A Reminder to Practice and Savor Gratitude

Keeping a gratitude journal and writing gratitude letters have been shown to elevate mood.* 

That’s why I keep incorporating gratitude in my projects (Give Thanks, 2011; Ways and Means, 2016; the Belonging Project, 2019).

Do It!

Even if people know gratitude can boost subjective wellbeing, they can come up with all sorts of reasons not to write gratitude letters, according to “You Should Actually Send That Thank You Note You’ve Been Meaning to Write” by Heather Murphy (NY Times, July 20, 2018).

They are afraid of being judged for spelling or grammar mistakes. The more I learn about belonging and vulnerability, the more damaging judgment seems to our relationships, our actions, and ourselves. Being judged weakens bonds. Gratitude strengthens bonds. If the fear of weakened bonds through being judged inhibits someone from strengthening their bond through expressing gratitude, it’s like different means to the same end: a lost opportunity to foster connectedness.

People can underestimate how meaningful a gratitude letter will be to recipients (i.e., “She’ll probably just throw it away”). Don’t assume inaction won’t be noticed. A longstanding pillar of the arts community recently told me that a student never said thanks for writing a letter of recommendation for them. He’s too nice to take my advice (“Next time, just tell her she’s dead to you”), but we agreed that administrative skills are the most important skills to have. Along the same lines, if you’re asking someone to coffee to “pick their brain,” show your gratitude by being conscientious. As experts in their fields, an hour of their time is worth a lot more than a coffee and a pastry.

Using Gratitude to Find Balance

Sometimes I feel a little down after finishing a big project. There’s so much work and energy leading up to a project culmination. There’s often an event with a lot of interactions and emotions. Then the high wears off. The days or weeks afterwards can feel sort of empty in comparison. Even if you are lucky enough to receive validation at the event, it can feel fleeting.

In large, participatory projects, I send and receive tons of emails and texts. There are notes of gratitude scattered throughout them. Maybe they gave me a little serotonin hit the day I received them, but I probably soon forgot about them wading through the tide of other messages. I think recovering that feeling of validation, of mattering to someone, is a hunger that social media exploits. But instead of finding it from others through a digital platform, here’s one way to self-organize it in a more lasting, analog medium.

This morning, I combed through my messages and transcribed notes of gratitude by hand into my journal. This reminded me that people want to participate in my project, are happy they did, and are eager to see and share the results. People took the time to tell me how participation and inclusion in a project matters to them. This means a lot to me on a personal level. And it’s helpful for me to understand as an artist in the social realm. (If you shared your gratitude with me, in this project, or at any time, THANK YOU!)

The act of condensing words of gratitude, enthusiasm, validation, and positive emotions into a few pages gave me a huge boost today. And in the future, if I start to question myself or what people think, I can re-read these pages. In moments of anxiety or self-doubt. I’ll have a piggy bank of gratitude to tap into.

* Source: Sonya Lyubomirsky, The How of HappinessA gratitude journal can be as simple as writing down three good things, as described on  The Science of Happiness podcast, produced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.


Belonging Project: Germination

A quick update about what I’ve been up to:

Mostly I’ve been working on outreach—contacting organizations and individuals about the different ways they can get involved.

I’m planting seeds and hoping that they’ll grow, but I don’t know if they will. I feel like I’m in that moment of just staring at the soil where the seeds are. I’ll sigh with relief when the sprouts finally emerge.

As with the earlier Belonging project in Albuquerque, it’s a challenge to get the word out and align with organizations’ program schedules. The heart of the project is the stories. The quality of the stories and the authenticity of the voices represented gives the project  salience and integrity. I can only invite people to contribute to the inputs. I can make the outputs as well-crafted and well-made as I can, but ultimately, the reader or viewer is connecting through the stories.

If you can, please submit a story.
(It would mean so much to me!)

I am currently here in the Bay Area, with one week left in my five-week stay. (I did the entire project in Albuquerque, from the outreach to sign painting and installation, and zine release, in a five-week stay.) I’ll come back in January to install certificates and print bandanas). I figured December 20 or so, until January 1, wouldn’t be productive for outreach. But I’m already learning the hard way that these first two weeks of December are challenging too, too. College semesters CBO programs are already wrapping up for the year.

I approached the project in Albuquerque with more of a sense that it was an experiment—I’m not from Albuquerque, and the project was inherently limited by the shorter residency duration. With this project, the Bay Area is huge, I’m hoping to represent the nine-counties, and I lived here 30+ years. I have five months to do this project. We’re planning to print 1,500 books (10x the Albuquerque zine edition). There’s the irony about mapmaking: maps convey comprehensiveness, though, by nature, are abstractions and limited representations.



The Belonging Project aspires to represent voices from the nine-county Bay Area: San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Sonoma, Napa, Marin. Anyone with a meaningful connection is invited to submit a story!


This project will be the culmination of many collaborations. I will literally have mil gracias (thousand thanks) to say by the end. Right now, I especially want to thank the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society; Evan Bissell for all his support coordinating the residency, advising, assisting, and encouraging me; Elizabeth Travelslight for inviting me to do a workshop with her SFAI class; Jaime Austin, Bryndis Hafthorsdottir at CCA Exhibitions for coordinating and/or facilitating workshops with students at CCA and Live Oak School, whose stories will feed into the Haas project; Ben Gucciardi for inviting me to do a workshop at the Soccer Without Borders program at Castlemont High; Carrie Donovan for spreading the word and organizing a Brown Bag lunch at the UC Berkeley Public Service Center; Abby Chen, Hoi Leung, and Yuanyuan Zhu from the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco for jumping in 100% and organizing a bilingual workshop at the Union City Library as well as future possibilities; and the many college professors who have shared the project with their students, including Alicia Caballero-Christensen and Dana Hemenway who invited me to introduce the project in their classrooms at Laney College and UC Berkeley; Binh Danh and Mel Day, whose SJSU students are volunteering; and especially Kevin B. Chen and Kathy Aoki, who went above and beyond in rallying their students at SFSU and Santa Clara University to volunteer to conduct interviews with their families. 

I am here in the Bay Area one more week. If you’d like to meet, discuss, workshop, volunteer, coffee, high five, etc., let me know!


See all Belonging Project posts.

Community, News

7/14: Opening @ Kala Art Institute, Berkeley

After five weeks of intensive printmaking and sewing, I’m happily exhausted and happy to share Ways and Means, a new body of letterpress-printed activity kits, collaborative games, and custom garments exploring interdependence and resourcefulness. The project includes collaborations with Leah RosenbergElizabeth Travelslight, and Sarrita Hunn (Institute for Autonomous Practices). Ways and Means is participatory—come, interact, bring a buddy, and make new buddies.

Details from Ways and Means: letterpress printed cut-and-assemble activity on interdependence (two-color linoleum and polymer printed and bound at the Center for Book Arts) and apron (two-color screenprint on canvas, sewn with Sophia Wong).

Details from Ways and Means: letterpress printed cut-and-assemble activity on interdependence (two-color linoleum and polymer printed and bound at the Center for Book Arts, NYC) and apron (two-color screenprint on canvas, sewn with Sophia Wong).

July 14 – October 15, 2016
Residency Projects: New Work by 2015-2016 Kala Fellows

Opening Reception: Thursday, July 14, 6-8pm

Kala Art Institute
Gallery: 2990 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702
Gallery Hours: Tue-Fri, 12-5:00pm; Sat, 12-4:30pm

Takuji Hamanaka
Jamil Hellu
Lucy Puls
Ronny Quevedo
Neil Rivas
Leah Rosenberg
James Voller
Christine Wong Yap

This experience has been so positive in bountiful ways. I’ll elaborate more later, but at this moment I am moved to share my gratitude for the organizations and so many individuals who have made this possible: Kala Art Institute; the Kala Fellows Program; Kala staff (particularly Carrie Hott, Paper Buck, Ben EngleAndrea Voinot, and Mayumi Hamanaka for their help and trust, and Archana Horsting and Yuzo Nakano for having the vision to create and maintain such a special place); Kala fellow Fellows, Honorary Fellows, AIRs, and interns for contributing to the spirit of welcoming community and knowledge-and-resource-sharing; the Center for Book Arts’ AIR Workspace Grant program; Val Imus and Southern Exposure for non-profits’ mutual aid; Kevin B. Chen and Genevieve Quick for believing in me; collaborators Sarrita Hunn, Leah Rosenberg, Elizabeth Travelslight; installer Gary and interns Katrina and Sean; Sophia Wong for sewing assistance; and Michael Yap for unending support. I am also grateful for Susan O’Malley, to have shared in her life, work, and wisdom, and—I believe—a feeling that interdependent entanglements such as these swell our hearts and lives… Thank you.

Art Worlds

To Making Good Vibes

A double-whammy of expanding communities of artists. 

Some of my best moments in life are when I’m surrounded by smart, generous, enthusiastic artists. I’m thankful that I was able to be in that situation twice in the past two days. I am grateful for everything that went into making those moments happen.

Yesterday, I attended the orientation for Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Process Space, a five-month studio residency on Governor’s Island. I was excited about the opportunity but also anxious about meeting 19 strangers! There’s a lot that could go wrong.*

But it went really well—everyone was friendly and excited as we took the ferry across the sunny NY Harbor. When we sat down to get to know each other, it became clear that the participants have an interesting range of advanced inquiries. I was glad to see other POCs and a majority of female participants.

And I was happy that following the official orientation, J organized a happy hour. How I appreciate these social spaces has matured over the years. It’s not only for fun, but to learn more about individuals’ opinions, pasts, and senses of humor; it deepens connection, trust, and empathy. The sooner these spaces happen within any kind of artists’ programs, the better. I’m really excited to continue getting to know my cohorts, working alongside them in Process Space, and building a community of likeminded artists.

Today, I met up with 16 artists from the Artists in the Marketplace program for our informal, for-us, by-us walk-through of the Bronx Calling exhibition at the Bronx Museum. I initiated it because there’s so many strong, smart, and mutually-invested artists in my 2014 cohort, I knew it would be worthwhile to meet members of this year’s group.

I love it when artists talk about their practices and interests in an intelligent, unpretentious, and honest way. It’s great to be able to take in their words and ask them questions in the same space as their original artwork. I’m thankful to the smart, diverse, articulate artists who shared their enthusiasm and attention today.

Making these spaces happen takes initiative, labor, and, risk—you can’t guarantee that people will attend or enjoy themselves. But I would encourage artists: Do it! Why miss an opportunity? Make time and space to have fruitful conversations with other artists about art! If you’re worried about the time commitment, remember that events pass—and so does the labor of organizing them.

The payoff is worth it. Though the happy hour and walk-through were initiated by individuals, they manifested like potlucks—everyone coming to the table with something, like good will, openness, and receptiveness.**

*Recommended satire about social anxiety, see: “Everything I Am Afraid Might Happen If I Ask New Acquaintances to Get Coffee” by Hallie Cantor.

**Of course, these spaces are the cherries on the cake that is the support of LMCC and the Bronx Museum, for whom I’m tremendously grateful.


Living and Sustaining a Creative Life

Practical advice from artists. I share my favorite quotes from Living and Sustaining a Creative Life about time management, navigating inside and outside of the market, how artists shape the art worlds we would like to participate in, optimism, and gratitude.

Sharon Louden, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

Sharon Louden, Living and Sustaining a Creative Life (University of Chicago Press, 2013)

I recommend Sharon Louden’s Living and Sustaining a Creative Life (University of Chicago, 2013) to artists.* It’s a conversational, engaging read with 40 short essays or interviews with visual artists on the practical matters of being an artist.

Common topics are:

  • time management; notably, many artists are parents and talk frankly about juggling family responsibilities
  • gallery relationships, roles, responsibilities
  • acknowledging assistants and vendors (something that is nearly invisible in the art world)
  • day jobs—many contributors are working as teachers; others are art handlers or artists’ assistants, or as as Sean Mellyn describes, “the post-art school, low-wage worker force—artists that make the art world run”
  • studio time: how to use it wisely, and not taking it for granted

The book is full of useful insights, but it doesn’t include one-size-fits-all secrets to success. Rather, readers learn about the diversity of artists’ lives and strategies.

There are as many ways to run an artist’s studio as there are ways to make art.

—Brian Tolle

in the same way that you’re in your studio coming up with a very individual body of work … your career should be the same way. …no two careers look exactly the same.

—Bill Carroll


I’ve struggled a lot with managing time and space since moving to New York. It feels like a catch-22: you work more to afford a space, leaving little time to use your space. This seems like a nearly universal challenge, and artists use numerous strategies. One I’ve started exploring is waking up early.


Finding time… is the most valuable commodity.

—Blane de St. Croix

everything is made little by little… process is key.

—Annette Lawrence

There are never enough hours in the day. [After having a child] I’ve pretty much stopped procrastinating; I just don’t have the time.

—Ellen Harvey

my work is so incredibly labor-intensive that time is more precious than space.

—Michael Waugh, on subletting studio space instead of keeping a day job

Scheduling Studio Time

at least several times a month, I will wake up … 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. … The amount I’ve accomplished over the years in these pre-dawn hours has been significant.

—Richard Klein

As teachers, [my husband and I] are both designated atypical work structures…. This flexibility provides for bursts of creative output throughout the year. The downside … is inconsistency. We are in a regular state of building a graceless schedule…. with the exception of an early 4:30 a.m. routine that gives my studio practice its resolute rhythm.

—Michelle Grabner

I … get up at 5:30 a.m. … to work.

—Austin Thomas

I maximize my time—I usually work seven days a week.

—Blane de St. Croix

…during the academic school year I spend three days a week at my teaching job, and three days a week in my studio.

—Carson Fox

A day of rest.

Being self-employed, I am susceptible to the impulse to work every day. To avoid burning out, I take one day off every week… on Sunday. The double benefit … is [looking] forward to Sundays [as well as] Mondays, eager to begin working again.

—George Stoll

Setting Boundaries to Protect Studio Time

For me, the studio is for working: painting, drawing, developing ideas. I try to allocate three to four studio days a week. …this means nothing else is scheduled on those days.

—Julie Langsam

on days that I am not teaching [I] regulate all non-creative tasks … to the morning so I can be an unfettered artist in the afternoon and evening. At least one late night in the studio every week helps tremendously.

—David Humphrey

Nothing is more critical to my process than time…. [after having kids] There is no room for waste. I try not to schedule meetings/appointments during studio time, and to keep clear lines around work and play, which requires a great deal of discipline.

—Amy Pleasant

I manage and try to keep up a reasonable balance between studio and home. I … have rules … only working during daylight hours and very rarely on weekends … based on aesthetics… making my professional life comfortable naturally leads to that life being sustainable.

—Justin Quinn

I needed to harmonize the ecology of studio life with life in the world. The necessities and imperatives of one don’t always support the other. … Paying bills, maintaining jobs and relationships persistently threatened to pop [the studio’s] protective bubble of productive dissociation, while success itself created tasks and responsibilities that also encroached on the time necessary to sustain the very process that produced it.

—David Humphrey

A note of self-forgiveness.

It’s impossible to do all things right at all times, and so in deciding to be an artist, I finally put my practice above all….

—Melissa Potter

Sacrificing Relationships

The biggest struggle throughout my life as an artist has been to put my studio time first. This doesn’t always sit so well with the people in my life, but after 25 years I have managed to surround myself with those who accept this as a given in our relationship.

—Julie Langsam

Nourishing Relationships

Family time and time spent away from art-making allow my studio experience to be more focused, essential, and creative. … life has to be nourished first. Creativity follows sustenance.

—Justin Quinn

Having Flexible Space

I maintain a smaller live/work studio, and get larger space when big projects require it. This helps me maintain my overhead.

—Blane de St. Croix

What previous tenants had used for a living room, I use for a studio … I’ve been able to tame my freely spreading work space by renting storage nearby.

—George Stoll

Maintaining Proximity

My studio is in my home, so I don’t waste any time commuting.

—Ellen Harvey

With the studio door about 18 steps from the bedroom…, I’m able to get up and immediately go to work.

—Richard Klein

Home, university and studio are all within walking distance from each other.

—Justin Quinn, who lives in a small city in Minnesota

Having my studio, [home and job] in close proximity … is very important in order that I spend as much time as I can working on my artwork.

—Brian Novatny


Space and time need to be purchased and it converts many artists into responsible money-makers.

—David Humphrey

20% for savings, 30% for taxes. This leaves 50% for me to live on.

—George Stoll

Find Your Own Way

Working Within the Market

[Living from sales] means I sometimes live well and at other times marginally.

—George Stoll

Just because you’re showing, you’re not making, necessarily, enough money to pay the bills. And … it’s just very up and down. That’s the thing all artists have to contend with.

—Will Cotton

The sales from my work support my family.… a situation I tried hard to avoid…, because I didn’t want to be beholden to the marketplace.

—Beth Lipman (who formerly worked as an arts administrator, which left 8 hours/week to make art)

The Market’s Myths

…many artists with apparently thriving careers and gallery representation still had day jobs. …the art world is at least 50% smoke and mirrors. … tons of brilliant and well known-artists (and curators, and critics and art dealers) are utterly broke, working full-fledged outside jobs [and/or] relying on money from their families.

—Jennifer Dalton

Working Outside the Market

the work I love to do best involves interactivity, community action, and … political topics…. A huge part of my success has been in coming to this realization early, because I think artists can get very mired in success models that are really not applicable to a particular life.

—Melissa Potter

I refuse to be depressed about what happens in the art market, and I am always willing to act, to take risks against the status quo, and to create the kind of work that I want to do.

—Jenny Marketou

Opposition to the Market

[the 1% is] the way the art market works: a hierarchical structure in which only a limited number of artists achieve any lasting recognition, usually with their work acquiring tremendous value, while other less recognized art workers exist at the margins. … [There is] inadequate support available to most contemporary practitioners, including not just monetary compensation, but all the factors that contribute to the legitimization of an artist.

—Maureen Connor

my practice … has remained oppositional to the gallery system. And rather than hide behind the false idealism, I am forced to find alternative ways to make my living and support my studio and art practice. I have decided to engage myself in … projects which engage new audiences outside of the art world—and which can be sponsored and commissioned by alternative art economies and shown by museums, festivals, foundations….

—Jenny Marketou

Working with Galleries

Sometimes that it’s what’s in [galleries’] best interest that is their top priority. To them it’s not personal, it’s business. But for an artist, everything about their work is usually personal….

—Julie Blackmon

I don’t have time for the drama of dealing with galleries that don’t pay their artists.

—Ellen Harvey

The one deal-breaker for me is non-payment without negotiation.

—Peter Drake

I have taken a sabbatical from showing with commercial galleries….

—Brian Novatny

that is a very dangerous myth…: that somehow a gallery is an artist’s parent…. I think an artist should want to be an equal player in their career…. There should not be this infantilization of the artist.

—Bill Carroll

Seeking Out Alternative Institutions

It has been a conscious decision to keep my work unimpeded by seeking non-profit project spaces, institutions and museums that would fund my … projects and research.

—Blane de St. Croix

I’ve been working independently for some years now. …I don’t have a main gallery representing me…. I often work directly with clients and institutions.

—Peter Newman

It does not make sense to get invited to show in an institution where everybody enjoys professional working conditions but the artist. …an artist fee is obligatory….

—Thomas Kilpper


Maintaining the Integrity of Your Process

The important problem … was to establish and sustain a routine in which study and learning could be braided into the activity of making artworks….

—David Humphrey

Efficiency in my practice means that I engage in willful awareness that my work is not simply a product of consciously directed, linear intellectual work….

—Laurie Hogin

Keeping a healthy balance between my art practice, the market, and demands of a career by buffering myself financially has been beneficial…. The pace and progress of the work are determined internally, rooted in process…

—Annette Lawrence (who holds a university teaching job)

…I heard Chuck Close on Charlie Rose saying, “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work.” …I always have to remind myself, while … searching … resolution to one problem or another, that showing up and doing the work will get me there. And so it always has.

—Timothy Nolan

I’ve always admired those artists whose careers went through … creative transformations challenging what they know about themselves.

—Brian Novatny


Serendipity is underrated.

—Brian Tolle


So much of my growth is strictly about visibility, so I am continually looking for opportunities to keep my work out in the world, whether it is through my website or exhibitions.

—Amy Pleasant

Artists frequently feel forgotten … so it helps to curate a show with yourself in it or have people come to your studio.

—David Humphrey

Cultivate Community: Contributing and Crit Groups

Real artists buy other artists’ work. … From working in the arts, to running a gallery space, to curating shows…, and [reading] art criticism, I have become part of a community where I help people and in turn be helped.—Austin Thomas

…the last aspect of my life that … has been crucial … my community of artist and arti-involved friends. [Our] crit group … forced each of us to keep making our work when no one else cared whether we did or not.

—Jennifer Dalton

…I’ve been in several artist groups where we … give each other unstinting critiques, with a real commitment to honesty …. I’ve learned from teaching that we almost have to pay to get truly honest critiques.

—Julie Heffernan

I enjoy [professional commitments such as lecturing, being a selection committee panelest, etc.] very much. …they also reinforce my interest in serving as an active citizen in the arts community…. Undoubtedly one of the most sustaining activities of my life as an artist.

—Timothy Nolan


Collaboration is grueling and incredible. I highly recommend it for getting out of our own headspace, which we can all start to privilege a lot more than it warrants.

—Jennifer Dalton

Engagement: Shaping the World/Art World We Want to See

[My project’s] call is meant to challenge artists to think about what it means to be active citizens, and how their critical and creative tools might work to create humane alternatives to all those bestial acts that keep the 1% alive at the expense of the rest.

—Maureen Connor

[I started my artist-run space to investigate] What direction of contemporary art production do we want to see flourish?

—Thomas Kilpper


Day-to-Day Motivation

I like to work but don’t always like to start, so I make it as easy to begin as possible.

—George Stoll

Everyday I create a problem for myself to solve, a battle that within my four walls is the only battle in the world.

—Amy Pleasant

Since my work is labor- and time-intensive, I set doable goals that insure progress from day to day. … Typically an extended body of work will take two to three years to complete.

—Annette Lawrence

Fear is a tool—it is more frightening to think of not evolving within my practice than not selling the work.

—Beth Lipman

Lifelong Motivation

I like the challenge of making art and my primary motivation is curiosity. I really do want to know what something will be like if I make it. The most satisfying aspect of being an artist, for me, is to spend most of my time working out ideas.

—George Stoll

in the end it is the everyday-ness of the studio practice that yields work that has significance and a life that has meaning.

—Julie Langsam

I have come to realize the sacrifices I have to make on a daily basis… things… a social life… people… [but as] my painting professor, Stanley Whitney, said, “Even if you had every day for the rest of your life to paint, it still wouldn’t be enough.” And that wakes me up each day.

—Amy Pleasant


Respect, flexibility, and honesty

Respect is also a key part of my business. … In a profession ruled by deadlines, shifting priorities and unforeseen challenges, the ability to work well with others and to adapt quickly to changing circumstances is essential.

—Brian Tolle

the best professional relationships that I have had have been open and honest. The art world is an extremely anxious and subjective world; the last thing that you need is to be second-guessing your work or your relationship to your dealer.

—Peter Drake

Being Optimistic

a sense of humor really helps…. And by that I mean a sense of perspective. I think that artists who come into this with a very specific idea of what’s supposed to happen [in their careers] are setting themselves up for disappointment.

—Bill Carroll

I believe that [artists] will always find creative ways to overcome obstacles and support ourselves… and I am proud to belong to such a dedicated, hard-working lot.

—Amanda Church

I continue to be inspired and challenged by the smart people around me, who make me always want to be a better artist.

—Jennifer Dalton

Ultimately, the key to running my studio relatively successfully has been my ability to interweave all these realms of art; to be nimble, to recognize the strengths and talents of the people working with and for me, and never associate myself with those who say that something cannot be done.

—Brian Tolle

Being Grateful

Every day, I feel so fortunate to be able to go into my studio and make art.

—Beth Lipman

Despite … leaving New York…, I make more art and am happier than I’ve ever been. … I’m creatively stimulated almost all the time, which is an amazing place to be.

—Melissa Potter

I am living exactly the life I wanted to live…. I feel very lucky to be part of this community….

—Erik Hanson

[Working seven days a week] is not a sacrifice. I enjoy my artist life and need and want to be in the studio. It is a reward not a task.

—Blane de St. Croix

being in your studio should be its own reward. And if it’s not, then you might want to reconsider what your goals are. If it is, you’re going to be happy no matter what happens to you.

—Ed Winkleman

*Cynics may wonder what practical advice the Yale-MFA-owning, NYC-based author can offer. But I found the NYC-based essays counterweighted with non-NYC contributions that frankly covered the advantages and non-impacts of their locations. MFAs were a non-issue; practical concerns like making ends meet, were dedicated more attention.

Art & Development

Thinking on the job

Labor’s on the brain lately, thanks to Ben Davis’ 9.5 Theses on Art and Class and Martha Rosler’s Culture Class.

Funny thing: Reading about labor makes you start thinking about labor—including while you’re at work, for better or worse. Here are a few paradoxes of labor as an art handler/art installer:

1. “Hurry up and wait.” Art laborers’ time is expensive yet expendable. Waste is part of the process of productivity.

2. Exhibition-making is a combination of office work and gallery work; the contrast between salaried/white-collar and hourly/blue-collar workers’ valuations of time, modes of employment, and precariousness is telling.

3. Help others help you with clear directions. Experience and decisiveness are not co-developed skills.

4. If the risk of confidence in excess is egocentrism, safeguard with humility and gratitude.

5. The more powerful you are, the more tardy you can be.

always in a rush but seldom on time

Ben McGrath, “New York Time,” New Yorker, Nov. 4, 2013 

sometimes it takes work to be happy

Christine Wong Yap, take charge of your happiness, 2011, ~83 × 24 × 1 in / 211 × 61 × 2.5 cm.

Christine Wong Yap, take charge of your happiness, 2011, ~83 × 24 × 1 in / 211 × 61 × 2.5 cm.

Happiness is a vague term that belies the complexity of psychological wellbeing.

I was reminded of this fact by a few things this week. These things may help to explain what I wanted to express with the work, take charge of your happiness: it takes continual attention, intention, action, and time to cultivate the myriad elements that contribute to wellbeing.


Make it concrete.

This week, someone asked me what I thought about the brief article, “A Fine-Arts Degree May Be a Better Choice Than You Think,” by Daniel Grant in the Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2013). The author summed up three studies or sources that reported that artists are “happy” or “happier” than the general population.

I think the points are interesting but felt that the research warranted further elaboration. I thought: What is meant by happiness? Though the term is often used diffusely, it can be understood with more precision, and indeed, such clarity is helpful for increasing one’s own wellbeing.

What I mean by happiness is outlined a bit in the next item.


Recognizing my own unhappiness.

This week, I skipped the gym and did desk work for four days in a row—personally, this amounts to a recipe for psychological disaster. I even walked five miles to work one day, but it wasn’t enough to release the endorphins that bring emotional balance. Add a few triggers and the result was pointless irritability and misanthropic anger.

I hit the gym until all my muscles were fatigued and my mind was clear. It showed me, once again, how I’m more relaxed, generous, optimistic, and compassionate after a good workout. My sense of well-being is increased. These are major components of happiness. But obviously, it takes intention to get to the gym in the first place.

So, reminder to self (it bears repeating): Working out is as much for psychological as physical wellbeing.

Add to that the fact that I’m starting to miss working out outdoors, and it’s not even winter yet. So an immediate action step is to look into bicycle clubs!

Less of this. (Charlie Brown by the inimitable Charles Schultz.)

Less of this. (Charlie Brown by the inimitable Charles Schultz.)

More of this. (by Charles Schultz)

More of this. (by Charles Schultz)


Be physically involved in doing what you love.

I’ve been writing applications to grants and residencies as part of my strategic goals. It became a habit too successfully, to where I had to remind myself that I’m on track to my goals and can focus my efforts on the studio for a few weeks.

Once in the studio, I popped on a podcast of Grayson Perry’s Reith lecture, and he validated the importance of play and of losing yourself in the activity. (All the lectures are great, I highly recommend them!) He didn’t use the word flow, but I think he meant it.


Make a plan.

I feel like I’ve been working on my VIA Semaphore flag project forever. I’ve sewed 13 flags in three months (it’s an edition of three, so I could say I’ve sewed 36 flags, but whatever).

Christine Wong Yap, flag for gratitude from the VIA semaphore project (tentatively titled), 2013, linen, 12.5x12" each, edition of three from a set of 24.

Christine Wong Yap, flag for gratitude from the VIA semaphore project (tentatively titled), 2013, linen, 12.5×12″ each, edition of three from a set of 24. See more on my Facebook Page album.

<NERD ALERT> Since I’m a huge adopter of Creative Capital‘s strategic planning advice for artists, I do weekly check-ins. I also moved my to do list onto a calendar; fewer tasks fall through the cracks, and I’m more aware about procrastination.

In this week’s check-in, I put the production of the remaining 11 flags into a calendar. It’ll take six weeks if I add nothing else to my schedule. This is familiar—I’ve done six-week plans in gearing up for road races. Instead of focusing on my slow progress or the seeming interminableness, I’m excited about enjoying the momentum and how much I’ll accomplish.


It’s OK.

I really like this spark chart from pro runner Lauren Fleshman’s website. It documents her life’s highs and lows. It’s awesome because it shows how even major athletes have setbacks and personal detours, too. But the ultimate message is to bounce back, and be resilient.

Lauren's Life: Highs and Lows, from

Lauren’s Life: Highs and Lows, from

Having been sidelined from running by a knee injury, it’s also reassuring to know that Fleshman has overcome her own.

This chart also reminds me of Phil Zimbardo & John Boyd’s book, The Time Paradox, which urges readers to have a healthy time perspective: to ensure the past also houses happy memories and achievements, to utilize and savor the present, and to look forward to the future. Sometimes the past seems like a large closet overstuffed with regrets and humiliations, but as Fleshman, Zimbardo and Boyd point out, there’s lots to remember fondly too.


Remember gratitude.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a proven way to increase your subjective wellbeing. There are apps for gratitude journaling now.

The University of Melbourne is seeking participants for a new gratitude survey.

Sewing on the bias (the stretchy direction) is hard! Fusible interfacing makes it easier.

Sewing on the bias (the stretchy direction) is hard! Fusible interfacing makes it easier.

What I’m grateful for this week:



It feels good and it’s the right thing to do.

UNICEF, the Humanitarian Coalition, and Doctors without Borders are good. The Asia Society’s post on how to help is especially thorough.


Goals: Looking back, looking forward

Be strategically optimistic. Imagine and implement advantageous conditions.

In 2012, I inserted these goals and attitude reminders into my rotating desktop photos:

  • Be active and injury-free.
  • Forgive.
  • Do six studio visits.
  • Enter [art] competitions.
  • Have a strong show of killer new work.
  • Make work that answers, “What would I do with a solo show?”
  • Be open [to new experiences].
  • Practice kindness.
  • Embrace adventure.
  • Practice gratitude, not garbage.
  • Be strategically optimistic. Imagine and implement advantageous conditions.

Most of these were attended to with solid efforts, to varying degrees of success. Many will require more time, intention and attention. I take it as a sign that these are good reminders for me, as they are not too easily achieved nor unrealistically ambitious.

All still seem like good ideas to carry forward into 2013. They’re what positive psychologists call “self-concordant”—rather than reflecting societal demands, they are aligned with my professional and personal goals.

If you’re thinking about making New Year’s resolutions, Creative Capital’s goal-setting tips might be useful. I have been using their goal-setting strategies for the past few years and highly recommend that artists espouse and maintain the practice. It is like plotting a course on an open sea.