Lee Oldford Churchill, Canada

Residency Period: Sept 1, 2016 – June 30, 2017


Bio

Born and raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada, Lee began her formal training at Sir Wilfred Grenfell College in Corner Brook, NL. In 1998 she transferred to the University of Alberta in Edmonton, majoring first in sculpture, then switching to painting and printmaking. At U of A she earned her BFA with Distinction in 2000 and then went on to earn a M.A. (Art Conservation) and M.A. (Art History) from Queen’s University, Kingston, ON in 2000 and 2006 respectively. She currently resides in Calgary, AB, Canada, where she works as the Paper Conservator at the Glenbow Museum and as an instructor at Wildflower Art Centre, City of Calgary. Her current work utilizes watercolour, pastel, acrylic, pen, and other media.


On-hiatus Proposal Summary

Working full time and parenting, Lee has struggled to maintain her “professional artist” status as designated by Canada Council for the Arts and other public institutions, which also qualifies her to apply for funding to sustain an artist career. She feels trapped in the circle of “not enough work=not enough sales and exposure=not enough money=having to be employed=not enough time=not enough work”.

While making art has been part of who she is, the pressure and stress of “being engaged” with her practice has driven her to the point where she feels her whole life may be happier if she just stopped, if she gave up defining herself as an artist-who-does-other-work-to-support-themselves and embraced being solely an arts-industry-employee.

Through her participation in RFAOH, she wants to give herself permission not to produce art, to ultimately examine if letting go of “being an artist” will make her feel less pressure and stress, and return some joy to this aspect of her life. Her requested residency period overlaps with her son’s school year during which time she may participate in some activities without the guilt of her inner voice screaming ‘if I have any time I should be making art’.

Although she is hesitant to set out too detailed a plan for fear of creating a high pressure situation similar to the one that she is in now as an artist, one of her on-hiatus activities may be taking a class in clay. It is an area that has no association to her past art practice, and she wants to see if she can engage meaningfully with the process of creating, or whether it has become so entwined with stress/anxiety that any attempt to create is a trigger for feelings of failure, anxiety and inadequacy about her self-identification as an artist.

She hopes this hiatus would give her time and clarity to make a decision whether defining herself as an artist is worth it, or if not being an artist is better for her mental health, family life, and relationships. If she decides to return to art, she hopes it would bring fresh inspiration and perspective.


Final Report

My experience as an RFAOH resident has been amazing. It is a cause for ongoing and future reflection that having an external, and thereby legitimizing, force say it was 'ok' not to make art, I let go of an immense amount of stress and gut-wrenching anxiety. I am not entirely comfortable with the idea that I need an outside agency validate my thoughts and actions.

I did the clay class I set out in my proposal and as I hoped it showed me that I am still in love with artmaking and am so very happy when I give myself over to the process. I had thought I would review Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" as well but I decided (after a few months of seriously avoiding getting it off the shelf) that my reluctance was something I should listen to. If I was dragging my heels, forcing myself to re-read it was against the spirit of my hiatus.

With my mother-in-law passing away and then my father being incredibly ill, my hiatus ended up looking very different than anyone could have thought. I spent a full two months of it away from everything focusing on the people who truly matter rather than immersed in the 'daily grind'. Both the hiatus and these events have drastically altered my perceptions and goals.

I still feel battered and broken. But there's been a release - like when you have a bad tooth and once the dentist fills it you realize how miserable it was and now you're a bit boneless.

I'm on the mend.

I'm human and I have bad habits.

I feel like my hiatus had changed me and that I won't try to shoehorn myself and my work into a mold we don't fit. But I know it is going to take constant vigilence to not fall into anxiety and let it push me into areas I'm not happy with. Whether my hiatus will change the look of my work, I don't know yet. But it will certainly change the spirt behind it.


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recent comments

On Jun 21 2017, Lee Churchill commented on June 20: If I knew where I wasn't supposed to be, I wouldn't go!! :-P If you've got some idea of how I can be[...]

On Jun 21 2017, co-director (s) commented on June 20: Happy (fairly) big Birthday Lee! (: Twack on, all year! I think it's the matter of what is "everyt[...]

On Jun 12 2017, Lee Churchill commented on June 8: :-) It definitely sounds like a fascinating talk. With the idea of going for an MFA, S's situation[...]

On Jun 9 2017, co-director (m) commented on June 8: I wish we had a recording of Tehching's panel discussion in Venice last month where the convergence [...]

On May 25 2017, co-directors (s) commented on May 8: Family emergency sucks... Hope things are alright with yours![...]


Sept 1

 In my head I’ve started writing this post dozens of times.

Each time it spirals off into unrelated spiels. Like Jazz that starts tight and then devolves into noise and never returns to the central theme. Yeah, I know lots of people love music like that. It makes my ears bleed. I’m not actually much of a music person, really. I prefer silence. Maybe down the rabbit hole, like the White Rabbit, into madness is just as apt a metaphor.

In one version I started off explaining who I am and how I ended up on hiatus. It was pleasant. But then I realized my bio and residency proposal already do that.

Then I thought I’d dive into the physical impediments to my work. But really. I can unbury my studio. And even if it’s small, crowded, and not well lit, it is a space. I could work in there.

Then this past week two articles crossed my path: https://www.artsy.net/article/artsy-editorial-why-motherhood-won-t-hinder-your-career-as-an-artist and http://www.salon.com/2015/01/25/sponsored_by_my_husband_why_its_a_problem_that_writers_never_talk_about_where_their_money_comes_from/

They delve more into the serious questions I want to explore on hiatus:

Am I am artist, and if so, do I want to stay one?

The first article made me want to pull my hair out. It hasn’t been children that have hindered my art practice, it was struggling before they ever came along. The article leaves so much out. How have these artists gotten to the point where art making is their sole income? How are they able to afford studios out of their homes, in New York no less?! Articles like this feed my vast self-doubt – do these people work day jobs then make art at night? Do they somehow have access to reserves of determination or energy that I lack? Do they not need to sleep? Do laundry? Do they not spend hours unraveling all the tasks left undone one day that have to carry over to the next and the next and the next? Do their lives simply run along, tickidy boo???

The second article makes me feel less awful, though still frustrated. If some of the artists I see are living ‘sponsored’ lives then I am less inadequate.  But other artists (friends) I know definitely aren’t sponsored. And they do produce. Some of them a lot. They try to comfort me that we are at different stages of life. And I see the differences in our lives, I do. Some work one job (at the moment I work three). Some have older children (teens and adults, mine are 3 and 7). Some have actually retired to become full-time artists. There are differences but I always feel I’m messing up. I should be able to juggle the whirlwind of our lives and have reams of art to show.

And I can’t.

I’m just not able.

That kills me inside. I am supposed to be invincible. Able to handle anything with the appropriate application of wit and effort. Just like Rosie .

By J. Howard Miller, artist employed by Westinghouse, poster used by the War Production Co-ordinating Committee - From scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, retrieved from the website of the Virginia Historical Society., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5249733
By J. Howard Miller, artist employed by Westinghouse, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5249733

Totally no longer happening.

I have a husband, he has a full-time job and does half the home and childcare. By the time we get home and make it past supper, and baths, and stories, and chores.     

I am done.

Toasted.

Out to lunch and gone.

 

Not only do I not have energy and motivation to drag myself into the studio. I don’t have brain power or inspiration. I don’t even watch much tv.

I go to bed so I can get up tomorrow and start all over again.

And that’s when the horrible cycle of anxiety, guilt, and pressure set in.

Anxiety:

I call myself an artist but how can I be if I’m not making anything? Or even really thinking about making things.

Guilt:

I carry a sketchbook in my bag – I never use it.

I have a studio filled to the ceiling with supplies, of all kinds – they just sit there.

I have numerous projects started and unfinished – some for friends and family that have been waiting for YEARS. Others are commissions for incredibly patient clients.

Pressure:

Over the years I have worked hard to be a professional artist which, in Canada, is pretty much summed up by this:

…the Canada Council’s definition of a professional artist, which is an artist who:

– has specialized training in the artistic field (not necessarily in academic institutions)

– is recognized as a professional by his or her peers (artists working in the same artistic tradition)

is committed to devoting more time to artistic activity, if possible financially

-has a history of public presentation.

 

To meet the definition of a professional visual artist, you must also have:

produced an independent body of work

– had at least three public exhibitions of your work in a professional context over a three-year period

– maintained an independent professional practice for at least three years after specialized training.

(http://canadacouncil.ca/visual-arts/find-a-grant/grants/project-grants-to-visual-artists)

 

I’ve worked hard and managed for 15 years to maintain this.

This past couple years so much of my ability to keep pace has crumbled.

And with that I question everything.

The validity of this as a way of defining myself. The worth of the effort I’ve expended making, volunteering, organizing…The arguments I’ve had over my priorities and decisions. The money I’ve spent.

In the definition, I highlighted the areas that most drive me to despair/rage:

First: OF COURSE I’D SPEND MORE TIME AT ART IF I COULD AFFORD IT!

Second: An independent body of work implies a large number of works deriving from the same source of inspiration. When my time is fragmented, the work is fragmented. What drove me one month is not what is happening the next. This is extremely frustrating – in a head banging, wailing, and gnashing teeth sort of way. I make work to submit to shows, to keep an exhibition record. These are not bodies of work. These are rarely based on my inner world or muse. They are to keep this box ticked off on funding applications. 

Third:  One public exhibition/ year in a context where you are paid to have the work shown (that’s what professional context means here) sounds reasonable. Sounds easy even. Until you look at everything involved – the research, applications, photos, submission fees, delivery costs, etc. and so ons. Beyond making an artwork, the admin work kills me.

Time time time time…

If only there was more time! 

…if I wasn’t an artist, would there be enough time?

Leave a Comment (4)

Lee Churchill wrote on Sep 19:

Hmmm, obviously I need more practice on Wordpress, I just deleted my response. Twice.
Sorry about the delay. I've been mulling but haven't gotten my thoughts in here, which is obviously not very useful.
Marisa - No one would want to eat my treats, I'm a terrifying cook! And I'm like Cinderella, I pass out at midnight! :-) In all seriousness, it would be great to have people to switch off childcare with, unfortunately with a few exceptions, where we live we don't have that kind of support network. Our friends here aren't at that stage - mostly they either have children who are in high school or post-secondary or they don't have children. Couple that with Peter and I being extreme introverts and we would be beyond mortified to risk imposing on anyone. It had been our hope that we could build a network at their school but so far that hasn't worked out.
Matthew - I definitely need to re-imagine
and Wayne - I think that 'self-legitimizing' is a part of my issue. I'm struggling to consider myself legitimate, so how could anyone else? The fact that I am conforming to the system but am utterly unsatisfied with what that has meant in terms of my practice/process, the final physical objects, and my emotional state is causing internal discord. And the need to reevaluate.
I should have clarified - I wasn't thinking art-based research in this post but admin-based - looking for funding agencies, shortlisting grant opportunities, reading the guideline manuals, researching budget items (flights, materials costs, accommodations...) plus searching calls-to-entry, checking the galleries websites to see if the art could sync, etc. The admin on its own could be a fulltime job. I went to two art schools and neither explicitly taught application or submission writing. I hope that has changed now, I hear they added a professional skills class.
Your final paragraphs exactly sum up what I am wrestling with. What DO I want? Attempting to compartmentalize (put art into discrete time chunks, in my studio) is not working - can I bring the art 'out' into the rest of my life? Or, if that doesn't work, can I compromise - pause my 'art-life' until there is (literal and figurative) 'room' for it? I don't know. I really am hoping to work that out over the next several months!

Marisa Dipaola wrote on Sep 11:

Welcome to the world on Hiatus!
After having Marmalade, I found painting as my only way to decompress, to have a peaceful moment for myself to unwind and de-stress. I would bribe friends with homemade snacks to watch her so I could work on my murals. But I find that now that I'm on Hiatus, I don't worry about time so much... it is as if all we have is time.
If stressed about not making artwork, perhaps it is time to switch mediums, or delve into the stacks of stuff in your studio. Maybe pull an all-nighter sometime? (most of my artwork throughout my whole career never would've reached completion without an all-nighter or two. But most of all, art-making should be a joyous activity, and if you're stressed, it should help, not hinder, your love of life. Good luck!

co-director (m) wrote on Sep 3:

Welcome to the residency Lee. We hope your time with us will bring less pressure. Somewhere, I think its our twitter account, we say "We make the art so you don't have to." Which was a bit tongue in cheek as we certainly we realize no one ever really stops working :D
but sometimes we can re-imagine the work.

Wayne Lim wrote on Sep 2:

Hey Lee! I definitely do empathize to some of your points. But here's my two cents worth; I think a large part of it comes down to how one chooses to operate and self-legitimize their practice and strategize in order to make it recognize by the state and respective institutions. Art councils in many developed countries function in a very similar function (and I would argue that in Singapore they're even more stringent and bureaucratic as compared to the Canadian or Australian ones, and not the mention the unwritten rules of what constitutes being an artist).

However, I wish to say that let's not forget that the market and flow in the arts world is very much regulated by artists themselves. One could argue that having two part-time jobs and producing art (objects) endlessly and one exhibition a year is already simply conforming to the very system that we as artists found so hard for in the first place — an institutional recognition, market and economical force of the arts industry. And I want to give you a solid example; you mentioned the 'steps' to making works which includes writing endless amount of (funding) applications, research and so on. Research in and through the arts has also been gaining recognition exactly because the need to implement results of 'artistic research' and put them to societal test — like the science industry, or the engineering industry (ya know). Writing of applications for example; I have heard horrible stories about how some art schools never taught their art students to write these applications, perhaps that is what is causing a huge bulk of art graduates to be displaced in other working fields?

In the 'end', what do we want then? Is it possible to 'perform' what we want to institutions? Is it what we want or should it be what we want for society? Such forces are defining and shaping the very role and meaning of art and artists.

Maybe it is perfectly fine to not make. And of course, this is also the issue I'm battling with; how can we (as artists, or not) strategize and operate to shift this neoliberal capitalist machine? Well yes, we still need to bring the dough to the table and take care of our family. Is it possible to compartmentalize? Is it possible to compromise at certain areas?

Now, considering the time and the fact that I have an appropriate "MA degree" to write this, this is definitely more than 'two cents worth' (pun intended). However, that was just CAD$0.00069444. Have I been grossly underpaid? HAHAHAH

Please don't fire me, I love my job.
;)