Closer to Being an Artist

Yesterday I was skimming through Culturebot’s site and read a quick interview with an artist. I had never heard of him and didn’t recognize his face, but I like those quick 5-question kind of interviews, so it caught my eye. Typical questions, short answers. I’m always interested to hear about what any kind of artist says when posed with questions about art v. real life issues, and with a question such as, “What do you do to make a living?” It’s something so few of us talk about.

I know hundreds of theatre artists in town and elsewhere, and I’d say that for over 80% of them I really don’t know what they do to pay the bills. And I can count on one hand, maybe two, the number who pay their bills through their art. I know that when I’m asked this question I’m often reluctant to answer, partially because I don’t find it very interesting and it’s so far removed from any creative outlet possible. Retail work, as horrible as I think that would be, might be closer to interesting and creative. On the other hand, it also depends on who’s doing the asking—they may be someone who I’d really only prefer to think of me as a theatre artist. [Although if I’m being honest I don’t think that makes much of a difference. It’s just an image I might be trying to put out there at that point.]

After the artist being interviewed (Michael Krumenacker) explained he’s done carpentry work for several years (which I think is really cool, btw) he was asked the typical follow-up question of whether he ever had to choose between his art and making a living. It was his answer that’s had me thinking for the past 24 hours:

“I used to get pissed about having to work 5 days a week at a job (with no benefits) and then come home tired and try to get some work done, but at some point a few years back I had this sudden realization that I was always working on my ‘art’, whether I was actually in my studio or hanging drywall or cooking dinner. It also hit me at the same time that I was always experiencing ‘art’ whether I was in a gallery, museum or looking at a street, a house, some trees, a mountain, a pile of garbage, whatever. This has triggered a move away from art in a way and closer to being an artist.”

I find it interesting because for most of the past seventeen years or so I’ve thought of myself primarily as an actor (and occasional director) but that’s expanded over the past couple years, and I’ve spent much of this year writing (and will do more.) This also means a good portion of my work this year has not taken place in a rehearsal room or on stage – so in some ways it didn’t feel like typical work. But, this year, because of the volume of creative challenge I’ve taken on, and because it neither killed me nor completely failed, and in fact was rather successful, I’ve felt more like a theatre artist than at points in the past.

I don’t know if what I just wrote makes any sense to anyone else.

So, in that regard, I’d like to hear more from him on this concept. Maybe he’s on to something. What’s disappointing is that the interview ends there. [I know…I just said I like the quick 5-question interview format.] I want to know more about this idea and just what he means.

Does he mean that in the past he only felt like an artist when he was actually creating something, and that during dry spells in between (presuming those exist for him) he didn’t? Is this all tied in to the concept that we’re only as valid as our work is valuable? (Kind of like you’re only as good as the last thing you did, except cutting a bit deeper.) Is this Michael guy expressing a concept that he’s found himself move into a higher self-awareness (if you will) of being an artist rather than aspiring to become an artist or perhaps rather than “a guy who does sculptures”?

Is an artist someone who, without working at doing such a thing, is always incorporating, exploring, defining and redefining art that surrounds us on a daily basis? Perhaps.

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2 thoughts on “Closer to Being an Artist

  1. Greetings.
    I’m the artist whom you blogged about here. My friend, Tim Braun, who conducts the series of “5 Q’s” interviews, emailed me the link to your blog and this response.
    I hope I don’t disappoint, but I’ll try and explain a little more about my last response. In my own head it can get pretty convoluted, and that’s of course in non-linear thought, so trying to express it this way is even more difficult for a visual thinker (me).

    You wrote, “Does he mean that in the past he only felt like an artist when he was actually creating something, and that during dry spells in between (presuming those exist for him) he didn’t? Is this all tied in to the concept that we’re only as valid as our work is valuable? (Kind of like you’re only as good as the last thing you did, except cutting a bit deeper.) Is this Michael guy expressing a concept that he’s found himself move into a higher self-awareness (if you will) of being an artist rather than aspiring to become an artist or perhaps rather than “a guy who does sculptures”?

    Is an artist someone who, without working at doing such a thing, is always incorporating, exploring, defining and redefining art that surrounds us on a daily basis? Perhaps.”

    I’m thinking of going through the formal education of becoming an artist that there were always goals that were further away. Undergrad school- senior thesis show- applying to Grad Schools- moving to NY- getting some fabulous industrial space- getting into group shows- getting your first one person show- getting into the big curated museum shows and biennials-
    The expectations were (and are) that you are going to “become” something that you presently are not. You are to build up a theory, an idea, or a package, present it to the “art-world” and have them accept it. If they do not accept it, you are not a legit artist.
    Within this there are so many class issues, access issues, race issues, gender issues that can work for or against you depending on a variety of circumstances.
    Then, of course, there is the idea drummed into your head that you need to be in your studio making. Now I’m fully aware that the construct of the artist working in his studio has been questioned for some time now, but there is still this idea that you must seperate life and art. From Duchamp and then Rauschenberg, there has been a critique of that divide, but it’s been just that… a critique. To me, the same thing as when a painter makes paintings that critique the language of painting. There’s nothing engaging about it. It’s furniture.
    Now my own interest and evolution as an artist moved from making figurative paintings early in undergraduate school, to becoming interested in those two previously named artists, to surrealism, dada, then Josef Beuys, minimalism, land/earth art and more recently into the detritus sculptures of people like Tony Feher, Jessica Stockholder and then also people like Andrea Zittel. That progression suggests a move away from the institutions, but the only place I know of them is through the institutions (the galleries, museums, art-magazines), so there seems to be something missing for me there also.
    Then within the “look” of the work, there is further deconstruction of the object as precious object. Then again, Tony Feher’s bottles filled with red liquid are still precious commodities to be owned by people or institutions who have access and want to express something about themselves through their “taste”, yet a bunch of jars filled up with red liquid outside an institution, not made by Tony Feher is trash. So the art is being defined by it’s context- the institutions. So the art is representative of an idea— the idea of a Tony Feher and what he means to our culture through his sculptures— (and geez I don’t mean to pick on Tony Feher, like I said, I like his work and have met him and he’s a hilarious and great guy). So…. and I’m getting both ahead of myself and way off track… there is this inability to REALLY critique the institutions in any sort of meaningful way. As long as art exists within those institutions it’s just self-referential and essentially meaningless to me, other than as a fun yet essentially vacuous game.
    And then finally if I don’t buy into the circular game of assigning importance and meaning to art by the institutions, then the work does become meaningless beyond my own experience of it, and as my own interest in art has evolved into finding a Tony Feher sculpture to be quite engaging, so it has done the same to finding a pile of bottles filled with red liquid outside the institutions anywhere…(essentially a pile of trash) to be every bit as engaging, so then the question for myself has been why have I/We been assigning a higher value to objects and ideas expressed within the institutions and not anywhere and everywhere at any given time?
    I do actually believe that this was the general point of what Josef Beuys was trying to express- that we actually don’t need art if we can be artists.
    Now I came to these thoughts (which have quite a lot of marxist critique in them…) rather all of a sudden after a residency at the Edward Albee Foundation. When I returned to NY and headed straight for the galleries in Chelsea, I found myself unable to physically enter. I couldn’t will myself to and it freaked me out quite a bit…. some sort of spell was broken it felt like I was set free or something. Since then, I have been attempting to understand where that sense of liberation came from and what it means… and I think this is where it’s at for me presently.
    Now after all that, it still actually takes work for me. Frustration with having to work 40+ hours a week in a pretty tough job is always there, I’m not dancing around a job-site screwing 2×4’s together thinking every moment about how it’s all art, but I do have moments when the stack of construction debris, a pile of saw-dust with screws scattered around can create in me a sensation that equals every bit the same sensation I get looking at Giacometti’s Palace at 4 AM, and they seem to be becoming more and more often. I’m happy about that, but I don’t know if it’s Zen or spiritual enlightenment of anything else. For me, honestly, it’s art.
    Thanks for the great comments on your blog too. Nice to feel that some thoughts of mine had an impact on someone….

  2. Michael –

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and full response. I love some of the points you make – particularly the outlining of expectations of “goals that were further away” and especially,

    “The expectations were (and are) that you are going to “become” something that you presently are not. You are to build up a theory, an idea, or a package, present it to the “art-world” and have them accept it. If they do not accept it, you are not a legit artist.”

    So true. In so many art forms. And you also talk about the development and evolution of your own work, and the work that influenced you. And in it all, there’s no one single definition.

    The wonderful thing about art is its subjectiveness. Thus making the whole point of “becoming an artist” or “being the artist” etc, essentially a moot point.

    One man’s art….

    Thanks for stirring my mind some more.

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