Tuesday, January 25, 2011

More on Plan B

It’s curious how many people (like Mario Naves) interpreted my case against Plan B, below, as meaning that I have a conflict with artists working outside their studio. Not so! I’m a big advocate of the Work Ethic (I wasn’t born Carol Dickinson—how WASPy can you get?—for nothing).  I simply would not advise college students who want to be artists to study another profession they’re not completely committed to as a backup in case of failure—such as those whose "Plan B" is a Master of Arts in Teaching. The artists Naves and I know in New York are the ones who were resourceful, who survived. The people I'm thinking about are those I meet at places like the Vermont Studio Center or the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, who now are struggling to get back the thread of their art after doing something else, such as teaching in grammar or high school, for years—challenged by being just too long out of the conversation.

And why is the conversation important? Because it keeps you sharp and current, and your work alive. I seem to be arguing for art school these days when I didn’t think I believed in it, but this is one of the main reasons to go, to get critical feedback and create significant life-long relationships with other artists (years ago you could have gotten the same experience less expensively, by hanging out at that long-lost institution, the art bar).

As long as you stay in this very important loop, you can do almost anything outside of it. Henri Rousseau, famously, was a customs inspector. Color field artist Gene Davis, was a sportswriter and White House correspondent. Robert Irwin played the horses. I have a friend, Tom Kovachevich, who’s a doctor with a full-fledged art career, another who has a government job as a therapist and lives in Vermont (yes, he travels to New York a lot). Further, there’s no question that Stella’s outside job as a house painter, Rosenquist's as a sign painter, and Warhol’s as an illustrator changed the course of art history.

As for having to work, I’ve often done my best art when squeezed for time. In fact I started painting seriously when I was the suburban mother of two toddlers who were in nursery school for half a day. I was also, however, deeply involved in the Chicago art scene, sharing a studio with three other committed artists, writing reviews for The New Art Examiner, and going to openings every Friday.

In fact, looking back on it, the biggest turning points in my development as a painter were born directly out of the frustration of having neither the physical ability nor the time to work.  The first time I used writing in my paintings (which I no longer do, BTW, having seen too much of it) was in 1976 after a back injury from an automobile accident kept me from sitting down to work and my boy friend had just broken up with me. I couldn’t think of any images I wanted to make so I just poured out my thoughts, scrawling all over the paper with oil pastel, and then afraid that someone might actually read them, obliterating the words with asphyxiating amounts of turpentine.

Carol Diehl, It seems silly..., Oil pastel on paper, 1976

Later, in the 90s, I was working as an assistant to a literary agent, writing for Art & Antiques (under editor Isolde Motley, when it was a great magazine), art consulting for TIME—occupations for which I had no formal training—and coping with an unnamed illness I now know to be Lyme disease. Yet I had a studio and the urge to paint, even if I could only eke out 15 minutes at a time. There was no possibility of buying a stretcher and preparing a canvas, so I took an old painting, ruled it off with colored pencil into forty 2” horizontal stripes and chronicled the events of my life in one painted strip each day—a format that later became the “journal paintings” that were eventually shown at Hirschl & Adler.

Carol Diehl, January,1997,Oil on canvas, 36" x 36"

Another thing I hear when talking with frustrated artists is, “You don’t understand; I live in Cleveland.” What they are really saying is that they’ve made other choices that have taken them off their path—but these things didn’t “just happen.” If living in Cleveland is a problem, then don’t live in Cleveland. Or accept that you live in Cleveland, find other people like you, and start something up there. The problem isn’t, and has never been, Cleveland.

But it could have been “Plan B.”


Note:  I just now received a notice from the Vermont Studio Center regarding their fellowship applications, closing February 15. More info here.


martha miller said...

i've often wondered what it would be like to have the entire day, every day, to make art. like picasso, whose wife rose early to ride her bike to his studio to get his fire going each morning. to simply rise and start creating, and keep creating till bedtime. no other responsiblities. when i was about midway into my 5 week monhegan island residency in 1995and really cranking out the work, i remember not wanting to do even the tiny amount of dishes that i alone generated (at home, i had 5 children, including a daughter with profound special needs, so i was accustomed to stultifying amounts of housework and childcare...) i was amazed and a little frightened at this - that there was this energy that wanted ALL OF ME.

gonzales said...

Love, love love it! My parents supported me on my decision and passion but my father still has his concerns. On a recent visit back home he was trying to tell me about a job in real estate i could get when i move back. Mind you, this was said just days after having a two man show in Utah that went fairly well. I'm PLAN A all the way. I don't really see it any other way. It's who I am.

Thanks for the post.