Wednesday, January 11, 2012

These times that were those times

Yesterday, in the middle of a long haul (now that we are back into a new year, the application cycles have all started up again, and took me by surprise), I got a lecture. I get these often, because for as long as I have known, I have asked for them and thought that they were good for me. But this time, I thought to myself, "I already KNOW all of these things." Of course I am frustrated with where I am in right now and will be for a while to come. But there's an end in sight, and I am doing my best to build the right kind of life for myself. It doesn't look pretty from day to day, but there's a trajectory.

Last weekend, I watched "Who Does She Think She Is?", a film about women who struggle with the balance between being artists and having a family (plus all of the other crap that women are expected to do). The documentary itself is not a great piece of filmmaking, but the message is clear. It reminded me of being in contemporary art history class years ago. Even then, the Guerrilla Girls seemed dated. But now I realize that nothing has changed. Or at least, very little. Maybe a percentage point here or there. Which then reminded me of a friend who admired my NOT being part of the Art World. And then I read Ronnie's recent post, which made me even more sad. It's hard for me to articulate, but I will try.

I can count on one hand the options given to art students for a viable career in their field. And most of them are completely out of reach for most students. So how do you opt out of a system that you already bought into? When I was a grad student, I read an article in the journal of the College Art Association where an established (male) artist talked about how ridiculous it was that art students are not taught that there is so much more out in the world besides the Professorship or Blockbuster Fame. Art is not the only field guilty of this disservice to their students (since a Ph.D is no guarantee of an academic job), but it's the one I know. I recently helped a friend with a cover letter and was shocked. This friend received an MFA from one of the most prestigious programs in the country, covered in ivy, but was unable to compose an acceptable cover letter. Later, I tried to recall when and where I learned how to write cover letters. I remember toiling over them for countless job applications, but don't remember who taught me. Do students even learn how to write a business letter anymore? [I definitely remember learning that in secondary school.]

After I finished grad school, a former classmate asked to see my artist CV, since she had no idea how to put one together, having only written job resumes. I was horrified, thinking, "Didn't we just get master's degrees in art?" but then realized there was no coursework that covered this basic skill. I only learned how to write a CV after working in an arts organization where I saw hundreds of them on a regular basis. So there's the gamut: my alma mater, ranked something like 600-something, and then my friend's, ranked number one or thereabouts. Are doctors and lawyers and businesspeople sent out into the world after completing a very expensive education without any basic survival skills or knowledge of how to build their careers? Doubtful.

I'm now actually way off point. What I meant to say is that what Ronnie discusses, in terms of her life, seems actually to be meaningful goals that people used to value. But now the sane, grounded people have been sent away to the periphery, told they are not useful, valuable, or good enough at maintaining the status quo. That kind of constant criticism of your worth really gets to you, and then if you are a woman on top of it, good luck coming out the other side. Women apparently only start to feel good about themselves by the time they reach their early fifties.

All of this to say, that's why I live this strange, easy-to-criticize life. I opt out when I can, manipulate the system as best I can to suit my needs since I'd otherwise be mowed down, and try to stay sane and ethical by connections to those who live out in the boonies, respect their place in nature (as well as the place of water, soil, critters, and the like), and take good care of their dogs. Well, there are other people who also keep me afloat, wonderful and compassionate people who live in the city or don't have pets. Thanks to you all.

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