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


Citizenship, Values

So You’re Planning an Art Auction: Do’s and Don’t’s

If you’re thinking about organizing an art auction, be aware of what makes an auction effective, and what is attractive to artist-donors. The Bay Area has a thriving arts scene, wonderful progressive culture and vibrant non-profit community, but with so many good causes to support, artists have to consider where their contributions will be most effective.

These are the criteria I use when I receive invitations to donate art:

Values: Is the cause worthy?
I want to help groups whose values match my own, especially those with under-served and under-funded constituencies. The need should be identifiable. Groups with a commitment to the the arts (and not just via “exposure” in your art auction) especially appeal to me.

Track record: Is the organization worthy?
I want to see evidence of an effective track record. Ideal groups make miracles on a shoestring, but are not so broke as to cultivate a culture of scarcity, crisis and turnover. Interest groups and collectives should demonstrate real capacity; initial enthusiasm to start a pet project is rarely convincing alone. Also, be transparent about your non-profit 501(c)3 status.

Art and Auction Experience: Will the auction be effective?
An art auction is only successful when the organizer sells the art. I look for groups with the ability to attract art-loving audiences and create bid-friendly environments. Having proven curators or installers on board tells me that (1) you’ve got the know-how to handle and install art, and (2) you are more likely to value my time and labor. Big red flags: You’ve never organized an art auction or installed art before. You don’t have a sense of what price range is reasonable at your event. Your publicity strategy involves hoping that my name on a flyer will be enough to attract an art-buying audience (wish it was, but it’s not… yet).

Exposure: To whom? For what? Under what conditions?
Most artists don’t just want any exposure. If you were an artist, what kind of exposure would you want: your work hung in a narrow hallway, bumped by drunk party-goers and sold for a low price? Or hung in a tasteful gallery populated by engaged viewers and interested bidders? I want useful exposure, such as sharing my work with collectors, curators and critics, to get positive responses about the work, under advantageous conditions — the best possible presentation, where the work is not undervalued.

Presentation: To complement or diminish my profile?
Publicity materials should be attractive and professional. If they are not, artists will not send them out to their own lists, and art buyers will not attend. Mail a stack of postcards to the artists well ahead of the event date. Ensure the venue will be appropriate for an art exhibit. Publicize the artists’ names on your press releases and web site. After all, artists are donors as much as anyone else.


What to Do

• Use a lender form.
• Agree on the terms of the auction.
• If possible, insure the art in your possession.
• Help struggling artists offset shipping and/or framing costs.
• Invite the artist to the auction (sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised). Put them on the comp list if there is an admission fee.
• Hang the art properly. Don’t damage it.
• During and after the event, deal with the buyers. Do not expect the artists to sell their own work, or deliver the work to the collectors after you collect the funds.
• Pack unsold art properly. Don’t damage it.
• Return unsold art and send tax letters and checks promptly.
• If, in addition, you ask for artists’ time, be courteous.


What Not to Do: A Case Study

I’ve learned the above lessons through good and bad experiences donating art. Here’s one story that taught me to donate with caution.

I was asked to show up three hours in advance of the auction to talk to the media — but the media were not expected to arrive until an hour before the auction. My two hour wait, it seems, was intended to allow the communications officer 10 minutes to go over his talking points with me. I was happy to be a mouthpiece for a worthy cause, but the long wait was a huge waste of time. In the end, I didn’t see one press person. My patience ran out 30 minutes before the auction. I slipped out because I was so annoyed that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the auction, nor help others enjoy it.

My art sold, but it was delivered back to me — damaged. I spent months having the work re-framed and scheduling pick-up dates with the buyer.

Perhaps most egregiously, the organization was inconsistent about the logistics of the monetary transaction. The buyer paid the organization at the event, but I was told to ask him for a check. In my opinion, an organization should never put me (a donor) and the buyer (another donor) in the awkward position of trying to collect money from each other.

Not everything was awful: the volunteer curator was delightful and professional to work with. Cheap Pete’s replaced the frames free of charge. And I still believe that this particular organization fulfills a necessary role.

But I would think twice before entering any agreement that asked so much of donating artists, especially organizations with whom I have little to no relationship before and after the auction.

Community, Values

Exceptional Art Economics

Art doesn’t play by conventional economic rules, argues Dutch economist and artist Hans Abbing in “Why Are Artists Poor?: The Exceptional Economy of the Arts.”

Art isn’t valued like typical commodities.
Art workers aren’t treated like other workers. Being an artist is similar, though, to being a small business owner — except that most small business owners have business plans, and know when to cut their losses.
Artists usually self-subsidize their practices, yet what most often makes artists stand out is their commitment to developing new work over the years. Like a Jenifer Wofford recently blogged, being an artist sometimes feels like a game of attrition — whoever sticks around long enough, whoever can still develop while forfeiting a salary and stability, wins.

But art is valued exceptionally, which inspires rare generosity. For example…

FRED went out on a limb to support my work for this year’s festival. They hadn’t heard of me and didn’t know anyone who could vouch for me (the “vouch” is important, not for cronyism, well, only, but because the terms “art” and “artist” are so unsanction-able; i.e., “artist” can refer to hobbyists and professionals alike), but they believed in my project. For the opportunity to realize my soft sculpture for FRED, I’m thankful.

When we made contact in England, Rico, my host in London, was a friend of the aforementioned Wofford. Without hesitation, Rico opened his home for a fellow artist. These days I would count him as a friend, and I’m grateful for his openness and hospitality.

I am also grateful to photographers who contribute art documentation to artists. Tony West shot brilliant photographs of my work for the FRED Festival. His excellent photos are vast improvements in my art documentation. I am so thankful to Tony West for sharing his photographs with me. Please check out Tony’s site. I am especially amazed with his landscapes. He’s a truly agile photographer, and you wouldn’t believe how quickly he works.


Large Donations to the Arts

In’s “Big Gifts, Tax Breaks and a Debate on Charity,” Stephanie Strom writes about philanthrophic ins and outs in this era of Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

Check out the info-graphic. Attractive (Tufte readers: Yum!) and informative about the sad state, relatively, of large individual donations to the arts.

The super-wealthy have super-accountants, who take advantage of the numerous and legal means to make giving profitable. As explained by a professor, museum donors can actually make money by purchasing of significant art works and donating them incrementally over several years. Since the work appreciates as part of an esteemed museum collection, the tax write-offs increase year-to-year, eventually exceeding initial outlay.

While I am for incentives for charitable giving (for example, artists should be able to write off the sale price of works donated to non-profit orgs, not just the cost of materials used), Strom’s article correctly points out that it’s high time to re-evaluate the tax codes for charitable giving among the super rich.

Art & Development, Citizenship, Community


[My vision for this blog is to spend more time on posts than I have right now: to mull over my ideas, and formulate opinions and theories. Of course, the reality is that there’s rarely enough time for blogging, not to mention, sleep.]

Optimism takes work.

Not everyone agrees with me that the SF Bay Area art community is populated by people who exercise professionalism, rigor and generosity. It can be difficult for me to back up my optimistic sentiments. But lately, my cup has been overflowing, and it’s due to the generosity of many artist-friends and artist-mentors.

I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be on the other side of the art auction “ask,” asking artists to donate their hard work and time to support more art- making and showing. But lately, as I’ve become more involved with Galleon Trade, I have been asking artists, and talking to everyone I can, for their support.

The response has been incredible! If there was ever a time to give thanks, it’s now. Everyone I’ve asked has responded positively. From fellow artists getting back on their feet after graduate school, to gallerists who can help get the word out to collectors (without whom an auction could not be successful), to a community-minded artist that I’m assisting, I’m really impressed and thankful for the generosity I’ve experienced.

Almost 40 works by 33 artists have been donated to support the grassroots international arts exchange. There are multiple, stunning works on paper by Megan Wilson, a really beautiful drawing by Aaron Noble, a humorous and optically-strange print by Mario Ybarra Jr. (you have to see it in person), beautiful and mysterious photographs by Gina Osterloh, a curious object by Reanne Estrada, and a striking ceramic work by Erik Scollon. At the center of it all is Jenifer Wofford, who initiated the project, and has been organizing it full-time, with little compensation, for the past few weeks. I feel extremely lucky and thankful to be an artist who benefits from the hard work, generosity and commitment of so many individuals.

See the art for yourself. And if you’re feeling generous, please show your support by donating online via Paypal.

Art & Development

Media Center Co-op

One of the many great things about being in school is access to facilities and equipment. I’m sorely missing the Media Center’s array of A/V equipment, especially the high-end digital cameras, tripods and light kits.

Over the past two years, I shot photos of my work with a digital Canon Rebel EOS. I own the 35 mm version of that same camera, but shooting digitally was like taking light-year leaps in efficiency. I could see the images on my laptop, right there on the copystand, and make corrections on the spot. And there are always corrections…

The digital SLR’s professional features–a manual focus ring, lots of control in manual exposure mode, custom white balance, and a viewfinder (so key!)–made it perfect for shooting crisp, clear, large digital photos of my work.

Unfortunately, the professional features come with a hefty pricetag: $800-900.

Having great images of one’s work is key. A professional photographer would make my work samples perfect, but how could I afford that every 4-6 months, much less during those narrow windows between finishing work and delivering it for exhibition?

So I have an idea: Artist’s Media Center Co-op. It’d be a low-monthly membership place where artists can shoot slides. There’d be a copy stand for small 2D work and maybe some seamless rolls and a light kit or two for large 2D work or 3D work…

Like the idea? Take it. It’s yours. Free. Just let me use the copystand and camera once in a while…


A brilliant way to fund CA state arts again

Not a new tax, but a CA state Assembly bill to earmark 20% of taxes on art sales to go towards art. Sounds so simple and smart you wonder how it ever got to the Assembly… Act now to help make it into law. Or read it yourself.

Friends & Colleagues:

I urge you all to ACT TODAY! and spread the message widely:

A bill is currently making its way through the Legislature, that would create a stable funding stream for state support of the arts and programs to guarantee access for all. The bill, AB 1365, has already made it through two committees, and with strategic support, stands a real chance of becoming law.
Four years ago, the Legislature slashed support for the arts by 97%, eliminating programs that opened doors to the arts for people across the state. Today, California spends less than any other state on support for the arts–just six cents per person, compared to the national average of one dollar per capita.

AB 1365 would change that. The bill proposes to shift 20% of the sales tax collected on works of art to the California Arts Council. This isn’t a new tax but merely a designation for the spending of dollars the state is already collecting.

The initial analysis by the Board of Equalization (BOE) estimates that the 4.75% rate of sales and use tax on works of art amounts to $166 million per year. AB 1365 would transfer 20% of this amount, or $33.2 million from the state’s General Fund to the California Arts Council. Further, the BOE writes, “This bill would not be problematic to administer,” with the first transfer of funds occurring 6 months following the effective date of the bill.

The bill was authored by Assemblywoman Betty Karnette of Long Beach and is currently pending on the Suspense calendar in the Assembly Appropriations Committee (chaired by SF Assemblyman Mark Leno). The Suspense calendar will be taken up early next week . Assemblyman Leno (a great arts supporter) and Speaker Nunez of Los Angeles will be critical to moving the bill off Suspense.

If the bill moves off Suspense it then goes to a vote on the assembly floor prior to June 8th. At that time we expect to push for statewide communications to Assembly members through meetings, letters, and emails. If we can get the bill through the Assembly then it will move to the Senate.

What we need TODAY is for all of us to contact Mark Leno and his office, expressing your support for the bill and urging him, as the Committee Chair, to move the bill forward.

Calling Mr. Leno’s’s office in Sacramento to register your support is a good idea. The number is: Phone (916) 319-2013.

Emailing works too. Mr. Leno’s email address is:

Faxing Mr. Leno a letter, is best of all, since he can literally carry these letters with him into the chamber. Fax number: (916) 319-2113 .

Sample language for your email or faxed letter is posted below.


June 1, 2007

The Honorable Mark Leno
Member of the California State Legislature
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814 Location: Assembly Appropriations Committee

Re: Assembly Bill 1365:
California Arts Council Funding
Position: SUPPORT

Dear Assembly Member Leno:

I am writing to thank you for your long support of the arts in this state and to urge you, as Chair of the Appropriations Committee, to move AB 1365 off the Suspense calendar, and I respectfully urge you to support this bill in every way possible.

As you know, passage of AB 1365 would require that 20% of state sales and use tax revenues derived from the sales of art dealers, art auctioneers, and certain other business entities be deposited in the State Treasury for allocation to the California Art Council.

The California Board of Equalization (BOE) estimates that the 4.75% rate of sales and use tax on works of art amounts to $166 million per year. AB 1365 would transfer 20% of this amount, or $32 million from the state’s General Fund to the California Arts Council. Further, the BOE writes, “This bill would not be problematic to administer,” with the first transfer of funds occurring 6 months following the effective date of the bill.

This is not a new tax; it is merely a designation for the spending of dollars the state is already collecting.

California is now in its fourth year of severe spending cuts to programs that used to help ensure access to the arts to all the people of our state. Indeed, California continues spend mere pennies per person on access to the arts, while the national median is one dollar.

AB 1365 would provide a stable funding stream to help ensure ALL the people of California have access to the rich cultural resources of our state. The arts are critical to fostering creativity, giving voice to diverse communities, building tolerance and empathy, attracting tourists, and enriching the imaginations and lives of all Californians.

The arts are vital to our culture of innovation we are so very proud of as Californians. With AB 1365 supporting new, sustained funding for the California Arts Council and its programs, the arts can continue to be a significant contributor to California’s economic recovery through tourism, jobs, social services and educational outreach. AB 1365 proposes a sound investment for California.

Thank you for your faithful commitment to a better, more equitable California.


At last, adequate support for the arts – at almost one dollar per person, the national median – might just be within reach, helping us ensure that in California we can guarantee — Art for All! Not for Some!

Art & Development

Why are artists poor? How to support artists.

I hope, dear readers, that you don’t suspect that artists are busy drinking cappuccinos and adjusting their berets, too self-absorbed to get a real job. Rather, the costs of being an artist are high; financial rewards are speculative. For emerging artists, renumeration is nominal and rare.

Like Thoreau in Walden Pond, I’d like to tell you about my expenses. But unlike the Romantic recluse, I can advocate a downscaled lifestyle in theory, but not in practice. Being an artist requires that I “think big,” and that means that I “make big.”

I have to struggle against my penny-pinching instincts when it comes to art materials, because being too cheap is terrible for artmaking. Inadequate materials will undermine a work before it even gets off the ground.

To give you a sense of what being an artist costs, here are some figures I’ve tallied:

A recent project, an edition of 170 Miniature Multiples, cost over $200, or $1.35 per Miniature, in supplies alone:

$75 paper
$26 tape*
$9 glue
$60 paper cutter, blades*
$30 printing/paper
$30 stamps

*Of the purchased supplies, the paper cutter, a tape dispenser and some double-stick tape are the only leftover supplies I’ll have for future use — everything else has been depleted.

But the cost of making art can pale in comparison to the expense of showing art. Preparing for a recent show, I spent well over over $400. (This figure is actually modest—think of photographers who make large prints, video artists who utilize digital projectors, etc.) Here’s where the money went:

$138 frames, plexi, museum board**
$155 installation materials and tools: drywall, lumber, painting supplies, drywall tools
$20 cleaning supplies
$24 shelf & brackets
$26 respirator for re-sanding during de-installation

**The cost of assembling five low-cost, ready-made frames is barely equal to the cost of one professional frame.

Yet these supply expenses are relatively small compared with the cost of labor, education, and other self employed overhead (such as health insurance).

So why even bother?

I decided to be an optimist because I believe optimism is necessary for maintaining a life as an artist. I’m confident that the rewards of being an artist–which are personal, but potentially also professional–are worth the costs.

How to Support Artists.

1. Show up. Go to the shows. Look at the work.
2. Tell them when they’re doing something neat.
3. Tell others when they’re doing something really neat.
4. Buy stuff. If you hire artists, compensate them for their time, training and overhead, as you would accordingly for any other profession. You can’t pay rent with exposure.