Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Listening to Your Art / Yourself

This post kind of revisits some of my earlier advice posts on keeping your health and yourself in mind. But today, I am going to look at this from a slightly different viewpoint, focusing on listening to one's own art and its demands.

Some artworks are inherently demanding. Many materials are difficult to work with and require the utmost care and expertise in doing so. Some pieces are large and unwieldy and their creation and transportation involve much more, both physically and otherwise. Some artworks are emotionally draining because of the messages conveyed. I recently had a performance accepted into an upcoming show that really needs to be executed as an endurance piece. I had originally planned to set up a performance schedule in accordance with the gallery, figuring that I would only be able to perform one day a week because of my hectic schedule and that I could show a video in my stead. But I couldn't help but feel as though the concept was compromised, so I rearranged my schedule around staying true to the artwork and its needs.

However, the question then arises: how far can this go before it has gone too far? How much must we give in to the conceptual demands that we place upon ourselves through our own artwork? When should we draw the line?

The first thing that must be taken into consideration is our own health and well-being. Many artists do not regard their health as anywhere near so important as it should be. But there is no artwork worth compromising one's health over - especially if it means doing so to such an extent as to inhibit oneself from creating any artwork ever again. Granted, accidents happen. But some hazards are avoidable. Always be sure there is adequate ventilation and listen to your body for signs of distress when you are placing large demands upon it. Does this mean that we should give up what we are doing because it is harmful? Not necessarily, but we should make sure to treat our materials with respect and to do our best to be aware of their consequences and effects (not just on ourselves but on those who love and respect us). So many artists have died from working with hazardous and carcinogenic materials in adverse conditions for extended periods of time, and so many others are forced to endure painful complications from overuse of certain muscles due to repetitive motions... As we come to better understand what we are working with and how our work affects us, we should make every effort to take care of ourselves so that we can continue to create art.

Secondly, we need to consider the effects that working on our artworks are going to have on our lives. Will artmaking potentially isolate and alienate us from friends, family and those we hold dear, preventing us from maintaining healthy relationships? Will it encroach into our other day-to-day responsibilities, such as taking care of family or working the jobs we hold to pay the bills (if one must hold another job to do so)? Remember, it is the artist who controls this. Using art as an excuse to avoid social situations or to shirk responsibilities doesn't in and of itself actually solve any problems, especially when the problems themselves are not acknowledged. I am not mentioning this to encourage others to procrastinate on their art or to put their passions on the back burner; I am trying to communicate to those (like myself) who would bury themselves in their artwork so to avoid other situations.

Creating art can be very cathartic and can encourage us to grow and better understand ourselves, but it can also become consuming by offering a means of avoiding confrontation. Allow yourself the freedom to vent what you need to through your art as a means of healing, but don't simply hide within it so that you can avoid your problems as this can cause new problems all their own. I have found that it can help to acknowledge whatever I am coping with in my artwork and to use my art as a means of working through it. But I have also found that I must strike a balance and monitor myself lest I allow it to consume me. Thus I find it best to have other activities outside of art and to maintain friendships and relationships outside of the art world to offer other perspectives.

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