Monday, October 6, 2008

Does This Look Straight To You?

"I drilled a hole wrong again."


"I'm such a fuck-up. I drilled the hole in the wrong place. I measured it twice. Does this look straight to you?"


"It's not straight is it? I know it's not straight."

These are exchanges I have with Paula about once a month.

"No Honeybuns, fucked up is good, remember? We've been having this same conversation for 3 years now. Your aesthetic is raw. Rustic. Sometimes Modern-Rustic. Right? Not knowing how to use tools properly helps your aesthetic. We've talked about this. "

"But shouldn't I be able to cut something straight? I don't think I'll ever get it. I don't understand fractions. How can I measure something if I don't know how fractions work? I just count the little lines that come after the number. I'm such an idiot. I have no idea what I'm doing . . . I just guess. Measuring never works."

"You have a good eye Honeybuns."

"How can I ever be a real artist if I don't know how to cut stuff right?"

"You can get people for that."

"How am I going to afford to do that?! And who would want to work with me?"

"You're a great designer, it's ok that you don't know how to fabricate everything."

"I hate myself. It's all so pointless. Who's going to buy this stuff?"


"Uggh, how many clocks can you own before you just get sick of it . . ."

This is the point at which my blood begins to froth. It used to scare me. After a week or two of not making art I would be terrified that she'd given up. Now I know better. I get angry. Good, defend-your-mate, angry.

"Look, somewhere in your frustrated, morbid little head there is the knowledge that you're a talented artist. You've found your artistic voice and your main bodies of work are mature. You've developed your unique artistic mojo by working until your fingers bleed for the last 4 years. You're innate design sensibility is staggering to me. The only reason you go insane, hating yourself is because you haven't had enough exposure."

"You're the only one buying my work, so what?"

"You've sold work in every show you've ever done a including a Vermont high school hockey arena, a retail clothing shop, and a 5-foot hallway in the back office of a light fixture company!"

"I didn't sell anything at the last Art Hop."

"It didn't help that you literally ripped your pieces off of the wall halfway through the show."

"They weren't safe there. The puzzle sculpture fell off the wall and no one picked it up. And it was a public space."

"Ok, I'll give you that. It was a bad scene and it was good that you took your work back early. Hey, you even sold The Birch Geisha at that horrible NYC show. The damn thing was 12 feet off the ground above an entire wall of two other artists' pieces."

"I've hardly sold any work this year."

"You haven't shown as much as last year."

The colicky exchange ends. Tomorrow or the next day I'll wake up to the sound of electronica and typing. I'll shuffle into the bathroom and turn my head to the left to see the studio door open, fluorescent lights blazing. I'll shuffle into the kitchen for a glass of water to the sound of scrap metal being laid out on the cement floor. The demons have vanished, looking for easier prey.

If you're lucky, someday you'll own a piece of art that is completely fucked up. Riddled with experimentation. . . frustration. . . creative angst. Rough edges, uneven paint. An extra drill hole with nothing in it. Bent. I love bent. You'll know that the piece has been suffered over rather than cranked out by a meticulous craftsperson. The world is drowning in a swamp of pretty and perfect soulessness. What I hunger for is battered wisdom. The honest beauty of survival. Something that has been left out to sea to be pummeled by decades of ravaging storms. Something that has been tested, broken and reborn. Paula has been out there. Now she's fighting her way to a different shore. She's shown me uncanny things. She'll tell you it just happens. No great meaning. No carefully planned process. "I have no idea what I'm doing," she says. "I don't understand anything." Study Buddhism and you'll find that The Buddha says the same thing minus the self-hatred. We all have our quirks. I just wait for the latest storm to blow over and another unexpected flash of design brilliance to tear through the scrap heap.


self taught artist said...

at first when i read this i was slightly mortified..i mean it sounds really bad to say you hate yourself doesnt it? but you've shared with me that you see it as a good thing that ive channeled that energy that once i used to destroy myself into a way better thing: making art. the energy gets 'recycled' into something good ~ dissolves, and is forgotten. i can see the humor in it now too. such battles over WHAT REALLY?

Nellie's Needles said...

What an amazing friendship/connection between you and Paula! You are lucky.

Tod said...

Thanks Nellie. I feel lucky to have met you and a number of other bloggers online. This is the power of the internet at its best. We have a lot to learn from each other.

I feel strongly about sharing my experiences as part of the artist life. It's important to me that people can see how messy and full of self doubt the day to day process can be while still being successful on many levels. My observation is that most people in our culture equate uncertainty and messiness with failure. Creative capacity ends up being greatly restricted by trying to control life and appearances.