William Schaff: Please Don’t Drown

Posted November 05 2014

Sometimes, the stakes are higher.  Sometimes, and you’re not even sure why, some things have more weight.  You care, a lot, about the outcome.  Well, when I feel that way about someone or something, I like to work my hardest with the hopes of rising to the occasion.  I have such hopes now.

Our first opening in our new space will be William Schaff:  Please Don’t Drown.  We booked this show about a year ago and booking that far in advance, at that time, did not necessarily mean it would come to fruition.  I’m happy to report we now sometimes book over a year in advance and fully expect to still be around.  Over that year I was able to visit William in his studio 3 times, email back and forth occasionally and follow his life on the interwebs.  I also recently received a very sincere, thorough and complicated response to my questionnaire.  I believe Mr. Schaff to be earnest and someone for whom life is high stakes.

Life is high stakes for everyone I suppose.  But some people are more daring, more willing to question and debate, more willing to feel things and fear things and pray.  I really like those kinds of people.  William Schaff has said and done some amazing things for me.  He has also challenged me, made assumptions, shared openly and listened to my stories.  And, he bought me beers and burned me a CD for my ride home.  I love stuff like that too.

I offer my first piece of evidence.  I asked Mr. Schaff how he remains hopeful.

WS: Yikes, I am not too sure how much I remain hopeful as opposed to the fact that I just haven’t drowned yet.  Well, maybe that’s not true.  I pray a lot.  My truest hope is to use this skill of mine to somehow have the work interact with people…get people to feel something about instances and interactions I also feel strongly about.  In doing so, I ultimately hope to glorify God, as I feel this world and life in it to be creations of God.

I think in this one answer you can see some of what I mean.  First Mr. Schaff wonders if he’s even hopeful at all.  Then he introduces doubt, prayer, connecting and glorifying God.  I think Mr. Schaff struggles every day to live honorably, but some days is easier than others.

A fair amount of Schaff’s art work depicts heavy subject matter.  I asked why.

WS: It (being the heavy subject matter) confuses me.  Things that confuse me, leave me with questions.  I want answers (or at least more useful questions) and so through the work, I work on my own thoughts about things and this creates stepping stones for conversations with the audience that views it.  Dialogue creates an avenue for a better understanding of my own questions and those around me.

I aim to keep having dialogue with Mr. Schaff, and partly for that very reason.  He confuses me.  He wants to connect, but he also wants to confront.  We had a pretty passionate and intense discussion one night, but it’s just that kind of willingness and fearlessness to challenge someone that intrigues me.  I like being questioned.  We got to hammer it out, rather intensely, and probably too intensely for most people.  But I think we could both step back from it with a new and deeper understanding of each other.  Mr. Schaff is worthy of my time, thoughts and efforts.


Since I understood William to be pretty in touch with his pain, and interested in sharing and processing it, I asked why he felt others might squander pain.

WS: If by “squander pain” you mean squander the lessons that can be learned from pain, I think it’s fear.  I think most of people’s actions (often my own as well) are directed by, and even controlled by fear.  It can be a terrifying thing to open yourself up to the lessons that come with pain.  Shoot, even opening yourself up to experience pain.


William has experienced pain in his life, as most people have.  I won’t go into here, but he does share some of the circumstances, so it’s out there if you care to look.  I had a hard time righting myself with the idea of William being fearful of pain.  It is in his art.  It is in his life.  Life is pain. I asked how he keeps going.

WS: I feel it is our duty to each other.  The desire to act on that moral obligation keeps me going (some days better than others).  I do believe God keeps me going too.  Even though I am not sure I could explain how.  I cannot imagine any other way I would still be doing this.


William has fears and struggles, and seriously, life can really suck at times.  But he is willing to take risks.  He wants to connect.  He has committed to being an artist and that doesn’t always pay the bills.  Personally, I think it seems like he already has the answers.  I think we all do.  I just think figuring it out, through all the ambiguity and Sturm und Drang is a frightening act.  But if it weren’t frightening at times, would it even be worth it?  I asked William what he thought might help people to grow stronger through their greatest challenges.

WS: Confidence.  A knowledge of one’s self.  A willingness to be scared, or to fail.  A desire to question and to be questioned.  A true desire to learn of the world around us.  And to look at our own place among each other.


See, wisdom and answers.  And one more piece of good advice.  I asked William how he felt about regrets.  He said, “A waste of time.  And, no, I do not have any.”  Life is frightening and horrific and confusing and painful and beautiful and meaningful and amazingly awesome, you just have to not drown.