Tag Archives: alexander chee

On Residencies

This is the last day of my residency at The Studios of Key West and I’ve been thinking a lot about “Go Away,” a beautiful essay that Alexander Chee wrote about residencies. In the essay, Alex talks about needing “…a mystical device I could use to step inside another world and finish the novel and return.” Yes. I am so familiar with this feeling. I went to my first residency three summers ago, in a fit of desperation. I had known about colonies for a while, but had resisted the urge to apply. It all seemed a little precious to me, I guess, the idea of being cloistered away in order to do my art. Who wants to be hidden away in the wilderness? I thought. Don’t you want to be IN THE WORLD? Needless to say I A. was being an idiot and B. had not yet started my novel. Halfway through my first residency, at Spiro Arts in Park City, I remember thinking that it was so amazing I no longer gave a shit whether it was precious or not.

TSKW is my fourth residency and I have gotten addicted to how much I get done at these things. It’s weird, I did work really long hours here, but I also got out too (Hemingway lookalike contest! Snorkeling!), so it’s not like I never saw the light of day for 4 weeks. And yet: so much done.

I think this is why: the most amazing thing about the residency is not the time (although that is great) or the TLC (also great), but the psychic space. I read more. I think more, not just about the project at hand, but about everything. Sometimes the life breakthroughs are as important as the artistic ones. There is also something to be said for having a very clear way to mark time. How have I spent these two weeks? This month? In real life, time can slip by so easily; the timeline of a residency, the gift of it, holds you accountable.

Before my first residency, I also didn’t realize how these places would permit me to be IN THE WORLD in a totally different way. Often residencies take you to interesting and/or very beautiful places; you meet all kinds of new people, artists working in different mediums; your worlds opens a little. I had no idea how much I would learn about visual art from going to open studios or even just from talking. I had no idea how much I would love the mountains of Utah. Or the daily ritual of walking to my studio at VCCA, stopping to pet the horses in the lush foggy field that borders the road. Or swimming in Lake Michigan when I was at Ragdale. Before I went to Key West, I had no idea I would learn all about infiltration art or make night swims in the ocean a ritual or how much being down here would change what I’m working on. There is a lot of living to be done at these places, it turns out.