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Artist Genevieve Cohn On Finding Strength in Uncertainty

Genevieve Cohn. Dog Woman, God Woman.
Genevieve Cohn. Dog Woman, God Woman. Acrylic on Canvas, 72 x 96 inches. 2017.

Finding strength in uncertainty isn’t easy—especially for women creators working in a male-centric world. Despite the chaos, artist Genevieve Cohn sees women creators as anchors. She paints them as strong and capable, navigating and holding together the impossible. Perhaps her earliest point of inspiration was her home state, Vermont, an environment she still gravitates towards. This type of inspiration has pushed Cohn to help others find their own ways to create. She plans to spend the summer teaching at the Putney School, a progressive arts program for high school students in Southern Vermont. In addition to this, she is a member of the ARC Gallery in Chicago, which is a women-run cooperative gallery space, and her work has been featured in our most recent Magic issue, Friend of the Artist Magazine and Art Maze. We sat down with Cohn to discuss her creative process and how she finds a foothold in the unknown.

Artist Genevieve Cohn
Photo courtesy of Genevieve Cohn.
Genevieve Cohn. A Better Resurrection
Genevieve Cohn. A Better Resurrection. Acrylic on Canvas, 2017.

What inspires you to create?

Genevieve Cohn: I began painting because of the process. It takes time. It takes reflection. It takes research and conversations and convictions that all become embedded in a still image. I think it is magical to present the compression of that experienced time.

The strength of women inspires me. Finding beauty in moments that seem dark and impossible inspires me. To reflect on and project relationships and communities that I admire and aspire to be a part of is a continuous source of inspiration.

“The difficulty with this field is that there are no real right answers and no prescribed paths to follow. It’s a lifelong work in progress.”

What’s a typical day like for you?

Genevieve Cohn: The wonderful thing about my schedule right now is that no two days are ever the same. I teach twice a week at a University, and on days that I don’t teach, I split my time between working in the studio, visiting galleries and museums in Chicago, writing and researching opportunities, and a solid amount of time dedicated to watching my cat do things. I recently moved into a new studio space that is a 45-minute walk away, and I couldn’t be happier to have that time dedicated to slow, reflective movement.

If you could give your past self one piece of advice, what would it be?

Genevieve Cohn: Be more gentle with yourself, and with the process. This applies to both the physical act of painting and also the lifestyle of being an artist. The difficulty with this field is that there are no real right answers and no prescribed paths to follow. It’s a lifelong work in progress. I’m getting better at developing the patience and the foresight to trust that I will get there, in time. In both life and painting, the stored history and collection of minds changed over time forging new paths is what makes the finished product so beautiful. Part of the beauty is embracing that unpredictability.

What challenges have you encountered on your artistic journey that you didn’t expect in the beginning?

Genevieve Cohn: Where do I put all of these gigantic paintings?! So many of my challenges are logistical. I love painting at the scale that I do but, whew, does it make things more difficult.

“I’m all about the feelings. I’m interested in the ideas of community, and strength and resilience in the face of adversity.”

Do you find it difficult to nurture your creative spirit while also addressing the business side of being an artist?

Genevieve Cohn: Yes, absolutely. I trust that it will get easier in time, but so much of the business side of being an artist goes against much of my nature. Self-promotion is difficult but essential. Computer literacy and organization are forever an uphill battle. Carving out time to paint is challenging when so many other obligations come with deadlines. My practice really demands to spend time in nature, reading fiction and poetry, and engaging with people that fill me up and it can be difficult to give those activities the weight they deserve.

What would you like to tell the world through your art?

Genevieve Cohn: I’m all about the feelings. I’m interested in the ideas of community, and strength and resilience in the face of adversity. I hope that viewers will step in with their own experiences, recognize something of themselves and their world, and walk away with more personal insight, and hopefully, optimism.

“The first few big rejections, especially opportunities I believed were a good fit, were completely disheartening.”

If you weren’t an artist, what would you do?

Genevieve Cohn: If I were to start from scratch and to also exist in a world where I did better in my science classes, I would say something related to geology.

More realistically, I’m interested in education, which I’m fortunate enough to do already. I’m looking forward to a future where I’ll be able to continue exploring different realms of art education—not at the expense of me being an artist but rather in tandem.

Do you think that artists are obligated to be socially and politically engaged?

Genevieve Cohn: I don’t know if I see social and political engagement as an obligation specific to artists, but I do think that we have an ethical responsibility for what we are putting out into the world. I think it’s important to be kind and compassionate in the way that we work and the way we work with others. I certainly hope that artists are using their voices and their platform to be a positive force for change in the world.

What was a moment when you were very discouraged, and how did you get past it?

Genevieve Cohn: I think coming to terms with rejection—not as a singular moment, but instead as an evolving part of my life as an artist—has been hugely important. The first few big rejections, especially opportunities I believed were a good fit, were completely disheartening. It’s not that I enjoy rejections now, but I’ve become accustomed to the risk of putting myself out there and accepting the consequences of that vulnerability.

Tell us about your next big project.

Genevieve Cohn: In the fall, I’ll be attending an artist residency outside of Seville, Spain where I’ll be researching the women of Castilblanco de los Arroyos during the Spanish Civil War. I couldn’t be more excited for this opportunity to strengthen my research and to see how my work will evolve in an entirely new context.

Genevieve Cohn, The Moon She Hides, I want, I want
Genevieve Cohn. Left: The Moon She Hides. Right: I want, I want. Acrylic on Canvas, 70 x 60 inches. 2017.