Finding a place for art in a scientific life

“Hold Too Tight” – mixed media by Liz Droge-Young

I’m not an artist by training. By training I’m an evolutionary biologist, but by practice I am both of these things: a visual artist and a researcher. An investigator of both beetle reproduction and of mixed-media creative expression. People who know me as either an artist or biologist are often surprised to hear that I engage in the other pursuit, but in truth the two are complimentary. Designing an experiment or an exhibit both take creative thought. Communicating your ideas is a common challenge in sharing research findings and creating art. Art has played an important role in my recent life, but as I near the end of my second gallery show I wonder what place it has in my future.

My recent turn to art came from a necessity of communicating the difficult and often unseen emotions that accompany depression – an affliction far too many suffer from in grad school and in academia more broadly. Making art began as a way to help me process and cope with my struggles and eventually became a crucial tool in my healing. Dangerous and illogical feelings can resist being put down into words and I’ve found they sometimes require an additional, visual dimension to fully express. Art helps combat the depression associated feelings of being unheard and unseen.

Over the past two years I’ve put on two solo art shows to communicate my experience with depression and to showcase my work. My first show, On Waking: An Installation Playfully Exploring Depression, took place in May of 2014. Because I had taken a leave of absence from research that Spring, the installation was a gentle way to invite friends and colleagues into my experiences and begin the processes of reacquaintance. My second show, The Strength in Our Scars, closes today. The latter plays with greater abstraction of ideas, particularly the dangerous seduction of self-harm impulses. Both shows have been important to my healing process, as well as being creatively fulfilling, but I’m not sure when or if I will be putting together another exhibition.

The monetary and time costs of putting on a solo show make me question what role art will continue to play in my life. I financially supported both of my shows with kickstarter campaigns and was humbled to have both campaigns fully funded. Money is not the only cost involved in making art, however. The time required to fully explore possibilities for pieces, create enough pieces, and to install a show seem prohibitive to be done on a regular basis if being an artist is not your full time job.

Social media and my nascent artist’s network helped me discover alternate opportunities to produce and display work if annual gallery shows are not possible. My work tends to focus on mental health issues and I have found two relevant local organizations that put on annual juried shows. I also discovered a tumblr call for submissions for a feminist fiber arts show in Boston; fiber is a medium I have worked in for both of my shows. Although these opportunities will not allow me to tell a complete, free standing story of my choosing, they do allow me to be a part of the larger narrative of each show. In participating in open-call group shows I hope to find a consistent place to display art in my life.

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