For the past couple days, as I seem more than usually to have awakened to accepting I actually have one, I've been musing on the power and marvelous mix of comfort and strangeness of the activity that goes on in any kind of (art, music, writing, academic) "studio." I've gathered pics of what my agent & friend Connie Clausen always called "the usual suspects" (well-known editors to whom we'd most usually send a book proposal) -- that is, my own usual suspects, who I of course very much more than suspect loved - ah, a bit tougher to come up with a single word for it -- let's provisionally say "their work." Work in the widest, deepest and least stultifying sense. "Say what you've come to say," Quentin encouraged us. And/or do what you've come to do.
What just triggered some sense I was ready to write about this was an exchange I just had with my friend Richard Blumenthal on Facebook about what I called his remarkable "eye" for appreciating and parsing out the particulars of the visual - especially visual art. Richard replied he once sat in on an art course in college his roommate had encouraged him to attend whose professor was so taken with Richard's comments & response he wanted to give him a high mark in the class - but could find Richard's name nowhere on the class roster since he'd attended only as auditor. To which I found myself replying & to which reply Richard replied (a lotta replies goin' on):
Guy Kettelhack: ah, but doesn't that in a way showcase the real beauty of 'being good at' something, or having a passion or deep affinity for it - which if it comes from the center of you like this does, so transcends the classroom! I love it when classroom 'discourse' becomes real conversation - shifts from the 'academic' to the freely human. One of the ways we feel we're at the center of life.
Richard Blumenthal: Very true. And Madenfort had a gift for that, though most of the "artists" were forced to take the class and couldn't wait for it to be over. I couldn't wait for the next class. I just found this article he'd written in 1972 (which is when I knew him) that I think you would appreciate.
Spot-on, I gave Richard as my response to this prof's speech.
So - what is the work that goes on in the studio - at least the work, as I can make it out, of those people pictured here - my mother, my father, Quentin Crisp & Donna Boguslav? Who by example have taught me what my work is?
Giving form to the current of what puts you at the center of life. Of course, activity beyond the studio, especially for these souls, does that as well - indeed, the "work" of seeing and responding never stops. So continual is it, and so powerfully does it in some manner take over the whole full system response I call my sentient life, that it creates a sort of prayerful state. Prayerful to me does not mean solemn or even quiet. Though it carries the essence of a certain kind of childlike wonder & humility. "I do not know what I am looking at but oh is it unfathomably gorgeous!" Or interesting or hilarious or tasty or sensuous or shocking & on & on. What we 'find' - after a while cannot NOT find - is miraculous existence. Prayerfulness is exquiste responsefulness. Cultivated, it eventually performs a function as necessary as breathing.
But again, a studio first 'asks' us, I think, to sit down & give that 'work' form.
Quentin Crisp regarded his home as a dressing room - in which, besides breathing and blinking ('what do you do when you're home alone, Quentin?' 'I breathe and I blink' - his funny subversive response which suggests he & the Buddha would have gotten along), he 'prepared' for the performance he believed the public world required as well as gave him the delicious opportunity to conjure up (along with his 'infinite availability'). I know because I worked with him in his one-room apartment on our book that a central part of his preparation was to come up with the right "words" ("Learn the words" he often firmly suggested) - which partly were shared off-the-frayed-cuff, but when he got to the writing of them were pursued in privacy - at least for as long as he could physically manage (before his carpal tunnel syndrome made it impossible) to write by hand or pick them out on his rickety typewriter (after that, like the similarly afflicted Henry James, he would dictate them to an amanuensis). But his home was where he did the prep work for the presentation of his identity: walking out into the world as finished art. I don't remember him ever expressing delight about this - his delight was always reserved for his response to actual people (or virtual ones in a movie) in the Real World. Indeed one of the earmarks of the gestalt of a "studio" to me is its matter-of-factness. It serves a completely practical function. As necessary as the toilet down the hall.
My mother had this practical sense of her studio - it was, after all, where she did work that made her money (true of Quentin, too, of course). But I cannot think of her NOT in it. It was as necessary not only as a kitchen or bathroom, but as the bay or the sea or the sky were to her comfort and sense of 'rightness' in the world. It was a condition she quietly insisted on - and in which I think she felt pleasures deeper than any she could express about whatever it was that had mercurially just 'happened' (in the unpredictable way of watercolors) between the brush in her hand and the paper it touched. It was a central part of the grace everyone saw & experienced in her. It was where she did her "work" - work which gave the closest expression to her deepest response to life she could achieve in solitude. It was not only 'practical' but a part of her being. The word made art made flesh.
Donna expresses joy without stop, and I don't think she's ever not conscious of it. Her entire home, really, is her 'studio', though she does, like me, have a separate room reserved mostly for the mechanics of putting her remarkable 'pieces' (boxes containing worlds) together. In this photo she's enthusing over Andy Stone's art - that is, giving expression again to her unstoppable joy. Which of course isn't always a matter of wheeeee! - although it so very often is. Donna IS the 'prayerful state' (as I envision it) incarnated. Her studio - which really includes the rest of the rooms she calls home in Astoria - her kitchen particularly, partly since it's near a sink & kitchen implements which, like pretty much everything else in her material world, will be employed in the practicalities of soldering and tinting and gluing and hammering and otherwise giving form to her visions. Pragmatism in high degree, central to her soul and ringing with joy. I've never known anyone besides Quentin who so visibly was her work. Though she gives very explicit concrete shape to it in other ways too. Donna is a dancer and a director and an actor and a Shakespearean fool: she creates theater; she can't not.
That feeling of 'can't not' unites everyone herein. Very much including my father - who had what we called a "den" (and before that "the new room" because it was added on last, although before my parents bought the house) at the opposite end of the ground floor from my mother's studio in their magic kingdom, which is really what they turned their home into. I don't have a photograph of him in it, but his presence in that room was as sensually immediate and evident as the scent of the pipe then virtually always in his mouth. In some ways I align with my father most of anyone I've ever met - which is to say, my talents, such as they be, seem so completely to have come from him. We 'knew' each other through a kind of recognition: music, art, language -- all of that came in many of the same ways to each of us. I don't think there was ever a time when we saw each other when we didn't register something like "Oh! Another me!" And yet the worlds inside him were also private. His "den" was indeed what I'd call a studio - he drew in it, read in it, wrote it in it, copied out 'art notes' to himself like you see in the swatch of framed drawing I've positioned him next to in the photo of him at one of my mother's art shows - and it's tempting to say that because the 'product' of this wasn't as formally singular as in Quentin's, my mother's & Donna's case, that what emerged from that room - other than the pipe-smoking Carl himself - was diffuse, hard to corral in the mind. But in all ways I've identified as what a studio seems to me to have meant to their occupants - practical use, a space essential to their expressive life & central to their sense of who they are, and the source of their deepest engagement and delight - my father's 'den' glows.
And now I'm in mine. Typing away at this in it. I first called it my playroom (I moved into my own magic kingdom on the first day of Spring this year!) - from the moment it found its identity it insisted on the harmonious cacophony I still see in it now: it really proclaimed play! But as I've adapted to it as a home, finally as an essential realm in my life, and as it's revealed itself as the place where my 'work' can find palpable form, it turns out to be a studio all right. Completely aligning with those of my beloved implicit mentors to which this particular moment of my work is devoted.
Work! What a great word. Perfect synonym for play!
(pic of Quentin cropped from one I found online taken by Carlo Aquilino, from an exhibit in June 2010:
For more wonderful stuff from Guy Kettelhack, visit his blog: Act Three.