Art Meets Life

Apr 18th, 2012

A recent blog post by Lisa Congdon struck a chord. Lisa is an amazing artist that I had the pleasure of exhibiting with as part of Abstract Fiction at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Union Gallery in January. Her eloquent writing struck a chord. In Monday’s blog, titled “On Having a Full Plate,” Lisa talks about the joys of finding success as an artist…and the struggles that can accompany that success. She asks “But isn’t it interesting how once we get what we ask for, we realize life still isn’t perfect?” I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and Lisa’s eloquent thoughts provided the perfect point-of-departure for my own musings on the topic.

Over the past few months I’ve been logging some serious hours in my studio. I’ve also been logging some serious miles, running on the gorgeous roads and trails surrounding our country home in Good Thunder (population 600)! Running again has made me think about my life before art. Fifteen years ago, when I was practically a teenager, I ran two marathons, loved to shop and dress up, and fancied myself a bit creative. My art was, by the IRS’s standards, a “hobby.” Slowly, I’ve built a career out of my art. A BFA, an MFA, a tenure-track teaching job, tenure and promotion, and multiple grants and awards later, it is fair to say that the IRS no longer looks at me as a hobbyist! And, like Lisa, I am so thankful for the many opportunities that have come my way. The universe has been more than good to me.

As with most careers, in the thick of it, many other parts of my life have had to become less important. Somewhere during the past decade I became a couch potato (albeit one who constantly climbs ladders and runs around galleries); I became a fashion disaster (Good Thunder is not a shopping mecca, and climbing ladders and running around galleries is not a glamour job); and I had no time to keep up with old friends, let alone make new friends.

When I showed my MSU students an Art 21 video with Anne Hamilton a few years ago, you know what struck them? After sleeping through most of her amazing work, they got all worked up seeing the part where Hamilton is jogging. “SHE jogs????” I asked them why they thought that was surprising. Their response: “She’s an artist!”

I thought that was telling. In art, as with many careers, there is this idea that you are supposed to suffer, to sacrifice everything for your art, to give up all the things that normal people do that give them pleasure. But it’s been a while since I’ve had a martyr complex in terms of my career. I learned long ago that I’m happier and more productive if I let life in instead of trying so hard to keep life away.

My husband David is a saint. He’s also an artist. Between the two of us it seems that someone is always installing a show or under a tight deadline. Edward and Gretta, our standard poodles, are also pretty patient, although Edward is full-of-the-devil today! The past month has been all about embracing life outside of art. Which is not to say that I’m not in the studio. In fact, it’s sort of the opposite. I feel more productive…and happier…than ever. I’m gonna kick some butt in that 7 mile trail race on May 7. AND I’m gonna buy some new clothes and stop being such a fashion disaster. AND (last but not least) I’m gonna kick some butt in the McKnight exhibition, which opens July 13 at MCAD Gallery in Minneapolis.

Thanks for reading everyone. Stay tuned!




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