Open Enrollment

What To Do, What To Do

“Book of Lists,” by Elena Bouvier. Image provided by the artist.

I hit a wall somewhere in the last few weeks. Between the federal government cutting a lot of aid to graduate students and signing a rental agreement in South Philly, something snapped. I can’t quite put my finger on it but, after my first departmental critique of the year I realized something: my stomach wasn’t in knots anymore.

Maybe my stress levels hit critical mass and, like my anxiety over mounting loan debt, I simply moved it all to the back of my mind. It’s still waiting there but for now I’ve regained my ability to smile into the wind.

I’ve done a lot of hard thinking at this point in my graduate education on what’s next. It’s realistic to say that I’m not going to have a job by August, three months after graduation (though I’ll be trying for one the entire time). So, here’s a list of things artists do to get by, get through, and to just get to creating.

  • Make Lists. While this is something I do for myself — I’m an enthusiastic list maker — it can become something much more. Heck, Lawrence Weiner and Sol Le Wit made careers out of lists (amongst various other things). In a nod towards John Baldessari, William Powhida created a list, “Tips for Artists Who Want to Sell (new and improved).” (See here for a great Art21 post on Powhida, including an image of this piece). Grocery lists are even potential fodder for work, the piece by Elena Bouvier at the top of this post is beautiful proof of this.
  • Use What You Got. Utilities or art supplies? Hmm…

“Laboratoire,” rouleaux art by Anastassia Elias. Image from artist’s website.

When asking various artist friends what they do to continue creating despite all odds, the most common response was to use what you already have. Even if it’s just using your phone and face grease. Turn to your friends for inspiration, support, and most importantly: deadlines. Go through the cache of supplies you’ve hoarded because now is the time to use them. Still lacking the ability to create the way you really want to? Volunteer somewhere that will give you access to the resources you need.

Paper Cut a Day, artist unknown, from Artclash Collective’s 8th Annual Fun-A-Day show.

  • Connect with existing projects or groups. Sometimes my greatest moments of inspiration come when I’m working under a deadline — a due date forces me to pull something out of my head. It’s a great way to meet other artists, connect to new venues, etc. For example, Powhida’s “Tips…” has inspired a current spin-off project due to wrap up October 6th. My personal favorite over the years has been participating in the Artclash Collective’s Fun-a-Day Project, which has now spread to various cities across the country. One notable mention is the Brooklyn-based Art House Co-op’s Sketchbook Project. These kinds of projects are useful because they get your art out there and the process of making something for a deadline keeps you working, even through all the rough spots life throws out at you.