‘Stress Assassinates Creativity’: Watch Painter Jamian Juliano-Villani Navigate the All-Too-Demanding Contemporary Art World

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21 "New York Close Up" film, "Jamian Juliano-Villani Gets to Work." © Art21, Inc. 2017.

As 2020 draws to a close, it’s hard to believe that almost an entire year has gone by with so many people confined indoors, often to a very small space with few people to interact with IRL.

Thanks to streaming services and endless suggestions to keep ourselves occupied, many of us have developed new and creative outlets. But for artists, whose very livelihood is dependent on a constant source of inspiration, it can be especially difficult.

The New Jersey-born, New York-based artist Jamian Juliano-Villani has been dealing with the pressure to constantly create since she first burst onto the art scene.

In an exclusive interview filmed in 2017 for Art21’s series New York Close Up, Juliano-Villani speaks candidly about her frantic pace, adhering to deadlines nonstop for the last four years.

It’s like impending doom—it’s like a pimp! Constantly, you owe someone something,” she says. The artist knows something about pressure, having worked a variety of odd jobs—kindergarten teacher, diner waitress, gymnastics instructor—and painting in whatever spare time she could find.

But, the artist says, that pressure of being an artist can be deadly. “Stress assassinates creativity. If you make a bad painting and your job is an artist, it’s like the worst,” she says frankly, adding with a wry smile: “You’re only as good as your last painting.” 

Jamian Juliano-Villani, Let's Kill Nicole (2019). Photo by Todd-White Art Photography. Courtesy Massimo De Carlo, Milan/London/Hong Kong.

Jamian Juliano-Villani, Let’s Kill Nicole (2019). Photo by Todd-White Art Photography. Courtesy Massimo De Carlo, Milan/London/Hong Kong.

The artist’s work combines found imagery with deftly painted backgrounds and random characters in surreal circumstances: her 2019 painting, Let’s Kill Nicole, features a goat wearing Uggs on all four legs as a tiny lamb stands up on a foot ladder nearby.

Just because we don’t always get the joke doesn’t mean it does not exist. In the Art21 interview, the artist mentions a friend saying, offhand: “Just put some crap in there, no one can tell.’ I was like, ‘Thanks, jerk!’ But I can definitely tell. Because these are supposed to be confident.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s series New York Close Up, below. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org.

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.

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