An interactive sculpture presented at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco and at Rejuvenation in Portland in July, 2015, as part of the Renegade Craft Fair, the Traveling Queen is a whimsical piece designed to encourage playful interaction with the surrounding environment while providing a special place for an individual. Photo courtesy Angela Eastman
Full Of Here And There, 2016
Steel, aluminum mesh, paint, silk thread. Photo courtesy Angela Eastman
In a recent hour-long interview with Ed Roberson, host of the Mountain and Prairie Podcast, I talked about the long and winding road of my creative path thus far, and employed a number of metaphors to try to explain a personal process that wasn’t predetermined so much as discovered along the way. I call it “leaning on the door”, meaning, in short, a posture, a frame of mind, an attitude that bespeaks an intention toward forward momentum in at least the general direction one hopes to go. Then, oftentimes for reasons you could never have predicted, a door opens and you find yourself tumbling through.
For instance, nearly everyone I know has at least one story somewhat like this: An unexpected opportunity opens up for them because someone else, at the last minute, was unable to (fill in the box). It’s happened to me many times. But I realize that had I not been “leaning on the door” – had I been, say, literally lying on the couch, playing video games all day long, wondering why nothing good every happened to me, I doubt very much whether anything would have. I’d be projecting stasis to others and to myself. Even if a door opens at such a time, more than likely, others in a better position to take advantage of the opportunity will do so long before I pause my game, set the controller down, brush the Cheetos dust off my shirt…
When I think of door leaner types who exemplifies the philosophy much better than I do, a number of people come to mind. Early in 2013, and just days into starting my blog, I wrote a post highlighting one of them, Angela Eastman, a Colorado College studio art alum pursuing a career in art. Five years later, in 2017, I asked Angela if she’d be so kind as to write something regarding the path she continues to pursue in the arts and the doors she continues to lean on, and she kindly, and articulately, obliged.
Over the years, for various holidays, birthdays or graduations, I’ve received books designed to provide a template towards a successful career in the arts. Most of these guidebooks, gifted to me by well-meaning friends and family, provide inarguably useful information about how to apply for grants and residencies, maintain relationships with gallerists and curators, apply to calls for entry, etc — admittedly, the nuts and bolts of an artist’s career. It’s undeniable that these pointers are helpful, and are often not addressed at length in more conceptual academic environments. But it’s also true that the very nature of being an artist places one outside of the realm of guidebooks — if we’re doing it right, we are creating our own guidebooks as we go. There are as many definitions of what makes a successful career in the arts as there are paths to get there, wherever “there” may be. As the dancer and potter Paulus Berensohn has said, “It’s not about making a living — it’s about making a life.”
In illustration of this principle of creative inertia, Andy asked me to write about the art of leaning on doors. Initially I thought that that was a rather generous term for what I have been doing for the past decade — it has often felt more like I’ve been falling into whatever opportunities have arisen. To be leaning on a door seems to imply, first of all, that you recognize it as a door and, moreover, that you have a strong desire to get through it. So often, I have found the structure of a door will appear only after I have unwittingly made it to the other side — the walls of glass materializing softly, the doorknob and the key obvious only in retrospect.
After some thought, though, I realized that the art of leaning on doors can be called an art because it is a cultivated frame of mind more than a sequence of actions. It is a method of traveling — one which does not always take the straightest or most expeditious path, but rather involves an observant and intentional movement through space. It is the challenge of living into a state of open-ended inquiry, accepting and processing the events of life while concurrently moving forward. To be leaning on doors implies a practiced balance of intention and receptivity, and is simultaneously a very personal way of relating to a lived environment and an ability to feel empathy for an expansive sense of community.
My own winding path has meandered through situations that seemed at the time only vaguely tangential to being an artist. But all life is research, and all situations are opportunities for creativity — not that it’s always easy to see them as such. What’s the job of an artist? To gather moss, to spin it into yarn and weave something true to be cast back onto the road for the next traveler to find. A confusing and unsatisfying job at times, disparaged not least by those who practice it. What merit is there, I’ve asked myself on occasion, in spewing out more detritus for future generations to sift through? How often I have wished that I had been born with a passion for the clerical trades. I held a job for a few months after college as an assistant welder for a sign-maker in Asheville, North Carolina. I would walk in to the local bank branch to deposit my meager earnings (usually all in ten dollar bills, paid under the table), in my sooty t-shirt and Dickies, and look enviously at the bank tellers with their dependable schedules and paychecks. They probably go to the grocery store and buy whatever they want, I thought—the truest sign of affluence that my 22-year-old college-loan-paying self could fathom.
It took me some years to realize that the desire for stability represented by those bank tellers could never be satiated by running away from the path I was most passionate about. It took me several more years to come to the understanding that, although periods of existential quandary are necessary to anyone truly invested in their work, little fruit is borne from the energy spent agonizing about the merit of creating art. It is simply what I do.
I still feel a bit unnerved when I walk into a bank, but I no longer envy the tellers and their ability to leave their work behind when they go home, the way a bilingual person switches languages when crossing a border. I seem to have little say in the matter anyways. Although pursuing a serious career in art was not something I intentionally set out to do, my attempts at securing gainful employment were all self-sabotaged before they really got off the ground. I would work for a few months, save enough money to afford renting a studio space and buying materials, and invariably quit the job that I had temporarily held down in favor of the far more appealing pursuit of working on my own artwork. In this pattern I passed through my early 20s, patching together an unimpressive employment resume of food service, construction, illustration, and nannying, with no listings longer than eight months.
But I kept making my work, and I started showing it, first in local arts council galleries, then in a few juried shows. I applied for open calls, artist residencies and fellowships, and I started being accepted into them. I applied to anything and everything I could, and scheduled out strings of adventures, art-related or not, that paid little but left me rich in community and experience. I gradually altered my response to the question, “What do you do?” — a question that seems so simple yet is so painfully difficult to answer — from a mumbled string of my various part-time jobs, to euphemistic creative-type terminology (designer, maker, ceramicist, jeweler), to the terrifyingly bold statement, “I’m an artist.” Sometimes it still comes out sounding like a question, but there’s really no other way to describe the reason that I’ve been traveling the country for the past year and a half, with a van full of tools and a schedule full of ambling.
So here I am, surrounded by the bins and boxes of my mobile lifestyle, figuring and re-figuring what it is that I put into this life every day, and what it is that I’m trying to take away. If the job of an artist is to gather moss, one must do a lot of wandering and wondering. What I’ve been learning, then, is how to wander and, in all seriousness, how to wonder. Perhaps the key to all the doors I may be leaning on is the supposition that beyond any one of them, and all of them, is the life that I want to live.
Angela Eastman is an MFA Candidate in Sculpture at Cranbrook Academy of Art, expected graduation 2018. Angela attended Colorado College for her BA and then received training in traditional craft techniques through the Core Fellowship program at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina (2013-2015). She has been awarded residencies at Mississippi State University (2016), Vermont Studio Center (2013, 2016), Sitka Center for Art and Ecology (2015), Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild (2015), and the Ragdale Foundation (2012). Her work has been exhibited nationally and is in the collections of Colorado College and Duke University.