Great artists and Minnesota

Great artists can be made here, but they do not stay.

Minneapolis was the home of Honeywell, of heart surgery, of Pillsbury, of the Multiphasic test,” wrote Saul Bellow some 40 years ago, in the forward to John Berryman’s “Recovery.” “But it was not celebrated as the home of poems and novels.” And still, Minneapolis is viewed in the same way.

Last Monday, however, Minnesota news headlines read: “A night of the (north) stars” (Star Tribune) and “A big night for Minnesota at the Academy Awards” (MPR). The Pioneer Press asked, “Do Oscar voters like Minnesota?” and answered, “Ya, you betcha.” St. Louis Park natives Joel and Ethan Coen won three Academy Awards, including best picture, for “No Country for Old Men,” and former Twin Cities resident and City Pages writer Diablo Cody won best screenplay for “Juno.”

Though “Juno” takes place in Minnesota, it was filmed in Canada. Diablo Cody, like her script, has since left Minnesota. The Coen Brothers, similarly, have not lived in the state for decades.

It is the Coen brothers’ film “Fargo” that Americans associate most with Minnesota. Set and filmed in the state, the brothers depict a lonely, snow covered land with slow-talking, simple people. They are, to most of the country, “real” Minnesotans.

Both former faculty at the University, Saul Bellow, a Nobel-laureate, and John Berryman, a Pulitzer-prize winner, would walk the Minneapolis streets near Lake and Cedar, and Bellow would ask, “What on earth are we doing here?”

Bellow left Minnesota. Berryman, on the other hand, committed suicide in 1972, jumping off the Washington Avenue Bridge.

In downtown St. Paul stands a statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Born here, Fitzgerald would later write, near the end of his life, “I no longer regard St. Paul as my home.” It was a city of gloom, he wrote.

Bob Dylan, of Hibbing, in his mythology as a young man would sooner say he sprung up from a stump than northern Minnesota.

For these artists, it is as Dylan wrote in his “North Country Blues”: “There ain’t anything here now to hold them.” The Twin Cities art community is strong, but is little appreciated and unsupported nationally.