This summer I created an immersive installation on Governors Island as a 4heads PORTAL House resident that proved to be a seismic shift in my practice.
Apropos of the type of work I’ve been creating since 2018, the work I INTENDED to create on Governors Island was a collection of 1:8 scale dioramas. I had planned to construct several separate pieces each populated by a community of 11” tall bat/human hybrids that would explore connections between viruses (foreign bodies), community, and colonization.
Below is a concept sketch of some initial ideas of how I might activate the space I was given. I included this sketch in my application package.
When we’re young, we don’t dwell on thoughts of mortality. Our bodies feel good, look good, and perform well. Lack of maintenance – or even self-abuse – doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the resilient machines that we are.
After 40 or 50 years, however, the machine benefits from more regular maintenance and less rough handling.
I would have done well last week to keep this in mind when I was racing my 52-year-old Bernina 731 sewing machine and flipping switches back and forth like a demon. One rough flip too many and that was that. I broke the needle position pin.
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
— Andy Warhol
This is one of my favorite artist quotes. It’s especially poignant for those of us who are self-directed and self-employed. If you want to be showing your work more, you have to apply to more opportunities. If you want to create more, or different, work, you have to log more hours or be willing to venture into an exploration phase in your studio.
When I was a much younger artist, six years into my professional practice, I found myself getting frustrated. Why wasn’t my work getting shown? Why wasn’t I being invited to participate in group shows? Why wasn’t my career advancing?
I’d graduated from art school (yay! good for me!) and even developed a somewhat consistent studio practice. Although I had amassed a body of work, none of it was getting shown.
The answer turned out to be very simple. I hadn’t yet embraced Warhol’s famous quote.
I wanted to advance my art career, but I wasn’t doing anything to MAKE that happen. The audience I wanted was not going to have a chance to see my work unless I MADE IT HAPPEN. As much as the introverted me would have liked, I couldn’t just sit around the studio creating work if I wanted to attain my artistic goals. I had to make changes to my habits.
[Some background: I’ve struggled with the concept of “success” in my practice for decades. In a capitalist society I never felt successful. If what you’re doing can’t be measured by society’s default (a profit ruler) there’s no way for you NOT to feel like a failure.
So, I started measuring with a different ruler – the progress ruler. Instead of measuring how much MONEY I MADE from my practice, I measured how much TIME I SPENT creating. It made a world of difference in how successful I felt the year had been. This year it became clear to me that I might need a variety of rulers for tracking different modes of success.]
The start of the new year is traditionally a time of optimism. The blank calendar ahead shines bright with possibility. Many of us think about the positive changes we’re going to make – to our life, our business, our self.
While I’m not big on resolutions, I do like to make goals.
I’ve mentioned before than I’m super nerdy about the business side of my practice. I love drafting an annual plan, breaking goals and tasks down into timelines, and logging my studio hours. I even do a mini review every three months, because resolutions and goals don’t mean much if you’re not tracking them and measuring your progress.
One of my early January tasks is to look back on the previous year and review it so I can plan for the year ahead. Normally, conducting an annual review is one of my favorite tasks. For more reasons than just Covid, 2021 was a strange year.
I’d had the collective equivalent of a four-month absence from creating and I knew that when I reconciled my studio hours spreadsheet I’d be nowhere close to my annual creating hours goal. I was dreading looking back through my timelines and schedule to account for how I’d actually spent my hours.
Not having access to a dedicated woodshop has meant that I’m finding creative solutions for the shapes and sizes of wood that I need to build the base and four 42” high columns for The Bearded Lady diorama.
Progress has been slow, but forward moving. On one hand, the snail’s pace of this piece has been agonizing. On the other, it’s meant that I’ve had bonus time to enrich the work by adding more details and contextual layers. Have I mentioned lately how much I love research?
Like many folks who have made the choice to work for themselves I’m terrible at taking time off. I’m great at finding reasons to not take a whole day free from work (“That deadline’s tomorrow!”, “I wasn’t productive enough this week”). If you work for yourself in any capacity, these excuses may sound familiar 😉
As much as I may think I am, I’m not a machine. If I don’t mindfully take time off to rest, refresh and reset, my body finds ways to force me to do so. Even though I know this about myself, I still need to be reminded of this fact (frequently!)
In March vaccines rolled out, days got warmer and longer, hope filled hearts. Like all of us I’m sick of pandemic-life and ready for a new beginning. I was looking forward to shedding winter layers. My body said, “NOPE”.
In NYC the first week of March is usually marked by the mounting of several notable art fairs. After a year of having seen very little artwork in person (aside from my own!) I’m feeling the absence of these fairs deeply.
Longtime subscribers will know that after visiting the fairs I write a round-up article of my experience – a curated, virtual tour of what I found to be most inspiring.
Lacking current art fair fodder, I went through my notes from the past 14 months of exhibits and online museum visits (and one precious, post-Covid in-person viewing) to remind myself of the artists and artwork that rocked my world while the foundation of the world was rocked.
Common threads across this selection of artists are an exquisite attention to detail, a knack for presenting challenging political issues with depth and satire, and an almost obsessive occupation and mastery of their materials.
This is a fine solution for artwork that is digital in nature (video, photo) or meant to be viewed head on from one perspective (2-D works), but what is the future of installation and 3-dimensional artwork that demands a collective viewing of multiple perspectives?
In a recent deep dive into the “Art Business” file on my computer I came across a Word document that I’d created in 2008. At the time I’d been trying to convince myself that leaving a perfectly decent job to direct all my focus and attention on my art career wasn’t a completely crazy idea.
The document – titled “18 hours” (the number of hours I generally worked each week in my auxiliary arts admin job) – compares the income I was grossing to an alternate reality of making that same income solely from my creative practice.
NERD ALERT: First I broke down my on-paper net hourly wage so that I could see what my gross hourly wage was. This made me feel less slightly less irresponsible for wanting to ditch my job because I wasn’t leaving a $25.00/hr job, but a $17.18/hr job.
Knowing for some time that I *should* have a Will in place I’ve managed to successfully put off the task year after year.
In theory it seems like such a simple thing; leaving written instructions so that those left holding on to all your loose ends don’t lose their minds trying to second guess what your final wishes might have been. Responsible, right?
But, oh so many questions! Uncomfortable and hard-to-answer questions that force you to confront your mortality face-to-face. Preparing Wills, Representational Agreements, and Power of Attorneys are documents that many of us avoid because the questions are so damn mentally difficult.
So much has happened since my last blog post in May.
In what was thought to be the tail end of the pandemic, U.S. states started re-opening businesses in earnest. More Black deaths at the hands of police prompted a massive national Black Lives Matter movement. Rioters took advantage of peaceful protests to pillage and loot. U.S. Covid cases began to rise again dramatically in the Southern and Western states (and many parts of the world). Amid it all, I moved the micro-version of my home studio back to my external studio.
While it feels good to be back in my dedicated creating space, it has been challenging to return to what feels like a regular schedule. There have been distractions – both welcome (watching and listening to BIPOC authors and artists to learn more about racism and my role in it) and unwelcome (obsessively reading Covid-19 news online and then, just as obsessively, researching distant vacation and apartment rentals looking for somewhere to escape in an inescapable situation).
Watching New York City’s creative sector navigate through the closures caused by COVID-19 has triggered a deeply embedded story of mine.
In ten weeks of shutdowns two of my favourite galleries and a beloved local theater have announced permanent closures. I expect many more announcements like this in the weeks to come as NYC remains in PAUSE. Witnessing cities in other states planning to pull government funding from the arts sector to redistribute elsewhere (Philadelphia) I start to wonder if this will happen in New York, too. Without funding many smaller, artist-run venues can’t sustain themselves. If the arts aren’t considered valuable enough to be saved by society, what is the value, by association, of art itself?
I wrote this post several weeks ago, before Covid-19 was a worldwide pandemic. The topic parallels the spirit of Spring regeneration, so I was waiting for my March newsletter to publish it. Over the past week, as the threat of the virus loomed large, I questioned the timing of publishing a post like this when so many other matters at hand seem more pressing.
I have decided that a little “business as usual” on a topic that is not tied to overwhelmed hospitals, quarantines, and food/supply shortages in stores may be a welcome distraction. It’s not meant to dismiss the seriousness of our collective situation, but to offer some lighter mental fare amid the sobering news and social media updates.Please enjoy and stay safe and healthy.
I recently had a conversation with one of my dear artist friends about rejection and how it can be particularly difficult to receive a “no thanks” letter during the harsh days of winter. The probability of being rejected this time of year when spirits are knocked low makes her not want to apply to opportunities, even ones that seem a good fit for her practice.
Hearing her say this broke my heart and prompted me to reflect on my own – quite long – history of rejection. I thought it would be timely to share some of the ideas that came up in our resulting conversation.
If you need a pep talk on why you might want to push through the pain of rejection, here it is.
For logistical reasons (and, if I’m honest, to keep my nerves at bay), I decided to not capture the December 6th artist and curator talk for my solo show at Radiator Gallery on video. I was happy that curator Peter Gynd (who leads an excellent conversation, BTW) caught the audio on his phone and kindly shared it with me.
There were 30 or so attendees who enjoyed the talk immensely. I thought I would transcribe it and share here for those of you who are keen to learn more about my practice, process, and, in particular, this intensely detailed series.
Confession: Transcribing the audio was a bit of a harsh reality check ;-).
There’s nothing quite like hearing yourself consistently substituting “and, so…” for sentence breaks instead of ending a thought and then starting a new one after a clean pause. As it turns out that my comfort words are, “actually”, “sort of”, “kind of”, “like”, “um, so”, and “and”. I also have a habit of starting a sentence, then changing my mind part way through and heading in a completely different direction. Quite natural and acceptable in conversation, but a mess to read.
To make your experience of the transcript more pleasant, I’ve polished up the text, omitted many of these personal verbal idiosyncrasies, and added images for reference throughout.
FYI, it was a 30 minute conversation followed by a 15 minute Q & A. Get yourself a beverage (we had wine!) and then sit down to read. It’s the next best thing to having been there. And don’t feel sad about about not being able to participate in the Q&A – feel free to ask a question in the comments!
I wouldn’t say that I’m superstitious or that I believe in luck, but I do agree with Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic) and Steven Pressfield (The War of Art, Turning Pro)that ideas and inspiration come from some divine realm and that I am essentially just a conduit that the Muse decides to visit because they’ve noticed that I’m serious about what I do and that no matter how I’m feeling (tired, scared, discouraged) I show up and do the work. Every day.
On a slight tangent, do you remember the film Like Water for Chocolate (1992), where the female protagonist’s stifled emotions – rage, despair, joy, passion – were transferred to the dishes she prepared and elicited the same reaction in the people who ate them?
I love that film and I believe that objects and matter can embody, carry, and transfer positive and negative energy.
I’ve been using my ramped up studio hours as an excuse to let the admin side of my practice slide. It’s reasonable considering I’m on a very tight production deadline, but I also know when I’m starting to use studio time to avoid other tasks.
The time is drawing near for me to put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard) and work out word-wise what the current series is about; soon the gallery will need to have images and a statement for promotional purposes on their website. I’ve had this task on my to-do list for two months. Not surprising, my studio production in the last two months has been AHHH-MAZING.
So, because I haven’t written a blog post in a while, and because I love me some efficiency, I thought I’d combine tasks and write down some thoughts about the One of Us series and share them in an article here.
Normally in March I’d write a massive blog post recapping all of the art fairs that I went to, highlighting pieces I was amazed, delighted, and inspired by. Traditionally it’s been a long, labor-intensive article where I share my top picks from each fair and explain what it was that drew me to each piece.
This year I couldn’t stomach giving up a week’s worth of creating time so I put myself on an art fair diet and chose to not go to the Armory at all and instead chose to only go to two fairs: Art on Paper and Spring/Break. I enjoyed both and found multiple artists that satisfied my craving to see great art. I thought I’d share a few here with you.
Folks who are familiar with my regimented and productive studio practice might be shocked to learn that it wasn’t always this way.
In 2010, a few years after I started exhibiting regularly, I hit a hard wall. A dark visitor, who I came to affectionately name TOD (Thoughts of Despair), arrived at the start of winter and completely crippled my practice. Read more
Written by Jody MacDonald, January 23rd, 2019 | Comments Off on Tips for Surviving T.O.D. (Thoughts of Despair)
I’ve been thinking lately about how much my art has benefitted from me NOT getting what I want.
Often I’ll start with an idea that I want to go a certain way, but then I’ll be unable to source the supplies (or whatever else it may be) for the idea to materialize in the way I had planned. That’s when the creative problem-solving engine kicks in and tangents happen. Following an artist’s train of thought can be like, to quote from one of my favourite Veda Hille songs, “a story told by a kid” – not at all linear. Read more
Written by Jody MacDonald, December 05th, 2018 | Comments Off on Protect Me From What I Want
I haven’t spent enough nights racing against a deadline, pushing to get a piece finished, or leaning into territory that is well past my comfort zone.
Complacency is a manhole that many self-employed folks are prone to falling into and while I haven’t exactly fallen in I do have one foot hovering over the abyss. I’m usually a hard-driving boss but I feel that lately my motivation has slipped. Not having regular, hard-edged deadlines and an external superior that I must report to can have that effect.
That’s why sometimes it’s a good idea to do something a bit drastic, to leap without having a net and create a situation for yourself where you MUST make things happen. Read more
Written by Jody MacDonald, October 04th, 2018 | Comments Off on Leaping in the Absence of a Net
The only thing I adore more than making art is buying it. It’s such a joy to me to cohabitate with original work that inspires and delights.
While collecting works-on-paper is my jam – partly for size restrictions, partly for financial restrictions – my husband and I have a little bit of everything in our collection: drawings, mixed media and collage work, paintings, sculpture in various media, and ceramics (both decorative and utilitarian – I swear coffee tastes better out of a beautiful, artist-made mug).
My most recent acquisition was found at Trestle Art Space’s Small Works show. I felt an immediate, deep connection to Katelyn Patton’s mixed media canvas, Sad Girl on a Bed of Roses, and was so happy it was within my price limit.
L: Sad Girl on a Bed of Roses (full canvas); R: Sad Girl on a Bed of Roses (detail)
Making the decision to create a pleasing living environment while supporting artists was easy for me, but many folks are overwhelmed when it comes to buying art for the first time. Knowing how and where to start makes it less daunting. Read more
Written by Jody MacDonald, August 30th, 2018 | Comments Off on How To Start Collecting Art
When a situation is good enough you can be tempted to just continue holding status quo in that comfortable, not-quite-perfect space.
The trouble with doing the things you’re used to, in a space that is familiar and a routine that you might be able to do with your eyes closed, is that it is a breeding ground for inertia. Being comfortable can stifle you.
It’s beneficial to shake things up. Insert some Strange that will perk up your ears and heighten your senses. But when do you say “enough!” to good enough? Read more
Written by Jody MacDonald, July 05th, 2018 | Comments Off on Saying “Enough” to Good Enough
I’ve loved books and been an avid reader from a young age – I inherited that trait from my father.
He was a keen reader, too, and many Saturday afternoons I would accompany my dad to the library where we would go our separate ways – him to the adult fiction, me to the young readers section. He liked books featuring metaphysical phenomenon and I liked books about animals. When our arms were full he would come find me, or I would go find him, and together we’d check out the materials that would occupy our attention over the next two weeks. My dad passed away when I was 17. It makes me smile to be fondly remembering our shared library practice so close to Father’s Day. Read more
Written by Jody MacDonald, June 16th, 2018 | Comments Off on Sweet Summer Reading
I often write, or share on social media, about how another artist’s work or practice inspires me. Sometimes, though, inspiration comes from unexpected places.
A few weeks ago I was slapped with an a-ha! moment while watching a food documentary series. I love escapist visual media (ooh, Netflix, you are the perfect accomplice to my obsessive binge watching tendencies). Even when I’m watching so-called empty calorie TV I’m tuned in to catch sparks that might set flame to an epiphany.
Let me set the stage, or shall I say table, for you… Read more
A true and timely tale about love, socks, and fate.
From the time I was a wee bairn I loved to create. A box of assorted odds and ends and glue or tape was absolute heaven to me. I knew even then that the purest version of myself emerged when I was in the act of making.
When I was around seven years old I made a puppet out of an old, navy sock that had been my father’s. Using scraps of felt, buttons and glue I transformed a utilitarian accessory into a wily dragon, capable of expressing itself with a myriad of emotions. Read more
Written by Jody MacDonald, February 05th, 2018 | 6 Comments »