Periodically, we pose questions about issues artists face in their work and lives.
Artists usually specialize in one art form, but some artists thrive working in multiple – sometimes very different – disciplines. This month, we asked artists who work in multiple disciplines: What impact (if any) do the different art forms have on each other, in your practice?
Jill Maio, writer and aerial artist
Like many writers, I spend way too much time stuck in my head. I could never maintain interest in the more usual forms of physical exercise to balance things out, but, living in Philadelphia in the early aughts, I took a few trapeze/aerial rope lessons and got hooked. Being upside-down and a little scared for my life really kept me in the moment! I didn’t think of aerials as an art form then, but neither did I expect to start performing professionally, or open my own aerial arts school.
For me, these disciplines – writing and aerials – are still completely separate activities. Doing aerials allows the more dominant writer part of my brain a break, while I’m forced to be wholly in the moment. (Maybe the writer part turns back on when I name moves I’ve invented: Albatross, Crotch Burglar… I’m probably not attracting any new students here.)
Beyond the sometimes-colorful names of moves, the real vocabulary of aerials is limited, tangible, and leaves little time to dither – unlike in writing, where I can gnaw for weeks on a paragraph with no hard stop, no blood rushing madly to my upside-down head.
James Dye, visual artist and short story writer
Writing is my escape from drawing. Both mediums allow me to create and explore narrative, but I am not an illustrator, and the fiction I write is often very different from my visual work. To me, the drawing is a story in itself and its mythology is developed in concert with the piece. The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never seemed entirely true to me. After all, “the most beautiful painting in the world” can be conjured by those exact seven words. Of course, an image is always better seen than described, and in that way drawing has the advantage, but writing allows the imagination to explore without the cumbersome shackles of reality, and when the words tire or overwhelm me, then drawing becomes my escape from writing. Working in one medium allows me time to miss the other and return with a renewed appreciation. There are times when the demands of one force me to exclude the other, but during those periods I am gradually overcome by a sense of absence. Words summon images. Images inspire words. Neither can truly exist without the other and I find I need both in my life in order to feel complete.
Nikki Raymond, poet, playwright, and interdisciplinary artist
I started out thinking of myself as a writer, and wrote just about everything it is possible to write – poems, songs, stories, plays. At the University of Chicago, I started hanging around the library poetry room; it became my home, my retreat. For the next twenty years, I struggled to make poems that looked and sounded like what I wanted – and how they looked was always important. I needed that fractal geometry of cliff’s edge, that ragged right to complement the steady aligned margin on the left.
By then, I was teaching writing in an art school, which got me free printmaking and drawing classes. Visual art for me came from a place that writing couldn’t reach – intuitive, explosive, messy, visceral. Occasionally, I’d scrawl some wailing words into the paint. Auditing performance art classes with a bunch of other renegade multi-media artists eventually sent me back to theater. I hoped that would take in everything I’d done before – words, images, movement – use what I had, make me coherent.
Alas, it didn’t work out that way. Certain experiences seed themselves in me, want to grow into poems, nothing else. An inchoate feeling in my arms and chest wants to scribble and sculpt. And playwriting’s craftiest of them all, involves a crazy balance of plotting and planning, while at the same time listening for the voices of the characters, following them, not pushing them where I want them to go. The most important thing I had to learn as a playwright was that less is more – what’s enough in a poem is too much in a play. I’m giving the actors something to work with. Unlike in poetry or painting, I don’t have to do it all.
James Dye is a visual artist and short story writer. He currently has a solo exhibition, Exploring the Myths of James Dye, at the Worcester Art Museum (thru 9/2). His short story “The Empty Room” appears in the most recent issue of Gargoyle Magazine.
Jill Maio is a writer and aerial artist. She founded AirCraft Aerial Arts studio in Somerville (recently closed). Her writing has been published in Ploughshares, Virginia Quarterly Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Third Coast, and Los Angeles Review.
Monica (Nikki) Raymond is a playwright and poet who has also worked in an array of other art forms, including opera and the visual arts. Her poem Origami Blue is included in the spring issue of Redheaded Stepchild.
Images: Jill Maio performing as an aerialist; James Dye, THE COMPLEX, dip pen and India ink; Nikki Raymond, MONOTHEISM, a work at the cusp of visual art and poetry.