Art Is Everything

Jen Liese (Center for Arts & Language)

I know we can’t sugarcoat this bitter pill that is remote art and design learning, which of course is small in relation to the virulent global throat in which it’s lodged, but I have already seen a few instances of students working within and triumphing over constraints, and I want to honor this phenomenon, which I imagine is transpiring a thousand times a day in RISD students’ far-flung, makeshift, sort-of studios.

This morning, for example, I was in a Zoom meeting with a Textiles grad whose whole thesis depends on the color green. He has no green yarn and can’t readily get it. An idea came forth from the gridded group: to weave together his yellow and blue yarn, and see what happens. The meaning of his work—which speaks to immersing oneself in garden-like garments as a kind of escape, armor, and solace—suddenly burst out in a new direction for me. I thought about how we all have our habitual necessary balms, which sometimes grow old, ineffective, or just inaccessible. So how can we remix and reinvent them from whatever we have at hand?

I’ve been thinking, too, about Nina Katchadourian’s Seat Assignments series. An object lesson in working within constraints, it’s also one of the most sweetly, smartly joy-inducing artist’s projects I know, an art-balm I revisited before and still. I also just dug out my notes from a lecture Adrian Piper gave at Skowhegan in 1997, when arts funding had been thoroughly depleted and corporate and moneyed interests were on the march. Piper coached the crowd in how to cope: “get comfortable with cheap media”; think big but make small. Talking about Mythic Being (1973–75), in which she disguised herself as a black man and took account of the altered responses of passersby, she noted: “This piece … was incredibly cheap to make. All I needed was my wig and my fake mustache and my glasses and my cigar.” It’s not lost on me that Nina’s project depends on being trapped on airplanes, which now seem like a literally deadly trap, but also maybe tickets to freedom or home. And Piper’s performance brought her out into the streets and face-to-face with others—it’s an exercise in social proximity of a sort we have suddenly, painfully lost, for now. But still, new constraints will bring new discoveries, and even the small ones matter. We just have to believe that.

Accumulated Artforums. Photo by the author.

This morning, my daughter asked me for some magazines for a collage project assigned in her version of virtual school. I pointed her toward the stacks of 20 years’ worth of Artforums stashed in our coat closet and said, “Go at it.“

“But mom,” she said, “Is there only art in those?”

My answer came so easily. “But honey, art is everything—there’s everything in those.”

  1. Call for Submissions
  2. 3.29.20 Irina V. Wang
  3. Let Yourself Be Lifted Jackie Scott
  4. Art Is Everything Jen Liese
  5. Two Poems Ella Rosenblatt
  6. Living Room Dance Party Ariel Wills
  7. On Walking When Walking Is Advised Against Keavy Handley-Byrne
  8. Untitled Cita Devlin
  9. Ads in Corona Hannah Oatman
  10. COVID-19 and Communitas Elaine Lopez
  11. A Time for Pie Elizabeth Burmann
  12. How to Stay Motivated When You’re Stuck at Home Clarisse Angkasa
  13. Coerced Harmony (A Tour) Hammad Abid
  14. Zooming In and Out Tongji Philip Qian
  15. [Form] Ciara Carlyle
  16. Hi.txt Dan Luo
  17. A poem about boredom, a composite Maixx Culver-Hagins
  18. Eyewitness News Tristram Lansdowne
  19. Distance Maps Marcus Peabody
  20. Therapeutic Suggestion Maria Aliberti Lubertazzi
  21. Keep Your Heart Six Feet Away From Mine (and other moments) Arielle Eisen
  22. Twenty Instructions for COVID-19 Charlott Isobel Dazan
  23. Cuerno 1 y 2 Yan Diego Estrella Wilson
  24. A Monolith of Grief Regarding the Absence of Touches, or Letter to a Future Lover García Sinclair
  25. Coronavirus by the Thousands Drew Dodge
  26. Two Poems Kathryn Li
  27. Beds Are Burning Aleks Dawson
  28. Still Lifes Yidan Wang
  29. Fragments of Seva Jagdeep Raina
  30. Packing Up and Staying Woojin Kim
  31. Chronic Pain and Fermentation Ralph Davis
  32. Quarantine Letters Hannah Moore
  33. Sounds of Silence: An Isolation Soundscape Dara Benno
  34. 14 Day Detox for Designers Erica Silver

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