Archive for the ‘work set aside’ Category

Work You’ve Set Aside Part Two

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

We asked a variety of artists: If you’ve ever had to set aside a work of art that still had potential, why did you do so? And will you ever return to it?

This is part two of the discussion. Read part one.

Lisa Borders, novelist
Both of my first two novels (Cloud Cuckoo Land and The Fifty-First State) began with a voice, a character. The overall narrative voice was not always that first voice I’d heard, but in both cases it felt like the novel’s voice grew organically from the initial character.

I was surprised, then, when ideas for what I thought would be my third novel came to me more in terms of plot than voice or character. I saw a middle-aged woman flee her South Boston home in the middle of a snowstorm and drive to Florida. I saw her interact with the Floridians who would change her life: a transgender teenager, an elderly man with a criminal past. Where I’d suffered through many revisions to discover the plot in my first two novels, the entire plot of this novel revealed itself to me before I’d put a word on paper. I thought the book would write itself.

And then began the struggle. Not only wasn’t the book writing itself, I couldn’t even get a decent scene on the page. Oh, I tried: I wrote a scene in third person from the point of view of the middle-aged woman character; then that same scene in first person. I shifted to the teenager’s point of view, trying both first and third person. I attempted an omniscient voice. I even tried the point of view of a minor character. I spent the better part of a year trying to get a voice working for this novel, but the words never flowed; the characters never came to life.

Eventually I decided I needed to move on to another project. Yet, I still think of that situation, those characters, from time to time. And I hope that one day, I’ll hear a voice that allows me entrĂ©e into their world.

Evan Johnson, composer
Until recently, I never put aside a piece temporarily, never worked on more than one project at a time, and never revisited a completed work for revision. I brooked no distraction because I felt that I needed to be able to keep an entire work in my mind at once in order to interact with it successfully – to remember where each line of thought left off so that I could pick it up smoothly and without contradicting my original intentions.

These days, I have lost interest in avoiding contradictions. I find myself – even during uninterrupted periods of work on one piece – taking tangents, following half-finished material in directions I did not initially intend, ignoring plans I remember perfectly well. I have forgotten why I ever felt that the final state of a work needed to reflect as closely as possible the idea with which it began. It is no coincidence that, in the past year, I have put aside a work in progress only to declare it complete in its ostensibly truncated state, and picked up another for revision a year and a half after its original completion.

Timothy Coleman, furniture maker
My pieces begin as hazy visions, and the process to bring them to life can take months.

Twenty years ago I had one of these visions, something shapely and sculpted from thick pieces of wood. I made a small model to help focus the vision, and began a search for the right material. Weeks went by before I discovered some thick slabs of European beech that suited the refined shaping of the piece. I was all set to go.

But, when I began milling and shaping the wood it would not stay still. It wasn’t fully dry and it would cup and twist in response to the shapes I was cutting. I was so eager to build this piece, so excited to chase the vision, but I could not force it. Dejected, I put the parts away and instead used the time to build a less ambitious piece.

I still have the parts, and every once in a while I pull them out and try to recapture that original vision. But the freshness is lost.

The scale model sits on a shelf in the studio. I look at it, and I narrow my eyes. It looks life-sized and almost feels like I did build it. Maybe that’s enough.

Lisa Borders is the author of the novels Cloud Cuckoo Land and The Fifty-First State. The latter will be published October 15, 2013 by Engine Books. She has upcoming events/readings at Newtonville Books (10/15), The Boston Book Festival (10/19), Trident Booksellers and Cafe (with Kim Triedman, 10/22), Books on the Square (with Henriette Lazaridis Power, 10/26), Mattapoisett Free Public Library (10/30), and Harvard Bookstore (11/4).

Timothy Coleman‘s new cabinet “Summer” is featured at the Society of Arts and Crafts on Newbury Street in Creative Minds, Disciplined Hands (thru 10/19). His work “Yew and Me” is at the Fuller Craft Museum in Made in Massachusetts: Studio Furniture of the Bay State, part of the Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture project.

Evan Johnson‘s composition “die bewegung der augen” for nine instruments will be performed by Ensemble Dal Niente at the Fromm Concert Series at Harvard (2/28/14), and his “Largo calligrafico / ‘patientiam’ ” for baritone saxophone, featuring Ryan Muncy, sax, will be performed at Boston Conservatory (3/27/14).

Images: Cover art for THE FIFTY-FIRST STATE by Lisa Borders (Engine Books October 2013); Timothy Coleman, HEAVEN AND EARTH (2010), English brown oak, roasted ash, English sycamore, 50x20x14 in.

Work You’ve Set Aside

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Art-making is all about starts, stops, and unanticipated turns. When a work goes unfinished, it may be to make room for another project… or it may just be time to move on.

We asked artists: If you’ve ever had to set aside a work of art that still had potential, why did you do so? And will you ever return to it? Part one of a two-part discussion.

Amy Dryansky, poet
When the MCC asked me to answer this question my first reaction was: when have I ever NOT had to set aside a creative project? As a working parent who didn’t start writing “seriously” until my 30’s, I feel as if my creative life is constantly fragmented. I’m engaged in an ongoing struggle not just to make art but to cultivate an audience: it all takes time, and inevitably, some projects get shelved.

One thing I’ve learned over the years, however, is how to quickly pick up on a project where I left off. I’ve made myself adapt, finding ways to enter a deep creative process somewhat on the fly, using the materials at hand for inspiration. It helps me to have faith that those shelved projects will someday be dusted off and revived.

A great example is this blog post. I carried the question around in my head, mulling over what I might say as I drove around, delivered kids to school, went to my (paying) job. I was feeling frustrated, because I’d had no time to write – anything – for weeks. Then, when I finally squeezed in a little time to write, I found myself using the question as a prompt for my writing, and I ended up with the question as a poem!

I like to think that when people say artists are ruthless, this is what they mean. We do what we need to do to keep the ball rolling.

Megumi Naitoh, ceramic artist
For me, it is less about setting work aside and more about having the time to explore unresolved ideas in the first place. My time for a week (168 hours): work related – 40 hours; sleep – 56 hours; cooking + eating – 18 hours; errands – 6 hours; shower – 3 hours; commute – 5 hours; morning coffee routine – 7 hours; family time – 5 hours; friends + beer time – 5 hours; housekeeping – 3 hours; physical therapy – 3 hours; meditation – 2 hour; dithering – 7; studio hours – 8.

Time is my worst enemy. When I have limited time in the studio, I only do what I need to do rather than what I’d like to do. Unfortunately, unresolved ideas end up on the back burner. As I write this, I am making myself aware how important it is to plan my time and not pressure myself to produce work if I want enough time to explore. Five years ago, I had my first sabbatical. I did go back to a few unresolved ideas then. It helped me develop my work and changed my work result of it. It would be nice to have sabbatical every other year… but till then, I need to pay more attention to how I strategize my time for studio.

Georgie Friedman, installation artist
Actually, I do this all the time. As a video and video installation artist, there are many stages to my projects so I often have pieces that haven’t been fully realized. I call them “ideas on the shelf.” I see them as ideas that are in progress, but perhaps resting, that could be picked up and modified at any moment. Though these works-in-progress will have some set properties, I’ll adapt video attributes, installation aspects, or the scale of the pieces to best inhabit the space in which they will be shown. Many pieces are just waiting for the right combination of factors, or a large exhibition space, to emerge as finalized pieces. If I’m doing a site-specific projection for example, I’ll test various pieces of footage from my archives to see what makes the most visual and conceptual sense for the site. Once it is clear what will be best, I’ll either make a selection from my unused footage and/or film new material. I’ve had footage that has sat anywhere from six months to five years waiting for it’s right “home.” Only time will tell what will become a piece and what won’t.

Read Part Two of Work You’ve Set Aside, featuring the perspectives of a novelist, a composer, and a furniture maker.


Amy Dryansky is a poet and author of Grass Whistle (Salmon Poetry, 2013) and How I Got Lost So Close to Home (Alice James Books, 1999). Read her poem “No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of This Poem,” written in response to this post.

Georgie Friedman is a video and installation artist. Waves and Currents, a dual show with Canadian artist Lenka Novakova, is at Morlan Gallery at Transylvania University in KY through Oct. 11, 2013.

Megumi Naitoh is a ceramic artist who recently won a 2013 Brother Thomas Fellowship.

Image and media: Megumi Naitoh, view of two sides of DECEMBER 28, 2009 (2010), screen printed ceramic earthenware, 30.75x20x2 in; excerpt from SPIRALING WATER by Georgie Friedman.