belonging, Meta-Practice

Residency Wrap-Up: Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society Artist-in-Residence Program 2018–2019

The Who, What, When, Where, and How of my Haas residency

To help other artists interested in residencies, I usually write residency wrap-ups that give an inside look to my residency experience. I find that there is only so much information one can glean from the organization’s web site. The more you know about the residency, the easier it is to tell if the residency is for you and what to expect.

No two artists will have exactly the same residency experience. This is especially true when I’m writing about inaugural residencies, which may be seen as pilots by the organization. Regardless, I’ll share my experience for the sake of transparency.

Screenshot of Haas Institute's webpage announcing Artist in Residence 2018-2019

Who

Haas

The Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society is a research institute at UC Berkeley that explores many different areas related to inequity. One of those research areas is othering and belonging. You can learn more at Haas’ website, their section on othering and belonging, and on their YouTube channel with videos of past Othering & Belonging conferences.

AIR Coordinator

Evan Bissell is the Haas Institute’s Arts and Strategy Coordinator. He was my primary contact person at Haas. I met with him regularly and he conveyed Haas’ expectations to me. I think Evan is uniquely positioned to coordinate this residency program. He is a longtime community-oriented artist in the Bay Area who holds a Master’s in Public Health and City Planning and teaches on art and social change at UC Berkeley. I’m not an academic, and I was a little intimidated about partnering with a think tank. But Evan is fluent in art and research. His feedback on formal concerns and artistic process was helpful. And, his input on how the work fits or intersects with Haas’ work was reassuring and complementary. In many ways, he was like a “fixer,” who helped me figure out what kinds of support he or Haas could offer. In some aspects, such as in parts of the book, I thought of Evan more as a collaborator.

 

What

Haas invited artists essentially “to create original work… to illuminate and advance our understanding of belonging… [in projects] that explore practices of dialogue.”

The residency included:

  • a $10,000 honorarium
  • a platform at the Othering and Belonging conference (1,500 attendees)
  • amplification in the Haas Institute news magazine and digital media (here’s a link to an interview in their newsletter)
  • support from Haas staff

Additional funds for materials were considered. (I asked for about $6k to cover travel, materials, studio rental, printing, etc. Though I reside in NYC, I did not have to pay for accommodations since I could stay with family in the Bay Area.)

My Project

You can learn about the Belonging Project at Belonging.ChristineWongYap.com.

 

 

When

November 1, 2018 through May 1, 2019. (The webpage says it’s a year-long residency but it’s technically only six months—or only about five months leading up to the conference.) I was interviewed in early October and notified in mid-October.

The residency culminated with a display of the work at the Othering and Belonging Conference in early April.

My Time Line

I traveled to California three times for this project, for a combined total of about three months. I did two five-week stints. The first was for outreach; the second was for production. The third trip was to prep and attend the Othering and Belonging Conference.

The generous stipend allowed me to focus on this project for 30–50 hours per week from mid-November to late February.

The schedule was tight; I’ve encouraged Haas to allow future AIRs more time. It wasn’t just that six months is a short time. It was also the timing around the winter holidays. I found it challenging to schedule workshops and find volunteers since semesters and organizations’ programs were ending, and students were doing finals. I also happened to start my project right when the Bay Area was suffering extremely bad air quality days that disrupted school and work routines.

 

Where

Haas is located on the UC Berkeley campus. The program is actually more akin to fellowship in that you aren’t provided with a space. The Haas office is small, and not set up for an AIR. In fact, many Haas staff and researchers work remotely in far-flung locations.

Where I worked

For one month, I printed at Kala Art Institute. I was previously a Fellow at Kala, so I was familiar with Kala’s studio, staff, and rules. I asked them if they would barter studio fees for conference admission; they agreed. Going back to Kala was a great experience. The staff and community of artists wholeheartedly welcomed me. They handed over keys and letting me get to work right away. A sense of belonging and interdependence are tangible there. It feels like those values are in the DNA of the place. I spent many 10- to 12-hour days working there.

 

Aside from Kala, I worked at my family’s house and did offsite workshops and meetings all over the Bay Area, from Benicia to San José. Fortunately, I could borrow a family car. I transcribed, edited and designed in my apartment in NYC.

The conference

The conference was at the Oakland Convention Center in downtown Oakland. Haas gave me two columns which were 6 to 8’ wide each to display my project on. I created an interactive mapping activity, launched the book, displayed the bandannas, and showed a slide show of certificates on a video monitor they arranged for me.

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The columns inside the Oakland Convention Center where I presented my project during the Othering and Belonging Conference.

 

[Photos above: Courtesy of Lee Oscar Gomez.]

A bar chart titled "Which two qualities of belonging are salient to you and your place of belonging?" Responses from 104 attendees of the Othering and Belonging Conference 2019. Connectedness: 66. Authenticity: 23. Family: 22. Well-being: 22. Accepted: 19. Growth: 19. Familiarity: 13. Meaning: 12. Self-worth: 9. Agency 8. Safety: 8. Access: 7. Autonomy: 4. Confidence: 3. Continuity: 1.

In the mapping activity, I asked participants to pick two of the 15 qualities of belonging we identified in the book, 100 Stories of Belonging in the S.F. Bay Area. Participants selected connectedness almost 3x as often as the second-most selected quality, authenticity.

How

Application

Haas held an open call for applications for the AIR program. I can’t remember how I heard about it. The application was refreshingly streamlined. All you had to do was email a short letter of intent, a CV, and a link to a website (or 10 images, or 3 minutes of video). There was no fee to apply (hooray!)

From the pool of several dozen applicants, some were interviewed via video chat, and one was selected. I was honored to be selected, and doubly honored to learn that the jurors included Brett Cook (whose murals I’d admired for years) and Roberto Bedoya (who has written seminal essays on creative placemaking).

Process

First, I met with Evan and we started by self-organizing: I came up with a timeline, a budget, and a draft of outreach materials (I wrote my “dream” budget and a “get-by” budget, they opted for the “get-by” budget and I made it work). He gathered feedback from Haas staff, and I made amendments.

As anticipated, the outreach phase was the hardest part. Fortunately, I lived in the Bay Area for over 30 years, I worked with many organizations, and I knew a lot of artists and art professors. Evan helped by connecting me with groups, reaching out to his own networks, and hosting a dinner. Some groups reached out to me after seeing Haas’ announcements, or individuals submitted their story after seeing the call in Haas’ newsletter. Evan also helped out by having materials translated into Spanish.

All the submissions made a 170+ page Google doc. When I was working on compiling, reading, and editing the submissions, I got caught colds, twice in four weeks.

I was happy to be back at Kala and to enter the production stage. Printmaking is very humbling. You have to be methodical and plan thoroughly. I learned a lot.

Lessons and tips

The experience made me adopt some principles that systematically prioritize patience over productivity:

  • Never skip steps.
  • Don’t overbook your schedule.
  • Do one thing at a time.
  • Take breaks.

This makes for better results, a more sustainable pace, and a healthier and happier attitude.

From past residencies, I’ve learned:

  • Taper off production the last few days of a residency.
  • Leave a whole day to pack and ship projects and materials.

Administration

This is going to sound extremely boring and unsexy, but I think administration, communication, and organization were crucial to a successful partnership. This is an unusual residency in that Haas is most interested in belonging and dialogue; they leave you tons of leeway in how you structure and execute your project, who you choose to work with, what you ask for, where you work, and when you accomplish benchmarks. Being self-directed and having self-management skills are critical. Again, it sounds banal, but in my wrap-up phone call with Evan, we realized that since we’d kept each other informed along the way, there were no major surprises or changes we needed to debrief.

Getting reimbursed in the UC system involves a lot of paperwork. I recommend that future AIRs learn about the documentation requirements, be diligent about keeping receipts (especially anything related to travel), and expect that check turnarounds will be lengthy.

Afterword

This is a really amazing opportunity for any artist who wants to tackle a self-directed project around belonging in the context of researchers interested in city planning, public health and more. I’m so honored and grateful to have been the inaugural resident. It’s been a tremendous opportunity to realize this project, to partner with Haas, to collaborate with many supportive community organizations, and to be entrusted with so many contributors’ stories. I feel that the seeds of this project were planted in 2016, and the fruits of this labor can be nourishment for the future.

 


A Postscript

Years ago, I had the chance to be considered for a residency at a very large tech company in California. I declined because I knew I’d regret it (money comes, money goes, but regrets haunt me for years.) Later, when I learned that their residency came with a $10,000 stipend, I didn’t second-guess my convictions, but I couldn’t help but think about what I would do with that much money.

It just so happens that the Haas honorarium is the same amount as that tech company’s. I did this project for so many other reasons beside the money. But this coincidence reaffirms that I did the right thing saying no. I garnered the same amount of financial support without compromising my values. And I did it partnering with a deeply ethical organization that actively promotes values and social justice. This helps me feel a sense of self-congruence for me as an artist, the projects I make, and my greater purpose as a human. It gives me a sense of maturity and self-assurance about what I am doing, and that being true to my principles is always the right choice.

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Meta-Practice

An Eye-popping Application Fee

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a $50 application fee for an open call for a group exhibition until now.

I’ve encountered $45 to 65 application fees for residencies, and $35 fees for open calls for three slides and $5-10 extra for additional slides, which could add up to more than $50 if the artist chooses. In any case, paying $45 for any fee seems expensive to me.

In principle, I think it’s an organization’s job to review slides of artists who are being considered for their programs. Reviewing entries is part of the cost of running the program. For galleries, looking for artists and viewing their artworks is part of the work of curation.

I get that the amount of entries can be overwhelming, that a lot of labor goes in, that jurors should be compensated, and that organizations want to offset those costs. (I’ve been a juror and I have worked at a gallery organizing submissions.) I also get that NYC is an expensive city to live in, and that open calls are a way small organizations generate income.

But, I also know that jurors may spend only a few minutes reviewing each entry. It’s up to individual artists to decide if having their work reviewed by unnamed jurors for the chance to exhibit in a group show is worth it.

Criteria I consider:

  • Who is the gallery? Where is it located? What is its programming like? What is their track record or reputation? What is their level of professionalism?
    • Will they handle my work with care? Will they properly care for, install, invigilate, deinstall, and pack my work?
    • Is the website well-designed, well-organized, and up-to-date, with a useful archive of past shows? Do captions properly credit artists and link to their websites? Or is there only a Facebook album of snapshots from the opening, where the primary message is “Look how many guests attended” rather than “Here are the artworks that form the content of the exhibition”?
    • Are past shows well-conceived, consistently high in quality, well-staged, and well-lit? Is the gallery in good, well-maintained condition?
    • Does the gallery double as an events space, increasing the chance that the work will be damaged?
  • What is the potential benefit of participating? What is the gallery’s location? Who is its audience? What are their hours? In other words, who will see the show and will they be interested and likely to support my work? What else is included in the exhibition? Will the make a catalog, host an artist’s talk, etc.? What is the value of that amplification?
    • Who are the jurors? What is their track record? Are they ethical? How aligned are their interests with my work? What is their institutional affiliation (sorry to have the institution validate the individual; it’s one consideration), and how aligned is that institution with my exhibition goals?
  • What is the potential cost of participating? What is the fine print? Do I have to frame unframed artwork? Do I have to pay for outbound and return shipping? Will I have to travel to install the work, attend the opening, and pick up the work? Will they assume any liability for damaged artwork? What is the split in any sales?
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Meta-Practice

Dusting Yourself Off

Toggling between visualizing and detaching from success.

Recently I poured my heart into a major art application. But when I received the rejection letter, I was already moving on to the next thing. Here’s what happened.

My art business goals are to apply.

Of course I want my applications to be successful. But I don’t write goals based on external validation. I can only control what I do. I write my goals so that my job is to keep throwing my hat into the ring.

I have also tried to be more ambitious about what I apply to. Ambition is not natural to me. I’ve also avoided applying to grants, because they seem like more work with lower chances of returns. But I needed to get over this hang-up.

I’d heard of the Queens Museum Jerome Foundation Emerging Artist Fellowship (EAF)  before. It offers funding of $20,000 to develop new work, support from staff for one year, and a solo exhibition at the Queens Museum. This was my first time applying to it. In the past, I didn’t consider it—I just assumed that I don’t or can’t work at a scale that would justify $20,000. I had a self-perception problem.

Visualizing Success

Setting ‘stretch goals’ gave me a push I needed. I started the process thinking: My chances are very low. The odds are against me. My project seems dissimilar to past projects they’ve funded. I had a protective, pessimistic mindset.

I started the process to fulfill a goal, then awkwardly tried to bridge the interests of the program with my own. After working through half-baked ideas, I arrived at a project that clicked. It made sense for me as a next step as an artist. I got more excited and invested. My self-belief grew.

It became easier for me to visualize success because my project was authentic.

By the time I finished the application, I thought: This is a strong proposal. It’s a great fit. It stands out in a good way. I saw myself doing this project. By writing a proposal I believed in, I saw that I could do projects at this scale, and that I am worthy of this amount of support and recognition.

Detachment from the Outcome through Attachment to the Project

The project took on a life of its own. There’s a noticeable energy in the flood of new ideas in my sketchbook.

I knew I could strengthen my proposal by confirming interest from community partners. I emailed strangers and colleagues, and got anxious waiting for their responses. When a few responded with enthusiasm, I felt high with gratitude. It validated the strength of the project. Something happened inside me, and I committed to doing this project with or without the EAF.

I started brainstorming other ways to make this project happen. Since I scaled it up for the grant application, I started thinking about how to scale it down or adapt it to other open calls. I plugged dates in my calendar, comparing application deadlines and notifications. The EAF become my Plan A. I started forming Plan B, C, and D. It gave me a sense of agency.

The Emotional Cost of Attachment

After I submit an application, I put a note in my calendar on the notification date, and I try not to think about it until then.

But I really poured my heart into the application, and so I was nervous and excited when the EAF notification date finally arrived. I checked my email… Nothing. Then over the next few days, I kept checking my email… And the web page to see if the notification date changed…. And my spam folder…. Nothing. This took me on an emotional journey of anxiety, a little bit of frustration and resentment, dread, resignation. I couldn’t tolerate the uncertainty. Stopping the pain of uncertainty became more urgent than the desire to secure the EAF. This is not a mature, emotionally intelligent response. But the deadline for the call in Plan B started creeping up, so I pivoted.

When I finally received the rejection, I was bummed out momentarily. I sort of shrugged, thinking: Well, good thing I had already started Plan B. I wasn’t entirely non-attached, but I moved on relatively quickly.

Of course I would have loved to receive the EAF. It was Plan A because it was the most well-funded, most advantageously-timed option.

I’m grateful for the process—it helped me identify a project I feel passionate about, connect with partners excited to work with me, and find creative momentum that will carry me forward.

 


 

I like thinking about how sports and art competitions are alike. For example, if you sign up for a competition—say, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament—your goals might be to intensify training, gain competition experience, and test yourself. But if you also want to win the gold medal, you have to visualize yourself doing so. You can’t aim for less. Same with an art competition. You should write the best possible proposal you can.

However, you can only control your own effort and mindset. You can’t control the outcomes, because of the role of other competitors and judges. You may win a gold—in which case you shouldn’t get too cocky and back off your training. You may not win—then you have to be resilient enough to cope with your disappointment; be a good sport; avoid jealousy and excuses; and resolve to learn, train hard, and do better next time. Regardless of the outcome of a competition, remember the long game.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

—variously attributed or mis-attributed to Winston Churchill and John Wooden

 

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Goals and Deliberate Practice

How much progress are you making towards your art goals?
Are you strategically improving weak areas?
How do you stretch out of comfort zones?

DELIBERATE PRACTICE

In “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance” (London: Vauxhall, 2016), psychologist Angela Duckworth shares Anders Ericsson’s concept of deliberate practice:

  1. Set a stretch goal.
  2. Apply full concentration and effort.
  3. Get immediate and informative feedback.
  4. Repeat, with reflection and refinement.

This is different from going through the motions, or drilling what you already know or are good at. This is focusing on a weak area, and setting out to do something that is beyond your current skill level. Then you fail, ask what went wrong, reflect, and try again. It’s frustrating, uncomfortable, and painful, but Duckworth says you can learn to tolerate the discomfort and find gratification in the struggle.

GOALS & COMFORT ZONES

When I read about deliberate practice, my response was of simultaneous intrigue and resentment. I recognized that I need to be more strategic, and to stretch out of my comfort zone more often.

I usually set my one-year goals in the summer, so I’m about two-thirds of the way through my goal-year. I’ve made good progress… on the things I don’t mind doing. For example, I’ve applied to 5 residencies, and submitted my work to 6 open calls for exhibitions. I feel really good about that!

However, when it comes to tasks I dread, I’m excelling at avoidance. For example, to stretch out of my comfort zone, I set a goal of applying to three major grants, because I need to push myself to do more ambitious projects. In the past 8 out of 12 months, I’ve only completed one grant application.

STRETCH

Inter/de-pen-dence: A Game is now featured on playtime.PEM.org, the Peabody Essex Museum's site accompanying their current exhibition on play.

Inter/de-pen-dence: A Game is now featured on playtime.PEM.org, the Peabody Essex Museum’s site accompanying their current exhibition on play.

Coincidentally, “stretch” is a tactics card in Inter/de-pen-dence: A Game, now playable online at playtime.PEM.org.

Sarrita Hunn (my collaborator) and I invited artists Torreya Cummings (Oakland, CA), Malcolm Peacock (New Brunswick, NJ), and Ronny Quevedo (Bronx, NY) to play with us, and are posting the transcription of the dialogue-based gameplay weekly.

In Round 3, Torreya drew the tactics card, “Stretch” and shared how stretching, for her, is often a matter of asking for support from partner institutions. It followed after Ronny discussed the most significant form of support he received, and I gave an example of Ronny connecting me to Working Classroom in Albuquerque.

While getting out of comfort zones can be stressful, it’s a  trade-off for opportunities for improvement and support.

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Unsolicited Artists’ Advice: Updated Tips from a Juror

Suggestions for making art competition applications more competitive.

This past week, I served as one of three jurors for a residency program. Over the course of 7–8 hours, I reviewed 116 applications and selected my top five picks. The odds for being one of my picks were one in 23, or 4%, of applications. (The organization will consider all three jurors’ picks and make final selections.)

I am sharing my notes as a reminder to myself—I fall short, wait to the last minute, and submit underwhelming applications—as much as it is an attempt to offer transparency and feedback to fellow artists. It’s also a win-win: better applications helps artists put their best foot forward, and helps jurors be more focused and efficient. Obviously, this is highly subjective; different jurors and programs have different approaches.

I’m incorporating these notes into a similar article I wrote two years ago, when I was a juror for another residency program.

Context: Jurying’s a tough job!

It takes a lot of time and offers little to no pay. In 2015, I spent about 16 hours reviewing 65 submissions, and rating and submitting scores. I did not receive a stipend.

If jurors only get through, say, 12 or less submissions per hour, you can see how quickly they can get crabby and find minor inconveniences disproportionately annoying. In fact, this week, I noticed that being annoyed by bad applications made me happy to reward well-prepared applications. I tried to be objective, but the emotional relief of reviewing clear, organized, compelling applications may have swayed my favor.

The lists below include many prohibitions. Don’t be discouraged. Accept that before your application can be seen as competitive, it first has to be free of major flaws. Then get to work!

The best applications are well-oiled machines.

I was most excited to see a clear artistic voice: an intangible whole that is the sum of smaller parts working together:

  • Well-documented bodies of art that demonstrate consistency and an advanced practice.
  • An artist’s statement that jibes with the work samples and speaks to intellectual engagement (in other words, that you’ve been thinking clearly and rigorously about what you make for some time).
  • Work samples that show that you can pull off what you say you want to do in your proposal.
  • A proposal that is ambitious and considered, demonstrating an accurate grasp of your capacities, areas where you need support or are taking risks, and program offerings.

CRITERIA

In this week’s jury process, the organization sent a link to their Submittable account. They didn’t send any criteria, so I came up with my own based on my experiences as a past artist-in-residence there and former juror elsewhere:

  • Clarity and strength of proposal: up to 3 points
  • Ability to make the most of the opportunity: up to 3 points
  • Work samples: up to 10 points
  • “Diversity”: up to 1 point

I awarded one bonus “diversity” point for artists whose work, either in content or execution, provided a perspective that isn’t often seen in the art world. It was not awarded purely on demographics. In the end, though, that bonus point mattered little.

This Is a Competition: Be Competitive!

Generally I prefer cooperation over competition, but applicants should embrace a healthy sense of competition in order to make your application rise to the top.

With a total possible score of 17 points, only two applications received 15 points. Four received 14 or 14.5. Eleven received 12-13.5. Many pretty good applications plateau’ed at 10-11 points.

I’m including this chart to emphasize: This is a competition. 

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The organization requested that I submit my top five picks.

The distribution of points, on a scale from 0 to 17 possible points, of 116 applications. The top five applications scored 14 to 15 points.

Most of the applications scoring 10 or 11 points didn’t achieve excellence across the three primary criteria. Their proposal, fit, and work samples were just all right, but nothing special. (A few were just uneven: one application disappointed when great work samples were paired with a very low-ambition proposal that didn’t warrant a six-week residency.)

Applications that scored 7 points or less generally were not competitive across the basics—work samples and an artistic voice and vision—to garner a merit-based award. Fortunately these are all improvable with effort and dedication.

Overlook the written portions at your peril. For efficiency, jurors may start looking for reasons to eliminate applications. When I started seeing the points distribution, I realized that my top five picks would score at least 13 or 14 points. That meant that applications that scored low in the first two criteria didn’t have a chance of catching up in the third criteria, work samples. In these cases, I viewed at least three work samples out of due diligence and principle. Applicants should be aware that jurors only have time to skim their applications, which may extend to their work samples.

Sometimes applications are exercises in getting better at applications (which is worthwhile). To improve one’s competitive edge, try matching or exceeding the time, effort, focus, rigor, and work that competitors are investing—in their applications and their practices.

WRITING

Write proposals that are specific.

When possible, propose specific projects, goals, outcomes, and benefits. Discuss materials, techniques, scales or area of inquiry that distinguish your practice. Why are you interested in this particular program? How will the experience benefit your practice, or advance your work? Try to show how your goals fit with the program’s unique qualities or equipment. This requires you to research and understand the program, and synthesize it in your proposal. Misalignments result in lower rankings.

Don’t rehash truisms about life for many artists, like:

  • Wanting more time or freedom from day jobs.
  • Wanting a change of scenery, or to travel or network in other cities.
  • Wanting a community of artists for feedback.
  • Passion from a young age.
  • The high cost of living in your city.
  • Not having space in your apartment to make larger work.

Plenty of deserving artists need support! General artists’ needs don’t speak to this specific program, and what you offer in return.

If your proposal includes an interactive or relational element, demonstrate a capacity for collaboration and some thoughtfulness about exchange. Why are you asking people to contribute to your project? Why should they?

Writing proposals is challenging. It’s one of my least favorite parts in the application process. It’s hard to tailor a project you’ll feel passionate about in 12-24 months that aligns with the organization’s goals and program. But proposals matter because they help jurors identify who will make the most of the opportunity. Many organization’s worst nightmare is to award an artist who squanders the program.

Convince jurors that you’re a fantastic fit. Make accepting you irresistible.

Craft a superb artist’s statement.

The best statements outline a unique, specific position, and coheres with the work samples submitted. If you tailor your work samples to a particular application, you may need to modify your statement, too. If you describe a certain media or theme, make sure it’s represented in the work samples. It feels schizophrenic to read about works we don’t see, and see works that don’t jibe with what’s stated.

Take the time to write and re-write. Do not simply list random thoughts about your practice in a paragraph form. If your conceptual intent involves word play, keep it short—don’t list noncritical allusions. Make it compelling. Help jurors understand your work, and get interested in you, your practice, and what you might do.

I often find myself asking one of two questions when reading statements, and neither is positive. The first is “How?” How does the art support or reflect the statement? When those two don’t mesh, it suggests that the artist is unclear about what he or she is doing. Luckily, what reads as a fairly major artistic problem can usually be resolved with the power of re-writing. Also, jurors may be practitioners in different artistic disciplines than your own. Help us understand how you do what you do.

The second question is “Why?” If you state that an idea or media is important to you, explain why. It’s fine to be arbitrary in your own creative process, but help other people care about your work by letting them know about what motivates you.

Be clear, concise, and coherent. 

Minimize jargon, personal asides, and creative brainstorming (save that for your sketchbook). Sometimes artists take slack, too-cool-for-school attitudes because of a philistine sentiment that “Good art can speak for itself.” I don’t believe that you can truly understand an artist’s practice by seeing 10 JPGs, even if their work is primarily visual. That’s why up to 37% of the possible points I awarded this week were based on ideas and intent.

If your writing could use improvement, ask friends or mentors, take a class, or get reference books. You’ll probably have to write for the rest of your professional life, so you might as well improve those skills—and your chances of making your applications more competitive—sooner rather than later.

Proof-read and edit.

Make every word work. If a word is not adding anything new, omit it. If you can shorten long sentences, do. Know that jurors are skimming. Make it easier by summarizing main points, preferably at the start of every paragraph.

WORK SAMPLES

Work samples should convey rigor in concept and craft.

There’s an art to making art, and then another art to presenting it. Get good at presenting your art—photographing, color correcting, selecting, sequencing, and contextualizing. Doing so conveys that you’re a professional, and furthermore, that you’re motivated, responsible, and committed—the qualities of someone who will make the most of an opportunity.

Reviewing images this past week, I enjoyed the inclusion of well-done exhibition photographs. They revealed scale, ambition, and a higher level of professionalism.

Follow directions.

Unfortunately, the obvious must be stated and repeated: never disregard work sample requirements.

Heed limits on work samples!

If you must link to long videos, indicate which segments jurors should watch. Segments should total less than the limit.

If you have the option to link to images, link to them, not to HTML pages with several images or projects on them.

Don’t underestimate how much bending the rules will hurt your application. Your submittal may be screened out in the first pass before jurors even see it. If it isn’t, your score may be diminished, because it’s disrespectful to jurors’ time and unfair to other applicants. It’s taxing for jurors to police when applicants over-submit materials. (See above for the number of hours I invested—and that is just to view the capped samples!)

Technical tips for linking to images and videos.

The more time people spend looking for your work samples, the less time and focus they will have for your actual work.

Don’t assume anyone will “tidy up” your submissions, such as download your large files, locate specific images in a link, or cue your videos and cut them off at the 10-minute mark. Jurors may have to navigate this themselves, and if it is an inconvenient process, they will be looking at your work samples in an agitated state. Here are some specific tips:

  • Avoid Flickr. It’s free because ads can appear between slides. Find a different service. If you don’t have a website, get one—it’s never been easier or cheaper—or get a Tumblr, blog, or Google Drive account.
  • If you use Vimeo or YouTube, post brief contextualizing information. Specify if it’s finished work or documentation. And make sure it’s not password-protected.
  • On your own website, if you want jurors to view specific images, link to them directly. Don’t send a link to a portfolio page and then instruct them to scroll to the Nth image. (Unless your site is flash-based, JPGs are assets with their own URLs—on Macs, control-click on an image and select “open image in new tab”. Right-click on PCs for similar options. If you can’t manage that, then try Google Drive.) Do not let your domain registration slip up. Make sure links aren’t broken—load the page in your browser, and then copy the URL from your address window.

Work samples weigh heavily in your scores. Not being able to access them will be a deal-breaker. It’s a waste of everyone’s time—artists’ included.

Use captions intelligently.

Contextualize your work concisely and consistently. This is the first time jurors are viewing your work, so give it a proper introduction.

Don’t assume we can tell what we’re looking at, whether details, installation views, process documentation, photo-documentation of artworks, or fine art photography. Spell it out. Help us construe your role within a collaborative project. Notions of authorship aside, jurors need to know what we are looking at, and what parts you did.

If you’re a visual artist using your work samples to submit a lengthy (100+ words) text or webpage, provide a brief summary (2-3 sentences) in the image caption.

Special notes for project-based, performance, or social practice artists. Be sure to give context and explain what’s going on. What is process? What is product? For social practitioners, articulate the relational aesthetics at work. Explain how these projects relate to any 2-D or 3-D work samples.

If this advice sounds persnickety, that’s because it is. Consider accomplished athletes: experts in the rules of their sport, they would never ask for exceptions like more time or another do-over. In practice, they tirelessly hone their abilities and tactics so that in competition, they can execute with precision to score and win. They get that the competitive edge is very thin.

Artists’ applications are our proxies for scrutiny. By attending to every detail, artists can advance further in competitions.

Resilient athletes also set a variety of goals to evaluate improvement. They do not look solely—as so many artists (myself included) do—to the crushing, all-or-nothing, external validation of winning or losing. Break down competition goals into smaller, more manageable parts, such as completing applications, finding appropriate competitions, and getting feedback to improve work sample sets and statements.

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Meta-Practice, Research, Thought Experiments in Agency

Ways and Means: Points of Reference

A few past notes and new points of reference related to my Ways and Means project, on view through October 15 at Kala Art Institute.

Ways and Means came out of my Inter/dependence ‘zine, a report focusing on self-organizers. I loved the way Adam Gopnik wrote about Jane Jacobs’s interest in self-organizing [emphasis added]:

[In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs] told the story of a little girl seemingly being harassed by an older man, and of how all of Hudson Street emerged from stores and stoops to protect her…. She made the still startling point that, on richer blocks, a whole class of eyes had to be hired to play the role that, on Hudson Street, locals played for nothing: “A network of doormen and superintendents, of delivery boys and nursemaids, a form of hired neighborhood, keeps residential Park Avenue supplied with eyes.” A hired neighborhood! It’s obvious once it’s said, but no one before had said it, because no one before had seen it.

The book is really a study in the miracle of self-organization, as with D’Arcy Thompson’s studies of biological growth. Without plans, beautiful shapes and systems emerge from necessity. Where before her people had seen accident or exploitation or ugliness, she saw an ecology of appetites.

Adam Gopnik, “Jane Jacobs’s Street Smarts,” New Yorker, September 26, 2016

This sense of acting out of necessity, or appetite—the agency and empowerment of creating a desired condition to exist within—is a huge inspiration to me.

Most of the activity kits in Ways and Means have two components: printed ephemera, housed in a canvas tool pocket or pouch (which can be attached to an apron, belt, or garment). The pouch is important to me, as I see a strong connection between physical agency, and social or political agency. Freedom is first and foremost about mobility. And feeling free—say, as artists—means that we don’t have to shape our lives around systems whose values we don’t believe in. In many ways, the project is about recognizing the tools, skills, and resources (read: each other) that we already carry, made physical by the tool pouches.

Activities housed in canvas pouches, displayed on a wall. Participants can attach them to garments using the snaps. Supported by a Fellowship from Kala Art Institute and an Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant from the Center for Book Arts. Photo: Jiajun Wang

Activities housed in canvas pouches, displayed on a wall. Participants can attach them to garments using the snaps. Supported by a Fellowship from Kala Art Institute and an Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant from the Center for Book Arts. Photo: Jiajun Wang

With that in mind, Chelsea G. Summers’ “The Politics of Pockets” (Racked, 9/19/2016) is an intriguing history of pockets from a feminist perspective. It starts with the fact that in Medieval times, men and women carried pouches attached to their waists. (The following several hundred years of gender-policing-via-pockets seem like an aberration to me.) The essay also touches upon the intersection of pockets and bicycling—again, mobility implying freedom.

One of the responses to Ways and Means has to do with the number of components involved. As there was a lot of letterpress printing, the process was particularly preparation-intensive. Here’s how I kept track of things:

Workflow spreadsheet for managing each activity kits across multiple stages.

Workflow spreadsheet for managing each activity kits across multiple stages.

I am not saying this level of nerdiness is always warranted, and I think many people would chafe at organizing creative production this way. But letterpress printing takes a special kind of detail-oriented person—hence the aphorism, “check your ‘p’s and ‘q’s.” This chart was useful for getting all the pieces—plates, type, paper, board, fabric—in place before I started printing. And getting different activities to converge at similar stages was helpful, e.g., buying paper in one trip, or binding all at once. Seeing that things were in-progress helped me stay focused; there is always something to do. And when you’re working in more than one space—such as a studio and printshop on opposite ends of a complex, or a home studio and a printshop in another borough—it’s nice to remember to pack the right materials for the day’s tasks.

A minor innovation that took a while for me to arrive at is this (it’s also a peek at a forthcoming activity):

A chart of printing passes.

A chart of printing passes.

Some activities entail multiple printing passes using different inks and media, and it could get confusing. I found that charting it this way helps me to visualize the steps, and prepare the plates and type accordingly. I may have even saved myself a fourth pass on this one. Pass 1 is done, 2 and 3 remain. To be continued…

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Meta-Practice

Center for Book Arts Residency Notes, Part 1

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Ways and Means tool roll, 2016, two-color print of line cuts, linoleum, and moveable type (not shown) on canvas.

For the past three months, I’ve been taking classes and doing lots of letterpress printing at the Center for Book Arts in their Artist-in-Residence Workspace Grant program. It’s been neat to get to know this compact Manhattan non-profit printshop, bindery, and gallery, and the community that keeps it running and makes it vital.

Right after returning from Kala in February, I dived straight into a five-day, intensive Bookbinding class at the Center for Book Arts. The class was taught by Nancy Loeber (see her beautiful books of reduction woodcut portraits). I loved the pace of the class—she kept a phenomenal energy up, and exposed students to a tremendous amount of technical knowledge. We made many different soft and hard cover book structures, made our own book cloth, and practiced techniques to make our books more precise and tidy. The class was also a great way to spend time at the Center, and get to know a few of my fellow AIRs, Scholars, and other students.

I learned about pressure printing in a fun weekend class with Macy Chadwick. I’d never heard of pressure printing before. It’s a sort of ingenious process, similar to collagraph. You make a plate out of paper or other thin, flexible materials, only instead of inking up the plate, you sandwich it with your printing paper that you set in the grippers. That all goes around the cylinder, where your paper picks up ink from a thick acrylic plate. The result is a print that is mostly solid, with texture and ghostly halos. It’s loose, quick, and experimental—qualities that are opposite of most other letterpress methods.

I also took a broadsides letterpress printing class with Rich O’Russa, who encouraged my wacky experimentations printing on cloth and locking up type on angles. It was a great way to get more practice setting type and learning the quirks of some of the Center’s seven letterpresses.

After taking these classes and the Renter Training class, and printing during the Supervised Printing nights, I was recently given the go-ahead to print unsupervised in May.

I’ve been printing activities for activity kits using moveable type, linoleum, and polymer plate.

I find setting moveable type to be incredibly time-consuming, frustrating, and both antagonistic and contiguous with my typographic sensibilities. On one hand, I have a pretty good sense of typography from doing graphic design and calligraphy, so the shapes of my typeface of choice, Lydian, is familiar. On the other hand, my discernment is also the source of friction—it’s hard to express how much it gets my goat when I find an italics or condensed letter in the roman job case, or worse, in my lock-up when I’m already on press.

Letterpress is physical in the extreme. Every letter, every point and pica of space, has to be accounted for with a corporeal material, which has to be stored and organized to some extent in a communal printshop. The reward is an ineluctable perfection of slight imperfection, that polymer plate doesn’t achieve. After setting type for a few projects, polymer plate feels so fast and painless—and the painlessness is both relaxing and unnerving. I got the feeling I’m not learning anything right now. But it’s also nice to go home at a reasonable hour.

The Center is located in NoMad. As the site is not capacious, and is also used for classes and events, it is helpful to approach with flexibility, cooperation, and forbearance. The location is great—close to many options for transportation, food, and art stores around 23rd Street, Madison Square, and Koreatown.

The 2015 Workspace AIRs’ exhibition, along with two other shows, are on view through June 25. Stop by to see eclectic interpretations of the book form; you will also see the studios as well.

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