“For when the pastor asked me, with that marvelous smile, Whose little boy are you? my heart replied at once, Why yours.”
To become a studio artist there takes an awful amount of energy, not just labor and rent but physically there takes a mental toll. The process of slowing down, reanimating, scraping away and rendering, the studio can be a brutal space so it is important to study one’s own relationship towards the studio.
Although I find myself enjoying Baldwin’s gimmick of using writing as a ticket to freeing himself from poverty, it can be quite a cynical way of understanding ones relationship towards a creative practice. Though you can create a living off of what happens within the studio, it can be difficult to navigate a career of studio making with the prime intention of finessing money according to a market value. In the beginnings of my studio I found myself stubbornly prioritizing my time spent in the space, after all at the time it made sense to hustle myself in the studio for as much of the time that I could muster, much of which did not necessarily mean that a lot of value was being produced, but the idea of having my own space where artwork would potentially be sold from gave me this sort of gusto about who I was and what needed to be done.
I want to say that hustling in the studio is not wrong but that it is almost impossible to return to the studio with no sense of purpose and expect something rewarding or nourishing to be produced. Professors often would emphasize the importance of hustling, of pushing through full force and that submitting one’s full self towards their studio is the way to resolve the dilemma of doubt, insecurity and depression. It can be. But it was not for me in that I could not be hopeless in the world searching for inspiration to pop up through canvas mesh, I had to be at peace with myself so that I could have a loving practice to share with others. As the artist you are seeing the work first, you are the artworks first relationship and artwork will be transparent of all your attitude and treatment. How you exist in the present is transcribed onto this physical object, so it is best that you show up as your favorite self, that you show up not desperate or abusive but that you are eager to fail and learn.
Sometimes you can manage to hit the right note even in the midst of a confusing out of studio life, but if you want to have a serious occupation out of this affair of developing a voice and purpose you will have to find within yourself mastery and consistency. You must reduce your ideas to the most rudimentary terms and calibrate the intentions behind your actions in your work. This does not come naturally especially if your studio practice functions on a small budget of getting by, the hurdle of making seems to be even taller for those who do not have generational wealth or the means to experiment without risk. The seriousness that you have towards the value of the work should be redirected towards who you are and your affect in the world because this child that you create in the studio will be a representation of yourself, of what matters most to you.
I want us to escape from this psyche that we can hustle ourselves out of poverty, out of struggle. It is a damaging concept because not only does it imply a form of elitism that talks down to those who are unable of saving themselves, it also implies that life is about gimmicking ones way to a higher status, this is the very mentality that we shame white men in power for exploiting. A studio practice should work as a space of therapy and meditation, working for the inspiration and growth of one’s self. The studio is where we come to discuss and learn not ploy and trick so we must set ourselves with the intent of love.
I too remember when life seemed like a gimmick, when I sought to gain not only a means of survival but a means to cheat for more, it seems euphoric in its initial experience but it later becomes an abusive habit. Life is not about climbing it is about growing and how could we do this by always looking to get more than what is needed? The studio practice should be enough, we should be enough for ourselves to not be determined by the status of our circumstances but by what we stand for.
Like Baldwin I too have the experience of religion and gimmick, my first time that I was saved was in middle school I remember being so genuinely overwhelmed with shame and humility. I stepped to the prayer alter consoling my sins and meditating on a better self when all of a sudden my thoughts were interrupted by a row of deacons sitting in the front whispering towards me. They called me over and after silently walking over they began heckling me about my private thoughts and what had come over me while I was in prayer. They forced a confession out of me and before I knew it I was being sworn into the church community not realizing that this was their gimmick, their desire to meet quota. Their disruption in my spiritual dialogue gave me all that I needed to know from them, it only informed of the other harassment my family would have to deal with in the future. Spirituality because of this always felt distant from me like an obsessive deacon beaconing from afar.
Baldwin isn’t just explaining the role of practice he is also speaking about his lifestyle outside of practice, the gimmick is an entity away from him while it is also a part of his life, arguably it is his therapy. I never valued psychiatry as a valid life support until as of recently, I am currently own medications that help me with my ADD, depression, and bi polar intendancies. Growing up within a proper mid class black family drugs always seemed to have a negative connotation. Though there were many signs that I needed to heal myself with some prescribed medicine my initial response was to heal myself by sheer will, forcing my emotions into a box and trying to fight my way against my daily interactions. It was in college that I hit a spiritual wall there were far too many new experiences with studio, class, and demographics to the point where I lost sense of my self and purpose. It wasn’t until my fathers passing that I mustered up the courage to begin medicine and it had a tremendous affect on my studio practice and outside life, I found myself present and able to deal with my emotional traumas rather than at the dismay of fighting them subconsciously. It was that my decision to heal myself and to optimistically envision an ideal self helped to return to my practice from a mentality of hope and optimism.
The studio is not solely about production there has to be an intention. Creating aesthetics and images can be a fun and thrilling experience but we must be serious about what attitude we bring into this world being that there is already a lot that is being produced to create harm. The artist who is intending to heal themself will create work that can heal others. The artist who is steeping in self hatred and hatred of life has nothing to offer but cynicism and doubt. The true gimmick should not be the artwork it should be the artist intent, the artist should use their new found responsibility to subvert radical love where we would not often find it, that is what makes a fulfilling art practice not just the ability to create controversial images or to produce massive amount of work.
As Baldwin interacts with his pastor it sounds almost desperate for a sense of direction and it is important to note that one can not find this source of direction by accident of what is relationally close to oneself. You must figure out what can make you present and intentional prior to obtaining a studio practice so that you are able to know what you will bring in and what must stay outside along with the other distractions of the world. You want to begin this better world from the inside of your spirit to the outside of your canvas.