A few weeks ago I had the intense desire to wear denim and dress in “style”. I wanted to wear heals and tight fitting denim with a flamboyant blouse in bright colors. After wearing the same white work coveralls, that have grown quite dingy with dirt from 4 months of daily wear and no washing, the change would be significant. The moment I put on something new, other than this uniform, there will be a spark of noticeable difference. I will feel the impact of that moment, how long the awareness of it will last is what I do not know.
The serious contemplation of prematurely removing my uniform came to me after a studio visit with Christina Seely, an artist and professor at Dartmouth College. I spoke with her about my “Artist Working” project and about the battle for visibility of artist mothers. I explained that wherever we are and whatever we are doing; we cannot divorce ourselves from the ongoing process of artmaking. Art making is not divisible from the lived experiences of the artist. My voice quaked and eyes welled when I spoke about my current paintings, speaking of the residue that builds up to become the monuments of who we are, and grow to become. The evolution of our psychological state is a malleable process of experience and reflection. I at some point, must have disclosed that I am hard myself, because she later agreed that I was. Seely’s verbal response to my visible emotional state and disclosures, was permission to end the project when I felt that I had gained what I need to from the investigation. She stated that ‘I am doing this work for myself’ and therefore, I am only accountable to myself. I can decide that I have done enough, afterall, 4 months is a long time.’
I contemplated ending the project, questioning my intentions again- asking myself ‘why am I doing this?’ I answered myself, and reminded myself that I cannot give-in to the minds interrogation and second guessing. Deconstruction is permitted and inherent to the project, this is art as well as artistic research, and I don’t know for certain where I am going to end up. The mind is a powerful tool. It can both strengthen as well as disempower you. So often we reason with the self, and the rational and reasonable self will attempt to preserve the status and order. I want to unearth and tap into the abject and the suppressed to permit the filth to rise and be evident. Endurance and commitment are all concepts that have resulted in taking on this artistic challenge. I am psychologically contracted to endure this each day and see it through till the end. To abandon this mental agreement that I have made with myself would be to fail.
I know now what I have done-I am testing myself.
On Friday, April 22, 2016 I attended the visitation of Mrs. Deborah Piper. She died recently after a battle of breast cancer. She was the mother of Eric Piper, a longtime friend I grew up with in Princeton, Illinois. I wore my uniform, like I wear every day. I was nervous, because I was fearful that I would offend someone-that my attire was not sanctioned or suitable for grieving. We dress-up to show our respect to the living, so they know we acknowledge and respect the magnitude of the condition of death in which we are witness to. I realized after the visitation on that Friday that this was a transitional moment; I was witness to an event that would have lasting implications for those who were touched by her life. This event and the awareness that resulted, was one of the primary residues that will mark this year.
Motherhood is the oldest profession-not prostitution. We blame mothers for all our defeats, mothers are our shortfalls. They hold this blame-guilty or not. Father’s remain somehow in the shadows. The standard and margin of error with fathers is not equal to the accountability we hold for our mothers. It’s not a competition, but it feels that way, and if it was, I wouldn’t win any mothering awards. I feel shameful, believing this to be true of my own mother. At any moment, we all just do the best we can. She survived, and raised us, loves us best she could, wants us to have the world while she toils through it. Her mother did the same. She toiled through a broken marriage, a daughter dying of asphyxiation, my grandfather’s perversions and loss of memory.
Being a mother alienates you like a pillar. You are instantly responsible to prop up, hold firm. It automatically puts you in a special class of people. Where you become secondary to the structure you support. In the outside spaces, there is no way of being helped. You cannot prepare for the breaking away that happens.
Becoming a mother is a death. The process of mothering while your children are young is like managing a chronic illness, you are never the same and require total overhaul of the way you relate and engage with the world. As an artist, this is a particularly painful process. You become split and no longer who you once were. As a young woman in college I was autonomous, second class as a woman, but free to choose. My artistic practice was my lived experience and a deconstruction of those events. It was angst filled, socially engaged. I was critical of capitalism, main stream culture, and power structures that prey on women and children. My voice was subversive and uncensored calling out a culture that looks away at sexual violence and abuse. After all, this is the value of a work of art: to challenge and call out what we see as in need of repair. These attributes and the process of inquiry required to think about them is not a “safe” endeavor while attempting to parent. This is a dirty business, which leaks and spills over, like noxious gas. To ignore the creative practice, through subjugating these concerns, causes a slow suffocating death. To cut off the creative supply completely would certainly kill me. There needs to be an exhaust vent.
I need a synonym for sacrifice that does not carry with it the connotations of martyrdom. Motherhood is not Holy or God like. Artists who attempt to mother, do they serve their children well, or just well-enough? Can they be “good” mothers; protect and foster resilient, emotionally stable people? It is awfully hard. It is hard work for anyone to be sure. However, I think non-artists have better results, but then again, maybe we are too hard on mothers? Expect more from them than anyone else? I am guilty of this as I mentioned before. It’s a shame to be pulled into this mass cultural phenomenon that expects more from woman while not supplying her with the same incentives.
I yell, I yell a lot.
Artist Working: A Year Long Durational Performance on the Visibility of Artists and Their Identity In Community
After taking time off from work to have my second child, I returned to work as a special education assistant at the Sun Prairie High School. I provided educational classroom support to teens with emotional and behavioral issues. In my classroom I had a large white board and every morning I would do a “doodle of the day”. This was a drawing of something that was usually inspired by historical events that occurred on that day, or some current event in the news. Students enjoyed discovering the doodle of the day each morning after arriving at school and were surprised by my ability to draw. More than once I was told that I should be an Artist and then they were further surprised when I responded by telling them that “I am”.
“Artist Working” is a durational performance taking place over the span of one year. Starting January 1st 2016 through December, 31st 2016 I plan to wear a uniform with the words “Artist Working” printed on the back of a pair of white workers coveralls. I plan to wear the same pair of coveralls each and every day. I will only take the coveralls off to sleep and shower. My intention with “Artist Working” is to reveal the intersections of the artist in society. To uncover the role of the artists in our society and make visible the places in which artists are “working”. During the year, while simultaneously wearing my artist uniform, I will also engage in various jobs. I will collect lost shoes I find on the street throughout the year. I will also, work in my position as a project assistant in Student Academic Affairs at University of Wisconsin Madison, raise my children, attend graduate school, and make my artwork. Artists are in fact working among us and contributing in larger ways to the fabric of our communities. The value of artistic contributions to our social fabric is not simply in the production of commodities but in the innovation of thinking and ideas. It is a way of thinking and being in the world. Being an artist is in many cases a compulsion, but in every case, calling yourself one comes with it social and prescriptive expectations. Committing oneself to the vocation of artist has economic and social significance. As an artist that is also a mother of two, I have taken on jobs "outside of my artistic practice" to sustain myself and my family. I have never ceased to be an artist. “Artist Working” seeks to establish a perceptible, and philosophical identity for myself as artist in society. This is a statement that aims to reveal the struggle for creating an affirmative artistic identity outside the gallery and museum, while also asking the question: “what is an artist and in what spaces do we find them”? I affirm that an artist’s value is not only in the success that an artist has selling his or her work but in the act of claiming his or her identity in the realm of society. I cannot remove myself and my artistic identity from any of my daily tasks that I perform; and I want society to see the tasks that I complete in connection to my artistic practice. I am NOT trying to say that everything I touch becomes a work of art. I am; however, always working and always an artist regardless of the art markets economic interest in my work or their approval. Artists are not only in the closed studios making paintings but within the public sphere executing creative concerns.
The images, documents, and artifacts of this research of the intersections of art, artist and public life will be included in an exhibition in 2017 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Follow me and my project on Instagram @Kautzart
In no particular order...And will be added to.
I'm five weeks into my graduate school experience and the opportunity for Linda Mary Montano to visit with me in my studio was before me. I had not had an official studio critique with my professors yet and it has been 15 years since I have had a formal critique of my art. When I heard that Linda Mary Montana was in town for a performance at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and would be repeating her 1972 "Chicken Women" Performance. She was also making studio visits for the day and I absolutely was not going to pass up the opportunity. I studied her work in my undergraduate career at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago and have a strong history of creating performance art. It seemed magical to me that my first studio visit and conversation about the direction my work is moving in was with her. I wanted Linda Montano, Legendary feminist performance artist to burst my proverbial graduate school, studio critique, cherry. It was like a baptism. The visit was a performance. We switched roles and became each other, until I "tricked" her into reversing back to our own identities. She asked me to be "Linda" and talk about the art on the walls. So, I told her that "Before I (Linda) gave any feedback, I wanted to know from the artist what pieces she felt were the most successful. Which works did she feel resonated the most or communicated what she wanted to express?". She asked that we drop our roles and return to our own identities shortly after that. We spent time laying on the floor with her asking me to repeat what she said. She would lead the chant and I would repeat it. It was a religious call and response. A positive visualization and pep talk for my "inner critic and judge" who was told to be quiet and to "allow the angels to come in and be heard". "I thanked my artist self for creating wonderful art and solving problems that only the artist can solve. "I will relax and make work with out the inner judge shutting me down and people will pay me for my work. I will make lots of money". After this, I was given an opportunity to speak about my new collection which I told her was called "Still With Us: The Anatomy of a Life". She said she liked my still life portraits that I have been working on. When I explained that they are portraits of people constructed with objects, personifications of the things in one's life, and that I almost went to mortuary school to become a funeral director she exclaimed "now we're getting somewhere". I thought to myself, we could have been some where earlier if I had been allowed to be myself rather than role playing and on the floor going through your prescriptive motions; not permitted to engage in my own performance but incorporated into yours.
She is right though. I do need to relax. she was also very excited about my plan to work with people in hospice care and documenting the anatomy of their lives. I had the feeling that she is not use to people being honest with her, and that her life is always a constructed- performance-even in an encounter with a young feminist artist. It is being lived for the intent of creating a statement. Her life is a statement. I wonder how it must feel to always be "on". She visited my studio, my space, to see my work, or so I thought, but it was actually, me who was visiting. Her world and work is what I was invited to participate in. Much less so mine. She believes in the intersection of art and life like many performance artists. But, I couldn't; help but feel that this meeting was not a meeting with someone in real life, and real time. Rather, it was a moment of art making- Her art making, that I was permitted to enter for a moment.
Today I am preparing. Perseverance worked and two months after I was rejected at UW-Madison I found out that I had been accepted after a spot in the painting and drawing program opened up. I will start the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in a few weeks. I truly feel that determination and hard work is attributed to this accomplishment. Talent alone is not the only predictor of success. Those of you who have read Malcolm Gladwell's novel "Outliers: The Story of Success" know that sweat equity has as much of an impact on outcomes.
Today I am also preparing for a solo art show of the work I created in one year. This is the body of work I created after I decided to apply for graduate school in painting and not pursue training and a career in mortuary science-to become a funeral director. I am going to live my life as the artist that I am. I am, however; going to continue my research on the role and art of funeral directing. The most fascinating career in my perspective. In the words of Thomas Lynch, Undertaker, writer, and poet, "How we come to be the ones we are seems a useful study and a lifelong query. Knowing how we got to where we are provides some clues to the perpetual wonder over what it is we are doing here-a question that comes to most of us on a regular basis" (The Good Funeral: Death, Grief, and the Community of Care, T. G. Long & T. Lynch, 2013, Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky).
Few will argue that pessimism and degradation will serve anyone striving. Surely, people will go further with encouragement and positivity. However, I don’t know if we should go as far as to tell our children that ‘anything is possible’.
All Things may not be possible. But then, a decision must be made. How does one decide, if ever, what hopes and dreams to discard. At what point does one choose to let a spark die out. ‘This dream is not going to happen, it’s time to give it up’.
I tell myself and others tell me, ‘the timing wasn’t right, you can try again next year, art is so subjective’...I know art is subjective. But that doesn’t change the fact that I wanted to be in the group with the other, subjectively chosen, subjectively selected, subjective opinion, artists of merit.
I keep chipping away at finding my fit in my career. I want to match my vocation with my avocation. Connect my passion. interests and skills to a career community where I contribute and feel a sense of pride.
Why, I can’s say, do I value prestige so much? Is it because I have chosen a profession that hasn’t yet chosen me?
Despite the rejection, I’m not ever going to give up this spark. It may not ever become a raging fire in which I can cook my steak, and feed my children, but it is my soul. And lastly, I value perseverance over prestige anyway!
You’re going to have to wait. It seems simple. But, it can be one of the most agitating states to be in. It’s an in-between place. Not in the place you want to go and not quite in the place you were.
It seems to be true that the timing of endeavors isn't always predictable or easily planned. Dreams are deferred, life gets in the way, things change and new directions and diversions can pop up at any time. We may think the timing is right, but then we are let down and forced to move in another direction. Possibly, hopefully and with serendipity, into what may be a better fated direction. Sometimes though, you are the hanged man. It is then, simply, a time when you are going to have to wait.
My kids and I attended a school festival last evening. This was an entirely unplanned excursion which my son informed me of when I got home from work. My husband, who works as an assistant store manager at a natural grocery store works very long, irregular hours, so he wasn’t available for backup. We attended, and after what seemed like long enough I attempted to round up my 7 and 2 year old to head home. On the way out we had to make one last stop at the bounce house in the gym filled with yelling 1st -5th graders. In an effort to occupy my 2 year old (surely to get trampled inside), I diverted her to the face painting line while big brother bounced. We waited, and waited, and waited. My 2 year old daughter was patient. She was even composed! However, the little girl behind us in line was not. She was invading my bubble and stepping on my feet. When we finally arrived next in line, the 3rd grader behind us said,
“Can I go next before her? It’s time for me to go home?”
I was having a particularly painful RA day and by this point I was done. I turned around and tried to maintain a professional parenting voice but somehow a screechy, condescending, and irritated demon voice cracked through the air. “I’m Sorry”, I said, “You’re going to have to wait. She is 2 and has been waiting very patiently for her turn. We’re next, she will be quick, she’s only getting a little pink cat nose and whiskers.”
Agitated 3rd grader looked at me like she was confused. Our turn came, six quick whiskers later we were on our way out the door.
I am the hanged man. I'm in a state of waiting in that in-between place. I find out in a couple of weeks if I get into an MFA program.
The Art of Funeral Directing
At the close of 2014 I submitted my application for graduate study at the University Of Wisconsin-Madison department of fine art. I hope to return to graduate study in the area of painting and drawing and earn my MFA. I enthusiastically and courageously took a leap of faith to reclaim my path of living an artistic life. I am and will always be an artist, whether or not I have the fame and fortune of sustaining my family from the proceeds of the occupation. However, I want to live an artful life. I want to wake up each day and have that be the work that I am engaged in. I don’t believe that I can fully achieve all of my artistic goals without attaining this one. At 36 years old, with 2 young children and a recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, the leading cause of disability in this country, I don’t know how long I will be able to work. I want my days of work to be filled with my passion. I decided to follow this goal, narrowly missing the path, with an altogether divergent direction-mortuary science and funeral directing. I’m sure it sounds very odd, but the truth of the matter is, artmaking is not altogether lucrative and funeral directing can be, it is also not a job for just anybody, and I am not just anybody. Consider these thoughts for a moment, and you may see that it is not as divergent a path afterall:
'My first Job out of college was working at a day center for homeless women in Chicago. I was the art and activities director there. I led groups of women in art instruction using a variety of materials and methods. We usually all sat together at a large table in the common space, women were invited to be involved but it wasn’t a requirement. I had several women that were, by all means, what I consider to be Artists- women that were compelled to create and who I consistently found arriving at the art table. As an artist, that is what we must do-push through the everyday blocks and consistently arrive at the art table. Women that, often because of circumstances beyond there control, found themselves living on the streets, in temporary housing and in regular states of flux. This was, without a doubt, a defining experience for me in my life and I met many courageous and inspiring women.
Arlene was the name of one such women, who I found, often, sitting at the table painting. She would always paint landscapes of pine trees and running streams of fresh water. She owned nothing of value, had barely enough to live but she had her watercolor paints and paper and she would paint. She would come to the center and sit at my table and pull out her watercolors and paper and paint several paintings as she would sit. She showed me stacks of watercolor paintings that she had painted and carried with her in her laundry cart. Her passion for art-making was unshakeable. She relentlessly pushed through any blocks that undoubtable were in her way and impetuously made her art!
She pushed through it. She had passion. I am grateful for having met her, and think of her often. I want to dig out that kind of passion for my art making process and, everyday, push through life's daily blocks and find my way to the art table.