by Liz Clayton Scofield
Liz Clayton Scofield is a multidisciplinary artist, writer, thinker, all-around adventurer, and nomad. They hold an MFA from Indiana University, Bloomington. See their art at
“What do Nashville’s artists need to facilitate their ability to make their best work?”
In Truth & Beauty, Ann Patchett writes the intimate tale of her friendship with poet Lucy Grealy, often detailing the emotional labor performed in caring for each other. Patchett recounts when she sorted through thousands of unopened envelopes when Grealy’s depression prevented her from processing her mail. Patchett paid off small debts, answered fan mail, and forged Grealy’s signature. This labor facilitated the artistic labor Grealy was struggling to perform under the weight of heavy writing deadlines.
I’m interested in acts of care and emotional labor that artists perform for each other in their communities and intimate bonds that make possible their artistic labor. The care Patchett performs is an essential component of the creative process.
What does it mean to be an artist after all? It’s diving into our depths and digging at something to reveal some truth about what it is to be human in this world right now. A spiritual, raw, difficult process. Artists may be throwing themselves into a fire and hoping to come out of it still breathing, maybe reformed or at least renewed, learning through this arduous self-revealing practice.
It is diving into oneself, opening up one’s chest, and fishing out a truth to present to the world. This is deep emotional labor. This is anxiety-inducing, panic-ridden labor. To a spectator, the work might look like putting a mark on a paper, but labor may more often be staring into nothing. It may look like doing nothing much at all, but it’s the circles one chases oneself in, toiling around the final moment where push comes to shove, and the artist either can sit stewing in the explosive energy pushing from the inside out or take the leap, sitting with a gut full of anxiety, and do.
I’ve participated in conversations about the needs of Nashville’s art communities. Last month, I wrote about Nashville’s need for a vibrant artist residency program. Now I’m asking again: What do Nashville’s artists need to facilitate their ability to make their best work?
In August 2017, I spent ten days with thirteen strangers on the Cucalorus campus in Wilmington, North Carolina. We were fourteen artists gathering for a process-based residency focused on art and food. Part of the process of the residency was leading meals for the group, over which we shared personal stories of the food we prepared for one another. We gathered for discussion of food, politics, bodies, art, aesthetics, community: theoretical and conceptual frameworks for our practices. We worked independently. We gathered and shared our process, progress, frustrations. We checked in with each other, sharing personal experiences, emotions, vulnerabilities. We took care of one another.
We swam in fountains, sang karaoke together till the wee hours, danced until even weeer hours and fell into a half-naked pile of bodies on the floor in a circle of smiles and love. We ate donuts, climbed trees, went to the ocean and fought waves.
The last day we shared our work. In balance with our loving, caring, fun adventures, we’d been doing a lot of emotional artistic labor. That evening, though exhausted, we said, “Whatever! Stick and pokes in the cabin,” and stayed up eating ice cream and getting tattooed, laughing and crying and fighting the dawn where we knew we’d say goodbye, for now. We gathered in the cabin that night for only a little rest before we groggily gathered to head to the ocean one last time to see the sunrise.
We built a community in less than ten days, saw where care was needed and gave, and opened ourselves to receiving care when we were in need. The community allowed us to create. Food bonded us. Art bonded us.
In ten days, we planted seeds of a love that continues to grow through adventures/meals/art/support. I believe the experience of this residency is a collaborative and ongoing performance in its own right, one that teaches us how to create, how to be, how to live and support one another—the magic that we need from art in such politically trying times. These are the experiences that give us the strength to continue as artists, activists, optimists, lovers. Hugs, dancing, late nights howling at the moon.
This is a community of giving and respect, healing, and love. It nurtures the strength to do our work as artists, dive into our depths in safety and openness, to see and be and grow and present our truth, a truth, some truth.
We break bread.
Learn more about Cucalorus: www.cucalorus.org.