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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Art Competition Odds

Eleven Months in Art Competitions, 2017-2018

Stats on my art competition applications from August 2017 through June 2018.*

In the past, I have set a goal of applying to 18 competitions. Eleven months ago, I decided to set more quantifiable and focused goals, specifying how many art competitions I’d apply to across different categories. My goals this past ‘goal-year’ included applying to:

  1. Six residency or studio programs in NYC
  2. Three public art open calls/registries
  3. Six exhibitions in NYC
  4. Three grants ($3k minimum)

…for a total of 18 competitions.

I also wrote in a lower-priority option of applying to residencies elsewhere. I decided not to specifically pursue:

  • fellowships
  • professional development programs

In the past twelve months, I actually applied to:

  1. Two residencies + two studio programs 4/6
  2. Three public art open calls/registries = 3/3
  3. Four exhibitions + (one fellowship + one professional development program due to the solo show opportunities involved) = 6/6
  4. One grant = 1/3

I also applied to two residencies outside of NYC, bringing the total up to 16 out of 18 applications.

Applications submitted:
RRRR   SS   PPP   EEEE    F   D   G

Awards received (highlighted in color):
RRRR   S?   PP?   EEEE   F   D   G

I was a finalist, but not recipient, of one residency. One exhibition application is leading towards inclusion in a show. One public art registry has not responded, as is the nature of these things. One studio program is delaying their program and subsequent announcement of recipients.

Of the 16 total entries, my overall success rate was 1/16, or 6%. Of the 14 entries that have responded to date, my success rate was 1/14, or 7%.*

I paid $45 for two application fees ($10 and $35 respectively). The other 14 applications were free.

000$   00   000   0$00   0   0   0

See my stats from 2015-2016, 2014, and 2013.


*I can do what I want. 🙂 It was just a good time for me to revisit my goals today. I’m excited and energized to start fresh right now. Some resources that were helpful for me to review:

**These odds align with a 1:15 rule of thumb I learned in a Creative Capital professional development workshop. I’m pleasantly surprised, since I believe that focusing on NYC competitions means worse odds due to larger applicant pools. As I found in 2011, “seven of the nine New York programs ranked among the top 11 most competitive” in an analysis of 26 competitions on Temporary Art Review.

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Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions, 2016-2017

Stats on my art competition applications from the ‘goal-year’ before last: August 2016 through July 2017.*

At the end of July in 2016, I set a goal of applying to 18 competitions. In a modest effort to be strategic, I decided to focus on:

  1. Three “major” grants
  2. Solo exhibition opportunities
  3. Fellowships or residencies in places I wanted to travel to
  4. Supportive studio programs with funding

I actually applied to:

  1. Two grants = 2/3
  2. One exhibition open call = 1/?
  3. Two fellowships and six residencies  = 8/?
  4. One studio programs = 1/?

For a total of 12 applications out of the goal of 18.

Applications submitted:
GG   E   FF    RRRRRR   S   

Awards received (highlighted in color):
GG   E   FF   RRRRRR   S

I was awarded two residencies.

Of the 12 entries, my overall success rate was 2/12, or 16%.

I paid $50 for two application fees ($15 and $35 respectively). The other 10 applications were free.

$0   0   $0   000000   0

See my stats from 2015-2016, 2014, and 2013.


*Better late than never. 😉

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Meta-Practice

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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Art Competition Odds

Twelve Months in Art Competitions

Stats on my art competition applications from July 2015 to June 2016.

Though my goal was to apply to 18 competitions, I applied to only 6 in order to fulfill opportunities received in this period.

I applied to: 2 residencies, 0 fellowships, 1 exhibition/museum submissions, 1 studio program, 1 grant/award, 0 public art commissions, and 1 professional development programs.

++++++

I received: 1 residency.

++++++

One application was solicited following a recommendation from a fellow artist. Following another application, I received an inquiry for a studio visit with a curator.

++++++

Of the 6 entries, my overall success rate was 1 out of 6, or 16.6%.

I paid $15 for a single application fee. Five out of six applications were free.

0$0000

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Meta-Practice

Artist’s Resource: Creating a Living Legacy

Artists, get organized now and so you can thank yourself later.

I stumbled upon Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: An Archive Planning Workbook and Resource Guide (7MB) from the Joan Mitchell Foundation’s Creating a Living Legacy (CALL) program. It’s a thorough introduction and guide for artists for creating physical and digital archives. I highly recommend artists take a look. It’s a worthwhile thing to get organized, maintain an inventory system, and make sure your work is stored safely.

CALL workbook

I have a few systems set up, but could use improvement. I’ve adopted practices as I see how they make sense for where I’m at. But I should be thinking about what I’ll need in the future. For example, CALL recommends signing and writing an inventory number on every work of art. I have an aversion to signing my art, but will try to create ways to at least make sure my work is labeled somehow. They also suggest including your initials in your inventory number, which makes sense for galleries that work with multiple artists, but seems overmuch for my own work. Then again, my signature is inscrutable, so I suppose initials will help others. 

 

I  recently revisited my one-year goals, and wrote new ones. (I started this practice in June a few years ago,  so my “goal-year” begins and ends in the summer. It’s anachronistic, but increasingly feels right to me. Since moving to NYC, my life has become more affected by the rhythm of art “seasons”—intensive fall and spring activity, followed by slower summers. The relaxed pace in June and July offers a chance to get perspective. I feel more confident entering fall with fresh energy, and having a sense of purpose in the spring. My new year’s resolutions are more like mid-year reviews, where I check my progress or modify goals if necessary.)

It was useful to see these reminders about how to write goals in the CALL workbook:

S.M.A.R.T. GOAL:

S-specific, M-measurable, A-attainable, R-realistic, T-timely.

  • Specific goals depend on who, what, where, when, which, and why.
  • Measurable is accountability and tracking progress.
  • Attainable is a goal that motivates you towards achievement.
  • Realistic is a goal within your current abilities.
  • Timely is a goal with a time frame.

Suggestions:

  • Make all goals concrete.
  • Make the goal something you can clearly state in one sentence.
  • Make a clear end point. The accomplishment of the goal should be definite and visible.
  • Make sure the goal is something you can complete—factor in time and space restrictions.
  • Set a realistic date for completing your goal.

 
It is worth pointing out that this comes from an artist’s foundation—an example of an artist (or her legacy) occupying multiple roles within art ecologies. It’s a great example of what artists (or their executors) can give to other artists. Thanks Joan Mitchell Foundation!

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The Eve Of... Studio/Pop-up Gallery (During: Today)
The Eve Of...

The Eve Of: Residency Day 32 Update

After spending all August working on The Eve Of…, I’m finally feeling confident and relaxed.

The residency started off a little rough—I was antsy to secure a space yet stay productive. So I made a production schedule. It sounds a little crazy and antithetical to the creative process, and sometimes it was. But I think it was worth it. For example, when I moved into the larger space, I finished all my dust-making (woodworking and build-outs) first, painted the things that need to be painted at the same time, and then cleaned up for framing and finishing static-y vinyl projects. 

Though, maybe crazy-making is part of the deal when you’re staging your own exhibition in a pop-up gallery. As stressful as keeping a schedule was, it’d be worse if I didn’t keep one. Case in point: I thought the dust on the concrete floor was drywall leftover from a prior demolition. But it turns out it’s the floor itself, or rather, mastic, which I had been pulverizing with every step. I have to seal the concrete, and find an additional three days of drying time, as I was already planning to paint half the floor where it was tiled in lavender-and-purple checkerboard.

Thankfully I was able to wrap up art-making and get a head start on gallery changeover. You could say I’m transitioning from artist-in-residence to preparator-in-residence. Some artists find being their own technical labor tedious or demeaning, but I can’t think of a happier use of these skills than in the service of my own vision. 

Plus, it’s a nice change of pace. Painting is calming, because it’s finite. With studio projects, I never know when I’m going to be done. But with paint, you can only do so much per day—you couldn’t schedule more. Wrapping up today’s painting and heading home before 6pm was a nice treat.   

I just finished the walls, and am relieved the color works. (Wet, it looked like ivory in the pan, grey on the walls, lavender in the daylight, putty-ish under fluorescents, and stripe-y and beady all over! But dried, it’s a nice, flat, smooth, soft. I love it.) I also primed the checked tiles. With the Willy Wonka tiles covered, the space feels cleaner, bigger, and more like a gallery already.

The Eve Of.. Studio/Pop-up Gallery (Before)

The Eve Of… Studio/Pop-up Gallery (Before)

The Eve Of.. Studio/Pop-up Gallery (During: Today)

The Eve Of… Studio/Pop-up Gallery (During: Today)

 

I’ve habituated to turning up at this studio everyday—and, I suppose, being a full-time artist in NYC, something I’d only previously imagined. I better enjoy it while it lasts, which is not much longer….

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