3 Questions with Jesse Sugarmann
Artist Jesse Sugarmann on growing up, deadlines, and knowing the difference between an art practice and a career in the arts.
3 QUESTIONS is a series of brief, three-question interviews with PNCA’s visiting artists and lecturers. 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.
“Acknowledge a separation between [your] art practice and any career [you] intend within the arts.”
What advice would you offer current students about to embark on a career in the arts?
I suggest to students that they, at least at the onset, acknowledge a separation between their art practice and any career they intend within the arts. There are a good number of careers related to art, most of which are pretty interesting, that will keep a person well fed and in a dental plan. But if you look to your art practice for a paycheck, it’s either going to make you impatient or lead you to make derivative work that pursues market trends. A freely progressing art practice is going to make your life more interesting; it’s going to lead you to some unexpected places and weird experiences and wonderful people. But if you tether that practice to some financial expectation, rely upon it for food and rent, it’s only going to lead you to the most likely point between yourself and the bank.
How do you maintain your creative practice? What keeps you motivated and engaged?
Deadlines. I wish I had a more floral answer to this, but truly, deadlines are what keep me in motion. I pursue and solicit deadlines, agreeing to do shows on timelines that border on impossibility, requesting firm completion dates for projects that could otherwise be open-ended. My best ideas, those moments of synthesis you hope for as an artist, occur when I’m in a sleepless panic.
Could you describe a moment or experience that profoundly changed the nature of your work?
Any sharp incline of progress I make in my practice is usually a result of my growing up a bit more. Growing up has always been a conscious process for me, something I’ve aimed to do and have pushed along. I’m a terribly immature person, and I don’t mean in a fart joke sort of way. It’s more that I’m undeveloped, still malleable, still naïve and uneducated and undecided. I learn more all the time, more than I should at my age, of things I already should have known. This reserve of immaturity has made the little moments where I grow up a bit feel quite tangible. And there is a power in growing up, in reaching a new point of perspective and possibility.
Jesse Sugarmann is an interdisciplinary artist working in video, performance, sculpture, and fibers. His work engages the automotive industry as a manufacturer of human identity, accessing automotive history as an index of both cultural identity and social history. Jesse has exhibited work both nationally and internationally in venues such as the Getty Institute, Los Angeles; el Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art, Oregon; the Banff Center, Canada; Filmbase, Ireland; Human Resources, Los Angeles; Michael Strogoff, Marfa; el Museo de Arte Moderno de Santander, Spain; Drift Station, Omaha; Fugitive Projects, Nashville; the 21c Museum, Louisville; and High Desert Test Sites 2013. His work has been written about in publications including ArtForum, Art Papers, ART LTD, Art Cards, Art Fag City, Art Car Nation, Frieze Magazine and The New York Times. Jesse lives and works in Bakersfield, CA.