organization

Tools & Resources for Organization and Resilience

I’m doing an Instagram Live studio tour/artist’s talk/Q&A with the San Francisco Center for the Book today at 3pm Pacific/6pm Eastern. Some question’s I’ve received in advance are:

  • How do you keep motivated?
  • Please share admin/organization/project management skills.

I’m posting some notes with links here.

Resilience

Journaling helps me be resilient.

There can be a perception that journaling is for self-obsessed, angst-ridden teens. I do not only write in my journal when I feel shitty. In fact, I limit how much I write when I’m distressed, because venting or “processing” can actually be rumination, which decreases mood and prolongs pain (Guy Winch, Emotional First Aid).

Journaling provides space for self-reflection—space for me to listen to myself. When I listen to myself, I can celebrate my wins, so I can need less external validation. I can be grateful by recognizing the good in my life and in other people. I name my feelings (which itself can bring relief) and sort out my needs, priorities, goals, and action steps. When I properly reframe an event, and when I find meaning, it makes me feel energized and purposeful.

Gratitude Journal

There are many ways to keep a gratitude journal. A great introduction to a simple practice can be found at “The Science of Happiness, Episode 1: Three Good Things.” This podcast is produced by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, so it is a legit, science-backed, positive psychology podcast.

I have been using a “what went well and why” method described by Martin E.P. Seligman. It’s easy: just write about what went well in your day, and why you think it happened. Sometimes I’ll keep asking “why,” drilling down deeper, or expanding wider. This has helped me recognize my own agency in situations, or the kindness of others, or the conditions or privileges broader than my immediate reality. I’ve also used this practice on great days, and it’s helped me identify particularities and savor them, multiplying my joy. A caveat: I’m careful not to mindlessly re-list my day’s to-do items.

Goal-setting, Habit Tracking, & Purpose

It’s easier to stay motivated when your actions and goals feel aligned with your values and life’s purpose.

Goals

Informed by Creative Capital’s Professional Development workshops, I set three professional goals, each with three action steps, for myself as an artist every year. I schedule weekly and quarterly check-ins.

I sometimes set intentions at the beginning of each month. These can be related to personal, mental, or physical health. I only do this as the spirit moves me.

I also set physical goals. Exercise is my most reliable mood-booster. I exercise as much for my mental health as physical health. I’ve learned so much about myself and gained  much community from martial arts and running. Sheltering in the pandemic has made me grateful for knowledge I have gained and can implement on my own.

Habit Trackers

I have an app to log my physical therapy and cardio. This is helpful for reinforcing good habits and holding myself accountable. It helps me see the connections with how my body feels. You can use a plain notebook or a habit-tracking notebook, too—whatever works.

If you’re dealing with an injury or health side effects, tracking the frequency and intensity of different dimensions of your experiences can help you can recognize the process you’re making over time. It can give you reasons to celebrate, instead of only seeing loss. Not to mention that it can give you more data to discuss with your doctor.

Purpose

No one can give you a sense of life purpose. In Grit by Angela Duckworth, you can learn exercises to identify what your life purpose might be, and how your small and medium goals relate to your purpose. When you are able to see your short-term actions in concordance with your values and your purpose, it feels integrated, which is very powerful.

Reframing

I loved this episode of On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Pauline Boss, “Navigating Loss Without Closure.” Here are some of my key take-aways:

    • Closure is a myth. Americans are too focused on problem-solving negative emotions.
    • Expectations or time limits on sadness, grief, or loss can be harmful. Humans can and do live with sadness, oscillating over time. That’s OK!

 

  • Find meaning. When nonsensical events happen, and you can’t make sense of that event, you can find “good enough” meaning in another area of your life.

While I’ve been very fortunate to have not been directly affected by coronavirus, the pandemic has entailed coping with fear, loss, grief, uncertainty, and stress in a drawn-out, fatiguing way (I liked my friend KQB’s phrase: “low-key horrified”). It found it helpful to recognize that Americans and the media love predictable narrative arcs (beginning, middle, end) and that’s cognitively dissonant from the realities of the pandemic (no end in sight). It’s good practices to let go of perfectionism and the urge to fix everything now, to get more comfortable with holding opposing ideas, and to find meaning where you can.

Grounding

This episode is also really great: On Being with Krista Tippett, interview with Resmaa Menakem, “‘Notice the Rage; Notice the Silence.’” I especially loved this:

“..all adults need to learn how to soothe and anchor themselves rather than expect or demand that others soothe them. And all adults need to heal and grow up.”

Resmaa Menakem

A great way to self-soothe is through grounding practices—being in your body, focusing on your breath, or your feet’s connection to the ground, or visually on the room around you. The idea is to practice this, even on your good days, until it becomes second nature, so that it’s easy to implement on your bad days. Often, emotional distress is tied up with physiological stress reactions, and grounding helps regulate those physiological reactions, which can shorten the duration and decrease the pain of emotional distress.

I think this idea of practice is helpful across all these resilience strategies. I think these practices are how you incrementally increase your subjective wellbeing over years, so that your happiness set-point gets a little higher, and your ability to bounce back becomes stronger.


Admin/Digital Organization

This is going to be super nerdy and ‘brass tacks.’ Well, artists wear a lot of hats outside of making art—administrators, bookkeepers, registrars, archivists, art handlers, fund raisers, marketers and PR people, etc. Administration is legit labor. It could be a time-suck or you can try to be more effective where you can. Since the pandemic started, I’ve spent a lot more time on the computer, and I realized that there are some basic things we do everyday—such as email and managing files—which everyone sort of figures out on their own. These are some best practices I’ve found.

Email 

I like to use Mac Mail, and I try to reserve my inbox for items that require follow-up. I try to keep folders to a minimum with a hybrid system:

  • project-specific folders (for important art projects, exhibitions, and freelance gigs, etc.)
  • time-delimited folders (the time stamp indicates when it’s safe to delete emails. It’s like the principle of cleaning out your closet—if you haven’t worn it in a year, get rid of it):
    • Deep storage (this is for stuff like taxes)
    • 1-year keep
    • 3-month keep
    • hold/1-month keep (for temporary things like shipping notifications)

Receipts for deductible expenses get saved as PDFs to a folder in my sidebar. Then I delete the email.

File management

I like to keep two Finder windows in Mac’s column view, stacked one on top of each other. This allows me to find a file and file it in its destination folder more quickly. This is super helpful when resizing images for my website, for example.

Three navigational shortcuts:

  • For switching between studio, professional practices, and day-job work: I keep multiple tabs in each Finder window open. This helps me switch quickly and pick up where I left off. It’s a little like the beauty of having a studio (or a dedicated studio table) where you can leave your messy work-in-progress, as opposed to clearing the table for dinner and then setting up your art project again.
  • For quickly accessing active projects: I also put folders for active projects in the sidebar. For example, when I’m working on an application for an art competition, I’ll put the folder there, even if it’s just for a few days.
  • For quickly accessing current projects: Alternatively, I make aliases of current project folders, and put them in a folder called “_Current Projects.” (I use an underscore at the start of names for folders I want to keep at the top of a list.)

Naming conventions for files and folders

I use multiple strategies to make sense of all my files:

  • Project code. I try to assign every project a name or code, and then start the file name of every digital art file with that. This makes it much easier when searching for files.
  • Iteration number-letter system. When I work on digital art files, I iterate a lot. Saving lots of versions forces me to save often, keep earlier options, and have recent back-ups in case a file gets corrupted (especially true when working on large PSDs!). To make sense of all of these, I use a number followed by a letter, (“1a,” “1b,” “2a,” etc.) The number usually refers to the design round, the letter usually refers to a variation, like the same design in different colors.
    • I never name anything “final.” When you use that system, if you have to change that file, and then have to name it “final-final,” or “final-2,” and then what’s the point?
    • I just keep every previous version in a “_Drafts” folder, and the one most recent file outside of that drafts folder. That, plus the iteration code, means it’s always clear what’s the most recent file.
  • Pixel dimensions. For any file saved for the web, I append the pixel dimensions, width x height (example: ACB8j-AnnieYee-p3-01a-889×1080) to the end of the file name. This is much more descriptive and useful than “-web” or “-small.” In web design, dimensions are always width first, then height (though it’s reversed in art handling).
  • YYYYMMDD. Starting names with the date in an 8-digit code keeps files or folders chronological and easier to search. I use this for folders for exhibitions, for example, for receipt PDFs, Google Drive folders, etc.
  • 01, 02, 03. Another way to keep folders tidy is to start the name of sub-folders with numbers, so they stay in the order of a process. For example, if you have different files from different stages in a process, you might have folders named “01 Text content,” “02 Image references,” “03 Digital mock-ups,” “04 Scans,” “05 Composite PSDs,” “06 JPGs.”

Image management

For my photo documentation, I keep the source/raw files in a projects folder. Then after I make my selections, I copy and rename them, and place them in nesting folders that looks basically like this:

Documentation > Projects > YYYY Project name > Artwork Name--[pixel-dimensions].[file extension]

The code can indicate different shots of the same artwork. I've found this is a nice way to manage lots of installation views (as opposed to "detail of X" and "detail of Y"). After these are renamed consistently, then I'll do the resizing.

Image sizing

I generally keep three to four resolutions of files:

  • high-res (source res at 300 dpi)
  • medium-res files for screen display for competitions (these files are usually 1-2 MB JPGs, I'd say 1920x1080 is a good new standard nowadays)
  • two sizes of web-res (which is specific to my own website, but obviously at 72 DPI).

I use Photoshop actions to batch process resizing. I've set up different destination folders for different sized images. I use the Finder renaming tool to update the file names as needed.

Artist's Inventory Software & Estate Planning

It's important to manage your inventory: to track inventory numbers, framed and unframed dimensions, prices, where the actual artwork is (whether on loan or in storage), etc.

There are lots of options for inventory software. I don't know what's good out there as I don't have time to test and review them. Many of the options now are cloud-based. I don't love the software I currently use, so I'm not going to name it here. The reason I use it is because it's a desktop version, and I like the permanence of that for reasons I'll explain below.

Artist's inventory software is for your own studio management, but more importantly, it's also part of your estate planning. Each of us will die. Making plans and putting systems into place are act of care for our loved ones, to make it easier for them to deal with our stuff after we're gone.

If you need to start or improve your digital or physical artist's inventory, I recommend the Joan Mitchell Foundation's Creating Artist's Living Legacy "Career Documentation for the Visual Artist: An Archive Planning Workbook and Resource Guide." It's free.

While we're on the subject, I also recommend:

  • Everyone should write a will. I found Nolo Press' Online Will to be an easy and cheap way to draft one. Note: Print it out and take it to a notary public to make it legally binding.
  • It's a good idea to discuss your end-of-life wishes with your loved ones, and to fill out an advanced health care directive. Kaiser Permanente offers info and forms in multiple languages—you don't have to be a patient to access them. You'll also need to print this out and take it to a notary public to make it legally binding.
  • CALL also has an Estate Planning Workbook. This is a next step for me.

Bookkeeping

I use Quickbooks Desktop. It's a little bit of labor to manage it, but it's less painful than doing a year's worth of bookkeeping in the spring before taxes are due. More than just tracking your receipts, though, bookkeeping software helps track when art institutions and universities have (or haven't) paid your invoices.

How did I learn this admin stuff?

  • From working at no- or low-paid office positions in non-profit art organizations.
  • From working as a freelance graphic designer/sole proprietor.
  • From co-workers, partners, colleagues, mentors.
  • From trying different things and evolving over time.
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Research

Points of Reference: Revisiting Positivity

Two positive psychology concepts seemed newly relevant today.

I’d learned these ideas years ago, but re-discovered them today. They are helping me to keep perspective, and remember why I want to embrace the positive.

Shane Lopez’ Hope Maps

I like psychologist and hope researcher Shane Lopez’ exercise to envision goals, pathways, and obstacles. It’s a way to visualize your response to obstacles and help your future self stay motivated.

You can find a description of Shane Lopez’ Hope Maps exercise in this article.

(I’ve mentioned it on my blog before in “Points of Reference: Resistance Day 16: Cakes, Spells, Dance, and Multi-Centeredness.”)

Today, when I searched for the link on his website, I was saddened to learn that Lopez passed away in 2016. I feel very fortunate to have attended his session at a positive psychology conference in 2011 (thanks to the Jerome Travel and Study Grant, a great resource for NYC and MN-based artists). In Lopez’ honor, I made a hope map today.

[I also learned that Lopez published a book in 2014, called Making Hope Happen. In a little poetical reflection, that is the same year I created the make things (happen) project.]

Lopez’ understanding of hope is concrete and action-oriented. I liked his emphasis on agency, as I always feel better about a situation when I start to take action.

Christine Wong Yap, Positive Signs #43 (inspired by Shane Lopez), 2011, glitter pen on gridded vellum, 8.5 × 11 in

Christine Wong Yap, Positive Signs #43 (inspired by Shane Lopez), 2011, glitter pen on gridded vellum, 8.5 × 11 in

David J. Pollay’s Law of The Garbage Truck

I recently came across this quote:

Thinking is hard. That’s why most people judge.

It’s got a nice ring, but turns out to be a misquote of Carl Jung:

Thinking is difficult. Therefore, let the herd pronounce judgement.

The irony of studying positive psychology and making art about positive affect is that I often fall short in my daily life. I can feel my attention get more unfocused by digital media. Constantly making knee-jerk reactions (scroll, scroll, like, scroll, scroll) makes me more judgy, low, and complainy.

I think, in some contexts, I’ve turned into a garbage truck. I don’t want to be that person, who dumps on people’s pleasant mornings with negativity. So I’m grateful that I read David J. Pollay’s book, and am reminded of the principles in this helpful poster. (Coincidentally, I bought Pollay’s book at the same positive psychology conference in 2011.)

 

David J. Pollay, The Law of the Garbage Truck.

David J. Pollay, The Law of the Garbage Truck. // Source: davidpollay.com

 

It’s been seven years since learning of these psychologists’ work. I’ve always loved the idea that writing and art practice are forms of thinking. Today they are also forms for remembering.

 

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Research

To Bring Into Being an Optimistic Future

Recent points of reference about psychology, anxiety, and the need to be intentional about optimism and humor. Plus artworks made when I was first learned about positive psychology at the beginning of the Obama presidency.

 

Christine Wong Yap. Stars and Stripes from the Pounds of Happiness installation, 2009, mixed media.

Christine Wong Yap. Stars and Stripes from the Pounds of Happiness installation, 2009, mixed media.

We live in a world where there is a constant feed from social media, the news, etc., of things that can scare us, and we become so anxious because human beings are designed to be sensitized to dangerous stuff. You get a bad review as a writer, you remember it for 10 years. You get 100 good reviews, you forget them all. You say hello to 100 people in a city, and it doesn’t mean anything to you. One racist comment passes by, it sticks with you a decade. We keep the negative stuff because it’s the negative stuff that’s going to—potentially—kill us. That fin in the water—maybe it is a shark. That yellow thing behind a tree—maybe it is a lion. You need to be scared. But contemporary culture in Pakistan, just like in America, is continuously hitting us with scary stuff, and so we are utterly anxious.

I think that it’s very important to resist that anxiety, to think of ways of resisting the constant inflow of negative feelings—not to become depoliticized as a result, but to actually work actively to bring into being an optimistic future. For me, writing books and being someone who is politically active is part of that. I don’t want to be anxious in my day-to-day life; I want to try to imagine a future I’d like to live in and then write books and do things that, in my own small way, make it more likely that that future will come to exist.

—Author Mohsin Hamid (“Pakistani Author Mohsin Hamid And His Roving ‘Discontent’,’ Fresh Air, March 9, 2017)

 

Christine Wong Yap, Cheap and Cheerful #3, 2009, gel pen on paper, A4.

Christine Wong Yap, Cheap and Cheerful #3, 2009, gel pen on paper, A4.

…one of the offshoots of the rise of Trump has been to rob many liberals of their sense of humor. To pay close attention to the news is to trap oneself in a daily cycle of outrage, self-righteousness, a pained recognition of the inelegance of that self-righteousness, and, finally, a feeling of futility. Part of what made the Women’s March so powerful was its scenes of comedy, not simply the signs that mocked the President but those that recognized the joyousness in the very of act of protest.

…Constant vigilant outrage is not only exhausting, and eventually deflating, but it’s ill suited to liberal culture, which is suffused with a healthy dose of self-awareness, self-mockery, and even self-loathing. There’s a reason conservatives control talk radio, with all its grim certitude, and liberals run comedy, which is characterized by, among others things, ambivalence.

—Ian Crouch, “This Is The Future That Liberals Want” Is The Joke That Liberals Need, NewYorker.com, March 3, 2017

 

Christine Wong Yap, Unlimited Promise, 2009/2010, installation.

Christine Wong Yap, Unlimited Promise, 2009/2010, installation.

 

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News

Through Sept. 20: Bronx Calling @ the Bronx Museum

Participants are invited to string together the flags representing  their strengths. Connect the toggles to the loops.

Participants are invited to string together the flags representing their strengths. Will shows how it’s done: connecting toggles to the loops.

July 9–September 20, 2015
Bronx Calling: The Third AIM Biennial
Bronx Museum, 1040 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY
Always free.
Open Thursdays–Sundays 11–6 and until 8 on Fridays.

I’m very pleased that this exhibition, which has been two years in the making, is now open. It includes work from 72 participants in the Bronx Museum of the Arts’ Artists in the Marketplace program, who have diverse, strong practices (whose praises I sing in the Time Out article below).

On July 15, the museum held an open house for Bronx Calling as well as ¡Presente! The Young Lords in New York (recommended!). Over 1,000 people attended. See photos of the open house, which included numerous performances.

I’m debuting Character Strengths Signal Flags. This project has been three years in the making—I designed and sewed 24 signal flags in an edition of three. Each flag has a letterpress-printed label identifying the character strength and one of the six categories developed by positive psychologists Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman. The flags are installed with a legend and flagpoles. Viewers are invited to find and fly the flags of their strengths. See more pics on my website.

Character Strengths Signal Flags, 2015, linen, twill tape, letterpress-printed ribbon, rope, wood, flagpoles; 24 flags: 12.5 x 12 inches each; edition of three; flagpoles: 72–84 x 12 x 12 inches each; display: 73.5 x 20.5 x 27 inches.

Character Strengths Signal Flags, 2015, linen, twill tape, letterpress-printed ribbon, rope, wood, flagpoles; 24 flags: 12.5 x 12 inches each; edition of three; flagpoles: 72–84 x 12 x 12 inches each; display: 73.5 x 20.5 x 27 inches.

See Time Out New York! 

Dana Varinsky. “Emerging Artists Take the Bronx,” Time Out New York, July 15, 2015.

Dana Varinsky. “Emerging Artists Take the Bronx,” Time Out New York, July 15, 2015.

Bonus: You can top off your visit with a street festival!
Sundays, August 2, 9 and 16, 12–4pm
Boogie on the Boulevard
Right in front of the Bronx Museum, Grand Concourse from 161st Street to 167th Street will be closed to cars and open to a world of fun with free music, activities, and programs hosted by artists and organizations from the Bronx and beyond. What’s not to like?

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Uncategorized

Nuances Beyond Joy versus Sadness

Thoughtful ideas explicating good mental health, posted by a legit research center at UC Berkeley.

The Greater Good Science Center’s “Four Lessons from Inside Out to Discuss With Kids” by Jason Marsh and Vicki Zakrzewski (July 14, 2015) is pitched as a story for guiding conversations with kids, but the research findings in it can be insightful to all ages. Its messages are spot-on for countering assumptions about happiness and positive psychology:

Happiness is not just about joy.

It’s easy to conflate the two. As I’ve explored positive psychology in my artwork over the past six years, I’ve also noticed that people can react cynically to positivity, and celebrate negative emotions like melancholy in opposition to our current zeitgeist of happiness studies. But actually, positive psychologists emphasize that

people who experience “emodiversity,” or a rich array of both positive and negative emotions, have better mental health.

At the same time, be intentional. While you shouldn’t become doctrinaire about happiness as a goal, psychologists also suggest

“prioritizing positivity”—deliberately carving out ample time in life for experiences that we personally enjoy.

That’s what I’ve been trying to do with my work—to make space to be exuberant, think about purpose, find flow, exercise creativity, and nurture relationships.

I don’t need to make space for myself to be negative—I’m plenty good at that already. Like most people, I get anxious and stressed out. I ruminate. I replay regrets and hold pointless internal monologues about perceived slights. I get angry and sad. These are easy habits of mind for me. Via my work, I’m trying to create a counterbalance.

Lately, I’ve also become interested in non-attachment. Tackling things head-on is one strategy; letting things go by on their own momentum is another.

Mindfully embrace—rather than suppress—tough emotions…. Rather than getting caught up in the drama of an emotional reaction, a mindful person kindly observes the emotion without judging it as the right or wrong way to be feeling in a given situation, creating space to choose a healthy response.

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News

6/27–8/30: summertime… @ jenkins johnson gallery

Exhibition view, Summertime... at Jenkins Johnson Gallery,

Exhibition view, Summertime… at Jenkins Johnson Gallery. Two of my ribbon texts are on view alongside lovely ribbon-based wall works by Vadis Turner.

June 27–August 30, 2013
Summertime…

Jenkins Johnson Gallery
521 W. 26th Street, 5th Floor, New York, NY 10001
Summer gallery hours: Mon–Fri, 10am–6pm

Works by Shawn Huckins, Vadis Turner, and Christine Wong Yap. The exhibition features works of varying media and content, though all embody the dedication to contemporary art and mastering their media that Jenkins Johnson Gallery strives to propagate.

Christine Wong Yap, hope for good, allow for even better, 2012, ribbon, thread, pins, 51.5 × 47 in / 1.3 × 1.2 m

Christine Wong Yap, hope for good, allow for even better, 2012, ribbon, thread, pins, 51.5 × 47 in / 1.3 × 1.2 m

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Research

Happiness Is… Research Note #9

I have  a conceptual relationship to my work—I read, write, observe, and reflect to inform the art that I want to make. I do so much research sometimes, my recent studio practice has involved organizing information:

Studio view: notes from positive psychology books, organized in a large table.

Studio view: notes from positive psychology books, organized in a 6’x6′ newsprint table.

Though I employ conceptual strategies, I still make things. I like materials, and I like working with materials. I like the challenge of finding and trying different materials that will best convey the ideas, emotions, and experiences I have in mind.

Materials are indifferent, however. They age, warp, stain, fold, bend, puncture, and undergo countless other unintended transformations. Reality, too, resists—physically, culturally, economically; I can’t always get what I want, and I can’t always make what I envision. Art objects, conventionally, aspire to timelessness—an unnatural condition.

In a recent project, I used over:

  • 700 yards of thread
  • 200 yards of twill tape
  • 17 yards of unmounted vinyl
  • dozens of pieces of aluminum tubing and wooden dowels

I also shipped a sewing machine across the country for this project.

It took two to three long work days to finally get a feel for the materials: how they sew together, what patterns would be strong and functional but visually minimal, and how to adjust the tension of the thread just so. In that sense, working is learning, gaining expertise. Doing is simultaneously gathering and applying information; hence, making is a way of thinking.

Detail, work in progress. Supported by Lucas Artists Program at the Montalvo Arts Center.

And still, materials surprise me. As I conceptualize, plan, prepare and make, visual and optical qualities emerge. They call on me to look at what I’ve made with new eyes, to see things as they are. To be honest with myself about the degrees to which they are or aren’t what I intended, physically or conceptually.

I like the opportunities for flow made possibly by working with my hands. Some people can achieve flow in activities of the mind—mathematics, writing—but for me, flow arises in the challenges and satisfactions of physical art-making.

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