What Matters: Patricia Cronin Reflects on Her Rascally Childhood Art Installations

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Debbie Millman has started a new project at PRINT titled “What Matters.” This is an ongoing effort to understand the interior life of artists, designers and creative thinkers. This facet of the project is a request of each invited respondent to answer 10 identical questions, and submit a photograph.

Up next: Patricia Cronin, an interdisciplinary conceptual artist whose paintings, sculptures and public art examine issues of gender, sexuality and social justice. She lives and works in Brooklyn, and is professor of art at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

What is the thing you like doing most in the world?

Being with my wife and looking at art, anywhere in the world.

What is the first memory you have of being creative?

I remember the first visual experience of living in Maine as a young child, getting up in the middle of the night and looking out the window. The trees cast these amazing purple shadows on the snow that mesmerized me. Around this time, I also remember getting up in the middle of night and going downstairs to the kitchen and getting jars of peanut butter and rubbing it all over the dining room table and legs. I would also push the highchair up to the sink with a pot lid, filling it up and throwing it on the floor. I flooded the kitchen and ruined the dining room carpet. I would also run around the house with talcum powder, making it snow inside just like outside! My first installation art pieces! It’s a miracle they didn’t ship me away somewhere.

What is your biggest regret?

I feel so fortunate that all my regrets are so small: Why didn’t I do more yoga, keep up with my Italian language classes, leave more time for friends and family or see more dance? I’m grateful I never made huge mistakes.

How have you gotten over heartbreak?

Love yourself, and then fall in love all over again.

What makes you cry?

I’m a very empathetic person, so other people’s pain or injustices. There’s just so much, the enormity and cruelty. But also, I cry from joy—for anyone, myself or others who triumph over adversity and seemingly insurmountable challenges.

How long does the pride and joy of accomplishing something last for you?

Oh, when I’ve done something really good, it lasts forever. For example, having made the first—and still, only—Marriage Equality monument in the world, Memorial to a Marriage. Another example is my Shrine for Girls exhibition reflecting in the global plight of exploited women and girls at the Venice Biennale. I’m very confident about these contributions and accomplishments. And that pride and joy isn’t necessarily dependent on external validation—I know it.

Do you believe in an afterlife, and if so, what does that look like to you?

I was raised Roman Catholic, so I definitely think there’s an afterlife. But I don’t know what it looks like. I hope the people we love, who are no longer here on Earth, are there. I would love to see them again. OK—that made me cry.

What do you hate most about yourself?

Not applicable.

What do you love most about yourself?

My endless curiosity, my values and how I’ve developed my intellect and artistic skills. And my enthusiasm!

What is your absolute favorite meal?

Grilled wild salmon, cooked greens of any kind (kale, broccoli rabe, etc., with garlic) and a very good glass of crisp white wine.