It helps if you don't take Harrell Fletcher as an Artist, which can be a tricky mental shift, seeing as how he is, in fact, Portland's most high-profile artist. But when conventional academic or artistic standards are applied to Fletcher's social interventions, the point of his work is often lost. Fletcher is less an Artist than a project facilitator who operates in the art world mainly because his output is largely uncategorizable. Judging projects like Learning to Love You More the same way that you'd evaluate a painting is like criticizing Duplex Planet for not being great literature or listening to a rare field recording and complaining that it's not melodic enough.
Take, for instance, The American War, a project that toured the country before being exhibited in Portland as part of PICA's Time-Based Art Festival. The American War is, at its simplest, an exhibition of copy photographs from the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City. Fletcher brought his digital camera to the museum over several visits and took photos of the graphic and highly disturbing pictures on the walls there—images of massacred body parts, defoliated forests, and grotesquely deformed victims of Agent Orange.
As a Work of Art, The American War isn't wildly impressive. On an aesthetic level, the re- photographing of the original photos is full of hotspots and awkward angles, and several people have questioned Fletcher's right to claim authorship of these pre-existing images. But I don't think Fletcher's goal was to create a body of Fine Art photographs.
In fact, his stated mission was "to bring the experience of the museum to the US population," which he certainly achieved. The American War is a profound sight that reminds us not only of the graphic horrors of war, but that there are (at least) two sides to every story. And that is ultimately what Fletcher does best—acting as a conduit to provide forums where everyday people can share their experiences, hopes, and dreams. From group meditation meetings to telephone pole flyers, Fletcher's act of un-art is to help under-heard voices get some communal airtime, and taken as such, it can be far more moving than any proper piece of Art.