Research

Happiness Is… Research Note #6

Spending time with family on this holiday, and also, generally as an artist who craves validation, I’ll try to bear in mind this bit of wisdom:

Relationships thrive when they shift from the desire to be validated, to the desire to be known.

—Paraphrased from Nathaniel Branden paraphrased by Tal Ben-Shahar in Happier.
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Research

Happiness Is… Research Note #1

To wake up and know that the day is dedicated solely to art making is one of the greatest luxuries that residencies afford. In residence at Montalvo Arts Center.

To wake up and know that the day is dedicated solely to art making is one of the greatest luxuries that residencies afford.

I’m currently in residence at the lovely and pastoral Montalvo Arts Center, preparing for an exhibition called Happiness Is…, which opens in January at the Montalvo Project Space Gallery.

It’s a great opportunity for me because I’ve explored optimism and positive psychology in my work for many years. Yet the idea of making art that defines or instills happiness sets off red flags (and not of the exuberant variety) in my mind. It’s because happiness is a vague term, which has popular and common meanings.

I hope to acknowledge and grapple with happiness’ personal specificity, elusiveness, and complexity. 

I am working on four projects for the exhibition. They are related to happiness, but more specifically, are attempts to concern themselves with:

  • The numerous aspects or components of happiness, or happiness’ complexity;
  • Subjective well-being, positive psychology’s theoretical and research-based knowledge about happiness;
  • Purpose, perhaps a lifelong challenge and key component of happiness;
  • And finally, also, exuberance and sentiment, or in other words, pleasure.

While I’ll focus on production, I will also be reviewing my past research and conducting new research. As I go, I will post notes that seem worthy of sharing. Here’s the first one. It speaks to me because residencies are tremendous opportunities for artists, and Montalvo is especially lovely, and I’m feeling terribly grateful, humbled, and somewhat embarrassed by the riches afforded me.

We must appreciate our core self, who we really are, independent of our accomplishments; we must believe that we deserve to be happy; we must feel that we are worthy by virtue of our existence.

—Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier (2007)
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Research

Summer Reading List 2009

I’ve taken a break from going to shows in order to hit the books. Some of these books are just food for thought, others will be reviewed in due time here. In the meantime, though, here’s my Summer Reading List so far:

Source: University of Chicago Press website

Source: University of Chicago Press website

Johanna Drucker’s “Sweet Dreams: Contemporary Art and Complicity,” University of Chicago, 2005

I’ve become an acolyte, and I can admit that I can barely restrain myself from evangelizing about this book. Drucker’s an American artist, theorist and art/design historian. She’s currently a research fellow at Stanford U., but she’s typically based at UCLA. “Sweet Dreams” presents Drucker’s critical theory with a refreshing methodology: developing critical theory out of contemporary artistic practice, rather than projecting theory onto art. Her thesis is that the academia’s radical negativity (that criticality = opposition) has become orthodoxy, which is rigid and outmoded. She proposes a position of acknowledged complicity that is better suited for the attitudes of affirmation, engagement with material pleasure, and complexity of art of the 1990s and 2000s.

I’ve only read the first few chapters, but I’d recommend this books to artists and curators interested in theory and new ways of understanding recent contemporary practice. I wouldn’t recommend it to artists allergic to aesthetic theory (though Drucker accomplishes a Herculean task of summing up modernism, postmodernism and aesthetic theory in the first three chapters), but she also writes cogently (it’s not a speculative work of philosophy—it’s precise and methodical).

Also on the list, in various stages of completion:

Source: MIT Press website

Source: MIT Press website

Martha Buskirk, “The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art,” MIT Press, 2003

Buskirk’s investigation into “contingency” in 1980s and 1990s art might be a good bridge between Modernist “autuonomy” and Drucker’s “complicity” for art of the 1990s and aughts.

Source: Tal Ben-Shahars website

Source: Tal Ben-Shahar's website

Tal Ben-Shahar, “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment,” McGraw-Hill, 2007

Positive Psychology from a Harvard University professor. Hands on, concise, useful for reminding oneself of what’s ultimately meaningful in life.

Source: Lucifer Effect website

Source: Lucifer Effect website

Philip Zimbardo, “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil,” Random House, 2008

The psychologist behind the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment turns towards morality and how humans are highly influenced by their conditions.

Source: Simon & Schuster website, Learned Optimism CD page

Source: Simon & Schuster website, Learned Optimism CD page

Martin E. P. Seligman, “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life,” Free Press, 1990/1998.

Much of my inquiry into optimism and pessimism has been shaded by skepticism, so I think it’s high time to embrace the attitude/beneficent delusion of optimism.

Source: Princeton Architectural Press website

Source: Princeton Architectural Press website

Ellen Lupton, “Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors and Students,” Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

A concise, erudite read; I will continue to employ this newly gained knowledge for a long time.

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Citizenship, Community, Research

Things are grim, but I can’t stop thinking about happiness.

Where my mind’s been at:

Positive psychology — a relatively new field of evidence-based self-help for being happier. Think of it like the shift in medicine from treating illness to increasing wellness. As Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, writes in Happier, pretty much everything we want in life ultimately leads back to happiness.

The idea is to increase happiness in daily life, rather than dealing with unhappiness only during moments of crisis.

[See also Dr. Martin Seligman, Prof. Philip Zimbardo and Dr. Walter Mischel (whose research was the subject of a great article by Jonah Lehrer recently in the New Yorker Magazine).]

Practicing gratitude is one of the oft-cited methods of increasing happiness.

I’m tremendously grateful for friends helping friends. I know, I know, everyone’s hurting now financially. But a lot of artists are freelancers, and while freelancing is typically like riding a roller coaster, it seems like a lot of my peers are feeling lost in a free fall. These are bright, hardworking people doing everything from graphic design, to interactive art direction, to preparator/installation to cooking.

The financial safety nets are being strained, but it seems like social bonds are staying strong… Artists helping artists. Freelancers helping freelancers. I’m so grateful to be in an art community, in which, even in lean times, can exhibit generosity instead of competition.

If you can support the arts in these times, for goodness’ sake, here’s how (and where and when!):

travis meinholf art
Formerly San Francisco-based, now Berlin-based artist Travis Meinolf is in the unenviable position of raising funds for a matching grant (good luck!) for his kind of hilarious but also strangely innovative practice of action-weaving. Like his healthy ‘stache, Travis’ participatory weaving seems impossibly sincere (his last project resulted in 12 volunteer-made blankets being donated to a women’s shelter). He’s a good guy and a hard worker and I wish him the best of luck in sowing his weaving projects ’round the world… Contact Jennifer McCabe, director of the Museum of Craft and Folk Art at jmccabe@mocfa.org to make a contribution towards Meinolf’s exhibition. (Image source: actionweaver.com)

(In case you missed it, I mentioned Scott Oliver’s totally fund-able project about my beloved Lake Merritt in a previous post.)

This Saturday night is Pop Noir, an auction to benefit Southern Exposure, an alternative art space that’s consistently invested in local artists, community engagement, and excellence in contemporary art. This female-led organization has always pushed the envelope, and I’m very proud to donate a pair of text-based drawings to support their work. Over a hundred and fifty other local artists have donated work too. Countless volunteers are contributing time. But it’s all for naught without buyers. So come on down—with auction prices starting at a fraction of the retail price, the price is right. Look for some really nice pieces by Weston Teruya, The Thing Quarterly by Allora and Callzadia, Michael Hall, Laurie Reid, Jeff Canham, Jamie Vasta, Edgar Arcenaux, Dustin Fosnot, and yours truly (pictured as follows).
weston teruya artThe Thing Quarterlymichael hall artlaurie reid artjeff canham artjamie vasta artedgar arcenaux artdustin fosnot artchristine wong yap art
(Image sources: Southern Exposure’s Pop Noir Auction Artists

Pop Noir will be held at the gorgeous galleries at Electric Works at 8th and Mission Streets in San Francisco. Tix, more info, pics of the auction lots, and absentee bidding details here. Hope to see you there.

Stephani Martinez, Daily Cakes - Extra Fancy, 2009, Variable, Doilies, Plaster, Gold Leaf
(Image: Stephani Martinez, Daily Cakes – Extra Fancy, 2009, Variable, Doilies, Plaster, Gold Leaf. Image source: Intersection for the Arts’ 2009 Benefit Art Auction.)
Of course the other amazing alternative art space in San Francisco is Intersection for the Arts, who is well-respected for the rigor of their programming, and renown for making miracles on a shoestring. Like many non-profits, the downturn is hitting their typically lean infrastructure hard. Intersection’s auction comes up next weekend, on the following Saturday, June 13.

Daniel Tierny, Double Jump, 2009, Tape on lambda print, 23 x 33 in., Courtesy of the Artist and Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco.
(Image: Daniel Tierny, Double Jump, 2009, Tape on lambda print, 23 x 33 in., Courtesy of the Artist and Steven Wolf Fine Arts, San Francisco. Image source: Headlands 2009 Benefit Auction, Artists, Daniel Tierney.)
Wednesday, June 10, the Headlands Center for the Arts holds their auction at the Herbst International Exhibition Hall in the Presidio. I’ve been an Affiliate Artist at the Headlands for a year and a half. The Headlands is an amazing locus for an international and local art community. When I think about relocating, few places compare with the quality of the Bay Area arts scene, partly because of the Headlands’ role in drawing international artists in residence to the area.

So there you go. Support an artist directly, or support the organizations who support the artists. And take home some artwork!

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