7.09.2019

okay, but what is it about?

"One is a painter because one wants so-called freedom; one doesn't want to go to the office every morning."

That's artist Marcel Duchamp, of course, quoted in Artists in Offices, a book - by Judith Adler - that I finally finished reading a couple of weeks ago, a book I stumbled upon through a web search after using the hashtag #artistsinoffices to socially mediate some of my daily experiences at my last day job. I purchased the book on May 24, 2017, a couple of weeks after I decided to quit my job, about a week before I gave notice, and about three months before my last day. It's a dry read in places so it took forcing myself to read only that during a couple of recent cross-country flights. Adler is a sociologist who used CalArts as the site for a major study of arts education at the time (1970s), applying the sociology of work to art. What results is a pretty comprehensive look at the establishment of CalArts during a time of transition in how artists were trained...
"With the end of the private apprenticeship system of the workshop, it became necessary to attend schools not only for instruction, but also for access to those tools of the craft which were more costly than brushes and tubes of paint" (3).  
...and employed.
"As art teaching in the public and private schools developed into one of the few sources of steady income in the arts, certificates and degrees were sought as passports to this market" (3).
This extends, I'd imagine, to most art schools at the time and, more surprisingly, still. What I'm particularly interested in in thinking about formal art training is how these programs handle what I refer to as "professional practices". In other words, what do art programs suggest students do with an art degree now that those teaching gigs have become more scarce as the market has become more saturated with MFA degrees? Because I'll be honest, 11 years out, I'm still trying to figure out what to do with mine. Hence the podcast. How the heck do you find time (and space, and money) to make art when you have a full-time day job, a lengthy commute, other expenses, and other social and family obligations, etc.? If you went to art school, what were your motivations in doing so and how has that panned out? I didn't go into this podcast project with the intention of digging into formal training quite as much as I did, but it comes up in every interview, whether the interviewee went to art school or not. Indeed, most of the artists I talk to have dealt with the issues addressed in Adler's book from at least one, if not two or all three of these possible perspectives: student, faculty, staff.

What's striking about the book is how relevant it still is, and not just in terms of higher education, but also in terms of many of the common threads that come up over the course of the podcast, like the importance, for just one example, of personal connections. Similar to my conversations with working artists, Adler acknowledges, on page 77:
"Opportunities in the arts are often structured by informal association - friends showing their paintings together, creating theater companies, or founding quartets. Since professional reputation may depend less upon where than with whom artists play or show their work, friendship ties are useful not only in securing new positions but also in minimizing the possible career risks of taking them."
Assuming your creative portfolio includes strong work, of course, the benefit of personal connections in getting shows, residencies, teaching gigs, you name it, is undeniable. But ultimately, what I enjoyed about the book are the "whimsical ironies" of an environment that essentially contained, as Adler writes, "two distinct work cultures", and the various inconsistencies that emerge from the utopian premise of an institution that trains artists to do...what exactly?
"The substitution of the term 'community' for 'school' eased one of the major embarrassments of professional art education: its inability to assure duly certified graduates of employment in their field. Graduates of professional schools are, in a sense, products of their instructors' work, their market value implicitly providing one measure of the value of the work of educating them. Teachers in the arts must find ways to defend themselves against the demoralizing charge that - as it was phrased by one nonteaching member of the Institute's staff - 'it is hardly any service to society to churn out more unemployed people!'"
In the final pages of the book, Adler touches on the personal impetus for her study, not unlike the personal impetus for my podcast. I've yet to read an introduction to or synopsis of this book that addresses the fact that Adler, before embarking on this study, was faculty at CalArts, hired to teach in the School of Critical Studies.
"When financial cutbacks encouraged administrators to draw new clear distinction between 'artists' and dispensable 'nonartist' employees, my marginal status in this artists' community became even more pronounced, and it was at this point that I finally began this study in earnest. Fieldwork both required and legitimized a social distance that was in any case forced upon me, just as it required and helped me to transcend the feelings of mourning and anger which this enforced distance created."
For me, it's taken two years and ten interviews, plus a whole lot of reading on the topic of work more generally, to come to terms with my own feelings of resentment around the fact that, outside of my own studio practice, I'm not doing what I went to grad school to do. But the fact that I'm not teaching art at the college level is not necessarily a reflection of failure or lack of pedagogical finesse on my part (at least, let's hope, not entirely). Rather, in my opinion, it's more a reflection of the limitations of a course of professionalization which continues to wrestle with its practical application. The process for me is ongoing and I'm pretty transparent about my emotional investment in all this. As Adler writes, "my very preoccupation with trying to cleanse myself of resentment marks my observation as emotionally unfree." And there you have it: my objective, like the sociologist's, is to remain objective, which is awfully hard to do in this field. In the very least, then, I aim for and hope from others interested in these ideas increased transparency around how, as an artist, you get your work done, both within and outside of the office or wherever your day job sends you.

5.09.2019

everything you wanted to know about my podcast, but were afraid to ask

The podcast has launched! I released the trailer and website last Monday, followed by the first five episodes, plus one bonus mini episode, on Wednesday, May 1st (May Day!). At this time, you can listen to the trailer, the first six full episodes, plus two bonus mini episodes at artistsinoffices.com or wherever you get your podcasts (subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, etc.). I have four more episodes to release over the next month, plus a couple of updates later this summer with the two artists who've since quit their day jobs to focus more time on their creative practice and/or move cross-country!


This may be one of the first big projects I've ever actually finished. A friend told me last week, "you're the first person I know to say they're doing a podcast and then actually do it." As a creative person who struggles to focus on one project through completion, I took that as a huge compliment. And I'm pretty happy with how it's turned out so far. Am I an expert in podcasting? Hardly. But I have learned a few things along the way. In the spirit of reflection and transparency, I wanted to jot them down here.

The idea came 3-4 years ago from using the hashtag #artistsinoffices for the occasional social media post while working at my last day job. It was perhaps the first place I worked where I was surrounded by other "artists in offices" living this dual life. The difference, since we were many, was that, for the first time in my professional career outside of teaching art, of course, I didn't feel like that other part of my life had to be kept a secret! I had this desire to tap into that community in some way - have "standing meetings" where we actually talk about our studio practice, or start a support group that meets over pancakes once a month. But the reality was we were all super busy; having that conversation in any kind of meaningful way was challenging. Add studio time and, y'know, life to a demanding, full-time job and the occasional grueling commute to and from San Francisco, even if your primary office was on the Oakland campus, and you're not left with much time to spare. In my case, with a couple of kids on top of that, there was simply no time or energy to devote to exploring this idea. Ironically, I had to quit my day job in order to pursue any kind of project about how artists juggle their studio practice with their day jobs!

I wouldn't be able to do this without the support - both financial and otherwise - of my husband, but I will say I spend at least half of the traditional work week, and all school breaks (that's 14+ weeks a year, folks), plus sick days, random days off, minimum days, field trips, etc., wrangling two young kids and managing the household (we do outsource yard work but that's about it). It's way more time than I had when working - and it's probably more time than the artists I interview have, though none of them have kids - but I didn't work on this full-time. I think now that I kind of know what I'm doing and I have my structures and systems in place, especially if I did not have kids, I could probably do this alongside a day job. Maybe.

But backing up a bit, where did I go from initial idea? Well, as with most ideas, I sat on it for a long time. When I quit my day job in August 2017, it was included in a very long list of projects I wanted to tackle that academic year. In the middle of my first year of unemployment-by-choice, I used part of a holiday gift card (one of those Visa gift cards you can use anywhere) to pay for a one-day workshop called "Podcasting: Narrative & Tech for Beginners" offered in the Grad Writing Program at CCA, taught by Julia Scott, an Oakland-based journalist who also does radio pieces for KQED and elsewhere. That was a game-changer. Podcasting now is like blogging was fifteen years ago. The impression I had was that anyone can do it. But it takes practice and financial resources to do it well. I took several pages of notes at that workshop and it propelled me to think more seriously about what my podcast would be about, who I would interview, what I would ask them, and what I needed to pull this off.


But I was also struggling at the time with the studio reboot portion of my decision to quit my day job while writing a screenplay, so I didn't act much on this idea for the rest of that school year. Then came 10 weeks of summer "break". Last fall, when the kids went back to school, I dusted off the idea and started half-heartedly reaching out to the artists I wanted to interview. Half-heartedly because I felt like I couldn't really justify spending any money on this project if I wasn't bringing in any income. Enter anonymous donor (executive producer?), who offered to buy all the equipment on my Amazon wish list - about $200 worth! It felt weird to accept this generous patronage, but it also felt foolish to turn it down. And having someone support a project financially provides for some accountability I wasn't really feeling otherwise, as much as I wanted to do it. I got to work in November, and that accountability factor - the pressure I felt to do this thing and do it well - gained momentum with each interview I completed.

From November 2018 to early March 2019 I interviewed ten artists - five here in the Bay Area, and five elsewhere. Local artists I interviewed in-person, in their studios. Artists in Northern California, Southern California, Chicago, and New York I interviewed via Skype. It was the best solution I researched for recording audio for free. The audio could certainly be better on a couple of interviews, so this is something I might look into and throw some money at moving forward, but overall I'm satisfied with the audio quality in the finished episodes.

On my end, in addition to my microphones and pop filter, I made this little DIY recording studio that I put on my desk when I'm recording an interview or tracking for finished episodes. In the workshop, we went over using Audacity, because it's free. And I'm all for free but I just couldn't get the hang of it. Since I already pay for Adobe Creative Suite each month, I downloaded Audition and did a practice faux-cast with my son about Fortnite just to kind of familiarize myself with my equipment, using Audition for sound editing, even adding in some music and sound effects, and exporting an MP3 that I could upload to SoundCloud. Music for the podcast, I should add, is provided by my friend and fellow creative person with a day job (and kids!), Mr. Neat Beats.

For hosting, I use libsyn. Their interface looks and feels adorably dated but it's fairly intuitive. And I believe they're one of the older hosting platforms, so I felt like I could trust that reputation. The couple of times I've had to reach out for customer support the response has been very quick and helpful. I submitted my trailer to iTunes about a week before launch. They warn it can take up to two weeks for your podcast to be approved (you only need one episode so it's helpful to submit even if you're not ready to launch, if you want to launch on a specific day; you don't need to go public with whatever you submit, and you can always delete or edit it after the fact). It only ended up taking a couple of days, but I just happened to submit my podcast in a period of a few days where the platform to do so was experiencing two different login bugs. That was super frustrating but in the end I was able to get it approved in time for my May 1st launch. Sharing the podcast on social media, of course, has been a part-time job ever since!

Did I miss anything? Feel free to ask questions or provide feedback in the comments. And listen to the podcast if you haven't already - leave me a rating or review on iTunes, won't you? You can follow the project on Instagram and Twitter, and join the Facebook group if you're so inclined. And, hey, if you're local and into that whole meet over pancakes idea, hit me up!

3.15.2019

nothing to see here, move along

Not surprisingly, the busier I am, and in turn the more I theoretically have to blog about, the less I actually sit down and blog! It's hard to believe I'm already nearing the end of a second academic year of unemployment-by-choice. Here's what I've been working on:

S1:E3 #artistsinoffices Lisa Jonas Taylor in her home/studio.
Mostly, the podcast! Over a period of about four months between November and early March, I interviewed ten artists, including five here in the Bay Area and five elsewhere (Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Northern California). I'm in the thick of the editing process right now, with intro/outro music provided by my friend, Mr. Neat Beats.


I've been posting teaser images and quotes on Instagram plus related articles and such on Twitter and seriously cannot wait to be done, not only because I want to share these conversations with the world but because I have a few other things I'd like to wrap up before another summer of full-time mom camp (having barely survived the recent 7-day teacher strike as it is). I'm hoping to release the first half of season one by May 1st, with an episode a week to follow.


To that end, earlier today I caught up on another side project, the #sweetonoakland cookies. I donated a 6-month "subscription" to monthly 'hood cookies to my kids' school fundraiser last fall, so that's provided some motivation to keep that project going. I'm halfway through that commitment so more cookies soon, after which, barring a cookbook deal, I'll probably take a break to focus more time on other stuff.

Nothin' to see here, move along.

Other stuff primarily including my screenplay. Yes, I'm still writing it. No, it's not done yet. And no, I don't know what I'll do with it when it's done. But I will finish it. Eventually.