I’m Musing Over the Myths of an Artistic Life

Wanting to write something about this.
Can you identify cultural cliches–or even personal mythology–about how writers and artists live?
Recently I’ve had people worry at me that they were too…something (neurotic, busy, single, married, young, old, etc.) to develop creatively.
Does poverty a la La Boheme aid or hinder art? Is a heroic self-image necessary, or just posturing? Being a parent–enriching or deal breaker? Or are external conditions really secondary to the creative spirit?
I have my suspicions, but no firm belief.
Tell me what you think!

Artist Shu-Ju Wang

I’ve discovered a new-to-me artist and become intrigued with her work.

She writes: Multiple voices and viewpoints are the cornerstones of my work, a reflection of my personal history of migration and background in technology, science and art. It is a balancing act of the analytical vs. meditative modes of creating, of re-imagining traditional motifs in a contemporary context, and of understanding our stories as a relationship between narration vs. interpretation.

In a culture of bigger-is-better and faster-is-better, I create small & intimate work, slowly. Influenced by Chinese gongbi style paintings, illuminated manuscripts, and Islamic miniatures, my work combines abstract & representational forms in lush and jewel-like colors, and I invite viewers to interpret, to draw conclusions about this world that we live in.

I myself have an obsession with laundry lines and hanging pieces. Shu-Ju Wang’s work in this vein is also historical and cultural. This installation references the Chinese immigrant experience of working in laundries. The artist says: The Laundry Maze was designed for the lobby of the Portland Building in Portland, Oregon. The project uses the historical reference of the Chinese laundry as a starting point to explore the professional transitions many immigrants face as they find work in different fields in their new lives. As one’s profession is often the most public part of one’s identity, this transition also brings about a change in identity.

And I was also drawn to the elegant work on water, Fluid Dynamics.

Miriam’s Well is so pleased that Shu-Ju Wang agreed to answer some questions below. 1. What advice would you give to your younger self?

This is a very hard one, I have so many things to say to her, but I think the 2 most important things I would say (even though I wouldn’t listen) — 

a. Be diligent and work hard. As a child, many things came easily to me, and I also had great short term memory. In a culture where testing and memorization were how you were judged, I did not have to try very hard, so I coasted on that. Other cultural elements at play — as a girl, I wasn’t expected to achieve or succeed; my parents also are not “Tiger Parents,” they just wanted kids who were well behaved. In many ways, there’s nothing wrong with these basic expectations — I think I’m civil-minded (good citizen behavior) and I don’t put my success above that of others. On the other hand, there is so much to learn and do, I wish I could’ve been more “ambitious” as young person. I don’t mean ambition to achieve success, fame, or fortune, but ambition to be more “learned,” for lack of a better word.

b. Don’t be so well behaved that you’re a pushover. There were 2 traps I fell into. When I was very young (before 2nd or 3rd grade), I was very outspoken. Then my teacher told my mother, who then set about to “correct” my behavior. The 2nd was when I immigrated to the US as a 15 year old by myself. I had no idea how to be “acceptable,” and the end result was that I was quite the pushover. I have tried to remedy that.

2. Advice to your future self?

I think I would still tell myself to be diligent and work hard, for as long as I am able to. I find work satisfying, and I hope that the work I am embarking on is necessary.

3. You are in a creative transition right now. How is that going?

Well, it’s going! While it’s been brewing in my head for a couple of years, I only just shed some of my obligations this month. I have been reading a lot and thinking about community projects that I want to start. I am just now doing some preparatory work, but I have nothing to show yet. I started a blog, https://shujuwangartist.com/a-study-of-home, but it’s pretty new and I don’t know that I’ve developed a cohesive vision for what it is to be.

Artist Nayla Dabaji


Out of reach, diaries, 2011
5 personal diaries (1992-1996) dipped in white paint.

Lebanese-Canadian artist Nayla Dabaji works in a variety of mediums. Her videos and installations are hauntingly lyrical. I’m particularly drawn to images of waves and of birds in flight. Their meaning isn’t fixed, but seems to move associatively through time, like a poem.

I was fascinated to see her sculptural piece based on old diaries. Who has’t wanted to destroy or hide the record of a younger and vulnerable self. Essentially sealing these is a strong artistic solution. They can never be opened. Never be re-read. But instead of being rejected they have been transformed. A very emotionally satisfying image.

A Day in Art: Pantoum by Lynn Lucas

A Day in Art by Lynn Lucas

I spent the day in art
Surrounded by masters
From ancient figures to modern day
A trip around the world.

Surrounded by masters
Skipping through space and time
A trip around the world
A special exhibit on Mothers

Skipping through space and time
Mothers holding their babies
A special exhibit on Mothers
A mother under house arrest

Mothers who hold their babies
I spent an hour with impressionists
A mother under house arrest
I swooned in the Renaissance

I spent an hour with impressionists
Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Renoir
I swooned in the Renaissance
Genuflecting with the angels

Van Gogh, Degas, Matisse, Renoir
I live and breathe the Renaissance
Genuflecting with the Angels
I dream of Leonardo

I live and breathe the Renaissance
I loved and played in Milan and Florence
I dream of Leonardo
All good things come to an end

I loved and Played in Milan and Florence
From ancient figures to modern day
All good things come to an end
I spent the day in art.

Poem by Marietta Leis

Studio 2020

Sunlit and ready
Linda Ronstadt singing
her talent oozing
over my space

Outside quiet and still
with spring tentative
and virus stirring
amongst the wind

Me, lackadaisical
with exhibits canceled
and deadlines obscured
and inactivity seductive

By habit I’m here
years of discipline
and passion and purpose
quelled but not forgotten

I pick up brush
I smell the paint
I feel the wood
and my hand responds

Another afternoon passes
with focus and work
gratefully my art
has saved my spirit again

Maybe contributing also
to some peace for a
world in need
and silence to my fears

Catching Up With Gail Rieke

Miriam’s Well asks Santa Fe artist Gail Rieke a few questions.

1. What are you working on these days–themes, materials, projects?

2. How has the pandemic affected your art and process? Or maybe it hasn’t?

3. I’m thinking about book arts…I know you do some book arts that isn’t bound in a traditional fashion. How do you understand and execute the idea of book arts? Can it be words in a deconstructed container?

4. Anything else on your mind you’d like to share?

1 & 2
I am thinking about…
and responding to…
the dialectic between containment and explosion.

I feel strongly that while I am contained
within my home and garden most of the time
because of the corona crisis,
this is a time of explosion of energy
directed against so many aspects
of social, political, economic repression.

Hermeticism: that which is contained
revealed only at certain times
for specific purposes
continues to be central to my work.

Here’s a recently completed travel journal:
Islands and Coastlines: Japan 2019

It feels poignant now that my future travel plans
are mysterious.

It seems as if I am in suspension…
viewing the world through screens and book pages…
a time almost out of time…

If I were to compare it to a computer,
I would say that there are no more defaults settings
and that all the preferences need to be considered and reset.

Categories: book… collage… assemblage… journal
are not so distinct in the work.

I think that the concept of revelation is central to my sense of “book”…
bound or unbound…

Here’s a visual that relates to the conundrum you ponder…
This journal is called The Shape of Time 2018-2019

Is it a book with separate stacked pages?
Is it a collage when they are mounted simultaneously?


Editor’s note:
Thank you, Gail! I’m delighted to find out what one of my favorite artists is thinking.