This is a personal story.
I had a drink with an artist friend (let’s call her Esme) the other evening. I don’t do this very often, because A) These days I work too many freggin’ hours during the week and spend all weekend trying to catch up on things; B) I don’t often get friendly enough with artists (in an effort to keep my arts writing as “unbiased” as possible) to have drinks with them; and C) In my experience having drinks with artist-types proves unrewarding, because they often stiff you on the bill.
None of these rules applied with this artist. Not only did I have a rare chunk of time and felt safe from being stiffed by Esme, but she had become a somewhat friendly and respectful acquaintance even after I wrote a somewhat complete story about all the good, bad, and ugly aspects of work several years ago. She said she wanted to talk about whether she should take a job as a gallery coordinator at a Minneapolis outsider art gallery. I told her yes, she should, and people who dismiss outsider art are deluding themselves that the art they espouse (contemporary or historical, their own or their friends’, real or imaginary) is any more crucial or worthy (or likely to succeed) than outsider art. The art scene is fueled by rivalry and contention. After awhile, it seemed likely she’d accept the job, and we moved onto the crux of our conversation.
That was this: Should either of us continue participating in the local (sometimes national) art scenes?
Now, I say this with no bias–having written about Esme’s work before I came to know her, and not having written about her work after I came to know her–Esme is a pretty kick-ass artist. She’s petite and blond and pretty, which is unusual enough for a sculptor, and she has the plainly foul mouth of a coal worker. Having hung in the cultural scene here in Minnesota for years, she is friends with local luminaries like Chris Mars and Steve Foley (both of the drummers of The Replacements, who were actually such good friends that they both, at one point or another, tutored her son on the drums), Grant Hart, and Mason Jennings. She is also mother to grown children very close to her own age (having married a man somewhat older than her), as well as children she bore herself.
But Esme’s sculpture is the thing that’s truly impressive. I won’t say much about it, lest I give away her true identity too readily, but it is installational and very in-touch and in-tune with the world, even as it presents visions that are quite visionary and magical to behold.
As we talked about our careers, we discovered that we had both coincidentally reached a cross roads. I had been feeling less and less inclination to hustle to write significant numbers of art reviews about Minneapolis artists of late, and had let my production of such dwindle from highs during my peak of 30 articles per year down to about 5-6 pieces over the past year. I won’t go into my reasons for this decline, except to say it wasn’t out of lack of demand. Meanwhile, she revealed that, although she had tons of ideas for work and a standing offer for a solo show at a prominent local gallery, she had not really thrown herself into making anything for the past two years or so–ever since she became disillusioned by the bullshit she saw and heard while serving on a prominent local artist panel.
By the end of the evening, we both bemoaned the loss of each other’s work. She said, “I wish you wouldn’t stop writing; the community needs a voice like yours to keep writing about the work that’s being made.” And I said, “I wish you wouldn’t stop making art; the community needs to see the fabulous work you still have left to make.”
Still, neither of these statements was the most remarkable thing spoken this evening. Instead, that was this: At one point, after I asked how her son was doing (last time I saw her two years before he had just begun his drum lessons and was writing movie reviews online) she paused and said, “He’s doing photography now.” Photography? I asked. “Yes, and when he told me that’s what he wanted to do I swear I started crying. I went into art because I didn’t have any choice. It’s what I simply had to do. But I never wanted this for him…”
Another round of drinks came, and we were both silent. “And the thing about it?” She continued, “He’s actually really good. I mean really good. So I don’t know what to do….”