Monday, April 1, 2013

Biennial Brio from the Canton Artists League

Biennial Brio from the Canton Artists League
By Tom Wachunas

    “An amateur is someone who supports himself with outside jobs which enable him to paint. A professional is someone whose wife works to enable him to paint.”  -Ben Shahn-

    “Artists are just children who refuse to put down their crayons.” –Al Hirschfeld-

    EXHIBITION: Art in Bloom – The Canton Artists League 2013 Spring Show, at the Canton Museum of Art, THROUGH APRIL 14 - ALSO see Stark County High School Art Exhibition, THROUGH APRIL 7, 1001 Market Avenue North, Canton,  (330)453-7666. Canton Artists League website at

    We often hear ambiguous applications of the terms amateur and professional in categorizing or critiquing art and artists. Depending upon the context wherein the terms are encountered, they can imply something quantitative (objective), qualitative (subjective), or both.

    For example, we might say that so-and-so is a ‘professional’ artist, knowing that making art is his or her sole or primary livelihood. Yet so-and-so’s latest work might be received negatively enough to be snootily called “amateurish” because it doesn’t meet certain conventionalities of excellence. This would be a mis-application of amateur, as if to imply that amateur artists by definition produce works of inferior quality. Conversely, we can just as well praise an amateur’s work for its “professional” qualities.

    Here’s another stretching of definitions: I have, on more than a few occasions, described myself as a professional artist even though I’ve never come close to making a living at it. I simply profess the fact that I have a passion for making art. I’m a confessional professional amateur, wink-wink nudge-nudge.

    So let’s get one thing straight. In this context, amateurs are, as the Latin root of the word clearly reveals, essentially amatores, i.e. lovers – lovers of making art, regardless of their formal training, level of notoriety, or chosen career paths. Could we not, then, regard all practicing artists as being, first and foremost, amateurs?

   In its diversity of stylistic genres, conceptual content, and media, there is an exciting vitality and overall egalitarian elegance about this year’s installment of the biennial Spring Show by The Canton Artists League (CAL). More than other CAL exhibits in years past, this show of 72 works by 43 artists should go far in adjusting some misconceptions that I continue to encounter in varying degrees within the Canton arts community at large. One of those flawed notions is that CAL is a minor conclave of “old fashioned” painters or worse yet, merely a club for impassioned wannabes and hobbyists.

    Sure, there is a strong presence here of historically traditional media and approaches, and masterfully or “professionally” accomplished at that, in many instances. But there is also every indication that CAL eagerly embraces relatively more contemporary manifestations. Works such as the dramatic found- object sculpture by Annette Yoho Feltes, called On That Day She Packed Away The Blindness Of Childhood, or Ruth Koomler’s bedspring and fiber triptych, I Love You More Than, are bold experiments that are nonetheless compelling in their tactile, mysterious lyricism.

    I have simply too many “favorites” to enumerate, though here’s a sampling of other especially resonant works: Li Hertzi’s stunning and intimate seascape Carlsbad Waves, done entirely in colored thread; a photograph by Carolyn Jacob called Ghost Train, haunting and atmospheric; the exquisite aquatint and lithographic prints by Nancy Saulnier; Tom Migge’s whimsical and airy wood sculpture, Boneless Ham, rendered like a kind of geodesic football; and Carol Mendenhall’s small but potent abstract acrylic, Composition/Juxtaposition, a tour-de-force of hot- colored painterly  textures and architectural vectors in tension – my personal choice for best-in-show.
    One unexpected dimension of this show is its simultaneous appearance with the museum’s annual Stark County High School Art Exhibition (which ends on April 7). This ranks among the best all-student shows I’ve ever seen, and interestingly enough, every bit as captivating as the CAL show. And like the CAL show, it challenges our superficial distinctions between ‘amateur’ and ‘professional’ from a qualitative perspective. In as much as the student skills demonstrated here are themselves truly spectacular, the show is also a powerful witness to the high caliber of art teachers in our local high schools.

   Viewing the student work brings to mind an intriguing possibility. Joining CAL could very well be a viable option to a whole new generation of local individuals who remain here to pursue and nurture their art. In further advancement of its own vitality and relevance, then, it’s not unreasonable to hope CAL would actively woo, as it were, these future lovers
   PHOTOS (from top): Composition/Juxtaposition by Carol Mendenhall; Carlsbad Waves by Li Hertzi; On That Day She Packed Away The Blindness Of Childhood, by Annette Yoho Feltes         

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