If you’re in New York this weekend, you’re probably going to the fairs (Armory, Scope, Volta, Independent, etc), but if you can, do yourself a favor and get to the MoMA for the Cindy Sherman retrospective.
I liked Sherman’s work before, though I always thought of her in the context of the Pictures Generation. Now, after seeing this world-class exhibition of her work, I’m convinced about her unique position in 21st-century contemporary art. There are many bodies of works in the exhibition, and a few—Untitled Film Stills, the history paintings, and the more recent grand dames—alone would make fantastic accomplishments for one artist’s lifetime. Some little-seen works really add to the visit, too. Sherman is an incredible photographer and artist, and I left feeling very inspired to be prolific, think big, and take risks.
(For example, I’ve been daydreaming about a forthcoming series of large collage/posters, envisioning a series of 10. Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills knocked my socks off—all 69 of them. Time to up the scale of my ambition, and do work!)
(Also, female self-portraitists, cliché of art schools: Bring it or quit it! Sherman’s A-game comes at risk to her, and the viewers benefit with immense rewards. Making vulnerable self-portraits in a very general way about “the gaze” can be like working on your punching form by hitting the air. It’s how you start, but sooner or later, you either step into the ring, or move on to Zumba.)
Cindy Sherman is on view at the MoMA through June 26. If you can’t make it, there’s a nicely organized exhibition website, though it’s just a sampling of the pictures and details you’d see in the exhibition. (Typography nerds will appreciate the fluctuating typefaces for this identity-upending show.)
On Tuesday, I drove 240 miles to de-install and pick up my work from Catskill, NY. Today, I spent over 2 hours in transit going to Chelsea and back to photograph my installation. After this, I’m going to color-correct the photos, then work on a residency application. (Meanwhile, my latest studio project has been untouched—frozen in a state of incompletion—for the past 1.5 weeks.)
There is little joy in schlepping. The transit left me knackered, and feeling not especially productive. But I want to contrast these niggling feelings about artists’ extrastudio activity with a different sentiment about being an artist, to make space for an attitude adjustment.
When I visited Michael Arcega’s and Stephanie Syjuco’s studios in San Francisco last Friday, it felt like this is where they report to work, because it’s their jobs to be artists. This is less about occupations—Arcega and Syjuco both work as teachers—and more to do with the seriousness and intention of their practices, of their drive to be making and exhibiting as artists. The visits made me want a bigger studio, and somehow restructure my life so that I can spend more and more of my time being an artist. I left feeling inspired to be more ambitious, diligent, and committed.
I savored this sense of forward momentum. During my long drive to Catskill, I came to this realization: Being an artist for a day—working on your art, managing your art career, even undertaking extrastudio activities—is a gift.
Artists often want to focus on studio work—most of us probably became artists because of the pleasures of creativity and discovery. But there is much more to being an artist, and rather than disparage the extrastudio work—the unending grant applications, the mounting rejection letters, the mindless schlepping—I thought about being grateful for it. There are countless other things competing for our attentions—but we choose to be artists, and therefore the activities we engage in are of our volition and intention.
A few points of reference come to mind:
Lee Pembleton, in my interview with Earthbound Moon for Art Practical, said,
We pour our resources in to the work. Of course, it is not a suffering work, but an ecstatic one.
The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is about finding pleasure, satisfaction, purpose, and happiness in one’s work. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that there are spoken words in this nearly silent film, and they are of lasting import to me.
Yes, there is little pleasure in schlepping. But perhaps I can approach this work, in all of its facets, however transcendent or mundane, exciting or tedious, in terms of finding satisfaction and purpose. From that perspective, the ability to be an artist—the capacity and circumstances—are delights in themselves.
Want inspiration? Watch these feature-length films.
Portrait of the bike-riding, Carnegie-Hall-residing, NY Times street fashion photographer. A real photographer and egalitarian. Made me want to go out and shoot hundreds of photos, and aspire to be unflappable of character and constantly amazed at life.
Heartbreakingly beautiful, symbolic, mostly-silent black-and-white movie about the rise and fall of stardom. A really potent, modern narrative about creative life and pride, brought to life with incredible cinematography, direction and acting (as well as great typography). I saw it yesterday and can’t wait to see it again.
We were barreling down a long corridor of ivy-covered trees in Tennessee when we finally listened to Terry Gross’ interview with Brian May (Fresh Air, WHYY, August 3, 2010), guitarist of Queen, co-writer of classic songs, astrophysicist and author of a new book on stereography.
It was one of those episodes of Fresh Air that you don’t soon forget.
It was a funny thing to hear May, with his humble and polite demeanor, describe touring with Queen, writing arena anthems, the non-issue of Freddy Mercury’s sexuality, and the pain of Queen’s limited success in America largely due to our homophobia. It was vital. I also relished paying attention to the strange structure of “We Will Rock You,” and May’s nerdy explanation of how he achieved the arena-like acoustics in the studio.
Of course the interview was spurred by May’s recent book of stereography, which is related to his PhD in astrophysics.
To be have a life in the arts, and to achieve the kind of success where your artwork becomes part of the culture, is really nothing short of extraordinary. To change courses and pursue specialized academics, and then share your love of science with a general audience, speaks to an admirable ambition and confidence. What an inspiration!