h Jo Ann Rothschild
Jo Ann Rothschild

Mass Cultural Council: Artist to Artist
Questions to artists about issues they face in their work and lives.

'Message to Yourself as a Younger Artist'

Mass Cultural Council poses questions about issues artists face in their work and lives. [For August], we asked: If you could deliver one message to yourself as a younger artist, what would it be?

Jo Ann Rothsschild, painter:
'When I had just moved to Boston and had just gotten my BA, I went to the Boston Visual Artists’ Union for companionship and information. I complained to an older, more confident artist, not about the situation for artists, which has never been easy, but about the clumsiness of my own character and how poorly it matched other, more accomplished people. She (her first name was Virginia, but I’ve forgotten her last name.) said, “Plant a radish, get a radish,” quoting The Fantasticks. I was stuck with myself.

'As a young painter, and even as an older painter, there are times when I wish for capacities that other people have: ease in self-promotion, a greater understanding of three dimensional space, better casual conversation. But at 71, I’m pretty certain that major character changes are both unlikely and undesirable.

'Sometimes people pay attention to what you are doing, there are places to show, there are reviews and sales. Sometimes none of that is true. It is difficult to find words for thoughts about painting. Friends who struggle with you to understand what you are doing increase your understanding of yourself and your work.

'My younger self painted no matter what was going on outside. But there were periods of great loneliness and uncertainty. I would remind my younger self that the best paintings come from who you are, rather than in spite of you. Good work comes from allowing the incomplete painting to speak to the imperfect painter and allowing that flawed artist to respond to the painting. It is a constant conversation. This doesn’t guarantee good work, but these are the minimal conditions for grace.'