Talking Art with Ann Klefstad

Ed Newman

Ann Klefstad had been deeply immersed in the L.A. art scene before bringing her sensibilities here to the Midwest. Many of us in the arts noticed her byline in the Duluth News Tribune as she covered the arts for several years, first as a freelance art reviewer and then as the arts and entertainment reporter. She is articulate and a very talented artist herself.

It is obvious from even a brief conversation with Ann that she has thought deeply about many of the issues confronting artists and the arts in America today.

EN:  As arts funding seems to be evaporating in many ways, how do we get the culture to encourage and support aesthetics and the creativity on the fringes of our society?
Ann Klefstad: Best way? Make better art! Make art that takes its responsibility to the world seriously, and make art that’s brave. Make art that is not disdainful of the people around you. Make art that is a conscious communication to the people you live among, even if it is unconsciously a bunch of other things.

Other way—involve more people in the community in the process of making something of their own and something for others, whether it’s soup or knitted baby shoes or paintings or rock gardens or graffiti or music or plays or dancing. When people make stuff, they come to understand, in a way far beyond language, what creativity is. And they can make more use of the creativity of others.

Not everyone is “an artist,” in the way that “artist” has been understood for millennia—that is, someone whose primary job, whose chosen role, is to make stuff in the world (whether temporal like music or physical like sculpture) that is imbued with mind or spirit. But everyone is creative, and every human being is a maker. When that’s choked off, people die a little. Or a lot. And they stop caring about whether the day or the place is alive or beautiful.

We have several advantages here as artists—many people have grown up with the habit of making things. Duluth is sort of rural that way. And the place is so beautiful that some days, it won’t take no for an answer. People have to look up from their treadmills. They have to acknowledge something besides the job, the money, their own self and ego.

But artists have a number of responsibilities if they want their work to be needed—and if it isn’t needed, people won’t pay for it. Should they? I don’t think so.  

EN: You once said your mission (as one who writes about the arts) is to convey what artists do, not object making. Can you explain this a little bit?
AK: You can see some of this above. Being an artist (of whatever medium—”artist” for me includes music and theater and writing and painting and dance and whatever) to me is being a conduit for forces or insights or knowledge or spirit that needs you to give it form that your community can understand and assimilate. Or that at least invites such understanding or assimilation.
This doesn’t mean that you make all “nice” stuff—sometimes what you receive to give your people might be a dose of concentrated rage, or wit, or outrageous sexiness, or massive secret-telling. What people need isn’t always what they want . . . though what they want isn’t to be disdained.
When I write about art, I try to get at some of this backstory, not just say thumbs up, thumbs down, good play, bad play, that kind of thing. I try to write about artists’ work from its own point of view, and try to determine if it really is doing what it seems to want to do; if it has further to go; if it has a role to play. Usually, I find that it does, here.

EN: Can you talk a little bit about your Forest Deer sculpture? Where is it and how did it come to be?
AK:  Iron Deer in the Steel Forest is on the grounds of the Arrowhead Library Association’s headquarters in Mountain Iron, MN. I did some consulting work for them, helping them (and participating member libraries) find artists to execute commissions funded by the Legacy Amendment. They were short on time, so I put together images/bios/proposal letters from artists from the region, a kind of prequalified pool, for them to choose from. After those projects were underway (one of which is the wonderful book mural on the Duluth Main Library column, painted by muralist extraordinaire Scott Murphy), they then spoke to me about designing a piece for their building.  I thought that the idea of creating a forest out of steel would be fun, as Mountain Iron is both an iron mining town and a town surrounded by beautiful wild land, forests and lakes, which people there obviously love. So the piece is designed for that site, and is also meant to be engaging to people of all ages—a little poetic, a little cyberpunkish (Is that a robot deer?!), a little witty and cartoony. It’s made of three kinds of steel: stainless, Corten, and painted mild steel. Barkers Welding in Superior did the fabrication on the stainless steel portions—tricky, with the expanded metal wrapping in a tight curve around the framework of the columns.