The tents are gone and the streets clear. It no longer takes 15 minutes to move between the State and Michigan Theaters. Ann Arbor’s Street Art Fair is gone, tightly packed away in innumerable SUVs and trucks.
Townies and history of art majors love nothing more than to shut themselves away in bars, nursing a pint and muttering over the fair’s inanity.
Why does this fair instill such disdain? The first argument is how the name “Street Art Fair” is a misnomer. Wander into the wrong bar and you’ll hear “Street Kitsch Fair,” “Street Crap Fair” and the like with the occasional expletive. The implication is that the displayed works are in no way “fine art,” that it’s a misrepresentation of a serious profession. Clocks with horrifically cute cat motifs, jade and ivory animals, garden gnomes . the word is decorative, craft, kitsch.
And then there’s the crowd: SUV strollers, endless sarongs and enough $200 hiking sandals and zucchini nut muffins to rival Los Angeles (well, maybe). It’s an annual reminder that Ann Arbor’s classic hippy foundation is not quite so pure. Yuppie genes have polluted the bloodline, and we don’t like seeing it.
Honestly, what do these aforementioned arguments get at? To wax theoretical, is the production of art – regardless of your definition, regardless of the crowd’s demographic – ever inane, hopeless or wrong? For thousands, the answer is obvious. And it should be obvious to the embittered townies, history of art majors included (that would include myself). It can’t be argued this fair is evil without undermining the truth that art is one of the most important aspects of any culture. Federal money for the arts is next to non-existant. I say congratulations to those who put their art out in the open in a country that for the most part doesn’t seem to care.
Then there’s the all-to-common argument that “the art fair is the unholy union of decorative arts and capitalism.” Yes, there is a lot of overpriced crap out there – there’s also a lot of overpriced crap in galleries across the country. But price and quality are as wildly subjective as one can imagine, and the distinctions one makes will be as different as the next. The vast majority of our country – liberal or conservative – could not tell you how Jackson Pollock changed the face of art or that Angell Hall’s Doric columns are “masculine.”
And that absolutely doesn’t matter.
Should someone not “in the know” be censured for finding aesthetic pleasure in purely decorative art? You tell me. It is pretentious and condescending to think so. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if the front yard of my future house has a bit of flare to it.
Maybe the fair needs a name change – that’s a decent argument. Condemning the people the fair attracts ignores not only Ann Arbor’s rich tradition of large, awkward gatherings (um, Hash Bash?), but also is a denial of the fact that our wonderful town has a good streak of the insufferable yuppie in her. But more importantly, it implies an elitist, intellectual monopoly on what constitutes “art.” There are too many comparisons to be made with that in mind.
You might feel that the “art” is generally bad and the traffic terrible (no one will argue that), but Ann Arbor’s Street Art Fair is well-intentioned and has a good heart – and it’s only four days. We can handle it.