Guest blogger Brad Ford Smith is a Dallas artist and arts conservationist.
I started writing this second article about my experience at the Vermont Studio Center while waiting for my connecting flight back to Dallas. At that time I could still smell the green forests, lush mosses and cool mountain air on my clothing. Now it’s a week later. A week filled with re-adjustments, hot, hot weather and lots of financial bad news on the radio. And my clothes, they don’t smell anything like a fresh mountain breeze.
So how did a Dallas artist end up in a Vermont artist residency? It was a long, long time ago when I first heard about the romantic, almost mystical concept of artist residencies. I assumed you had to be a genius or just about almost famous to even think about applying. But then I was exposed to the three artist residency programs that are associated with Dallas: The UTD Southside artist Residency, Centraltrak and La reunion TX. Each of these programs has made an important impact on the Dallas art community and promoted Dallas as a city for progressive culture. They have also demonstrated that an artist with a good portfolio and a resume can actually take advantage of the exotic opportunities that artist residency programs offer. In fact, after just a brief Google search I was over whelmed by the number of opportunities that I could easily apply for. Check out Res Artis for a sampling of what is available.
So, after the myth busting, I started applying to artist residencies and soon found myself making plans to hang out in the remote hills of northern Vermont with 50 other artists and writers.
I have just come back from that adventure and thought I would take this opportunity to reflect upon my personal expectations and observations.
First off, I see now that I had some pretty high expectations of what I was going to accomplish, which is not really that surprising when you do the math. For 28 days, I had 24-hour access to my private art studio, and my only responsibility was to remember to walk over to the Red Mill in time to grab a meal. Note to the VSC kitchen staff: It was ALL very yummy, and I am cursing each of your names as I sit here in this sweltering Texas heat wondering how I am going to work off these extra LBs before the holiday season rolls into town.
Insight: When packing for this adventure, I was tempted to pack up and ship my whole studio. But then I realized that would negate the whole experience of creating art in this unfamiliar, alien environment. So, in the end I shipped two boxes of art materials, which included two art projects and four art concept outlines. I figured that since I was going to be making art all the time, that would be enough to get me started. During the first week at VSC, several of my comrades also expressed the belief that they were going to crank out lots and lots of art. Some even expressed the desire to move a bed into their studios so they could paint until they dropped, grab a cat nap and then spring out of bed with a paint brush ready at hand. Others bemoaned the fact that the life drawing model was not available every morning and every afternoon. By the end of the second week, no one mentioned the beds or the extra hours of figure drawing. It had by then become quite clear that the time spent not creating was just as important as the time spent creating.
I finished none of my art projects or concepts. But I did succeed at working in such a prolonged and intense manner that I soon came to a new understanding about how, as a mature artist, I now work and think. It was surprising to find out how much mental dead wood I was carting around. That I was using old thought patterns and programs that really were not functional anymore. This led to personal insights into relationships and history.
Expectations: I went with expectations about what I was going to do when I had all the time in the world. I thought I was going to create lots and lots of fantastic artwork. I thought I was going to read all those deep, thick novels I packed. I thought I was going to forge new ground in social networking.
Results: I did make some artwork, I did take lots of photos and even shot some videos. I did play a lot, and I did make some new friends. But mostly, I spent the time at VSC re-acquainting myself with myself. Reflecting on what, why and how I am now.
Would I go back to VSC? Sure I would. Would I apply to another artists residency program? You bet! But first I need to spend some quality time catching up with all the business, bills and relationships that were waiting for me here at home.