Editor’s Letter | Creating a Life

Crossroads by Justin Taylor
Crossroads by Justin Taylor
By Kristin Bucher

In every issue of Southwest Art there are a few surprising coincidences that the editors never could have imagined when the issue first came together. Sometimes it’s the similarity between the names of two featured artists that keeps us stumbling over our words in editorial meetings. Sometimes it seems that nearly every artist in a given issue has traveled to a foreign country, where they had a career-changing epiphany. This month what strikes me is the way the theme of self-determination resonates not just in the stories of our up-and-coming young artists, where you might expect it, but also in the stories of more established artists.

Take, for example, the New Mexico home of 62-year-old landscape painter Peter Hagen. He lives a stone’s throw from a busy street, but instead of allowing that fact to define his environment, he has taken it upon himself to design his own reality: The home is hidden behind trees and boasts a garden full of flowers. “This is a fellow,” writes author Wolf Schneider, “who knows how to create the life he wants.”

Or take the example of still-life painter Jhenna Quinn Lewis. She had already been studying art and painting still lifes for some time when a friend was diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live. “If I had only three months to live, how would I spend it?” Lewis asked herself. “I chose what Joseph Campbell talked about—following my bliss,” she says. “My husband and I arranged our lives so I could do that.”

The idea of choosing to make our lives into what we wish them to be isn’t always obvious. It’s easy, isn’t it, to get bogged down in existing circumstances or long-standing habits or long-held assumptions and forget that we have, to a great extent, the power to shape our experiences so that they most closely resemble our wildest dreams.

I find an inspiring reminder of this power of creation in the words of Shaun Richards, one of the 21 artists under the age of 31 in our special annual feature. When asked to share the best advice he’s ever received, Shaun replied, “To realize that we are all writing our own stories. I started thinking about it on a daily basis, and it’s a really empowering notion of action for me.” Maybe I love that idea because I identify with the writing aspect of it, or maybe because it allows one to think about one’s own life from an outsider’s perspective: How would my biographer describe my life? Would I be pleased with the description? We have the ability to write our stories every hour of every day, to change the plot, the characters, the scene. Fortunately, artists both young and old have chosen to pursue the artistic path, to focus their lives on creativity—and the world is the better for it.

Featured in September 2007

Southwest Art Magazine