The Importance of Art in an Ordinary Place

Hannibal Lecter: And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.

Clarice Starling: No. We just…

Hannibal Lecter: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day. Don’t you feel eyes moving over your body, Clarice? And don’t your eyes seek out the things you want?

— Dialog from the motion picture, Silence of the Lambs.

Art has many attractions, many magnetic fields, such as associations with celebrity or wealth, and capacities for sensual pleasure or personal transcendence. One of these many attractions is that there is something about the art of a place that is particular and special to that place.

The William Busta Gallery opened 25 years ago as a project to investigate the nature and meaning of visual art in a regional cultural center. I was continuing work I had started earlier: I had previously organized exhibitions at the Dacotah Prairie Museum in Aberdeen, South Dakota; had worked at the Plains Art Museum in Morehead, Minnesota; and had spent the five previous years studying cultural landscapes as a graduate student at Case Western Reserve University. I knew most of the questions I wished to investigate about regional art, and I had started to test possible answers. I anticipated from the start of WBg that what I learned would enable me to construct a theoretical framework that would help to understand art that was made in many other places.

Simple Spinney, Brinsley Tyrell, enamel on steel

It is difficult to know when it started, but by 1980 artists began to prefer being called “regional” instead of “local.” They seemed to have the same audience, but the word “regional” came into use to describe artists were better known and whose work was more highly regarded. The difference in the weight and breadth of the adjective was very important — though the artist’s audience might be local, the work had greater significance than might be only of interest to a local audience.

Regionalism, as it has been commonly applied in American art, refers to a particular period and type of artwork – principally work of the 1920s and 1930s that celebrated the everyday life of ordinary people. At the William Busta Gallery, I thought of it in a larger sense, more fluid in time, to provide a context for understanding, for example, Washington Color School, Chicago Imagists, San Francisco’s Bay Area Figurative Movement and Cleveland’s Geometric Abstraction. That was one of the starting places.

The appeal of regional art is observable. In the gallery people frequently ask where an artist is from, and respond approvingly when told that the artist lives and works here. It is one way for us to understand art. It is one way to understand the places in which we live. We can begin by starting with what we see every day.

This is an excerpt from the work-in-progress The Importance of Art in an Ordinary Place (regionalism in a post-modern culture).


H. C. Cassill  /  September 6 to October 12

Aaron Koehn  /  September 6 to October 12

Brinsely Tyrrell  /  October 18 to November 16

Lorri Ott  /  October 18 to November 16

Pamela Dodds  /  October 18 to November 16

Mark Howard  /  November 22 to December 28

Jerry Birchfield  / November 22 to December 28

Barbara Polster  /  November 22 to December 28


William Busta Gallery

2731 Prospect Avenue

Cleveland, Ohio 44115