Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Mess Inside

Annie Heckman
Artist, Educator

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago

You go there for 10 hours a day, sometimes 12. You stare at the project, thinking with a strained look, interrupted only by phone calls from important friends who have brilliant insights on your work. You wear very scruffy clothing, but you’ve been working this look and people know you’re covered in a thin crust because of the intense schedule of painting and building to which you are a faithful acolyte.

You have a pile of drawings scattered in the corner in a tornado of angst. One day, perhaps, a true connoisseur will pick one up from the pile, the best one. You keep creating, and are rediscovered from time to time. You stay there late, exhausted. You bring beer.

I’m not sure where this image of the artist’s life came from, but this is the vision I sustained even as I exited undergraduate studio life and moved forward. Graduate school modulated this image, but I must have tucked it into some deep brain recesses, because it comes back to haunt my idea of what a studio practice should look like. Today I look out onto my garden-surrounded porch and view a sea urchin sculpture explosion on the table, covered in gesso and black paint, drying from the night before. There are oversized penguin drawings on the dining room table, surrounded by feather pieces that my cats have been trying to conquer for weeks.

A few miles south of here in a hot industrial space, there’s a mass of pink foam chunks surrounded by paper slices, with DJ black lights and skeleton chandeliers balanced around the moat of scraps. Things are messy. And studio time rarely comes in those beautiful 12-hour cascades of productivity. I clean things up and have a sort of homeostasis for the space during visits and open studios, but a ragged spillover in terms of time and space is my happy reality.

To help question my original ideal studio universe, I did some surveying-the-choir research with the following post on Facebook:

hello artists -- what does your studio practice really look like? How many hours, all at home, all away from home, are you messy like me?

Yes, I went looking for a mess. And I heard from Darrell Roberts with photos right away, showing the overflowing visual splendor of his space.

Somewhere in my striving for sustained professional practice I had decided that the studio should be a symphony of clarity and purpose. When I stepped into Darrell’s space and saw a big pile of pencils and chalk flowing over onto a stack of papers, I felt like I was home. Now when things start to get entropic in my space I think about Darrell’s joyful and productive way of working, stop in my tracks, and snap a picture on my phone to celebrate it.

While Darrell’s practice has a specific site, he travels his studio-at-large fluidly and immerses himself in making, viewing, and teaching at intervals. Which brings up the issue of time. Recently when poet Dan Godston asked me to participate in a panel discussion on the intersection of writing and visual arts practices in Chicago, our conversation about space quickly became an analysis of time: the idea of the studio needing to occupy a space of any sort was tossed out, with time being set as the determining dimension of artistic practice. While I need to produce and stage work with an understanding of how it will meet its audience in space, the emphasis on time stuck with me.

I’m reminded of this turn in our conversation as I type furiously, waiting for sea urchins to dry. In my case, an effort to find the perfect spatial situation for artmaking was a detour from the need to establish clear boundaries for time. Creating periods of relevant focus, and allowing for things to happen without my ideal 12-hour daily retreats is crucial for me in making anything happen with a degree of independent thought. Brian Kapernekas reminded me of this when he responded to my query, including a summary of his time:

Work 8 hours a day, parent time 3-5 hours, studio 2-3 hours a day, weekends longer 4-6, sleep 5-6 hours.

Depending on upcoming exhibits, his time shakes down differently, but there are some basic proportions in play. For me each day is broken down differently, with a combination of office, studio, teaching, and whatever-the-hell else needs doing. But whenever time is dedicated to art consistently, with attention given every day or in big enough chunks for my brain to process, thoughts are formed and art gets made.

This leads me to my current expectations for studio practice, which are looking richer at the moment than my original fantasies:

You go to the studio every day, but the studio is situated in four different places, and travels. You go there for 10 hours a day, split into fragments, with residencies adding in more hours and teaching subtracting or integrating some time in phases. All friends are important, and you contact each other in waves. People discover your work because you tell them about it. Your clothing is scruffy sometimes, but the thin crust is unintentional and you relish the chance to wash it off. Your cats are hell-bent on curbing your productivity. You bring coffee.

Annie Heckman is a visual artist based in Chicago. Her work explores mortality and afterlife ideologies through sculptural animation installations and works on paper. She graduated with a BFA from the University of Illinois at Chicago and an MFA from New York University, both in Studio Art. Annie has exhibited her projects in numerous spaces, including exhibitions in Chicago, New York City, Budapest, and Białystok, Poland. Her recent projects include animation installations using phosphorescence and moving parts. She is the founder of StepSister Press and works as a museum educator with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.  Other Links: Darrell Roberts:, Dan Godston (Borderbend Arts Collective):, Brian Kapernekas:

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Five Easy Pieces on “The Space of the Artist”

Cauleen Smith
Artist in Residence

I’m only in Chicago for 8 weeks. I’ve been here a month, and have a month to go. I am loving it here.

“I Love You, Chicago!” Ballon Vendor at the Bud Biliken Parade Aug. 14, 2010. C. Smith

I am here because I want to make  a film, objects and sound pieces  about and for this city. My project is an insane sprawl. (You can read about it here:  ) So I hope you’ll forgive me if my thoughts seem didactic, shallow,  or plain simple-minded. I’m sure they are. I spend all of energy on running the streets, meeting people, and making stuff in my studio -  every day -  in the hopes of getting something off the ground before I leave this amazing city.   Thanks to Studio Chicago for giving me opportunity to think about something other than marching bands!

Caveat: The studio is private space, not a public place. Even when used as the stage of performance-- even when used as the place of display-- when anyone other than the artist enters an artist’s studio they have entered a space of the artist.  So I’m only talking about my studio, not all studios, not the conceptual notion of a studio, not the problem of the studio- just my studio.

Here we go:

1.    Having a studio is a privilege. When I have a studio, I can do things and make things that I cannot do without a studio. The privacy of a studio makes thinking out loud (and acting on those thoughts) significantly less embarrassing that it could be. I know a lot of people enjoy doing private things in public space. I know that even more people get off on seeing private things being done in public. I also suspect that no one will believe me when I say this, after all I am a filmmaker, but I’m just not into that. I think privacy is precious. A lot of people don’t have it, you know? They have to love in the streets. Fight in the streets. Think on their feet on the streets. Back home, I have a key to a door that leads to four walls that frame some floor and hold up a ceiling. That is privilege. (I greatly value real estate in general. It’s one of the few forms of economy beyond trade that I well understand.) The stakes of the studio circulate around class, mobility,  and capitalization (i.e. how much money/ juice/hype you got?). What I understand about the economics of the studio is that, within studios, objects can be made. Objects can be traded for other resources. This is a good thing for the artist because it allows them to keep their studio. I am aware that there are artists who de-materialize or re-cycle everything. They make ideas. That’s awesome. I suppose they’d find my studio abominable. 

Crap everywhere... Chicago 2010. Three views of my public studio at Sullivan Galleries, SAIC. C, Smith

There’s crap everywhere. My studio is a place and a space for things that can turn into other things. My light kit turns unexposed film into a movie. My Sharpies®  turn perfectly good paper into storyboards (maps towards unrealizable dreams). My books turn into reminders of things I know and the things I need to get around to knowing. Everything-is-everything up in that mug (my studio).  How many people get to have a space like that? Privilege.

2.    Because thinking and dreaming really can happen anywhere to extraordinary degrees of radicality -- which is why mass media goes to great lengths to prevent thought --  the studio is a place to  work. It can be called an office (which is just not sexy). It can be called a spare bedroom (I like this one simply for its inference of hospitality which I’ll come to next).  It can be a garage. The studio is a physical space in which to work. I never went to art school. I suspect that has something to do with how LITTLE anxiety I feel when I enter my studio. (I wish I could say the same for entering editing rooms!) There are definitely days where I do not get anything done. Usually when that happens, I stay away for a day. I either do not work at all, or I find some work to do that cannot be done in my workspace.

Ping Pong Intervention #01: 1: Limited supply of Paddles. 2. Hiding Paddles. 3: Paddles modified after they were returned. Time cycle: 48 hours.   2010. C. Smith
This project is one intervention in a series of five in which I engage with the “art project” undertaken by BAD AT SPORTS. They installed a Ping Pong Table as part of their residency in the Sullivan Galleries. The table is very popular with the new residents who are participating in Mary Jane Jacob’s Studio Reader Class. The piddling sound of the bouncing ball drives me insane. It creates a cognitive dissonance between my own focus on work and my studio-mates focus on socializing, unwinding and expelling anxious energy.   I removed all but one Ping Pong paddle. I hid them. Then I told everyone that my studiomate, Georgia, had stolen them. It was much quieter after that; but some poor student did try to play ping pong by him or herself with the lone paddle. So I took that one too. After a day and a half, I was told that the removal of the paddles was considered a theft and that the authorities would have to be alerted. I take threats of police very seriously. I returned the paddles. Ping Pong games immediately resumed. The following day, the paddles were labeled with “SAIC”  in permanent marker.

I have no resentment, ambivalence, or confusion about what my studio is for. It is a space for production. The production of thought. The production of actions. The production of objects and images. It’s all good. No one necessarily needs to see the stuff that is made. But it generally needs to be made; and for me, the studio is a place to make it.

3.    The studio is a great place to practice hospitality. Tea tastes better in my studio because the comfort, the ease, the slowing down of time when company enters the space is so incongruent with what generally goes on in my space. I don’t always get a chance to clean up before I have a visitor. So being able to sit them down and give them some tea (one of my colleagues always has cookies too and I love that) makes a person feel wanted and welcome in a space that, in its very conception, has no space for them.  There are some essential tools for the practice of studio hospitality. I value these tools as much as my cameras, and my mac tower (almost). My tools for trading in hospitality - in case anyone is interested - are:  toaster oven, water kettle, refrigerator, coffee mugs, tumblers, bottle openers, cutting board and pairing knives, yoga mat, rug, exercise ball covered in fur, music, Makers Mark (a little goes a long way. you don’t need ice or mixer ,and anyone will drink it if that’s all there is), fizzy water, some-thing to look at, admire or criticize, and art supplies that can be shared and used easily by all (video cameras, paper, etc).  Being near a Trader Joe’s is extra wonderful. Once I am in the studio for the purpose of hanging out, I may not want to break the spell by breaking for a meal so stocking up on foods is good.  The studio is really good for creating the psychic space that pulls one away from the out-there and towards the in-here. When I’m spending time with friends in my studio, it is all about exploring the in-here.  Sometimes, I like to see how long we can hang, and what kind of work gets done while we are there together.  I’m always amazed that we do indeed manage to do stuff in spite of ourselves. Usually it’s a call-response kind of thing. I might show a video that I’m editing. Or someone will hook up their camera and show some snaps of something. In the studio space, conversation can take shape, become forms, spring into actions,  produce images, and solder connections . But this can only happen if the space is not just safe for me, but for my guests as well; hence the essentialness of hospitality.

4.    The studio is a site for judgement. It does not matter what anyone says, the fact is that when someone  enters an artist’s studio, they judge that artist. Visitors/Observers form  opinions about work that is not fully formed and hold those ideas way past the point that you’ve long discarded them, or transitioned them into something entirely new.  Frequently the visitor is there - has been invited there - for specifically that purpose. Crazy, that we do that to ourselves! But it can be profitable for some (not me, but yes, for some). A person enters the studio of an artist and naturally, they start looking around, looking for something “interesting”. Something “cool”. Something to borrow, something to buy. And you know the rule: Once you let them in, they get to bite you.  This is why folks don’t want people rolling up into their studios unannounced. Once one enjoys the privilege of a studio, one also feels entitled to having a certain amount of control over how they will be judged, and on what terms - I wanna have a say in who bites me. Is that asking so much?  So some things must be hidden. Other things must transition from just-sitting-around to now-being-displayed.  This can be hazardous. Little toxic puddles where a probing visitor may have knowingly or unknowingly taken a dump in your private world can stink up the place for days.   That is always an unfortunate by-product of welcoming someone into one’s studio, one’s  world, one’s life. There are rewards as well. That’s why we try to let the right ones in, right? 

5.    This last piece is more of a caution, that I give to myself when I’m tempted to drag something into my studio even though I don’t know why I’ll use it, or because I want to store it and there is room in the studio and there is no room in my bungalow.  The fifth rule of studio club is: You must accept change. And you must protect your work.  You must never remain static. A studio is not an archive. It is not a museum. All beings and things have energy; move it in, move it through, move it out. Make room for growth (and rent a storage unit or build a shed for all your old work). Let the light in. And shut the B.S. out.



Thursday, August 12, 2010

You Are Here

Adia Millett
Artist In Residence

To discuss the physical needs of an artist is close to impossible, simply because it varies for each one of us. Some of us need privacy, some us need 24 hour access to our space, some of us need controlled lighting or sound, and some of us will take whatever we can get. Whatever the circumstances, artists have no problem finding ways to produce art, as indicated by the variety of alternative, artist-run spaces in Chicago.

What is so intriguing to me is that we love to analyze everything, for example: Do artists need studios? The classic way to understand this is to examine what artist did in the past and how it is different from what we’re doing now. And there is always someone (like Kerry James Marshall) who makes it their duty to point out that everything has already been done before (by black people)… which is pretty much true.

Yes, artists desperately need space to work in if they’re making objects or they need an office, or a darkroom. But for many artists, the creative process begins from the moment we wake up. Every conscious act can find it’s way into our visual expression and the spaces we work in are simply extensions of that expression.

What if rather than investigating an artist’s space, we put an artist’s daily practices up for everyone to see and even participate in. “Where” then becomes dictated by “what”. This is not suggested for the purpose of making some comparison between the happenings of the 1960’s or intervention art with something occurring today, but to invite viewers, artists, curators, writers, or collectors into the most valuable space an artist occupies, their mind.

New York based artist Stephanie Diamond and I began exploring this conversation about seven months ago when we decided to design a project entitled, You Are Here in order to heighten our awareness of our routines as well as the peculiar oddities that artist so often engage in. Through daily tasks, given to each other, we began to express our personal and professional vulnerabilities, in order to heighten our awareness of ourselves and the world around us. We then invited gallery/museum staff and visitors from various institutions to participate in tasks ranging from something as simple as eating with your hands to something as significant as creating an alter for someone who has passed away.

You Are Here Alters, Adia Millett & Stephanie Diamond

Like the processes that occur in one’s “studio”, actions suggested in You Are Here require being present, critical, and creative anywhere, at anytime. Whether we’re writing a grant proposal, updating our website, drawing intricate patterns, or calling our mother to say “I love you”, in some ways we are always in our studio.

Blood, Sweat, & Tears, at Sullivan Studios, Adia Millett

ADIA MILLETT received her BFA from the University of California at Berkeley in 1997 and her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts in 2000. Millett has been an artist in resident at the Whitney Museum’s ISP program, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Headlands Center for the Arts, the University of California in Santa Cruz, Columbia College in Chicago, and Cooper Union in New York to name a few. She is a 2003 New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship recipient. Millett’s work has been exhibited in such institutions as The Studio Museum in Harlem, The Museum of Contemporary Art in Atlanta, The New Museum in New York, The Craft and Folk Museum in Los Angeles, The California African American Museum in Los Angeles, Smith College Museum of Art in North Hampton, and The Contemporary Art Center of Virginia.

Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

B2-2 Zoning and Live/Work Space in Chicago

Melissa Stanley
ArtHouse Chicago Real Estate Services

As a real estate agent I might see studio and live/work space in a different light than most artists.  I am more interested in it as a housing and development issue.  I believe strongly that promoting housing for artists is the quickest and most beneficial way to revitalize a community.  I also strongly support artists owning property so they will not be displaced by the improvements they helped to create.

In the last few months I have been working with Alderman Rey Colon to try and re-zone a small strip of Milwaukee Ave as B2.   The portion of Milwaukee on the north end of Alderman Colon’s ward is struggling and many of the store fronts are vacant.   I see the zoning change as a chance to re-energize that area.  Allowing live/work space at street level will make the area more attractive to small business and artists.  This strip is has the added advantage of being in a TIF zone with SBIF grant money available to build out the spaces.  You can check out my blog to see how the process moves forward, my goal is to create a road map for B2 zoning changes in other wards.

More on the B2 zoning:
The City of Chicago created the B2 live/work zoning a few years ago.  It was supposed to allow for live/work space on any floor so that artists could have access to more versatile and practical space.  It seems to have had an added benefit to developers as it allowed them to build larger buildings on commercial and business streets with no setbacks on the front or side of the buildings.   I don’t think the zoning has been very well-utilized by most property owners.  Many artists have been living in storefronts and mixed-use spaces for years and either they or their landlords don’t seem to see a value in making a zoning change.   In its current fashion I am not sure I see much value either.   I was reading this blog about live/work space in California and a light flashed in my head.   The best way to encourage the use of live/work space and the B2 zoning would be to allow the properties to be considered residential for the purpose of real estate taxes and mortgage loans.   If artists could qualify for FHA financing and artists or their landlords could reduce the tax burden on the property by converting storefronts to live/work space, then I think you would see a large increase in use of B2 zoning.  This has already happened in some condo buildings that are zoned B2 (I only know of a handful of these), most of those owners have been able to get residential loans and residential property tax rates (which can be 3-5 times lower than commercial rates) for their live/work condos.  I would like to see that model extended to storefronts and one-story buildings that are being used at least 50/50 for live and work.  

Is this possible?  I actually think lenders will be easier to convince than the City.  The City would have to give up on some very necessary tax revenue at least in the short term and it would add a new layer of verification for city inspectors.  This is a vision I am willing to work on for the future.  I just need to find a good Alderman and several artists to join me.

Please join me on August 17th from 4 to 5:30pm for a Salon on SBIF funding and how tenants and building owners can receive matching grants to make improvements to commercial spaces, at Multilingual Chicago, 2934 N. Milwaukee.

Melissa Stanley opened her own real estate brokerage, Niche Realty, in 2007. In 2010 she decided to find her own unique niche and created ArtHouseChicago. This was a chance for Ms. Stanley to combine her love of architecture, real estate and art together. Melissa grew up in an art loving family. Her mother lived in Manhattan in the 1960’s working as an abstract painter, she stopped painting to raise a family, but is painting again. Her father is an art historian focusing on architecture and design. Ms. Stanley graduated from Alfred University with a BFA before moving to Italy for a year and then on to Chicago. Melissa worked for ten years as a property manager before moving to real estate in 2001. Ms. Stanley is a regular presenter at the Chicago Artist Expo and has worked with several artists and art organizations helping them find or sell the unique spaces they need as artists.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Art Studio: A Personal Reflection

W. Keith Brown
Art Educator / Scholar / Writer
Stockyard Institute

In the 80’s and 90’s, art studio was the kitchen table or my bedroom growing up. When I went away to the University of Kentucky in 1998 for undergraduate studies in Fine Art, I realized the significance of space and the value of art studio. At the University of Kentucky, art courses are located off-campus in a semi-condemned tobacco warehouse formally owned by the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. “The Reynolds Building” is freezing cold in the winter and downright stifling in the summer. As student artists, we weathered the harsh conditions like a badge of honor. Due to its location, there was nothing university about the art studio experience. It was more than a series of workspaces, it was a place to visit, talk, and get ideas from peers and professors. The accessibility to the physical structure and faculty remain its most redeeming quality.

It was in the art studios were I felt the call to teach. Helping friends hang shows and giving advice was how I learned about multiple perspectives and diverse artistic procedures. At the time, I was a graphic design and drawing major, working odd jobs and skateboarding. I gleaned meaningful experiences through conversations, visiting artist lectures, many art history courses, and helping others in the studios. After graduation, it would take me three years of being a freelance graphic designer to realize that teaching is what matters most. Showing others, mainly artists, how to do something or providing a resource to inform their work remains the most satisfying feeling.

In 2006, I moved to Chicago to become apart of our amazing city and pursue graduate studies in art theory, practice, and education. As an artist, I now use writing and teaching as foundations for what I see as conceptual art practice. I view the interaction between student and teacher as an artistic exchange. For me, talking about art with young people is the art. When we come together and learn from one another about the subject, we create a situation that changes something. We alter the way we think and talk about art from that point and beyond. Often times we discuss philosophical questions regarding art markets, value of work, and aesthetics, sometimes we just spend time talking about our experiences. I believe all of these conversations inform making and that exchange becomes an art practice. Call it relational aesthetics in a school setting or socially engaged praxis, but communicating art’s processes, practices, and production methods is what I try to do through teaching.

As an education person, I also have a background in critical pedagogy, social theory, and social justice education. Everything I do in visual art and education is slanted for posing questions and gaining meaning. I believe that knowledge has the ability to empower us. I believe that access to knowledge and questioning author / authority is necessary for constructing knowledge. Students / people should be invited to actively participate in the construction of their own knowledge as well as have a say in what subjects are relevant for them. Teaching and visual art are both cultural positions, as an artist or teacher you are a cultural worker, you have to form opinions and understand certain phenomena in order to do this work. Artists usually provide commentary on topics and teachers have to identify and explain those topics. Both positions communicate something to people. On a simplistic level, both positions are entrenched in the communication business.

My writing is somewhat separate from art education, even though I sometimes write about the field of art education. As a writer, I see myself as a translator, not in an authoritative means, but in the Benjamin sense. My interpretations of texts, art museums / galleries, and Chicago's numerous critical spaces; serve as ways of understanding context, visuality, and emergent situations. The process of writing a review, conducting an interview via email, and interpreting art spaces and theoretical texts is a laborious process, much more than my artwork ever was. I used to make a lot large-scale automatic drawings and figure studies. Living in my small apartments in Chicago pushed me to work smaller and to give up art almost exclusively. Writing is desktop oriented work; it is research based and gives me much fulfillment. Depending on a deadline, I can start writing on a piece three weeks ahead of time and use every minute until it is time to send. I write in very small chunks of time, once I have the ideas down, I begin editing and changing word choices. I can usually find three hours most mornings to write about something. I also carry moleskin notebooks and pens with me any time I leave the house. I always find something to sketch or jot down when I commuting around town.

Today, my “studio” is the dining room in my East Lakeview apartment. I like everyone else wish I had a different space to work, some days it is hard to focus in the house. I am distracted with other household chores and responsibilities. However, this is where I read, write, develop curriculum, and think about art and education. As humans, we can make do with almost any environment.

W. Keith Brown is a Chicago-based art educator, researcher, and writer. Aside from being an art history teacher at ChiArts, Brown is also a member of the artist-pedagogical collective, Stockyard Institute, founder of the Critical Visual Art Education (CVAE) Club, art critic for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art’s Chicago division, contributor to Proximity Magazine, and editor for the Illinois Art Education Association (IAEA). 

The views and opinions expressed on this blog by W. Keith Brown do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those organizations with whom he associates.

Image Credit: Courtesy of W. Keith Brown

The Art Studio Phenomena

W. Keith Brown
Art Educator / Scholar / Writer
Stockyard Institute

It is my belief that artists crave traditional art studio spaces (lofts in Montmartre and Lower Manhattan) because they have been taught what success is by the art establishment (historians, popular art world culture, and society). It is from the teachings, writings, and examples of success spoon-fed by the art establishment that young artists are forced to become overly competitive and slightly insecure (see Bravo’s latest ambition, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist). Young artists are seemingly encouraged to live out terribly naïve and sometimes destructive alterna-life-styles in the name of becoming whatever concoction of art history they find romantic. In this model, a successful artist is not complete without great monetary wealth and her/his large overly expensive one-person art studio space located within a gritty urban center. My position is this, if artists never had access to art world narratives there would be no reason to have a citywide exhibition in Chicago on the art studio. The artist studio would have nothing to compare itself to, thus no extreme relevance. Artist could make with pure freedom instead of financial insecurity (see folk artists in Louisiana who just make things without money or ego).

Depending on what you were exposed to as a young artist or how you developed throughout your art education, at some point, somebody explained or illustrated a workspace designated specifically and exclusively for art making. Chances are, just knowing about this changed the way you viewed art practice. The first thought that focuses the mind is how you would engage such a space. If you had so many square feet to dedicate to making art how would that look and how much work would you be able to produce if given that opportunity. It is very exciting to think about such possibilities. As domestic creatures, we enjoy division, classification, and separation of spaces. Art studio appeals to this fascination of dividing rooms into areas specific for certain activities (i.e. the sewing room, the garage, the basement, the home office, and the playroom).

The art studio model we fantasize about today is the one developed and used from the 1500’s through the 1900’s. If you studied visual art in college, you were exposed to this particular model of art studio. This is the model that likely stirred your imagination and cemented your quest for space. In the undergraduate art history courses, you likely had a professor who was devoted to two decades out of the forty she/he was required to teach. Whatever the time explored in your experience, undoubtedly, your passionate professor shared with you countless stories of rebellion, bohemianism, and spaces for making art. There is something extremely useful and fascinating about that knowledge, but the over exaggeration and enthusiasm for the way things used to be clouds the way things are today and the context in which we exist.

The way artists work today is just as socially and culturally relevant as those working in large loft spaces in bohemian centers worldwide centuries, decades, and years ago. We need not measure our successes on material commodities such as real estate and party invitations. While the art establishment perpetuates outdated production models and “ideal” studio environments, we should question their positions and ask that they speak more on relevant economies and conditions for art production.

Art studio has a certain feeling about it; a place to work and process ideas is extremely important, however, work takes place at many different sites. The studio concept is a fixed location, a space, but it no longer requires paying rent or purchasing a property. A lot of work can be on the go. This is also true for certain cities such as New York. We no longer have to live in New York to show work there. We have the internet, we no longer have to pack our bags, go into debt while sleeping in an overpriced Brooklyn shoebox. The new media artists have shown us that as long as you have a recording device, laptop, and software you can edit and create anywhere you please.

Our culture is extremely mobile; utilizing wireless servers and 3G networks, we can stay electronically connected almost all of the time. Some days it is hard to escape your work due to its transportability, which then generates an entirely new discussion about technology. Many people outside the realms of art often bring laptops to bookstores and coffee shops, they spend hours doing work, studying, and/or reading. These public shared spaces are altering work, leisure, and our everyday interactions. A cultural movement of migratory labor practices is underway and it up to artists to provide cultural understanding and continued dialogue.

W. Keith Brown is a Chicago-based art educator, researcher, and writer. Aside from being an art history teacher at ChiArts, Brown is also a member of the artist-pedagogical collective, Stockyard Institute, founder of the Critical Visual Art Education (CVAE) Club, art critic for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art’s Chicago division, contributor to Proximity Magazine, and editor for the Illinois Art Education Association (IAEA). 

The views and opinions expressed on this blog by W. Keith Brown do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of those organizations with whom he associates.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Jerome Hausman via Hans Namuth