Kirsty: Taking the Lazy Road
“What’s that?’, I hear you cry, ‘you spend months patiently tying knots in string, sticking pins through fabric or drawing every day for a year, how can you possibly call yourself lazy?’
Ah, but it’s a very specific kind of laziness and over the years — as I have come to understand it — I have adjusted my art practice to accommodate it.
I know myself and if I worked with the sort of materials that needed a specialist working environment like a forge or a foundry, I wouldn’t get much art made. If I undertook huge expensive projects that involved lots of paperwork, funding bids and meetings with planners and architects, I would never get any art made.
Heck, even if my studio was in another building, I would struggle. When I graduated, I hired a studio space on the other side of town because I thought that’s what you were meant to do. I kept it for a couple of months before recognising that I was working extra hours to pay for it but was hardly ever there and even when I was, I found it an uninviting place to work.
Eventually I realised that when I’d been a student, I used to make most of my work at home and then take it into college when it was finished. I tended to use my studio in college as an experimental installation space or somewhere to think, rather than somewhere to physically make work. I’m sure this is partly because I’d grown accustomed to fitting my art around parenting when my son was young. Having evolved as an artist whilst making work in the evenings on the kitchen table, a separate studio space felt like a barren and alien environment to me.
So now my studio is on the top floor of my house. Yet even that is not close enough and I tend to make my art in my study, my bedroom, my living room, my garden, on the dining room table and only occasionally in my studio.
I do enjoy the quiet and contemplative space of my studio, especially when I need to think, draw or make more mess than usual. But I also need my art to be part of my daily life; something I can pick up and put down as easily as the morning paper or my cup of tea. So art, for me, is largely a domestic affair and you’ll often find me making my more repetitive pieces in front of the TV or while listening to a podcast on my computer.
In addition, the sort of materials I use in my art — small, unregarded things like matches, pins, sequins or envelopes — are easily available, safe to use and relatively cheap. This is a deliberate choice on my behalf. Partly because I’m very interested in everyday objects that are so commonplace that they become effectively invisible but also because I am passionate about ‘owning the means of production’. I hate to be dependent on other people before I can even start to make my art.
I’ve never done well if I have to go through multiple steps to get something done and so wherever possible, my practice is organised to minimise that. For example, when I graduated I took out a loan so that I could upgrade my computer equipment and digital camera because I wanted access to the technology I’d used at college without having to go off to a library or rent out office premises.
My materials are a continuation of that desire for independence. I don’t need to work a day job to buy the sort of materials I use. Nor do I need to scrabble around for grants or sponsorship or jump through anyone else’s hoops before my work can come into being. I’ve learnt from experience that projects that do need access to specialist knowledge or equipment or more funding than I can provide myself are the ones that invariably end up on on the backburner.
Again, I’m sure my formative years of trying to combine art with parenting also informed my preference for cheap, readily available materials. Although I always bought the best I could afford, I was on a low income and got used to making do with what I had. And I found that I actually preferred it because it was easier to be loose and experimental with thousands of cheap, everyday things than with very rare or precious materials.
Some artists need the heroic struggle; it motivates and inspires them and forms a vital part of their practice. Others find that getting out of the house and into a separate studio space makes them more focused and dedicated. Yet others relish the challenge of working in very expensive materials.
But for me that stuff just gets in the way.
I need the path of least resistance because I find making good, meaningful art quite difficult enough without adding extra obstacles. I am perfectly capable of putting mental road blocks in the way of my own art practice and I realised early on that it would be disastrous if I added further restrictions such as the need for funding, planning permission, specialist studio requirements or expensive materials. So I have consciously set up my practice so that the only thing standing in the way of my art is myself — and believe me, that’s usually more than enough!
It’s vital as an artist to recognise your strengths and weakness and to play to both of them. Don’t make it any harder than it needs to be.
[Reposted from Kirsty’s website. Image (Rubber Bands 02) courtesy Kirsty Hall under a Creative Commons license.]
thanks for this post, kristy. now i know why i am not making pottery, welding, etc these 15 years or so. it’s that pull away from my kids. as much as i may complain about no time to myself, inability to concentrate on writing, lack of room of my own, etc…it was my choice to have kids because…..
i want to have them around! so the writing waits until a nap and school coincide, etc.
I ran across your post from facebook…I love what you’ve said about your art and where you get it done. I am lazy, too…and now I don’t feel so bad about it!! I have 3 kids and the youngest is still home with me every day so I have to do what is convenient (and it’s not dishes because then I have a 35 pound bag of “NO!” hanging on my leg! — he’s 2 and a half!) Anyway, thanks for sharing.
Kirsty, this is a timely post for me.
I have put my sketching and pastelling on hold during March as I finish up various crochet and knit projects and generally refresh my skills with the hook and needles. When I go through a phase like this, I always feel quite horrendous guilt that it isn’t “art” I am making, by which I mean pictures. Should that matter? No. Yet it does. I suppose it is important to me that I can continue to define myself as “an artist” or “a painter”, and having put pens, pastels, paper and paints aside for a while, I inevitably start to question whether I am still entitled to do that.
I love to crochet and the many blessings it has brought me are all the more wonderful for fitting the rhythm of my life as a mother who also works part time at a non-arty job: among these blessings are the social life that’s sprung up for me around local knitting groups, where I’ve befriended other really cool creative mothers; the ability to pick up and put down a project easily, a project that might be something really small that can follow me around the house, getting done in free moments; the comforting feeling that, while I’m constantly learning about techniques and indulging my love of colour, I am also making things for my daughter, my family and friends. These are not creative pursuits that jar with what I see as being my constant responsibilities as a mother.
Making paintings, on the other hand, is more often a solitary act, and an emotionally taxing one. It seems to require that I separate myself in some way (physically or mentally) from home and family. And the guilt comes from the fact that I know that while I’m crocheting or knitting, I am doing something relatively easy – not easy technically, but in terms of having to organise my life, my materials and my creative space, a hell of a lot less challenging. It therefore feels like the “lazy” option, even though I’m in a frenzy of yarny activity.
I am trying to reconcile these things and find a way of fitting ALL the artistic activities I love into the life I have. I don’t know if I am destined or doomed to go through phases like this forever, where my need to focus on specific kinds of creativity waxes and wanes, but I do know that I need to find my way to that lazy road in my drawing and painting life, in order to lessen that feeling of separation between it and the rest of my daily existence. Getting back into a regular sketchjournalling habit is one of the things I’ll be attempting to do in April. We’ll see how it goes.
Thanks for letting me waffle, and thanks for a thought-provoking post.