Shop talk, answers to your FAQs, and a peek behind the scenes of an artist-run fine art gallery in Park Slope
The phone rings. The dog barks at the door. Email calls, and Skype beckons. Someone has to pick the kids up from soccer practice.
Nothing in your MFA program covered time management, soccer practice, or the thrash music coming from one studio over.
Get out while there’s still time.
For a week, for longer. In the blessed countryside, in the city, no matter. A residency can help you find not only peace of mind, but also that creative thread that seems just out of your grasp, those ideas that keep slipping away.
440 co-founder Nancy Lunsford did just that this Spring, and brought back her journal notes to share.
You can do this, too:
I am in an undisclosed location. It’s off season, no tourists and not really warm enough to swim or do the things one usually does on vacation. But it’s perfect. It’s a solo residence where I am making headway on a project that has been slow going back in Brooklyn.
Almost every artist or writer occasionally needs a place and time to get away, with no interruptions, no distractions. I can’t use my cell phone here, the roaming charges are too high. I can get online, do research and, oh yes, sleep. Never underestimate the value of sleep to fuel the creative process. Does all this sound like a luxury? To an extent, yes, but for some of us it is an absolute necessity.
I went to my first formal residency a few years ago. I applied to several and got into two and had the happy problem of deciding which to attend. I went for seven weeks to a clay and ceramics residency in Vallauris, in the south of France. There were three other residents, all far more knowledgable than I was in the medium but it was a great experience. It allowed me to experiment with glazes, which I had never used in my figurative sculpture. I created enough work for the group exhibition there, left a few pieces with the gallery in Vallauris, and brought home new work that sold in my last solo show at 440.
I was also invited to a small summer residency, for a much shorter time, in Woodstock, the Ad Hoc Residency. This is run by Martha Walker, a former 440 member who generously invites a few artists to join her during the time she is working at her welding studio there. Residencies with other artists have a different vibe. I am alone now but for sporadic conversations with a few locals, none of them artists, during my daily walk and shopping. There is something to be said for isolation but when I received an invitation for dinner from some old friends passing through town, it was just what I needed to break a myopic spiral.
When there are other artists working around you, it is amazing how easy it is to shut them out when you’re all working, and how refreshing it is to socialize a bit each day at dinner. Everyone is there for the same reason after all: to work. No one wants to infringe on someone else’s concentrated energy and precious time. And yet, we humans are social animals and a communal dinner at the end of the day is both stimulating and relaxing; it stokes the creative fires, it gives us all a break from ourselves.
If you’re interested in looking into a residency for yourself, check online. One place to start is http://www.artistcommunities.org. These are not vacation get aways with a spouse or friend, although some places allow visitors. They are great places to work, focus on a specific project, meet others in your professional field or just get away from the daily grind. Some are free but have a rigorous application process and are very competitive. Others cost something or have a materials fee for the use of kilns or other equipment. Some are in rural settings, others urban. They’re all over the world. You could also wrangle from a friend an unused cabin or beach house off season. A change of scenery may be just what you need to unleash your muse. Even if you sleep for a day or so, dreams are important, too.