Art & Development

Dream a little group show for you

The Bronx AIM program has started and I am enjoying the first assignment immensely. We were asked to present the artists who would be in our dream group show–to convey the ideal context for showing one’s own works. I started thinking of all the artists I love, all the projects that share sympatico with my practice, and the potential of new site-specific commissions. I imagined very established artists in dialogue with less recognized but completely worthy friends. I envisioned an exhibition copy of a high value seminal work of a blue chip artist made as a public sculpture. Then I situated it all at a local non-art  site brimming with potential. This exercise made me think of many people, actions, and possibilities that make art seem like an expansive, generous realm. It provided me with welcome hope and enthusiasm. Try it!

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Values

Author and museum director Tom Finklepearl in conversation with artist Rick Lowe:

“Rick, quite frankly, you may look at things ten or fifteen times a day and see potential, but that is a tremendously optimistic outlook. Others might look ten times a day at the problems… and get depressed. But even for the most optimistic and active person, as you say, there is a difference between seeing potential and activating it.”

Tom Finklepearl, What We Made: Conversations on Art and Social Collaboration (2013)

Optimistic thoughts and actions

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Meta-Practice

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

Resources

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.

Time

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

Money

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

Growth

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

Luck

Serendipity is underrated.

—Brian Tolle

Strategies

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

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

Motivation

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

Attitudes

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.

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Community

New Rules of Public Art

I love Public Art Now’s latest post, New Rules of Public Art.

Public art is complicated, from the politics to the logistics. There are concerns about its appeal, offensiveness, safety. There’s the convention of permanent monuments. There’s the instrumentalization to serve bureaucratic civic outcomes or constituencies or corporate sponsors. All these things add up to can’t’s and shouldn’t’s about what public art can be.  

These new rules are great, because they’re interesting and enthusiastic. They embrace and celebrate the risk-taking inherent to public art. I love the optimistic, energetic attitude. I dare you not to be inspired.

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Meta-Practice

Keep walking toward the mountain: staying true to your goals

Author Neil Gaiman offered practical, heartening advice in commencement speech at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia last year. The speech, and his delivery of it, is warm and generous—listening to him deliver it is highly recommended.

Short of that, I love his perspectives on persistence, quoted below. If it seems that I’m obsessed with optimism and motivational inspirations, it’s because I am. Day-to-day life is filled with the mundane: hours spent commuting, generating income, sending off applications for things that may or may not come into fruition, and so on. In the muddle of quotidian distractions, the clarity of advice from a fellow traveler is helpful.

I love Gaiman’s suggestion of how to navigate over the long haul—by envisioning a longterm goal as a distant mountain:

And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain. I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.

Another way of having faith in a slow process with unforeseeable results:

A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.

The problems of failure are problems of discouragement, of hopelessness, of hunger. You want everything to happen and you want it now, and things go wrong.

… nothing I did where the only reason for doing it was the money was ever worth it, except as bitter experience…. The things I did because I was excited, and wanted to see them exist in reality have never let me down, and I’ve never regretted the time I spent on any of them.

I’ve also been observing more successful peers with a mix of envy and dread, wondering how I would cope with the constraints they perceive as imposed on them. How is it that one can avoid an upwardly-mobile treadmill, in which opportunities increase while autonomy and creative freedom decrease? Gaiman perceives what some would call a trade-off for the tragedy it is:

…The problems of success. They’re real, and with luck you’ll experience them. The point where you stop saying yes to everything, because now the bottles you threw in the ocean are all coming back, and have to learn to say no.

I watched my peers, and my friends, and the ones who were older than me and watch how miserable some of them were: I’d listen to them telling me that they couldn’t envisage a world where they did what they had always wanted to do any more, because now they had to earn a certain amount every month just to keep where they were. They couldn’t go and do the things that mattered, and that they had really wanted to do; and that seemed as a big a tragedy as any problem of failure.

And after that, the biggest problem of success is that the world conspires to stop you doing the thing that you do, because you are successful. There was a day when I looked up and realised that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.

That tragic entrapment of success is not an inevitability. Keep re-assessing; be led not by fears of losing what you’ve gained, but by your commitment to your practice.

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Meta-Practice

Be Here Now: Artists’ Majority Power

Lately among my colleagues, sharing information and support has been especially active and enjoyable. We usually send links to art opportunities,* and I’ve also been contributing ideas to CF’s curriculum. In a virtual book club, we share intellectual discourse as well as a sense of camaraderie.

I was reminded to be grateful for this generosity after hearing from a disenchanted colleague recently. He was frustrated and fatigued, but worst of all, he seemed to feel hopeless about his position in relation to the art world.

So many artists feel like there aren’t enough resources to go around; that we are all competing for a limited number of opportunities/commissions/gallery rosters/fashionably “in” careers as art stars, and only the already privileged, networked, and fashionable win. It’s true that the art world is structured so that it can’t accommodate all of the artists who would like to make art for a living. As an artist, the odds are that you win some, and lose most. Rejection is unavoidable, and it can result in

an increase in sadness, despair and hostility, and a decrease in self-esteem, belonging, sense of control and meaning in life

according to Todd Kashdan, George Mason University professor of psychology (“Understanding Rejection’s Psychological Sting,” Huffington Post, September 16, 2011). To counteract the effects of rejection, Kashdan suggests cultivating

those powerful human capacities for awareness, openness and compassion

As artists, we have to help each other. We’re in the best positions to understand what our peers are going through, and to hear of opportunities that might be perfect for a colleague. After participating in a public art program in Poland last year, a friend and I shared this year’s call, and colleague’s work was selected. A deserving artist and an interesting program connected.

Christine Wong Yap, Positive Sign #40, 2011, glitter gel pen on gridded vellum, 11x8.5".

Christine Wong Yap, Positive Sign #40, 2011, glitter gel pen on gridded vellum, 11×8.5″.

People assume that optimism is simple minded, but it’s actually pessimism that’s all too easy. If you look for reasons to be cynical about the art world, it will provide in abundance. But if you cultivate optimism and enact your principles amongst your peers, I think it will be more rewarding ultimately. Cooperation, not competition, is the best approach for a life in the arts.

Disenfranchised artists might consider RY’s advice:

Pressure leads to perseverance; perseverance to character; character leads to courage; courage to hope.

Since my birthday, I’ve been grappling with a personal achievement gap of sorts—what I’ve done or am about to do, versus some ideas that drifted down from aloft like stray pigeon feathers about where my art career and personal life should be now.

Just like everybody else, artists can easily mistake career achievement for happiness. A lawyer might think, “I’ll be happy when I finally become a partner,” and artists might think, “I’ll be happy when I my career takes off.” The challenges of working day jobs to support art practice are in ample evidence in our daily lives, so we assume that selling enough art to live on will unlock a more authentic state of creative freedom.

But as AV pointed out (in a book club meeting!), art stars aren’t necessarily more free or happier. They may feel like sovereigns of mini-empires, compelled to pump out increasingly higher priced products in order to sustain multiplying sectors on organizational charts, while terrified by the thought of ceding relevance and influence to other artists.

Two ways of looking at the art world. Left: A conventional model where the majority of artists are struggling and strive to become a member of the tiny percentage of art stars. Right: A different perspective, extolling the  benefits of not being darlings of auctions, media, collectors, etc., and appreciating the kinship of peers who are hardworking, inventive,  tenacious, and generous; free to re-invent our practices and shape the communities in which we would like to participate.

Two ways of looking at the art world. Left: A conventional model where the majority of artists are struggling and strive to become a member of the tiny percentage of art stars. Right: A different perspective, extolling the benefits of not being darlings of auctions, media, collectors, etc., and appreciating the kinship of peers who are hardworking, inventive, tenacious, and generous; free to re-invent our practices and shape the communities in which we would like to participate.

I’ve written before that the “art world” is too often equated with a tiny sliver of artists, auction houses, collectors, galleries and critics, who, in my view, are actually on the margins of most artists’ (and people’s) experiences.

Similarly, I’d like to re-frame a pyramid of working artists. I’ve always thought of the vast majority of artists as underlings, trying to claw their way into inclusion into that elite world of international art stars. But just as one chooses whether a half-glass of water is half empty or half full, we can choose to imbue the majority of artists with the majority of relevance (the beauty of majorities!). My peers are vibrant, meaningful, and no less creative and worthy of attention. To complain about this disparity is to reify the minority’s hierarchy. To acknowledge our majority power is to assert our freedom over our attentions. 

Susan O'Malley, Inspirational Posters: Be Here Now, You Are Exactly Where You Need to Be and Listen to Your Heart billboard, Rapackiego Square, Art Moves Festival, Toruń, Poland

Susan O’Malley, Be Here Now, You Are Exactly Where You Need to Be and Listen to Your Heart billboard, Rapackiego Square, Art Moves Festival, Toruń, Poland // Source: SusanOMalley.org.

*RateMyResidency.com is an artist-initiated website that offers users the chance to review residencies. I love this idea, and have been hoping for something like this appear for some time. This site is still pretty new, so not many residencies have been reviewed, and I think the interface could use some tuning up, but in the meantime, it’s a great resource for upcoming deadlines.

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Research

at times wild, at times modest

Two kinds of optimism this week:

Wild optimism: the audacious, leap-of-faith kind, the decisions that chart a course for a lifetime or more.

I helped someone in their quest to become an adoptive parent. My projects are usually meaningful, but few are so directly involved in such dramatic life changes—the determination of  one child’s family, one hopeful mom’s child.

Modest optimism: tiny points of light, small things to be grateful for.

M and I rode bikes on the Palisades today. It was a short ride, nothing to brag about—except that over the past few months, my knee has been finicky, aggravated by exercise as well as routine movements like putting on shoes. Today’s ride gives me hope that I’m recovering. It is such a small success, hardly an achievement at all—still, I’m delighted.

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Research

happiness is… research note #11

Site visits at Montalvo Art Center.

Site visits at Montalvo Art Center.

A few thoughts about what happiness is:

  • Having collaborators who are ever-armed with good humor, optimism and encouragement.
  • Buddies, true and warm despite time and distance.
  • Seeing someone who deserves every bit of happiness that comes her way find contentment.
  • And—even now, feeling like you’ve made your parents proud.
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