the gallery, the church
I've been going outside lately.
It's been overcast almost every day in Los Angeles since I've moved here – May Gray, followed by June Gloom. Apparently it's common here, but my chronically Arizonan understanding of weather patterns does not fare well in any city that isn't based in a desert. Has it ever been cloudy for more than, like, three consecutive days in Phoenix? I'm starting to doubt if I've ever really seen clouds at all.
Everything about this weather is telling my body and mind to stay in when I wake up. I do not take for granted the feeling of sunshine on my face where I can get it, so to have that warmth taken away from me puts me into something of a grieving state. First it's a belief that the sun will come back any day now. Then it's a frustration with geography or something, followed by a plea to appreciate the sun's warmth the next time it comes around. Finally, we land in the place I'm at now: stasis.
It's hard to move to one of the creative epicenters of the world with the full intention to bloom into something magnificent all to be stopped by some (extremely persistent) clouds above my head. It's even harder to cope with the idea that you can really be this affected by what's going on in the sky – not just the inability to accept that you can't control it, but the inability to understand why it's even affecting anything in the first place.
All of this to say: it's been hard to make things.
Does anybody else have a problem dealing with the inability to create?
I ask half-rhetorically, half-seriously. I know that 90% of the struggles of being an artist are literally just being an artist, but it still strikes me every time I'm unable to make things. Like, wouldn't it be nice if we just had a little switch we could flip? It could be a switch that turns on your motivation, and we could turn it off when it's time to clock out for the day. It could charge on its own, too! When it's off, it charges up for when you need it next via solar panels, so it's powered by sunlight and nice weather.
Okay, maybe not sunlight. Nothing would get done in LA and Seattle might cease to exist.
It seems like we would have this switch built into us. I mean, we want to be artists, right? Isn't creative self-expression, like, the thing we love to do? So why is it so difficult? Why is it so hard to do something that brings you joy?
Every time this happens, I begin to lose faith in my creativity. Like, sure, maybe I'm just not feeling it right now. But maybe it's more than that... right? Maybe I just have nothing valuable to say. What if I've never had anything valuable to say? What if my stories aren't worth telling and all of this is just a selfish pursuit of self-discovery or some grand coping mechanism that's actively embarrassing me in front of the world? What if I've always been a fool in denial and I'm using pretty pictures & YouTube videos to cope with my own shortcomings?
These are the thoughts that start to creep in. Not only is there an attack on my current ability to make things, but it goes all the way down to the core of it. It bites at my insecurities and makes me doubt every idea of identity that I've managed to scrap together over the years.
"No, your work probably won't be good now, but what if it's never been good? What if it never will be? What if this is all just a big waste of everyone's time?"
I've been going outside lately.
This tendency toward doubt lives in my room with me, so sitting with it will only make things worse. Plus, with this move I've figured it's better to actually try and make Los Angeles feel like a home rather than some extended vacation or an experiment on my belonging. Any time spent out of my room feels like a blessing that I actually have control over.
Walks have been a good thing. Even though I dearly miss the sun, I think it's still nice to remind myself that it's still out there somewhere. Coffee shops have been a saving grace, too. I'm writing this letter from one now (with another hot almond milk decaf mocha, of course). But above all, there has been something that's saved me from myself more times than I can remember, and it's done more for me now than ever.
I see museums & galleries as my church; a place of worship for all things holy and seemingly above me. They remind me to keep my feet on the ground and my head nearby. When all else has gone awry, I am graced by a sense of tranquility and reassurance that I am not alone, or none of my problems are really that bad, or that I'm too in my head, or... something.
To be honest, I'm not entirely sure what it is. A higher power is the only way I've been able to rationalize it because that is truly the only relatable feeling for me. There's an extreme sense of revitalization I feel when I enter into a gallery. I'm surrounded in a communion of like-minded people all worshipping the same spirit of self-expression and making sense of this weird, weird thing called "the human experience" or whatever.
There's a feeling of looking at piece after piece, understanding the intention of what the artist was trying to say, and silently affirming to myself that it's not just that I get it – it gets me.
This week I went to three museums with two exhibits that I fell in love with. The first was The Getty's exhibit featuring coinciding works of Carrie Mae Weems and Dawoud Bey. Their photographic work was incredibly inspiring, challenging, and made me fall in love with photography all over again. It showed me just a sliver of the infinite amount of things people are able to do with cameras and it blew me away just how talented those two are. I absolutely adored it and am still thinking about it constantly almost a week later.
I also attended the opening day of The Broad's Keith Haring exhibit. For as much as I love Keith Haring's work (if you know, you know), I haven't seen basically any of his work in person. My only encounter with his work snuck up on me in this tiny room at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art a few months ago, and even that felt amazing. Because of that, this exhibit was truly incredible.
Entire giant rooms filled with Haring's work, chronicling his life and messaging through some of his pieces. Huge tarps stretched and tacked onto the walls full of love, babies, penises, and every other stapled symbol of his work, all on display with 80s music blasting in the background. Being able to see the fine details of brush strokes and paint drips in person was extremely refreshing compared to the flat, digital representations of his work. It was transformative, and the exhibit could not have opened at a better time.
I also attended LA's Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Ave (even though half of it was closed); in-person viewings of Cy Twombly, Barbara Kasten, and this incredible sculpture by Siah Armajani, Back Porch with Picnic Table. As the title suggests, it's literally a back porch with a picnic table but with a poem constructed into the structure that forces you to enter the porch, walk around it, and fully experience its space as if you were entering someone's home. Like... wow!!
Every time I stepped into an exhibit, my mind started racing at a million miles an hour. This time, however, the thoughts whirring past weren't ones of doubt or anxiety. No, this time they were full of hope. These thoughts were full of excitement, joy, tranquility, admiration, and self-belief, all wrapping around my brain like a warm blanket.
Not only was I appreciating the little puzzles we make for each other in the gallery, but now I wanted to join in. Why couldn't I put my work in a gallery? What's stopping me from making absolutely everything and showing myself to the world? Are these clouds really going to be the thing that hold me back from everything I've ever wanted?
The gallery is my church and, oh, how I would love to join the choir – scream at the top of my lungs in praise of the human experience in beautiful harmony with the others who chose to be there. Sometimes I lose faith. In these moments, however, I believe in the higher power. I believe in art.
So that's the goal! I have no clue how to do it, or really what I even want to say. I suppose that sort of thing comes in time. As it stands, this only exists as a childlike fascination with the "art world" right now, and honestly I think I'm okay with that. I don't think I'll ever feel "good enough" for it, so I think the first step to doing something about it is... well, doing something about it.
More than anything, this garden is about planting seeds. It's about putting our hands in the dirt and putting things down because we have to. We water the seeds and watch it grow from a little sprout into a fully realized organism that allows us to enjoy the literal fruits of our labor.
I invite you to plant your seeds with me. We'll get our hands dirty and watch them grow in real time, together. Who cares if you're ready? Everything has to work out somehow! It always does.
It always does.
Love & lima beans,