Open Enrollment

The Summer Slump

Time is slowly slipping by as the thick Michigan air hangs around my studio — stagnant and hot, a veritable swamp. It is the summer between my first and second years of my two year graduate program. The expectations I carried here have not been met exactly.

Screen shot from "A Video Conversation on our M.F.A."

Vency Yun and I talked last month about our M.F.A.s and the idea of change. We came to realize that the one thing that had changed in us the most since beginning our programs was our expectations. Both of us came to graduate school for different reasons. Vency came to find out if an art practice was what she wanted, and I came to find a community and forum for my art and ideas. Both of us got what we were looking for, but not exactly in the way that we thought. For Vency, her journey through Concordia University and abroad revealed to her the need for a different kind of art practice, one that stems from a yearning for comfort. For me, a much more diverse community is presenting itself, surprising me with a broader base of opinions and backgrounds.

Since the beginning of summer, many of my classmates have scattered across the continents, taking full advantage of the slow summer months. I am caught in the middle, the summer or the slump. Like many other students, I have taken a summer job. I am hanging out right now with a group of 20 high school art students at the Cranbrook Summer Art Institute. It is my job to entertain, feed, and counsel these pre-college teens throughout the summer. The benefits tempted me—free food, boarding, studio and pay. The only problem is time…hanging out with the kids is great, but after all of the responsibilities of the job, there is hardly any time or energy left over for my studio work.

Bonfire with the Cranbrook Summer Art Institute crew

With food, rent, and friendship all on the summer bill, studio work seems to get pushed aside. This summer I had decided to stay in Michigan, make a little money, and work in the studio (I want to be in my studio the most). I have accomplished a little bit of all of those things, yet I am still feeling like I want to do more. I have begun to see professional artists as magicians. Their ability to integrate their daily needs into a successful art practice is a mystery that leaves me in awe. After talking with my colleagues, this summer feeling — slump, really — seems to be the norm for the time in-between.

Every day, artists are challenged to balance their art practice and the necessities of living. My longtime friend, printmaker Kimberly McClure, frequently champions balance between art and the everyday. Her vociferous reminders of exercise and good eating echo through me as I push through this time. My job requires about 90 hours of my waking life every week, leaving just 4-5 hours per weekday for my personal goals. I find myself taking care of laundry and chatting with friends during these hours while simultaneously attempting reserve this time block for studio work. I have begun to weave many of my daily necessities into my work life; for example, using evening activities with the kids as an excuse to squeeze in exercise.

Spending time with friends on a summer night. Photograph by Erin Sweeny.

Since beginning this job, I have begun to utilize increasingly more multitasking magic tricks. But as the summer saunters on, so does life. What I really need to ask myself what is the difference between life now and life outside of grad school?

Not a whole lot.