Archive for October 9th, 2007

crapshoot

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

I think it’s finally okay to mention that I was recently awarded a 2009 Eureka Fellowship. (The Fleishhacker Foundation gives 12 of these awards to artists every 3 years, and distributes the awards out, 4 to a year, hence the advance notice) To paraphrase Ron Burgundy, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s… kind of a big deal. Ha haa. The official press release is not quite out yet, but all of the applicants/ nominees now know, so I think I can blab about it. It’s pretty thrilling: I did not think I stood a chance at all. I wasn’t even thinking about it. In fact, I was actually having one of my periodic “gaaaaah”¦why do I even TRY to be an artist”¦why why why” Tourette’s episodes of self-doubt when I got the good news call from the good folks at the foundation, which contained my cussing, quick-style. So it kind of just goes to show you that things really can turn on a dime.

This brings me to the peaks-and-valley nature of this art venture many of us participate in. In talking to friends lately about our various applications for everything from exhibition opportunities, to residencies, to grants, fellowships, grad school apps, it’s really easy to lose sight of one’s own inherent self-worth, or the reasons we started liking art, and wanting to make it, and share it, to begin with. It’s so easy to get totally consumed by the game, or the usual attendant rounds of compulsive doubt that many creatives endure. The other night, an artist friend and I were discussing how no matter how good it feels for that minute that you have a great show, or you get a new opportunity or award, how it’s oftentimes utterly scuttled the next minute that you get a rejection letter for something you’ve applied to. And why? Now, said friend is someone whom I consider to have an exemplary career (critical success, national and international exhibitions, commercial representation, indie-cred still intact, Wofford likes his work, yada yada yada), but he was confessing to some humbling moments he’s had recently. I started commiserating about a couple of rejections I also received recently, which just seemed twisted to even feel bad about, in light of good stuff that’s happened recently.

But this feeling comes up for many of us, all too often: why do we make things, why do we want to continue doing this art-thing, when we’re all basically fighting for scraps: some public exposure, maybe some critical validation, occasionally some actual money. We pay for opportunities out of our own pockets more often than not, and accept this as part of the deal, until often, we eventually burn out, give up, pack it up, and move on. There’s a lot of frustration, a lot of despair. I’ve done my best to stay in the game, but honestly, there are many, many moments (whether I’m doing well or not) where I’ve wondered why I bother. For me, the hugest things that keep me going are just trying to hang on to those moments of actual joy and wonder that are still part of this process: what it means to have a great break-through on an art project, or to hear someone tell me that they’ve been genuinely touched by something I’ve made. And, as long as I live in the US, I’m also motivated by the incredible homogeneity and elitism that’s still pervasive in the art world: if I leave or quit, I’m just one more woman of color whose voice isn’t getting heard. I don’t like being motivated my own obstinacy in the face of hostility/indifference, as has sometimes been the case, but it sure beats just feeling defeated. So really, it’s like this: I’m loving these moments where I’m beginning to get some accolades, but I’m also trying to keep in check the fact that those honors are NOT why I make things and share things.

It’s important, in the face of rejection, to be very real about the terms/expectations of the applications you’ve filed, to be thorough about having a trusted/experienced friend review your application honestly and critically, and to really remember how arbitrary, and/or how subjective, the criteria for selecting an artist can be. I used to sit on Southern Exposure’s curatorial committee, and while we were quite fair in our decision-making process for selecting artists, many folks also had certain pet agendas that were both implicit and explicit, which immediately removed a number of talented artists from consideration. And this is very normal. Frequently, it’s not about a quality assessment, it’s about whether one’s agenda/portfolio as an artist meshes well with the agenda of the jury, committee or organization considering your materials. I’ve been both accepted and rejected for applications many times. Sometimes, I’ve realized why I was chosen/not chosen as soon as I saw who had been on the jury after the fact. Other times, I’ve had utterly NO idea why I was picked/not picked. It’s unpredictable. So. Having now rambled about this for a minute with no particularly tidy conclusions, I’m just saying that being an artist is hard. And fun. So don’t give up, because some of this is arbitrary, putting together applications does get better and easier the more you do them, and finally, this shit really does turn on a dime.