When I make art
Episode #24 of Studio Confessions
You’ve seen it in movies, sitcoms and biopics, the mad artist feverishly working on a huge canvas. They are in the dark corner of some studio loft with views of a decaying urban setting usually New York, as if. In my favorite of these caricatures they show the artist in a trance like state, eyes rolled back, completely possessed, and splashing paint everywhere while glowing. This depiction of artist is a complete romanticization of what making art is, for the mass consumer. But it feels rather accurate to me, actually. That is exactly what I look like when I make art. Making art, any kind of art is meditation, a communion with oneself. It is a connecting to that part of oneself that is Godly or pure, at least for me it is.
I come to the easel, the cutting matt to collage, completely surrendering to the moment. If there is something I am going to do, the sense of surrender allows me to get out of my way and to detach myself from being too dependent on the outcome. That is a lesson I take into my everyday life. Separate yourself from the outcome, it is the spiritual law of less effort.
When I show up to my studio I set up a timer, to make sure I give myself that time, always more if I want more, but never less. The timer is my safety light, because I could get lost in thought, in the revelry of making. The timer can also be my disciplinary couch, if I get super bored it will not let me leave my studio until it says I can leave.
When I give myself this time, it is magic. I am like a witch or a priest at the altar. I know its not the same for everyone. For me though, it is flying candles, colors, scissors and glue. When I make art it is magic. Especially when I paint. I really need to meditate. When I paint I start loose and bold, then slowly if I am centered it all comes into focus. When I am rendering something into realism, in my head I say “I am going to make love to it”, not in a kinky or aggressive pervy way, the complete opposite. I have to be present to understand the gravity of what I am about to put forward, which sounds like common sense, but if you have ADD or have a caffeine addiction, it takes practice. I say I am making love to it because that is where the intention comes from. Yup, the truth is cuddly my friend, all we need is love.
Another big part of making art for me is music. I listen to the same song for hours sometimes. That is exactly why artists, or I anyway, need alone time. Sade’s “Is it a Crime” on a two hour loop, yes please! Then I go into covers, I have playlists of different versions of the same song. I think the repetition facilitates meditation which takes me to my center. It all makes sense. The music carries me. I listen to a lot of melodic melancholic music which sways and lulls me into a sense of safety. This safe space is my zone. That place is where Lao Tzu says “I let go of what I am, to become what I might be”.
But this bliss is not without its hazards. Be careful because if you are like me Reader, you can get stuck in a song, for longer than a two hour loop. If it is a sad song and you already have a disposition to gloom it can mess you up. Use it though, it comes with its own magic, but learn to be friends with it. Here is pro tip #127: Keep a vitamin C playlist. We all know vitamin C is that glowing orange juice yumminess that cures all. Amid all of my morose music I have one playlist, stacked with songs that will snap me out of my depression like a slap to the face and sometimes it even feels like a bucket of cold Champaign being poured over my head on a victory lap. Reminding me that I am winning, regardless of any feelings I might be experiencing or any exterior circumstances that might be oscillating. I am winning because I am still making art. I have programed myself to shut the door on sadness when I need space, to live or to create. But I never abandon it. It is like my leg or my nose, I need it and I am okay with it now, that is how it is for me.
Sometimes I listen to the Smith, against all better judgment. I belt it out like some hormonal teenager that sound like a wet dog in heat. It’s the closest I come to feeling like a rock star. My studio becomes an altar, and now my altar becomes a stage. I think the core of what I know about making visual art I have learned from music. I take cues from what a singer can do with their voice. How a simple whisper can move you to tears or how a subtle beat can carry a whole song. Its the same way a color or a stroke can carry a whole painting into a series or a whole artist’s career, think of Van Gough, Pollock or Rothko.
That is what I do with my work. I use my images like my voice to echo and vibrate. I collage and use pictures to connect all the discombobulated aspect of life and try to make sense of it all. I create a narrative in which I see myself and the those around me from the point of view of my own context. Recently, over diner, my stepmother made a comment that sums up my relationship to art. She said “It must be nice to be an artist. To have something that will always be there, something you can go to when you are sad and it’s there when you are happy, you are never alone.” Her words were perfectly accurate.
When I make art I experience many feelings, yes Sadness is part of it, but I never feel alone or lonely, I am never alone with art. Because when I make art, art stretches and bends time. Time becomes holographic and pliable in my mind. I sit there in my studio, or in that space in my head and it all comes back to me. I hear my grandmother singing the song my grandfather use to serenade her with when he wasn’t being a junky or missing in action.
Like an antenna I pick up random conversation in my head. I don’t know where they come from. I let them play out. It might be me creating narratives or me loosening my marbles or it might be telepathic signals. I don’t know, and I don’t really care. I feel connected and I am good. Sometimes I will see myself with my husband feeding the pigeons as old men in the Dominican Republic. My husband would giggles at some funny looking dog scrambling with pigeons, while I hide my fresh pack of Marlboro Lights in my pocket. By then after a plethora of vegan meals and years of taking care of my health I’ll be smoking, like I did when I was a kid. It will be fun.
It all plays out through the art. It is my sixth sense, my fifth element. It is not for everyone, and that is fine. For me it is what art is, it is the only thing I am certain about. It is not about the art as the finished product. It is about the artists as a conduit for the tangible experience of life. I am not all that interested in precision draftsmanship or latest trends in contemporary art, that already happened. It is you as an artist that matters. What you can bring and offer to this hungry world. When I taught at Moma one summer, in my research for reference materials for my high school students, I found a book that offered the best advice to getting started in an art practice. It said “If you want to be an artist, all you have to do is love something”. It tugged at my stomach and a hail Mary of bad words poured out. “Fuck” I thought, I don’t love anything. You have to be all rainbows and lollipops to make art, and I did obviously knew love, but not really. Not the weightless love you feel when you let go of fear, insecurities and other idiosyncratic hang ups. No great art comes from indifference, just like no great life has ever been lived in indifference. So feel something.