During the announcement of the 2011 ArtPrize finalists last fall, Rick DeVos said that ArtPrize is not about art; it's about the conversations about art. That phrase has stuck with me over the last few months and I've decided that DeVos is only part right.

The conversations are not about art; the art is about the conversations.

As I walked up and down the streets of Grand Rapids last fall and in and out of the venues that hosted ArtPrize entries, I found myself listening even more than I was looking. I was listening to what people had to say, to the variety of conversations that could be sparked by one piece, to the diversity of opinions heard within one conversation.

Art, I realized, is not the point, it's the result. Art is the beginning, the catalyst for further discussion. While we have a few months to wait for the ArtPrize 2012, Grand Rapids is lucky to have artistic sparks all over town all year long. Here are a few pieces that can get you talking this winter.

1. Jesse Harrod: Frosted Pink Lipstick Smeared Across His Face Urban Institute for Contemporary Art, January 13 March 18

From the artist statement: Jesse Harrod uses materials to perform gender. The motifs in his fabrics are alive, and have a life and history. Some materials are sad, lonely, discarded while others are really doing well for themselves. He explores gender, home, insincerity, lies, surface and the need to be something you are not.

2. Works in Progress Art Show Lowell Arts, January 10 February 9

From the artist statement: This unique exhibition will feature a number of artworks purposely left incomplete. The public is then invited to let their creative side shine by adding their own touch to the pieces. Once finished, artworks will be available for purchase through a silent auction.

3. Kathleen Mooney Exhibit Forest Hills Fine Art Center, February 2 February 24

From the artist statement: Digging deep into the human drive to create, Kathleen uses signs and symbols, color and mark making, Neolithic art and archaeology to form thought provoking contemporary abstract paintings and clay.

4. Essence: The Horses of Deborah Butterfield Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, February 4 April 29

From the artist statement: This exhibition features both the installation of large-scale as well as pedestal-size horses. Each unique example is composed of a wide variety of materials from found and reclaimed metals, to branches and earth. Although each sculpture is inspired by a specific horse Butterfield has known, the works are not portraits in the traditional sense, but representations of the essence of that creature. For Butterfield, it is not merely the physical presence of such noble creatures she hopes to convey but their spirit and energy as well.

5. Thank God for Michigan! (Stories from the Civil War) Grand Rapids Public Museum, February 3 June 11 About the exhibit: 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. While the battles took place in other states, the people of Michigan were deeply involved. Our new exhibit will unveil uniforms, weapons, photographs, letters, and more from the Museum's vast collection.Through glimpses of these artifacts you will follow the lives of the local soldiers and officers who volunteered to fight and the civilians on the home front that supported them.