on education + institutions

lately i’ve been thinking about education and how most of the time, it’s housed within institutions that (in the united states at least) can charge quite a pretty penny for the privilege of learning.

in case you’ve forgotten, i’m an artist and currently, it feels difficult to reach the next in an artists’ career without an MFA.

but MFAs are rarely free and usually will set you back thousands of dollars. Occupy Museums, a collective of artists that emerged within the Occupy Wall Street movement, has a project called Debtfair that surveyed 509 artists in 2017 and found 68% of artists responding had some form of student debt. yikes.

but is that really any surprise when schools like columbia and pratt run into the 10s of thousands of dollars per year for tuition alone (nevermind that living in nyc is also very expensive?)

so what to do. i feel that i am at a crossroads in my practice, needing some sort of catalyst to kick me into the next phase of my art making, whatever that may look like. should i apply to graduate school, knowing well that it could send me into significant amount of debt? should i just apply to residencies, try to work less, create my own curriculum for reading, start a new crit group, figure out how to create the structure of an MFA program without the cost?

but beyond the educational structure of the MFA, there’s also the structure of the art market built into the MFA program - collectors, gallerists, curators will peruse graduate shows looking for the next big thing, professors have connections that are difficult to create outside of the institution. and the recognition of your education by your peers, some of whom already went through the MFA process and aren’t likely to give the same credence to a diy program.

i’ve long been playing with the idea of a more diy style of education, most likely inspired by watching Good Will Hunting as a kid…Matt Damon’s character quips something along the lines of “you paid a hundred grand for an education you could have gotten for a buck fifty in late charges from the library.” I resonate with that.

google diy mfa and you’ll get strings of resources for the thrifty artist, like syllabi, mfa alternatives, or places in nyc to learn about art for free.

so….what to do.

any suggestions, advice or words of wisdom for an indecisive artist?

more on barnacles (because i'm a broken record)

according to NOAA, barnacles are sometimes referred to as “crusty foulers”. that’s a nickname i wouldn’t want. apparently boaters call them that because barnacles are notoriously difficult to remove….so….they’re crusty. mmmmmmmmmm.

they also like to take up residence on whales, piers, rocks, buoys….really anything they can. there are some terrifying videos of sea turtles completely coated in barnacles, like a particularly bad case of acne, their shells and skin blanketed in a layer of the little critters. ouch.

barnacles have also been reported to be eating our plastic trash. which means that the critters that eat the barnacles are also eating plastic by way of the barnacle which means that the larger animals eating the animals eating the barnacles are also eating plastic which means that the ocean is a plastic soup and pretty soon we will all be plastic and turn into barbie dolls. (don’t mind the spiraling, plastic is everywhere and anywhere and apparently table salt has been contaminated by plastic so EVERYTHING IS TRULY PLASTIC! woo)

returning back to barnacles.

here is a poem i wrote last night at approximately 11:35pm when i couldn’t sleep. enjoy.

barnacle self

i’m a barnacle
stubbornly affixed to places
i may not be entirely welcome

am i a barnacle to you
i cannot tell
if i’ve cracked your shell
or if i’m merely
on the end of your line
the catch of the day

are you a rock
i can rest upon?
or a ship
waiting to leave dock
with the hope that the rushing water
will scrape away my anchor-hold

and i’m working on the stupid barnacle ish piece i’ve been working on for OVER A YEAR and geez, idk why i picked textiles/fiber as my primary medium (ok i know why, but damn it’s so slowwwwww). below is an update of the many months i’ve been knitting and felting and sewing, all for about one square foot of work. sigh.

thumbs up for progress

thumbs up for progress

everything's unfinished :(

i feel like i have all these random bits and pieces of things that are left unfinished and incomplete.

this is from a year ago and i recorded it and promptly forgot about it until i started looking through the voice memos on my phone:

https://soundcloud.com/anniebartholomew/nov-21-2018

not complete by any means, but perhaps some threads to pull at and turn into something.

sigh. can i get more time please?

same goes for some textile projects i’ve started months and months ago (years?) but have been moving very very very very veeeeeeery slowly.

>:(

anchoring. grounding. rooting. uncertainty.

this is some word-vomit I wrote yesterday, without really any editing.

I’ve been thinking about anchoring, rooting, how we ground ourselves to place, to people, to things. attachments.

barnacles will afix themselves to rocks, to the undersides of boats, to debris, marking homes inseparable from their bodies and linked to a specific site.

snails are also fixed to their homes but they take a different approach, home for them is mobile, transient, linked to themselves , wherever they may be.

And I’ve been thinking about what i want for myself in a home, who are the people i want to anchor myself to, what exactly it is that i want for myself from this life.

I’ve been grappling with deeply-entrenched anxiety, should i stay should i go, what am i doing, whatkind of life do i want, what kind of life should i aspire to.

and what’s truly anxiety provoking is that i have no idea.

I don’t know if i should keep making art, if i should go to grad school for art, should i move away, stay here, should i change jobs, change careers, change apartments, change cities, change countries. change my hair.

i don’t know if i’m setting myself on a trajectory i’ll hate myself for later or if i’m doing exactly the right thing.

i hate uncertainty but that’s what life offers and i’m trying my best to parse out what my options are or could be.

making art feels so selfish, now particularly, especially given all the privileges i’ve been afforded in my life…is my perspective really worth putting out there?

perhaps some of my anxieties are low-esteem, low-confidence, continuing the narrative of an imposter in the art world. am i really an artist? sometimes i feel like a caricature, playing the part and hoping i don’t get found out. or perhaps it’s my hyperawareness of my privilege, my whiteness, everything i embody that i know occupies so much space already, too much space. and then i think to myself if i directly confront it, put it into my work, does it make my work more worthwhitle or simply a continuation of whiteness, of privilege, of the things i feel guilty, but then i remind myself that feeling guilty doesn’t do anyone any good, it doesn’t change anything. so i run through these arguments in my head over and over and over again and become more and more and more uncertain, unsure, stuck. it’s very unproductive.

so here i remain, uncertain, unsure, of where i’m going, what i’m doing, basically i don’t know anything at all.

what else is new.

looking for solitude

i recently returned from newfoundland. its staggering beautiful, of quiet desolation, silence + solitude provided a place for contemplation + reflection on the edge of the sea.

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many people expressed surprise, concern, puzzlement when it was revealed that i would be in newfoundland alone. was it surprise that i wanted to come to a place where the silence is loud, the land sprawling, the small towns scattered across it sparsely? was it concern that i, a woman, would be in an unfamiliar place, nobody to notice if i disappeared for a little too long? was it puzzlement that anyone would consciously choose to be alone, really, truly alone?

what is it about solitude that we find so scary? what is it about silence that makes us uncomfortable? though i seek both, i can’t pretend to be immune to feeling scared by solitude, aloneness, uncomfortable in the silence. though i notice, that solitude and silence, when paired together, make the other less intimidating. but solitude in excess, like anything else, becomes poison, as the solitary confinement cells in the prison industrial complex show us.

solitude and silence are also a privilege, as many don’t get the choice of finding them, constrained by the pressures of capitalism to march onwards, the city noises ever present and people, or the presence of them, unavoidable.

it’s funny how solitude is read as synonymous with loneliness. i am not always lonely when in solitude, often i feel loneliest in the city, where despite the enormous quantity of people, everyone occupies a space that cannot be breached, intimacy is hard to find. i seek solitude but i do not seek loneliness.

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may i have your attention please?

over this past week, i’ve been thinking about what it means to pay attention. namely, i’ve been listening to, reading about attention, and the careful cultivation of it, as a way to reflect and

i live in new york city. a hectic, bustling place, it’s all too easy to tune out, to ignore, to plug into music, the wide expanse of the digital, the physical barrier of a book. it’s uncomfortable to be confronted by the things most people don’t want to acknowledge- homelessness, mental illness, substance abuse- and so, not paying attention alleviates this discomfort through a shield of indifference.

but usually, attention, or the art of paying attention, is usually not ascribed to these things. rarely is this type of attention romanticized in urban settings, it’s the rural, suburban, or wild places that writers like Annie Dillard and Pico Iyer, poets like Mary Oliver or philosophers like Thoreau, decided to attend to. less confrontation, more contemplation. the “natural” world plays a large role in descriptions.

so as someone who also would like to pay attention in daily life and as part of my practice, should i go about fully attending every part of daily, urban life? i’m not sure. it occurs to me that a lack of full attention might be a protective shell - we pay attention to what we deem important as to not be overwhelmed and overstimulated, a preservation of our sanity and an attempt to carve out a minute space for ourselves.

so as my own way of adopting the art of paying attention, i’ll have to be perhaps somewhat more selective in my approach. i’ll give my full attention to the details hidden within the chaos, the way the sidewalk careens on uneven ground, the weeds pushing their way out between the bricks of a building, a crooked tree outgrowing the space allotted to it. I’ll notice the scratches in the steel on a subway pole, grapes rolling down the car as the train lurches and shudders to a stop at each station, spots where the air stands still behind corners in a wind tunnel. i’ll attend to the emptiness of the Rockaways on a rainy spring day, the sound of jets making their way to JFK. Moss clinging to the damp ground underneath a drain pipe and the light breaking over the buildings in the morning. That is what I’ll give my full, undivided attention to. That is where I’ll practice the art of paying attention.

memory/digital/intimacy

like many people, i notice myself spending a lot of time on social media. mostly instagram.

i mostly spend time oscillating between aimless scrolling and checking how many likes my new post has got or who’s watched my story. riveting stuff.

but as the new year approaches and the urge to write down a list of resolutions ramps up, i can’t help but wonder about why i use social media.

do a quick google search for something like “social media + lonely” and a whole slew of articles about how social media has made us lonely, unable to interact socially in real like or has resulted in us spending too much time on our phones. wow, never would have guessed that.

but as my own work has danced into using memory/preservation as a recurring theme, I wonder about the way social media, or rather the digital, has become the new form of preservation.

i used to collect shells as a kid, having grown up near the beaches of southern california. my parents still have bits of sand dollars, abalone, coral from trips elsewhere…in a bowl in their bathroom. the ephemera that signaled preservation of a time, place, memory usually equated to some rocks, a postcard and maybe a photo.

now moment that seems of any minute importance requires a photo to document said moment. it’s okay, we have the cloud for storage.

but where to load all these precious time capsules? social media of course. it’s the way to carefully present the points in time that you claim significant. nevermind that it’s twice a day, if not more.

so perhaps social media isn’t soooo different than previous attempts to preserve memories, but what is a bit strange is who gets to see these preserved memories. unlike in days old, people who would otherwise fade out of your life (exes, acquaintances, people who ghosted you, friends turned foe, whatever)…don’t. it’s a strange dance, an attempt to preserve a memory witnessed by people who might otherwise only exist to you as memories. and it’s an odd sort of intimacy.

so what i do about it? nothing? delete it? but it’s not even just people from your past who have access to these preserved memories, it’s strangers, bots, companies, influencers. the private is public and the public becomes private (if only in illusion).

we say we want “authenticity” when we look at social media, but the careful curation, the filters, cropping, multiple angles, shots, placements, say anything but. it’s the equivalent of preservation of a mummy- the act of preservation forever changing what once was. but i suppose that’s how preservation works and why trying to preserve a memory is futile.

happy new year!

salt collection, no. 1

november 3rd, 2018
2:21 pm
location: Far Rockaway Beach, near Arverne by the sea, close to a jetty.
Brisk, sunny, strong winds.

I went alone.

Beach is nearly empty.

I brought a jar to fill, a quart mason jar
eating a muffin, drinking coffee + reading before I begin
a beautiful fall day

Water seems a little choppy, but it’ll have to do

An unfriendly woman walked past me, wearing a pink hat, leggings, weights on her ankles and using walking poles. She did not return my hello

I collected my water sample closer to 3 pm. I waited until I was alone on the beach and scooped up some water near the shore. I’m not optimistic about the salt yield, but I suppose this is more of an experiment prior to actually starting the project. I think a less windy day after a dry spell would be better for yields, but I’ll take what I can get.

it’s also quiet here. funny how an hour subway ride can feel like a different world.


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on the great american lawn

an idealized and sanitized version of the american dream

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take a drive through just about any suburb in the united states and one thing you'll notice is how from los angeles to boston, st. louis to seattle, a suburban house all too often comes equipped with a front lawn. uniformly trim, evenly green, a well-manicured lawn becomes a shining symbol of polite conformity, of class status, of excess. 

of course, we all know that lawns aren't a just a symbolic entity, but also have a physical impact as well- from the disturbing oasis of green lawns in southern california during a catastrophic drought to the heavy use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (not to mention the grating sound of the weekly lawn mowing by everyone who has a lawn), lawns are by no means innocent. 

but with all the data, the press, the activists and scientists and writers calling for a removal or scaling back of america's obsession with the green square in front of our doorsteps, little, beyond perhaps southern california and the occasional native plant enthusiast or gardener, has changed. michael pollan, america's food and plant conscience, wrote about the problems associated with the front lawn back in 1989.  countless articles that dubious nature of the front lawn has been written in the last 20 years. if anything, the lack of change is indicative of america's apathy, though perhaps we gathered that from the 2016 election. 

i still find lawns and lawn culture fascinating, another example of the human desire to conquer nature, control the chaos into a palatable, uniform product that we all seem to have or strive for, but have grown unsure as to why. But perhaps this quote by michael pollan could explain it: “Lawns are nature purged of sex and death. No wonder Americans like them so much.”

finding my own space

when I was younger, I used to try to carve out my own space in whatever way I could. I made elaborate houses from cardboard, sectioned out a corner of the backyard that was "mine", tried to convince my parents to let me take over the crawl space below the house in the garage (they said no). 

once I moved into my own room at the tender age of 8 (before that my sister and I shared), I went through many iterations of changing my room, different configurations of my twin bed and desk, in a room that didn't fit much else. But it was my space, a room of my own, a sanctuary from the rest of my family, the rest of the world, where I could create my own world, if just for a moment. 

now, an adult, living in New York, a city where finding your own space is next to impossible, I find myself still drawn to finding my own space, though I know the difficulty in doing so. one way I attempt this seemingly quixotic task is through my work. Though I've previously done immersive installations, now, I find them even more appealing, a way to not just evoke an environmental component to my work, but also as a gift to myself, a way that I can carve out a little space, even if just a temporary one. 

I'm currently working on a bed, of sorts, for an upcoming show. and thinking through my conceptual and thematic frameworks for the piece has made me think about my own history of using and finding space. and perhaps made me more aware of the origins of my desire to create  spatially immersive works. 

just some thoughts. 

on barnacles

i am not particularly eloquent, succinct or articulate when asked to talk about my art. a reason  I gravitate towards using visual arts to translate information is that despite my love of reading, words sometimes fail me. 

but what i can say about my most recent art is that i'm drawn to barnacles. 

i've explored themes of vulnerability and intimacy in my work and to some extent, barnacles are an extension of that exploration, framed around ideas of attachment. attachment to ideas of the self, attachment to people, attachment to relationships, attachment to things. Barnacles become a metaphor for our attachments, perhaps sometimes unwanted, but difficult to remove without constant vigilance. 

barnacles are also an interesting ground for exploring vulnerability- though they can be tough on the exterior, they are actually quite vulnerability on the interior, much like the way we put forth ourselves to the world (particularly in new york). 

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