Friday, June 02, 2006

Art push-ups

Danny is so good for me. Last night I confessed to him that I'm having trouble with focus; I work in a desultory manner for a few hours, wander off and look for distractions, don't find any, come back, hate what I've done, feel pointless. He prescribed 5o 'art push-ups.'

Usually, when I get like this, it helps to build and stretch canvases, gesso them, vacuum, clean brushes, draw mandalas. But today I had to face a deadline--the Nurture Art slide registry and gala donation. Which meant, basically, secretarial work. Blech.

I went to the Nurture Art "Muse Fuse" salon last week, which was wonderful and incredible; people were friendly, the lecturer (Nick Stillman) was hilarious, and I drove a carload of fun people home and booked a studio visit with a curator. So the Nurture Art slide registry is definitely something I want to be part of, and I'm all for donating artwork to support them.

But when I went to fill out the application, something manifested in my gut which was akin to a visceral sort of rage. Let's term it 'resistance.' As I read down the requirements--digital images on CD, different images for online gallery, slides, slide list, résumé--it seemed an impossible, unreasonable requirement that I should spend my afternoon producing these things, instead of actually making the art.

Of course, I've done these things before. Oh, have I. As I thumbed through the files on my hard drive, I noted the long, long list of grant applications, slide registry submissions, exhibition proposals, subway design proposals, residency applications and basic documentation that I've produced over the last few years. With all these, neatly filed under appropriate categories, it seems incredible that it should STILL take so long to produce a new packet; surely I should be able to press "print" and "burn" and have done with it?

No, no. I've produced new work since then, and had other exhibitions, so I have to update the résumé, artist statement, and format the new images. Write new slide lists, remove images of works that have been sold, print new labels, etc.

As I work I notice myself slowly calming down. I start to notice the underlying emotions, pulling my consciousness first one way, then the other. Part of me is thinking, "this work is lame, I haven't done enough in the last year, I'm lazy, I'm embarrassing myself."

Another part of me is noticing, "damn, I've applied for a whole lot of stuff over the years; the amount of work on my hard drive would keep a part-time secretary in business. And these things, ultimately, represent a whole pile of single-sheet, form-letter rejections, plus many hours of unpaid labor that I did instead of painting, plus a quadruple-digit bill for equipment and office supplies. No wonder I'm experiencing resistance."

A third, quieter part of my mind only starts making itself heard after an hour or two has passed. Being forced to look at my portfolio, update it, reformat images, I start to notice the actual work. I notice that there's more of it than I thought, and I like it better than I thought. In fact, I love it; it's beautiful, it's detailed, it's complex and passionate and vital and loving. These paintings are, in fact, my babies.

And my babies came back from their journeys out into the world with single-sheet form letters stamped on their faces; unreviewed, unsold, unappreciated. No wonder it's hard to keep working. It's tough to be a parent.

All artists, of course, go through this. But it's amazing how many times we have to learn the same lessons over and over; 'keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time." It's amazing that I forget, nearly ever day, that I love what I do. I keep thinking that if I'm not working right this second then I'm a fraud and a poseur, and should just quit and become a gardener.

4 comments:

danonymous said...

I'm flattered and I thank you Serena. Nice to see you back. Sounds like you took your car to the mechanic for a slight tune-up and came back purring...like....
an artist.
The poseur, fraud.....you are all those things too....and so is everyone else....but that ain't no reason to get sidetracked.
You should hear the monologues that I have to listen to from the creeps who live on both my shoulders....yechhhhh....
I pretend they are just background noise. I am helpless to stop them and they are much happier talking than not...Letting me know what an idiot and loser I am....
And I agree with everything they say...I just keep making art anyway.
They are a lot quieter after a while though.
Have fun cave girl....whip up a bison on that wall.

bsch said...

Serena,
Keep working. It could be worse. You could be trying to make Art in Lewisville Texas. And remember, gardening ain't that easy. When those plants die, painting them green won't fool anyone.
Also, I like curliques. Most people do. Just throw in a thorn every once in a while to keep everyone honest.
Good luck.

Tracy said...

Hi Serena, Good post. I have come to appreciate having to take care of those secretarial things, for the same reason that you mentioned-it's great to see down on paper what I have been able to accomplish. I also find it comforting to know that I am organized and can quickly find something if necessary. That said, I do look forward to hiring someone to do the office stuff while I paint away and just look over things once in awhile!

Jordan said...

When you are being a little hard on yourself....good for you it helps the creative process!

When you are being really hard on yourself...cut your crticisms in half, embellish on your achievements a little. We are often our own worst critics.