Benson jeremy artizen blog part1

Artizenship: Exploring what it means to be a citizen of Napa’s creative community

Aug. 13, 2014 | Jeremy Benson

Part 1: An Introduction

Did you vote?

I spent April and May driving past candidate billboards of every color, size, and persuasion, as my mailbox filled with pamphlets promoting So-and-so for Assessor, recommending Whatshername for Sheriff.

But the First Tuesday of June came, and where did it find me? Buying coffee and donuts from Buttercream before work; rushing home after, to sprawl on my hammock.

Here was my first election as a citizen of Napa, and I failed to do the most basic civil duty. For shame, Jeremy, for shame.

My guilt got me wondering: what does it mean to be a citizen of a city, a state, a nation? What does it take to be engaged in a community? How does one become “upstanding?”

…And does it involve Bacon Maple Bars?

“Loneliness is Necessary”

Jack Spicer, a poet of the Berkeley Renaissance, wrote in his collection After Lorca, that “Loneliness is necessary for pure poetry.” Certainly, the pure poet inside me has used the line to justify staying in on a Friday night with a notebook and pen.

The archetype of the lonely, brooding, insular artist has existed since Van Gogh gave himself an earcut. Think of James Dean posing in a coffin. Kafka wanting his work destroyed. Emily Dickinson holed up in her room.

As artists we’re used to living up to this expectation. We’re also accustomed to the private nature of our creating. We unplug and disassociate, we go deep into ourselves to gather our brushes and ink.

Let us not forget the antisocial, yet gleeful, power-trip of setting ourselves apart, becoming exclusive and unapproachable, so we may also become desirable and cool. It’s hip to be square.

Public Art

Of course, it doesn’t have to be like that. There are communes. There are classes and workshops, unions and clubs, collectives and councils. There are lectures, gallery openings, open microphones.

And of course, it isn’t like that. It never has been. We create to share our private lives. And once shared, we are inspired to create more.

If an artist spills a bucket of paint in a forest, but no one is there to gasp and murmur, is it not just pollution?

What I mean is, how do I cast off my inclination to be alone as a creator?

Citizen Paint

I brought up citizenship earlier, not to discuss civic responsibilities, really, but to approach the question of my small role within our community of creators. How do I support the doodlers, the knitters, the cigar box troubadors? How do I become an upstanding citizen of creative, artsy Napa?

As a creative citizenry, are we striving to inform our populace, or are we intimidating outside the polling booth? Does the diversity of our media and our lives necessitate segregation, or can the shared phenomenon of creation bring together the avant-garde ventriloquist waiter and the absurdist watercolor retiree? Do we celebrate our right to bare canvas? Do we petition? Do we assemble?—and did someone bring the donuts?

“Artizenship” will be my attempt to answer these questions. Let’s treat it like a town hall meeting: bring some of your own questions, and bring some answers.

That said, I’m curious what you think: What does it mean, to you, to be an upstanding citizen in Napa’s creative community?


Coming in part 2: To be [there] or not to be?


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Arts Council Napa Valley 501(c)3 is funded in part by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.


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