In "real life," I am both a writer and an artist. I have been known to paint, draw, hand-color photographs, dabble in mixed media, create installations, and try to figure out Photoshop. With the exception of trying to figure out Photoshop, the fruits of my labor take up space, sometimes quite a bit of space. And, like most artists I know, I produce more work than my market demands. It's an occupational hazard. You make art because you love it, because you need to make it, not because you expect to sell it.
In "real life," I live in a townhouse. The space I have available for the storage of my artwork is limited, especially since it's not a great idea to leave art in the garage or in its attached storeroom where walls have been known to leak a bit during heavy rain and where the temperature is completely uncontrolled. Art likes to live where people live: inside where it's comfortable and dry. As a result, the walls (inside) of the townhouse are laden with art. I have made exceptions to this rule by putting some small pieces in plastic bins, wrapping some larger pieces in heavyweight plastic, and optimistically placing them in the garage. I hope this will not prove problematic when the retrospective of my work occurs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (date has not yet been scheduled, but I consider this merely a temporary oversight on their part).
However, in my "art fantasy life" (the reference to the MOMA retrospective probably already has indicated that I do, indeed, have a lively one), I have massive amounts of storage space and a barely contained urge to make work that is monumental in size. Thus, also in the garage, in their original plastic wrap, are fourteen canvasses, unused. Their size was limited only by what I could fit in the back of my Honda Civic hatchback; I did have to acknowledge that reality. Their presence has long tortured me because I want to keep them and use them, but I know that I have nowhere to put the finished work. Worst of all, I like to work with oil paints and they take, literally, months to dry. A dilemma, don't you think?
Well, I think we all have similar fantasy lives, probably multiple ones, and the dilemmas that go with them. Do you have a bunch of gardening tools and supplies, yet you have no garden? Do you have a sewing machine and a big box of beautiful material that would make fabulous draperies, but you don't sew? Do you have exercise equipment stashed in your closet that's never seen the light of day and probably never will?
We hang on to these things because they're symbolic of something significant to us, even though, for whatever reason, it's unrealistic. Maybe you live in a tiny apartment and gardening just isn't possible. Maybe you tried sewing and found you didn't have the knack for it, even though you thought you "should." Maybe you hate to exercise but you've found a dance class that's a fun way to stay fit. Whatever the reason we're not using these remnants of our fantasy lives, we're reluctant to let go, as if we've failed somehow.
But letting go doesn't represent failure; it represents acknowledging reality. It represents moving on. Perhaps someday you'll have your garden, but meanwhile you'll grow a few lovely plants in your apartment. Let the tools go. You finally admit to yourself that you tried sewing because your big sister was good at it and you wanted to be like her. You're like you instead, and that's just fine. Let the sewing stuff go. You're already dancing and loving it. Let the exercise equipment go.
So, I'm finally taking my own advice. I will live in my "real life" when it comes to my art. I'm selling the unused canvasses to another artist who has a very large studio. I'll create my art within the boundaries of my reality, which still gives me quite a bit of latitude, especially if you include cyberspace...
© 2006 Cynthia Friedlob