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.
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.
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.
Four days ago one of the most active and health conscious people I know fell over and died.
We were putzing along with our lives, spending Sunday cooking and cleaning when we got a phone call that my mother-in-law was gone.
It doesn’t make sense, it shouldn’t have happened. She was touring Scandinavia with two of her best friends. We had just gotten pictures of her toasting with aquavit and of the stave church they had visited.
Every fall we go to a fair and buy hundreds of pounds of produce –that was going to be my original post, a tally of all the wonderful foods I had made and preserved, all sparkling in their jars. Piles of blanched veggies bagged for the freezer. What recipes worked out this year, which hadn’t. But half the recipes I use were hers – a few weeks ago she had given me a carrot rhubarb marmalade to try this year. But a big part of the fun was getting to talk it over with her, on the phone, in text and pictures, chatting about how much money was saved and how much better the food tasted. She always had stories about things her Mom had canned and tips and tricks to try next time. I’m giving away what’s not done. I can’t bring myself to keep working on it.
Peter and I will be celebrating 20 years together in the spring. And over that time Mrs. Churchill and I have been known to regularly butt heads. Peter has described her and my relationship as ‘zesty’. He’s even been heard to say (safely, muttering under his breath) that she and I were both obstinate and opinionated.
But we had our rituals whenever we were together – we both felt a tall can of apple cider was too much, so we always shared. She bought us matched glass mugs that fit exactly one-half a can. This past summer we bought one of every type of apple cider in the liquor store so we could figure out which was the best. Each afternoon, with our mugs in hand, we lounged in our Adirondack chairs reading while the children played. Every time we travelled together we searched out yarn stores. We both loved the chance to pet, ohh and ahh over new finds (and if they were on sale? Bliss!) Peter feared that one day he’d totally lose us – we’d wander into a yarn store and never be seen again. We had been trying to take a weaving class together for about 4 years. We were talking about how to make sure it would work out for next year. We were all about tea rooms! She was one of the very few people I’ve ever met who loved tea rooms as much as me. The opportunity to sit with a pot of tea, whether a new flavour or old favourite, and enjoy a scone or snack was basically never passed up. We often shared those too – then the calories don’t count.
She was one of the best people I know at truly living in and enjoying the present – the pleasure she took in that cup of tea or that perfect little petit-four was equal to a great ski run or golf round. Every morning she lit a meditation candle with her breakfast and read a spiritual passage to contemplate during the day. When she was grieving for her husband, she got the most insanely difficult knitting pattern I have ever seen so that it would occupy her whole mind. She called it her Grieving Sweater and wore it proudly. She read Marie Kondo’s “The life changing magic of tidying up” last spring and was so very pleased with how nice all her clothes now looked in her drawers (probably that only thing untidy in her house).
Her social life was more active than a teenager’s! She was involved with the Retired Teachers’ Association, her sorority, her church, her bridge club, skiing, golfing, yoga… We often called only to be told she couldn’t stay on because she was having friends over for a meal or movie. Or she was on her way out to the theatre, a concert, or poetry reading. Or teaching a Syrian family English. Or tutoring disadvantaged children in reading.
She was 73, but I fully expected she’d be at my funeral.
Now we have no idea when she’ll be returned from Sweden to her home town.
So I set myself the goal of publishing at least on the 1st and 15th.
Reading Marissa’s accounts of their ‘moonfarming’ project, I’m in awe! What a massive, amazing, undertaking. My husband and I are creatures of habit and caution – I don’t think it would be far off to say we’ve been debating since 2008 on whether and when we should think about moving to a house with a yard, in the same part of our city! Moving to another country without everything firmly laid out is hard for me to conceptualize.
So far for my hiatus I’ve signed up for a clay class (yeah me!) I just have to wait and see if it’s gotten enough enrollment to go ahead, I’ll know within a week or so.
Since I’ve started I’m finding it interesting how when I see calls to enter and submission deadlines I still get a moment of tension before I step back and breathe and remember that it’s not my problem right now. Then there’s a moment where I almost sag with relief.
In that vein I saw the Squirrel of Judgement:
Yeah. He’s an @$$.
There was a point where in an attempt to get in my studio more I posted a sign on the door saying “IF YOU WANT A BETTER PORTFOLIO YOU HAVE TO DO THE WORK.” It stayed there a couple years before my brother-in-law said it was mean.
An interesting (and gentler) quote came from St. Francis Of Assisi:
“He who works with his hands is a laborer.
He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.
He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist. “
I liked the fact that he doesn’t seem to suggest any specific ‘thing’ as being art. Doing the work and how you do the work is what makes art. It reminded me of some reading I did a few years back about Zen, and the concept of wabi-sabi. Mindfulness, intent, and appreciation being the keys.
Which got me thinking about some very slow projects I’ve been doing, I have a shawl that I’ve been knitting for about 2 years. I started it to force myself to use a knitting pattern. I knit, I know lots of knitting tips, tricks, and stitch patterns but can’t follow an actual complete pattern worth a d@mn. My eyes skitter off the page, my mind wanders, and then I find I’ve made mistakes so I have to tinker back. I am awesome at casting on and just plowing on through making it up as I go. Great for tons of projects but not if you want to actually know what you’ll end up with or whether it will fit someone not in the room to measure against.
Mittens I knit for my oldest son. I loved making them and he adored them. However, I’m told that is not what thumbs are supposed to look like.
By this definition would the shawl be labour and the mittens art? Even though they are ostensibly the same process? I’d love to see a juror’s face if I submitted them to an exhibition. Even if they do make my heart happy.
I’ve also been reading about attention, motivation, and procrastination. I discovered there is a Professor at Carlton University in Ottawa, Canada who studies procrastination – it’s his JOB! How cool is that?! http://www.procrastination.ca/who-we-are/ But with his publication record, I don’t think he procrastinates a lot!
It’s been fascinating reading, especially about something called “executive functions” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Executive_functions which (very simply) is your brain’s ability to co-ordinate and regulate itself. Reading about executive DYSfunction (inability to control attention, set goals and organize) was one of those “oh my g*d, that’s ME!” moments. But then reading further reading says being tired, stressed, and physically unfit all disrupt EF disproportionally. So, I am scattered and disorganized because I am tired, stressed and unfit. Dang it. As my doctor says – never read too much into internet information. J Still interesting reading.
As part of my musings, I sat down and did some math on how I spend my time – trying to figure out if and when there were blocks of time I could schedule art. It was an interesting exercise. If the clay class goes ahead I’ll be giving up a half-day of work-work (vs. art-work) in order to fit it in – which isn’t great for the budget but will be good for my mental state, I think. SO, otherwise, weekdays are a bust – between work-work, housework, kids’ school/activities and needing at least 6 hours of sleep; Monday morning to Friday suppertime are gone. Friday nights, I go for a semi-regular ‘artist date’ at a friend’s studio. Sometimes we work. Sometimes (mostly) we drink wine. It’s much needed decompression time.
According to my math there were 20 hours on the weekend ‘free’ but then I had to laugh because, of course, some semesters I teach on Saturday from 9 am to mid-afternoons (6 hours plus commute). And we spend family time – cleaning the house, watching a movie, doing a large grocery run, getting outside to a park or swimming.
Maybe I need more portable art – like some knitters take socks or a scarf wherever they go. A sketchbook didn’t work out. Despite constant lectures, our (almost) 4 year old is a very gleeful runner; if we take eyes off him for a second he’d be out in traffic. I wonder if I could keep clay in a tub and manipulate it while still paying attention? Maybe I could be a fibre artist and actually knit, I can do garter stitch without looking at my hands.
And now it is the 16th.
I am posting “late,” that’s in quotes because the 15th deadline is solely a figment of my imagination. Last night was my eldest’s school dance. After the excitement they were both bouncing off the walls. Maybe it was the dance, or the full-moon, or Mercury in Retrograde, or the cookies – I’m not sure it’s worth speculating. But many stories, downstairs visits, and glasses of water later, it was 11:15 pm and I was falling over, even if they weren’t.
Now, it’s Friday and since I’m not working on applications and my teaching doesn’t start for a couple weeks, it is gloriously free. In the spirit of Zen, I’m going to work on appreciating each moment as it comes and maybe that in itself will transform these days into art.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
I call myself an artist but how can I be if I’m not making anything? Or even really thinking about making things.
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.
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.
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?