As a lifetime artist, Jessica Cohen’s experiential work in the corporate world helped inspire her passion of becoming a full-time artist.
Fueled by a desire to create art, Jessica Cohen found the courage to follow her passion for artmaking. With fantastic experiences in France to gatherings with artistic heroes, Jessica followed her dreams without looking back. We spoke with Jessica about her decision to pursue her love of artmaking.
As a lifetime artist, I studied art history and visual arts at Barnard College, and did a residency in Pont-Aven, France. I then took on a role in cultural programming at the CORE: club in NYC, thinking that I would save money to eventually get a studio. That role turned into an amazing, almost decade-long career that, along the way, brought me to Miami Beach to head cultural programming for Faena Rose. I always had a goal to return to artmaking, but as the years went by, I struggled to see how it would happen and feared it was too late. I ultimately reached a place where I felt fulfilled by what I had accomplished in my career and had an undeniable desire to be creating with my hands again, so I took the leap.
Making art, learning about art, and experiencing art has always been a part of my life. Many of my strongest childhood memories are going to museums and taking art classes at a community center. When I aged out of the kids’ programming, my mom convinced them to let me take the adult figure-drawing class, which greatly impacted me. As a young adult, I spent four months at a residency in France, where I painted every day. I absolutely loved it.
I had thought about leaving my cultural programming job for years, but was held back by the idea that I needed a new career lined up first. It wasn’t until I decided to take some time off that I realized I didn’t have to replace one all-consuming job with another, and that I could create a life for myself that encompasses my different experiences, skills, and passions. I am now self-employed and see myself as a multidisciplinary creative. I can take on consulting projects where I create programming strategies for hospitality companies, while still maintaining time for art.
Working for private members’ clubs immersed me in the power of community. As an introvert, being in hospitality helped me get out of my shell and find my voice. While my cultural programming position gave me the opportunity to meet many of my cultural heroes, my favorite part of the job was getting to know members. I feel grateful to have built an incredible network comprised of those members, as well as the talent and collaborators I worked with through the years. It’s been heartening to receive so much support from this community as I define my new path.
COVID played a significant factor in both my return to art and the type of art I’ve made this past year. After not making art for so long, I had a lot of internal resistance to getting started again. COVID began at a time where I found myself fresh out of work and with the plan to take some time off to re-ignite my creative passions. I truly had no more excuses and was forced to face my fears and feelings of imposter syndrome as it pertained to being an artist.
The pandemic also greatly influenced the subject matter of the art I’ve made during this time. During the first month of lockdown, my best friend was in her final weeks of pregnancy. We gathered a small group of friends for weekly figure drawing sessions, where she posed via Zoom. I made dozens of watercolors during these sessions, which was a beautiful way to return to artmaking and of seeing friends in different cities. I then began an ongoing series of paintings of close friends that I have been unable to see throughout the pandemic as a way to honor those relationships and stay connected. I’m also working on a series of paintings based on masked selfies that I’ve taken during these isolated times.
The opportunities ahead that I have yet to encounter and the things I will get to do that I never imagined doing.
Curiosity is a driving force for me, and I am excited to have flexibility in my career and not be restricted to a single vertical.
Creating cultural experiences in which I got to hear artists such as Mickalene Thomas and Jenny Saville discuss their inspirations, processes and daily lives as artists left a lasting impression on me, and helped fuel my desire to return to art.