Work in progress:

I know when to go out
And when to stay in
Get things done
-David Bowie, Modern Love (1985)—
I don’t want to go out
I won’t stay in
Get things done
-David Bowie, Modern Love (1985)—misquoted 
Studio life and art.

It was in Bowie’s name that I first came to deny social activity in the name of art. Invitations to parties, bars, and bowling alleys (all promising an array of earthly entertainments rosily doused with alcoholic delights, engraved in youth) were reluctantly declined to make way for greater endeavors, for progress. A world of self-enforced solitary confinement was erected and resolutely maintained in order to enable a fluid, seamless and, above all, increased rate of production. This borrowed motto, a spoken intro to an 80’s pop song made by a man “who fell to Earth” (in glitter spandex no less), has stuck far longer than the rubber cement so greatly relied upon in the dark days of Freshman Foundation. From collegiate studio space on to each progressive (by chronology alone) atelier/bedroom combo: “I never wave bye-bye” to this trusty pop-culture aphorism, oh, “But I try/I try.”

Use of this phrase was adopted from two art school pals (I’ll call them H & K) somewhere in my junior or senior year of college. H & K were commendably hardworking; they often skipped social activities offered by mutual friends to spend a night in the school’s well-appointed sculpture and printmaking studios. At the time I was caught somewhere in the middle, often erring on the side of play unless a letter grade was at stake. We’d grumble at H & K’s absence, loudly cheering our own decision “to go out.” Slowly but surely Bowie’s words wormed their way into my life and my work. Long nights spent in the studio with music and a single celebratory beer replaced long hours spent hanging out with roommates. Perhaps this was a natural progression, the inevitable equation of adulthood where fun is replaced by work and responsibilities. I credit H & K (& Bowie, of course) as well as a growing love for the art practice I had stumbled upon while farting around in art school for my own move towards staying in to “get things done.”

My admiration for and attachment to this musical maxim did not save it from mutation.  What was once “I know when to go out/And when to stay in/Get things done,” quickly became “I stay in/(I) get things done.” Those wide temporal pastures of collegiate yesteryear, once breezily open to the possibility of painting, constricted into a rigid, finite handful of hours thanks to the all too necessary need to feed and clothe my wonderful self.  In that small increment of day job-“free” time great gems and masterpieces were to be produced (no pressure). This left little room for error or experimentation. With so much time allotted to the business of living, non-working hours devoted to anything other than the direct production of artworks were mostly measured by way of guilt’s own punch-clock. The fine, fun freedoms and possibilities of the outside world were easily eliminated by the simple lyrical omission of just one line: “I know when to go out.” I no longer know when to go out. I simply stay in…ostensibly getting things done. Years working in the customer service sector assisted in this slow push towards self-quarantine. Long mornings filled with forced interaction sent me homeward bound come shift’s end. My little apartment slowly morphed into a strange factory-haven hybrid, an escape from customer interaction into unending, oftentimes unfocussed art projects. “I stay in/(I) get things done?” 

What is lost when the world is removed from an artist’s process? For years I associated my “artist practice” as a place to process emotions. A place to tell stories and an outlet for a voice best expressed visually. What stories does an anxious recluse really have to tell? What emotions worth expressing? Surrounded by the sorts of media that efficiently produce the sorts of emotional reactions I would love to just barely scratch, some days it feels as though I have lost my way.

Rambling of the day:

So have you ever found yourself watching a crappy romantic comedy/TV show/whatever wherein one character is an artist. God forbid--an artist?? That is the worst. Dating an artist means having to go see shows like this:

 She's All That, 1999

right?? Well, maybe. Sometimes. But mostly no, not even a little bit. I don't think I have ever been to an art event that looks anything like what just happened in this movie clip. Yes, performance art can seem ridiculous, especially if the viewer has no idea what the performance is attempting to communicate. Bad art? It exists. (Though it may be more aptly described as "less successful"). Crappy, unrealized art comes in all shapes and sizes and it often arrived in the shape of  pseudo-intellectual nonsense.

Sometimes artists fail, same goes for pretty much anyone trying at anything. I've failed in my attempts to create appropriately frothy cappuccinos back in my barista days. Does that mean all cappuccinos are silly, poorly made drinks? NO. Does that mean I was some sort of hack barista not deserving of my cream cheese stained apron? NO. As with most things I just needed to try, try again. Perhaps this is an apples to oranges comparison but I'd venture to say no--no it's not. I think the problem arises when you think these sorts of tasks are so very different. Both venues attract snobs and both venues produce goods essential to our well being: caffeine and good, life giving art.

So why is the art (and artists) depicted in movies so often completely ridiculous and/or absolutely hideous? According to movies and TV, art has no right to exist because it is torture to all but the artists. Oh and beret wearing snobs--they get something out of art. Should we feel embarrassed for ourselves? Are we devoting every last drop of our free time to torture and/or uselessness? Hollywood kind of thinks so. But then Hollywood is also responsible for the movie Bio-Dome. Never mind how essential art is to our daily life--fine art is not so far removed from graphic art which permeates most of our media. But fuck you all the same, artist.

One more thing: the movies bestow very large budgets upon those artists they wish to mock. The production value for the performance depicted above is STUNNING. Taylor made pristine spandex for everyone! Oh and screens? You want screens? You may have all the screens your little heart desires! What I would give to have half this guys budget. I could barely afford to paint 400 beer bottles white...

It's a long story.


So it's been a difficult week in the life of this artist. And by difficult I mean difficult for me, not so much difficult in the way of the potential difficulties life has been known to provide. No one I know and love passed away, I was not struck down by some incurable disease (that I know of).  What then, you may ask, made it so difficult. Answer: my own brain.

Deciding to try and make a life as an artist without having any understanding of the economics of this process is utter madness. The system I built out of undergrad worked: work low stress, minimum wage jobs by day, paint by night and on weekends. As a lady in her thirties, that system does not appear to be sustainable. So what do I do? How to pay the bills while remaining true to one's artistic wants and needs? It's a pretty pickle we've all gotten ourselves into, fellow artists....

I've been without health care for about ten years and was quite excited to get me signed up for some insurance. Thanks, Obama. No, seriously: thanks! But now I find myself back in limbo. All recipients of tax credits are forced to re-prove their neediness and I fear I may be back where I started.Thanks, Obama. No, not really this time.

These problems are not unique to me and I have it a lot less bad than many. That does not mean I am without worry. On one side I feel rewarded and vindicated for sticking to this unreasonable life in art. Art, for me, is a need and I continue to believe that the visual arts are important thought still somewhat impractical. On the other side I feel judged and superfluous simultaneously, though I am probably my greatest judge and executioner. 

So I went to the dark places and cried the salty tears of confused frustration. And now I'm blogging about it. Welcome to 2006, Jessie Anne Clark. What took you so long?


Tiernan said...

It is an extraordinary conundrum. I am often brokenhearted by the experience of artists, art-educators, writers. People say "you knew what you were getting into" as though that is an answer.

I can't give up this fight yet. I'm so tired of being broke, but I can't give up.

Thanks for this piece of writing - sometimes this trek is so lonely.

VCian said...

I have/do feel the same exact way. It's so easy to think there's something wrong with you when being an artist is associated with the outsider or weirdo. But really, we are failures sometimes and we are successful sometimes just like everyone else. We should take solitude as we need it but not as some kind of penance for living an "alternative" lifestyle. Donald Trump has a gold fucking toilet while people starve a block away from him. He doesn't burden himself with any kind of penance and he lives a totally insane life.