Your Art Will Save Your Life - Interview with Author Beth Pickens
Article & cover photo by: Lauren Royer
Interview w/ Author: Beth Pickens
With a hardback (and heavy) 20th Century art book in one arm, I almost walked past a different book on the shelf. It was propped up as a staff pick, and the title caught my attention. "Your Art Will Your Save Your Life" sounds serious and I love art so I picked it up and flipped it over. A short read- it seemed like it would have some valuable info, so I took it home.
This ended up being a wonderful purchase. The book, written by Beth Pickens, is a workbook for artists and other creatively inclined folks to sort out their passions and gravitations to art. It provides modern, real, and expertly organized information for artists at all ends of the spectrum. Beth's voice in this book is as clear as a bell, and her words ring like one too.
The biggest takeaways for me personally have been understanding my relationship with creating. There were many revelations in how I've grown up to understand art as a career. It also provided counter arguments to many thoughts I (and likely you, dear reader) have had about what it means to be creative and facing not enough time, money, or inspiration to create. She talks about needing to shift our mentalities as artists past 'competition' and more towards 'if you shine, I shine'. Intuitively, she remarks on emotions, thoughts, and realities we are all experiencing in some way or another. If you're not able to have anything resonate with you in this book (unlikely), you will absolutely know someone that would. I give this book a big ol kiss on the cover and hope you enjoy the interview with the fabulous LA based author Beth Pickens.
What has been catching your attention lately? Any specific artists, patterns, movements?
Maybe it's because I live in Los Angeles but artists are doing everything, everywhere and it's stunning. I'm watching artists and writers --in every discipline, reflecting all possible identities, using every material -- make the communities they want to flourish in. I get to benefit from brilliant, hilarious, and utterly bizarre people who create opportunities for people to come together around creative practice. In particular, Weirdo Night, which is a monthly event hosted by Jibz Cameron (as Dynasty Handbag) that features comedic performance and draws mostly queer weirdos into a space together to laugh and be amazed. It refuels me every time.
When did you first see a need for your book?
Starting in early 2015, I was turning away potential clients non-stop and I wished I had something to offer them. I essentially invented my job so I don't have colleagues to refer artists to and kept saying to myself "I should write it all down so I have something to offer people I can't work with." Then I realized, oh that's a book! I could write a book! Then, after the 2016 election, I wrote up a pamphlet "Making Art During Fascism," for which there was high demand and large need.
Where do you feel is the up and coming place for artist communities?
I think it's everywhere and anywhere but Los Angeles is just bonkers with volume of artists and communities and possibilities. I think, for many people, it's really valuable to live in a city in close proximity to a ton of artists and cultural production. Community can happen anywhere, though. I personally need to live in a city where there are a ton of weirdos doing things. And I need to be near large populations of queer people.
How do you express yourself?
It used to be a lot through radio and my food adventure club. These days, I express myself through my professional writing (books, pamphlets, short pieces) and through fundraising.
What are some of your creative rituals? What do you need in your space before you can create?
I'm not an artist and I truly have no creative rituals. As a self-employed person who works at home, I do have a ritual of lighting a specific candle when I'm starting my work day to demarcate that change.
If you had to give a budding artist one piece of advice – what would it be?
Keep making art. Do not stop making your work, under any circumstances.
What are some current projects you are involved in that you were most excited about? Why?
I'm involved with two Los Angeles arts organizations that I love: Women's Center for Creative Work and Pieter Performance Space. Both are women and queer run and they do such incredible work cultivating creative community on the Los Angeles east side.
I'm also wrapped up in some fundraising hijinks for progressive candidates running for office in the 2018 Midterms who could flip some key states blue. I'm very excited to funnel my political rage/misery into fundraising for the Midterms.
What are some of the biggest challenges artist may face today?
There is so much noise, it can be a real challenge for an artist to just sit with her work, focused and willing. Reading "How To Break Up With Your Phone" can be a real help there. I also recommend artist Marlee Grace's zine "how a photo and video-sharing social networking service gave me my best friends, true love, a beautiful career, and made me want to die."
Another challenge is how little public funding that is available for individual artists. Artists need money and time; the former can buy the latter and most artists I encounter are mystified about how to find and ask for money.
Finally, student loans are affecting artists like they are affecting every other sector but art in particular does not have a clear earning strategy that can guarantee the ability to pay back loans.
How can female artists or artists of LGBTQ community advocate for themselves in the art world?
Ask for everything you want. Support other artists. Start doing things now, even without institutional support. Financial transparency helps everyone ask for and receive more money.
Bless us with a favorite mantra or quote
You're not responsible for your first thought. You're responsible for your second thought and your first action.