I found myself watching Art21 on a Saturday night while assembling my Arduino kits for a workshop I would give a week later to 20 Columbia undergraduate students. Art21 is a now 20-year strong documentary series on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service in the United States) that focuses on making the process of contemporary artists more accessible to the wider public. The episode was about artists working in Chicago, a city known for its beautiful architecture, gusty winds, and crime and police force. Chicagoan artist Barbara Kasten describes how she came to be an artist. »I think being an artist was a determination I made just because I liked making things. It was really this need to express myself, to make a mark that was my own. But I never consciously did that, it just seemed to be part of my DNA and I just kept going and going and going. And if you want to be who you are, you just have to believe what’s inside of you.« (emphasis mine)
Rather than answering the Schlossghost question directly, I’d like to pose a few questions in return. Does artmaking choose you, or do you choose it? What sort of Myers-Briggs/Jung typology/horoscope/Zodiac combination make a person able to choose it?
Culture and the arts have been a part of my life since birth. My father’s father was a prolific calligrapher, and was even chairman of my hometown’s calligraphy club. He and my paternal grandmother were a team – he did calligraphy on a very thin kind of paper used with ink-based arts called xuanzhi 选址 and my grandmother would glue the paper onto a thick and almost brocade-like kind of paper and assemble wooden rods onto the scroll’s top and bottom so that it could be threaded and hung from a wall. On my mother’s side, my maternal grandfather and grandmother studied English and Russian, taught in a university, and were subject to the violence and ostracism of academics during the Cultural Revolution. My maternal grandmother had the hobby of making dolls that lined bookshelves and windowsills. The dolls always wore exotic clothes and had hair made of colorful yarn, and had always made me think that my grandmother had seen things in the world and been to places.
I know from pseudo/quasi-scientific research that being an ENFP (»Extroverted Intuitive Feeling Perceptive« in Myers Briggs parlance), a Gemini, and Fire Tiger makes me well suited for my career choice of artist-designer-educator. The »Feeling Perceptive« part of me is driven mostly by intuition and discounts present analytical data in preference for the speculative and abstract. Which makes sense when thinking about how artists usually want to change the world in immeasurable, poetic, and often ephemeral gestures while doctors want to do so by, well, saving lives.
Just today I read a longform essay about Jedidiah Brown, a pastor and Black Lives Matter activist also from Chicago. The story details his young 31 years as an evangelist for community and a sacrificial figure who has witnessed more death as a result of violence and neglect than most if not all of you Schlossghost readers. In a way, he and those around him also felt like the work Brown would grow up to take on was also somehow predetermined. The author Ben Austen quotes Jedidiah’s mother who said, »He was marked by God to be different. He didn’t fit in,« and that »as a teenager, Jedidiah stood on the guardrail of a bridge, considering whether to leap« and after the police arrived and finally stopped him with a taser and brought him to a hospital, the doctor had said that »he was taking on too much.«
Obviously as you readers can attest, artmaking is not without its challenges – many of them existential or financial, but is it as challenging as other career choices? I really don’t know, but right now activism inspires me more than art does. But I also see making art as a form of method acting. What role in society can you play?