Time is a buzzword lately, it seems. From Art Journal to PST, from the New York Times to my very own blog, everyone in the art world seems to be talking about time. Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am an advocate, and a constant seeker of, free time to think and experiment outside of the confines of our culture’s obsession with “productivity.” Joe Scanlan, in “Free Time: An Introduction,” in last summer’s Art Journal, defines free time as “a strangely private, fiercely guarded realm for artists, a state of mind quite different from leisure… much of our best work would not get made without the vague, inexplicable, sideways approach to working that free time affords.” Including time spent among colleagues, seeing shows, at lectures, and reading or thinking, Scanlan’s explanation of free time is the best I’ve seen an certainly encompasses the kind of think-space I’ve talked about previously. A point that I would never have thought to consider, however, despite my near-obsession with the idea of viewership, is Scanlon’s point of free time’s usual association with viewers rather than makers of art works.
Despite the inherent latency in the idea of viewership, much recent scholarship as been devoted to the activation of the viewer as co-participant in meaning formation. A dialectic approach has not only been a part of much modern theory, but is also considered in so much recent art making. Scanlon points out that we are more comfortable with the idea of our own productivity in either role, “Even in their free time and with no obvious material benefit, viewers of art, like artists, would seem to prefer nebulous effort–productivity–over obvious leisure.” An active society, we are constantly seeking and expounding our own influence upon the world, even in would-be passive roles. “The audience” for the movie-maker, “the consumer” for the industrialist, “the viewer” for the artist. So, what becomes of non-productive time–how can we redefine free time and protect it from being re-figured as part of productivity and therefor encumbered with a use-value, and instead allowing it to be completely without use or value despite the value of free time to the artistic process?
As someone who has spent time in school, time working, and time unemployed, I actually find time to be quite relative. When I’m busy, I seem to be able to fit more into my schedule, when I’m free I seem never to have time to see anyone or do anything. In the same vein, when I am working or in school, time spent not pursuing that goal is free time and allowed to be such, whereas when I am unemployed, as I am now, I seem never to have free time. Without the separation from a ‘goal’ and allowing my life to be my goal, ie pursuing art and child-rearing rather than working for someone else, I have been unable to allow myself that free think-space that I know is so necessary to my craft. Because of the lack of outside validation in these endeavors, I find it difficult to say no to any favors or tasks requested of me. In this way, as John Baldessari implied in his talk at the Hammer, naming oneself an artist is really the first step to becoming an artist. Allowing that label to be validation in itself, to validate the need for free time and space, is the first step toward claiming the real space and time an artist truly needs in order to create, space and time that do not need to have “use-value” but can rather just be useful to you.