Lately, I am undergoing some studio changes. This is an internal and an external thing. I’m looking at what motivates me to do anything, and taking some prompts from my intuition to make some changes.
One of these changes is that I’m going to go from occasionally donating books to a shelter or money to an organization like Kiva microlending (also very fun and low stakes), to baking it into my way of doing business from the ground up.
So far, this has turned out to be delightful.
In the past I have always had some story get in my way of doing this:
a) I don’t make enough money and this will hurt my business.
b) I don’t make enough money and this won’t help anybody.
c) Other people should give to me, they have more than me.
It's amazing how many years of my life I've spent in such a poverty mindset.
I was also just too busy spinning my wheels about whatever I woke up thinking about to make much progress until I began learning about an organization called Effective Altruism, after listening to a podcast in which Sam Harris interview’s its founder, William MacAskill. From there, it’s been a slow slide, involving asking good friends with very different places on the spectrum of wealth, how they do their giving, and then I took a few concrete steps of my own.
While this is a process only in its early phases, as of January 2021, I have set up a system whereby every time I sell a product, a tree is planted in some part of the world where reforestation is needed through Eden Reforestation Projects. This idea came from a lovely conversation I had with friend and design crush Leila Simon Hayes, whose pattern designs and related products are most excellent (she also designed the covers of my first two books) and donates similarly to the Eden Reforestation Project. Through conversation with both Leila and my dear friend, art peer and co-conspirator Sue Murad, I decided to just do it. Additionally, I donate 10% of income that I earn through my studio to something, currently through Effective Altruism, where I know the money will be as effectively used to save or improve a life, as can be managed, based on their careful research and experience.
I wanted to share this news with you, so that every time you find yourself at my shop, or considering the purchase of an artwork, you will be benefiting many, and bringing me a spark of delight in the process!
There are other changes afoot that I will share as they happen, and I will likely focus in on how to give with more specificity as I learn the most effective ways to do so. In the meantime, I wanted to let you know both for accountability and to inspire you to think about where your money goes.
As an end note, this process has made me more aware of who has baked philanthropy into their business models, in formal and informal ways, and made me more and more likely to buy from them than from brands that may have personal profit as their primary goal. I also love this model because it does not follow the non-profit model, which seems to shun money and profitability, and require the exhaustion of always looking for funding. It isn’t always sustainable and seems to equate earning money with being dirty, leaving that to others. I think profitability and self sufficiency is extremely interesting, but all the more so when it’s to make a more powerful change in the world you see around you.
This is big talk from someone who barely knows what she’s talking about, but hopefully it inspires you to be curious and creative in how your money circulates and benefits the world around you.
I know for most of us, it is not currently cold. If you are reading this on a particularly hot day, may this post be like standing in front of the open refrigerator - and a reflection on how much can change in just a few months. This was written last winter.
Today, I consider the cold to be a form of mess. It's a pristine and gorgeous form of cold outside. There are big, slow, lazy flakes floating down, and a fresh, powdery coat of white snow on every available surface. The studio is all snow light, and on both peripheries, the gentle sifting motion animates the windows. It is ten degrees farenhiet outside.
I have built a champion fire in my wood stove. There are five logs ablaze in front of me, and the glass door is closed, so that the fire blazes to its highest. I am doing everything in my power to bring the small thermometer on the stove surface into the 'burn zone', the deep orange part of the thermometer between yellow and hazardous red, between 300 and 600 degrees. Currently, we are at 250 degrees, and having taken off my mittens to write, I have discovered that it's not warm enough. My fingers are quickly cold, hard, frozen nuggets. When I have managed to crest into the burn zone on other days, I have done a little dance and sung a little song. Because once there, you can generally coast there, and actually feel the space heat up. As it stands now, I'm close, but at popsicle finger level still. And I can see my breath very clearly.
Not being in the burn zone means that there is not enough heat in here to step further from the stove, to sit a the table, and get absorbed in artwork. Even two feet from the stove here, is not warm enough for the ten degree day outside bright, no sun. I have thought about crowding all relevant furniture within two feet of the stove. This would be unmanageable on many levels, so it's just a chair.
Is this a problem? Perhaps not, only maybe if I sit and consider this one thing as needing to happen, to be warm in the studio and working when in fact it is too cold to work in here. It may take five years to figure this depth of winter temp management shit out. Is a mess the same thing as a problem? I suppose this whole series is an exploration of that. It is a way of normalizing and sharing the mess as part of what is natural and normal about life. About the activity of being alive.
In the mind frame of a stoic, I could deeply appreciate that I can just go inside, into the warmth, even climb in the bath, and be overly hot in 30 minutes. I'll go back to the fire with a few more stoking moves, and then we shall see.
This title makes it sound like this random white bookshelf has a title, but until this post it has gone nameless. I made the simple discovery that Ikea folding white vertical file holders fit perfectly in it, and ever since it has become a moment of visual calm and apparent order in a room that truly is usually just a huge mess.
This object containing objects fits with the very cheapskate theme of most of my objects, found in the trash or in junk shops, in that I believe I acquired this object from my mother's home, back when I was about 19, and these folding file holders are like three bucks a three pack or cheaper. Because I work with found paper a lot, several of these bins are filled with just that, or with materials test information, older labels, process docs, my own reviews and old postcards, others show postcards that I want to remember or project materials that are too bulky for regular filing but to papery for box storage.
In any case, this bookshelf of bins makes me feel mildly like a professional. I worked for a while at the Montserrat College Gallery, and there I encountered a similar storage system of their exhibition document history. I realized then that just like a gallery, I have a history of events, of reviews, of print materials, as well as paper materials that come in handy for different projects, and they all go here.
It's taken all day to get into the studio. There are days like this when I feel fiercely protective of my time in here. The funniest thing is that what I do in here looks like so little outwardly. I read a little, I write a little, I drink coffee if I have it, I listen to music. Sometimes I nap. And sometimes it's all activity and insight and inspiration and stepping back and looking or marking and cutting and placing, digging around for stuff. My favorite is when I'm on a roll with something, when I know what I'm doing and how and I love what I'm making, when I'm literally delighted, or internally lit up, or you could say joyous, about what I'm doing.
I got a book by Anne Truitt off the free pile from my good friend's studio's common area. I'm feeling it.
I read these lines just now:
...this process is mysterious. It's like not knowing where you're going but knowing how to get there. The fifteen years that David Smith thought it took to become an artist are spent partly in learning how to move ahead sure-footedly as if you did actually know where you are going. -Anne Truitt
Yes, it's like tracking yourself. Where was I? What was I caring about the last time I was in here? What did I learn? What did I know I was to do next?
I also read these lines: At first tentatively and then with more confidence, I began to find delight in the acquiescence [to the natural flow of events], and finally even a kind of joy in acceptance.
Also Anne Truitt.
I enjoy reading what artists write - some of them, and how they talk about what they care about, because it's generally 180 degrees opposite how the rest of the world is marching along, and it feels like a tall glass of water when I'm thirsty. Those are my feelings and my words.
Anne Truitt had a very up front professional career. I am tired by the thought of trying at that anymore, but I have confidence that what I do and make is no less important or inspired, when the inspiration is here. So that's a kind of acceptance and freedom. Freedom in knowing that it isn't up to some art scene mafia to decide what is of value to this one in the middle of her life, and what's of value is letting this natural flow occur. I had a lovely early career in Boston. A sweet little CV of shows and associations. I am pleased to have that memory. There may be more in the future, and they may not be. And that is not for me to decide. But it is, right now, clear that my job is to show up here and make work, and share about it, and the process of making it. There's no question to me that I am an artist making strong work. I don't doubt that. I may and often do doubt pieces, if they're resolved, if the presentation is strong and clear, etc. But not if the activity and the viewpoint is of value. No one will prioritize this more than me. And the same time, it's all ordinary art-making.
Someone just stopped in to invite me to join them for digging up some free plants across town. It's nice, and it requires me telling the truth, that No. There is nothing in me that wants to leave my studio to go dig up some plants. No and no. thanks. Maybe another day. Not now.
Hannah Burr is a contemporary artist and author. Originally from Boston, she lives in Ann Arbor MI.