How did you get into debt?
I went to Vassar College and initially I had a great scholarship but each year it got smaller. By the time I left I had $65,000 in student loans. My parents (who divorced when I was four) were willing to pay only $6,000/year each. This was what they’d paid for my brother to go to an in-state public university six years before. To them, it was my choice to go East to a liberal arts college, so I should cover the additional costs. A year later, I went to CalArts for grad school, also with a decent scholarship, but with living costs and art supplies I ended up taking out $40,000 more in loans—plus I had to defer my Vassar loans for 2 years—so by the time the interest accumulated I was in debt for a grand total of about $120,000 after 6 years of education.
How does your economic reality effect your art?
You don't become an artist for economic reasons. When you don’t have money, you use what’s around. Most of my jobs have had direct access to a shop, tools, or materials. Having a studio in my house works well as I’m a night owl and there’s no commute. Unfortunately, all this means that my art infiltrates my life and vice versa. This can be energizing or draining for everyone involved. For me there are no clear divisions between art and life and no off switch for my brain. I have to be careful about what I let in — should I really be making art with my daughter’s Legos or my wife’s bathrobe? My wife is used to supporting artists’ projects professionally as a curator but it is very different to live inside an art installation for months on end or to be dating Gustave Courbet. My wife and daughter might never benefit financially from any of my creative efforts but hopefully the world and ideas I expose them to daily affects their lives in much more important ways. I am lucky to have such a supportive family who are willing to share the burden (and delights) of this vocation.
Would your work look different if you weren't in debt?:
First, I have worked hard to accept the consequences of my and my family’s decisions around money. And, although this may sound delusional, I actually think the themes of labor, sacrifice, and life in my art are richer because of my financial situation. It’s a tough reality and one very different than how others and even I saw my life unfolding but it has molded me and my art in ways I could have never imagined and that is where it becomes a positive. I make art out of my life, but also in reference to historic portrayals of work and the working class, so somehow it feels like debt adds to the meaning of my art. Or maybe that is just me rationalizing my financial burdens? My parents always wanted me to be an independent thinker. I never struggled with being a thinker...but perhaps the “independent” part got overemphasized.