Soak Test

Sandra Bernhard on Growing up in an Artistic Household and Not Getting Jaded

A woman standing holding her jacket.
Actor and comedian Sandra Bernhard.

Photography by Brett Erickson.

What's your relationship to art history? What do you hope it will ultimately be?

I grew up around art. My mother was a very talented abstract painter, sculptor, and true original. [Fine art] is a different expression than performing, more solitary and objective. It’s also in the connective tissue of our history from the beginning of time and onward. Without visual beauty, the world would be sterile—it elevates humanity. As an artist, you have stay open to change and to shedding your skin. It should be a natural evolution, not something forced nor labored over. Remaining inspired and open is the gift that comes with being curious and engaged with life; there is no other recipe to being someone who continues to give to their work and the world.

Can you remember a time you wanted to quit? What stopped you?

There were nights that I felt defeated, frustrated, and alone when I first started performing, but I had my mentor Paul Mooney who would show up and talk me out of it. I was very young. Of course, you can’t know for sure if you will find it, but it happened pretty quickly for me. I didn’t get jaded, and that’s a blessing.

When you are making work, does it feel seminal in process?

When you are creating a piece or have an idea, you can sense the authenticity and if you might be onto something new and fresh.