Art Competition Odds

Art Competition Odds: Queens Museum-Jerome Foundation Fellowship Program for Emerging Artists in New York City

The Queens Museum-Jerome Foundation Fellowship Program for Emerging Artists in New York City received 824 applications for three fellowships available.

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Selected artists comprise about 1:56, or 0.3% of applicants.

See all Art Competition Odds.

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Research

Highlights from the Positive Psychology conference

Last weekend I attended the International Positive Psychology Association’s Second World Congress on Positive Psychology in Philadelphia, PA, with the support of a Travel and Study Grant from the Jerome Foundation. It was an invigorating experience. I gained new concepts, an inspired list of books to read, and a clearer understanding of this growing field.

Positive psychology is a new realm; I’ve encountered skepticism of it based on its name only. But the conference (which I’ll call ‘IPPA,’ pronounced “IH-pah”) featured rigorous empirical researchers and practitioners across clinical psychology, education, business, and the humanities. With 1,200 whip-smart attendees from 62 countries, I felt as though I was part of an emergent domain that will revolutionize psychology as well as culture. I’ve been reading books about positive psychology since 2009; IPPA made me excited to learn more and help advance the field as it intersects with the arts and humanities.

What is positive psychology? Perhaps this is best explained via the words of its founding psychologists, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2000), as quoted by Robert Vallerand:

“Psychology should document how people’s lives can be most worth living.”

To paraphrase James Pawelski, IPPA President as well as the Director of Education and Senior Scholar at the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at UPenn, one of the leading centers of research and scholarship:

Positive psychology is not merely a psychology for sunny days. It is also a psychology for rainy days…. [As a young person witnessing the aftermath of the recent terrorist acts in Norway said,] ‘If one man can create so much hate and death, how much good can we create together?’

I think it was also Pawelski, in discussing the positive turn in humanities, who expressed that

We see positive psychology as balancing (negative) psychology

which for the 20th century has been fixated on trauma, illness, and pathology. As in physical medicine, it is high time to expand beyond treatment towards wellbeing. As Chris Peterson put it:

“Health is more than the absence of illness”

and so too, psychological wellbeing is more than the absence of pathology. The positive psychology view according to Martin Seligman is that

People are not driven by the past, but can be drawn to the future.

Again, Pawelski:

Rather than seeing the positive as simplistic, positive psychology makes the positive more complex.

What I looked forward to. Many of my drawings in the Positive Signs series, as well as some concepts in my essays on Art Practical, were inspired by Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity. During my residency at Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild immediately preceding IPPA, I read Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. So I was very excited to hear Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi speak.

Seligman (left) and Csikszentmihalyi (right) are named IPPA Fellows.

Seligman (left) and Csikszentmihalyi (right) are named IPPA Fellows.

I was also excited to meet potential partners, especially those whose work intersects with the arts. I suspect that principles of positive psychology can be useful for contemporary artists by informing:

processes, by becoming aware of flow activities;

artwork, via increased understanding of relationships created in the art viewing experience and new theories of phenomenology; and

attitudes, especially in regards to experiencing career setbacks and successes.

Highlights. I was very excited about:

Clearer definitions. University of Illinois researcher Ed Diener identified

preconditions of happiness as optimism, positive experiences, and lack of negative affect.

Gallup Scientist in Residence Shane Lopez pinpoints hope.

“Hope is goal-directed thinking (goals thinking) in which people perceive that they can produce routes to desired goals (pathways thinking) and the requisite motivation to use those routes (agency thinking).

Hope — The ideas and energy we have for the future.

High hope people believe that the future will be better than the present and that they have the power to make it so.”

Matt Gallagher, a clinical psychology researcher at the University of Kansas, distinguishes between hope and optimism:

Hope (Snyder) — Agency and pathways towards goals

Optimism (Scheier & Carver) — Globalized positive/negative expectancies

Emphasis on personal agency [is the] crucial difference

Matthew Gallagher's research on the unique effects of hope and optimism on wellbeing.

Matthew Gallagher's research on the unique effects of hope and optimism on wellbeing.

He also explained the difference thusly:

When you mash optimism and self-efficacy together, you get hope.

Erica Chadwick, PhD candidate from the Victoria University of Wellington, shared this definition of savoring from Fred B. Byrant and Joseph Veroff (2007):

If a savoring process is elicited when a positive emotion is experienced, then savoring could well be the mediating mechanism through which a person’s cognitive repertoire is expanded when a positive emotion is experienced. Furthermore, when people savor, they often broaden the range of feelings they can have and contexts in which these feelings can occur.

Happiness is not frivolous. Hope can’t wait.

Lopez’s Gallup studies revealed that

Hope, engagement, and wellbeing do not correlate to income.

Clearly this is not an argument against equity, but a call to foster hope without delay. That’s because, as Lopez pointed out,

“When we link ourselves to the future, we behave better today.”

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943) is a fundamental psychology concept visually represented as a pyramid. The idea is that basic needs must be met first, and in order of importance, with self-actualization as the pinnacle—and endmost—need.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Maslow's hierarchy of needs (Source: Wikipedia)

At IPPA, Diener argued that

Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be addressed at all levels, not necessarily in the order Maslow suggested.

Ed Diener's revision of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, with the needs congruent and concurrent.

Ed Diener's revision of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, with basic needs side-by-side with psychological needs.

Edward Deci, who studies self-determination theory, focused on

three basic human needs: the need to express competence, autonomy, and relatedness, which can be intrinsic, extrinsic, or emotionally motivated. Extrinsic motivations can actually undermine intrinsic motivations for engaging activities.

Edward Deci's Self-Determination Theory describes three basic psychological needs. Competence is the sense of effectance and confidence in ones's context. Autonomy is to behave in accord with abiding vaules and interests, and engage actions that would be relatively self-endorsed. Relatedness is feeling cared for, connected to, and having a sense of belonging with others.

Edward Deci's Self-Determination Theory describes three basic psychological needs. Competence is the sense of effectance and confidence in ones's context. Autonomy is to behave in accord with abiding vaules and interests, and engage actions that would be relatively self-endorsed. Relatedness is feeling cared for, connected to, and having a sense of belonging with others.

I especially appreciated Deci’s point that

Autonomy does not mean complete independence; you can be autonomously dependent

because that points to how artists can be autonomous and forge their own paths with the support and encouragement of their peers.

This sentiment was echoed by Karen Skerrett, who studies qualities of resilience in couple relationships:

Resilience is not self-sufficiency.

Deci added that

To foster greater internalization, create social contexts that allow people to feel competent, autonomous, and related. But it must fit with who people are

Which seems like a worthwhile consideration for artists developing participatory and relational projects.

Diener also identified,

“The number one predictor of enjoyment: ‘I learned new things, and I got to use my new skills today.’

In advance of a positive criticality. Since even my wholly optimistic work can inspire projections of skepticism, I was especially keen to hear Pawelski share Csikszentmihalyi’s opinion that

Positive psychology is a metaphysical orientation towards the positive. In other words, the positive is just as real as the negative.

Dan Moores illustrated this with a humorous talk called Ecstatic Poetry and the Limits of Suspicion. In it, he conveyed

we have a hermeneutics [study of interpretation] of suspicion (Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud), while lacking a hermeneutics of affirmation.  

Such a hermeneutics disserves

“The ecstatic poetic tradition [which] connects many cultures and reaches across vast stretches of time. It represents a positive affirmation of the values of happiness, human connections, festivities, and relatedness to transcendent sources of meaning. The tradition contains countless poems depicting peak states of being and positive, life-affirming emotions, such as serenity, awe, wonder, rapture, joy, gratitude, and love. Such poetry is written in praise of the goodness of life, the abundance of nature, and the intimate interrelation of the whole cosmos.”

Unsurprisingly, Moores shared a Romantic poem. This spurred a sense that contemporary art trends that revisit Romanticism and Transcendentalism (the “New Sincerity”) may find inspiration in this intersection of positive psychology and humanities, if the scientific approach isn’t too much at odds with the intuitive nature of such artmaking.

Elevation and awe. Jonathan Haidt, who studies moral political psychology, presented research

on emotion and elevation, correlating ‘up’ with altruism and admiration

Jonathan Haidt's chart showing how Elevation and Disgust are Opposites. People moving up blurs the human/animal divide, stirs unpleasant physical feelings in the gut, and motivates people to separate, close off, and reject, so is negative. People moving up blurs the human/god divide, providing a warm glow in the chest, and motivates toward merging, opening up, and copying virtuous example, and so is positive.

Jonathan Haidt's chart showing how Elevation and Disgust are Opposites. People moving up blurs the human/animal divide, stirs unpleasant physical feelings in the gut, and motivates people to separate, close off, and reject, so is negative. People moving up blurs the human/god divide, providing a warm glow in the chest, and motivates toward merging, opening up, and copying virtuous example, and so is positive.

It’s similar to the up-down cognitive metaphors in Lakoff/Johnson’s linguistics, which I diagrammed in Positive Sign #24.

Christine Wong Yap, Positive Sign #24 (Conceptual Metaphors), 2011; glitter and neon pen on gridded vellum; 8.5 × 11 in./21.5 × 28 cm

Christine Wong Yap, Positive Sign #24 (Conceptual Metaphors), 2011; glitter and neon pen on gridded vellum; 8.5 × 11 in./21.5 × 28 cm. Source: blog.sfmoma.org.

Veronika Huta, who studies awe, inspiration, and transcendence at the University of Ottowa, independently confirmed that

Elevation is correlated with, and is an indicator of, virtuous, pro-social behavior.

Connecting neo-Romantic art and studies of awe was UPenn graduate student Ann Marie Roepke’s diagram relating horror and awe, similar to the 19th century view of the sublime.

horrow/awe to need for accommodation to growth.

Slide by Anne Marie Roepke showing horrow/awe to need for accommodation to growth.

Passion. Robert Vallerand, from the University of Montreal, studies obsessive and harmonious passion.

Harmonious passion manifests as a strong desire to engage in the activity that remains under the person's control. The person can choose when to and when not to engage in the activity. It is in harmony with the person's other activities and life contexts, and it leads to positive emotional experience and to flexible persistence.

Robert Vallerand describes harmonious passion as a strong desire to engage in the activity that remains under the person's control. The person can choose when to and when not to engage in the activity. It is in harmony with the person's other activities and life contexts, and it leads to positive emotional experience and to flexible persistence.

Robert Vallerand describes obsessive passion as a strong desire to engage in the activity that eventually gets out of control. The person can't help him or herself; the passion must run its course. It creates conflict with the person's other activities, and leads to negative emotional consequences and to rigid persistence.

Vallerand describes obsessive passion as a strong desire to engage in the activity that eventually gets out of control. The person can't help him or herself; the passion must run its course. It creates conflict with the person's other activities, and leads to negative emotional consequences and to rigid persistence.

There’s a clear analogy to the arts here, where artists may develop a detrimental obsessive passion driven by extrinsic motivators, rather than a harmonious passion fueled by intrinsic motivation that leads towards increased subjective wellbeing.

Robert Vallerand shows that obsessive passion and harmonious passion can both lead to performance, but only harmonious passion will include enhanced subjective wellbeing.

Vallerand found that obsessive passion and harmonious passion can both lead to deliberate practice and performance, but only harmonious passion will include enhanced subjective wellbeing.

Since I think emerging artists can put pressure themselves to see extrinsic rewards to their progress, Vallerand’s final message seems especially relevant.

Vallerand's take home messages: Try to cultivate harmonious passion for one activity. Take the activity seriously without taking yourself seriously. Include other fun activities in your life. Understand the functionality of obsessive passion. Learn from setbacks, improve and grow within the activity.

Vallerand's take home messages: Try to cultivate harmonious passion for one activity. Take the activity seriously without taking yourself seriously. Include other fun activities in your life. Understand the functionality of obsessive passion. Learn from setbacks, improve and grow within the activity.

Information graphics. What follows is a sampling of visuals which appealed to me.

Hans Henrik Knoop's flow chart linking wellbeing, learning, and creativity, delightfully overlaid on a fountain.

Hans Henrik Knoop's flow chart linking wellbeing, learning, and creativity, delightfully overlaid on a fountain.

Neural synchrony imaged by Stephens, Silbert and Hasson, displayed in a talk by Barbara Friedrickson.

Neural synchrony imaged by Stephens, Silbert and Hasson, displayed in a talk by Barbara Friedrickson.

Sara L. Trescott presented a poster entitled Pain and Happiness: A Shifting Mathematical and Psychological Paradigm.

Sara L. Trescott presented a poster entitled Pain and Happiness: A Shifting Mathematical and Psychological Paradigm.

The most frequently presented graphic seemed to be a flow chart whose correlations are represented in nominal tenths or hundredths, rather than the visual hierarchies I would have preferred. It might well be a data-minded scientific idiom. Perhaps visual representation would be misconstrued as non-empirical shorthand.

I believe this is Lucia Helena Walendy De Freitas' poster on The Influence of Optimism on Subjective Wellbeing: A Study Based on College Students and Workers Samples.

I believe this is Lucia Helena Walendy De Freitas' poster on The Influence of Optimism on Subjective Wellbeing: A Study Based on College Students and Workers Samples.

Bee Teng Lim's Powerpoint flow chart showing the impact of amplifying savoring.

Bee Teng Lim's Powerpoint flow chart showing the impact of amplifying savoring.

These graphics, indeed, the positive psychology endeavor as a whole—recall a passage from Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, in which the author responds to an engineer’s algebraic formula:

“I was struck by how impoverished ordinary language can be by contrast, requiring its user to arrange inordinate numbers of words in tottering and unstable piles in order to communicate meanings more infinitely more basic than anything related to an electrical network. I found myself wishing that the rest of mankind would follow the engineers’ example and agree on a series of symbols which could point incontrovertibly to certain elusive, vaporous and often painful psychological states—a code which might help us feel less tongue-tied and less lonely, and enable us to resolve arguments with swift and silent exchanges of equations.”

Two projects deserve special recognition for employing terrific graphic design. Both were large-scale public initiatives promoting wellbeing, thus the success of the endeavors was dependent on accessible design and copywriting.

Nic Marks discussed a project with new economics foundation promoting wellbeing in London.

Nic Marks presented Do-It-Yourself Happiness, a Well London project.

Nic Marks presented Do-It-Yourself Happiness, a Well London project.

Plus, Marks conducted a drawing exercise in which workshop attendees drew each other without looking at their papers, which enacted the five steps the public initiative promoted. I loved the exercise, as participants’ responses were immediate, hilarious, and relational.

Participant's blind portrait of another participant.

Participant's blind portrait of another participant.

Chris Peterson and Nansook Park, both from the University of Michigan, shared their ___ Makes Life Worth Living campaign, a university-wide year theme. Students wore t-shirts with the blanks filled in.

___ Makes Life Worth Living.

Conference photos. And inspired by Richard Baker’s quiet and stirring photographs in Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, I clicked a few images documenting the visual vocabulary of the conference.

Post Reception Still Life

Applied Positive Psychology symposium.

Poster Session 1

Stripes

Poster Session.

Gina Haines' poster on positive psychology and phenomenology featured a foil mirror.

Gina Haines' poster on positive psychology and phenomenology featured a foil mirror.

Certificate of Attendence

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Community, News, Travelogue

Goodbye Byrdcliffe, Hello Positive Psychology!

I had a lovely time at the Woodstock Byrdcliffe residency. It was really an idyllic place to live and make art. A typical day for me:

Wake up to birdsong.
Run (including my first 10-mile).
Read and write in my sun-drenched studio—Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi’s thought-provoking Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (1990) and Alain de Botton’s beautiful The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (1998).
Work on drawings, collages, mixed media, or photo projects.
Eat and socialize in the large communal kitchen with the other AIRs, including some amazing, health-minded cooks. They inspire me to eat more whole grains and less meat, and cook more. You’d be inspired too, if you’d had Dan’s homemade pita bread, Tryn’s key lime pie, and Bob’s chilled carrot-coconut milk soup.

Sights around Byrdcliffe: a brilliant meadow, backlit leaves, turkey vulture, black bear.

Sights around Byrdcliffe: a brilliant meadow, backlit leaves, turkey vulture, black bear.

Chipmunks everywhere.

Chipmunks everywhere.

Julie, Mary, Robert, Tryn, and Dan hanging out in the kitchen after Mexican food night.

Julie, Mary, Robert, Tryn, and Dan hanging out in the kitchen after Mexican food night.

Outdoor sculpture show at White Pines. Really loved the architecture.

Outdoor sculpture show at White Pines. Really loved the architecture.

View from White Pines.

View from White Pines.

In addition I took a Machine Woodworking class with Paul Henderson, down at the Byrdcliffe Barn. Cutting dovetails, mortises, and tenons with Paul, we’d chat about tools and music (he’s a trumpeter in a funk band!). It was tons of fun, and it reminds me how nice it is to have access to a really nice woodshop….

Paul and Jessica in the woodshop. That day's lesson: using routers and jigs to machine dovetails.

Paul and Jessica in the woodshop. That day's lesson: using routers and jigs to machine dovetails.

The residency was very productive and re-energizing. I am so grateful I got to be part of the Byrdcliffe story, enjoy the amazing land, and meet the other AIRs and the hardworking Byrdcliffe staff. Thanks Byrdcliffe!

Today
Artist in Residence Open Studios
Byrdcliffe Art Colony, Woodstock, NY
3:30–7pm

Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild Artist in Residence Open Studios, July 23rd. full text: http://www.woodstockguild.org/artist-in-residence

My 360º studio photo-collage was featured on Woodstock Byrdcliffe’s email announcement! The super smart and interesting Julie Perini will be screening her experimental film and video work in my studio. Photos of my projects are in the Villeta, however, I won’t be there because I’ll be at…

July 23–26
The International Positive Psychology Association’s Second World Congress of Positive Psychology

Philadelphia, PA

Among the speakers are Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, whose books inform my work, including, most directly, the Positive Signs series (a selection is now on view at Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco, CA). I’m really looking forward to hearing these authors speak, delving deeper into positive psychology, and thinking through how it relates to artmaking and art viewing experiences.

I am able to attend this gathering with the support of a Travel and Study Grant from the Jerome Foundation. I am so grateful to them for the support. Thank you Jerome Foundation!

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Art & Development

Art Competition Odds: Jerome Foundation Travel and Study Grant

The Jerome Foundation’s Travel and Study Grant received 278 applications this year for 17 Visual Arts Grants awarded.

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or 1:16, or 6%

See all Art Competition Odds.

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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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