I’ve had lots of jobs since getting a graduate degree in art. Caterer, dispatcher, maker of lattes, continuing ed teacher, credit card customer service rep, gallery assistant, and arts administrator. All these jobs served me – I made a living, learned, and continued to make art. Now, having just finished my first year working at a university – a real job, the kind my parents have been hoping for – I find myself learning to teach art. A speculative exercise in encouraging curiosity, demanding discipline, and cultivating an individual’s conviction to believe – in something. For a recent assignment I asked students to write a statement of belief modeled on this program. They returned the challenge to me.
I have a young daughter, sixteen months old, and I can’t help but think every day about the kind of world she will inherit. I have been stunned and shamed, sorrowed and outraged by news and events, both local and global, born of our collective fear, greed, and an utter disregard for the humanity of others. And at this time, more than ever, I believe in the potential of creating.
There are things I cannot change. But there is much I can do. Namely, the simple but infinitely difficult task of trying to create something that embodies some kind of beauty be it gentle or terrible, that connects our sorrows and desires with those of both past and future generations. What makes me feel that I must make artwork? The simple fact that I am embraced by life, and that I will die. And that theses parameters exist for each life, from the humblest cellular form to the most complex, and that we are in turn linked together in this having and losing that continues unbroken across culture and time. What makes this bearable is that I see it all around me, and I trust this is part of something greater than myself. That these pleasures and pains and the very act of creation is something in scale with life itself – indivisible, giant, and in which I as an individual reside.
For me the value of making work is the work. Poet Walt Whitman wrote of this cheerfully in Song of Myself “I, now thirty-seven years old in perfect health begin, hoping to cease not till death.” German humanist Johann Wolfgang Goethe said it more simply and seriously “Do not hurry, do not rest.” To continue to work at what you love. To take an hour or 20 minutes or five months putting your body and mind to the task of creating that which you don’t yet understand. Whether it fails or not is of no real difference, the effort is everything. For me, the significance is not how well the work emulates life, but that an attempt was made to honor life, even if those efforts will not be noticed, or acknowledged, and will not change your fate.
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