The first month-ish of this process has been challenging in ways I haven't wanted to admit to myself. Thinking about how to account for this leap in scope has pointed me towards a endemic set of insecurities that I'd like to think I'm beyond. This crystallizes around two questions that I've been somewhat stunned I am asking myself:
What do I want to SAY?
In many critiques at
different points in my life, I've heard artists confess that they're not
quite sure what they're trying to say about the world with their work. Internally, I always scoff. You must not be spending enough of your time out of the studio I thought. There's so much that needs saying in the world. Stop looking at your bellybutton in an empty studio and go absorb some more of the world to bring back here.
I've also said, with pride, many times in the last few years, that my practice is maybe 95% research. Which is to say, that for any time I spend in the studio, I must spend much much more time out in the world figuring out what needs to be done in the studio. I practiced this by phoning in a solid eight months of of graduate school while I worked on the People's Climate March, and then holed up in my studio for one month making art about it. I didn't feel that arwork (the gray area) was done, but then I spent another 12 months helping start People's Climate Arts before I felt it was time to go back to the studio for another 3 weeks to finish the piece. And when I finished it, boy did I have a lot to say!
The feedback I got about this piece- from myself and others- is that the lens of my work was narrow in ways that were awkward, confusing or politically unhelpful (depending on what angle you were looking at). With all that recent arts production from this winter fresh in my body and mind, I want to push myself to leap this forward, to allow in a wider philsophical, aesthetic and historical ark. But to let this in for real should take years- years on years probably---of allowing in the world, before I had the audacity to make art that is a leap bigger.
And yet, now is when I have the space and time. I'm in graduate school. I made the decision to finish the Gray Area so I had a little bit more ideological space to try new things with my thesis. Some days that seems like the wrong decision, but I hope that in the end it feels like the right one--or at the very least, it is what it is. I'm trying to see the fact that this "space to experiment" feels a little more like a crisis of meaning than I imagined it would to be a reminder towards humility--damn, who of us really knows what it is they're trying to say. From conversation with many other artists both inside and outside of the school context, I know that I know a lot more than others, but that doesn't mean I don't need to continue to do the work to try to figure it out, or that that work won't be frustrating and scary for weeks or months (or years!) at a time.
But what's MY role?
One of the wisest organizers I know (who maybe I'll name here after I get her permission) often talks to me about a unique difficulty of organizing people with privilege. She recounts that many express to her: this work is so mportant, there's so much to do but I'm really struggling with MY role, you know?? How do I use MY special talents the
best?? This wise-organizer-pal has spoken of how exhausting this question is, because it is so directly tied to the realities of working with people who have been raised with a tremendous amount of agency, and who expect an amount
These things are totally true of me: I expect to be awesome. Hell, I know I'm awesome. And nothing I've done in life lights my parents up quite like when I've been quoted in the newspaper or written about in books...and this, like, pulls on something in me that's unshakable.
In the last three years, I've spent a lot of time advocating for the power of art. Speaking about it in principle, and also directly supporting other artists. Many months of work that I've called "my art practice" (in the context of my schooling, anyhow) has actually looked like advocating for other people's production of art.
I came to this work through the suductive, transformative and un-replacable practice of making my own art. These days, believing that I should be a producer of art and not just an advocate for its production feels like a statement of my own humanity, and of the inherent value of all people's bodies and opinions, that I feel pulled to
But as I write this way I immediately cringe, feeling the falsity of positioning myself as some sort of underdog. The conditions that allow me to make art right now are just piles on piles of privilege--which I don't want to hand-wring about but I believe in endlessly acknowledging.
This all leaves me asking: in the realm of art that dreams to transform the world: what's my role as an artist? Even if I know what I believe should get said...what parts of it am I really the right vessel for? What reason do I have--what truly worthwhile, accountable reason-- to be making this project at all?