This rain’s falling hard, straight down. Even so, there’s a reassuring line of red sunfire on the horizon just now; the sun rises warm above bruised clouds. I’ve been sifting through headlines to check the people barometer, which reads just like the morning sky: heavy and bruised with some pockets of humour (a photoshopped Rudy Giulani giving a press conference in front of a wall of Ritz cracker boxes).
Some days are thicker than others. Dear Mister Trump is making sure we all stay awake and alert to the very real dangers of rampant ego, fear and delusion while he begs for donations to support his legal battles. We know now that he owes a great deal of money to a significant number of people, and crying foul at this point is a fantastic opportunity to rake it in, no doubt.
To Trump it makes perfect sense to fan the flames of discord and division; we’ve learned this about him by now. I do not waste one iota of energy in indignation; he will eventually be persuaded to leave.
Meanwhile we re-enter quarantine and self-isolation in a new pandemic surge, we tighten our budgets yet again, re-stock the pantry, trade our summer tires for snows. While the GTA hospitals fill up again and again staff is stretched beyond their limit, again long term care facilities are most vulnerable. Bankruptcy filings increase, still more storefront businesses close. Never has the difference between the stock market and the economy been so stark … or no, wait. We’ve been here before, haven’t we. Face palm.
I don’t waste energy on the Bezos or the Zuckerberg, either.
Collectively and personally we have taken heavy losses, yes. But good grief, Charlie Brown. We are still alive, we still laugh and eat, sleep, dream, read books, help each other, care for ourselves, and many are still gainfully employed. We can still crack jokes, even and especially at our own expense when, disoriented, we bump into walls, then recalibrate, reset, hit another obstacle then stop, laugh, rethink, try again. Social media is awash with memes of comically frazzled animals captioned: my mental state right now. It has NOT been easy, but we are, in fact, making our way through, despite an appalling lack of real support and direction from many (most?) of our political leaders.
My BS meter peaks all the time these days; I’ve stopped watching politicians and avoid mainstream news. I did watch Kamala Harris and wept happy tears, though, as The US turned a hugely important, historic corner.
Shakespeare’s life and career was concurrent with the bubonic plague. Thank the Universe, then, that despite the many theatre closures in London he continued to pour his energy into crafting story – stories we still consistently quote 420 years later, whether or not we’ve seen or read the play. Take note, that his stories did not focus on the plague, but on people – how they show themselves, how and what they choose. In a New Yorker article from this past May (2020) Steven Greenblatt observes that in fact the plague plays a subtle but central role in the deaths of Juliet and Romeo, “The plague, which is hardly represented in the play, does not cause their deaths, but the profound social disruption it brings in its wake—conveyed in the rush of seemingly irrelevant details—plays an oddly significant role. The ill-timed quarantine is an agent of the star-crossed lovers’ tragic fate.“
For Shakespeare, the quarantine and theatre closures were an effect. People – kings and princes, moneylenders, daughters, wives, friends, soldiers and besotted fools were far more interesting: the myriad, fascinating ways people chose to respond to life, in times of adversity.
I sign a new petition, write new letters to elected politicians every three days or so – against wetland development, human displacement to make room for pointless corporate projects, demanding clean water for first nations NOW, universal basic income for all….the list goes on. Thank you to the people who are on those front lines, investigating, advocating, watching the shady government deals that are happening under covid-cover. I’m aware that these issues are shared and visible because of choices made by people, while in isolation, to change a broken system.
We do figure things out. Every day I work with practicalities, weave in new skills to bring what I do into alignment with how we are now. Learning through the inevitable first batch that will never see publication, now seeing a glimmer of the stories I love and want to tell. Always with paint and colour, music and language, all in layers, visceral and strong. I’ve got good plans in motion that will generate income from and for this work, am grateful for the new practicalities of internet commerce.
Talking about money need not be a divisive issue. Are we coming anywhere closer to a place now where we can see that, as with Shakespeare’s plague, as with the pandemic, income affects, but need not define us? So much focus on money since yes, we are indeed dependent upon it. Certainly, take care of what you need to take care of. But what if we found ways to ‘unhook’ from the disempowering belief system that’s connected to money? What if, instead of focusing on economic self-judgement and anxiety, on how to profit, collect and consume ever more, chasing security as if our lives depend upon it – what if we just … let money be the simple, relational thing it is?
I suspect this looks a little different for everyone. For certain though, an enormous amount of energy and time get freed up if and when we unhook from the toxicity. If we weren’t so obsessed with what’s going to happen next month or next year, trying to to control the economic ‘weather’ so we can keep things the same, maybe we’d work out new, healthier systems that would never have occurred to us, otherwise.
As an artist I’m familiar to the point of boredom with judgement placed on my chosen career. The voices are clear and remarkably self-righteous; our culture simply does not support artists in the way it supports bankers, lawyers, CEOs, teachers. It’s a predictable trigger point, when I tell people what I do. Why such a point of contention?
A handful of people early in my career took direct offence with my practice. They were, in fact, a reflection of the voices inside my own head: You think you can do this full time? What makes you so special – You think you’re the next Emily Carr? (which is funny, considering). Maybe if my pieces regularly sold for $1M this resentment would dissolve into a grudging admiration? well that’s okay then, you’re in the business of money; I get it now.
People who do not resonate with my work will politely change the subject, or, unsolicited, show me someone else’s work they prefer or an approach that makes better sense (as if to guide me in a better direction). Well, if it were me, I’d… An online troll attacked me personally and fervently with some nastiness they felt compelled to project in the moment. Others find my work engaging and compelling, which often leads to further conversations, connections, exchanges. People are different from one another, and always have been.
I don’t waste my energy on a need for external validation. Not any more. That said, I’m blessed to have many people in my life who are sincerely supportive of what I do, which feels warm and good to me. I am and always will be grateful for this.
Art isn’t about money, Charlie Brown, it is about people. Selling my work for 1M is not and never could be my primary goal; it just doesn’t work that way. The folks who pay grossly inflated prices for art are quite often trying to hide dark money or use investment loopholes – the purchase is far less about the art than about taxes. Certainly if the artist is still alive it’s rare that they see any of this, since the big money goes from one ‘investor-owner’ to another. Good heavens, how Emily could have used that money while she was alive and working!! The middle-folk – dealers, agents (Sotheby’s, etc) rake in a tidy fee, for guaranteeing that the work will hold its ‘value’, or at least tracking its value on the art market. You’ve heard of the BANKSY painting that shredded itself in 2018? He was making a point.
Value on these upper echelon markets is capricious. Recently there’s been a huge demand at art fairs for ‘primitives’, or work by artists who have never been to art school, who may have regular day jobs as bus drivers or insurance adjusters. Was it last year that someone duck taped a banana to the wall at Art Basel Miami and sold it for $120,000.?; Face palm (but also pretty funny).
I’m not BANKSY, though I greatly admire what he does, as I do Ai Wei Wei and his work. I’m not aiming myself at being quoted in 400 years. I’m just observing and responding to the complex, relational world of right now in a way that stretches, challenges and eventually empowers me. I do believe art is about people, and that people are about connection, choices, stories, innovation. I know without any doubt that income will flow and I will keep on doing this, because things just work out, in exactly the way they should. I don’t need to control the weather.
If you’re someone who resonates with this, I’m glad. We need to keep stretching and evolving, empowering ourselves and each other. If this makes sense to you and you’re interested in hanging or showing my work in your spaces, I would be delighted to find ways to make it so. You can connect with me through this website, email (email@example.com) or on social media (messenger works well). Coming in the next few weeks are a newsletter option, and a subscription series which gives you access to my new Story Cake videos. I’ll talk about these in my next posts.
In the meantime, If you like what you read and see here, and just want to offer support, I’ve set up a safe, encrypted donation option on this site for the first time in eleven years. Your support of the work I do here can only make it better, so if you are able, I am grateful to receive. Here’s the button, apologies that it’s so large (I’m working at simplifying as you read):
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My point here is that we can choose where to invest our energy. We can choose how to know and show ourselves, just as we did 400 years ago, 2000 years ago, aeons ago, when there was no such thing as money. My point is that when something makes no sense, you can choose to find something that does, and focus yourself there. WAY more interesting than being stuck.
I find art deeply meaningful, and choose to spend my working time making it; other people study and learn from fruit flies. Still others are in jobs that bore them to puddles but make really interesting things happen when they’re not at work. Raging lame duck president is canny enough to earn money from loyalists, classical dancer does their work in an abandoned factory, shows get cancelled even though musicians really do need income and work so let’s fix that problem of income. We share rich meaningful phonecalls, broken hips mend, poison ivy heals, tears soak into a pillow, snowflakes dance on the wind, and I hear laughter outside. What a fascinating, amazing world.
It’s not about the pandemic or the politics, or that person that’s driving you nuts. It’s not about money or fear.
What do you love? Do that.
Stories that want to be told come in through the eastern window in the morning, or sometimes down onto the roof with the rain.
There’s a beautiful one that follows me everywhere I go now, about the water that washes the eastern shore on Georgian Bay and how that is like, and also not like the ocean that kisses and smashes and chortles the eastern shores of the Shetland Islands. This story is long like a river that runs deep then dives deeper, to run beneath the desert.
There’s another about trumpeter Swans who were many, then few, then gone for a hundred years, hunted into oblivion by europeans. Now the imprint of those wild ones on the land teaches the new, tame ones how to be who they are. The tame ones teach the humans to be …better.
There are the stories a Mother Tree whispers to me – the one that once grew right here, the beating heart of the great breathing forest that lived – lives! she says – along the flanks of Lake Ontario, sheltered by the arms of the limestone escarpment.
They come in the window and through the roof with pictures and sounds to show me. Listen. Can you hear this? Can you see how this is, how it connects with that? Look at this marvel! Listen.
And so I get to work, and write. Draw containments for these, paint them, sing them, play them.
I’ve just sent two applications in to Banff Centre for the Arts for month long residencies this year, timed after my commission work has been completed and distributed with love.
What I’ll build at the Banff residency is a visual language that matches the stories that come in, asking to be told. I’ll work with colour, water, gravity, resist, paper and time. The musical language will develop too – downstairs in the room I’ve made for it, in car rides between here and my cabin, and on the road between here and Banff this summer and early fall.
That Banff Centre will of course choose to invite me or not; I’ll know by May. If not Banff, then from a back yard studio in Vernon, or a cabin on Lake Superior. From the blue artist’s studio at the edge of the ocean in the Shetland Islands. Either way, the stories will be told, and I will find a visual and musical language for them. This is the road I’ve chosen.
I will need help. I can’t tell the stories the way they’re asking to be told, without readers, without input, without research and connection, without funding assistance. Without performance venues, walls to hang the work on, other artists to work with and pay with respect, audiences to sing the music with. Without a family of collaborators.
This is a link to my Patreon site, where you’ll find some options for collaboration with me and these stories. Benefits, too, as sincere tokens of my appreciation and love. If you join me as a patron, I will take you with me on the road, into the studio, the residencies, the water, the forests. Your story will mingle and connect with these ones, and you will be included in the books, songs and paintings that will be made. You will have my rich and enduring gratitude and love.
Most of the content on this website will continue to be free. I’ve been writing here for ten years and many life changes, and I love the connection it provides. Please consider, though, that this space takes great time and effort to build, develop, evolve, enrich. If you feel inclined to support this, even for the cost of a good coffee every month, the space and the work I do will only get better.
I am and will continue to be eternally grateful for your collaboration and support. Nothing in this world happens in isolation; we’re all in this together.