I'm at a residency in Northern France called the Centre Pompadour Laboratory of Neo Feminism. My main goal is to paint a series of work for a show in November at Blue Azul Gallery in San Diego, but I'm also doing research on residencies, getting ideas for the Desert Dairy. I will eventually write about both this French residency and my Irish residency last year in detail, but first I want to think about residencies in general.
When I was an undergrad in the 1980s, and a grad student 15 years later, the topic of residencies rarely came up. I thought they were only for famous or successful artists, and that they were difficult to get, both of which were probably true at the time. Now, every good academic art program promotes residencies, and there are hundreds all over the world. A young woman here in France, who just finished her undergrad, told me her professors constantly pushed the ambitious students to apply. Read any bios of artists with galleries lately? They are stacked with residency awards. It's both fantastic and a racket. And a business.
I've been asking fellow residents about expectations, and about the reality, of this suddenly widespread rite of passage. Some, like me, arrive with a specific plan, materials and vision of a project, either new or continuing. Then it's just a matter of spending time making the work. Other artists come to a residency to experience the specific place (the architecture, the natural setting, the vibe, the fellow artists, even the weather...) and then they make work based on reactions and inspiration. In my opinion this is the riskier option, but that's perhaps because it's not a natural way for me to make art.
The biggest anticipation when preparing for a residency is that you'll have time to yourself. This is also the biggest shock. Most artists are so busy with their lives/jobs/responsibilities, that carving out large amounts of time to think about, and make, work seems an unimaginable luxury. We crave what we don't have. Personally, I almost never have a continuous time block of more than two hours in a day to paint. So we all can't wait for the hours/days/weeks in front of us with only our work.
Then comes the reality. It's not a vacation. Although you may do a bit of tourism, you basically stay in one place and work. All that time is scary. After a few days, when the excitement of the new place wears off, you begin to be a bit afraid that you've committed too much time--you can feel guilt, or boredom, or even drudgery in your work. Then a routine forms and you get used to it. Some days are great, and you work for 12 hours feeling fantastic. Or you work a bit and then have inspiring conversations with the other artists. Or you take long walks and solve the problems you're grappling with. Other days are not so good. You feel blocked. You paint/sculpt/write/compose/work badly. You fail. You take naps.
In the end, some artists accomplish completed projects, or at least gain new focus or energy. Some come away with nothing concrete, but hope the residency will affect future work. I supposed some simply have another line on their resume, or connections in other cities/countries. Our networks expand, but more importantly, our artwork becomes bigger. We understand the world a bit better.
What do you think? What have you experienced? What would you like an artist residency to be?
Anna does most of the writing. Ted does most of the photos. But sometimes we switch. We are repairing a distressed property in 29 Palms, California, and eventually hope to run an artist residency there.