What It Means to Be a ____ Today

Jelly is a design column by David Eardley.

Yesterday, I started my first art residency in a five-artist live/work space here in Mexico City - six weeks of studio work, educational outings, and cultural events, culminating in a group show.

Being put into this headspace (art & reflection) has brought back a question that comes back to me again and again when asked to speak about my work: What am I? Two or three years ago when I had a full-time job, this would have been a simple question to answer - “What do you do?” “I teach elementary school.”

Now, more than a year after leaving my full-time job, the answer to this question is complicated, evidenced by the bio on my personal site: 

David Eardley is a multidisciplinary artist, curator, designer and writer. David is the founder of…

It’s also important to remind ourselves of the idea of manifestation or the magic of words, as it relates to naming. The giving of a title - to humans, to art, to location - implies importance and a level of 3D-ness, endowing the entitled an orientation toward a goal.

For me, it’s important that the name I give my work communicates my belief that each individual discipline I practice is equally important and adds value to its adjoining disciplines, i.e. being a curator makes me a stronger designer, and so on. The tough thing is that the language around this way of working is often overtly general or shallow: interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, multi-hyphenate. Each of these words implies significance only in the multiplicity of things, not in their intersectionality.

Consider what it would look like to nest one’s various identities under a larger, recognizably singular title. If I were to tell you that I was simply an artist, I might say: David Eardley is an artist whose work deals with the relationship between humans and the built environment, through writing, curation, and physical furniture.

Here, I’m implying that the theme of my work is what is most important, while if I were to name myself as a designer, I might say: David Eardley is a furniture designer who explores work with everyday materials and the ways they might be elevated through form and function, building upon this work through writing and tangential curation, shifting the emphasis to physicality.

It’s very possible that I could spiral down this path forever, playing out the other iterations (David as writer, David as curator, etc.), it may just be is a necessary lifelong exercise to continue to consider as my work and life grow and change.

In spite of this, I’ve been considering an alternative question: What if there was another way of looking at it?

What would it mean to use language that is less specific to producing work and more centered around a path or orientation? What if I looked at myself, in the mirror or on my website, and I didn’t give myself a title? Instead, just:

David explores the physical environment.

or

David considers the everyday materials we live with.

or, super simply,

David explores our world.

There’s something anti-capitalist about removing our value from “making” and reassigning our value to the path we make through the world. Instead of asking, “What can I produce?”, we might ask “How can I make the most of my time here?”

By viewing our creative work as a path rather than a discipline, we gain the power to think beyond its individual parts and begin to think of the movement of it all - a flow in the direction of our lives and the thoughts within our mind and heart.

I believe that self-orientation is essential to the creative experience, even to the entire human experience - it is what gives us agency to be bigger than our jobs or careers and to make meaning from it all.

In this way, life becomes not a line but a swelling - an opening up: We look inside ourselves and discover what might blossom as we seek our core. I’m optimistic that my time here might allow me to lean into this way of thinking, as I settle into my path.•