Actively practicing love in an everyday, sustainable manner
My work is about actively loving and being an active participant in love. When referring to love, I am looking at psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s self-help book The Road Less Traveled, in which he defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Peck wrote, “Love is an act of will - - namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” Love can be practiced in all kinds of relationships in one’s life; romantic, platonic, work, familial, monogamous, poly., etc. Love should be practiced in an everyday, sustainable manner rather than in a grand, romanticized one. 
Discussions of vulnerability, growth, comfort, observation, care, boundaries, assessing, and reassessing are present in my work, seeing as all these themes are involved in the bigger picture of love. A large portion of my work has been heavily inspired by my relationship with my partner. Our relationship has been the catalyst for me to be tremendously vulnerable, to expand my own boundaries, to assess my own needs, to actively care for someone else’s needs, and to put my time into nurturing the growth of someone else. Through my relationship with my partner, not only have I learned a lot about expressing love in a romantic relationship, but I also have been prompted to reflect on how love is expressed in all my other relationships.
One of the main things people model love from is what they see growing up in their homes. Growing up for me, there were three children (me and my siblings) and four adults (my parents and two other adults) living under one roof all together. Adults often have differing views on how children should be raised. I remember a lot of blaming, arguing, finger pointing, and crying from the adults. I remember feeling confused, angry, and wanting to separate myself from the situation. It caused me to keep a lot to myself and internalize my emotions. I started viewing vulnerability and dependency of any kind, in myself and others, as a weakness. The situation I grew up in set a baseline of how interpersonal relationships look like that was lacking in healthy communication, care, tenderness, healthy boundaries, and honesty.
 When my grandmother was diagnosed with cancer during my senior year of high school in 2014, I felt a shift inside me. I saw the devastation behind the “strength” my parents and the rest of my family were portraying. I wanted to help carry some of the load. I wanted to be around my family more and to be able to listen to what we were all going through in our own ways. It was a step of growth, but there were still barriers. No one was allowed to cry in front of my grandmother. From my understanding, it was seen as selfish. I remember she was on her death bed in my parents’ home and our Rabbi had come to say some blessings. A few of my family members and I were in her room while the Rabbi was speaking. My emotions hit me, and I started crying. I was almost immediately told to leave the room. In that moment I felt shame, embarrassment, sadness, confusion, worry, heartbreak, so on and so on. This small step of vulnerability that I had been working towards for years felt bad and wrong. It felt like I was behaving correctly before when I was keeping everything bottled up so tightly. Thankfully, there was someone downstairs who opened their arms for me and told me it was okay to cry. They gave me words of validation. We cried together on the couch.
 The work I exhibited for my thesis consisted of an interactive installation (come sit with me /), a framed photograph (Untitled), and an embroidery piece (thank you) (Fig. 1). The main focus was come sit with me / , while the other two pieces played supportive roles. In come sit with me / I used furniture to create a domestic setting where people feel safe. I embroidered ambiguous figures on a couch, chair, and pillows using different colored yarn and a few different stitching methods. I view the different colored yarn and stitching methods as different presences. For the colors that blend into the colors of the furniture, I used more time intensive and complicated stitching methods. I felt like these “quieter” presences deserved the extra care and to be able to stand out in their own ways. I view embroidery as a laborious and loving tool to show care and attention.

Fig. 1 Elan Schwartz, Installation shot of come sit with me /

The figures overlap in some areas and are distant in others. The distance is just as important as the overlap. I’m alluding to this equal validity in the short poem I’ve written that follows the title.
come sit with me /
i like where we are but can the toes of our feet tap / tomorrow
you can rest your head on my lap / i’d like this corner to myself 
/ i need more today
 Space is an important part of growth, just as connectivity is. It’s important to acknowledge that people’s expressions and receptions of love are different. These individualities should be a priority when considering the different people in one’s life because a relationship will grow in a healthy way when those individualities are catered to rather than seen as a hindrance. This value of individuality can be seen in Pratya Jankong’s Bed Check series (Fig. 2). The series started as a way to handle the scrutiny from the US government. In order to gain citizenship, a couple must prove the legitimacy of their relationship, but through heteronormative criteria of validity (Arguelles). I see this series being about nonconformity when it comes to expression of love and vulnerability within a relationship. The “terms” of a relationship, the things the people are agreeing to and committing to with/for each other, should be unique to one’s own relationship. Why should we expect that what works and is effective for specific people should automatically work and be effective at the same level for other people? Why are some relationships seen as not as “valid” or “real” because they don’t meet our own criteria? Being an active participant in love includes things like honest communication about one’s own needs to oneself and others, as well as healthy boundaries and creating safe spaces for vulnerability. These broad behaviors are universal, but the specificities should be unique to each and every person.