Social Media: More is not always better

Turning over a Facebook page.

Eleven months ago, I started a Facebook page. I thought I would use it to interact with the public (for unclear reasons, FB remains very popular with artists). It seemed like a good idea* after taking a workshop on social media for artists, but now there are reasons to re-consider having a page at all. 

Valleywag just confirmed that Facebook suppresses page visibility to drive up ad revenue:

the social network is “in the process of” slashing “organic page reach” down to 1 or 2 percent.

It’s enough for me to discontinue using the page. 

Thanks to folks who had been kind enough to like or follow my page.

Please continue to find me here, or check out my website or tweets

*The following is not news, but being able to control one’s attention is crucial to both creativity and happiness, so I’ll share it at the risk of stating the obvious: I was also hoping to target and limit my Facebook usage. I detest the addictive, pleasureless compulsion its usage always fosters; the composing of updates in my mind instead of being in the moment; and the rage-y, poisonous aftermath from dealing with trolls and disagreements. For these reasons, I try to limit my time on FB, and therefore keep my personal profile very private, and my circle of friends extremely intimate. Ironically, my relationship to FB might be best explained by FB-speak: it’s complicated.

Meta-Practice, Research

words on social practice and creativity

Christoph Büchel’s Piccadilly Community Centre: an exciting example of social practice.

J.J. Charlesworth’s “Hidden Intentions,” (Art Review, December 2011) introduced me to this brilliant intervention transforming the tony Central London Hauser & Wirth location (formerly a bank) into a working social centre, and not just for in-the-know art students, but for the public—senior citizens, yoga practitioners and so on. Piccadilly Circus is a popular tourist’s nexus like Times Square, where simply winding through crowds, dodging street salesmen, and finding a restroom can be exhausting. So Büchel’s gesture of turning an exclusive, expensive, private space into a rambunctious, free, public one is quite satisfying. I was also intrigued to read that

much was made of whether Büchel’s project was a comment on David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’

I find Büchel’s responsiveness commendable.

On irony, and bridging the divide between art and life

“Hidden Intentions” is not an exhibition review, but a speculative essay. Charlesworth also examines Matthew Darbyshire’s faux loft ads at Herald Street, writing that it

is interesting because, like Büchel’s community centre, it points backwards to interrogate the capacity of the viewer to recognise the gesture as ironic. Because irony always implies a ‘double’ audience—those who accept the gesture at face value and those who realise the gesture is simulated intentionally—it also implies a form of superiority, which is often couched in terms of criticism of another….

This is art that writes itself into the fabric of everyday life with only the fading trace of the artist as proof of its reality as a sort of ironic gesture, and in which the work’s audience is made complicity with the artist’s manipulation of the world of others…. Of course, it still needs the institutional frame of the artworld to allow it to happen, but in doing so, it takes to an extreme the postmedium scope of current artistic possibility, where in the end, the only thing that is distinguishable is the discursive setup of the artworld itself.

Conflict aids creativity?

So argues Jonah Lehrer in “Group Think: The Brainstorming Myth” (The New Yorker, January 20, 2o12). He presents evidence contrary to the widely-accepted prohibition against criticism in brainstorming:

According to [psychology professor Charlan] Nemeth, … “…debate… will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs.”

To Lehrer and Nemeth, I’d respond with a constructively critical, “Yes, but…”

Positive Sign #1, 2011, glitter and fluorescent pen with holographic foil print on gridded vellum, 8.5 × 11 in / 21.5 × 28 cm

Consider Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s five stages of the creative process: preparation, incubation, insight, evaluation, and elaboration. I would think that debate is productive in some stages (such as evaluation and elaboration) and not others (such as preparation, incubation, and insight).

Perhaps more even-handed: sociologist Brian Uzzi analyzed musicals to find correspondences between social intimacy among creators and box office and critical success.

“The best Broadway teams, by far, were those with a mix of relationships,” Uzzi says. “These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies. This mixture meant that artists could interact efficiently—they had a familiar structure to fall back on—but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas. They were comfortable, but not too comfortable.”

For artists considering creative and professional collaborators, choose carefully.

Lehrer also makes an exemplar of the MIT “rad lab”—where a disused building became home to divergent departments, creating spillover, and presumably, lending interdisciplinary gusto to the work of Chompsky, Bose, and other paradigm shifters. Lehrer concludes

The lesson of Building 20 is that when the composition is right—enough people with different perspectives running into on another in unpredictable ways—the group dynamic will take care of itself…. The most creative spaces are those which hurl us together.

I cringed when I read that last sentence, after my experiences in open-plan studios in graduate school. Unwanted intrusions can make focusing attention seem like a Herculean task. Being hurled together say, when you’re reading or trying to resolve an artwork, with someone taking a phone call or playing music, is not creative, but torturous. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt points out that humans can adapt to many things, but we never adapt to intermittent noise:

Research shows that people who must adapt to new and chronic sources of noise … never fully adapt, and even studies find some adaptation still find evidence of impairment on cognitive tasks. Noise, especially noise that is variable or intermittent, interferes with concentration and increases stress. It’s worth striving to remove sources of noise in your life.

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis, New York: Basic Books (2006) 92.
Artists, Community, Research

College Art Association: artists, ideas, inspiration

[Apologies for the duration since the last post. I’ve been busy working towards an exhibition—Portraiture: Inside Out, opening at the Walsh Gallery at Seton Hall University in New Jersey on March 3rd. I’ve also been preparing for a stint as a contributor to SFMOMA’s Open Space blog from March through June.]


The College Art Association (CAA) 2011 Annual Conference is in New York this week, so I took some time out to attend. I first heard of the conference from classmates seeking academic jobs, but it turns out that the conference has a lot to offer non-job-seekers as well.

My personal highlights are:

During the “Data As Medium” panel, Brian Evans (University of Alabama) talked about cognitive linguistics (someone’s been reading Lakoff/Johnson!) and found similarities between Kandinsky’s point-line-plane schema with databases’ variable-array-table. He also drew parallels between the hierarchy of information (noise-data-info-knowledge) and the experiential spectrum (reality-sensation-perception-cognition). I was fascinated.

Penelope Umbrico, Img Collection #6: Universal Remotes, (for sale on the Internet)

Penelope Umbrico, Img Collection #6: Universal Remotes, (for sale on the Internet). Source:

Penelope Umbrico, For Sale/TVs From Craigslist

Penelope Umbrico, For Sale/TVs From Craigslist. Source:

I adored the artist’s lecture by Penelope Umbrico (Bard College and School of Visual Art). She uses mundane sources like Flickr and Craig’s List to find images of mundane things, like sunsets and armoires. What made her talk especially engaging and funny is the way she structured her narrative to follow her thought process. First came the sunsets, then armoires followed, then televisions. Then photos of people in front of her installations of photos of sunsets at museums, such as the nice installation at SFMOMA’s 75th Anniversary collection show. The worm eats itself.

Curiously, Umbrico cited numerous authors already on my list of to-reads:
Walker Percy, a 20th century fiction and non-fiction writer interested in cognitive science; Vilém Flusser, a Czech philosopher whose writings are oft cited by artists; and Milan Kundera, Czech author of books like The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

The discussion was especially provocative after reading “The Postmedia Perspective,” a recent article by Domenico Quaranta on (brought to my attention by the astute and curious ET). Quaranta, summing up Peter Weibel, says:

postmedia art is the art that comes after the affirmation of the media; and given that the impact of the media is universal and computers can now simulate all other media, all contemporary art is postmedia.

Or in Weibel’s words:

This media experience has become the norm for all aesthetic experience. Hence in art there is no longer anything beyond the media. No-one can escape from the media. There is no longer any painting outside and beyond the media experience. There is no longer any sculpture outside and beyond the media experience. There is no longer any photography outside and beyond the media experience.

I also attended “Making a Living With or Without a Gallery,” in which the panelists could offer little beyond common sense career advice (dealers aren’t parents {or peyh-rints, in the New York idiom}; getting a gallery is not an end; artists should make their own scene). Thus my highlight was running into art critic Jerry Saltz. I think his writing is accessible, smart and unpretentious. Indeed, I’ve heard people say that the New York Magazine and Work of Art critic is–aided by social media–populist to a fault, but I think in the art world, where playing nice-nice for self-advancement seems like the rule, I find his willingness to say what he really thinks, to engage mass audiences, and to be uninhibitedly enthusiastic at times to be refreshing.

A panel on residencies hosted by the Alliance of Artists Communities exposed me to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. It sounds like a great residency if you can commit to seven (winter) months in New England.

I did not manage to formulate my comment into a question during the Q&A session, but I wanted to say that after all the hours (and fees) I’ve spent applying to residencies (14 applications to residencies, fellowships and studio programs in the past 12 months), I have come to appreciate specificity. I am grateful to those organizations that state what kind of artists should apply, and frustrated by organizations who cast very wide nets, even if the artists they have awarded in the past fit a specific profile—perhaps they are international or established, or comfortably 2-D or 3-D work.

Even if application fees merely offset the costs of the program, and organizations want to attract the largest pool of entries in order to secure the best applications since you never know what the jurors will go for, it seems like being specific about which artists should apply would behoove the jurors and applicants. While I wouldn’t want any artist to lose out on opportunities, let’s be realistic about the odds of success and the wasted efforts of hundreds of applicants.

For example:

The A.I.R. Gallery’s 2011 Fellowship program received 250+ applications for six fellows.
//////////////////////////////////////////////////     or 1:41

Smack Mellon’s 2011 Artist Studio Program received 600+ applications for six studios.
//////////////////////////////////////////////////     or 1:100, or 1%

The Public Art Fund’s In the Public Realm new work commission program received 400+ applications for a 10-person shortlist, for up to three commissions.
//////////////////////////////////////////////////     or 1:133, or 0.7%

The Lower East Side Printshop Special Editions Residency Program received a whopping 600+ applications for four awardees.
//////////////////////////////////////////////////     or 1:150, or 0.6%

[See more art competition odds.]

I don’t intend to discourage artists from applying (quitters never win!), and I do not mean to imply that these programs don’t warrant their desirability and high level of competition. What I’m trying to say is: Don’t say your program supports emerging artists if rarely awards them in actuality. Save us the time, effort, and dashed hopes. There are certainly easier ways of generating income and finding great artists. The Jerome Foundation is very clear about who and what it funds, and I think it’s a great model.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite panel featured major artists talking about life as artists. Parallel Practices featured Petah Coyne, Philip Taafe, Vija Celmins, Robert Gober, and Janine Antoni. That’s a mind-blowing group of artists. Initially, they responded to the question of what they do when they’re not making art: gardening (Celmins), travelling or walking to observe (Coyne & Taafe), nothing (Taafe), purposively driving cross-country to stop in post-Katrina New Orleans and Laramie, WY (Gober), and seeking to release the unconscious through dance (Antoni; she demonstrated an amazing five-part sequence of movements inspired by Jungian unconscious. To boot, she also mentioned flow, the concept by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, one of my favorite authors at the moment. Of flow, Antoni said, “I live my life for it,” and I think many artists would agree.)

But the Q&A session made me realize that this discussion was not just good because these were great artists, but because the talk focused on two fundamentals of being an artist:
1. Creativity—where it comes from, and how to find it when it’s gone; and
2. Resolving life of an artist, which can feel like an anomaly in conflict with the status quo.

I think hearing these artists speak about such fundamental and personal matters provided a sense of wholeness; implied was the vision of the integrated self, in which being an artist did not conflict with being a committed partner, parent, worker, or invested citizen. While these artists are arguably among the most important living artists of our times (I’m in agreement with Gober, who said such of Celmins), and their realities are much different from the mass at CAA (few know the pain of a bad Venice Biennale show, but most can relate to bad reviews), there was a sense that common conditions to being an artist, like finding balance in art and love, can be resolved. It was hope-inspiring.

At the International Association of Art Critic’s panel, “Artist-Critic: The Critic-Artist,” my negative emotions narrowed in on one critic—I didn’t catch his name because I couldn’t see who was who—but he caught my attention with glib, disparaging statements like,

“I don’t find contemporary art that engrossing.”

“Forty years ago, poets and painters all went to the same events,” (as if there were ever only one scene, or one scene that mattered) “and that’s not so today, so I think that’s why there are no poet-critics.” (What about Kevin Killian and a lively, arty lit scene in San Francisco?)

With the rise of blogs, “there’s rampant amateurism” that the panelists stood against, and deservedly so, because “If you were going to get your car fixed, you wouldn’t take it to a repair shop that’s just been open six months. Likewise, we’ve been looking at art for thirty or forty years, and that experience sets us apart.” (What a bad analogy. I would totally trust a newly certified mechanic with basic repairs. The inexperienced would never become experienced otherwise. Plus, while excellence may be aided by experience, it is not exclusive to the experienced.)

Ironically, someone else on the panel told a joke about critic’s kingmaker complex, for which this self-important critic seemed to be a case study.

Mel Chin, Safehouse

A safe house in New Orleans that will store the hand-drawn “Fundred” dollar bills before they are brought by armored truck to Congress. Source:

Mel Chin is my new favorite artist. His interview by Miranda Lash of the New Orleans Museum of Art revealed a thoughtful, intelligent, politically-engaged, humble and personable artist. Besides the utter charm of a Southern-accented Chinese American contemporary artist (seriously!), he talked with sensitivity and generosity about his projects, which could be considered social practice or political art, yet seems to come from such a place of intellectual clarity and moral certainty, it seems free of the politically-correct baggage. It is not aesthetic theory that lends these projects value. They are compelling because they act in the world with efficacy.

In Chin’s view, “Art is a catalytic structure that forms the possibility of options.”

Watch a PBS Art 21 video of Mel Chin discussing Revival Field, a scientific experiment to show how plants can remove toxins from soil. Chin’s animation explains the project in greater detail.

I am also a huge fan of the Fundred project, a participatory movement to lobby Congress to clean up the lead-contaminated soil in a New Orleans neighborhood. Get involved and draw a Fundred!

Fundred is an art project envisioned by Chin and executed by children, adults, teachers, and all of us.

Between sessions I attended the California College of the Arts alumni reception. It was really great to see former instructors, catch up with alumni, and connect with other artists new to New York. Being surrounded by bright, thoughtful artists and art workers is still one of my favorite activities.

Art & Development

Go to jail

Chance; go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200
Perhaps since I’ve thought about artists and how they are perceived at length, many of psychologist Mihaly Csikzentmihaly‘s points in Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention seem patently self-evident to me. But some parts, like the following anecdote, are uncannily familiar.

Jacob Rabinow uses an interesting mental technique to slow himself down to when work on an invention requires more experience than intuition:
“Yeah, there’s a trick I pull for this. When I have a job to do like that where you have to do something that takes a lot of effort, slowly, I pretend I’m in jail. Don’t laugh. And if I’m in jail, time is of no consequence. In other words, if it takes a week to cut this, it’ll take a week. What else have I got to do? I’m going to be here twenty years.”

Since a similar thought has crossed my mind about studio practice, I get a grim kick out of this approach to self-discipline, which is so often under-appreciated by those who think that being an artist is all fun, unharnessed, self-expression.