Corey Frey is a multi-disciplinary artist, poet, art educator, husband and father of two children. He and his wife currently live in Frederick, Maryland where he works at a local non-profit Art Center and leads The Well Collaborative — a community dedicated to recognizing the creative potential in the people they share their lives with.
In his artwork, Corey finds inspiration in nature and the interconnectedness of all things. He enjoys playing with language, color, shadow, light and much more.
In this interview we talk about Corey’s life as a creative and artist, his relationship with art, and how he supports and builds community with and for fellow artists.
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In this episode you’ll learn:
- What Corey does
- His art career streamlining into one
- Life as a studio artist
- The pressure on artists and making a choice
- Importance of building a creative community
- Different kinds of artists
- Where Corey’s optimism comes from
- People around him and their different stories
- Corey’s relationship with being an artist
- Art becoming dormant and then restarting it
- Rediscovering himself through art
- Corey’s definition of being a pastor
- What art means to him
- Corey’s creative process
- Supporting other artists
- Fostering and nurturing a community
- The significance of play: an intentional space
- Balancing paid work and creative work
- Making good choices and taking chances
- Nobody has it figured out— don’t believe social media!
- Corey’s interpretation of calling — entertain your curiosities
- Trusting and following sensibilities
- Systems and guidelines are tools, not the answer
Software Generated Transcription:
Corey. Thank you so much for joining me. Welcome to the meeting movement podcast. So great to have you here.
Thank you, Dan. I really appreciate the chance to talk with you.
I’m really pumped to just dig in together. The question I like to start with is how do you begin to talk about the work that you do?
Yes. Oh goodness. Well, I, probably the best thing to start off with is just to list things that I do and then maybe talk some of the driving force behind them. Oh goodness. So I’m a husband and a father, so that’s really important. You know, we’ve got a seven year old daughter and an eight month old little boy.
And so he’s pretty brand new and. We’re figuring out how to be parents of a newborn again, but it’s incredible. And let’s see, what else do I do? So I’m a visual artist, a poet. I do a little bit of writing my wife and I also started a couple of years ago. What? We’ve come to just call a creative community here in Frederick.
Maryland. And so we meet out of my house and we’re really given, trying to figure out how to give people good excuses, to make things together and explore that depth of themselves. And so we’re figuring out how to do that with all the ups and downs and nitty gritty of real organic community. So that’s beautiful and fun.
What I do full time, what I do for work. For money, I guess is I am the exhibitions manager at an art center here in Frederick, Maryland called the Delane art center. And essentially we have five gallery spaces where artists have solo and group exhibitions got a couple of other offsite galleries and things like that.
And so I work with artists in. Setting up exhibitions, scheduling and getting to interact with artists, which is something that I really love. And then also I’m a part of a community that’s built from the makers and mystics podcast. There’s a community through there that I help out with in the collective.
We do book clubs and things like that. And there’s a yearly conference that I help out with and things. So that’s goodness, that’s the lists a long.
Yeah, I love it. I love that. Well, so much just good work that you’re doing and that, you know, you have your creative work and I guess your heart work and then your money work.
As you could say, both of which for you, I know for a lot of creatives, a lot of artists, there’s kind of like these parallels sometimes, which by necessity parallel career paths, but it seems like for you, it’s very much art is kind of everything that you do relates to that, which is neat.
Yeah. These things have, you know, converge.
Over the years. I, you know, did the odds and in jobs quite a bit while I was back in college and the position as exhibitions manager is fairly new for me. So it is really beautiful and nice. These things have kind of converged into a similar stream is a great thing. I love it. As you’re talking about all the things you’re doing, starting this creative community.
And I think the word I wrote down my notes that give people a good excuse to make things together. Yeah. The question I wanted to ask you is why is that important? Yeah. Oh goodness. So it sounds like a lot of work. I know that there’s gotta be some real intention behind it for you. Sure. And you know, like anything that we are passionate about, you know, the word passion comes from that’s entomological.
That mean, like what you’re willing to suffer for. Yes. And so anything that you’ve been through the fire with, I guess in your own personal life, it feels like there’s a greater sense of calling in those things. Mm-hmm because you have something to say you’ve been through something. Maybe you can lend someone the courage or encourage people in the same things that you’ve struggled with.
And so when I was an undergrad, I went to school at the university of west Florida, and I was a studio art major. So I’m a painter and a sculptor and things. And you know, when I left. That program. It was like, my feet were swept out from underneath me. I lost the community that spoke the same language. I lost the driving force of at least getting this piece of paper at the end of my student career.
Yes. That said I was legitimized in some way. Who knows what that really means. But, you know, and I lost the resources available to me places to show my artwork and in a lot of conversations that I had with people, with professors and other people, it was like people that had spent thousands and thousands of dollars and so much of their heart and life in the studio, like going to graduate schools for being studio artists.
When the rubber hit the road and they had to do something that was fruitful for their life, they abandoned, fruitful, meaning like they had to provide for their families or whatever. Yeah. They abandoned art making altogether. Mm. And it struck me that I was feeling sort of that same grief of like, I’ve got a choice to make.
Like I can either continue to be passionate, meaning I’m willing to suffer for these things and push through them, or I can abandon it wholeheartedly, but it was never an actual question because abandoning, it felt like I would be abandoning some sense of my identity. And so, I mean, it became this conversation in my heart and my mind and in my family of like, look, if I want to continue this work, and I know that other people probably feel the same way and I want to continue to find excuses to justify making things.
Which isn’t necessarily well, here’s the problem is that making artwork it’s often not very utilitarian, like these things don’t serve utilitarian purposes. And so they don’t live up to the value systems that a lot of us, we live under the pressure of an industrial value system and enlightenment value system, all these different things that weigh so heavily of.
Upon us that the pressure becomes too much for us to bear when we have to justify doing something that doesn’t fit within those categories. And so we thought, what if we can give people an opportunity to reawaken the latent creativity, this inheritance that belongs to people as a part, it’s an inheritance of humanity to make things.
What if we can give people an excuse to explore those things, a place and a language and a commonality. Things to explore them. So that’s a really long winded way of talking about why we’re interested in building creative community. And, you know, it’s a really personal thing for me because I’ve been in the middle of that myself.
So yeah. I love that so much good stuff in all of that. And I think you, you speak to, I think the dilemma of being an artist in that you have this thing that you care about, you’re passionate about that you bring and offer to the world, but it’s so hard to do that in a way that also like, just to put it bluntly, pays the bills. Right.
And like that. And so then the choice often then becomes the choice that you also, you know, had to make is, do I desert my art? Do I leave my art and just pursue, you know, some other trajectory or do I find some way for them to coexist or do I sacrifice everything for my art? And I think those are the three most clear paths that you have to choose between and often are constantly choosing between yeah.
As an artist. And so.
You know, the beautiful thing is that there are different kinds of artists. And so there are certainly commercial artists and there’s no lack to the meaning that they’re putting out into the world. For me was personally like the way that I make things is so engaged in the process that I couldn’t see myself being sort of a commercial artist because I had to.
Make myself available to the whimsy and spontaneity of things. And so, yeah, I have such a great respect for people who can find that merging of their creative output and a way to make it fruitful for their families. Yeah. And a livelihood for them.
So, well, I love that. I think one of the things that strikes me about the way that you talk about, I think it be so easy to feel really cynical about everything that you just said that like, you know, some people can do it, others can’t, but I don’t hear. Negativity in your voice and curious about that. How do you remain optimistic?
I went to school to be a pastor before I went to school to be an artist. And one of the things that I realized was that being an artist and a creative has really helped me with is that people are really complex. Like life is really challenging and really complicated.
Yeah. And so, like, I can’t pigeonhole as much as I don’t wanna be pigeonholed as an artist. I can’t do that to other people or they have to open up the possibilities for other people. And so I’m surrounded by people who have. Done all of these different things, like people who make a living with the art that they create and they’re creating incredible things.
And then people who are locked away in their studios and some of the work that they see, maybe 80% of the work that they make, isn’t seen by the public. And they’re still doing that work cuz they’re following some sort of curiosity. And so I really respect that there are really different kinds of people in the world.
Everybody has a really different story and we’re the accrual of histories that. Very different from one another, but have these peaks and valleys in very similar places at the same time. Yeah. So maybe that answers the question. Yeah. I hearing that just the respect just everybody’s different and yeah.
And maybe just a nonjudgemental stance, which I really admire. It’s great. Wanna hear you talk about your relationship with being an artist?
When did that emerge? How did that emerge?
Mm-hmm as a kid, I love drawing. Like I drew all the time and it’s hard to say when that really fizzled out, you know, and there’s a lot of reasons for why that probably fizzled out.
I’m a middle child. I’m also a people pleaser. And so like, so, you know, there’s all kinds of pressures that we all face. And so for some reason, it fizzled out in me a bit. And like I said before, I went to a ministry school to be a pastor. And when I left there, I wasn’t interested in being what you think of when you think of the word pastor.
Like, I wasn’t interested in being confined into that definition, but I was actually still really interested in pastoring people. And so I find myself in that place of like really wanting to care for people. But all that said, like, I left ministry school and didn’t really want anything to do with being like a typical pastor and had a bit of an experience where like I remembered where it was brought to my memory, that as a kid, I loved to draw and I’d kind of forgotten about it.
And I like to think of it kind of as a whisper over me, like Corey don’t you remember how as a kid you used to love to draw. And so there was at least enough of a curiosity in that question and a desire in it and probably some latent creativity in me that. I had made dormant and pushed down that it made me pick up a pencil and a piece of paper.
And I just started drawing things and like a snowball kind of rolling down a hill, you know, then went and bought some acrylic paint or something. And I took, then I took an oil painting class and then I ended up deciding to go back to art school. And so it really felt like I was coming alive to something that I wouldn’t say that I had abandoned, but I was becoming more free.
I think, to explore the possibilities. Of my own creativity and explore what it means to be a human and explore what it means to be a specific human, you know, myself and dive into the past of my own life and dive into the idiosyncrasies of my sensibility and learning how to trust those things. So,
Yeah, really well said. Uh, I think for many of us, the creative pursuits of our youth, I guess can distract. It feels like often they just kind of, not like they intentionally got left behind, but just other things kind of crowd them out for sure if they’re not cultivated. And so that, that rings true of my own experience as well.
Do you think of yourself as a pastor currently?
You know, as soon as you say that I recognize some tension, even in my own body it’s that we get really familiar with language. We all get really familiar. Words and it reduces the complexity. Again, we’re back to talking about complexity a little bit, but it reduces the complexity of it.
And the thing that I love about art and creativity, and I’m not sidestepping your question. I’ll, I’ll get to that a little bit. the thing that I love about art is that it reintroduces complexity into things that have been overly simplified. So that’s one of the reasons why I consider myself a poet and why I’m so interested in language as well is that we have a history with.
Yeah. And my history with the word pastor has some, you know, there’s some expectations there that I’m uneasy with and so uneasy with it because it doesn’t allot for the complexity and it doesn’t allot for the driving force behind what it should mean to be a pastor. And that essentially is like, I want to develop an ethos of care.
That surrounds my life. And when I invite people into my home or into our creative community, I want there to be an ethos of care where we’re caring for individuals and the specificity and the complexity of an individual, and allow that to be the thing that binds us together as a community. If that makes me a pastor, then I’m okay with that.
I guess I’m sure there’ll be plenty of cringing in the rest of my life, around that. But I really am interested in care, so yeah.
Yeah. Well, for what it’s worth, when you talk about it, I feel like that’s the kind of pastors that we need in the world to whatever degree that’s a helpful yeah. Maybe reflection of your presence, your heart and your intent.
Thanks. May it be so I guess, but it sounds like you’re doing good work with people, so
Thanks, Dan. Yeah.
How do you think about art? What is art and. Yeah. Maybe just even starting there. That’s a big question, but I love what you said like that it reintroduces the complexity into things that we’ve simplified.
Yeah. Now I’m asking you this question. Okay. Listen, now let’s, let’s try to simplify that a little bit. so yeah,
No, I think it’s great. Yeah. I mean, oh goodness. What is art man? Oh, well, one of my favorite quotes about art is James Baldwin said the purpose of art is to reveal the questions that are hidden by the answers
And so I’m interested in that. I think art is just this, like art is a result. Of something. Art is a result of curiosity and exploration and honed skill. And I would think that we typically would hone our skill in order to go deeper into the curiosity is how I think about it sometimes. But I do think about art as a result.
I think that, you know, art can show up in any place, but maybe that it is differentiated by its ability to reveal the questions that are hidden by the answers. I love that quote by James Baldwin and it’s a really challenging quote, but I don’t know. Is that helpful at all?
Yeah, I think it’s a great place to start.
Absolutely. Yeah. And I think it’s important just to hear how you think about it, you know, in your own work.
In your own life. Similar question I’m curious about in your process is how do you go about the creative process? What does that look like for you?
Yeah, well, you know, you’ve gotta get kind of existential about it and that you’ve gotta consider your actual life and the parameters of your life and your priorities. And so, you know, like I said before, I’ve got a seven year old at the house and an eight month old. And so it is meant that I have early mornings, you know, I have a full-time job as well. And so I get up really early in the morning and I allot a certain amount of time, as much as I can, as long as the we ones will stay asleep and that sort of thing.
I, a lot of certain amount of time to potential and I don’t really know how to say it any other way. Yeah. Anyone can allot a specific amount of time to it. And I think that I’ve come to the place over the years where in certain seasons it would look more like me dedicating time to honing craft, maybe drawing, or maybe, you know, doing color theory, experiments or things like that.
But it’s developed for me. To a place of setting aside a place for potential. And what I mean by that, I guess, is that I’m really interested in following and discovering through the creative process. And usually that means that I’ve gotta allow space for myself to be surprised. And so I don’t put very strict regimental parameters around.
The time that I have other than it usually is me, like reading some poetry and paying really close attention to my sensibilities and sort of the direction that I feel, the depths of myself going, if that makes any sense. Yeah. So it feels like a very nebulous time. Yeah. But it feels important to set aside that time as well.
Yeah. And with the work that you do with The Well Collaborative, how does that look with people? You know, you said attention to give people a good excuse to make things together. Like how do you foster support the creative process of in other people.
Yeah, well, it’s really challenging. I mean, we’re really after a sense of community as well.
And the hard thing about community is that, do you know the poet Wendell Berry? You know, mm-hmm, , he talks about organic life being made of two different things, growth, but also decay. And both of those things are a necessity for real life. And so I think about that when it comes to community, because everybody’s in the middle of some sort of life or some sort of growth and some sort of decay at the same time everybody is and paying close attention again to the individual means that you are recognizing where they exist right now and what you can speak into their life or how much you need to be silent in order to accommodate the complexity of who they are and allow that next step of life and growth in their life and be with them in those moments of decay. Mm-hmm . Now what that means for building a community around creativity is that I believe the creative process is different for all kinds of people. I don’t think that everybody’s gonna care about poetry. And I don’t think that everybody’s gonna care about painting or any of these things, but allowing the space for them to explore and be curious about it seems really important. And so what that’s looked like on a practical level, I guess, is that we’ll get together usually and we’ll eat food.
Which seems really important for community. And we’ll also have time of discussion and the discussion is usually geared around how do we justify in the midst of the lives that we live? How do we justify beauty and allow space for not just the good and the true, but the beautiful. And then we have nights that are geared around play and practice.
And so like a couple months ago, in the fall we had a charcoal drawing night where I borrowed like 20 easels from where I work and we bought a bunch of supplies and we set up some still life stuff. And we did some demos on things that you could be thinking about and had people draw. And just last week we did a collage night where we just bought a bunch of supplies.
People brought magazines and we just let people play. I mean, play is such a huge deal and. Again, one of these things that’s really hard to justify, especially in adults life. Yes. By God. It’s a really hard thing to justify. So it looks like us creating space that’s intentional, but also again, and maybe this mirrors my own creative practice, we set up a space.
That is intentional, but also intentional towards potential. It can look as messy as community needs to look sometimes and we wrestle through ideas and stuff like that. So, yeah, I hope I was on topic there.
Yeah, that’s good. No, it is. It is a messy process and it sounds like, yeah, just supporting people in the ways that they need, you know, giving them tools base conversation you know, all of that.
Yeah. Yeah. Sounds like a really wonderful thing. I’m curious have you speak a little bit more about attention as we kind of talked about towards the beginning, but just to circle back to that, cause know a lot of people hit play on this podcast that are not necessarily artists or they’re thinking about work and meaning and purpose and figuring out how do you do work that matters and get paid for it, which I think where there’s a lot of parallels often really enjoy these conversations with artists because of that.
Cuz you have to wrestle with that. So it’s so much more manifest I guess, but I’m curious in your own journey, just about how you work with attention between, you know, what you give your time to pursue next, how you balance your paid work and your creative work. Not that your paid work isn’t created. You know what I mean?
So, yeah, so maybe that’s just gonna be an open invitation. I’d just love to hear you just talk about, and maybe you could even answer that specific moments in your life or choices that you’ve had to make around that. I think that’s always really interesting. People are often looking for examples of how have others navigated this space so that I can learn from their wisdom and mistakes.
Yeah. It’s hard because, you know, I don’t necessarily know how it was 20 years ago or before social media or anything like that. But one of the things that I think has ramped up the tension is that we’re under the illusion that people have better lives than they do. Maybe not better lives, but maybe that things are easier for some people than other people
And it’s an illusion. I mean, yeah. The thing is, is that you’ve gotta make real choices. Based off of the needs that you have practically, but also the needs that you have in developing your own life and developing what you think of as a calling or a vocation or any of these things. And so for me, it has meant that I knew from pretty early on that I wasn’t. That in order to make the kind of creative work that I wanted to make, I was gonna have to work jobs that I didn’t want to do. That’s just kind of the way that it is, and it’s not a pretty picture and it’s not a pretty circumstance. Like it sucks most of the time having to do that. And, you know, I love my job now.
I love. Being able to work with artists. And I love also in the way that we talk that all of these different streams have kind of converged for me, but it still work. You know, I do 90% of my job as administrative and I’m not an administrator. Like I’m learning that all the time. I’m far too whimsical to be an, an administrator.
And so I think you’ve gotta make good choices. But you also have to be willing to take chances to risk things and risk means that you’ve gotta be vulnerable and you’ve gotta have some courage. You’ve gotta develop courage. And, you know, again, that’s a very personal trajectory that I’ve been on and decision that I’ve had to make.
You know, I make all this work and a bunch of it ends up sitting in my house and I gotta figure out what to do with that. So there are great benefits to doing these things, but then there are also downsides to them and you’ve gotta weigh all those things out based on your own life and figure out what works best for you.
So it’s a tricky thing for sure.
Yeah. I love that. And I hope people are encouraged by that. Like nobody has it figured out. I think that’s really important for people to hear. And I think what you said about social media just really resonates with me. I tend to stay off of social media as much as I can, you know, cuz you see the polish, the perfect highlight, the highlights reels of everyone else’s life.
And then our minds just naturally fill in all the gaps with like more of the same when really it’s like, these are just the highlights. These are just the best moments. And everything’s a mess most of the time for most people. Right? Yeah. But we’re not willing to tell that story and on socially acceptable to post that on.
Yeah. It’s not gonna get many likes on social media if you post those, that kind of content. Totally. I’m curious how you use the word, both the word calling and vocation. Those are words that are really important to me and to my work. Mm-hmm, , I’m always curious to hear how people think about those words in their own lives and in their own work, they would love to just invite you to how you define them, how you’ve made choices about them. What do those words mean to you?
Yeah, it’s tricky for a couple reasons. There’s some complexity tied up into my past in the way that I would’ve thought about that before, but now what I would say is I’m really interested in figuring out how to trust your own sensibilities. So I think there’s a lot of information tied up in the fact that I like the smell of oil paint, and I have friends that mostly they come alive.
Like no one I’ve ever seen when their fingers are in clay. Like there’s a lot of information packed. In there. And I don’t have a clear cut answer about why that could be. And I don’t think that the creative journey is about finding the answers to why that could be, or the vocational, you know, there’s a very specific calling that you’re meant to fill.
And I don’t necessarily believe that anymore. I think that part of being a human and even part of what connects us to the divine and I’m gonna go that route is that curiosity is one of the greatest characteristics that we can entertain. And I actually think that God is curious about what we have to say about the world.
And so that opens up this possibility where we’re not just interested in filling in, in the gaps of what needs to exist in the world, but we’re opening up landscapes of possibility. I really believe that wholeheartedly. And so it’s a nebulous thing. It would be great to have really defined answers to that.
If people do I’d love for them to let me know what the answers are, I’m really interested in this idea of trusting sensibility and following sensibility and exercise a trust and sensibility. And I think that that will actually you’ll look back at your life and you’ll be far more pleased with it than maybe if you had this whole well thought out plan that completely worked out for you.
I don’t know. And maybe that’s just because I’m super interested in being surprised. And again, I’m a whimsical artist, so
I love, it definitely resonates so much with me. Let’s take it back to a conversation I had in grad school. And I was just really started to dive into these questions about calling in vocation, which let me hear doing.
Having these kinds of conversations, but yeah, at that point, I didn’t know if it was for me or for others. I was trying to figure out for myself, what do I do with my life? Where do I wanna go and had a conversation with a professor about this, this question? Like, how do I figure out a sense of, you know, vocation calling?
And what he said to me was like, well, tell me what’s your favorite scent, which is like so interesting. Cause that’s where you started with. Yeah. Yeah. The scent of oils. And I was like, I like lavender. Lavender’s very, really nice. It’s like point was like, it comes from knowing what you love. Yeah. And following that, just like you said, like the curiosity and the people come, seeing people come alive with their hands in the clay.
I think so often again, I think goes back to the questions of money and the pressure of a industrial society and all these things, but we focus so much on the outcome of what we want. We want an answer to the question of calling that tells us how to make money in a way that also makes meaning, which is really important.
And I feel like, you know, that’s an important conversation, a big part of my work, but that has to be an outwork of who we are and that there’s a calling with a capital C. It’s not a job. It’s a movement in the world. That you are made to be a part of. Mm. We’re so focused on the externals of what that, how that can manifest in a career or in a job or whatever the real focus should be internally needs to be inward on being the people that we’re made to be.
And then out of that comes the other things that we’re so get so obsessed with. I don’t know. Does that resonate with you?
Oh my goodness. No, I love that. I mean, the thing is, is that we’ve kind of been dealt some psychological terminology that suppresses this idea. Sometimes we can be afraid that we’re gonna become too narcissistic if we look too deep within ourselves.
Mm-hmm but I think it’s actually exactly the opposite. I think that in order to be the best sort of citizen of the world. And in order to fill the niche that you need to in your community, you have to be yourself. I mean, the other thing is that EE Cummings, the poet said one of my favorite quotes by EE Cummings was he said to be yourself in a world, which is trying its best night and day to make you everybody else is to fight the hardest battle that any human being can fight.
And so I think again, we’re under this pressure of thinking that there are programmatic and systematic ways of dealing with these things and figuring these things out and there — don’t get me wrong — there are incredible guidelines to follow and incredible tools in the world to accommodate your idiosyncrasies mm-hmm but they have to be looked at as a tool and not an answer.
And oh God, I’m gonna say this but as cheesy as it might sound like the answer does actually lie somewhere in the depths of you. And if you’re willing and have the courage to explore what that can be like and follow those idiosyncratic, those paths of sensibility, I think you can develop a really meaningful life that in the end, you won’t be ashamed to have lived, you know, Really beautifully said, I love it.
Oh, thanks Dan. Well, we’re coming up on our time here and I feel like so fun. The philosophy of calling is, you know, I feel like that’s a conversation you and I could probably have for hours on end. It’s really fun to have a comrade and kindred spirit, I guess, in these conversations. So thank you totally.
Yeah. Thank you for that. For folks that wanna follow along with your work are interested in what you’re up to in the world. Is there anything in particular you’d like to invite people to? Yeah, I guess you can check out. I have a personal webpage of my artwork, which is Corey S Frey. S is my middle initial.
So C O R E Y, S as in Sam, F R E Y. And then what we’re doing in Maryland with the well. Our website is the wellcolab.com. So short for the well collaborative, and you can check those things out and you can reach out to me through both of those things as well. My email is listed. You can reach out. I’d love to hear from anybody that’s willing to chat.
I love talking with folks about this stuff, so
awesome. Well, it’s been just so fun just to chat with you, Corey. Thank you so much for the work that you do. Thank you so much for sharing of yourself and your process and everything with us here today. So I really appreciate.
Well, thank you too, Dan. I love what you’re doing at the heart of everything I want to do is this idea of meaning.
So I’m really intrigued by what you’re up to and have loved diving into some of the conversations. So thank you.
Thank you so much.