Balance is an interview series with creatives about how they find balance in their work and lives.
I'm really excited to kick off this interview series with Sofia Leiby, an emerging artist in Chicago, who has recently exhibited a body of work entitled "The Drama of Leisure" about the conflict between work (labor) time and leisure time. For context, here's an excerpt from her Artist Statement:
The majority of my average week is beholden to a specific architecture of time. I work a 9-to-5, and so I am compensated for my labor per hour. At work, I am always watching the clock, hyper aware of time ticking by – what have I done this hour, that hour? I come home to the studio, a sectioned off part of my bedroom, and think about the six hours or so left to paint and I am uncomfortable facing this wide-open unstructured time.
I get to painting and the paintings come out rather wiggly and over-caffeinated, maybe the result of having a little bit of energy left in my hands from typing all day. When I work in the studio at home, I try to make a mental switch in the way I think about time, so that I am no longer spending it…nor consuming nor wasting it…nor is it productive or unproductive. I am trying to value the time painting as some kind of unconstrained time, in the same way someone might use meditation, exercise or video game playing as time occupied towards a more subtle and indirect personal gain, activities valued for their present and subjective use rather than their later exchange.
For people who don't know you, can you give a little bit of a background as to what your creative journey has been thus far?
Sofia: I graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2011 with my BFA with a focus in painting, printmedia and visual and critical studies. I've been living and working in Chicago ever since.
What are some of the challenges for you about doing creative work and what are some of the ways you've learned to overcome those challenges?
Sofia: "Creative work" has a nebulous definition for me. I do a variety of creative activities outside of my day job that include painting, writing, and being in dialogue with other artists and creative thinkers in the community. My day job isn't really "creative" work necessarily – I am a full-time administrative assistant with some extra duties in Northwestern University's Art Department – but there are certain areas it overlaps with my artistic practice.
One of the most difficult things about doing active, critically engaged work outside of a day job is keeping it going. I'm an "emerging" creative producer, so I don't usually get paid for what I do, or if I do it's not much.
I've gone through fits and starts of starting and stopping work, but have adapted by diversifying the kinds of things I do. So if I don't have the mental space to clear away to make a painting, I'll work on coalescing some conversations and research into an essay or curatorial project. Or maybe I'll go out and see a show and write a review. Luckily, I want to make art, so I've always got that drive in some form or another keeping me going.
Why do you do what you do?
Sofia: It is extremely rewarding: it satisfies a personal drive, and allows me to feel I'm in dialogue with my community, always asking questions and critically engaging larger social issues.
What do you do to find balance in your life and/or why do you think it's important to find balance as a creative professional?
Sofia: I think a lot about the divisions between work and leisure time, and how those distinctions are increasingly erased for creative producers and workers in general under late capitalism. A spat of articles has come out recently criticizing the "Do What You Love" mantra. I see the issues here, but also recognize that this is what I want, for better or for worse.
I personally try to structure my time non-hierarchically. When I left school, I felt horrible that I wasn't in the studio 7 days a week. But I realized that the intrusion of life isn't a bad thing. I go to art openings, I clean my house, I go on Facebook, I exercise, I play video games. I do these things that take up time but aren't necessarily considered to be my day job or my creative work. The lines of what you determine to be creative work get blurry, but you can re-draw them based on criteria you determine for your own practice, or just get rid of the lines all together.
It's hard to recognize sometimes that if your house is clean, you're in a better mood, and you'll make better art.
Sofia was also generous enough to share a few readings she used when working on The Drama of Leisure:
Sal Randolph and Randall Szott, Art Leisure Instead of Art Work: A Conversation with Randall Szott on INTHECONVERSATION, November 3, 2008 <http://intheconversation.blogs.com/art/2008/03/interview-with.html>
Jean Baudrillard, The Drama of Leisure (chapter) in Consumer Society: Myths and Structures (1998)
Paul Lafargue, Sale of an Appetite, in The Right To Be Lazy (1903)
Liam Gillick, The Good of Work, in e-flux, 2010 <http://www.e-flux.com/journal/the-good-of-work/>
Heather Darcy Bhandari and Jonathan Melber, ART/WORK (2009)
Lane Relyea, DIY Abstraction, in WOW HUH, October 2012 <http://wowhuh.com/archives/950>