Appraising Art from the Midwest

By Frank Radosevich II
April 8, 2013

The rich tradition of Midwestern printmaking and book arts was the focus of Bradley’s Inland Visual Studies Symposium, a two-day event that brings together regional artists and faculty to discuss the unique elements of Midwestern art and design and its place in American culture.

The symposium, sponsored by the University’s Inland Visual Arts Center, highlights the visual arts produced and rooted in the Midwest, since too often the artwork coming from galleries in New York City or Hollywood studios overshadows the contributions of “inland” artists.

“We tend to think about visual culture as being concentrated on the East and West coasts primarily because the art markets and entertainment industry are located there,” said Dr. Paul Krainak, Bradley’s art department chair and direct of the Inland Center. “We need to be more open and shine a better light on visual arts production in the Midwest.”

The fourth of its kind since it was established five years ago, this year’s symposium focused on the traditional art of print and bookmaking, featuring demonstrations by regional artists on their techniques and tools used. Karen Kunc, an art professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, showed how she carved into birch-veneer plywood blocks before applying oil-based inks to the wood and feathering the ink with her fingers or a cloth.

“You have to play with the ink with your hands,” she said. “It’s a process of discovery.”

In addition to the demonstrations, the symposium offered a reception, film screening and a panel discussion featuring several artists detailing their work and views on what it means to be an artist in the Midwest. Panel members included Krainak; Kunc; Susan Goldman, a filmmaker and professor of printmaking at George Mason University; Julia Leonard, an art professor at the University of Iowa; and Regin Igloria, director of artists-in-residence at the Ragdale Foundation.

Krainak pointed to the Midwestern influence on industrial design, architecture and music like blues and jazz as evidence of the regions significance. He said the focus on print and book arts this year was deliberate since the modern day forms of the crafts emerged from the area.

“It’s a fine art discipline that’s really owned by the Midwest,” he said.

Bradley houses the visual studies center and partners with Washington University and Ohio State University. The academic center is devoted to the study of visual practices in Mid-America, their expressions in the media, popular culture and art in other parts of the country and world.