Meta-Practice

Work and the Importance of Rest: Lessons Learned the Zombie Way

The non-art life that makes an art-life possible.

In the past three and a half weeks, I was home in NYC working my various freelance and day jobs. Artists generally don’t like to publicize their day jobs, for fear of seeming less serious or successful as an artist. But perhaps by omitting my jobs on my blog, I’m implying a falsehood that my art is my income. So: I work as an artist assistant, freelance art handler (recently at the Frieze and NADA fairs, and occasionally at the Museum of Arts and Design), and freelance graphic designer. This is how I cobble together an income to live in NYC, make art, and save up for and recover financially from residencies and exhibitions. The multiple streams mean I’m not tied down or dependent on any one employer (say, for fear of losing health insurance). The trade-off is that it’s financially precarious but strategically flexible. As someone at the Center for Cultural Innovation once explained, artists often advance opportunistically, by taking opportunities as they come.

For example, my residency at c3:initiative happened quite by chance: the Portland ‘Pataphysical Society invited me to do a show. I asked them to suggest places to stay. They asked c3. Then we figured out that making new work for the windows at ‘Pata fit c3’s mission. (Thank you Jo, Dave, Shir and Erin!) Luckily, the people I work with get that I’m a worker and an artist; they psychologically support me by tolerating my occasional unavailability. I realize how uncommon this is, especially as workers’ personal time is increasingly infringed upon by work responsibilities like answering emails, etc.

When I look back at the past few weeks, I’ve realized two small lessons:

I need to be intentional about down time. My body has been forcing me to take breaks via jet lag, exhaustion, and back pain. I’ve been working long days and late nights to maximize on art opportunities and income generation, and to reciprocate clients’ and employers’ commitment. It’s been a sprint. Running training plans outline different types of training for each day of the week, including speed, endurance, active recovery, and rest. Skipping the latter two is a recipe for injury. I have to fight the “cult of busyness.” It’s not enough to catch up on sleep, either; I can’t be like a toddler, toggling between ‘overdrive’ and ‘knocked out’—I need to be conscious to decompress. Though I want to be productive this residency, I also need it to recharge me. Period. It’s not about slowing down to serve the creative process. Utility isn’t everything. (E.g, I’m not a corporation craving insights on creativity and happy workers in order to increase revenue and productivity). I need to prioritize the inherent value of rest and recovery.

Follow-up is work. I left the residency at Harvester Arts on the day after my opening. It was emotionally satisfying to do so—I left just after the high point. But there were a few days’ worth of color-correcting, writing captions, blogging, web updates, bookkeeping, etc. that followed. Administrative labor is work. It’s often very gendered labor, which may contribute to why it’s often invisible and undervalued, as ET pointed out. I can’t fall into that trap. I need to acknowledge that a residency project doesn’t always end when the actual residency does. Just as I’d try to schedule out time to prepare for a project, I have to allow the time and energy for post-residency labor.

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Research

Visiting Artist’s Residencies

Artist-in-resident talks frankly about residencies. 

Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan shares the scoop on how to visit an artist’s colony, without being a resident. Along the way, she divulges the charms and annoyances of artist residency programs, including Djerassi, the Headlands, MacDowell, Yaddo, Ragdale, and the Studios at Key West.

Many artists don’t publish their thoughts about anyone who’s largesse they’ve benefitted from, either out of shyness, appreciation, or caginess. It’s a shame. There’s so much lack of transparency in the art world, and artists are just as guilty. Cheers to Tan.

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Community

2014 StudioWorks applications available

I had an awesome residency experience this past summer at the Tides Institute and Museum of Art. You can read and see pics here.

I’m happy to share that applications 2014 StudioWorks residency are now open!

Review the info here: http://www.tidesinstitute.org/tides/printshop/artistresidency.html

Deadline: February 15, 2014

Go for it, buddies!

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Art Competition Odds

art competition odds: Center for Book Arts’ Artist-in-Residence Workspace Program

The Center for Book ArtsArtist-in-Residence Workspace Program received approximately 150 applications for 5 AIRs in 2014.

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Participants comprise about 1:30, or 3.3% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Art & Development, Travelogue

Woodstock Byrdcliffe: Get excited and make stuff

View from Mount Guardian, Catskills, NY.

View from Mount Guardian, Catskills, NY.

I’m in the Catskills for a short residency at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild. I’m so honored to be here. The land is beautiful, serene, and full of wildlife. I’m giddy; it’s such a contrast from New York City and yet it so strongly recalls the Sierras in California. The colony was founded by British Industrialists seeking to build a utopian Arts and Crafts creative community. The initial attempt didn’t last long, but the Guild lives on as a series of amazing historic buildings housing 17 residents in visual arts, media arts, creative writing, and music composition.

I’ve been here just about a week, and am pretty much settled in my quaint room and a detached studio with high ceilings and skylights. I’m two-thirds through with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow; I started some new drawings and sculptures, and even dreamed up a staged photograph. The setting is literally invigorating—I’ve run further than I have ever before.

Inspired by a tradition I experienced as an Affiliate Artist at the Headlands Center for the Arts, I initiated a residents’ mutual presentation series. It’s basically a slide slam/listening party/clip screening/reading event, made possible with shared laptops and digital projectors and healthy doses of participation and positive intentions. I enjoyed everyone’s presentations tonight. I suspect my readers would be keen to learn more about Julie Perini’s videos. I also really liked Jane Corrigan’s paintings about sentimental landscape images. My highest hope for the series is that some parallels emerge and enliven our discourse, and it appears that some already have.

The only quandry I have now is that the event is gaining interest and we may need to add another night to accommodate fellow artists on the mountain. Seeing a little initiative returned with such participation is very gratifying.

Residencies are like slices of heaven, so that artists can envision making more of “regular” life more like residencies—to inject the space and time to create, think, breathe, stretch, learn, explore, and exchange into life more often and for longer periods.

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Artists, Community, Research

College Art Association: artists, ideas, inspiration

[Apologies for the duration since the last post. I’ve been busy working towards an exhibition—Portraiture: Inside Out, opening at the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University in New Jersey on March 3rd. I’ve also been preparing for a stint as a contributor to SFMOMA’s Open Space blog from March through June.]

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The College Art Association (CAA) 2011 Annual Conference is in New York this week, so I took some time out to attend. I first heard of the conference from classmates seeking academic jobs, but it turns out that the conference has a lot to offer non-job-seekers as well.

My personal highlights are:

During the “Data As Medium” panel, Brian Evans (University of Alabama) talked about cognitive linguistics (someone’s been reading Lakoff/Johnson!) and found similarities between Kandinsky’s point-line-plane schema with databases’ variable-array-table. He also drew parallels between the hierarchy of information (noise-data-info-knowledge) and the experiential spectrum (reality-sensation-perception-cognition). I was fascinated.

Penelope Umbrico, Img Collection #6: Universal Remotes, (for sale on the Internet)

Penelope Umbrico, Img Collection #6: Universal Remotes, (for sale on the Internet). Source: PenelopeUmbrico.net

Penelope Umbrico, For Sale/TVs From Craigslist

Penelope Umbrico, For Sale/TVs From Craigslist. Source: PenelopeUmbrico.net

I adored the artist’s lecture by Penelope Umbrico (Bard College and School of Visual Art). She uses mundane sources like Flickr and Craig’s List to find images of mundane things, like sunsets and armoires. What made her talk especially engaging and funny is the way she structured her narrative to follow her thought process. First came the sunsets, then armoires followed, then televisions. Then photos of people in front of her installations of photos of sunsets at museums, such as the nice installation at SFMOMA’s 75th Anniversary collection show. The worm eats itself.

Curiously, Umbrico cited numerous authors already on my list of to-reads:
Walker Percy, a 20th century fiction and non-fiction writer interested in cognitive science; Vilém Flusser, a Czech philosopher whose writings are oft cited by artists; and Milan Kundera, Czech author of books like The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

The discussion was especially provocative after reading “The Postmedia Perspective,” a recent article by Domenico Quaranta on Rhizome.org (brought to my attention by the astute and curious ET). Quaranta, summing up Peter Weibel, says:

postmedia art is the art that comes after the affirmation of the media; and given that the impact of the media is universal and computers can now simulate all other media, all contemporary art is postmedia.

Or in Weibel’s words:

This media experience has become the norm for all aesthetic experience. Hence in art there is no longer anything beyond the media. No-one can escape from the media. There is no longer any painting outside and beyond the media experience. There is no longer any sculpture outside and beyond the media experience. There is no longer any photography outside and beyond the media experience.

I also attended “Making a Living With or Without a Gallery,” in which the panelists could offer little beyond common sense career advice (dealers aren’t parents {or peyh-rints, in the New York idiom}; getting a gallery is not an end; artists should make their own scene). Thus my highlight was running into art critic Jerry Saltz. I think his writing is accessible, smart and unpretentious. Indeed, I’ve heard people say that the New York Magazine and Work of Art critic is–aided by social media–populist to a fault, but I think in the art world, where playing nice-nice for self-advancement seems like the rule, I find his willingness to say what he really thinks, to engage mass audiences, and to be uninhibitedly enthusiastic at times to be refreshing.

A panel on residencies hosted by the Alliance of Artists Communities exposed me to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. It sounds like a great residency if you can commit to seven (winter) months in New England.

I did not manage to formulate my comment into a question during the Q&A session, but I wanted to say that after all the hours (and fees) I’ve spent applying to residencies (14 applications to residencies, fellowships and studio programs in the past 12 months), I have come to appreciate specificity. I am grateful to those organizations that state what kind of artists should apply, and frustrated by organizations who cast very wide nets, even if the artists they have awarded in the past fit a specific profile—perhaps they are international or established, or comfortably 2-D or 3-D work.

Even if application fees merely offset the costs of the program, and organizations want to attract the largest pool of entries in order to secure the best applications since you never know what the jurors will go for, it seems like being specific about which artists should apply would behoove the jurors and applicants. While I wouldn’t want any artist to lose out on opportunities, let’s be realistic about the odds of success and the wasted efforts of hundreds of applicants.

For example:

The A.I.R. Gallery’s 2011 Fellowship program received 250+ applications for six fellows.
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Smack Mellon’s 2011 Artist Studio Program received 600+ applications for six studios.
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The Public Art Fund’s In the Public Realm new work commission program received 400+ applications for a 10-person shortlist, for up to three commissions.
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The Lower East Side Printshop Special Editions Residency Program received a whopping 600+ applications for four awardees.
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[See more art competition odds.]

I don’t intend to discourage artists from applying (quitters never win!), and I do not mean to imply that these programs don’t warrant their desirability and high level of competition. What I’m trying to say is: Don’t say your program supports emerging artists if rarely awards them in actuality. Save us the time, effort, and dashed hopes. There are certainly easier ways of generating income and finding great artists. The Jerome Foundation is very clear about who and what it funds, and I think it’s a great model.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite panel featured major artists talking about life as artists. Parallel Practices featured Petah Coyne, Philip Taafe, Vija Celmins, Robert Gober, and Janine Antoni. That’s a mind-blowing group of artists. Initially, they responded to the question of what they do when they’re not making art: gardening (Celmins), travelling or walking to observe (Coyne & Taafe), nothing (Taafe), purposively driving cross-country to stop in post-Katrina New Orleans and Laramie, WY (Gober), and seeking to release the unconscious through dance (Antoni; she demonstrated an amazing five-part sequence of movements inspired by Jungian unconscious. To boot, she also mentioned flow, the concept by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, one of my favorite authors at the moment. Of flow, Antoni said, “I live my life for it,” and I think many artists would agree.)

But the Q&A session made me realize that this discussion was not just good because these were great artists, but because the talk focused on two fundamentals of being an artist:
1. Creativity—where it comes from, and how to find it when it’s gone; and
2. Resolving life of an artist, which can feel like an anomaly in conflict with the status quo.

I think hearing these artists speak about such fundamental and personal matters provided a sense of wholeness; implied was the vision of the integrated self, in which being an artist did not conflict with being a committed partner, parent, worker, or invested citizen. While these artists are arguably among the most important living artists of our times (I’m in agreement with Gober, who said such of Celmins), and their realities are much different from the mass at CAA (few know the pain of a bad Venice Biennale show, but most can relate to bad reviews), there was a sense that common conditions to being an artist, like finding balance in art and love, can be resolved. It was hope-inspiring.

At the International Association of Art Critic’s panel, “Artist-Critic: The Critic-Artist,” my negative emotions narrowed in on one critic—I didn’t catch his name because I couldn’t see who was who—but he caught my attention with glib, disparaging statements like,

“I don’t find contemporary art that engrossing.”

“Forty years ago, poets and painters all went to the same events,” (as if there were ever only one scene, or one scene that mattered) “and that’s not so today, so I think that’s why there are no poet-critics.” (What about Kevin Killian and a lively, arty lit scene in San Francisco?)

With the rise of blogs, “there’s rampant amateurism” that the panelists stood against, and deservedly so, because “If you were going to get your car fixed, you wouldn’t take it to a repair shop that’s just been open six months. Likewise, we’ve been looking at art for thirty or forty years, and that experience sets us apart.” (What a bad analogy. I would totally trust a newly certified mechanic with basic repairs. The inexperienced would never become experienced otherwise. Plus, while excellence may be aided by experience, it is not exclusive to the experienced.)

Ironically, someone else on the panel told a joke about critic’s kingmaker complex, for which this self-important critic seemed to be a case study.

Mel Chin, Safehouse

A safe house in New Orleans that will store the hand-drawn “Fundred” dollar bills before they are brought by armored truck to Congress. Source: Fundred.org.

Mel Chin is my new favorite artist. His interview by Miranda Lash of the New Orleans Museum of Art revealed a thoughtful, intelligent, politically-engaged, humble and personable artist. Besides the utter charm of a Southern-accented Chinese American contemporary artist (seriously!), he talked with sensitivity and generosity about his projects, which could be considered social practice or political art, yet seems to come from such a place of intellectual clarity and moral certainty, it seems free of the politically-correct baggage. It is not aesthetic theory that lends these projects value. They are compelling because they act in the world with efficacy.

In Chin’s view, “Art is a catalytic structure that forms the possibility of options.”

Watch a PBS Art 21 video of Mel Chin discussing Revival Field, a scientific experiment to show how plants can remove toxins from soil. Chin’s animation explains the project in greater detail.

I am also a huge fan of the Fundred project, a participatory movement to lobby Congress to clean up the lead-contaminated soil in a New Orleans neighborhood. Get involved and draw a Fundred!

Fundred is an art project envisioned by Chin and executed by children, adults, teachers, and all of us.

Between sessions I attended the California College of the Arts alumni reception. It was really great to see former instructors, catch up with alumni, and connect with other artists new to New York. Being surrounded by bright, thoughtful artists and art workers is still one of my favorite activities.

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