It’s dawn. Moments ago, it was so dark my face stared back at me in the glass of the window, and the fire was roaring to warm this place from near-freezing so that my fingers could write. Now, the fire is banked to a glow and the pines outside are gray lines out of an almost-orange ground, their needles almost-green.
Here there is a river, and a decrepit bridge that connects this place to the town. The town is not much more than a hardware shop, grocery store and café. It’s one of those vibrant tiny places that you don’t want to question the existence of too much. Here, between the Wenatchee River and Natapoc ridge, artists live and gather.
Two summers ago, at the start of the exploration of my Question, I came here to the Grunewald Guild as a studio management intern to explore what life in a community of artists might be like. Now I work there as a member of its staff. During that first summer, I sat down with 11 artists and I asked them questions such as “How did you discover yourself to be an artist?”, “What role does art play in promoting or mitigating societal change?”, and “Can a society exist without art, and the production of art? I turned to these questions within my larger Question as I try to understand what it means to make my life as an artist. Right off the bat, the artists I interviewed began a debate about what it is that they are.
Ruthie Sinclair says there is no choice in becoming an artist. She says “Either you are or aren’t. That’s how I feel about it. And if you’re not in a setting that teaches it … you’ll learn what you have to in order to express what you need to.” Sinclair goes on to say, “I think it takes a dedication and an interest in what it is you’re creating to be an artist, something that will drive you enough to keep you up nights working on it.” Brian Rush says that that drive has nothing to do with being an artist. Instead, Rush talks about how “making the work that is true to what kinds of questions I’m asking or what I have to say” and how that work sometimes is “something that’s not called art.” Deb Doering states that art is “the questioning, the exploring…and yet, everybody needs that in their life, so that’s the artist in the scientist, the artist in the mathematician. We need to recognize that everybody has those, and if we don’t allow people to have the artist part of them expressed, we become robots in an ugly society.” For Doering and Rush, there is no restriction of art to the artist that Sinclair feels.
Doering’s comment that without art “we become robots in an ugly society” is echoed throughout these conversations. There is always this thread of art and artists being necessary to us as people. Brittany Deininger brings this up, and talks about the role of the artist in the community: “they are what is needed at any particular moment. … Artists help us learn how to grieve in times of mourning, artists challenge us in times of injustice; I think it’s always a moving target. So the question is not ‘How do you find your role and keep it your whole life?’ but ‘What is your role in the moment? What is the particularity of your time and place asking you to do?’” After this, she goes on to say that “as soon as I have an answer it changes.”
Doering counters this and says “I would never say to anybody ‘become an artist to be a social activist.’ If you want to be an activist then, maybe part of what you do can have a visual component. But I think art most of all changes the person who is making it. … I became an artist because I wanted to mould myself and to be able to be more open and flexible and see things in less black and white ways.” Deininger and Doering are looking at this concept of social change and the artist from two different yet similar angles. For Doering, it is the individual who is questioning their work and ideas and opens themselves to art in its many perspectives that begins to change themselves. For Deininger, it is the idea of the artist as the one who has a “prophetic hope” for the world as it could be, while seeing the world as it is. As the artist does their work and shares their hope, it opens others up to those ideas.
In these quiet times of day, when the first rain of fall is running its little feet along the roof of the bus, these artists that I interviewed begin to clamor in my head. Not just the artists I interviewed, but others I spoke to who gave their opinions on my Question. For these people, it doesn’t matter where artist fits, but what it is that the art and artist does.
For me, this lack of an answer and disparate thoughts about the artist very much capture an idea that I’ve had when thinking about what art is, and what its purpose may be within my life and the world as I know it. Each artist has a singular voice that can never capture all of what it means to be an artist. I’ve come to see these interviews with artists as threads within a larger weaving. Since I’m a weaver, I decided to put that to use.
This summer, I wove 19.2 metres (21 yards or 63 feet) of fabric to pull these artists and their ideas together in one cloth. On a cold fall day, I dyed the cloth with indigo, a dyestuff that is volatile and powerful and connects back with many other makers and artists throughout history. To this cloth are tied, embroidered, and woven in the words of the 11 artists that I interviewed two summers ago. I don’t want to close down and decide on an answer for my Question, but instead pose it to others, and let that multitude of voices be my answer.
There is a continuity with all makers, and we all are part of a cloth of culture that holds us together. By picking out 11 strands of ideas and marking them as part of that cloth, I want to pose the question to you the reader. Where does the artist fit? Where is your art? Where do you place yourself upon this cloth?
Here, at the Guild, we place ourselves in community, tuck ourselves down between river and sun, pine and stone. Some days, the only relief from the dry air and the hot sun is the river. Or, on mornings like today, when the rain is the only voice around, I burn captured sunlight to keep the cold air at bay. It is now full day. Time to step out and begin the day’s work.
Maris’ installation will be on the 5th floor of Red Tusk starting on the 11th of November at 7pm and ending on the 12th at 9pm. Maris will be there from 7pm to 9pm both days.