If Your Practice Is Your Food-Don’t Starve To Death, Friend. Eat!
Loving Working Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952
“Work was a shining refuge when wind sank its tooth into my mind. Everything we love is going away, drifting – but you could sweep this stretch of floor, this patio or porch, gather white stones in a bucket,
rake the patch for future planting, mop the counter with a rag. Lovely wet gray rag, squeeze it hard it does so much. Clear the yard of blowing bits of plastic.
The glory in the doing. The breath of the doing. Sometimes the simplest move kept fear from fragmenting into no energy at all, or sorrow from multiplying, or sorrow from being the only person living in the house.” “We clean to give space for Art.” Micaela Miranda, Freedom Theatre, Palestine
I found that my hands ached to pull weeds. Falling to my knees pulling, digging, yanking with a fury that needed repeating, over and over and over; I was anxious and hungry for the meditation.
I weeded and weeded, and harvested, for a few years while I worked an art gallery job. I was finally making money in the art realm in a way that my own art wasn’t and I thought I would be happy with that, but I wasn’t. The work was emailing, visiting studios, reviewing work, talking on the phone, designing digital show announcements and conducting artist interviews.
I wasn’t any closer to my art making, in fact even though I was working in the arts I was the furthest from making my work than ever before. Making the work is my deepest meditation, my clearest prayer, but to promote the arts and support other artist required me to shut off that inner world and exist in the outer realm.
To be clear, I am a mother of two daughters, to dogs, a cat, and a life partner. I need to do my part in bringing in funds to take care of us all. Making work (specifically non-utilitarian items such as paintings and art photographs) and selling it, is at best a gamble. Making work while thinking about whether or not it will sell literally changes it—practically kills it, for me.
During this time I discovered two things: I couldn’t make art with the goal of financial gain and I couldn’t continue a job that breaks my art making process, even if it is a job in the arts.
During this time I also happened to land a mini-job designing, planting and caring for eight container gardens in a public setting. It consumed just 2.5 hours a week. I really didn’t have time for it, but I took it because I was flattered that I was asked to do something with plants - my good friends.
Each week during those 2.5 hours of repetitive watering, feeding and grooming the plants I felt my heart bloom again. I felt everything align inside of me and my actions felt like prayer again. It was certainly like painting...and I was getting paid real, consistent money for it!
Here was a job that didn’t break from my art-making, working with plants I now know is an extension of it. The colors, palpable feelings and repetitive hand movements conjure forth the life of a story that I tell in all mediums. While I whispered love into the verdant green leaves they grew bigger and my ability to sustain the life of my art making, to sustain me, also grew.
There is always a danger in me giving up. I paint so slowly, I process imagery so slowly. My body of work is a bigger idea, made up of many smaller parts and it takes a lot of time holding the pieces in the dark while they incubate - until they are ready to come forth out of the paintbrush or from the lens, into the light.
The speed at which we are required to live in this world is an antagonizing force in this creative work, in this prayer. My work cannot be rushed, even if no one will like it in the end. I’m not sure how much the end result matters because I'm taking care of healing my frustrations and discomforts - the dis-ease of body, mind and soul that accumulates from the grief of being alive in a death avoidant, competitive and greed driven consumerist culture.
When I’m doing this work my inner state is high, high, so high. There’s so much golden love pouring out of this work, from these gestures, from this tending that it often feels like my studio is an ascetic’s hut on top of the mountain and the goal is simply to generate this kind of love-energy in the world-universe.
Even in the arts the entire system of exchange, the way art is designated consumable, is trapped in competitive consumerist/branding models. The artist is expected to define themselves by a large consistent body of work (product) and expected to function within an agreed-upon set of rules.
I am not that kind of artist or maybe any kind of artist…I’m a flesh-suited being that turns the wheel under the deck, spinning spinning threads, threading the needle with eyes closed, a supporting actress in the evolution of hearts and minds. There has to be a fair amount of lingering in the dark to hear or see what urgent story begs to come to light. Moving the hands, moving the hands, moving the hands - bringing water - turning soil - breathing life into materials, into form.
Probably every artist feels this way. I wasn’t sure what to title this journal entry, maybe ‘Motherhood and Art - Don’t Do It’ or ‘If Your Art Doesn’t Make Money Fast Enough...’ or “If Your Practice Is Your Food-Don’t Starve To Death, Friend. Eat! : No Matter What The Medium Is”.