Thursday, August 9, 2007

Studio Sweet Studio

I just received an email from the Mass. Cultural Council with extensive listings on upcoming open studios and live-in loft opportunities. At the risk of sounding like a hermit and a curmudgeon, I would like to weigh in on the issue of where to live/work, obviously a major one for artists.

I know it's supposed to be every artist's dream to live and work in a loft studio. It’s romantic, just like in “Rent.” You have room to express yourself, make big art and, if you're in a building with other artists, you get to participate in open studios every year, where you can talk about and sell your work to an adoring public. That is the theory, but it has never been my experience.

In the past I have rented studios in mill buildings that were indeed luxurious in their spaciousness and beautiful light. However, I found them too loud to concentrate in, even when I used headphones or ear plugs. A lot of times, other artists want to blast music (or worse, NPR, which I personally can't stand) while they work, and asking them to turn down is futile. A live-in loft would only compound the noise issue, making it a potential problem round the clock.

Also, in a "public" studio, you are at the mercy of people (artists or not) who want to stop by and chat, rather than make art. Whether they're simply being friendly or hoping to avoid working themselves, they're taking time away from your precious moments in the studio. For a person like me who has a terrible time saying no to others, it can be a very difficult thing to say, even in a nice way, "Please go away, you're bothering me!" Sometimes your request goes unheeded, even after repeated attempts, when the other person just doesn’t want to hear what you’re saying. And even if they just drop by to say hello and leave as soon as they realize you're busy, your concentration has been broken.

As to the issue of open studios, the majority of artists I know who participate in them tell me confidentially that they spent many uncredited volunteer hours helping to put them on, only to find that they don’t sell a single piece, and they confess to me that they wonder why they keep participating year after year. Open studios hold that lure for artists that maybe this year will be different, maybe more people will come, maybe it will lead to something, maybe it's worth the time and effort after all.

It is true that open studios provide an excuse to organize your space and a chance to meet the other artists in your building. But with a little more discipline and planning, you could do that anyway. Surely art consultants, gallery shows and self-promotion from a web site are more lucrative investments of an artist's time.

What HAS worked for me is living in a secluded location with enough space for my studio and for art storage. You can make art whenever you feel like it, undisturbed, without even having to change out of your jammies, never mind drive anywhere. (Granted, I am one of those people who wakes up at 2 AM and HAS to make art.)

You can deduct many household expenses from your taxes. You can work in peace and quiet. You can have large quantities of heavy art supplies delivered directly to your home, rather than having to wait around for the Fed Ex man at your studio, or transport the supplies yourself from home to studio. When galleries and consultants arrange to pick up your work, they can come straight to your house without your having to meet them at the studio.

There are numerous ways to meet other artists without having them be neighbors at open studios. I’ve met many more artists from my career as a writer about art and from attending openings than I ever met in the studio buildings I’ve rented in. (And I didn't have to lick envelopes, pour pretzels into bowls, or sit around for an entire weekend to do so.)

So while a live-in loft is supposed to be every artist’s goal, there are other (and, to me, better) options.


K. R. Seward said...

Two things to consider:

--Not an accountant speaking here, but deductions of household expenses for a in-home studio cannot exceed your art income (i.e. you can't declare a loss due to those expenses). The IRS web site or an acct. would have more info on that.

--Some folks need a space away from home to compartmentalize their art from household routine and errands. Once at a studio space, no one can ask them to bake cookies or mow the lawn nor can they procrastinate by deciding to vacuum the living room rather than paint. For them, the vagaries of a studio space are fewer than a studio at home.

Each person has to find what works for her or his situation.

Catherine Carter said...

Definitely true. You can tell I'm not a parent, by reading this blog entry. I just wanted to remind potential readers that there are other options besides the supposedly perfect situation of the live-in loft.