my own private Magnolia

On Friday last week, the day I spend all day with my five-year-old, in the brief afternoon downtime that used to exist for the purpose of napping, after feeding cows, cooing over piglets, and picnicking in Berkeley, I did what any hard-working, short-on-time aspiring artist does: I scanned the Internet on my phone. Looking at Instagram, where I waste most of my fleeting peak cognitive years these days, I admired artwork shared by my son's art teacher, butterflies symbolizing migration inspired by local artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez. I followed the link to her Instagram account, where the most recent image was this one, Ms. Rodriguez standing next to W. Kamau Bell, another local celebrity I'd recently heard on KQED's Forum talking about his playlist collaboration with the Oakland Symphony.

Later that afternoon, after picking up the nine-year-old from school, before hitting the library, I treated the kids to the daily flavor at a local, very popular Italian ice joint. I complained a couple of weeks ago about how overpriced this place is, but a couple friends encouraged me to give it another try. You have to get the dollar daily flavor, they insisted. Personally, I'll pass on cotton candy flavored frozen sugar water, but the kids were into it (initially disappointed they couldn't select anything they wanted but hey, a small serving of the daily flavor is better than no Italian ice at all, right?). Then, while in line, Mr. Bell himself walked in with his daughter. I never see famous people, even when in Los Angeles or New York, for example. Never. There was that one time I made a margarita for Will Patton. But short of that, I never see famous people. What do I do? I thought. Keep it cool, act like he's one of us? Make small talk as I probably would with anyone else in line? Or awkwardly thank him for the Forum interview (not able to attend the actual symphony, of course) and let him know how much it brightened my day, listening to it early the week after it aired while attempting to ignore the anxiety that seems to accompany me into the studio two or three mornings each week.

I'll admit I've been in a bit of a funk the past few weeks. My goal this (school) year has been to make new work in order to submit it to some local residencies, fellowships, and exhibition opportunities, which would help to bridge the nearly decade-long gap of sorts on my sad artist CV (a decade during which I had two kids, moved cross-country, started a small business, applied to over forty day jobs, worked at one for 2 1/2 years, all while attempting to launch multiple social practice projects). Those deadlines began popping up on my calendar late last month. And of course I know I won't get everything I apply for; I'll be lucky to get one or two opportunities by the end of summer. And though I should be an expert at this kind of thing, that first rejection email wasn't any easier to read. I quickly moved on and refocused on the four new paintings I recently started but the sting stayed with me all week. Somehow seeing Mr. Bell took me back to that half-hour in the studio a couple weeks earlier, and filled me with a renewed sense of inspiration and focus (not to mention local pride), if just for the rest of Friday afternoon.

In the end I chose to say nothing (if I did interrupt his father-daughter Italian ice time to say thank you, how would that conversation play out, anyway?). So to Mr. Bell I say now what I couldn't bring myself to say then: thank you.



The title of this post seems a fitting one to follow my last, pushing back a bit against the expectation that I commit all my waking hours - and maybe some of the sleeping ones, too - to being an artist. Along those lines, one thing that I've been mulling over quite a bit lately, as I transition back into the reality of establishing a more robust studio practice, is this idea of "diluting" one's "brand". Search the web for something like "artists dilute brand social media" and you'll find no shortage of how-to articles and cautionary checklists (I'm an artist - I will naturally question your so-called "rules") about how to market and sell your work without diluting your brand. One could write an entire essay (and I'm sure someone already has) about whether or not artists should even think of their work in the context of personal branding, but I won't do that. Whether you think of the images you share with the world via social media a personal brand or not, I'm here to argue for artists in particular not really giving a fuck.

A day (or two) in the life of @danceswithkids, one part artist.
I think about this a lot for selfish reasons, obviously. My social media handle is @danceswithkids, after all, fully embracing sometime in 2017, the many facets of my life as a creative parent who sometimes has to do boring stuff to make money and who, in her elusive free time enjoys dancing, baking, traveling, and spending time with cats. If I have a personal brand, it includes all of these things. I won't open a separate Instagram account for any particular area of interest (or obligation). I'd like to think, instead, that I'm part of an increasingly vocal community of creative folks who embrace the idea that being an artist, in particular, can include being all of these things, not just sharing images of one's work, studio space, other art we're looking at, and so on. Less so in my case, but I've seen a lot of artists wrestle with this lately for political reasons as well.

These ideas I hope will get some steam from the late, great Ursula K. Le Guin, whose passing a couple of weeks ago inspired a surge in rereading and listening to past interviews. I had no idea she addressed so openly her life as a writer and mother. In this Fresh Air interview (from 1989!), she tells Terry Gross, on the topic of "babies and books," "there are some of us who really need to do both and are perfectly capable of doing both.” And this, via Austin Kleon, from Le Guin's Dancing at the Edge of the World: "Babies eat books. But they spit out wads of them that can be taped back together; and they are only babies for a couple of years, while writers live for decades..." (emphasis mine). And finally, from this article via Jocelyn K. Glei's weekly newsletter, second of ten things Karen Joy Fowler learned from Le Guin: "There is no reason a married woman with children can’t also be a committed artist. (This seems self-evident now but wasn’t immediately clear to me.)" It struck me that the self-evident part isn't necessarily so for visual artists, at least not yet, and perhaps made worse by the convergence of social media and our multi-faceted lives being whittled down to "personal brands" that can be bought and sold. Even the artists I follow and admire who don't have kids seem, in my opinion, unnecessarily concerned with diluting their "art-brand" by sharing images of all the non-art in their lives. This unfortunate trend I find, frankly, a little boring. Being more transparent about the juggling act at the core of being an artist is important. It adds to our humanity, and we could all use a little more of that these days.

Diluted? No. Rich in a way that those with monetary wealth from their successful personal branding may never truly understand.