Wednesday, January 14, 2015

When Artists Like The Packers

If there's one thing I can confidently say about myself it's that I do not like the Packers, or football.
Now, Packer fans, please don't be angry. I don't actively protest football. I'm just largely apathetic to the whole spectacle. The Packers win, the Packers lose, and I don't lose any sleep over it.

Several times in the past, while "watching" sports of any kind with my friends, I have admitted to the way my eyes sort of glaze over whenever a game of any variety is on the TV. If there's a ball involved, or any kind of kicking, throwing, or goal scoring, my brain can't find the ability to concentrate. When others around me cheer, I usually am jerked out of some sort of day dream, and there is about a 95% chance I was not paying attention. Don't even try to explain the rules to me. I will literally fall asleep before you can say the word "quarterback."

It might seem funny, but this apathy for sports is not the normal kind of apathy that comes without consequence, especially in Wisconsin. The Packers are not just a football team. They are also a huge part of Wisconsin's identity. I can freely admit that I sometimes feel out of the loop when others around me talk about, complain about, or delight in the wins and losses of the Packers. Until recently, I have associated this Packers-related talk with athletes, jocks, and people I don't generally befriend solely due to a lack of similar interests (no other reason, I swear). Before I lived in Milwaukee I had never really known anyone in the artistic circles I surround myself with to be anything but mildly amused by sports. My good friend Josh is a serious Minnnesota Wild fan, and my friend Alli really likes the Chicago Bulls. Other than that, I couldn't really think of anyone who was interested in both art/music and sports. But that was before. Now things are different. Here in Milwaukee I have encountered a different breed of fan that is more common than I ever could have guessed: the artist Packers fan.

Take for example, my good friend Elisabeth Albeck, whom I met while working at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. I did not know immediately that she liked the Packers. Of all the topics I endeavoured to discuss with her, the Packers were undoubtedly the last pick on my list. But one day this fall, I discovered unexpectedly that Elisabeth is in fact a big fan of the Pack (a trait that is doubly amazing to me because she is not even FROM Wisconsin). I asked her if I could pick (Pack?) her brain about HOW and WHY this had occurred, and like a true sport, she agreed.

Elisabeth (and BF Neil who kinda/sorta agreed to be photographed. Thanks, Neil!)

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Me: How long have you been a Packers fan?
EA: Since fall of 2010. I moved here from the East Coast by way of Ohio in 2010.

Me: Do you like any other sports?
EA: Not for following, no. But I like ping pong, tennis, and boxing.

Me: Why do you like the Packers?
EA: They are brilliant, but down to earth. They're so easy to be proud of for their talent and skill, but a lot of my affection for them comes from the way they conduct themselves as people: their team culture of optimism and determination. Their camaraderie with one another, and little rituals like their Lambeau leaps. Even their philanthropic and commercial involvements emanate a good-natured way about them.

Me: Favorite player?
EA: Ooph...Aaron Rodgers.

Me: Favorite Packers memory.
EA: There have been a lot, but I must say that my initial season of watching was pure magic. Neil is a huge, lifelong fan, from a big Packer family, and when we first started dating, I got a crash course in the team and culture. It was the divisional playoffs in 2010, against the Falcons. We watched the game at the Polish Falcon. There were children as tall as the billiard table worming through the standing-room-only crowd, and old folks parked at the bar who probably had been coming there for 50 years. It was packed to the gills. Neil was carefully contextualizing the lead up to each play to me, as I was still learning the rules of the game. I just remember each ideal scenario kept materializing, and the bar just went crazier and crazier. People were hooting and the energy was like nothing I'd ever experienced...it was a shared euphoria.

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The picture above was taken when Elisabeth and I watched a game with some friends in the fall. This was when I first discovered she liked the Packers. Ironically enough, we were watching the game on a huge projector at an art gallery (and in case you were wondering the object being thrown is a pumpkin). Perhaps this photograph suggests a bit of satire of the sport, but I can assure you that Elisabeth is a devoted fan. Not to mention a good friend. She readily conversed with me during this game despite wanting to actually watch it (unlike me). It was a good night with good people, one which I will look back on fondly amidst my Milwaukee memories.

This is not the only time I have watched a Packers game, however. A few Sundays ago I again had the opportunity to watch the game with a group of artists, this time at a cozy apartment in the ________ area (location excluded). The apartment had been magnificently renovated over the years by the current tenants and landlords, two Milwaukee artists. It was a perfect venue for observing an artist Packer party. Although my comrade Keith Nelson (himself an artist/ Packer fan) knew what was up, I would like to think that the rest of my fellow game-watchers were not aware that I was observing them closely (and actively taking notes). This game held a bit more weight than the last because it was against the Detroit Lions, and a deciding game for the Packers' position in the playoffs. I figured it would give me a better sense of the true dedication of the artist Packers fan, so I tagged along. 

The afternoon started off with good food, much like any social gathering would. Although I knew almost everyone, I felt slightly out of place. However, I was glad to be with people, and wondered what else I would have been doing on a Sunday afternoon. I quietly grazed and listened to the conversation. What was fascinating to me (almost like it was planned) was how the conversation usually veered to art during the dull moments or the commercials. Topics covered included the Mary L. Nohl fellowship, the difference between the Milwaukee art scene and the scenes on either coast, and current and upcoming shows in the area. Two of my favorite comments were made by the same person, once when he used the phrase "it would be like an NBA player trying to be in the NFL" in relation to his own artwork in Milwaukee, and another when he stated that athlete Jay Cutler usually looked miserable during games, "like an artist working a day job to make ends meet."

Another common topic of the day was attitude. Keith told the group a story about how the Milwaukee Bucks hired a psychologist to talk the team out of a losing attitude. I think this story was told in relation to the group's comments on Aaron Rodgers' positivity even in the team's toughest moments. The general consensus was that a good attitude equals good things, not just in sports, but in life, and probably, in the larger, unspoken context, in art. It hung in the air as we watched, surrounded by paintings on the wall, and sculptures on the floor. 

Later on, as I thought about the game, I tried to come up with similarities between artists and athletes. They are both highly disciplined, ambitious people who have to rely on a certain comaraderie to do what they want. 
They are constantly being judged by the public eye. 
They have to practice all the time to be any good. 
They are competitive. 
As mentioned, they need to have a good attitude. 

Maybe, I thought, these are the answers to my questions about the mysterious connection some artists have to the sport. Maybe Bill Viola and Clay Matthews are basically the same person.

Eh, I might be pushing it a little.

After all this research and game watching with like-minded people, I still don't really understand the attraction to football in and of itself. I don't find it to be beautiful or poetic, I'm intimidated by the machismo of it, and, quite frankly, I struggle to understand the rules. I can't change this about myself. 

Some people just don't like broccoli. I just don't like football. 

One thing I've learned, however, is that the love of the game is not entirely about a connection to the sport or to the players, but to the memories of watching the games, and the people you were with when you were watching them. This past Sunday, I received yet another invitation to an artist Packer party, this time the Packers v. Cowboys game. I declined and went hiking with a friend instead. Although I had a great time hiking, I can admit that I wondered what I was missing that day; the food, the people, the conversation. I felt the repercussions of not watching the game elsewhere as well. I went to the grocery store before noon and was annoyed at the mobs of people in the store buying food. I had completely forgotten about the game. After it had started I drove past a bar and saw a group watching through the window. I felt like a loner driving down the street by myself with no particular Packer destination in mind. Later on everyone was pumped that the Cowboys had lost, but I felt indifferent.

For me, living in Wisconsin and not liking the Packers is sort of like living at the North Pole and not liking Christmas. 

I'm proud to say that I at least gave it my best effort.

Next time, if I end up alone and irritated at the grocery store on a Sunday, I'll remember: good company is just a few TV screens away. 


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