On Making Art: Quietly, then Loudly, for Personal Comfort
May 16, 2022 § 11 Comments
By Nina Gaby
There’s so much to do, “real” stuff, the endless “real” stuff of life that we feel we have to finish before we can go do the unreal stuff. Before maybe a stroll, or writing an observation about that stroll, or scribbling a color found on that stroll. Whatever. We put all that aside so we can finish the vacuuming or the taxes or the real stuff of the day job. Maybe because we feel lucky that we have a day job or a floor to vacuum, we pay penance and we disregard the stroll and the scribbles even though we know they’re important for our health. Then we even pay penance for our health.
And yet today I succumb to the pull of my studio to continue an old series of artwork for my own personal comfort. I don’t even take the time to justify this (after all I’ve had six months of medical tests that included a needle to my head and January’s Covid and February’s GI Flu and March’s Upper Respiratory Flu) so I could have excused myself for my own personal comfort. For a day.
A spate of stinging rejections has left me in front of the TV watching the news with bags of Skinny Pop strewn at my feet, thrilling the dog who licks up the wayward kernels so I don’t have to drag out the damn vacuum cleaner. I simultaneously scroll Instagram for images of others; others who probably don’t have that spate of rejection. I watch them cavort at AWP, which I could have of course gone to, but why.
I finally jump up and announce to the dog, “I’m going to the studio.”
I sit at the table my grandfather made for my grandmother a hundred years ago, in front of the scattered mess I left months ago. The dried up glue, the X-acto uncapped, gorgeous rolls of imported paper unfurling, the blade of the trimmer left upright. So much to get back to.
I tell myself, “You don’t have to listen to the news, you don’t have to witness everything.” So no news while I’m working, just old singer-songwriter playlists with words about Christopher Robin and two cats in the yard, ghosts and empty sockets. No paragraphs, just sentences that I like from old paragraphs maybe in that pile of rejections, in old notebooks, on old artwork that didn’t sell. I think of Sarah Manguso’s comment on the back cover of her 300 Arguments –“Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.” And I laugh. Maybe I’ll use no words at all.
I smear some gesso and burn the edges of the tiny Italian cards that I’ll use for pages, sticking them, accordion style, in vintage mini-envelopes from the basement of a dead neighbor, and give myself a hint of migraine from the blending stick I use to do a design transfer. Little books emerge from the mess.
Before I know it I’m singing my heart out to “Graceland.” Yelling a bit, maybe. I love it all so. Again.
Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist and psychiatric nurse practitioner who has contributed often to the Brevity blog. In June she will be displaying her little artist books and mixed media collage with Abigail Thomas and Beth Kephart in a pop-up exhibition — Writers as Artists: Showcasing the Handwork of Abigail Thomas, Beth Kephart, Nina Gaby, and Friends — in Woodstock, NY, at Nancy’s of Woodstock Artisanal Creamery, Friday, June 10th, 12 PM to 4 PM.