Keeping retirement weird. Creative work spaces.


Kerry James Marshall[‘s Chicago studio. NY Times photo.

I have this interest in the way creative people organize their work spaces.

In this group, I include teachers, of course.

As much as the reformers try to standardize things, the best classrooms must reflect the personality of the teacher.

When we held our monthly union governing board meetings, I couldn’t help but laugh watching a middle school Language Arts teacher walk into the classroom of the first grade teacher whose room we were meeting in. It was a world apart.

When I first started teaching I shared an Art room with a guy who had been teaching for 30 years. We were like the Odd Couple, Oscar and Felix.

He was obsessively neat and organized. I was…well, not.

He ended up hiding his materials in a hallway locker where I couldn’t get them.


In my Art room in the early days.

As an Art teacher I taught my students that our Art room – our creative work space – was a studio. This meant that it was a place to be imaginative, be thoughtful and produce work that had meaning for ourselves and for an audience beyond the room and beyond the school. It was a place to learn new things, to practice our skills, to look critically at the work of others and then to actually make stuff.

In October of 2014, Anne and I were in Mexico City and we visited Frida Kahlo’s home and studio.


Frida Kahlo’s creative work space in her home and studio in the Colonia del Carmen neighborhood of Mexico City. Photo: Fred Klonsky

I was fascinated by the highly organized rows of little corked paint jars.

I doubt that Diego’s creative work space look anything like that.

My creative work space now is a corner of the kitchen on a quartz counter top. It is close to the coffee maker and consists of my lap top, my drawing board and a framed photograph of my pension fighting cohorts celebrating on the first anniversary of our pension win in the courts.


It is good that I work in the kitchen. I am forced to clean and straighten up the space frequently. After all these years I am still Oscar from the Odd Couple.

The photograph at the top of this post is of Kerry James Marshall in his Bronzeville studio.

His fantastic exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art ends this coming week and opens at the Met Breuer on October 25th. Then on to Los Angeles.

See it if you can.

Mr. Marshall’s plain-brick studio, on a low-slung residential block, looks as if it might be a small community center. It was built for him by a nearby church that needed the land where his previous studio sat. He and his wife, the actress Cheryl Lynn Bruce — they met in New York when he had a residency at the Studio Museum in Harlem and she was performing — have lived most of their life together in Bronzeville, once Chicago’s African-American mecca. (In the 1920s, Louis Armstrong lived about 10 blocks from where Mr. Marshall’s studio is now.) When they arrived, decaying public housing and gang violence had made the neighborhood a tough place to live. And though it has improved dramatically, “there’s still a little more gunfire than you might like,” Mr. Marshall said, with the deadpan delivery of a true Chicagoan.

He undoubtedly could afford to move. In May, a 1992 painting of his sold for $2.1 million at Christie’s, and prices for new work have been edging up into seven figures. But Mr. Marshall likes where he lives, and he mostly still lives as if he doesn’t trust the financial success coming his way; after our interview, he drove me back to my hotel in a beige Toyota minivan whose better days were well behind it.

Mr. Marshall has no assistant and answers all of his own emails and phone calls, making getting in touch with him a sometimes tricky business. He works alone in his studio, on a schedule that he says is not particularly rigid, but then he adds: “I get here first thing in the morning, and I leave at night, every day I’m here.” It’s a shoulder-to-the-wheel determination that friends say has defined him since he first began training seriously as a painter, at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles (now the Otis College of Art and Design), during years when Minimalism and Conceptualism made painting seem like a fairly fusty pursuit.

But he believed — and still does — that the gears of historical and institutional power in Western art resided primarily in painting. And that’s where he wanted to compete. “The reality is that you have to fight under the existing rules, the ones that were there when you arrived on the scene,” he said. “If it’s a basketball game, you can’t show up with a football just because you don’t like the shape of the basketball.”

-From the NY Times.

3 Replies to “Keeping retirement weird. Creative work spaces.”

  1. As much as the reformers try to standardize things, the best classrooms must reflect the personality of the teacher.

    Surely, you don’t suggest teaching is a profession? Professionals don’t form labor unions; professional associations – of course, but not collective bargaining units. Professionals value their individual – not collective – worth.

    Eating your cake and having it, too?

    1. Is there a rule book you have for who is a professional and who is not? Please cite the page where this rule about who can have a union is written.

  2. “Professionals don’t form labor unions…” Why not? Union teachers aren’t professionals??? Teachers never changed their efforts, work habits, or their attitudes in the classroom when they joined a union. Did they stop being “professionals” overnight? Conservatives used that bogus argument 50 years ago. It was idiotic then and it’s idiotic now. Some myths are deliberately passed from one generation to the next to preserve the prejudices and myopia of the past for the consumption of the naive and the bigots of the future.

    By the way, the AMA and the Bar Association may not engage in collective bargaining, but they spend a considerable amount of money for lobbyists and on political campaigns to get what they want. In principle, is there a big difference between collective bargaining and lobbying? Perhaps, the one essential difference is that collective bargaining is considerably more honest.

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