Jeanne Jaffe

Jeanne Jaffe
Artist and
Professor, University of the Arts

Being an artist and living alone has some advantages: days of absolute silence and lack of distraction as well as time for reflection, reading, and experimenting. It also has some drawbacks: absolute responsibility for each moment, and the decision of how to spend it.

Every morning, my Goffin cockatoo Lilly and I have breakfast together, sharing a cup of coffee, cheese and bread. Lilly is insistent on this ritual. At the first sight of my white steaming coffee mug, Lilly gets excited. She shifts left to right, left to right, flapping her wings. When I offer her the mug, she dips her beak into the coffee and tilts her head backwards to drink with delirious satisfaction. She is a constant companion and lodger in my home, and brings much joy and delight, as well as annoyance and interruptions.

My life as an artist splinters in a number of directions at different seasons. During the school year, I wear three hats at the University: artist, teacher, and administrator. My time is very occupied with students, faculty, meetings and classes, visiting artists, curriculum, etc., with little time for myself. But when summer arrives I have the luxury of fully claiming my time and slipping into a trancelike reverie of artistic activity, with its hush and concentration. When I have this extended time to focus on my work, I meet it with both joy and dread: joy at the possibility of freedom and expression, dread at the equal possibility of what I might find and feel as I enter a more subliminal world.

The one distraction from my summer creative cocoon is Lilly, who interrupts the silence of studio days and the concentration of the creative process. She dances, or screams, or attacks the mirror in a dominance display with her own image. Around 2:00 or 3:00, while my hands are covered with plaster and resin, she frequently breaks the silence of the studio. “Squawk, squawk, squawk, squawk,” she demands attention and waits to be petted. Jarred from both my labor and my reverie, I stop what I am doing and go into Lilly’s room, put her in my lap, and pet her as we watch T.V. together. Lilly screams for attention during soap operas like “Days of our Lives,” or as Ellen DeGeneres talks to Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, or Teri Hatcher. I leave the world of the ideas, forms, and images and enter the world of entertainment, celebrity, and pop culture. My world splits and multiplies as it does many times throughout the day.

Inexplicable things and chance occurrences nourish my life and work: the smell of honeysuckle, the elongated shadows and the slant of the sun towards the end of the day, or a memory from long ago suddenly resurfacing. These things feed and inform my work in profound ways that are pre-linguistic. Lilly is another small instance of life intruding and weaving itself into my artistic dream. I often wonder what I would do without her.

After many hours in the studio, the day ends as it begins, with Lilly and I together. The evening darkens and Lilly sits on my arm to be petted as we watch the news together. Her soft white feathers and down are a source of mysterious beauty that nourishes me; my hands a source of warmth, bonding, and pleasure for her: all of this grist for the mill of art.
Published 11/2006

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University of the Arts