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Art is God.
Let's go get a slushie.
Above: high school me at interlochen arts academy, 2013
Just under two weeks ago, I stayed a few days with my high school best friend at her place in Colorado. I met a few very important goals:
Eat one of her breakfast burritos, which she posts about on Instagram.
Meet and befriend J’s dogs.
See J’s studio in downtown Boulder.
*I also wanted to see prairie dogs, but it rained two out of three days. I also wanted to try mountain pizza, but instead ate a bunch of J’s partner’s delicious cooking (think: sesame tofu, homemade tomato sauce, maple soy salmon).
In my morning notes after the trip I wrote, “Art is God.” Sitting in J’s art studio, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow, life is art.”
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Above: A picture of my dorm room from my tumblr archives. The description on the blog is “Just some fucking teenagers writing poems, drawing one another, and making music.” 2012
I was worried leading up to this trip that J and I wouldn’t get along anymore, because really, we only knew one another as teenagers. And it’d been a hard adolescence, at least for me. We’d met at a boarding school for the arts in Michigan, both on scholarships at a school full of students who’d come from generations of wealth. In my last two years of high school, situated between two lakes that gleamed like emeralds, I made art with my friends, experienced my first bouts of intense seasonal depression, and went through a number of personal traumas.
Above: a photo of J, S, and K stacking rocks in a hotel parking lot in high school, 2012
My high school friendships were the closest thing I’ve ever felt to witchcraft.
J and I had an especially close relationship. We slept in the same bed nearly every night - illegal dorm sleepovers felt like a serious rebellion. J was probably my earliest serious artistic collaborator. I wasn’t sure who we would be together as adults.
All of these worries, however, were immediately torn down. If nothing else (and there was else, but it’s PRIVATE), these worries were shorn away by the simple reality that we are both artists. I am constantly blown away by this truth, by the easy connections that can be made for those who have an implicit devotion to their artist selves.
Above: J in her studio, 2023
This trip has made me reevaluate the idea of productivity reinforcing creative practice. For me, productivity is one of my oldest and most tender scars. Sometimes it’s still an open wound. Productivity is a big topic these days, but for me it has always been an implicit part of my upbringing. Having a project is important to my family’s dynamics, especially my father’s side. It is synonymous with living.
My parents have always asked each other, “What are you working on?”
-I’m mowing the lawn. I’m doing the dishes. I’m building a greenhouse.
My grandpa asks it of everyone: “Hey, kid! What are you working on?”
-I’m building a table. I’m reorganizing the pantry. I’m writing a book.
Recently, I saw my uncle for the first time in a long time at my mother’s graduation ceremony. He said, “Hey Li, what are you working on?”
-I’m graduating in December. I’m student teaching in the fall.
”Well,” he said, “Isn’t that something? Then what are you working on?”
When I visited J, we watched Twilight, Eurovision, Mamma Mia, Magic Mike XXL. We went to the dog park. We walked down the side of a road. And we talked about art. This trip felt so integral to this time in my life, to do nothing with the person I feel is closest to my artist self.
While we were there though, we barely discussed art as a finished project. And if we did, it was in the context of self, of knowing when a project feels finished rather than when it meets some predefined goal.
We talked about practice. We talked about art as offering, to others but also to ourselves. We talked about capitalism and how to disengage practice from its systems. We dunked in a cold creek. We talked about creative thinking and action plans meant to fulfill. We talked about the connectivity of trees, of sweet grass, of mayflies. We talked about art as self: art as the practice of self.
What if the open wound that is “what I’m working on” is beginning to heal? What if the scar it will leave behind becomes “what I’m practicing?” What if it was the practice of self?
What are you practicing? I’m practicing art as self.
Is that nonsense? Maybe. But it feels like sense deep down in my bones.