Lol.) Anyway, I’ve rambled too long. Long story short…love your blog, can’t wait to read more!


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