November 19, 2021
This is the weirdest time to be writing a blog. You could say that about pretty much any time in, like, the last five years. Nothing I have to say seems very relevant right now, but here I am.
What’s even weirder is that I am currently at a lovely weekend art retreat in Racine, Wisconsin. That’s about 10 miles north of Kenosha, where Kyle Rittenhouse was just found not guilty of all charges. For the record, I am a prison abolitionist; or at least I am attempting to get my head around what that means in daily practice. Still though. This verdict is clearly a dangerous precedent to far right vigilantes everywhere. Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you that.
At the retreat, all of us Art Ladies either ate lunch in stunned silence or ranted with tears in our eyes. There was fear and anger and a feeling of helplessness. Occasionally we admitted that the chili was good though, and so was the cornbread. We all felt how very thin is the membrane between our carefully constructed comfort, and the world perpetually in flames all around us.
I think any artist, particularly in the States, sometimes struggles with “justifying” what they do. We’re told to see it as frivolous, as luxury. Honestly I’m feeling that way right now.
I was one of the people who thrived during Lockdown. For eight months I stayed with my partner and worked from home. I ate incredibly well because he is a very good cook. We tried to grow tomatoes and laughed at how miserably we failed. We rode bikes a lot. I picked up some good new habits, and lost some bad ones. I made a hell of a lot of art. A few of my artist friends and I sheepishly admitted to each other that Lockdown felt like a year long residency, and we didn’t want to say that out loud because so many people were truly suffering, were dying. I had never before felt quite so personally how many different realities there are in this country.
This past year, my art practice has finally started gaining real momentum. I’m working on interesting client projects. I got my first grant. The art co-operative I co-founded was selected to participate in a professional development and financial support program. A few days ago I was accepted to a two month residency in Portugal, where next summer I will build an animatronic robot installation in the countryside. It’s the stuff of dreams. What the hell.
How is art useful? How is it helping us get free? Let’s leave aside the whole discussion of what “useful’ means right now, and whether that’s an important criteria. There’s the consciousness raising art, and the art that calms our fragile souls as we withstand shock after shock. There’s also art that shows us what could be, what world we could make if we explored a different way of doing things. I think I belong to this group. At least that’s where I’m trying to be.
I keep hearing reassurances that of course art is useful, of course it is vitally important to life. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept. A comic will never save the world, but I think it could fit on that path somewhere.