year end research reflections
I started this academic year in a very different situation – personally, professionally, maybe creatively – from where I started. Maybe, more precisely, I have arrived somewhere unplanned and unexpected. These are all clichés, but true. Toto, I’ve a feeling...
If I could start anywhere tomorrow, it would be at the Corita Art Center in Los Angeles. Though the center is technically closed to the public, if we are imagining having access to anything, I’d love to spend the rest of the semester holed up researching the Corita archives and working with the other Immaculate Heart Community ministries. I feel a need to center myself in some physical space right now, and no matter how far I stray from my own cultural faith traditions, I still feel a desire for, in addition to libraries and historical archives, the nostalgic comfort of the church sanctuary. This makes me curious – how much of my connection to Corita and the concept of activist, interfaith pedagogy is just an attempt to satisfy my own unmet needs for safety and spiritual community? I work differently when I am curious in this way, more introspectively. I am much more likely to become sidetracked, but also to find my way back to the most critical questions. In a way this is playfulness, but in context of my personal circumstances – marital separation, redefining family, considering childhood trauma and trying to avoid making it intergenerational - it feels heavy as well. Not all play needs to be fun, does it?
Corita has a term for playing while working – plork. I think that applying this concept to difficult circumstances - “leaning in” to the discomfort – provides an interesting framework for experiencing personal growth through the academic research process. However, the constrictions of traditional graduate studies in the visual arts do not always lend themselves to this type of learning. Running off on research tangents, reading books that don’t necessarily apply, interrogating my own faith are all great exercises in creative, spiritual and even academic growth but don’t serve my need to turn in work on time. This is my last chance to finish my MA, so I’m not running off mid-year, or anything, however – interrogating my positionality and politics as an artist and educator has led to inevitable questioning of the institutional framework where the work is produced. When was I most creative, when was I at my best? At my kitchen table after my kids were safely asleep and all of my non-academic obligations had been for the moment, quieted. When I felt seen and supported by someone who also validated my work, who surprised me with the consideration that maybe I’m meant to be a researcher, that maybe I need to keep going.
Something important that I learned this semester is the larger context of my identity as a community-based rather than an institutional or school-based art educator. I stopped teaching in public schools because the schedule and the demands of that job did not fit with my other artistic career pursuits. And because tattooing paid better. I started my nonprofit because, no longer a grad student and no longer a teacher, I needed to find an alternative solution for engaging with a community practice. This semester I have been able to contextualize all of these choices – teaching, tattooing, parenting, academia – within a deeper conversation about cultural and institutionalized roles. Much to my surprise, and the satisfaction of certain politically and academically engaged companions, I’ve discovered that I am deeply and irrefutably concerned with the political nature of my work. The deeper I question, the more the research seems to turn both further inward and outward. I’m considering the entanglements of how I have come to occupy my position - an overworked graduate student and (sort of) single parent - and how I can activate these understandings to work for, or search for institutional change. I have a lot of thoughts about next steps, personally and towards the possibilities of affecting change within institutions of art and culture - but I’m unsure how any of it translates into some semblance of a professional life.