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![...]


Mar 29

Mar 29

I pulled a tendon between my big toe and heel. A friend said “Only you.” Sigh. This one I have to own. I managed to pull it walking. Not even fast.

WARNING – I’m about to get my art history geek on!

Back to thinking about art and my relationship to it. These ideas have been percolating (fighting?) in the back of my head since before I started this residency. I’ve been aware that I struggle with ‘art’ and ‘art world’ and other definitions but I’ve just avoided making time to express it to myself clearly. Probably because it’s a huge systemic issue that has no happy resolution.

From the RFAOH website:

“Moreover, our everyday encounters with media and technology in recent years have created a culture where we no longer necessarily equate creativity with lengthy and strenuous activity or with the specific material dexterity of an individual.“ (http://residencyforartistsonhiatus.org/about/)

This is where I find myself mentally and emotionally stuck.

As an artist, I am basically interested in exploring materials and processes. The final outcome (say the pen drawing of a goose) is secondary to the actions of making and learning how a new pen works. The outcome could, theoretically, be anything – even a page of random scribbles dotted with water/brush marks. Why is it representational? No reason other than it gives a structure for making different marks. In this regard, the resulting works can be considered products and garbage (or fancy word: detritus) simultaneously. My work gets called a product when I think I can sell it, or otherwise, garbage when it is ‘unattractive’ or ‘unsellable.’ The truth, however, is that the product and the piece of garbage are actually of equal value to me in terms of the benefit I get from them.

My indifference to the final outcome is why my portfolio doesn’t appear unified. Mostly the images are not the point, are totally random, or fleeting whimsy. Maybe I need to choose a type of imagery? Or just switch to abstraction? That makes me feel squidgy though, things that are arbitrary should be so. Picking a set of consistent imagery to satisfy some vague external force’s need for me to be dependable (aka: having a potentially sellable ‘style’) goes against who I am on a fundamental level.

Interestingly, lack of attention to detail and finishing bothers me immensely.  Seeing an intriguing work and then getting closer to realize it’s shoddily executed is a huge disappointment. Even though I cycle through media and styles, I always work to increase my proficiency so that the experience of closely interacting with my work is as satisfying as seeing it from a distance. Which is also why I love making miniature books and sculptures that are meant to be held in an intimate way. So how do I fit into an ‘art culture’ where effort and craftsmanship are not valued?

I also hate jargon. I have never believed that so many MFA students really, naturally, blend esoteric language with their art. I’ve always had this sense of conflict as though the theory was being shoehorned onto their writing in order to sound ‘academic.’

Here is an article I just discovered, that may be my new favourite, about “International Art English” (IAE): https://www.canopycanopycanopy.com/contents/international_art_english

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/jan/27/users-guide-international-art-english

I love that obviously others have found ‘art-speak’ to be as weird as I do. Their analysis is fascinating and ties in nicely with the French sociologist, Pierre Bourdieu’s idea of ‘cultural capital’ – that in order to be seen as a legitimate part of a class system you need to follow the unwritten and unspoken but established rituals of that system.  IAE writing is a gateway pointedly separating insiders and outsiders, and aims to positon the art and artist in a specific (elite) market. And of course that would be proliferated by universities – how else would they support the idea that having a BFA/MFA was crucial to advancing your career?  The fact that IAE restricts huge portions of the general populace from interacting freely with your work is one of the things that super bothers me. I totally get that there are times when you are speaking to other experts in the field that jargon can be a type of abbreviated language for complex ideas but when you are interacting outside the ‘ivory tower’ of university or conferences and such, it’s actually (to quote Wil Wheaton) “a dick move.” A quote sometimes attributed to Einstein is “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” If you don’t understand your own art well enough to break it down into lay terminology isn’t that a BIG problem?

Ahh! It feels good to get that off my chest.

 

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Mar 28

Mar 28

I mentioned personality profiles in a previous post. And a couple things have happened since that make me wonder (again) how other people see me.

First, there was an email sent to my whole department (all three of us) with the ‘train’ attached – all the emails this person had sent to others before us about the subject. Part of it (to paraphrase) questioned whether we had much in the way of senses of humour. Which was like, reeeeeealllllly?! You see us in about 5-6 meetings a year, WHERE IT’S OUR JOBS TO BE THE BRAKES on the crazy ideas, and from that you have the impression we’re humourless? Small case – wtf?!

Argh.

Anyway, that I laughed off as being silly.

But then at my other job some staff were joking around and a coworker said to me “I’d love to know what your idea of partying is!” I had to rush out to teach before I could find out exactly what that meant, but I was left with the wtf feeling again. I know it wasn’t meant in any mean way but why would anyone assume I party differently than anyone else?! So weird.

I think if I had a super power I’d like it to be telepathy – but only if I could turn it off when I wanted – understanding what’s in other peoples’ heads fascinates me. One of my favorite books is “This Alien Shore” by C.S. Friedman about humans who went into space and mutated until they might as well be aliens. In one culture they developed a whole system of facial markings that communicate their personality types and their cultural rules give different traits precedence in certain situations. So for example, when meeting certain people not shaking hands is preferred but for other personalities not shaking hands would be a grave offense.  And you can tell it all on their face. I can only say, I think it would make life a lot simpler.

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Mar 27

Mar 27

I showed up to drop my son off at his Spring Break day camp and one of the staff had called in sick, so I got to be the before camp care. Fifty-odd kids in a gym, aka: absolute mayhem. It’s so fascinating to see how kids interact and process the craziness. Some hang back and sit on the side watching to find a ‘safe’ time to enter the action, others plow right in and are explosive in their response, seeming to find any means possible to endanger their own lives! 😛 (Who knew skipping ropes could be garrots?!) And one who seems to be a true introvert, content to sit and watch the activities of the others.

 

 

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