“Livelihood” is a word I’ve heard all my life. I looked at the origin of the word and found livelihood is an alteration of Middle English – livelode, or “course of life.” How did my course of life end up in the arts? When thinking about this my mind goes to memory fragments from my very early childhood. These fragments include comprehending icicles for the first time, watching my dad build a dirt track stock car, making toy biplanes out of pencil stubs and writing paper, and seeing the weatherman on WMT-TV draw weather symbols on a map of the United States.
Of course as a child these things are felt more than understood. It was only as an adult that the meaning of these memory fragments became clear. The icicles meant that time can change the makeup of things. My dad building a stock car meant that seemingly unchangeable things, like a car could be changed. The bi-planes told me that objects could be re-purposed for my own needs. And the weatherman showed me that abstract marks could have “real” meanings.
My art classes back in the sixties were comprised of activities such as making wallets from leather craft kits, papier-mâché animals and copper foil rubbings. What I now would consider primary art making lessons came from experiences outside of art classes.
I would make birthday cards for relatives, build forts and draw imaginary battles with friends. These drawings would become elaborate narrative battlefield art pieces not unlike the Bayeux Tapestry’s depiction of the Battle of Hastings. Art could tell stories and enrich moments in the lives of others.
Looking back on this course of life the reasons for becoming an artist did not come from practicing to be an artist. Rather being an artist has come from the practices of being curious, observant, giving, receiving, and play.
Russ Nordman was born in Charles City, Iowa in 1960. He received his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1991. Since 2002 Russ Nordman has been an Associate Professor of Intermedia and Digital Art at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. In his work he transforms observations of the ordinary and the everyday into contemplative and imaginary artworks that explore the human experience. His work has been exhibited across the globe, including the California Museum of Photography, the Des Moines Art Center, and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.