Balance. Balance is something I strive for. For a number of years I practiced meditation in the mornings just so I could feel a sense of inner peace as I went along in my days filled with undergraduate classes and minimum-wage service-industry jobs.
Trying to figure out how to maintain academics, real life, and personal hygiene as an 18 year old was hard! What’s that saying…That once a radical graduates college they finally learn how hard it is to live the politics they so earnestly followed on campus? …and then become liberals?
Over ten years later I’m finding similar problems while attending graduate school. The difference now being that it’s much harder to maintain rigorous political standards when you’re exhausted all the time. (Cry for me, please, a little.)
I’m realizing now that grad school would not have been a good place for me even five years ago. I wasn’t ready. I had vague ideas of what I needed to do in order to qualify as a professional artist – or at least trying to qualify as one. Those things required a level of dedication and patience that I just did not have. I was still too busy trying to balance my mental health and regular attendance at various bar and basement punk shows in Portland, Oregon. And as much as I like to tell myself otherwise: alcohol has never helped anything.
“My whole body of work has this kind of flexible, mutable quality. It has the rawness of a studio, the rawness of a laboratory; where things could happen, where things could fall apart.” –Sarah Sze in the Season 6 episode “Balance” of Art in the Twenty-First Century.
I found a lot of resonance in Sarah Sze’s words in Art in the Twenty-First Century‘s upcoming “Balance” episode (airing May 4 on PBS). Much of my own work is developed in a very flexible work process – I set parameters for myself but allow a piece to find its own individuality or specificity as I make it. As I look at my recent past and the next few years coming up, it could be said my life is constructed similarly. I try to find a place to rest between what is in my head and what the world is throwing at me. I need that point between my internal desires and the culture around me. As Sze says in this same Art21 episode, “We’re dealing with nature, we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Most recently this desire has manifested itself in figuring out how to best create narrative in my work without explicitly leading the viewer to a designated comprehension. I’ve become attracted to a mix of deliberate imagery and openness in my work – creating my own narrative but allowing any number of interpretations, seeing them all as valid.
Day to day though, I’ve discovered some things. It’s really hard to balance the paranoia of not ‘measuring up’ to our professors’ demands and the burgeoning ego of a grad student in open studio. It’s easy to forget that our classmates whom we spend easily over 60 hours a week with are not our dream combination of confidant and unbiased art critic. And it’s scarily easy to let go of maintaining small things like cleaning your bedroom or eating regularly and then wondering why your life feels like such a mess. Luckily, most grad programs are an average of two years in length — I couldn’t handle another four years of institutional questioning regarding my every creative move.