Monday, May 24, 2010

Artistic cycles

Subtitle: How I finally learned to settle down at age 47

I’ve been in my current job (teaching at the same 2 schools) for the past 8 years, my current home for the past 6 years, and my current studio for the past 5 years. This fairly settled state of affairs is a big deal to me, as it’s totally different from any other time in my life.

My father was a Unitarian minister when I was growing up, and my family had moved 5 times by the time I entered high school. I was also very unsettled as a young adult. I attended 6 different college programs as an undergraduate, and earned my master’s degree from a 7th. I moved my place of residence many times starting at age 18, too, living in at least 9 different locations in the Boston area throughout my 20s through mid-30s, and also moving back home with my parents several times during those years. I even moved my studio 4 times after finishing graduate school, before finally settling peacefully here in the basement of my home 4 years ago.

Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older, but I’m realizing how much can be accomplished by finding your most productive place, physically and in intention, and staying there. Moving, moving, moving, packing and unpacking, that constant change and life upheaval, means that you’re always adjusting and re-adjusting, over and over again.

Now that I’ve had some time to get used to being where I am, I’ve developed a natural cycle to my art-making that is only finally emerging after all these years, and it’s emerging because I’m settled and happy.

It goes something like this. Again, it’s a cycle, so there’s no real beginning and ending, just an ongoing shift from one activity to another.

This is the most fun of the fun, so I’ll start here: I have a relatively free stretch of time, and I paint, paint, paint. Not having to be anywhere but in my studio, I can indulge the creative muse with whatever schedule feels right. I get up early and work, then nap, then work into the night, for as many hours at a time are needed. There are short sections of time when I’m stretching or toning canvases, or there are long stretches of time when I’m pushing a canvas as far as it can go. But it’s a day to day schedule that’s completely or almost completely devoted to art-making. This usually happens during natural transitions between academic semesters, for a week or a few weeks, sometimes up to a month.

Then there’s a heavy teaching period. I’ve taught as few as 2 classes a week and as many as 8, but most typically it’s 4 or 5 classes a week. This means that the art-making time is patched together here and there, in time surrounding the class commitments, but I always have at least a few days a week devoted completely to painting.

During these heavy teaching times, I have more money available than usual to buy art supplies, so I usually stock up on materials that I constantly use, such as heavy-duty stretcher bars, 50-yard rolls of canvas, gallons of acrylic medium and basic colors used for toning canvases, and particular colors of Golden fluid acrylics (depending on the colors I’ve been using most recently).

At various times, either just after a busy painting time or at a semester’s end, I find that I am creatively burned out. Then I become aware that it just doesn’t feel right to paint. At these times, I concentrate on my professional career, by emailing or sending application packets to galleries, or searching various lists for exhibition opportunities (although I am always doing this on a sort of ongoing basis). Or else I just stop working in the studio altogether, until such time as I feel like painting again, and I spend my time focusing on my physical state (daily exercising, healthy cooking), spending time with friends, or reading. This is a time of replenishment, and often a time of transition. Either I’m pausing between one series or another, or I’m just plain stopping and resting. This often happens over a major holiday such as Christmas or Easter, or at the end of the summer as it transitions into fall.

I’m not sure if my earlier years of constant wandering were happening because I was simply young and unsure of myself, or if I was repeating the transitory nature of my youth because that’s what felt familiar, or if I genuinely needed to make lifestyle changes. But whatever the reason, I now know that at this time in my life, I feel much more settled and much more aware of the natural, ongoing progressive stages of my life as a productive artist. I’ve finally found myself, at age 47, and it feels good!

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