Studio Stories

Julia Fish
How do you maintain the continual output expected of a successful mid-career artist?

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Julia Fish:
How do you maintain the continual output expected of a successful mid-career artist?

This is a fair question, but I'll admit: I've always winced at the word "career." I even say the word - career - reluctantly, as it doesn't seem to describe my experience as an artist, but rather suggests something to be attained, as if the goal was "to build the career." For me, being an artist is a way of life; my work is inseparable from my life in the world.

Perhaps it's more productive to think about the other part of the question: maintaining the "continual output," and how to sustain and extend expectations for myself, for my work. This is always the challenge, and the distinction I would make is that the life is lived so as to build the work, not the career, and that has meant finding a way to support a life in the studio, my primary site for work, but not my primary source of income. By building the work, I mean the practical, tangible activity of making images, as well as building a capacity to intuitively, intellectually and willfully see my way forward- to expect to learn something new, deeper, harder; to be alert to redundancy, habits; to understand that restlessness is a good thing, and not to be confused with distraction.

I think of "continual output" as recognizing my own pace, to see continual as continuum, as my work moves from not-knowing, to some (new) knowing, to not-knowing, again. I have come to trust a frequently circuitous process that directs me, at times, toward subjects/other disciplines outside the studio, and these have influenced the method of thinking and given me a fresh approach to the work to be accomplished there. I have learned to say "no, thank you" to certain requests or interesting exhibition opportunities when the prospect might distract me from the work already underway. I have learned to listen to myself: to be realistic about what I can promise and accomplish.

My preference is a studio-based, rather than a social- or project-based practice, and I am sustained by working this way, on my own. If there is success to be measured, it might be found in those hours in the studio at work, alone - with time to read the book, revise the drawing, to look and listen to the painting.

Julia Fish, artist / painter, was born in Oregon and has lived and worked in Chicago since 1985. She received the BFA degree from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in 1976, and MFA degree from the Maryland Institute, College of Art in 1982. Her work has been presented nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions since 1978, and was the subject of a ten-year survey exhibition at The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago in 1996. Fish is a Professor in the School of Art and Design, College of Architecture and the Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

This story appears on the Studio Chicago site courtesy of Chicago Artists Resource. See more Artists Stories on CAR