Sunday, May 31, 2009

Guest blogger Sandy Church on the working-class artist's life

Sandy Church and I met and became friends almost 35 years ago when we were both very young in Ann Arbor, Michigan. By the end of the 70s we lost touch. I was happy to hear from her again a few years back and now we email.

Sandy lives in Farmington, Michigan. She works full-time at a supermarket. She paints. A daughter of the working class, Sandy is a gifted artist who has always had to work for a wage, who's had some rough breaks and tough times and through it all has kept painting, producing fresh, original, inspired art. She's also a butch lesbian which means she's endured mistreatment and discrimination all her life. If there were any justice she'd be a famous artist doing her art full-time. I believe there are many people like Sandy, deeply talented artists whose work, because of the conditions of class society, does not get the recognition it deserves.

This is not to say that there are not also working-class painters and sculptors, photographers, poets and writers who do make a career of it, whose work does win recognition and earn them a living, and it is not at all to belittle these artists' accomplishments. They deserve every respect. I celebrate them. It's just that I'm convinced that for every one of those who somehow break through, there are five, 20, 100 others who never can, whose work the world never gets to see, whose gift we are deprived of by class society.

I recently asked Sandy if she'd like to share some thoughts about all this with Read Red. The following is the first installment of what I'm hoping will be several posts about the life of a working-class artist, in her own words:

Right now everything I'm going to write is in my head. I'm thinking about it today as I paint and listen to the TV in the other room with Barack Obama talking about memorial day stuff.

One thing that made me think about is the military. Out of pure frustration I joined the Army and didn't tell anyone I did until I had signed up because I didn't want to be talked out of it!

What was frustrating me was not having money to go to the design school I had just been accepted to. Back then (the 80's) it seems like every job I had went under or was taken over by some other company and then they fired everyone when they did (think it's called a hostile takeover). So I never had any money and whatever asshole President was in office at the time made sure no one could even get a student loan.

When I joined the Army to get some money to go to school here's what I thought, that I probably wouldn't like it but to get what I wanted I'd have to do something I didn't like. I thought of what a prostitute friend of mine told me, "that we all have to prostitute ourselves in some way," so I did.

Anyway, I knew a lot of my friends wouldn't understand my reasons for joining the military but then I thought about how people were always asking me why I didn't go to school to study art. They usually happened to be University of Michigan students that didn't have a clue about the working class. I was a janitor at the U of M and that was the closest way I thought I'd ever be a part of that school. Wow I got to clean their toilets!

The ironic thing I thought, and felt, was that every time someone looked at my art and couldn't understand why I didn't just walk right down to the U of M admissions office and enroll in their art program made me realize that for them to think I could meant we didn't live or come from the same world or maybe even planet!

See Shelley, I've been thinking class, like my whole life maybe.

So I grew up in Ann Arbor with parents that didn't have degrees and even told me, in case I didn't know, that you're not a part of that. There wasn't talk about what college I would go to when I finished high school, they never even asked me if I had homework the entire time I went to school. Guess the flip side of that is I didn't have any pressure about my future or that I had to "be something" when I went grew up.

That's some stuff I think about but there's a lot more in this brain of mine. Mostly I just want you to know that I'm not blowing you off but just taking the time to gather my (very crazy at times) thoughts.

I hope you're having a good day and don't have to work!
Peace out-

Oh, here's something you might like. I remember it from an old movie. I think it was Edgar "G." that said, "We take your money, we do your work, because we're afraid to starve!" Ain't that the truth!