Research

Languishing in 2021

Learning a new psychological concept, over year into the pandemic.

I related to this article so much! I thought getting my vaccine shot would change everything. The pandemic is still dampening many aspects of life, and I’m still stuck in my own head, for better or worse. Learning to name this feeling of languishing—and see that it is a normal, common reaction—is helpful. It’s also great to be reminded of the importance of flow, a concept I learned about and wanted to share via my Positive Signs drawings from about 10 years ago.

“Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness….

…[as] the pandemic has dragged on, and the acute state of anguish has given way to a chronic condition of languish….

…In psychology, we think about mental health on a spectrum from depression to flourishing. Flourishing is the peak of well-being: You have a strong sense of meaning, mastery and mattering to others. Depression is the valley of ill-being: You feel despondent, drained and worthless. Languishing is … the void between depression and flourishing — the absence of well-being….

—Adam Grant, ”There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,“ NY Times, April 19, 2021

I am guilty of thinking in this duality between anxiety/depression and flourishing. This is a 5-part Venn diagram I made inspired by Martin Seligman’s PERMA theory of flourishing.

a drawing in gel pen with a five-part Venn diagram inspired by Martin Seligman's PERMA theory about flourishing.
Positive Signs: United Theories, 2012, gel pen on vellum, 32 x 40 inches unframed / 35.5 x 43.5 x 1.5 inches framed / 81.2 x 101.6 cm unframed / 90 x 110.5 x 3.8 cm framed. Supported by Lucas Artists Program at the Montalvo Arts Center.

…when you’re languishing, you might not notice the dulling of delight or the dwindling of drive….

So much of my artwork inspired by positive psychology is about noticing your feelings!

Christine Wong Yap, take charge of your happiness, 2011, ~83 × 24 × 1 in / 211 × 61 × 2.5 cm.
Christine Wong Yap, take charge of your happiness, 2011, ~83 × 24 × 1 in / 211 × 61 × 2.5 cm.

Not to mention my work that aspires to delight.

4 photos documenting a flag procession and raising ceremony. the flags are colorful patterns without representational symbols.
Irrational Exuberance Flags, 2012–13, five flags and five sashes; flagpoles, bases; participation; flags: 48 x 48 up to 48 x 80 inches each, poles: 8 to 30 feet each. Supported by Lucas Artists Program at the Montalvo Arts Center. Photos: Susan O’Malley.

…When you can’t see your own suffering, you don’t seek help or even do much to help yourself….

I just remarked how hard it is to ask for help—to allow yourself be held in support by others.

Photo of calligraphy that reads, "I feel most in control when I can feel comfortable being interdependent, which is to say out of control and held in support by, of, and for my friends, family and community."
Detail from an installation of drawings on interdependence and my artists’ personal impacts survey, 2015, ink on vellum, 12 × 9 inches / 30.5 × 22.8 cm.

Or, as psychologist Jenny Wang put it, “to let others love you better.”

It’s really neat to see how the answer may be in finding flow.

…“flow” may be an antidote to languishing. Flow is that elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place and self melts away. During the early days of the pandemic, the best predictor of well-being wasn’t optimism or mindfulness — it was flow….

Fragmented attention is an enemy of engagement and excellence….

This really resonates with my takeaways from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow.

drawing about pleasure and enjoyment
Positive Signs #49, 2011, glitter and fluorescent pen on gridded vellum, 8.5 × 11 in / 21.5 × 28 cm.

We now know that the most important factor in daily joy and motivation is a sense of progress….

This is a revelation to me. I sometimes think I’m addicted to work. Often, when I write in my journal about what went well in my day, it’s often a list of accomplishments. I try to fight this urge to overvalue productivity. But it is very satisfying to know that you’re making progress.

…treat uninterrupted blocks of time as treasures to guard.

I know, during work from home and remote learning, having uninterrupted time is a huge privilege. I try not to take it for granted. I try to schedule my work day bearing in mind that I’m my most focused and creative in the mornings. Learning how to single-task, rather than multitask, is an ongoing challenge.

One of the clearest paths to flow is a just-manageable difficulty: a challenge that stretches your skills and heightens your resolve. That means carving out daily time to focus on a challenge that matters to you — an interesting project, a worthwhile goal, a meaningful conversation.

I think it’s so wonderful that a “meaningful conversation” is included here. Having deeper conversations is always important, but may be more so than ever, for combating isolation and pandemic-fatigue.

We still live in a world that normalizes physical health challenges but stigmatizes mental health challenges.

May is mental health awareness month. In a time of so much disruption and upheaval, it’s so important to normalize mental health as part of our everyday experience, and de-stigmatize caring for one’s own mental wellbeing.

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Research

“‘The important thing about imagination is that it gives you optimism,’ said Martin Seligman, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the director of the Positive Psychology Center there.

His work is dedicated to studying human agency, which is predicated on efficacy, optimism and imagination. …

The hours spent fantasizing and daydreaming about future plans are valuable, Dr. Seligman said. They allow people to escape routine, and cultivate hope and resilience. …

‘Imagining the future — we call this skill prospection — and prospection is subserved by a set of brain circuits that juxtapose time and space and get you imagining things well and beyond the here and now,’ Dr. Seligman said. ‘The essence of resilience about the future is: How good a prospector are you?’

And that’s the case regardless of whether one’s imaginings of the future are over-the-top and unbelievable, or seemingly mundane. …

…Dr. April Toure, a psychiatrist who specializes in working with children and adolescents at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn [said] ‘Even though it’s not considered a core symptom of depression, the absence of hope is a common symptom.’ … Future thinking, or “the imagination and belief that something better is coming,” is crucial to getting through hard times.

Tariro Mzezewa, “Go Ahead. Fantasize.” NY Times (January 16, 2021)

What will you do when the pandemic is over?

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Meta-Practice

Unsolicited Advice: Tips for Artist’s Talks on Zoom

An artist recently asked how to be less nervous before an artist’s talk. Here are my suggestions.

Remember: The audience is pre-disposed to forgiving mistakes.

Friend and fellow artist Leah Rosenberg shared this wisdom from Yo-Yo Ma:

“…that’s not why we’re here, to watch the bad things that happened.”

Yo-Yo Ma, “Music Happens Between the Notes,” On Being podcast, September 4, 2014

 The audience wants you to succeed! They’re there because they are interested in you, you art, and in hearing you speak. So it’s OK to be yourself. No one needs you to be perfect!

At the same time, it is courteous and respectful to be prepared.

Have a script.

You don’t have to read it word for word—just know what talking points to hit. I aim for information density. I can be more clear and concise if I consolidate my thoughts in writing beforehand, than I would be if I ad-libbed.

Don’t just recite facts.

Sometimes artists put their ‘greatest hits’ into a slide deck, and deliver a talk by looking at the slide and reciting what the work is and when and where it happened. It can be very dry. Alternatively, structure your talk in sections by content (such as background, process, work), or take deeper dives into fewer bodies of work.

Tell the story of the development of a practice.

I find that audiences want to know: Why do you make what you make? How did you arrive at this inquiry or way of working? You could illustrate these ideas with process photos, sketches, or reference images. I think process photos are always welcome, and especially now under shelter-in-place.

Rehearse. Time. Cut.

I tend to put too many slides into my slide show for the time allowed. (Not sure how much time you’re allowed? Ask.) So I rehearse my presentation and time myself. Then I’ll edit down my slides. If I know time is tight, then I’ll minimize going off-script.

During the presentation, I try to set a timer on my phone (which is on mute, of course!) so I can stay close to the time allotted to me. This is less important if you’re the only artist talking. But the more artists there are, the more important it is to stick to a schedule.

Ask for questions in advance.

If an interview is planned, prepare and rehearse some answers to anticipated questions.

Move notes to the top of your screen.

I use InDesign for everything, so I present my slides via PDFs rather than Keynote, Powerpoint or Google Slides. Then I have a separate text document for my notes. When you start screen sharing in Zoom, it will go into full screen mode. I exit full screen and stack my Zoom window into a horizontal layer, which I move down when I’m presenting, so my notes can be up top, closer to the camera. 

Another option is to use two monitors, or an external monitor behind a laptop, for notes.

Include a slide with your name, website, and handles.

I don’t know why many artists shy away from this—it’s standard in other contexts. Make it easier for supporters to connect with you. You can include it at the beginning or the end.

Be happy to be there, and let it show!

One of my pet peeves is when artists look and sound bored talking about their own work. Many people go dead-eyed and monotone on Zoom. Add energy via warmth, humor, conviviality, and enthusiasm. Starting off with a warm smile is a great first step.

Cultivate conversation.

IRL conversations are interactive and fluid. On Zoom, dialogues can be stilted. People tend to speak in paragraphs. There can be woefully little interaction between presenters. Try to counter that by having more exchanges, asking questions in return, linking your point to someone else’s comments or work, and giving short answers when appropriate. 

Increase production value.

As a viewer, I appreciate it when guests or hosts on Zoom webinars step up their lighting and staging for public webinars. Here are simple lighting and staging tips from Tom Ford on NYT, and it doesn’t involve expensive or new A/V equipment.

Do a tech check.

It’s always a good idea for all presenters to log on 15 minutes in advance. Check that your sound and video is working, your slide deck is open, that your sound works on any videos, etc. 

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“Compound is a new cultural complex in the heart of the Zaferia district of Long Beach. Compound is dedicated to the intersection of art, wellness and community engagement. It is a new space for culture and community to promote connectivity and belonging.”

compoundlb.com

 

I am fascinated by this organization and that it has a Policy of Belonging. Read it—it’s available in several languages:

Policy of Belonging
La Política de Pertenencia
នោលការណ៍ នន “ភាពជាកមមសិទធិ”
Ang Patakaran ng Pagiging Kabilang

Research

See: #BelongingProject: Compound’s Policy of Belonging

Image
a photo of a neon installation with the text, 'You belong here' in puruple script.' the neon is installed on a waterfront, so it reflects in the water. The photo was taken after sunset.
Tavares Strachan, You Belong Here, 2014, blocked out neon, 9.1 x 24.4 m, installation view, Prospect New Orleans’ triennial, Prospect, Mississippi River, New Orleans, USA // Source: PublicDelivery.org.

“Strachan’s project was a declarative statement and performance that was entitled You Belong Here. The installation featured a 100-foot neon art piece that would be transported from one location to another on a 140- foot barge on the Mississippi River. The barge that carried the neon piece was made visible from different regions and places throughout New Orleans. It was created to pass on a message to the residents of the city, encouraging the city dwellers to examine themselves and what the city of New Orleans means to them and their futures.”

From PublicDelivery.org
Research, Works

See: #BelongingProject: Tavares Strachan’s You Belong Here

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Grace Lau’s 21st Century Types

“Lau’s series of portraits 21st Century Types (2005) reflects the multiplicity of contemporary British society and comments on the Imperialist othering of ‘exotic’ Chinese people and culture. Lau constructed an opulent hybrid Chinese/English portrait studio in Hastings and over six weeks photographed hundreds of passers-by. The resulting images are a monument to place, race, people and the passing of time. The series also acts as a direct statement on the use of photography as unconscious bias, examining the politics of cultural representation and visual ‘archives’ through the genre of contemporary portraiture.”

Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (Manchester, UK), exhibition page for Multiplicites in Flux, October 15, 2020–January 31, 2021.

Still from Eelyn Lee’s Britishness

“Lee’s film Britishness (2019), 57 min, complicates the often indefinable notion of ‘Britishness’. Comprising spoken word poetry, interviews, and group discussions, the work follows young writers from Sheffield as they affirm, reject, and revise their visions of national identity and grapple with the consequences of Britain’s colonial history and their own personal experiences. The film posits ‘Britishness’ as a concept that is constantly in flux, moulded by ever-changing social, economic, political and historical narratives and carrying different significance for each individual. Through this lens, Lee invites viewers to question and re-evaluate their own definition of what it means to be British.”

Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art (Manchester, UK), exhibition page for Multiplicites in Flux, October 15, 2020–January 31, 2021.

Research, Works

See: #BelongingProject: Grace Lau’s 21st Century Types and Eelyn Lee’s Britishness

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Research

See: #BelongingProject Intro

A collection of references on belonging.

I first became interested in belonging 2016. In my first project on belonging in 2017, the concept of belonging seemed a little bit abstract and nebulous… Over the years, I’ve noticed belonging pop up more and more, and I think it’s wonderful. Belonging is a deep lens through which many things can be seen: the personal and the political, the subjective and the systematic. I’ll post about art projects and art spaces concerning belonging here on my blog, with tagged #belongingproject.

A photo of a gallery wall with a piece of paper with questions about belonging in it. There are also salmon pink signs that say "What does belonging mean to you?"
A collective brainstorm on questions related to “What does belonging mean to you?” produced during the inaugural artist in residency program at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
A sticky note with handwriting that reads, "Why is it important to feel a sense of belonging? Some people find it important because they want to feel socially accepted and to fit in. To some it can be the only answer to find friends. But also if you're surrounded by the right group of people then you'll feel like yourself and do not have to change to belong."
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Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions, 2019-2020

Stats on my art competition applications from July 2019 through June 2020.

Goals

My goals this past ‘goal-year’ included applying to:

  • 2 grants. 
  • 6 residencies or studio programs in NYC.
  • 4 exhibitions in NYC.
  • 2 residencies, commissions, or projects in the S.F. Bay Area. 

This adds up to 14 applications.

Progress

I submitted 13 applications.

Of course, this was an exceptional year. I had other extenuating circumstances, and COVID changed everything. Not only were health, safety, travel, and finances endangered, existing projects were postponed and extended. Open calls were sometimes paused by the organizations. Some programs were canceled when organizations restructured due to the recession. Given all this, I was surprised to learn that I nearly reached my goal of 14 applications.

Here’s how much progress I made:

  • Grants.
    • [√] [√] √  √ 
    • I set out to apply to 2 grants, and I did.
    • I also applied to a fellowship and an award whose primary benefits were funding. If you count these towards my grants goal, then I exceeded this goal.
  • Residencies or studio programs in NYC.
    • [√] [√] [√] [√] [√] [_]
    • I aimed to submit 6 applications, and I completed 5 (3 residencies, studio programs).
  • Exhibitions in NYC.
    • [√] [√] [_] [_]
    • My goal was to apply to 4 exhibition opportunities. I completed 2 applications.
  • Residencies, commissions, or projects in the S.F. Bay Area.
    • [√] [_]
    • I submitted 1 application, though I aimed for 2. 
    • However, I was invited to do a project in the Bay Area, which leapfrogged the application goal to serve the greater goal.

Rejections

I received responses for 12 out of 13 applications. One program has been put on indefinite hold due to COVID.

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Of the 12 responses I received, all were rejections.

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Three of my 13 applications (23%) made it to a second round, or semi-finalist or finalist round.

I’ve enjoyed at least one or two successful applications each goal-year for the previous six years (the years most easy to look up), so garnering zero successful applications is a surprise. The sting of these ‘no’s’ is ameliorated by a more recent ‘yes,’ as well as invitations which arose from existing partnerships or past work.  


See my stats from 2018–2019, 2017-20182015-2016, 2014, and 2013.

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