For someone normally adept at writing, I have been digging deep to find my words. As the days roll by, with politicians scrambling to explain away or conceal the catastrophic impact Covid-19 is having on our society, our culture, our very lives, I find myself resistant to words. Though I deeply love them, they are social. I find myself turning over scraps of cloth, picking up a suddenly promising inch of twine from the floor, and sifting through nubby bits, touching things. This is my first response — granular, wary, and mute.
The meaning and impact that art may have in times of crisis may also be granular and incremental. Art’s nature is exploratory, peripheral to modernity’s linear progress and unilateral systems of thought. I think its meaning might sprout from the cracks in life, visualized and embodied in a non-programmatic manner. In the coming weeks, months, and years ahead we will be re-opening and returning to community life. The richness of art includes its lessons about plurality and what we value, toggling back and forth between the practical and the aesthetic. This moment is a chance to look at what is genuinely and morally sustainable, what is local, how we use our time, and what we can hold in our hand. What survives and what is lost will be determined by our true convictions. If we are lucky, and if we are willing to be open, from the wreckage we can get to higher ground.
With the exception of a miserable Internet connection, I am fortunate to live and work in the country. My studio is the ground floor of the house so once I feed the dogs, cat, chickens and set the hoses I’m in the studio bothering at something. Often in pajamas. Social distancing has always been my norm. No one just “drops by.” Staying connected to my community takes effort, and usually requires a four to five hour round trip commute. But writing about and supporting the work of other artists is the springboard that gets me there. That is my social practice as well as enlightened self-interest if I am being honest.
I am mostly at sea in the studio, adrift in reverie on good days, awash in doubt on the bad. But forty years of working has taught me that moves come from failure and from the work I make while waiting in the wings. These are creative truths that can be brought to our community life. I don’t think we should hold on to “back to normal” or rebuild old orders and routines. My best work comes from letting go of what I know. Not knowing is the richest place to be if we are willing to let go and evolve, if we are willing to let these current events change us.
The generous outpouring of energy and artist-created opportunities that are posted almost daily is hugely moving to me. I don’t see artists waiting, I see artists creating alternative ways to circulate work and to keep its lifeblood moving. Tolstoy said, “art is an organ of human life.” To that I will pick up yet another nubby studio scrap and say, “amen.”