“Perhaps [Dorothea] Lange’s fears came from a deep consciousness of her responsibility. After documenting nearly a half-century of crises and the lives of those most deeply affected by them, Lange understood, possibly too well, the enormous responsibility that comes with telling any story, but especially the story of other people’s struggles. Fear is an embodied knowledge, an almost physical intuition of possible outcomes learned through past experience. It can spin into paranoia, paralyze us, shock us into impassivity. But it can also be a powerful drive, as I suppose it was for Lange, who with all her “darkroom terrors” was still able to document what many others had not yet seen or wanted to see. Fear allows us to give shape to things that we were unwilling to see or unable to name. Fear is a specific form of intelligence that comes when hindsight, insight, and foresight collide.”
“I was not quite 40 but felt, in many ways, older. My hair, once as heroically thick as the David’s, had begun to thin visibly, and I felt sad about this, and I also considered my sadness to be its own failure, because I wanted to be the kind of person who didn’t care about superficial, middle-age things….
“My youthful pursuit of David-like perfection had gone, shall we say, not terribly well. I had turned out to be a strange person, not anything like an ideal. My life was littered with awkwardnesses, estrangements, mutual disillusionments, abandoned projects….
“Perfection, it turns out, is no way to try to live. It is a child’s idea, a cartoon — this desire not to be merely good, not to do merely well, but to be faultless, to transcend everything, including the limits of yourself. It is less heroic than neurotic, and it doesn’t take much analysis to get to its ugly side: a lust for control, pseudofascist purity, self-destruction. Perfection makes you flinch at yourself, flinch at the world, flinch at any contact between the two. Soon what you want, above all, is escape: to be gone, elsewhere, annihilated.”Sam Anderson, “David’s Ankles,” NY Times, August 17, 2016
The New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA)/New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) 2020 Fellowship program received 3,536 applications for 84 grants awarded.
• = awards ° = applications
Selected artists comprise about 1:42, or 2.4% of applicants.
Comparative Percent Awarded
•••••••••••|•••••••••••|•••• 2.4% in 2020
•••••••••••|•••••••••••|•••••••• 2.8% in 2018
•••••••••••|•••••••••••|•••••••••••|•••••• 3.6% in 2017
•••••••••••|•••••••••••|•• 2.1% in 2014
See all Art Competition Odds.
Shame and belonging researcher Brené Brown spoke specifically to white people confronting racism and their own feelings of shame in a terrific podcast episode (“Brené on Shame and Accountability,” Unlocking Us, July 1, 2020).
There’s a lot in here that resonates with the current moment—resistance to antiracism and white racial resentment—as well and a central question in my art and life: “How do you keep your heart open?”
Racism and Shame
“…being held accountable for racism and feeling shame is not the same thing as being shamed…. We need to understand the difference between being held accountable for racism and experiencing shame as a result of that accountability, and how that’s different than actually being shamed for being a racist.”
Shame vs Guilt (focus on personal flaw vs behavior)
“We think that shaming is this great moral compass, that we can shame people into being better. But that’s not true. …everyone needs a platform of self-worth from which to see change. You can’t shame people into being better, and in fact, when we see people apologizing, making amends, changing their behavior, that is always around guilt…. We feel guilt when we hold something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values, they don’t match up, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s helpful. It’s a positive, socially adaptive experience [which] motivates meaningful change. It’s as powerful as shame, but its influence is positive, while shame’s is destructive.”
Shame as a Social Justice Tool
“…shame is not an effective social justice tool. … Shame is a tool of oppression. Shame is a tool of white supremacy. Humiliation, belittling, those are tools of injustice; they’re not tools for justice. First, shame corrodes the belief that we can be better and do better, and it’s much more likely to be the cause of dangerous and destructive behaviors than the cure. … Shame itself is inherently dehumanizing.”
Self-regulation and Antiracism
“…there’s a huge difference between being shamed for being a racist and feeling shame. And it’s our responsibility for experiencing and regulating our own emotions. It’s my job to regulate my emotion, move through shame in a productive way, without defensiveness, without doubling down, without rationalizing, without demanding to be taught, demanding absolution, demanding comfort from the person who’s holding us accountable, which is often a Black person or a person of color. I’m responsible for that emotional regulation.”
Armor Is the Greatest Barrier to Courage
“…the greatest barrier to courage is not fear. The greatest barrier to courage is armor, is how we self-protect when we’re afraid. And I studied the arming-up process and just in preparation for this podcast, did I realize that this armoring-up process is so applicable to white supremacy.
So let me go through the six stages of armoring-up…
So number one … building the armor: “I’m not enough.” Number two: If I’m honest with them about what’s happening, they’ll think less of me, or maybe even use it against me. … Number three: “No way am I going to be honest about this. No one else does it. Why do I have to put myself out there?” Number four: “Yeah, you know what, screw them. I don’t see them being honest about what scares them…” Number five: “You know what? This is actually their problem. This is their shortcomings that make them act this way, this is their ultra-sensitivity…” Number six: “In fact, now that I think about this, I’m actually better than them.”
…“I’m better than people” and “I’m not enough” is the exact same standing still position of pain and shame.”
A recent podcast episode on empathy resonates me, since I’ve been thinking about interdependence and interconnectedness, especially in regards to racial justice, polarization, fear, and white racial resentment. This all also relates to a central question in my art practice—“How do you keep your heart open?”—which is part of a forthcoming art project.
Jamil Zaki, author of “The War For Kindness: Building Empathy In A Fractured World,” and empathy research at Stanford University, speaks directly to this on Hidden Brain (“You 2.0: Empathy Gym,” August 31, 2020).
[I planned to just share one to two quotes but so many passages from the podcast are resonant.]
On how to keep your heart open, or how support in trauma can lead to becoming links in a chain of support
VEDANTAM: Jamil, people who have been through terrible suffering can respond in different ways. Some people turn inward to avoid future pain, while others turn outward. They show empathy for the suffering of other people. I feel like I’ve seen research studies that show both these things. Can you talk about these studies and why people might go in one direction or another after they experience trauma?
JAMIL ZAKI: …We often hear about cycles of violence or the idea that hurt people hurt people. And that’s certainly true in some cases.
But there’s a lot of research that’s actually much more hopeful on what psychologists call altruism born of suffering. This is the idea that sometimes when we’ve gone through great pain, that actually sort of opens us up to caring more about other people and their suffering….
Psychologists don’t really know that much about sort of what causes people, when they experience suffering, to go in one direction or another. But one important factor that they have identified is the support that we receive from other people. So if after a trauma, an individual is able to find a community of others who support them, well, then they’re more likely to recover from their own trauma, and they might also be more likely to turn around and provide that support to others….
Threats and fear-mongering foster cruelty towards out-groups and unity within in-groups
ZAKI: …reminding people of a collective trauma, for instance, can make them more weary of outsiders and sort of more … willing to even endorse violence or aggression towards outsiders. But thinking of a common threat is also one way to bring people within a group closer together. I remember after 9/11 the way that Americans really felt like we were all one because we were facing this really deep trauma together. And likewise, there’s all sorts of evidence that when people feel that they have a common threat that they’re facing, they band together.
[CWY: If we can’t agree that COVID is a real, common threat to us all, that might account for why there’s so much disunity in taking necessary precautions.]
[Note: This is followed by insights on how police are so over-empathetic with fellow cops that they can’t understand civilians’ perspectives on police misconduct.]
On belonging, and how over-emphasizing with one’s in-group correlates to othering
VEDANTAM: …Empathy, in some ways, has this double-edged sword quality to it, which is, on the one hand, it’s prompting us to be outward-looking, but it’s also driven in some ways by factors about who’s in our in-group and who’s not in our in-group. The psychologist Paul Bloom, who wrote the book “Against Empathy: The Case For Rational Compassion,” he argues that empathy tends to be parochial, and it tends to be biased. …
ZAKI: …Our instinctive empathy might be more driven towards people in our tribe than outside of it….
…I think that that’s a problem with how empathy tends to operate, but I try to focus us on the fact that we can control how we empathize and make choices about the way that we deploy our caring. And if we recognize that, hey, I’m empathizing in a parochial way, in a tribal way, we can try to make a different choice and broaden our empathy even towards people who are different from ourselves.
And, in fact, this is consistent with research by my friend Emile Bruneau. He’s studied sort of parochial empathy in a lot of different intergroup contexts. And what he finds is that sometimes if you want to predict when someone will be willing to be aggressive towards outsiders or unwilling to compromise with someone on the other side of a conflict, it’s not enough to measure whether they empathize with the people on the outside. You have to also measure how empathic they are to their own group. And it turns out that people who are extraordinarily empathic towards people in their group, even if they’re also empathic towards outsiders, are unwilling to compromise, unwilling to do anything that could threaten their own tribe.
…what this suggests is that sometimes, if we want to open ourselves up to other cultures, to people on the other side of a political or racial divide, maybe what we should start out doing is not just trying to get to know them and empathize more with them, but to recognize if we’re empathizing so much with our group that we’ll be unable to be flexible emotionally.
Dehumanization as avoidance of negative emotions such as guilt
VEDANTAM: …White Americans asked to read about the suffering of Native Americans become more likely to say that Native Americans are unable to feel complex emotions such as hope and shame. So in other words, empathy not only can produce pain, pain can not only produce disengagement, but we can actually almost dehumanize other people because we’re so, in some ways, reluctant to accept the pain that comes with actually empathizing with them.
ZAKI: Yeah, absolutely, especially if you or a group that you belong to is responsible for that pain because then, empathy can twist into a sense of guilt or even self-loathing. There are a lot of studies like this. In one classic set of studies from the 1950s, psychologists asked people to repeatedly shock – electrically shock – another person. And what they found was that when people had to shock someone else, they ended up saying that they liked that person less, almost as though they were defensively, again, turning down their empathy for that individual.
Why our multi-dimensionality matters and how identifying as human can conquer tribalism
ZAKI: …yes, it’s easier to empathize with people who are like us than unlike us, but all of us have many different selves inside us at any given moment, and each self carries with it a different group, maybe of a different size.
So if I think of myself, for instance, as a Stanford person, well, then people at UC Berkeley are my mortal enemy, especially during the big game. But if I think of myself as a Californian, then my in-group, the people who deserve my empathy and who it’s easy to empathize with, that group grows. And if I can think of myself as – I don’t know – an American or a human being, then that group will grow even further.
I challenge you! I will double your donation to support prison abolition, relief efforts in Beirut, Black liberation, or low-income immigrant communities.
I’m offering up three small artist fees totaling $325 to match your donations. The fees are from three projects:
- a poster about colluding against racist immigration detention tactics at Angel Island, which appears in the just-published second edition of Celebrate People’s History
- Messages for the City, public artworks thanking essential workers, which will appear somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, TBA.
- a recent talk with the San Francisco Center for the Book, in conjunction with Poetry Is Not a Luxury, which includes Miné Okubo’s illustrations of her life in the Tanforan assembly center in San Bruno, CA and the Topaz concentration camp in Utah.
How to participate:
Step 1. Donate…
…to abolish the prison industrial complex…
…to relief efforts in Beirut…
a manmade humanitarian disaster
Impact Lebanon’s disaster relief fund. Impact Lebanon is a non-profit organization based in the UK dedicated to supporting Lebanese people worldwide.
…to support BLM activists targeted by police…
Such as the Wichita DSA bail fund…
…or to address food insecurity in immigrant neighborhoods in NYC.
In NYC, poor Black and brown neighborhoods suffered the highest rates of infection and death from the coronavirus. In Corona, over half of antibody tests were positive. Some of those same neighborhoods are now experiencing disproportionate rates of job losses. Donate to:
La Jornada Food Pantry in Elmhurst/Corona, Queens
La Jornada has been supplying the local community with over 1,450 meals weekly, with space donated by the Queens Museum since mid-June. Donate via Paypal at lajornadany.org (if you don’t have Paypal, you can Venmo me.)
Send Chinatown Love’s Gift-a-Meal in Flushing and Brooklyn Chinatown
For only $5, you can feed youth or seniors in need while helping a small, immigrant-run business stay afloat. Donate at https://www.gofundme.com/f/gift-a-meal.
2. Email me a confirmation of your donation.
You can email me at email@example.com. Donations must be between August 19–23, 2020.
3. I’ll match the donations, up to $325 total.
I’ll post screenshots of matching donations on Instagram.
Bonus Challenge: Take this idea and run with it!
Artists, I challenge you to create your own micro challenge match with your artist’s fees (or just donate them directly to good causes) if you are in a position to do so.
Yes, artist’s fees are important, and all artists should be paid for their labor.
Yes, a lot of artists are precarious and don’t have health insurance even in ‘normal’ times, and are especially precarious now.
And… if one is White or East Asian, employed or financially stable, documented, insured, able-bodied, cis, housed, and/or educated, one can be precarious and privileged. Precarity and privilege are not mutually exclusive.
Thank you for inspiration, reminders, call-ins, info sharing, and motivation: Margo Okazawa-Rey (be humble and think abundantly), Armando Minjarez, Brian Zegeer, and Maymanah Farahat. Thanks for paying artists, Josh MacPhee/Just Seeds, SFCB, For Freedoms.
I’m doing an Instagram Live studio tour/artist’s talk/Q&A with the San Francisco Center for the Book today at 3pm Pacific/6pm Eastern. Some question’s I’ve received in advance are:
- How do you keep motivated?
- Please share admin/organization/project management skills.
I’m posting some notes with links here.
Journaling helps me be resilient.
There can be a perception that journaling is for self-obsessed, angst-ridden teens. I do not only write in my journal when I feel shitty. In fact, I limit how much I write when I’m distressed, because venting or “processing” can actually be rumination, which decreases mood and prolongs pain (Guy Winch, Emotional First Aid).
Journaling provides space for self-reflection—space for me to listen to myself. When I listen to myself, I can celebrate my wins, so I can need less external validation. I can be grateful by recognizing the good in my life and in other people. I name my feelings (which itself can bring relief) and sort out my needs, priorities, goals, and action steps. When I properly reframe an event, and when I find meaning, it makes me feel energized and purposeful.
There are many ways to keep a gratitude journal. A great introduction to a simple practice can be found at “The Science of Happiness, Episode 1: Three Good Things.” This podcast is produced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, so it is a legit, science-backed, positive psychology podcast.
I have been using a “what went well and why” method described by Martin E.P. Seligman. It’s easy: just write about what went well in your day, and why you think it happened. Sometimes I’ll keep asking “why,” drilling down deeper, or expanding wider. This has helped me recognize my own agency in situations, or the kindness of others, or the conditions or privileges broader than my immediate reality. I’ve also used this practice on great days, and it’s helped me identify particularities and savor them, multiplying my joy. A caveat: I’m careful not to mindlessly re-list my day’s to-do items.
Goal-setting, Habit Tracking, & Purpose
It’s easier to stay motivated when your actions and goals feel aligned with your values and life’s purpose.
Informed by Creative Capital’s Professional Development workshops, I set three professional goals, each with three action steps, for myself as an artist every year. I schedule weekly and quarterly check-ins.
I sometimes set intentions at the beginning of each month. These can be related to personal, mental, or physical health. I only do this as the spirit moves me.
I also set physical goals. Exercise is my most reliable mood-booster. I exercise as much for my mental health as physical health. I’ve learned so much about myself and gained much community from martial arts and running. Sheltering in the pandemic has made me grateful for knowledge I have gained and can implement on my own.
I have an app to log my physical therapy and cardio. This is helpful for reinforcing good habits and holding myself accountable. It helps me see the connections with how my body feels. You can use a plain notebook or a habit-tracking notebook, too—whatever works.
If you’re dealing with an injury or health side effects, tracking the frequency and intensity of different dimensions of your experiences can help you can recognize the process you’re making over time. It can give you reasons to celebrate, instead of only seeing loss. Not to mention that it can give you more data to discuss with your doctor.
No one can give you a sense of life purpose. In Grit by Angela Duckworth, you can learn exercises to identify what your life purpose might be, and how your small and medium goals relate to your purpose. When you are able to see your short-term actions in concordance with your values and your purpose, it feels integrated, which is very powerful.
I loved this episode of On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Pauline Boss, “Navigating Loss Without Closure.” Here are some of my key take-aways:
- Closure is a myth. Americans are too focused on problem-solving negative emotions.
- Expectations or time limits on sadness, grief, or loss can be harmful. Humans can and do live with sadness, oscillating over time. That’s OK!
- Find meaning. When nonsensical events happen, and you can’t make sense of that event, you can find “good enough” meaning in another area of your life.
While I’ve been very fortunate to have not been directly affected by coronavirus, the pandemic has entailed coping with fear, loss, grief, uncertainty, and stress in a drawn-out, fatiguing way (I liked my friend KQB’s phrase: “low-key horrified”). It found it helpful to recognize that Americans and the media love predictable narrative arcs (beginning, middle, end) and that’s cognitively dissonant from the realities of the pandemic (no end in sight). It’s good practices to let go of perfectionism and the urge to fix everything now, to get more comfortable with holding opposing ideas, and to find meaning where you can.
This episode is also really great: On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Resmaa Menakem, “‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence.’” I especially loved this:
“..all adults need to learn how to soothe and anchor themselves rather than expect or demand that others soothe them. And all adults need to heal and grow up.”
A great way to self-soothe is through grounding practices—being in your body, focusing on your breath, or your feet’s connection to the ground, or visually on the room around you. The idea is to practice this, even on your good days, until it becomes second nature, so that it’s easy to implement on your bad days. Often, emotional distress is tied up with physiological stress reactions, and grounding helps regulate those physiological reactions, which can shorten the duration and decrease the pain of emotional distress.
I think this idea of practice is helpful across all these resilience strategies. I think these practices are how you incrementally increase your subjective wellbeing over years, so that your happiness set-point gets a little higher, and your ability to bounce back becomes stronger.
This is going to be super nerdy and ‘brass tacks.’ Well, artists wear a lot of hats outside of making art—administrators, bookkeepers, registrars, archivists, art handlers, fund raisers, marketers and PR people, etc. Administration is legit labor. It could be a time-suck or you can try to be more effective where you can. Since the pandemic started, I’ve spent a lot more time on the computer, and I realized that there are some basic things we do everyday—such as email and managing files—which everyone sort of figures out on their own. These are some best practices I’ve found.
I like to use Mac Mail, and I try to reserve my inbox for items that require follow-up. I try to keep folders to a minimum with a hybrid system:
- project-specific folders (for important art projects, exhibitions, and freelance gigs, etc.)
- time-delimited folders (the time stamp indicates when it’s safe to delete emails. It’s like the principle of cleaning out your closet—if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it):
- Deep storage (this is for stuff like taxes)
- 1-year keep
- 3-month keep
- hold/1-month keep (for temporary things like shipping notifications)
Receipts for deductible expenses get saved as PDFs to a folder in my sidebar. Then I delete the email.
I like to keep two Finder windows in Mac’s column view, stacked one on top of each other. This allows me to find a file and file it in its destination folder more quickly. This is super helpful when resizing images for my website, for example.
Three navigational shortcuts:
- For switching between studio, professional practices, and day-job work: I keep multiple tabs in each Finder window open. This helps me switch quickly and pick up where I left off. It’s a little like the beauty of having a studio (or a dedicated studio table) where you can leave your messy work-in-progress, as opposed to clearing the table for dinner and then setting up your art project again.
- For quickly accessing active projects: I also put folders for active projects in the sidebar. For example, when I’m working on an application for an art competition, I’ll put the folder there, even if it’s just for a few days.
- For quickly accessing current projects: Alternatively, I make aliases of current project folders, and put them in a folder called “_Current Projects.” (I use an underscore at the start of names for folders I want to keep at the top of a list.)
Naming conventions for files and folders
I use multiple strategies to make sense of all my files:
- Project code. I try to assign every project a name or code, and then start the file name of every digital art file with that. This makes it much easier when searching for files.
- Iteration number-letter system. When I work on digital art files, I iterate a lot. Saving lots of versions forces me to save often, keep earlier options, and have recent back-ups in case a file gets corrupted (especially true when working on large PSDs!). To make sense of all of these, I use a number followed by a letter, (“1a,” “1b,” “2a,” etc.) The number usually refers to the design round, the letter usually refers to a variation, like the same design in different colors.
- I never name anything “final.” When you use that system, if you have to change that file, and then have to name it “final-final,” or “final-2,” and then what’s the point?
- I just keep every previous version in a “_Drafts” folder, and the one most recent file outside of that drafts folder. That, plus the iteration code, means it’s always clear what’s the most recent file.
- Pixel dimensions. For any file saved for the web, I append the pixel dimensions, width x height (example: ACB8j-AnnieYee-p3-01a-889×1080) to the end of the file name. This is much more descriptive and useful than “-web” or “-small.” In web design, dimensions are always width first, then height (though it’s reversed in art handling).
- YYYYMMDD. Starting names with the date in an 8-digit code keeps files or folders chronological and easier to search. I use this for folders for exhibitions, for example, for receipt PDFs, Google Drive folders, etc.
- 01, 02, 03. Another way to keep folders tidy is to start the name of sub-folders with numbers, so they stay in the order of a process. For example, if you have different files from different stages in a process, you might have folders named “01 Text content,” “02 Image references,” “03 Digital mock-ups,” “04 Scans,” “05 Composite PSDs,” “06 JPGs.”
For my photo documentation, I keep the source/raw files in a projects folder. Then after I make my selections, I copy and rename them, and place them in nesting folders that looks basically like this:
Documentation > Projects > YYYY Project name > Artwork Name--[pixel-dimensions].[file extension]
The code can indicate different shots of the same artwork. I've found this is a nice way to manage lots of installation views (as opposed to "detail of X" and "detail of Y"). After these are renamed consistently, then I'll do the resizing.
I generally keep three to four resolutions of files:
- high-res (source res at 300 dpi)
- medium-res files for screen display for competitions (these files are usually 1-2 MB JPGs, I'd say 1920x1080 is a good new standard nowadays)
- two sizes of web-res (which is specific to my own website, but obviously at 72 DPI).
I use Photoshop actions to batch process resizing. I've set up different destination folders for different sized images. I use the Finder renaming tool to update the file names as needed.
Artist's Inventory Software & Estate Planning
It's important to manage your inventory: to track inventory numbers, framed and unframed dimensions, prices, where the actual artwork is (whether on loan or in storage), etc.
There are lots of options for inventory software. I don't know what's good out there as I don't have time to test and review them. Many of the options now are cloud-based. I don't love the software I currently use, so I'm not going to name it here. The reason I use it is because it's a desktop version, and I like the permanence of that for reasons I'll explain below.
Artist's inventory software is for your own studio management, but more importantly, it's also part of your estate planning. Each of us will die. Making plans and putting systems into place are act of care for our loved ones, to make it easier for them to deal with our stuff after we're gone.
If you need to start or improve your digital or physical artist's inventory, I recommend the Joan Mitchell Foundation's Creating Artist's Living Legacy "Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: An Archive Planning Workbook and Resource Guide." It's free.
While we're on the subject, I also recommend:
- Everyone should write a will. I found Nolo Press' Online Will to be an easy and cheap way to draft one. Note: Print it out and take it to a notary public to make it legally binding.
- It's a good idea to discuss your end-of-life wishes with your loved ones, and to fill out an advanced health care directive. Kaiser Permanente offers info and forms in multiple languages—you don't have to be a patient to access them. You'll also need to print this out and take it to a notary public to make it legally binding.
- CALL also has an Estate Planning Workbook. This is a next step for me.
I use Quickbooks Desktop. It's a little bit of labor to manage it, but it's less painful than doing a year's worth of bookkeeping in the spring before taxes are due. More than just tracking your receipts, though, bookkeeping software helps track when art institutions and universities have (or haven't) paid your invoices.
How did I learn this admin stuff?
- From working at no- or low-paid office positions in non-profit art organizations.
- From working as a freelance graphic designer/sole proprietor.
- From co-workers, partners, colleagues, mentors.
- From trying different things and evolving over time.
I recently learned about these collective agreements for panelist discussions from Jenn Woodward of c3:initiative, from the MAP Fund‘s RE-Tool: Racial Equity in the Panel Process (2018, PDF). I think these are great agreements to review to cultivate equity and mutualism.
Openness to others’ points of view
Awareness of power dynamics
Positive spirit, generosity, laughter, constructive critique
Full attention to discussion, limiting distractions*
Letting others speak, finish thoughts, deep listening
Staying grounded in the guidelines and criteria
[*On Zoom, to me, this means limiting the what’s entered in the chat window to relevant items like agendas, links, spellings of names, etc.]