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Inside Out: Three Gems

A friend pointed out that a career takes a lifetime to take its unique shape, which is longer than I can conceive of. It's defined he said not by who is tipping their hat to you at any given time, but the quality of the time you spend alone, caring for and nurturing what you yourself love the most about what you do. (1. PATIENCE).

Agnes Martin is one of my heroes. She stopped making art for seven years right in the middle of her career, moving from the thick of things in New York to land in New Mexico. I don't know the details of her life then, except that it was somewhat solitary. Her work and career had new life when she returned to them at the end of that decade. But at one point she walked completely the other way and attended to what felt most important to her at that time. She said in her essay Beauty is the Mystery of Life:

"You must discover the artwork that you like and realize the response that you make to it. You must especially know the response that you make to your own work. It is in this way that you discover your direction and the truth about yourself. If you do not discover your response to your own work you miss the reward. You must look at the work and know how it makes you feel."

I am pushing the boundary of some new drawings. I look at them like their my kids, each one brings a little smile, and shows off a little trick that's basic, goofy, or a little more refined. When I get a good feeling upon returning to check on them the next day, it's a sign there's something to keep developing. This relationship cannot be mediated by anyone else. Mentors, collaborators or curators might have their own relationship to what's there and I might learn a new dimension from that perspective, but that to me must be secondary.

The quality of trust is a key component to my art making. Trust both in things to work themselves out eventually, and trust in my own process enough to nurture a work and take it seriously without force. The word trust invokes the idea of relaxed muscles and neurons - room for something new and alive to break the surface. It's the opposite of force.

In my twenties, if I made something ungainly, I thought I was the ungainly thing. It turns out that my art isn't me. So if it's a rejection letter, a silence or absence of activity, none of those things amounts to my value or the value of my work. An older friend said "In your thirties, you care a little less with every year what people think of you," which I found to be true. I'm looking forward to this next decade ( the forties), where I often see a power in the women mentors I've had. I think the artwork also shares this arc when someone's life is looked at whole.

I saw Polly Apfelbaum speak at the Museum School several years back. She shared works that to me felt relatively awkward, with the same care and attention as she gave to newer pieces, the gemlike, gorgeous Powerpuff Girls. It made me realize that each project yields the next, and for that there is a reason to be reverent and thoughtful about what it contributed in the process of all of the work unfolding. In other words, I can't accurately judge the impact of the work, or myself, and so the intimacy of making the work with care, listening to where I experience delight, curiosity and interest, is what's left as a meaningful focus.

Also to nurture are the real friendships that develop, and the many things I learn in conversation with friends.

Thank you for reading. Please keep in touch via hannah -at- hannahburr.com and keep reading at www.hannahburr.com when the redesign is finished in a month!


About Author

Hannah Burr is our November-December Inside Out artist-in-residence.

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