Julie VandenBerg is a longtime fixture on the Ashland art scene. As a contributor to "Sneak Preview" and a longtime working artist, she has a unique insight into the workings of the Rogue Valley art market. I caught up with her to hear her thoughts on the current direction of the visual arts here.
JG: You are a working artist as well as an arts reviewer. How does one inform the other?
JV: I tend to take on the perspective of an artist first and foremost. I often become so inspired while interviewing artists, that I want to go home and create afterwards. I learn something new whenever I am able to delve a little deeper into an artist's work and to learn about their process. Sometimes I find myself relating to an artist's practice and feeling that we really understand one another. Other times, I am blown away by how different their perspective is, and I marvel at that. I write the art column as a way to let others know about these amazing, talented people living in our valley.
JG: What has your experience been in watching the visual arts in Ashland over the past few years, for better or worse?
JV: I've been writing my column for about 10 years now. For seven of those years, I've also run a public printmaking studio where I've taught classes, curated shows, and made art. Over time, I've watched the gallery scene change. It's become less edgy and more homogeneous. Some great galleries, which attracted international collectors and showed art that challenged the viewer's perspective, have closed over time. SOU has slowly chipped away at their art department through retrenchments, budgets cuts, and revisions, which has resulted in a more digitally focused art department without a strong classical art foundation. People seem to purchase small touristy images, but they are not so much interested in purchasing anything even slightly disturbing, or abstract, it would seem. Such art created a dialogue in our town, which I really enjoyed. There are still a lot of talented individual artists here, and I try to make a point of seeking out those artists and writing about them. The process of seeking out a subject for my article encourages me to keep a fresh perspective about my own art.
JG: You write on the visual arts. How do you approach that work?
JV: I don't actually write any criticism for the most part. I don't feel that it's my job to inform the public of bad art or something that's not to my taste. If I don't like something, I don't write about it. And if I haven't written about your work, don't take it personally. My column is only once a month, and there are many artists in our valley. I have several different approaches to my articles. Occasionally there are so many interesting shows happening at once that I write an overview of what is happening so that readers don't miss anything. Other times I like to delve deeper and interview an individual artist. This is the most gratifying for me personally because I find it so fascinating to hear their back story. If I find an artist who isn't being shown in a local gallery, I still find it worthwhile to write about them. I want to share my enthusiasm for all the talented artists we lived among, and to help revitalize our daily lives with this information, hopefully removing ourselves from immersion in daily routines and habits that prevent appreciation of other perspectives.
JG: What do you feel is needed from collectors and art enthusiasts to make the Ashland art scene more robust?
JV: We need to build a culture that values art enough to spend money on it. A lot of us enjoy attending gallery openings and art walks, where there is an opportunity to be social and enjoy some free wine and snacks, but if we want to support diversity within the art, buy art! It's a challenge in our culture of quickly changing screen images and immediate gratification to remember the value of a fixed image, and to prioritize one's daily relationships to the images upon the wall, whether they invoke beauty, sentimentality, disturbance of some sort, or whatever it takes to be moved. “If we were to allow painting and drawing the same latitudes as we do literature, we could suspend the analytical approach altogether or at least defer it to another moment. Literature requires time. Our dominant relationships to imagery, largely brief and superficial, do not nurture familiarity with absorbing a work of art slowly and directly. I think we panic when looking at art” (Josine Ianco Starrels, from Cody Bustamante's recent artist statement).
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at email@example.com.