The Fine Art of Schlepping

Being an artist involves a lot of schlepping, which is not something you are trained for in art school.

(Come to think of it, are you trained for anything in art school? But we digress.)

Schlepping is pretty much thought of as hauling, carrying, lugging, dragging a burdensome load (with some interesting deviations from google.com) . . . and artists have many, many opportunities to practice schlepping in their art practice. Schlepping canvases, paints, brushes, solvents, easels, and more, back and forth from supplier to studio. Then there’s the schlepping of framing, glass, framed pieces, finished artworks, etc. back and forth to coffee shops that agree to exhibit the work, to art festivals where artists withstand the elements to get known, and to art galleries that agree to show their work. Then back to the studio with the art that doesn’t sell. Commitment to your art involves commitment to schlepping, too.

There's a whole lotta schleppin' goin' on when you choose art for a career

Was there a Professor of Schlepology in the fancy art school you graduated from? Not likely. Wouldn’t artists become discouraged in undergraduate school if they learned that their career success owed a heavy debt to the art of schlepping?

Photographers schlep as well, on a near-daily basis, and all the more so if they are location photographers. And no matter how small memory cards get, cameras and lenses and lights and battery packs and laptops and handy gear never seem to get smaller. Even when they do get smaller, there are still more small nifty accessories to add to the camera bag.

Photographers, at least, are able to solve the schlepping problem by hiring lowly young assistants-in-training. Assistants work for the more established professionals in order to learn from them, and then end up learning how to schlep, too.

Artists are a bit more on their own to become creative when it comes to schlepping. You can go through friends who are willing to schlep pretty quickly in this career.

There are some successful artists who have solved the schlepping problem rather neatly by choosing their partners wisely. I was quite envious upon meeting the husband of a noted Austin-area artist who rather cheerfully introduced himself to her studio visitors as “the artist’s slave.” While the artist’s statement lists many accomplishments in abstract and expressionistic painting, she does not list “schlepping” among them. Apparently she owes all the schlepping her success entails to her husband, the self-described “artist’s slave.”

Artists whose spouses would never describe themselves as “artist’s slaves” nonetheless understand the important role they play in (literally) supporting their creative mates. “See, I just schlep what she tells me to,” one artist’s husband explained to me. They schlep the artwork around, from the art studio to openings and art fairs and back again. Thus their appearances at openings and festivals are understood to be mandatory–especially since they’ve schlepped all of the art in and out.

How much time have you spent schlepping v. creating in your art career? What are your strategies to minimize the schlepping, and maximize the making, of art?

10 replies

  1. My husband and I share a car and a motorcycle. I absolutely love riding the bike – being in the wind, smelling the smells, saving on gas. And I would ride it more often, but how in the world I am supposed to schlep on that?! Thanks for the humorous article.

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    • A great image comes to mind, of a motorcycle sidecar bearing your art. And then there’s always the empty pedicab trailer option—again, for your art. Great for hill climbs, I’d bet! But artists will pretty much do anything for their art.

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  2. At RIT one of the drawing teachers has a charcoal self portrait project on rag paper. The portrait is about 30 x 40 inches, so the drawing boards we schlepp around are a few inches bigger than that, 32 x 42.

    Now, I’m not a big person. I’m 5’5” and pretty skinny. The looks I got carrying that damn drawing board back and forth from class a couple of times a week were priceless. One guy saw me staggering around with it on a windy day and shouted out, “Nooooooooooo! She’s going to fly away!”

    Another time I had to move a doll house I had constructed across campus (Which you can see here if you want to get a sense of the size:http://my.carbonmade.com/projects/3038474). I had to get a ton of my friends to help me drag it all of the way across campus. I would have killed for a car. Killed.

    Great post, I have a feeling a lot of people can relate to this!

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    • Your RIT teachers must have been testing you, to see if you had what it takes to become a professional schlepper—er, um, artist! Of course the problem with cars is that they encourage schlepping of even greater quantities of—you guessed it—art! Congrats on keeping your art, your feet (and your drawing board) on the ground.

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