Sitting (or Rather Not Sitting) with Discomfort when the Art isn’t “Me”

I recently created some artwork that has been released into the public sphere that I’m thinking about taking down…

poster/flyer for an event with the Women's Caucus for Art. three art works are included on the flyer, featuring work from left to right by the following artists: Zehra Dogan, Jay DeFeo, Lottie Reiniger; two abstract artworks and a silhouetts of a girl wearing a dress looking into the air at two falling leaves, are presented side by side on a turquoise background in the top three-quarters of the flyer beneath the event title: Women in the Visual Arts, and the bottom quarter of the flyer includes the event date and time of 2-4 pm on Sunday, April 21, 2024 at Main Street Studio in Fitchburg, MA on a black background. presenters of the three artists, from left to right, are listed at Cicek Beeby, Alana Garrigues, and Nicol Wander

Some of the circles in the WCA Massachusetts “The Mother Cycle” 6000 Circle Project, 2024. On display at the Gale Free Library in Holden, MA during May 2024. My circle is the one that you can see a close-up of in the other picture.

It’s not that it’s awful. It’s not that it’s wrong. (Although, subjectively, one could see it that way.) I’ve used the words, “I don’t like it,” or “I hate it,” but neither of those phrases is true.

What is really happening is… it just doesn’t feel like me. And that makes me uncomfortable.

I have different styles. I am experimental and experiential in my art making. I use different materials and explore different themes. So even though I don’t share everything that I create, it almost always resonates with me in some way once it’s done. And I would almost always be happy having my name attached to a piece, even when it feels a bit like it’s out of left field when compared to my “usual” work.

But this time, I just can’t stand sitting with the discomfort.

I don’t really know why.

I made the artwork quickly… but sometimes my fastest work is my favorite work. I made it without any real planning… again, sometimes that doesn’t matter. I made it (mostly) in community… which can impact my work when I know the people, in that I love to spend that time in conversation and don’t drop as deeply into the making.(But it often carries so much of the energy of community memory that I don’t mind.) I made artwork that lacks finesse, which moderately bothers me. (Does the recovering perfectionist ever really recover?)

But I think what it lacks most of all is my understanding of what it is and why I made the choices I made.

[That, and the surface has about five different finishes, even though I sprayed it all with a high gloss varnish, and the mix of chalky and glossy and matte is driving me nuts. And also… the lines are chunky, and the colors are vibrant and the sculptural mixed media element is clunky and…]

…it’s just not ‘mine.’

So… what do I do?

The work in questions is part of The 6000 Circle Project, a global art initiative which the Massachusetts chapter of the Women’s Caucus for Art is participating in. People of all gender identities from around the world are coming together this year to create and exhibit circle artwork reflecting on the feminine over a period of nine months.

Part of it may be that I wouldn’t say I have a lot of feminine in me. I feel lost in that, not knowing where to locate it within myself, not knowing what it is outside of myself beyond traditional gendered constructs, and so I don’t really know what I’m reaching for.

Part of it may be that I like making circles within rigid edges more than I like making art on circles themselves.

But as a group we selected the theme “The Mother Cycle,” which is open to interpretation and may engender the earth, the mother tongue, the seasons, or any number of ‘mother’ themes.

I actually really love being a mother. I fiercely love my children, and I love acting in a motherly role of stewardship with the planet and with acts of community and creativity. Birthing ideas thrills me.

We met in March to create our artwork. I wasn’t planning on spending a lot of time on it; the substrate and shape were not indicative of my work, and I had other pressing art projects to work on. I thought I’d show up at the circle-making circle, make something in a few hours, hand it over, and be done with it. I figured if I wasn’t going to sell it, I didn’t want to spend much time with it.

But people came with such incredible work and ideas already partly hashed out, and left with gorgeous works in progress that they were going to continue to work on, and I felt like the work I threw together was not as elevated as I wanted it to be.

It was a fun communal experience, but I couldn’t see its life beyond that. I didn’t really want to see it hanging on a wall.

In the end of March or beginning of April, our community hung the circles at the first stop on the eight-month gallery tour. I wasn’t available that day, so I was meant to hang it in the first few days of the month. I found myself dragging my feet. Not adding the ribbon for hanging, Not putting a title on the back. Not driving the half hour north to install it.

Eventually, I gave it a title. Although (tellingly), I never took a picture of the back of the painting, so I can’t really remember what it’s called: “How Far a Mother’s Words Travel” or something similar… I think? It for sure has something to do with language, the energy of what is spoken, and a mother’s impact not only on her own children but on the way the world perceives and unfolds.

Finally, toward the end of April, I was presenting on a panel at the gallery, alongside fellow WCA members, so I took it with me and sheepishly hung it on the wall. (More on that in its own blog coming…)

I tried to let go. I tried to sit with the discomfort. I tried to be okay with it. I tried to convince myself that even if it felt outside of work I’ve made or where my work is going, it still was made by my hands and could live with the other circles.

And… it probably could, if it weren’t for one thing.

If it were entirely an anonymous circle that I made and released, I would be okay with it. Because I do think it’s sort of interesting. But because it is attached to my name, and because a QR code under my name includes a link to my website, I just can’t live with it.

After it came down from the April gallery, it moved to the upstairs lobby of the library where I work eight hours a week. I will almost *never* see it while I’m working. But I just can’t stand that something that doesn’t feel like me is upstairs representing me.

Again… I don’t think it’s terrible. I find it intriguing. I’d actually sort of like to sit with it and inquire what it’s about and have conversations and see what it has to say and why it came out like it did. But I just don’t want to have that conversation out in public.

So… what am I doing?

It turns out, I’m making the time to paint a replacement.

I think…


I’ve started something new, something I didn’t think I had time for, and I still don’t know if I’ll like it or if the theme will resonate or if I’ll want to hang it up with my name.

But I suppose in painting a replacement, I’ll know… can I actually let go? Can I allow the first one to live on beside my name after all? Can I deem it ‘good enough’ or ‘interesting enough’ or worthy of its time on a wall in a conversation about circles and the feminine? Or am I living in a moment when I need to exert more control?

(And perhaps another question… if I create a replacement that I can live with… would it make sense to release the circle ‘anonymously’ to continue in the exhibition and allow myself to simply sit back and watch what happens?)

In putting it here, I am entering it into my history and archive. So it will follow me in some way. And that is good. I want to reveal ‘failure’ and discomfort.

I’m still just not so sure I’m ready for someone to ‘meet’ me that way. Through artwork on a wall next to my name that doesn’t speak of me in a way that I can understand…