What is Beyond “Awareness?”


“Tear to Mend” (2012) Watercolor Pencil on Paper (c) Cindy Shih

I am Asian (surprise!), which means: I don’t create waves, I don’t stand out, I don’t have emotions. But I went to bed angry last night, and I woke up today feeling profoundly sad. I don’t think I was alone, because if you’re even remotely a thinking person in the world today, you realize what a sad world we live in. But Anger? What good does that do?

I’ve learned to appreciate Anger, because I find it more motivating than Sadness. Depression runs deep in my family, I’ve always known that, so through the years, I’ve found ways to bring myself out of the never-ending spirals of despair and powerlessness. That’s just how my brain is wired, that’s all. But Anger? It’s there. But how the fuck do you use such a raw emotion constructively?

I’ll get to that. But perhaps the saddest thing of all though, is our Cynicism. Scratch that- MY cynicism. Blame it on social media, on fear, on circumstances, whatever it may be– but it’s easier to climb onto my Facebook soapbox and pass judgment on every small gesture, every feeble attempt to build a community, than to put myself out there and do something about it. Ha, that artist brings arts and crafts to the inner city children every weekend? Naive. That dude that writes a poem for everyone on the street? Desperate. “That’s the shit I did in high school,” “how typical,” “that’s so Asian.” Even the self-aware, liberal progressive types are branded as”#Stuffwhitepeoplelike” and makes a mockery of people trying, in their own small way, to bridge the gap between communities and use their own unique strengths to make things just a little bit better.

As an artist, I’m constantly consumed by self-doubt and live in fear of what Amanda Palmer would call, the “fraud police.” Truth is, everyone does. We don’t need each other to tell us how powerless we are, we have the media, our government, and ourselves to do that for us. In short: we’re already vulnerable. Yesterday’s decision made us more vulnerable; it stripped away any illusions that we are protected, we’re naked– and we’re angry. 

What now? We’re encouraged to protest when we’re angry. Protests unite; Protests work to create awareness. But we’re past awareness now. We know shit is fucked up. We’re angry because this isn’t the world we want to live in. We’re angry because we’re vulnerable, we’re angry because we’re powerless.

So what’s past awareness? Social media is a powerful tool, but it can only do so much until the next anger-inducing thing comes along. (There are so many!) It’s also a lazy substitution for meaningful, human connection. What we need now is a collective understanding of our powerlessness, a focus on what we can do to help in our little way: make art, sing a song, volunteer at a soup kitchen, write a letter: free from judgment from others, and fear of being called out as a fraud.

I’m writing this as my personal offering, it’s my attempt to connect: so if you feel the same way, make something, find a way to make a meaningful connection, and help others do the same. If we’re afraid of each others’ judgment, we won’t connect. Now is a time to connect and rebuild, we’ve done enough destroying.

Do something small, something stupid, anything–I won’t pass judgment, and in my own small way, I will help. We have a long fight ahead of us, folks. Nothing we do or say will fix the problem overnight. Little, stupid, small, seemingly inconsequential things to help build the community may be the only chance we’ve got to make a difference. Let’s help make our communities better.

Just Observe.

If you’re paying attention, you may have noticed the onslaught of notifications regarding SF Open Studios from me. Well, now it’s over- at least for me, but there is one more week left of #SFOS next weekend. *Plug: If you want to see some art, let me know. I’ll take you around, personally. The talent in this City is just too good to waste by not seeing it for yourself.

That said, if you read my last post here, you will know that I had conflicting emotions about opening up my private space to the public, selling my work, etc, etc. Well, I’m happy to report that that specific issue is now over, and since artists make it their business to collect observations, here are mine:

  • Part of the job of an artist is never to be satisfied, perhaps with anything- ever. This goes with your own work, other’s work, other’s perception of your work, the nature of the business, the list goes on. I’m fairly certain that the crippling, heartbreaking sadness of never quite being happy is somehow an integral of your creative growth. Knowing this can make you feel like severely depressed, an awful ingrate, or just annoying to be around, because you know you might never be actually happy- even if you’re wildly famous and enormously wealthy. As for me, I choose to compartmentalize and ignore it 99.1% of the time because I’m good at doing that.
  • People get it. One of the coolest, mind-blowing, and most humbling moments are when people become emotional in front of your work. This happened three separate times with three strangers, in response to three different paintings. I was stunned. One woman teared up when telling me what she saw in “Regrets Only.” Another man told me about his guilt when he saw “Lilac Wine.” When I finally asked them to explain what they saw in the painting, they fucking NAILED it. I’m not kidding, those emotions were real, and we shared it. Except that mine was outside of my body, and theirs was, well–within. From this, I gathered one of two things: 1. Maybe my art is too heavy-handed, or 2–STOP over-analyzing it already, your work actually matters to somebody. Also, don’t ever underestimate how much people understand.
  • Dualities exist, and that’s the beauty of it. Being an “artist” is both simultaneously liberating as well as stifling, and the art world is frustratingly small, yet crazy intimidatingly vast. Maybe that’s why we keep coming back to it. Because in that moment where you see a piece that is so amazing and genius that you tell yourself that you might as well pack up your shit and go home because you’ll never get to that point–you realize that you’re also doing the same thing they are; that maybe you’re at the same point on a different continuum or on a different point, but holy shit–you’re all in it together. And the next time you see their work, you’ll feel infinitesimally small again, but your ego might grow ten sizes larger: because you are getting that close to something brilliant.

I’m not there yet, and I may never be completely satisfied if I ever were– but collecting these observations makes me feel like it’s getting me closer. Thanks to all that came to support me and my work last weekend, I had a blast.

Open Studios 2014

From Left: Bob, Sandy, Me, Katrina, and Jude