An Artist’s Studio By Any Other Name


I’m on a business trip. I’ve come to Chicago to visit an artist who established an art studio inside a school. I’m pursuing a question that interests me: Is an art studio always an art studio? I think of the now seldom-paraquoted: A rose by any other name is still a rose. The actual quote from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet in which the couple is arguing about the naming of things versus the experiencing of things goes like this: “… that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Does an artist’s studio still function as an artist’s studio even when it’s embedded in other places like schools or businesses or churches or post offices for example? The notion of “embedded” activity first came to my attention when the term was used to describe journalist traveling with military units during the Iraq War. Putting important activities inside other larger-in-scale activities seems like a fairly timeless human concern.

The artist I’m visiting is my big sister Laura. We were born sixteen months apart in the middle of the last century. We grew up as two little artists before we knew we were artists. Our expressive activities and evolving observations of the world grew out of a shared experience of being born into the near-middle of a family occupied by eleven children. Art making inside the larger life of our family seemed to be a natural course for us. When so much of one’s experience is externalized out of the necessity brought about by living in close quarters the expressive inner voice responds. Art making becomes the feeder system for making meaning out of life.

It isn’t like Laura and I grew up talking about art. There was no sense of a little artists’ forum taking shape inside family meetings – although I do remember my younger sister Karen walking into the room and pausing, looking at the two of us in our teenage years, and saying, “You’re talking about art aren’t you? (then raising her voice) Would you stop talking about art!” So we would stop – talking about it as both of us would continue to linger inside our heads about our conversation.

Continuing a type of parallel existence between my sister and I, I’ve had the remarkable good fortune to spend half a year establishing an art studio inside a middle school, inside a neighborhood, inside of Indianapolis. The fourteen year old collaboration between my TOI partner Rebecca King and I is an extension of that hushed conversation that my sister Laura and I keep alive to this day. In establishing an art studio inside a school we often would use the term-phrase “a lot of moving parts”. This calmly wraps up an enormously complex set of interrelated operations that must happen in real time and in response to real people. Most of our young scholar-artists-in-the-making find the creative process unwieldy. Digging into your own ideas and trying to honestly unpack them for the first time can be an unsettling activity.

Here’s the thing: The reason why I think there should be an artist studio inside every other imaginable activity is because making art lights up the brain and builds neural connections that eventually make insight, uncommon sense, and innovation all highly probable. I’ll have to get some of my hacker friends to explain this because I can’t. This sense of connective experience is what defines my sense of personal evolution. So, as the school year winds down I thought I’d better get up here so my sister and I can compare notes. At 55 years old I need all the churching up I can get on the skills required to guide the creative process where and when it hits the road of the mind not yet made up about things. This would be the mind that smells the rose and knows it, the mind that draws the line on a piece of paper and follows it, the mind that finds a solution after tinkering with the problem’s web. You can call it whatever you want.