Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Stuff Karma or the Artistic Dissonance that fuels creativity

I had a sudden urge to clean out my storage unit. I was mainly motivated by saving the $55 a month, which is not that much, but these days every bit helps. I sold some things, threw out others and squeezed the rest into my garage. Task DONE, yeah! A little extra $$, yippee! BUT it got me thinking about Stuff Karma. For the artist, it's the ongoing problem of what to do with the work you make and the stuff you collect.
one of Christine's Junk Piles
I struggle with this all the time and it gets harder as I get older. It's not just a problem for artists but for everyone in Western culture:  stuff accumulates, storage costs go up, attachment can become greater the longer you keep something, letting go is hard. BUT, if you don't deal with your stuff now, while your alive, the task will go to someone who doesn't know what you want (heck, even you probably don't know what you want to do with all that stuff, hence the storage shed).

Louise Bourgeois dealt with her problem in a unique way decades ago. When she died in 2010 she was very well known and her work sought after, but when she was younger that was not the case. She faced the problem of how to store work that no one wants buy. So she bought an acre of land outside of NYC and took her large stone and bronze sculptures and dumped them there. When she became famous she returned and "dug them up" to take to her galleries for shows.

Louise Bourgeois
I have to admit that is a clever solution and is appropriate for pieces that can be left outside for decades. That isn't the case with paintings, fiber, wood, or anything that cannot endure the elements. Most of work made from more perishable materials have to be stored inside, and sometimes in heated climate controlled buildings. Artists have the added task of figuring out if they can afford to store their work and where.

This of course brings up the issues of how much you value your work, how much you are willing to invest in it, how much money you have, or don't have and how you want to spend that money. If options and money are scarce, artists must face the prospect of destroying the work, giving it away or recycling the materials into new work. Options which are difficult and often painful.

Judy Chicago's Dinner Party went into storage for many hears after it's controversial museum premier in 1979. The controversy resulted in the subsequent show venues canceling. She put her massive installation in storage and paid a high cost (due to having fiber table runners and other delicate materials it had to be in a climate controlled environment). Once it was acquired by the Brooklyn Museum it was clear she made the right decision to preserve it and pay the price for many years but she had to act (and spend) on faith. She had to sacrifice. Not every artist has the means nor the commitment to dish out thousands of dollars a month on rent for their art.

Judy Chicago's Dinner Party
So now that my task is done, it feels good, but quickly I realize it's not over. I can now move on to the stuffed closet, the extra bedroom and the pile of rusty junk in my backyard. Ok, now I need a drink! Anyone need a Princess Chair - $50 firm. I'm attached and you can imagine why, she's adorable.

For sale precious Princess Chair. Found at a garage sale in Florida, brought back in my car to Colorado 10 years ago. Needs a good home and new upholstery. 


  1. Loved this post. As a fellow 'collector of stuff' I know how you feel and the dilemma you face. I'm trying to destash by taking booths in local retail shops, but the rent is expensive and my stuff sells slowly. I end up with little profit for my efforts. Still struggling with this one.

    1. Angelene, thank you for your comment. I have not blogged for over a year but I am attempting to make it a practice this year. I find the process helps me declutter my mind and make a bit of sense out of the crazy world.

      Physical space (retail shops, studios, storage buildings, galleries, museums, homes...) is at a premium now, while the things that occupy them (stuff, people, pets, art, furniture...) are losing value. It's a constant weighing of worth vs. cost.

      Thanks sharing.

  2. Good to hear from you again. This post really hits home. I'm cleaning out my mother's house of 50 years. Talk about hoarding. It's painful to deal with it all. I inherited her hoarding instinct and want to save much of her stuff. Two brothers want none of it. One brother is truly a hoarder (I at least have a functioning house). We are fighting over who gets what. I'm looking at storage units. It is a bizarre internal struggle, as well as struggles with others. So I really feel for you and hope you make the best possible decisions on what to keep and what to part with. One thing I did throw out at my mother's house, ironically, is my old Barbie Dream House. If only I could have shipped it out to Barbie. A bit worse for wear I'm afraid. Actually, worse for storing in the attic for 50 years.
    Just remember, there is no one right way to clear out the house, no perfect solution. Just compromises. In the end, you'll have a bunch of stuff that makes you happy. Good luck.

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