And/Or

It has been sticking in my head and rattling my heart.

“I though you were either an artist OR a teacher not AND…”

That’s it.

Just an innocent, late night comment by an anonymous torso on a hook-up app volley but it seems to have chaffed a nerve and unsettled a comfortable complacency. Looking at my 48th birthday lumbering on the horizon may have also added a certain barb to this exchange.

Where am I?

I love teaching.
The active, engaged moments of discovery and creative resolution I’ve witnessed and have hopefully helped come to fruition are sustaining moments of reward and inspiration. I try to throw myself into that arena as passionately and fully as I do when I step through my studio door. Appended administrative duties and grafted managerial responsibilities aggressively peck at that pure enthusiasm and it’s a spindly balancing act at times to keep the clarity and focus on the students. I do love my job and feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of that amazing community.

But…
As I was rummaging through and culling my past work for my recent Deployment exhibition, I couldn’t help but notice a significant dip in production at the onset of my teaching. I know there are also many, many more contributing factors like a shift in the work (more performative events than gallery intended production), studio shifts/evictions, moves and significant time out of the country (where a lot of work was actually produced…) but the dip was quite pronounced.

Add on another decade of years to the body and a reduction may make sense.

It may.
I’m not quite convinced.

I’ve always been consistently productive during any type of previous employment. When cutting lox, painting houses, slinging drinks, dusting the Field Museum or driving an art truck in Chicago, I always found the time and more importantly the energy to rush to the studio and recapture the most vital part of self. Managing a Capitol Hill apartment complex, maintaining the Seafirst Bank art collection and again driving an art truck in Seattle had me scampering to the studio at the end of the day.

Teaching is something else.

I’ve always shared with friends how great it is because I’m never out of the dialog around art and disciplined production and the developing conceptual dance steps we all need to scribe on the institution floor to assure proper form and critical rigor…

Exhale
Recently, I’m not quite convinced.

The gap is not there between my current employment and my studio production. Depressed “at risk” Nova lox never shadowed my production in Chicago. When the truck was parked in Seattle it didn’t expect to have its emails answered on a Sunday afternoon.

Immersed and possibly either too creatively satisfied or mentally exhausted to aggressively make that break from school and run to the studio and rebuild that vital self temporarily put on hold during my gainful employment, I simply “meh”.
I’m not pushing back but rather feeling the divisions completely merging…it’s all creative practice, right? But how many hours are in the day? And how can they best be metered out?

I’m hearing my friend Christopher muttering under his breath, “First world problems…” so I feel the need to acknowledge the potential irrelevance and arrogant singularity of this post. But wait…it’s my blog!

So…
What am I getting at?

I need to begin to build tighter boundaries and barriers and strengthen some of the necessary divisions between my teaching self and my studio self, my public and my private being. I want to be 100% for my students, colleagues and friends and then be able to click that switch and arrive hungry, volatile and vulnerable at the studio. I want to set priorities through out the day, the week and the year that will help me tame and maintain the multi-headed hydra that is living and creating.

To come to a healthy state of peace with the realization that my life’s markers, rewards, moments of clarity, joy and loss are mine to be shamelessly embraced, celebrated and greedily pursued.

Confidently and with humor I’ll toss all of the balls in the air and hopefully dazzle with my juggling skills.

2 Responses to And/Or

  1. Interesting problem David, one that all creative people muddle through.

    On my own journey, after Art school’s giant Bar Tab came due, I went to work in the private sector. I excelled at my job, moved rapidly up the ladder, made more money every year, learned new skills, and was generally left with a big hole in my soul. To call my art production during that time modest would be an overstatement.

    So I quit my full-time job, and became a more than full-time artist. Needless to say its been a long long road to financial solvency, and I’ve had to unlearn a lot of expectations I had, and pick up some key skills I never thought I would have to master, but I’ve never been happier.

    Of course, one of the first myths I had to dispel was the percentage of time spent making art vs. business stuff.
    Now I am at the point were if 20% of my week is actually spend producing artwork, that is a great success. The rest of the time is spent wearing all the hats of the small business.

    So the question to ask yourself is, if you were to quit or scale back teaching, would you focus all the ‘new time’ on the artwork itself, or merely on the marketing/promotion/planning/admin/etc etc etc. And there is always laundry.

    Maybe you could start small, devote one or two days a week to ONLY your own Art Career (whether pure production, or a mix of production and business)- and do no papers, or engage with students, or give no ‘special private tutoring sessions’ ?

    Or maybe use that wacky Sabbatical concept we in the non-teaching world hear so much about, to focus time and attention.

    Whatever you decide, I wish you great success. I am forever your fan.

    PS: Seen any good films lately? I understand the view from the projection booth is particular good.

  2. Hi Jason,
    THanks for the insightful comment and sharing your history! Impressed that you’re doing it and making it work.
    I’m not quitting teaching because it is incredibly rewarding and the summers become very productive moments, I just need to wrestle some barrier and discipline beasts into place.
    Hmmm…..sabbatical indeed! I need to see if I’m qualified yet.
    Movies? Nothing projection booth worthy!
    Thanks for the kind words!
    D

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