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  1. October 5, 2011 1:43 pm

    Authors correction: Mia Travonatti won the third prize last year not second place as I mistakenly stated.

  2. October 5, 2011 2:03 pm

    I don’t see the religiosity as so much of an issue. I agree with Ed Roijas’s comments that it lacked depth and artistic merit and missed the larger historical and even religious themes. The biggest issue is (and you’ve expressed it well) that with over 1,500 entries, it bothers me that Mia would win twice. My egalitarian soul balks at that.

    The bottom line is DeVos’s mind-bending arrogance coupled with ignorance (deadly combination, but not uncommon). I’m still reeling from his comments to you: “Not from that world?” What, the world of the 99%? If he said he wasn’t from this planet, then I might agree. Thank you for your professionalism and balance. I started an FB group about issues with ArtPrize.

  3. October 5, 2011 2:24 pm

    Sorry need more morning coffee. For the record. Travonatti won SECOND place in the 2010 ArtPrize not third prize as I stated and then restated. ugh.

  4. October 5, 2011 2:29 pm

    Marilisa, Thanks for your comments. I see religiosity as a major issue. The fact that Cornerstone University is a 2011 ArtPrize sponsor and that Rick Devos choose to speak about ArtPrize and creativity was the reason I choose to attend the conference.
    The fact that Travonatti made it into the top ten two years in a row is not a concern of mine and I don’t think that is what I was suggesting.

  5. kswheeler permalink
    October 5, 2011 2:39 pm

    Richard, great article! Thanks so much for reporting on this event.

    That comment of Rick DeVos’s about “not being from that world” means, I think, the “art world,” which he sees as another planet from his own. (And he’s right about that.) He’s from the world of commerce and the so-called “creative entrepreneurship.” In an article I read elsewhere online, he actually said, in response to the quality of the art in ArtPrize, “We don’t care who wins. This is not about validating any creative outlook.”

    Rick’s crass view: Art is not art. It’s business. It only has, in the eyes of himself and others on his bandwagon, value if people want it. And that’s ridiculous. Art is not convenient. It’s not sofa paintings. It should offer messages that are in your face, that disurb, that confront, as well as connect and comfort. But not according to Rick DeVos. If it sells, it’s good. If it gets the most votes, it wins.

    As for Mia, you were right the first time; she did win second place. But her last name is Tavonatti; there’s no “r.”

    When I worked in children’s publishing, I worked with Mia on a couple of projects; she’s done a lot of children’s book illustration. She never expressed any particular religious conviction at that time, and that’s not apparently what led her to doing her work “Crucifixion.”

    In perfect accord with the DeVos view of “art,” she did it for the dollars–it was a commissioned piece by a Catholic church in Orange County. Her artist statement even gives Home Depot a plug–that’s where she bought the wood for the crucifix. And she adds that she made the “cross of thorns” for her model from a wreath she bought at a Michael’s craft store!

  6. October 5, 2011 4:35 pm

    Here’s a link to an interview Terry Gross (“Fresh Air”) did with one of the leaders of the “New Apostolic Reformation”, whose fondest hopes are for the takeover of Arts, Politics and Business by the influence of what he calls “the kingdom of heaven”.

    I bet someone could find a link to this bizarre cultish high level group and Rick DeVos somewhere, and perhaps a connection to the whys and wherefores of Artprize and the manner in which Christian Fasicists intend to work that crazy magic that they do. (Demons be gone!!! I say!)

    Of course, in the interview, the carefully worded responses of this gentleman deny any intent to limit the range of discourse in the Arts and other places where they hope to someday have controlling influence, but then a good portion of the interview also reviews how his wife, and he himself, believe in the presence of demons in people and practices and places. His wife, apparently, is an expert practitioner of discovering and throwing out demons.


    So… I’m left to wonder, in the demonic portion of my brain no doubt, what ART would be determined to be demonic and what influences might be used to cast it out of such circuses as Art prize…. whatever the contests overall worth might be as a way to stimulate profit-based creativity. I’m just sayin….

    Hopefully there are’nt too many typos and mispellings here… I’m in a hurry to my next appointment!

    “A new charismatic Christian movement that seeks to take dominion over politics, business and culture in preparation for the end times and Jesus’ return is becoming more of a presence in American politics. The leaders are considered apostles and prophets, gifted by God for this role. Several apostles affiliated with the movement helped organize or spoke at Rick Perry’s August prayer rally, The Response.

    The international “apostolic and prophetic” movement has been dubbed the New Apostolic Reformation by C. Peter Wagner, who has become one of its leaders. He describes himself as the first person who noticed the movement, gave a name to it and started writing books about it. He was, until recently retiring, the president of Global Harvest Ministries. For 30 years, he was a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary School of World Missions.”

  7. October 5, 2011 4:35 pm

    thanks kswheeler for the additional Rick DeVos quote. It comes from this paper on philanthropy:
    As you say, Rick’s world and that of the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation is business. To emphasize it’s focus is on enterprise, here is another Rick DeVos quote from the same piece, “Our notion of the event is that everything will work itself out through all of these markets.”

  8. October 5, 2011 4:43 pm

    sorry- This last comment starting, “thanks kswheeler…” is actually mine writing on my husbands computer, sorry for the mistaken identity.

  9. October 5, 2011 4:55 pm

    Bob Vance, here is your link. Your sense that the Dominionists are close to home with the DeVos’s in Grand Rapids is right on the money. About $ 5 million as Bob Moser reported in Rolling Stone Magazine titled “The Crusaders” in 2005, Rich DeVos gave $ 5 million to the Dominionists, with D. James Kennedy being a personal friend to DeVos.

  10. Ben permalink
    October 5, 2011 10:31 pm

    So all this boils down to is that you guys dont want a picture of Jesus to win ArtPrize?

    Wow, that’s really “enlightened” of you all.

    We simply cannot have a picture of Jesus win. That would be wrong. ArtPrize must be won by only something that atheists deem worthy.


  11. October 5, 2011 10:48 pm

    I appreciate reading your thoughts on this. As an artist I don’t want to participate in the ArtPrize Circus, but it is an amazing spectacle and destination!

    You say: “Art was free to be about Art. Thinking of Art as something that needs public approval before it is made is a business model that suggests Art needs consumer testing before it hits the market. Art since modernism has led the way; personal taste and opinion follow.” The openness of the entry process certainly eliminates having art approved as long as the artist can find a venue- and there’s some crazy crap out there!

    When you say art doesn’t need to be useful, I agree. Just a thought on usefulness. When you sell a painting, doesn’t that painting become useful to the purchaser? They don’t just store it, they use it to decorate their space, don’t they? Certainly not useful by Perini’s standards, but useful nonetheless.

    I look forward to seeing you paintings at Kendall. Thanks for pursuing this dialogue!

  12. October 5, 2011 10:52 pm

    “DeVos chastised museums as dull and boasted that ArtPrize has “accomplished more in two years what some organizations accomplish in 20” uuugh this is the statement that upsets me the most.

  13. October 5, 2011 11:03 pm

    I don’t think that’s what Richard is saying, Ben. I think (correct me if I’m wrong) he’s concerned with the juxtaposition of the religious right as event sponsors with a religious image winning. It makes the competition look biased. I don’t think that Richard is saying that artists shouldn’t create religious themed pieces. At least I don’t read it that way. I’m a Catholic. I don’t feel threatened or antagonized by what Richard is saying.

  14. October 5, 2011 11:08 pm

    I stand corrected about your intentions.

  15. October 5, 2011 11:17 pm


  16. kswheeler permalink
    October 6, 2011 12:32 am

    I’ve been thinking about this article all day. The comment you quote, Michael, does contain a staggering amount of arrogance. But the one I can’t get out of my head is when Rick DeVos refers to art as “crazy crap.”

    Crap. This from the guy who’s running the largest art contest in the world.

    Can anyone even question that “conversations about art,” which Rick has claimed on numerous occasions is the main purpose of ArtPrize, isn’t his *real* agenda for launching and managing this contest?

    Thanks for littering our town with crazy crap, Rick, so that your family can make even more money than ever. I’m so grateful to you.

  17. John A C Despres permalink
    October 6, 2011 12:33 am

    Christian art has been at the forefront of art for, oh, roughly 2000 years. Religious art in general for much longer, no? I don’t think it’s going to change much.

    Art can certainly be commerce. Van Gogh sold one painting in his life. And that was to his brother! Look at the money those unsold paintings generate now.

    Ms. Tavanatti is guilty of only one thing – “Know your audience”. There are other Christian artists in ArtPrize with similarly themed works. No one is discussing Mic Carlson who works almost exclusively within the tenets of his Catholic faith.

    It’s all good. While the top ten this year don’t hold much appeal for me, I love attending ArtPrize and enjoyed entering ArtPrize 1 & 2 as well.

    As to the quote mentioned in Mr. Pfleghaar’s previous post, I wouldn’t put much stock in it. Mr. Devos’s influence in the art world is minimal. Pretty soon the art world as a whole will quit paying attention; artists will continue to come and Grand Rapids will continue to reap the benefits.

  18. John A C Despres permalink
    October 6, 2011 12:37 am

    I wonder if Mr. DeVos is referring to all of the art or just the stuff that is truly crap. Maybe he likes crap art.

    I wonder how the DeVos family is making money from this event?

  19. October 6, 2011 12:55 am

    I have a sense why that statement is devastating to you, Michael. You and Tommy have invested so much in GR to make it a thriving cultural environment. I don’t even live there and I can see that you both encourage people to live big and by your very nature have a way of making polarizing walls come down all around you. There is so much talk from DeVos of wanting to keep educated creative people in the city, yet at the same time bashing the cultural bastions that nourish creative people, propelling them to continue making the world a more interesting place.

  20. October 6, 2011 1:30 am

    Thanks for taking the time to read the article and to express all your thoughts. A couple points.

    Virginia, I don’t think artists pick the venues. They may in the sense that they want to be in a particular venue but who has the final say? So far there hasn’t been any real controversial work in ArtPrize. Surprisingly Devos said that he wished there was more controversy in ArtPrize. Given the nature of downtown businesses and the influence the Devos’s have downtown I doubt you would see anything really political or sexual.

    As an artist I think the aesthetic experience is one of the most “useful” experiences a person can have. Good art expands what we know or even what we thought we were able to know. But I don’t think Richard Florida or Rick Devos or even Don Perini are talking about that kind of useful. Florida and Devos see art as a tool for business over and above the business of artists and customer. There is no mention of work for sale or encouragement for people to buy work in any of the ArtPrize information or website. They claim people do sell work but they don’t promote sales. Florida and Devos see art as useful for economic development. Get people downtown to look at the art; but buy a meal or get a room. Perini definitively expressed a religious usefulness when it came to art. Art had to serve to make people more human and a Christian idea of human was his priority.

    MIchael and KS, I was shocked by that statement also. My take on Devos’s interest in art, after hearing him speak, is that he actually might tell you he doesn’t know that much about it. He just think it’s a great idea to generate business for the community. I think that’s a sad commentary and as a professional artists it also pisses me off.

    John, That’s not a very accurate summation of art history. Christian art has been at the forefront of the western world but certainly not the rest of the world. And religious art in the western world lost it’s power after the Enlightenment and became irrelevant with Modernism, actually way before that movement.
    Let me be clear, religion is a viable, interesting topic for art. Lots of art has a transcendent aspect to it that many consider spiritual of even religious. I’m all for mystery, the transcendent, the unknown world of art. Tavonatti’s religious icon is just bad art by todays professional standards. It’s a trite, over sentimental game that has been played over and over. It’s commercial in nature, made to appeal to a particular crowd or purpose. It’s a highly skilled commercial illustration. But it’s not fine art.

    And I beg to differ with your pronouncement that “it’s all good”. It’s not. There is a describable, discernable thing called good art. There are things, facts, aspects, qualities, conditions, effects, that make something good and there are things that make something bad. Art is not subjective. Art is just an object. We are subjective.

  21. Richard Kooyman permalink
    October 6, 2011 1:44 am


  22. October 6, 2011 1:44 am

    oh I don’t care…. just so long as I don’t have to look at his penis

  23. richardkooyman permalink
    October 6, 2011 1:45 am

    Melanie and I have been switching computers all day. The above post is by me not her though I certainly could not do what I have been doing without her great help, suggestions and editing!

  24. John A C Despres permalink
    October 6, 2011 2:45 am

    Hi, Richard.

    My comment “it’s all good” was a description of my attitude about ArtPrize in general. I did not mean to imply or infer all the art is good. Ewww… I apologize for not being more clear.

    Yes, I was speaking in very general terms about religious art. Thank you for adding to my minimal thoughts. Where has religious art become irrelevant? In the museums of America perhaps, but in Italy I think museums are brimming with religious art. Perugino is highly celebrated. Even if it has become irrelevant, religious art is certainly still recognized as influential on different levels. While churches in this country are purging themselves of their imagery for cleaner, more modern white walls, I doubt if it’s happening in the world over.

    And we agree on Ms. Tavonatti’s entry. Is it getting all this coverage because it’s quite large and quite heavy and made from so many little tiny pieces? Dunno, but I was raised Catholic and I always saw a bloody and bruised subject on the cross. Not this country singer she’s depicted.

    Now that I have your ear, Richard, I’d like to add your blog post is one of the very few ArtPrize articles I’ve read with fresh thoughts on the subject. Thank you.

  25. richardkooyman permalink
    October 6, 2011 12:49 pm

    Thanks John. And I stand correct to say so flippantly that religious art is irrelevant. I don’t mean to imply that historical religious art isn’t fascinating and beautiful. But then again I look at those works from a artistic perspective and not a religious one. And I don’t mean to even imply that a contemporary work of art couldn’t be about the crucifixion.

  26. October 8, 2011 3:44 pm

    and…”Crucifixion” wins. It was said earlier that Tavonnati did not create it as a religious work, per se. But here are her comments on it. “When you bring Christ to town, I just knew that he had certain things in store for me and I wasn’t going to tell him how to do his job,”

  27. October 8, 2011 4:49 pm

    While a healthy critique of ArtPrize is legitimate and valuable, to lump Richard Florida and Daniel Pink into the same bit of discourse is really not understanding the premise form which both of those authors are approaching the impact of creative actions have on our culture and our daily lives.

    There is a legitimate place for creativity in all aspect of our daily professional and personal lives. Not just in the creation of an art object but also in the designing of architecture, the coding of software or the plating of a meal for your family. One could argue that the iPhone has far greater cache as an aesthetic object than most paintings or sculpture these days, let alone other so-called artistic media. It emphemeralizes the aesthetic experience; making it part of life in a way very few entries in ArtPrize or many museums even approach unless you go to the gift shop and buy a Monet Calendar or a Picasso coffee mug–an action which actually fails the original intent of the maker.

    A word count of Richard Florida will show he mentions designers, filmmakers, architects even less than he does artists. But if you read the beginning of the book he also lays out his premise that he is speaking in broad terms and that the creative class encompasses all the aforementioned professions as well as artists. Just because they don’t stroke you by calling out painters or sculptors or photographers does not mean he is not discussing your impact. And I would argue he is not grossly comodifying what any of us do either.

    Both Pink and Florida make the point that we live in time where the brute force of labor and command and control structures of management no longer carry us forward. These qualitative intangibles found in the creative process born out of heart of Modernity: the Bauhaus, IIT, the German Werkbunde and are what you see manifest today as an aspect of the creative class.

    The critique of the sub-textual motivations is fair game, going beyond it and involving these other authors, diffuses and undermines you key premises of stealthy cultural dominion which in and of it self should cause great concern not just in the Painter class of which you seem to be a proud member but across all creative endeavors. It

  28. October 9, 2011 12:49 pm

    Good points to consider Matthew. The whole field of aesthetics is diffused. Object, subject,purpose,experience all jingle like a bowl of jello. My point in including Florida and his ilk into the discussion is because these pop authors try to round up all these wild horse in a neat, easily digested package for the benefit of business.
    Florida is speaking in broad terms and thats the problem. He doesn’t call out painters or sculptures, or time based artists, or craftspeople but does call out designers and engineers and lawyers and doctors. My gripe isn’t because he doesn’t “stroke” me it because he doesn’t recognize the difference between the two groups.

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