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About a month ago, scholar and critic Julia Bryan-Wilson delivered a short, affirmative, and electrifying speech about artists’ professionalization, political capacities, and privilege. It is beautiful in its erudition and alacrity.
She presented the talk in a recent conference, “Institutions By Artists—Debate 2: Should Artists Professionalize?”on Vimeo (Bryan-Wilson’s talk starts at 38:40). A segment has found its way onto YouTube as “Julia Bryan-Wilson is totally badass.” I didn’t click on the
cheap meme title until only recently, and I can’t help but mull over her points, especially in relation to other references. Here’s are some excerpts of her talk:
First, on ethical behavior and relations:
If there is a space for art outside of the state and market…, it is … the space of embodiment that is separate from the total administration of everyday life. It’s within this space that it makes sense to redefine professionalism so that it does not denote walking lockstep to the beat of the neoliberal, entrepreneurial drum, but rather, managing yourself, practicing an ethics of care when you engage with others. We might call this ‘minding your business,’ and I don’t mean ‘business’ in the white-collar sense, but the inter-relational ways in which we move through the world….
[I’m all for art world ethics.]
Then, meeting realism with artists’ wiliness:
[The question of ‘Should artists professionalize?’ is, rather,] “How do you want to acknowledge your own production within a highly compromised economy? Let’s be strategic about how we contribute to those structures and be tactical about how we might interrupt or stall its ruthless logic….
[Earlier today, our book club reading Martha Rosler’s Culture Class discussed whether artists should make political art or take to the streets. Rosler concluded that artists don’t have to choose. And even though works of art may be eventually rewritten (co-opted), the process takes time, an in that gap, critical art works can efficaciously speak to present conditions. I love that note of optimism, the quick-footed juking out of false dichotomies.]
Instead of, ‘Should artists professionalize?’ we should ask, ‘How should artists profess?’ Profess, of course, has many meanings. One of them is to declare oneself skilled or expert—to assert knowledge. But it also means to lay claim to something falsely, insincerely, or deceptively. I think artists should profess, by accepting their expertise as well as their wily ways. I call for the professing of professionalism, ironizing and making strange professionalization, turning it upside down to curdle it, to estrange it from itself….
She concludes with this powerful embrace of paradoxes inherent to discussions about artists’ political agency:
Let’s reframe the question:
Should artists and critics profess what they believe in? Be more transparent about the stakes of their making and how they support themselves? Yes.
Should artists and critics be self-aware of their own circulation within frameworks of power, of their own implication in larger systems of financialization and self-management? Yes.
Should artists advocate for themselves, and for social justice more broadly, with an understanding that their fights might have some surprising resonance with other questions of inequity? Yes.
Should artists also organize with an awareness that they have certain class privileges, due to cultural capital, even if that cultural capital does not always easily translate into actual political power or long-term financial security? Yes.
[Ben Davis’ 9.5 Theses outlines that artists’ autonomy means that we’re more like middle class workers than the lower class we may feel like.]
Should artists fictionalize rather than financialize? Make shit up? Falsify? Infiltrate? Yes.
Should artists with art school educations realize that just because they are underpaid does not mean they are underclass? Yes.
[This is a huge point. On the one hand, I sympathize with art school grads with huge debts, who are struggling to make ends meet in expensive cities like San Francisco and NYC. On the other hand, I also know what it’s like to come from a working class background, and can’t help but feel that calls for, for example, art school debt forgiveness are myopic and entitled.]
Should art historians and critics acknowledge our profound privilege as tastemakers? Yes.
Should we all take more risks, but all the time acknowledge that the risks we take are not equivalent to many other people’s and the risks they live? Yes.
Bascially, JBW brings some perspective: that the art world is not the world, indeed, the world is much bigger than the art world, and yet artists can contribute positively, cannily, to both. Fantastic.
Patricia Cohen reported that an NEA “Study Says Artists Have Higher Salaries” (NY Times, October 30)—in fact, claiming that the average artists’ earnings are higher than the average worker “by nearly $4,000.”
“Average” is not equivalent with “mean,” yet it would be very easy to misinterpret the headline that most artists are better paid than everyone else. Or to assume that the artists referred to are fine artists.
But the NEA’s “Artists and Arts Workers in the United States” report’s data sets (the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey) are particular, and what it means—and what it doesn’t mean for visual artists—is quite revealing upon investigation.
First, the survey is based on those who identify primarily as artists:
To be counted as an artist, survey respondents must have identified a job within one of these 11 occupational categories as accounting for the most number of hours worked in a given week. In other words, being an artist is their “primary” job.
Many visual artists have day jobs; those who spend most of their time as teachers, curators, or art handlers would not be counted in the survey.
Second, the category “artist” is comprised of many who may not self-identify as artists.
There are 2.1 million artists in the United States.
· More than a third of those artists (39 percent, or 828,747 workers) are designers—a category that includes commercial and industrial designers, fashion designers, floral designers, graphic designers, interior designers, merchandise displayers, and set and exhibit designers.*
The idiosyncratic boundaries of inclusion is illustrated here: curators and art installers (who are often artists) are not be included, yet exhibit designers are. Almost half (49%) of respondents are in design and architecture—typically salaried occupations that are quite technical. Would the announcement that “Designers and Architects have Higher Salaries” be surprising?
How many survey respondents are visual artists? Less than 10%.
· Fine artists, art directors, and animators make up 10 percent of all artists (212,236 workers).
Whether fine artists make up 1% or 9% of survey respondents is impossible to tell. It’s even possible that, in this case, “artists” means 99% non-fine artists.
Last weekend I attended the International Positive Psychology Association’s Second World Congress on Positive Psychology in Philadelphia, PA, with the support of a Travel and Study Grant from the Jerome Foundation. It was an invigorating experience. I gained new concepts, an inspired list of books to read, and a clearer understanding of this growing field.
Positive psychology is a new realm; I’ve encountered skepticism of it based on its name only. But the conference (which I’ll call ‘IPPA,’ pronounced “IH-pah”) featured rigorous empirical researchers and practitioners across clinical psychology, education, business, and the humanities. With 1,200 whip-smart attendees from 62 countries, I felt as though I was part of an emergent domain that will revolutionize psychology as well as culture. I’ve been reading books about positive psychology since 2009; IPPA made me excited to learn more and help advance the field as it intersects with the arts and humanities.
What is positive psychology? Perhaps this is best explained via the words of its founding psychologists, Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2000), as quoted by Robert Vallerand:
“Psychology should document how people’s lives can be most worth living.”
To paraphrase James Pawelski, IPPA President as well as the Director of Education and Senior Scholar at the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program at UPenn, one of the leading centers of research and scholarship:
Positive psychology is not merely a psychology for sunny days. It is also a psychology for rainy days…. [As a young person witnessing the aftermath of the recent terrorist acts in Norway said,] ‘If one man can create so much hate and death, how much good can we create together?’
I think it was also Pawelski, in discussing the positive turn in humanities, who expressed that
We see positive psychology as balancing (negative) psychology
which for the 20th century has been fixated on trauma, illness, and pathology. As in physical medicine, it is high time to expand beyond treatment towards wellbeing. As Chris Peterson put it:
“Health is more than the absence of illness”
and so too, psychological wellbeing is more than the absence of pathology. The positive psychology view according to Martin Seligman is that
People are not driven by the past, but can be drawn to the future.
Rather than seeing the positive as simplistic, positive psychology makes the positive more complex.
What I looked forward to. Many of my drawings in the Positive Signs series, as well as some concepts in my essays on Art Practical, were inspired by Martin Seligman’s Learned Optimism and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity. During my residency at Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild immediately preceding IPPA, I read Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. So I was very excited to hear Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi speak.
I was also excited to meet potential partners, especially those whose work intersects with the arts. I suspect that principles of positive psychology can be useful for contemporary artists by informing:
•processes, by becoming aware of flow activities;
•artwork, via increased understanding of relationships created in the art viewing experience and new theories of phenomenology; and
•attitudes, especially in regards to experiencing career setbacks and successes.
Highlights. I was very excited about:
Clearer definitions. University of Illinois researcher Ed Diener identified
preconditions of happiness as optimism, positive experiences, and lack of negative affect.
Gallup Scientist in Residence Shane Lopez pinpoints hope.
“Hope is goal-directed thinking (goals thinking) in which people perceive that they can produce routes to desired goals (pathways thinking) and the requisite motivation to use those routes (agency thinking).
Hope — The ideas and energy we have for the future.
High hope people believe that the future will be better than the present and that they have the power to make it so.”
Matt Gallagher, a clinical psychology researcher at the University of Kansas, distinguishes between hope and optimism:
Hope (Snyder) — Agency and pathways towards goals
Optimism (Scheier & Carver) — Globalized positive/negative expectancies
Emphasis on personal agency [is the] crucial difference
He also explained the difference thusly:
When you mash optimism and self-efficacy together, you get hope.
If a savoring process is elicited when a positive emotion is experienced, then savoring could well be the mediating mechanism through which a person’s cognitive repertoire is expanded when a positive emotion is experienced. Furthermore, when people savor, they often broaden the range of feelings they can have and contexts in which these feelings can occur.
Happiness is not frivolous. Hope can’t wait.
Lopez’s Gallup studies revealed that
Hope, engagement, and wellbeing do not correlate to income.
Clearly this is not an argument against equity, but a call to foster hope without delay. That’s because, as Lopez pointed out,
“When we link ourselves to the future, we behave better today.”
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (1943) is a fundamental psychology concept visually represented as a pyramid. The idea is that basic needs must be met first, and in order of importance, with self-actualization as the pinnacle—and endmost—need.
At IPPA, Diener argued that
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be addressed at all levels, not necessarily in the order Maslow suggested.
Edward Deci, who studies self-determination theory, focused on
three basic human needs: the need to express competence, autonomy, and relatedness, which can be intrinsic, extrinsic, or emotionally motivated. Extrinsic motivations can actually undermine intrinsic motivations for engaging activities.
I especially appreciated Deci’s point that
Autonomy does not mean complete independence; you can be autonomously dependent
because that points to how artists can be autonomous and forge their own paths with the support and encouragement of their peers.
This sentiment was echoed by Karen Skerrett, who studies qualities of resilience in couple relationships:
Resilience is not self-sufficiency.
Deci added that
To foster greater internalization, create social contexts that allow people to feel competent, autonomous, and related. But it must fit with who people are
Which seems like a worthwhile consideration for artists developing participatory and relational projects.
Diener also identified,
“The number one predictor of enjoyment: ‘I learned new things, and I got to use my new skills today.’
In advance of a positive criticality. Since even my wholly optimistic work can inspire projections of skepticism, I was especially keen to hear Pawelski share Csikszentmihalyi’s opinion that
Positive psychology is a metaphysical orientation towards the positive. In other words, the positive is just as real as the negative.
Dan Moores illustrated this with a humorous talk called Ecstatic Poetry and the Limits of Suspicion. In it, he conveyed
we have a hermeneutics [study of interpretation] of suspicion (Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud), while lacking a hermeneutics of affirmation.
Such a hermeneutics disserves
“The ecstatic poetic tradition [which] connects many cultures and reaches across vast stretches of time. It represents a positive affirmation of the values of happiness, human connections, festivities, and relatedness to transcendent sources of meaning. The tradition contains countless poems depicting peak states of being and positive, life-affirming emotions, such as serenity, awe, wonder, rapture, joy, gratitude, and love. Such poetry is written in praise of the goodness of life, the abundance of nature, and the intimate interrelation of the whole cosmos.”
Unsurprisingly, Moores shared a Romantic poem. This spurred a sense that contemporary art trends that revisit Romanticism and Transcendentalism (the “New Sincerity”) may find inspiration in this intersection of positive psychology and humanities, if the scientific approach isn’t too much at odds with the intuitive nature of such artmaking.
Elevation and awe. Jonathan Haidt, who studies moral political psychology, presented research
on emotion and elevation, correlating ‘up’ with altruism and admiration
It’s similar to the up-down cognitive metaphors in Lakoff/Johnson’s linguistics, which I diagrammed in Positive Sign #24.
Veronika Huta, who studies awe, inspiration, and transcendence at the University of Ottowa, independently confirmed that
Elevation is correlated with, and is an indicator of, virtuous, pro-social behavior.
Connecting neo-Romantic art and studies of awe was UPenn graduate student Ann Marie Roepke’s diagram relating horror and awe, similar to the 19th century view of the sublime.
Passion. Robert Vallerand, from the University of Montreal, studies obsessive and harmonious passion.
There’s a clear analogy to the arts here, where artists may develop a detrimental obsessive passion driven by extrinsic motivators, rather than a harmonious passion fueled by intrinsic motivation that leads towards increased subjective wellbeing.
Since I think emerging artists can put pressure themselves to see extrinsic rewards to their progress, Vallerand’s final message seems especially relevant.
Information graphics. What follows is a sampling of visuals which appealed to me.
The most frequently presented graphic seemed to be a flow chart whose correlations are represented in nominal tenths or hundredths, rather than the visual hierarchies I would have preferred. It might well be a data-minded scientific idiom. Perhaps visual representation would be misconstrued as non-empirical shorthand.
These graphics, indeed, the positive psychology endeavor as a whole—recall a passage from Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, in which the author responds to an engineer’s algebraic formula:
“I was struck by how impoverished ordinary language can be by contrast, requiring its user to arrange inordinate numbers of words in tottering and unstable piles in order to communicate meanings more infinitely more basic than anything related to an electrical network. I found myself wishing that the rest of mankind would follow the engineers’ example and agree on a series of symbols which could point incontrovertibly to certain elusive, vaporous and often painful psychological states—a code which might help us feel less tongue-tied and less lonely, and enable us to resolve arguments with swift and silent exchanges of equations.”
Two projects deserve special recognition for employing terrific graphic design. Both were large-scale public initiatives promoting wellbeing, thus the success of the endeavors was dependent on accessible design and copywriting.
Plus, Marks conducted a drawing exercise in which workshop attendees drew each other without looking at their papers, which enacted the five steps the public initiative promoted. I loved the exercise, as participants’ responses were immediate, hilarious, and relational.
Chris Peterson and Nansook Park, both from the University of Michigan, shared their ___ Makes Life Worth Living campaign, a university-wide year theme. Students wore t-shirts with the blanks filled in.
Conference photos. And inspired by Richard Baker’s quiet and stirring photographs in Alain de Botton’s The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, I clicked a few images documenting the visual vocabulary of the conference.
Among so many gallery booths, the artwork at art fairs suffers from little context, quietude, and time for reflection–but I still managed to enjoy myself at Armory, VOLTA, Independent, and Pulse (I missed Scope and the others; sorry). I assessed galleries rather than artwork, and looked at art to learn about artists and techniques. In short, I went as an artist, not a critic.
What caught my eye?
Recent Works by Artists I Like:
I love this stylish signature for this narrative “period” painting.
Photo by Anne Collier from Marc Foxx Gallery, Los Angeles (Armory). I saw another photo from this series of handouts at another booth at Independent. The list of questions are fitting for art fairs—the second question here is, “Where have I seen this before?”
Artists who piqued my curiosity:
Mirrored installation and colored pencil drawings on black paper by Claudia Weiser from Sies and Höke, Düsseldorf (Armory). I think a lot of my neo-hippie/Romanticist/mystic artist friends in California would love this work.
A nice colored pencil drawing by Claudia Weiser.
A second look: Lots of pictures, including some glorious Mad Men meets Flintstones installations. Colorful, ironic, likable pathetic-aesthetic. I can see why this work would be popular, in a Judd Apatow sort of way. Tongue-in-cheek tropes of male identity means you can have your bar cart and wink-wink humor too.
A second look: Rendering everyday objects in luxe materials is not very original, but the inanity still struck me. Craft suggests time and labor—human energy—thus imbuing objects with meaning (or the idea of meaning). Yet does meaning always equate to significance…?
You would think that only a few days after seeing the biggest cockroach in my life that I wouldn’t enjoy these pest-infested paintings by Jorge Perianes from Galeria Adhoc, Vigo (Volta). But fake bugs that don’t move are much more fun and funny than real NYC bugs. [The gallery’s site uses frames, so links to the artist’s page are not available.]
A second look: A quick glance at the gallery site suggests that this type of surrealist installation is atypical for the artist. Perhaps more is forthcoming.
Paintings of bandaged and decorated military officers by Willem Andersson from Gallery Niklas Belenius, Stockholm (VOLTA). Of course these are of grave implications, but there’s something comical about the proliferation of the medals. The complete bandaging is also reminiscent of Georgio de Chirico‘s canvas-covered manequins, and The Invisible Man TV series.
Not more than three days had passed since I told RR how no one actually types out their conceptual projects on a typewriter anymore. Above, Liversidge proves me wrong. To boot, the gallery’s site states that Liversidge types these at his kitchen table.
Per the typewritten instructions above, I stood before and read the proposal, presented a dollar bill to the gallery staff, who embossed my bill with the text. I love the site-specific, limited-duration aspect of the project. And I’m eager to learn more about Liversidge, to gain insight on the possible explanations for the text.
Will history be kind to me? Will I write history? And since the project is limited to the Armory Fair, and only US dollar bills were proscribed, What are the consequences of how I spend my money on writing history?
A second look: As it turns out, Liversidge makes text installations that completely appeal to my tastes. We’ve even used similar, ambivalent/psychological texts; the same maxim inspired his project, The Darkest Hour is Just Before the Dawn and my installation, Binary Pair. He also uses flowers to spell out advice that positive psychologists would agree with. Fantastic!
Soares detail: “For KATHERINA v. F. who taught me / that love is more / than the longing / to be together.” A brilliant project that compiles uses a few words to convey unknowable authors’ love and gratitude.
Artworks relating to themes in my current work—happiness, exuberance, decoration, cheap plastic, mythologized interiors:
Photo by Alex McLeod from Angell Gallery, Toronto (Pulse: Impulse). This is like a still-life equivalent of Owl City—super cute verging on twee, appealing to many and possibly grotesque to cynics. I think it’s adorable, and also interesting in how it balances extraordinary cuteness and good taste.
Image Source: Artist’s section at MorganLehmanGallery.com
Garage-inspired installation by Joseph Burwell from Miyako Yoshinaga Art Prospects, Tokyo (Pulse: Impulse). Though there is a high proportion of 2-D art in the installation, it appeals to my interest in the domestic and decoration—what is art and not art, why, and how each functions to provide pleasure or happiness.
Color-shifting LED signage by Kira Kim from Kukje Gallery/Tina Kim Gallery, Seoul/NYC (Armory). Cursive scripts were never meant to be set in all capitals like this. The typographic awkwardness is part of the ridiculousness of such a sign.
A second look: Oddly, Kim’s work is completely different on the site. No textual works or signs and no discernable ties to love.
A map made with stickers by Nelson Lierner from Galerie Gabrielle Maubre, Paris (Armory). [I’d link to the artist’s page, but there isn’t one.] That’s Micky and Minnie Mouse on North America, kangaroos on Australia, and—yes—gorillas on Africa.
A second look: I’m all for experimentation, but when the results go horribly wrong, as it did with the gallery’s ugly Google-based website, conventional HTML seems not so bad.
Beads, sequins and styrofoam by Sarah Pucci from Air de Paris, Paris (Armory). [Frame-based site—no link to artist’s page available. From the home page, click on news to access main navigation.]
Another Pucci. I like how it looks so ornate and rich with such common materials. In viewing her other work, she seems to reference the Baroque, but there’s something crafty that speak to heavily beaded garments from many cultures too.
No labels identified these holographic sticker sheets from Seventeen Gallery, London (Armory). It was adjacent to Abigail Reynold’s collages, however.
Conceptual and textual works:
Antoni Muntadas’ Project involved framed texts with the 5W’s and other basic questions. Gabrielle Maubrie, Paris (Armory).
Text panels by Fia Backström, Murray Guy, NYC (Armory).
Assorted toxins. Gustavo Artigasi.
Textual by association: bookcase of wood planks by Ulrik Weck from Galleri Christina Wilson, Copenhagen (Armory). [This idea of planks standing in for books will be echoed in Re-Covering, a group exhibition curated by Mike Chavez-Dawson at Untitled Gallery in Manchester this summer.]
Thick felt letters by an unidentified artist, Sutton Lane, London/Paris/Brussels (Independent).
Oversized prints/posters on a tiled penny floor. Artist(s) unidentified, Untitled Gallery, NY (Armory).
Projector with a loop that shows only light, on a silver metallic canvas. Artist unknown, from Sprueth Magers, Berlin/London (Independent).
Screenprint on brushed metal by Alberto Borea from Isabel Hurley, Málaga (VOLTA).
In commercial printing, foil printing has been around a long time, but only recently has it been developed for fine art printmaking workshops. If you’re Damien Hirst or Other Criteria, however, you can employ commercial printing techniques for fine art editions.
Gold brick crayons by Andrew Lewicki from Charles James Gallery, Los Angeles (Pulse).
Detail of a Matsubara sculpture. Video displayed beneath a cup of water.
Source: MA2 Gallery website.
Black and white video of a ring of fire. What you can’t see from the photo is that the video is behind a piece of two-way mirror. In a white gallery, it’s only when dark reflections—such as the viewer’s face—appear in the mirror that the video becomes visible. Matsubara’s work is impressively slick—few pieces had visible electrical leads, and it’s evident that many of his pieces use the latest, thinnest and smallest screen technologies. There was a Gothic/cabinet of curiosity/black mirror feel to the works that would appeal to many people.
I’m thoroughly perplexed by this piece. The wall label ascribes the material as “etched mirror,” but etching is done with acid, which would leave a frosted surface, which the glass does not have on either side. The pattern suggests that the hot, liquid silvering was dripped or thrown at the glass. Typically, glass is not meant to withstand sudden changes in temperature, so that it might survive partial silvering is really interesting…
[A look at the gallery site brought me to this installation…
Source: Jim Lambie’s secion on themoderninstitute.com.
…by Jim Lambie. Those papery things are aluminum sheets with fluorescent paint. Love it!]
A sculpture with Plexiglas Radiant, whose colors change upon reflection and transparency, sort of like Golden Paint’s Interference Colors. By Patrick Aarnivaara from Galleri Charlotte Lund, Stockholm (Armory).
More Plexiglas Radiant. Artist unidentified, Casa Triângulo, Saõ Paulo (Armory).
Another unidentified artist, I believe, from Casa Triângulo, Saõ Paulo (Armory).
The installation featured a flash of projected light onto kinetic crystal sculptures.
This made me want to paint on photos. I’ve done it in the past, but adding only a layer of colorful dots is really sweet and playful. Photo with paint and ink by Sebastiaan Bremmer from Hales Gallery, London (Pulse). Hales’ site features other photos with dots by Bremmer.
Realist interiors rendered only in subtly-folded paper by Simon Schubert from Patrick Heide Contemporary Art, London (Pulse). Looks like Heide doesn’t represent Schubert. For more pics, visit the artist’s site.
Paper sculptures of paper crafts. Artist unknown, Galeria Casas Riegner, Bogotá (Armory).
The binder clip is made of paper. Artist unknown, Galeria Casas Riegner, Bogotá (Armory).
The triangle and stool is made of wood. But the tapes, razor and eraser are made of paper. Artist unknown, Galeria Casas Riegner, Bogotá (Armory).
Interesting display strategies:
Glass: slimmer and cheaper than a vitrine; the object is not encased, but its surface is protected. There’s something nice, too, about how it’s flattened into an image. Étienne Chambaud from Bugada & Cargnel, Paris (Armory).
Apologies to artists and their galleries for the quality of my snapshots. I know many artists dislike poor documentation of their work (myself included), but bear in mind that the purpose of my posts is to share my enthusiasm. Linking to galleries’ websites is a time-consuming task I could do without, but I do it so that readers can learn more about the artists, and hopefully, see more photos of the works, or perhaps even see the work in person one day.
I collected information from wall labels, which were not always available. Booth signage was sometimes confusing. Sorry for any incomplete or incorrect information. Corrections welcome.
My feature on artists staying or leaving the Bay Area is finally out in the current issue of Art Practical. Thanks to the interviewed artists—Michael Arcega, Pablo Guardiola, Stephanie Syjuco, Emma Spertus, and Jenifer Wofford—for their time and insight. And a deep bow to Editor-in-Chief Patricia Maloney, Copy Editor Victoria Gannon and the rest of the Art Practical team for their support and guidance!