July 18, 2009

Willa's Commencement, Chapter Two

In her second installment of "Willa's Commencement," Two Coats intern Willa Köerner moves from New York to San Francisco where she looks for a job and considers how to make art on a shoestring.

Reinvention and Relocation: The Great Post-Grad Challenge
by Willa Köerner


The components that contribute to the making of a successful artist are too vast and variable to categorize, especially by a young and inexperienced fledgling such as myself. At this point in my “career,” I feel a bit bedraggled by the thought of everything that I still need to figure out. The end of college has signified the end of the beginning– the last step on solid ground. I am now standing at the foot of a great amorphous mountain, wondering how to take a step through sand that is ghostly white and thin as air.

Until graduation, making progress seemed as simple as imagining something interesting and then figuring out how to tangibly express that idea. In art school, having a creative vision and finding the motivation to realize it was not only possible, but also mandatory. Because of the expectations of the college curriculum, the process of making art became a somewhat regulated experience. There were days to brainstorm, days to stretch canvases and gesso, and days to stay up all night figuring out what exactly needed to be done. In a sense, I was an art machine – inputting what my professors told me and outputting art that was deserving of an A.

Having been out of school for about a month and a half now, I’ve begun to realize how startlingly difficult it is to maintain the same quality of work on my own. For one thing, there are no more deadlines or prompts from which to work. Now that I’m a self-motivated artist, everything I do is at my own pace and of my own agenda. This is exciting, but it is also terrifying. On an even more horrifying level, there is the fact that all of the resources that my college offered me are now long gone. If I get the sudden urge to weld some metal together, forget about it. If I want to use a really expensive computer program on a high definition monitor, I must be crazy. With no studio and no job in sight, my post-grad existence has largely become a process of learning how to make artwork with a pencil and paper– a complete reinvention of myself as an artist.

In addition to being stripped of the resources of Vassar College, I’ve also thrown myself into a completely new cultural landscape. Two weeks ago I moved from New York to San Francisco, CA with the intent of finding new friends, new favorite foods and new places to look at art. Since I’ve been here, I’ve begun to analyze things left on the street with the attention of a homeless person. “Can I paint on this? Can I cut this up? Is this at all interesting?” Having moved across the country with little more than two suitcases and a box of paints, paintbrushes and other worldly essentials, my apartment’s dearth of furniture and commodities lends itself well to junk collection habits. I feel a bit like a confused bird picking out all different types of branches, twigs and animal fur from which to experimentally build a new nest.

On the bright side, I can’t imagine a better time than now to reinvent myself as an artist. Being unemployed in a completely foreign city has forced me to think about almost everything in a new light, from my search for artistic identity to my quest for employment. I’ve been doing a lot of job-hunting on Craigslist, which has opened my eyes to a lot of uncanny truths. For one, I never knew how well my liberal arts education would prepare me for a career as a “magic princess” (face-painting, story-telling and role-playing were all majorly emphasized in my art degree). Unfortunately, this job requires each magic princess to have her own car– something I lack. When I was not chosen for a job that described its duties as “tracing hundreds of images of women knitting,” something I feel I would have been perfect for (or so I claimed in my cover letter), I was forced to realize that there are some let-downs that college could not have prepared me for. Alas, I refuse to give up hope! Someone has got to hire me sooner or later.

Regardless of the inauspicious nature of my job hunt, I’m quite happy with my decision to leave the East Coast. Walking the streets of San Francisco supplies my eyes with an unending rainbow of interesting people and smells, colorful murals and tropical plants. Migration is a natural process for many animals, and I believe it’s important for human beings as well–especially those seeking endless aesthetic inspiration. I’d like to think of the artist as a tough subspecies of Homo sapiens, for whom adaptability is a crucial characteristic. If I can make it here, I’ll have one leg up on Darwin’s scale of survival, regardless of how fit I am to trace photographs of women doing handicrafts.

3 comments:

Terrific post. Willa may be a "fledgling," but her thoughtful insights and wry sense of humor about coming of age in her vocation indicate an audacious commencement. Stay positive.

Jon

Yeah, it's tough after Vassar.

The thing you have going for you is that this is all new. After a few years it will wear thin in new and interesting ways. I'm reminded of "Angelas Ashes" - which I havent seen or read - but the author, a school teacher, recently died.

Frank McCourt I believe, stole to feed the family, (there were no dumpsters in Limerick) and they ate chamomile tea and Wonderbread. Then he went to Vassar and emigrated, or immigrated, I forget, to America.

The immigrant experience is interesting -landlords make a lot of money by being sedentary, but the nomad makes a lot of money by the grift - the "long con."

But others, who refuse to believe school was a sophisticated con, will settle for art handling or being an assistant to some Burning Man hippy artist maker of welded steel sculpture designed to cut the achilles tendons of well heeled east coast intellectuals (insert electron microscope picture of a razor blade edge here) in the sense that fingernails on a chalkboard are like blowfish toxin or shellfish poisoning to those with champagne and caviar tastes - a real treat sometimes after so much refinement and class.

Not sure why San Fran is better than New York - people there spend more on daycare than most artists do on ten years of happy hour (so maybe the market has room to grow on).

But do go to Hunters Point and tell them you went to Vassar so they will understand you are have no job skills to speak of, but would love to make believe you are in a Mad Max movie at Burning Man).