Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Colleague Time

65. Colleague Time

There is a condition among new parents, stay-at-home mothers (or fathers), and daycare workers, that we call, “desperate for adult conversation.” This can be particularly severe in the case of a person who has interrupted a career, or who used to be fairly social, before spending every waking hour around small children. It is characterized by a certain breathless, motor-mouth quality of speech, an awkwardness with the vocabulary of adult language, and a thorough recitation of the issues surrounding small children. Bragging about one’s own children is also a very common symptom.
I mention this because something similar happens with potters. Particularly after graduate school, the ceramic artist is very likely to plunge from a world of constant interaction with other artists (fellow students and faculty) to a lonely basement studio interrupted infrequently by conversations with gallery staff or customers at Fairs.
If your spouse is also an artist your loneliness may have some relief, but after a while, you’ll still feel more and more like a freak, working endlessly at something too strange to be of interest to anyone “normal.” You desperately need ‘colleague time.’
Whether this healing interaction occurs at a conference, a workshop, a fellow artist’s house, or at a gallery reception, you need to be among other artists. You’ll want to tell stories of technical difficulties and show opportunities. You’ll want to discuss design ideas and use long words and technical jargon. You’ll want to tell and hear old stories, and laugh, and feel like someone leading an intelligent life.
For the world as a whole, you are a weirdo. All artists are weirdoes, and if you spend enough time alone with your work you will feel pretty isolated in that “weirdness.” It takes the company of other artists to restore your sense of place within a larger, historical, and respectable community.
Being on the receiving end of even nominal professional respect will be more valuable to you than any passing praise from customers or friends. You may never want to leave the party. Unfortunately, you can’t spend all your time chatting up fellow artists and artfully describing past successes and future glories, but there’s strength to be had in these personal contacts and a workaholic’s commitment to the studio should not be allowed to keep you separate from that strength. Get out some.
What we do is weird, and tiring, and occasionally depressing. Take the time you need to gather strength from the fellowship of other artists. The things we do and the issues we face are perfectly normal, wonderful, and sensible, but only in the eyes of fellow artists who share similar burdens. Spend some time with your colleagues, whoever they may be, and give them the opportunity to spend some time with you. They, too, may be ‘desperate for adult conversation,’ just like you.


ReversedCircle said...

Proverbs 27:17 Iron shapeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.

Larry M. Brow said...

Clearly, my essay was written before the internet and blogs, etc., allowed people to mingle with their colleagues without leaving their homes or studios. For instance, when I checked on the link to potters I was amazed how many are from North Carolina. Rural isolation just isn't what it once was. As to the sharpness of my countenance, I'm going to try to substitute a new photo on my profile page.