An Artist Looks at Kansas

June 3, 2011

Yesterday I worked at the Topeka Art Guild Gallery and had a chance to look at their new juried show which celebrates 150 years of Kansas statehood.  While there is some excellent art in the show, especially the art quilts of Ruth Powers, the subject matter is about what I expected.  The artists, who enter what they think the judge wants to see, and the judge are stuck in a time warp.  The picture that this exhibit gives of Kansas is nothing like what most Kansas residents experience.

The walls of the gallery are filled with paintings of the plains and the rolling Flint Hills, buffalos and a cowboy on horseback.  There are deteriorating barns and windmills and one-room schoolhouses and of course a number of sunflowers.  Yet the reality is that most the people of Kansas live in the eastern part of the state, many in cities such as Kansas City, Kansas, and the several suburbs of Kansas City, MO on the Kansas side.  There is Topeka, Lawrence, Wichita, Emporia, etc.  I suspect that is also where most of the artists live.  Yet we paint images of the rural past of our state.

Why dwell on old one-room schoolhouses when there are five universities and numerous smaller colleges and community colleges.  We paint sunflowers but there are many beautiful city gardens and parks.  Cowboys are rare, but how about painting the people who sell produce at a farmer’s market or the young people who enjoy good weather at the outdoor cafes in Lawrence.  Kansas is more than plains.  In the eastern part of the state are lovely rivers and wooded areas. 

I’d like to see an art show which asked the artists to celebrate the part of the state they know best by painting something within five miles of their home.  I suspect we would see some very different images.

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