3 Questions with Kristy Edmunds
Kristy Edmunds on art as a profession or vocation, keeping fear in perspective, and explaining why art matters.
3 QUESTIONS is a series of brief, three-question (in this case, five-question) interviews with members of PNCA’s creative community. Each year, PNCA attracts innovative, thoughtful, and creative makers and thinkers who share our belief in the transformative power of creativity. In three short answers to three short questions, these artists offer perspectives on career, motivation, and transformation. When available, we include links to audio recordings, transcripts, slideshows, or video.
PNCA’s President’s Office invited Kristy Edmunds to help to shape PNCA’s future as a member of the College’s Creative Leaders Council. The members of this council are creative thought leaders who have a demonstrated commitment to the value of art and design education.
“If you are an artist, be an artist.”
What was your path to where you are now?
There hasn’t exactly been a path per se, at least not in a singular, moderately paved sense. But where there is one to describe, I would characterize it as a path of amply apportioned curvature – switchbacks and winding arcs. Extensive forking to invite much decision-making: Up or down? To the right or left? Back or forward? Alone or with reinforcement? Foolish or wise?, etc. And I would add—importantly—a path marked with frequent surprises. Some have offered spectacular astonishment and wonder, others a more confronting sensation like: “what the hell is this giant rock doing here?!”
What do you wish you had known when you were starting out?
I wish I had forewarning that I would be required to attain a generous stamina in order to repeat, in ever-evolving ways, my authentic response to a single and vexing question over successive decades and across multiple continents. Which is basically this: Why is art important?
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
Regardless of your talent, skill, and creativity with context… regardless of your passion and desire – or articulation of need – and regardless of your connections, my advice is that you refrain at all times from approaching your art as synonymous with ‘building a professional career.’
I know, I know, this is a contrarian view.
What I mean is this: professions are things that we are granted entry into by those already notable and professionally certified. Art is what you do and likely who you are, and gaining access to who you are is not for others to determine. If you are an artist, be an artist.
A career path is something that might cause someone to look at what they do from a tactical perspective (or with that most woeful trickery of feeling entitled). Notions of success metrics, quality assurance outcomes, expected gestures, trend lines, and mastering known terrain all spring to mind. However pressurized and/or alluring – the ‘right’ or ‘best’ next move is a preoccupation brilliantly suited to chess, politics and sport.
Embark, refine, and provoke your practice as an artist and works of art will occasionally result. Should you instead focus on refining and honing in on your perception of expected outcomes, a career move, or a product, a brand identity will engulf your art.
This is not to be mistaken as an excuse for an absence of professionalism, ambition, or a pursuit of recognition and acknowledgement. But artists are usually apprentices of something.
Until they are not.
You’ll recognize when that happens. In my experience with artists, once they recognize that they are accomplished, they pick up something they know little about, and begin again.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
Since the creative practice unto itself is wholly motivating and entirely engaging, to me, the aspect of your question that remains would therefore center on the concept of “maintenance.” Building, breaking, reassembling, shaping, complicating, and generating dimension, form, and scope—active doing—are all actions I think I have some pretty good chop for in my creative practice. Maintenance however, similar to dusting, or ensuring there is the proper amount of air in the tires of my car/bike, is not something I should impart any wisdom on.
Sustaining a practice however, is a different matter. I think of maintaining it as tending to a continual state of ‘readiness.’ A kind of high functionality for the gear of neutral, if you will. Sustaining, on the other hand, is about continuously generating momentum while being acutely in motion. Setting the next idea into motion before knowing the impact of the one at hand. For that, the single best tool that I have is the ability to keep pressure and intermittent fear into perspective. Perspective is helpful for bypassing neutral and sidestepping doubt with the added benefit of exercising intellect.
As an aside, and for those to whom this might be useful: I think a lot about what is, and I engage with it. I discipline myself to focus less on what isn’t, because I find this potently distracting. However enjoyable/fantastical my imaginative wandering becomes, in the end, everything that wasn’t, still isn’t – with the exception of my abundant thought bubbles. Since my creative practice tends to have something to do with the conversion of something into something else (i.e. inertia into galvanized action), ‘what is’ affords me a necessary genesis in making. What is not, opens me up to free falling and ineffectual dithering.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
There are many experiences and moments, so it’s a difficult question to land a concise answer to. Probably living and working in another country. The nature of my work – in part due to how I approach it – requires change, and often profound change, so I think it is instead useful for me to respond in the opposite: what has remained profoundly constant? This: no matter what we generate in the arts, how impacting and inspired, accomplished or provocative, exposed, accessible, and acclaimed the work might be, we will be asked with high frequency to explain why art matters. As such, our work is collectively never done.
KRISTY EDMUNDS is an artist, curator, and artistic director, specializing in contemporary performance arts. She is the Executive and Artistic Director of the Center for the Art of Perfomance at UCLA, which is among the most influential and, at times, forward-thinking performance series on West Coast. Edmunds was the Founding Executive & Artistic Director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the TBA Festival (Time Based Art) in Portland, Oregon. She was the Artistic Director for the Melbourne International Arts Festival from 2005 – 2008, as well as Consulting Artistic Director Park Avenue Armory in New York. Edmunds is a member of the PNCA Creative Leaders Council.