Artist & Writer, San Francisco Bay Area

Studio MFA Conclusion : Deadlines and Horizon Lines

External (or even internal!) art deadlines don’t always match what I need or serve my work. I thought I had come to terms with setting my own pace as an artist. I guess not. Well, life’s pace is setting me now, that’s the part I haven’t liked. I didn’t participate in deadline related projects for my work this past year, not outside shows, no applications to speak of. All the deadlines were internal ones I had set for myself, focusing more on studio work than anything else. But it turned out I couldn’t even keep those up. So, what’s been harder to reconcile has been my own expectations as an artist, my own desire to work without constant roadblocks put in my way. I wanted to meet the deadlines I set for myself. I wanted to mark progress (defined as making imagery that gets ever closer to that thing I’m trying to say) in my work, but I couldn’t even meet the minimal goals I had thought were realistic.

But wait a second, Self. How about listing out what I DID do in what I called my Studio MFA? I think it would be helpful to remember that I DID do something. I actually did a lot.

  • Subjects: I chose 3 subjects (added a couple along the way), read up on them, and even wrote about what I read. I did more reading/writing back when I was still recovering from my bike accident, but since I’ve been back at regular life, I’ve still spent a little time reading at least.
  • Crit Group: I got one together, and we met to talk through our recent work and projects.
  • Mentor/Advisor/Tutor person: I met twice with an artist I admire for lots of reasons, who has experience teaching in the graduate MFA program at SFAI, who spent time with me & my work and gave me the kind of feedback I crave. She pointed me to things to read, think about, consider, explore. She agreed to meet with me in this role for me as I chip away at this MFA experience. Thrilling!
  • Events: I had all sorts of events plugged into my calendar. Show openings, free lectures at art programs all over my awesome Bay Area art community, things like that. All I got to do was ONE show opening, but it was a good one ( Mills College Art Museum: Public Works: Artists’ Interventions 1970s–Now) & I made it count.  I also did a studio visit with a friend whose work resonates with me even though it’s pretty different than mine. He just had a solo show open this past Friday in Oakland. I hope to make it in to see the finished work. Erik Parra, Each Devil His Own, Transmission Gallery, 770 West Grand Ave, Oakland. Thru January 23rd.
  • In Studio/Art: did the best I could, worked a lot from a makeshift studio area I created in my bedroom. I had a 22” x 32” anodized aluminum plate fabricated (to be used heated to 180 degrees by electric griddles) so I could work with wax + pigment on paper. I worked whenever I could.
  • I’ve written six blog posts (including this one) since September, and that’s something that took some effort. Even though I have no idea how many people read this–it could even be just a # I can count on one hand! ha!–but writing this & getting it out into the world is something that keeps me going. Writing my story as it happens, noting how it moves along, it keeps me aware.
  • ALSO, I’m the Editor-in-Chief for the art blog ProWax Journal and we published our 11th issue in November.

So yeah, Self… it might not have been exactly what you wanted, but it wasn’t nothing. Don’t you forget it.

In the middle of the Fall, life changed. Again. I kept hoping for more time in the studio, more uninterrupted focus on my artwork. But it didn’t happen. I had to let go of the big picture, at least for a little while. No deadlines, not even the private ones I make for myself. Just living for today. Like I said last week, I’m sitting down now. I’m breathing.

The home life things that are changing are a.) My youngest kid will be doing school at home for the next little while. Getting him to school had become impossible. We worked for over a year to get him to overcome school refusal due to anxiety. We added anxiety accommodations for the IEP he already had for speech issues. We did therapies and group classes. But we still seemed to be at square one. So now the school district is going to send a teacher to our house for a few hours each week for individual tutoring. We’re doing that till mid-January then reevaluating. b.) We’re being referred for Autism Spectrum Disorder evaluation. As I read up on high functioning autism, I was like OMG that’s it! I don’t know if that’s really it… we’ll find out after a lot of testing. But no matter where that determination lands, I know I’ve been dealing with a lot of the symptoms for years and years. My heart breaks for my kid the more I learn about what he’s been experiencing. But we’re making progress for him, and I’m seeing him happier than he’s been in a long time. The battles have lessened dramatically. He seems comfortable in his skin. I’m so happy that he’s happy; I’m even enjoying the process of having him home and with me all the time. We’re in this together.

I’ve realized there’s only one kind of line that is worth me holding onto as an artist, considering my life, considering my son, considering that I still want to make the artwork that only I can make. It’s The Horizon Line. It’s always there. I can trust that each day it will be available to me. I can’t reach it but I can always see it if I stand in the right spot. I’ll never arrive there to find that the journey is behind me. Because even if I was to reach that horizon, there would be a new horizon. I now trust that I’ll always have a hunger to see what’s over there, wondering what it looks like, and what it will be like to try and get there. I’ll always want to know what will happen when I make the next art thing. I know I’ll never stop being an explorer. I can’t help but hold on to hope, even if it’s a small hope, that I can always make art for the sheer joy of it. And that hope grows and leads me to know that I WILL keep making art. Today, it might not look like going to the studio. I don’t even know if I will go to the studio tomorrow or at all this week. But I’m finding joy in being an artist no matter what I do, in being an artist that is living life as it happens.


“The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.” —Maya Angelou


On the Pulse of Morning
Inaugural Poem 1993
by Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

%d bloggers like this: