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.
As someone who’s brain is neurodivergent, the concept of “happiness” is something I have wrestled with my entire life. I’ve spent decades wondering why it seems to be something I can’t hold on to.
After reading some key resources and having some enlightening conversations about “happiness” and the pursuit of it (including how the meaning of the word may have changed since the penning of the Declaration of Independence), I’m thinking that the problem lies less in my inability to grasp happiness and more in a fundamental misunderstanding of what happiness actually is.
For years I just assumed that there was something deficient in ME that wouldn’t allow me to possess joy, even when I was living what I KNOW is my best life. Here’s what I’ve learned:
“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?
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?
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?
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!