Everything I Say Is Art Is Art

A woman in an apron sweeps in front of a dark background.

The title comes from Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s MANIFESTO FOR MAINTENANCE ART 1969!  which we recently read in Intermediate Printmaking. In it she declares a radical integration of her domestic and professional actions. I relate to her parsing what it means to be an artist and mother and how maintenance is the “sourball of every revolution.” I also like her manifesto as a teaching tool for the non-linear and informal qualities of it. Often I assign artist statements in class and they are initially hard for students to get. Certainly if you’ve not ever displayed your work publicly, writing one can seem like exercises in redundancy, pomposity, and blowing smoke. But here’s Ukeles doling out what amounts to an excellent artist statement with none of that, lots to unpack, and not explicitly explaining any work.

Reading her manifesto is also a reminder that I tend to teach too often towards the system I’m in– assigning work that is gradable, suitable for the short term, visually and politically palatable– and that this doesn’t necessarily make for better art or artists. Lynda Barry’s book Syllabus has been similarly humbling, prodding it seeing how she seems not to teach that way at all (no critiques?!), but is clearly still teaching well. I am working to find the balance between finding a groove that works and staying curious and experimental with teaching. Too much groove and I’m dialing it in. Too much curiosity and experimentation and I feel unmoored and don’t communicate as well with students about what we’re doing and where we’re headed.

The challenge I’d like to take on is to, like Ukeles, radically integrate the maintenance and products (performance?) of teaching. I don’t know what that looks like, but I’ll figure it out as I go along.

A woman in an apron sweeps in front of a dark background.
C. & N.W. R.R., Mrs. Elibia Siematter, working as a sweeper at the roundhouse, Clinton, Iowa
1943 April, from the Library of Congress’s flickr.com account.



Author: Katie

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