Notes on Katy Siegel – Live/Work

The following notes were taken while reading Katy Siegel’s essay Live/Work, which appears in The Studio Reader, edited by Mary Jane Jacob and Michelle Grabner.

Opening with a summary of the critique the “studio” has received in recent decades, Siegel proposes that the studio continues to be interesting because it “embodies” the relations between two things: the production of art vs. other kinds of production in society, and “the relation between work and life”.

For the author, “the studio is attractive precisely because it represents expanse, an expanse both temporal and spatial”. Siegel is attracted to the idea of the studio as being a place “closer to the original meaning of the studio apartment” – a “single room for a single person” where “the occupant does everything in the same room – sleeping, eating and ‘living'”. The architecture of this small space frees the occupant from “the rigid social divisions that usually order daily life”.

Siegel argues that the artists occupying the live/work studio spaces of 20th century new York were able to “integrate work with life – material, time, and energy, in all their possible configurations”. The possibilities of the studio are manifested both as art objects and “in the conditions of the studio and how it is used”. The studio “allows us to see the choices an individual makes […] with regards to how she will spend her time”. The live/work space “presumes a deep engagement with one’s work, an identity between work and life”.

I think that this formulation of the ideal studio as a live/work space is particularly relevant to my interest in artist who make work at home, perhaps in a spare room or other domestic space. While these artists may not be able to fully “integrate” work and life in such a setting, it would be interesting to consider the potential benefits of the improvised home studio versus the drawbacks of a maintaining a separate studio space outside the home.

Siegel then describes the lifestyle engendered by the live/work studio setup – one in which one’s working patterns are limited only by “the artist’s mental and physical stamina”, and from which one would not want to take a vacation, as this would mean having to take time away from one’s work.

The author argues that today the work-vacation dichotomy is more blurred, given the rise of arrangements such as freelancing, flexi time and telecommuting, and that this effectively “erases” the line between work and life, “not just temporally and spatially but psychologically”. The author adds that:

both tacitly and overtly, the positive spin on this constant work is that we are working the way artists work. We are urged to greet every task as if it were a chance not just for self-advancement but for self-realization – to take ‘the artist’s way‘”.

Siegel goes on to suggest that now artists are not living like artists, given that they are most often working in small spaces separate from their homes – spaces which the author likens as a cross between the sweatshop and the office cubicle. Siegel adds that the rise of “relational aesthetics” and other socially-driven art forms may in some way emerge from a desire to counter the unwelcome “isolation” of these art studio “cubicle” environments.

The author concludes that “for the average artist today, working in whatever medium, work is split from living – no waking up in the middle of the night to change or add to or destroy something, no working time metered only by the duration of energy and ideas”. Instead, making art “takes on many of the attendant pressures of ‘real’ professional or wage labor work (although often without monetary compensation), as well as its temporal form: the necessity of working in regular, limited blocks of time”.

These are definitely points which I will return to as my project progresses – I am particularly interested in the notion of the live/work studio, and how this relates to the domestic setting.



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