Research

Happiness Is… Research Note #5

Studying positive psychology doesn’t make me a happy person.

It doesn’t make me a grateful person. Like Thanksgiving Day, it can only remind me to practice gratitude.

It doesn’t make me immune to negative emotions. I’ve learned strategies for coping with adversity, but I still have to enact them.

Following 36 anxious hours, the relief of a repaired sewing machine.

Following 36 anxious hours, the relief of a repaired sewing machine.

When my sewing machine stopped working two nights ago, the uncertainty of how I’d remain productive during this residency got the better of me. I was under-slept and anxious, and when the machine came back from the repair shop with the presser foot unable to stay in the upright position, I’d had it, and lost my cool.

Thankfully, Montalvo just happens to have a sewing machine to lend me. It didn’t occur to me to even ask. (There it is, fellow artists: Have courage! It doesn’t hurt to ask!)

And when I went back to the shop, the repairman fixed the problem on the spot.

Now I’ve got two working sewing machines and am able to get back to work! For that—really, for art, which provides so many opportunities for flow and purpose—I’m grateful.

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Research

Frippery

Who knows, we may look back on [Wes] Anderson’s works as we do on the boxes of Joseph Cornell—formal troves of frippery, studded with nostalgic private jokes, that lodge inexplicably in the heart.

Anthony Lane, “Stormy Weather,” New Yorker, June 4 & 11, 2012

Considering objects and how they accrue significance, I’ve put these thoughts together:

 

Christine Wong Yap, Place Space Thing Object, 2011. Meaning is comprise of purpose or sentiment. Space plus meaning equals Place. Object plus meaning equals Thing.

Christine Wong Yap, Place Space Thing Object, 2011.

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Meta-Practice

It’s a joy

On Tuesday, I drove 240 miles to de-install and pick up my work from Catskill, NY. Today, I spent over 2 hours in transit going to Chelsea and back to photograph my installation. After this, I’m going to color-correct the photos, then work on a residency application. (Meanwhile, my latest studio project has been untouched—frozen in a state of incompletion—for the past 1.5 weeks.)

There is little joy in schlepping. The transit left me knackered, and feeling not especially productive. But I want to contrast these niggling feelings about artists’ extrastudio activity with a different sentiment about being an artist, to make space for an attitude adjustment.

When I visited Michael Arcega’s and Stephanie Syjuco’s studios in San Francisco last Friday, it felt like this is where they report to work, because it’s their jobs to be artists. This is less about occupations—Arcega and Syjuco both work as teachers—and more to do with the seriousness and intention of their practices, of their drive to be making and exhibiting as artists. The visits made me want a bigger studio, and somehow restructure my life so that I can spend more and more of my time being an artist. I left feeling inspired to be more ambitious, diligent, and committed.

I savored this sense of forward momentum. During my long drive to Catskill, I came to this realization: Being an artist for a day—working on your art, managing your art career, even undertaking extrastudio activities—is a gift.

Artists often want to focus on studio work—most of us probably became artists because of the pleasures of creativity and discovery. But there is much more to being an artist, and rather than disparage the extrastudio work—the unending grant applications, the mounting rejection letters, the mindless schlepping—I thought about being grateful for it. There are countless other things competing for our attentions—but we choose to be artists, and therefore the activities we engage in are of our volition and intention.

A few points of reference come to mind:

Lee Pembleton, in my interview with Earthbound Moon for Art Practical, said,

We pour our resources in to the work. Of course, it is not a suffering work, but an ecstatic one.

The Artist, directed by Michel Hazanavicius, is about finding pleasure, satisfaction, purpose, and happiness in one’s work. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that there are spoken words in this nearly silent film, and they are of lasting import to me.

Yes, there is little pleasure in schlepping. But perhaps I can approach this work, in all of its facets, however transcendent or mundane, exciting or tedious, in terms of finding satisfaction and purpose. From that perspective, the ability to be an artist—the capacity and circumstances—are delights in themselves.

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