Bide Your Time
I don’t know if you’ve heard of The Long Now Foundation – but it is based in San Francisco and you can visit their cool salon The Interval at Fort Mason in the Marina District. The foundation “hopes to provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common”. They have several ongoing projects, including a 10,000-year clock known as the Clock of the Long Now and the Rosetta Project which is an effort to preserve languages that could possibly become extinct by the year 2100. These people are thinking way, way ahead.
This week I have been thinking about how time applies to artists and why we should all remember a line from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie “Time is the longest distance between two places.”
It takes time for us to get somewhere. It depends on circumstances, and serendipity, but also on planning, connections and patience. It’s tempting for artists to finish a work or a project, put it out in the world and then expect immediate gratification in the form of reviews or acquisitions or even just peer approval.
But sometimes the lights go up, and you’re still on the stage alone, or the critic never comes, or the sale falls through. Don’t be discouraged! Without realizing it, you may have planted a seed that grows and yields fruit years or decades down the line. At Artspan Open Studios last weekend, I heard some stories of delayed triumphs from quite a few friends.
One such artist Michael Arcega (who I met in 2001 working at YBCA) told me recently about how helping out another artist eventually led to a solo exhibition in San Diego. Arcega’s friend Julio César Morales had broken a leg and called him up to help with an installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD). As an experienced art installer, Arcega was happy to assist. During the installation he connected with the MCASD curator who eventually played a role in Arcega’s solo show in the Cerca Series at MCASD in 2005.
Most artists I know already understand the concept of “Pay It Forward”. The constant “hustle” demands that you look out for each other – whether that means trading work, sharing tools, couch surfing or 2am installations the day before an opening. Instinctually creative people are generous people. Have faith in the theory that it will all come back to you.
Artist Liz Hickok has been doing Open Studios in her space for many years. She earned her MFA from Mills College in 2005 and in the following year was in a group show in San Jose and featured on KQED’s Spark Television series. One of the interns at KQED eventually moved on to curate residencies for a major social media company and remembered Liz’s feature from 12 years ago. In September she invited Liz to install a giant wall mural of her work at the company offices - a prestigious commission that launched Liz into a new scale of production.
As Liz commented to me, you never know where introductions, conversations, and events like Open Studios can lead. The crucial thing is to cultivate your career for the long haul, be patient and trust in seeds you’ve sown.