Understanding the Art Scene in Central Florida.
by Ivan Riascos
Living over 30 years in Central Florida and many art shows attendance, the major compliant I’ve heard from art lovers and artists is that there is no art scene or support for the visual arts in the area. People love to go to art shows, but it’s mostly a social gathering. To give you an example, the show that draws the most attention in Orlando yearly is “Nude Nite.” It is usually held in a warehouse, charges a high admission usually $25 per person, with a cash bar/food, not only that they also charge an entry fee to artists and commission if the work is sold. It draws large crowds and the main interest is to see naked people in artwork or naked models walking around with airbrushed paintings on them. Sex sells, what else is new? Other than that nothing much else happens in the sense of the art impacting the viewing public, unless you are a virgin to the local art scene. Then it’s a sensation of a wonderfully, never seen, most spectacular exhibition in the world. I will admit that I’ve been through this experience, but once you learn about the history of art, and go to many shows you become a little numb. Also art really doesn’t sell unless its sugarcoated art. There is nothing wrong with sugarcoated art, but it is a level that seems to dominate the Central Florida art scene. The people I’ve talk to their belief or understanding of when art stopped being art is after one of the following art movements:
-Renaissance (da Vinci)
-Post-Impressionism (Van Gogh)
These are the majority of artists that are usually referenced. I might get other artists names thrown in this mix: Michelangelo, Titian, M.C. Escher, Wyeth, Rothko, and Pollack.
From a big city’s perspective such as New York City, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles it’s not up to par. They have better artistic communities that support each other, and the art that is displayed is more on a more of an international level. Cities similar to Orlando’s development such as Houston also have better art scenes, why is that? The people that have settled in the Central Florida region are mainly from the north, escaping the hustle and bustle of big city life or replacing the shoveling of the snow and freezing temperatures for warm weather and sunny beaches. So people from the north settle here they should be bring some of the culture they were exposed to while living up north. Right? I’m mean we have bad drivers, spring training, NY Pizzas, Philly Cheese Steaks, and Chicago Hot Dogs, why not art?
Galleries come and go, and so do some interesting artists that couldn’t make a living here. I have discussed this theme over the years with several people to understand why Orlando’s visual art scene does not grow. By grow I mean why the art that is shown is not touching conceptual themes, why do local galleries keep showing art movements that are long gone.
Reason 1) Orlando is a transient city. The very talented get restless here in a town that stifles them. Orlando lacks the community support to make people want to stay for a long period to see their fruition bare to fruit that they are so passionate about. Some people do succeed, but the stain power does not last because of a finicky consumerism.
Reason 2) The Mouse controls everything. The majority of Orlando’s local government caters to the Walt Disney Corporation in meeting their needs, because tourism feeds our hand. Disney does contribute to the arts, but it mostly all goes to performing arts. Disney and the surrounding parks employ the majority of the local artistic community, which are performers and designers. To say that these corporations have a say in what visual art is shown is hard to believe that it dictates what kind of art is acceptable and what is not. I think Disney is too occupied patrolling the Internet for copyright infringement or the reselling of Disney property on Ebay to worry about what Joe Schmoe is showing in some gallery.
Reason 3) The majority of people who live in Central Florida relate to Disney as an art form, including the theme park experience (Universal, Sea World, etc.). People want an escape from reality and for them it’s “The Parks.” I have many friends who have annual passes to several of these parks and go routinely. They are entertained by the fantasy becoming a reality. The same experience can be attained in the movies, cable, movies on demand, and video games. Yes, this is an art form that is very lucrative, and allows us not to think except when our stomachs tells us we are hungry, so we need to decide what to eat. When the escapism is over we then think about the experience that has transpired and how it relates to us. The reaction is similar to art hanging on the wall and what we take from that piece. I believe that Orlando has a big concentration of people wanting to escape, and this group’s definition of art lies in the fantasy realm.
Reason 4) People are not educated about the current visual arts world or they do not care to understand since the theme do not relate to their everyday life. Conceptual art is very intimidating, especially when you don’t understand why it’s considered art. People’s understanding of art is you paint what you see or feel, and the painting is suppose to show the mastery of paint, and leave you with a good feeling. Conceptual art is not only visual based, but recreates an experience, reinterprets history or an issue, makes you interact, makes you aware of an issue, or makes you aware of the complication or simplicity of the surroundings.
I believe that there is not one specific reason to why the art scene has not thrived, but it is a culmination of the above reasons.
in my opinion one of the main reasons there is not a higher concentration of an art scene in Orlando is the lack of any art college here. look at Tampa, a nearby and comparable sized city which has quite a thriving scene. just off the top of my head- Sas and Colin Christian as well as Brandt Peters and Kathie Olivas have all at one time or currently made great art out of Tampa.
IADT, the Art Institute has a school in Tampa as well as a great program at USF. USF, the Univ. of South Fla., even hosted the best exhibition of current living contemporary art, The Beautiful Losers in 2006 i think, and that will foster more cutting edge art. the best exhibit the Orlando Museum of Art had was maybe M.C. Escher a few years ago which is a name you cited in your above critique.
colleges are important as a magnet for those seeking art as a career so there will be an exodus either to or from depending. you mentioned the rather abundant music community in Central Fl.- Full Sail anyone?