Art & Development

Musings on artifice, optimism, and synthetic happiness

Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm

Cute ___ Calendar, 2010, collage of found calendars, 12 x 12 x 0.5 inches / 30 x 30 x 1.2 cm


In my most recent work about happiness, such as Irrational Exuberance (Asst. Colors), I thought about being unafraid of artifice. Since optimism, in my view, is a choice, deliberately choosing to find and take the optimistic perspective in any given situation is a bit artificial. Rather than making optimism seem less genuine, it made me think that optimism is more accessible. I may not have been born an optimist, but that doesn’t mean I can’t become one.

In a similar vein, the objects I constructed were blatantly about pleasure. People seem to have a hard time with that; their skepticism colored the work with futility. But I do really see these objects, for all their cheap materials and modest ambitions—maybe something as innocuous as to brighten one’s day—to also express my sincere interest in optimism and the benefit of small pleasures, no matter how naked their (modest) ambitions.

We synthesize happiness, but we think happiness is something to be found.

We believe that synthetic happiness is not the same as what we might call “natural” happiness. What are these terms? Natural happiness is what we get when we get what we wanted. Synthetic happiness is what we make when we don’t get what we wanted. In our society, we have a strong belief that synthetic happiness is of an inferior kind. Why do we have that belief? Well, it’s very simple. What kind of economic engine would keep churning, if we believed that not getting what we want would make us just as happy as getting it?…

I want to suggest to you that synthetic happiness is just as real and enduring as the kind of happiness that you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for… (Dan Gilbert, “Why are we happy?” delivered at a TED conference, 2004)

I recently just finished a new series of works on paper using more discount store goods. This time, I made 18 works using only stick-on flags arranged on “neon” paper. (As dollar-store goods are wont to do, the packaging’s promise fulfilled expectations from its own alternate universe—in other conditions, the blue and green papers would be considered pastel. I’m not complaining: “Neon” paper isn’t really neon anyway; inert gasses wouldn’t make good collage substrates.)

Working with the materials, I discovered their small potentials: while the number of available colors was very limited, the flags’ translucence and adhesive—which enhances saturation—creates the illusion of a wider color spectrum. The flags’ matte surfaces also draw attention to the paper’s reflectivity. It’s amazing how even cheap, everyday materials can convey exuberance and pleasure.

Flag Snowflake No. 2, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake #2, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake No. 12, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake #2, #12, & #17, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake No. 17, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

Flag Snowflake #2, #12, & #17, 2010, stick-on flags on neon paper, 8.5 x 11 inches / 21.5 x 30 cm

To support Kearny Street Workshop, I’m donating the above three selections from the Flag Snowflake series to One Size Fits All, an online sale. Bid on works by 48 artists who created 8.5×11 works on paper—all for the stunningly affordable price of $100 each. Artists include Jenifer K Wofford, Mike Arcega, Stephanie Syjuco, Weston Teruya, and many, many more.

Kearny Street Workshop is the nation’s oldest Asian Pacific American multidisciplinary arts organization. They have supported me in the past by exhibiting my work in their emerging arts festival, inviting me to present my work, and in 2008, supporting the development of all new work for a three-person exhibition. They have been continuing their work with the dynamic leadership of Ellen Oh—recent projects include partnerships with the de Young Museum. I’m very honored to support KSW, and hope you do too if you can.

Especially for artists: Some thoughts about setting goals and heeding cautions—

Yes, some things are better than others. We should have preferences that lead us into one future over another. But when those preferences drive us too hard and too fast, because we have overrated the differences between these two futures, we are at risk. When our ambition is bounded, it leads us to work joyfully. When our ambition is unbounded, it leads us to lie, to cheat, to steal, to hurt others, to sacrifice things of real value. When our fears are bounded, we’re prudent, we’re cautious, we’re thoughtful. When our fears are unbounded and overblown, we’re reckless, and we’re cowardly. The lesson I want to leave you with, with these data, is that our longings and our fears are both overblown to some degree, because we have within us the capacity to manufacture the very commodity we are constantly chasing when we choose experience. (Dan Gilbert, “Why are we happy?” delivered at a TED conference, 2004)

Standard

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s