The non-art life that makes an art-life possible.
In the past three and a half weeks, I was home in NYC working my various freelance and day jobs. Artists generally don’t like to publicize their day jobs, for fear of seeming less serious or successful as an artist. But perhaps by omitting my jobs on my blog, I’m implying a falsehood that my art is my income. So: I work as an artist assistant, freelance art handler (recently at the Frieze and NADA fairs, and occasionally at the Museum of Arts and Design), and freelance graphic designer. This is how I cobble together an income to live in NYC, make art, and save up for and recover financially from residencies and exhibitions. The multiple streams mean I’m not tied down or dependent on any one employer (say, for fear of losing health insurance). The trade-off is that it’s financially precarious but strategically flexible. As someone at the Center for Cultural Innovation once explained, artists often advance opportunistically, by taking opportunities as they come.
For example, my residency at c3:initiative happened quite by chance: the Portland ‘Pataphysical Society invited me to do a show. I asked them to suggest places to stay. They asked c3. Then we figured out that making new work for the windows at ‘Pata fit c3’s mission. (Thank you Jo, Dave, Shir and Erin!) Luckily, the people I work with get that I’m a worker and an artist; they psychologically support me by tolerating my occasional unavailability. I realize how uncommon this is, especially as workers’ personal time is increasingly infringed upon by work responsibilities like answering emails, etc.
When I look back at the past few weeks, I’ve realized two small lessons:
I need to be intentional about down time. My body has been forcing me to take breaks via jet lag, exhaustion, and back pain. I’ve been working long days and late nights to maximize on art opportunities and income generation, and to reciprocate clients’ and employers’ commitment. It’s been a sprint. Running training plans outline different types of training for each day of the week, including speed, endurance, active recovery, and rest. Skipping the latter two is a recipe for injury. I have to fight the “cult of busyness.” It’s not enough to catch up on sleep, either; I can’t be like a toddler, toggling between ‘overdrive’ and ‘knocked out’—I need to be conscious to decompress. Though I want to be productive this residency, I also need it to recharge me. Period. It’s not about slowing down to serve the creative process. Utility isn’t everything. (E.g, I’m not a corporation craving insights on creativity and happy workers in order to increase revenue and productivity). I need to prioritize the inherent value of rest and recovery.
Follow-up is work. I left the residency at Harvester Arts on the day after my opening. It was emotionally satisfying to do so—I left just after the high point. But there were a few days’ worth of color-correcting, writing captions, blogging, web updates, bookkeeping, etc. that followed. Administrative labor is work. It’s often very gendered labor, which may contribute to why it’s often invisible and undervalued, as ET pointed out. I can’t fall into that trap. I need to acknowledge that a residency project doesn’t always end when the actual residency does. Just as I’d try to schedule out time to prepare for a project, I have to allow the time and energy for post-residency labor.