A: I love this question! I remember being impressed by Ursula von Rydingsvard’s exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts a few years ago. What stayed with me most was her wall text, “Why Do I Make Art by Ursula von Rydingsvard.” There she listed a few dozen benefits that art-making has brought to her life.
I want to share some of my own personal reasons for art-making here, in no particular order. My list keeps changing, but these are true at least for today.
1. Because I love the entire years-long creative process – from foreign travel whereby I discover new source material, to deciding what I will make, to the months spent in the studio realizing my ideas, to packing up my newest pastel painting and bringing it to my Virginia framer’s shop, to seeing the framed piece hanging on a collector’s wall, to staying in touch with collectors over the years and learning how their relationship to the work changes.
2. Because I love walking into my studio in the morning and seeing all of that color! No matter what mood I am in, my spirit is immediately uplifted.
3. Because my studio is my favorite place to be… in the entire world. I’d say that it is my most precious creation. It’s taken more than twenty-two years to get it this way. I hope I never have to move!
4. Because I get to listen to my favorite music all day.
5. Because when I am working in the studio, if I want, I can tune out the world and all of its urgent problems. The same goes for whatever personal problems I am experiencing.
6. Because I am devoted to my medium. How I use pastel continually evolves. It’s exciting to keep learning about its properties and to see what new techniques will develop.
7. Because I have been given certain gifts and abilities and that entails a sacred obligation to USE them. I could not live with myself were I to do otherwise.
8. Because art-making gives meaning and purpose to my life. I never wake up in the morning wondering, how should I spend the day? I have important work to do and a place to do it. I know this is how I am supposed to be spending my time on earth.
9. Because I have an enviable commute. To get to my studio it’s a thirty-minute walk, often on the High Line early in the morning before throngs of tourists have arrived.
10. Because life as an artist is never easy. It’s a continual challenge to keep forging ahead, but the effort is also never boring.
11. Because each day in the studio is different from all the rest.
12. Because I love the physicality of it. I stand all day. I’m always moving and staying fit.
13. Because I have always been a thinker more than a talker. I enjoy and crave solitude. I am often reminded of the expression, “She who travels the farthest, travels alone.” In my work I travel anywhere.
14. Because spending so much solitary time helps me understand what I think and feel and to reflect on the twists and turns of my unexpected and fascinating life.
15. Because I learn about the world. I read and do research that gets incorporated into the work.
16. Because I get to make all the rules. I set the challenges and the goals, then decide what is succeeding and what isn’t. It is working life at its most free.
17. Because I enjoy figuring things out for myself instead of being told what to do or how to think.
18. Because despite enormous obstacles, I am still able to do it. Art-making has been the focus of my life for thirty-three years – I was a late bloomer – and I intend to continue as long as possible.
19. Because I have been through tremendous tragedy and deserve to spend the rest of my life doing exactly what I love. The art world has not caught up yet, but so be it. This is my passion and my life’s work and nothing will change that.
20. Because thanks to the internet and via social media, my work can be seen in places I have never been to and probably will never go.
21. Because I would like to be remembered. The idea of leaving art behind for future generations to appreciate and enjoy is appealing.
Comments are welcome!
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*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
The economic meltdown that followed the crash of the U.S. stock market in 1929 shattered the country’s faith in itself. With one third of the country unemployed and droughts devastating the Midwest, many Americans doubted their ability to endure and triumph. More than ever, as the American novelist John Dos Passos asserted, the country needed to know “what kind of firm ground other men, belonging to generations before us, have found to stand on.” Guided by the Mexican muralists, whose art they had ample opportunities to study in reproduction and exhibition, American artists responded by seeking elements from the country’s past, which they mythologized into epics of strength and endurance in an effort to help the nation revitalize itself.
Thomas Hart Benton led the charge. Long a vociferous critic of European abstraction as elitist and out of touch with ordinary people, Benton hailed the Mexican muralists for the resolute public engagement of their art and for portraying the pageant of Mexican national life, exhorting his fellow American artists to follow their example in forging a similar public art for the U.S., even as he firmly rejected the communist ideology that often inflected the Mexican artists’ work. African American artists were likewise inspired by the Mexican muralists’ celebration of the people’s fight for emancipation. In creating redemptive narratives of social justice and liberation, artists such as Charles White and Jacob Lawrence transformed that struggle for freedom and equality into a new collective identity, one that foregrounded the contribution of African Americans to national life.
Vida Americana: Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925 – 1945, edited by Barbara Haskell
Comments are welcome!
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A: Unfortunately, I have not been able to reconstruct my family tree further back than two generations. So as far as I can tell, I am the first artist of any sort, whether musician, actor, dancer, writer, etc. in my family.
Both sets of grandparents emigrated to the United States from Europe. On my mother’s side my Polish grandparents died by the time my mother was 16, years before I was born.
My paternal grandparents both lived into their 90s. My father’s mother spoke Czech, but since I did not, it was difficult to communicate. I never heard any stories about the family she left behind. My grandfather spoke English, but I don’t remember him ever talking about his childhood or telling stories about his former life. My most vivid memories of my grandfather are seeing him in the living room watching Westerns on an old-fashioned television.
Sometimes I am envious of artists who had parents, siblings, or extended family who were artists. How I would have loved to grow up with a family member who was an artist and a role model!
Comments are welcome!
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