When I was a young artist I read an article by Judith Mason titled “Women artists need wives.” It was humorous, insightful, and self-effacing, as Judith Mason can be, but it struck me, and stuck with me in spite of the years, and in spite of no longer having access to that piece of writing.
Artemisia Gentileschi must have felt it, all of us feel it: that the stuff of everyday gets in the way of studio time. Everyartist can feel the frustration of having to negotiate the world and all it’s need for small details that take time, mean little, but are unavoidable.
The big culprit, of course, is employment. Horror of Horrors! Selling my daylight hours to the boss. I get up on mornings that ooze creative potential and suggest marvelous solutions to studio dilemmas, and I get in the car go to work to count stock, and sit in meetings, and pace cafeterias, and fill kilns and empty kilns, and wash other peoples’ paintbrushes.
The mental gymnastics that balances time and money: I need a place in which to make art, and I need to feed and clothe my family and provide for all my children’s needs. And I need time and energy to make my work.
I’ve gotten better at this as time has passed; at least I think I have. I can stretch and strangle significant chunks of time out of a day and a week and and a month. A weekend offers many pockets of studio time. But the resentment doesn’t ebb. I would like NOT to vacuum the carpet, peel the potatoes, do the washing, deworm the cat, wash the pots, sweep the stoop, soak the bacalao, clean the fireplace, weed the flower bed, wash the bath, iron the shirts, feed the cats, mop the kitchen floor, get some groceries, fix the gutter, change the light bulb, run to the pharmacy, go through the mail . . .
I would like to wake up in the morning and go down to the studio when the sun comes up. Fiddle around for a bit, and then slide into a painting for a couple of hours. I would like to be disturbed only because of my OWN hunger, not the kids’ or the cats’. I would like to climb out of a making process to get a jumper only when I feel to cold to concentrate. I would like to only wash my own brushes – ever.
But then . . . it’s complicated. Prunella Clough was only “saying a small thing edgily” because she was tunes into the small things. What would I make in the studio if I didn’t have my children to contemplate? How would I negotiate the changing times if I didn’t know my students and see their lives reinventing youth and humanity? I have things to say because of all the “small things.” I have always been more interested in the edginess of small things, than in the loudness of statements of political import.
I may be addicted to the tug of pulling the weeds in the flowerbed, because surely, I could let that slide. I must be attached to the way the clean wash folds into neat, freshly scented stacks of the children’s clothing, because I cold deliver heaps to the bedrooms to save a minute or two. I am intrigued by the huge clumps of cat fur that I can collect with each vacuuming. I am seduced by my children’s appreciation of a shared meal that I have prepared.
Would I have anything to say in the studio if I didn’t have all these little annoyances? The thieves of studio time also feed studio time! It is not that I will ever mature enough to delight in them. My personal growth peaks at entertainment in my resentment of them. I am annoyed that the world steals my making-art-time, but I don’t carry the grudge. I know, deep down, that the silly nothings of this life are all I have to contemplate and all I have to say about it.
When we artists are aware of how the mundanities of daily life affect our ideas, our work benefits. Creativity feeds off everything that enters onto your horizon – seek out and explore those that offer the richest mines. Don’t wait for a profound event to trigger your art-making. Make and make and make. And in the corner, between the pot plant that needs watering and the discarded sneakers, you may notice your muse, quietly watching.