I’m often asked what I think are the necessary characteristics of a successful artist. My ideas about this have varied over the years, but one attribute I have consistently said I find to be the most important is the ability to edit yourself. It can be difficult to judge your own work, to step away and be honest about what is making sense and what isn’t. The artists that make interesting work throughout their lives break through that discomfort. They get over themselves and just get to it. If something doesn’t feel like it’s working, try something else. Then try again. Many of you are probably familiar with the famous Chuck Close quote: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
I had the pleasure of visiting Mary Jo Bole’s studio today. She apologetically guided me to step over and around all of her research, drawings, photographs and sculpture. I was thrilled. Here was someone who wasn’t afraid to take everything in and see what comes out of it. MJ has been studying and interpreting the history of plumbing for years (particularly toilets), a subject that most of us would rather not spend too much time thinking about. She showed me images of previous work, some sculptures she had made, and the research she is doing for a book project. When she finished describing one of her sculptures that wasn’t in the studio, she said, “…and that piece was horrible. Terrible. Didn’t work at all. I threw it out.” Where someone might question her ideas, her confidence, even her self-esteem, I felt there was a professional artist in front of me. Make it, hate it, throw it out and move on. You never know what you just might discover.
Associate Curator of Contemporary Art