Panel Discussion on “Choice”

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Link to the artwork: Online “Choice” Gallery  

Information about the exhibit: www.4Choice2013.com

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On Saturday, January 12th, 2014, I spoke with a panel of artists I admire, on the topic of Choice and the decisions that women make today. The talk included comments on the topic by Laurie Toby Edison, Bernadette Howard, Priscilla Otani, and yours truly, moderated by Tanya Augsburg, Ph.D.  The Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art hosted the event, at Arc Studios and Gallery in San Francisco. Here is the statement that I made. 

“A Choice”

My piece for this show, “Waiting,” was about a personal choice I made three years ago. Three years ago, I was engaged to a wonderful Chinese boy from a great family, but I made a choice not to get married. Since that decision, I became a pseudo-marriage counselor. Close friends, as well as people I hadn’t spoken to in years, came out of the woodwork to ask me about my decision not to get married. Reactions ranged from slight disapproval to admiration, everyone had to something to say. I expected this; what I didn’t expect, was so many women, young and old, approaching me with their own reservations about marriage.

For example, a good friend of mine I hadn’t seen since college, who was engaged to be married in two weeks, called me up and told me how despite how much she loved her fiance, she wanted to call off the wedding. We then went on to commiserate about much bullshit weddings were, how as women, we had to transition from being our own person to someone else’s “wife,” and how- no one ever tells you that the prospect of marriage means giving up your previous identity to make room for this new role. Everyone expected you to be overjoyed to plan a wedding, to change your name, to have children. No one wanted to hear about doubt. Before we hung up, she told me she could never call off her wedding because her parents would never talk to her again. Two weeks later, I attended her wedding. She was a beautiful bride, the wedding was perfect, and I couldn’t have been happier for her. When I tell this story, people ask: why did she choose to get married if she didn’t want to? Haven’t we progressed past forcing women to get married?

But I was happy for her because she made a Choice. Whether or not it was the right one— only she can decide, but she was able to make the right choice for herself, and I respect and support whatever that may be. Even now, as people approach me in hindsight to tell me I made the right choice not to get married, I am amazed, because I still don’t know if it was the right thing. When it happened, I felt tremendous pain, and faced the disappointment of many loved ones, and it hurt like I made the wrong choice. I also know that even if I had chosen to get married, I may have felt that pain too. Or maybe I wouldn’t have.  I don’t know, and I will never know. But it doesn’t matter, because I made that choice.

Choice comes with consequences, good and bad. No one can tell you if what you did is “right” or “wrong.” In my opinion, the cognitive act itself is separate from moral consequences. What I am grateful for, though, is the right to exercise my own free will. What I am thankful for, are those who respected me enough to allow me the freedom to make that choice, and supported me through its consequences. During that same time, I also decided to quit my cushy job at Google and become a painter. As you can probably imagine, that was also an unpopular choice with my family. But I figured they were already disappointed in me, so it was a good time to do everything all at once.

In this piece, I imagined what it was like for the women in my family, and the women before me, to make the choice to get married. The red hooded figure in the center is dressed in a traditional Chinese wedding gown. She is faceless and nameless, without an identity to her future husband until she is officially his wife. More likely than not, she didn’t choose to get married. Her husband was probably chosen for her. But her state of being is not judgmental, resentful, or sad. She is calm and anticipating. To show this contrast, I chose a smooth, cool gray and mixed in warm tones reminiscent of the sky. It is neutral and serene, maybe even hopeful. She is suspended in time, in space.

Within her figure, however, I chose deep, blood reds and created textures to show her inner turmoil. Her crooked, clammy hands reveal her apprehension. Despite her inability to make the choice to get married, she exudes an elegant boldness as she waits patiently and calmly for her new life to begin. To me, this painting reminds me of the ordinary, nameless women who made brave choices so I could have the freedom to make mine. It also reminds me that it is my responsibility to speak for women who can’t make their own choices, and that- even today, not everyone has that choice.

For those of us who have the freedom to make our own choices, it is important that we continue to use our voices and fight through Art, through sharing our experiences, whatever it may be— to give voice to those who don’t. Even more important still— to support and respect the choices that others make for themselves. We are not here to judge right from wrong, to shield them from the consequences. We are here to support a Choice.

  –Cindy Shih


2 Galleries in 5 Blocks = Worlds Apart.

As we approach rainy season in San Francisco, art openings begin. April brings a fresh, ripe set of shows that finally caught my eye. On Saturday, faced with the unsurmountable choice (hint: sarcasm) between tailgating at Oakland A’s exciting opening day and about a dozen art reception openings, I chose to attend receptions for two galleries on Market Street: Varnish Gallery around 1st and Market, and the Luggage Store Gallery at around 6th and Market. I’ve heard of both before, in fact, I think I went to a swanky New Year’s Eve party that a bunch of tech people threw at Varnish for a few years back- and I heard about Luggage Store Gallery being a great gallery featuring up and coming SF artists back when I was in LA. Anyway, I guess my point is that I went to these galleries because I had some connection to them, not because I felt particularly adventurous. I assume most people go to art shows because they have *some* connection to them.

First show at Varnish was called, “The Have and Have Not Group Show,” curated by artist Lee Ballard. This show opened on Saturday, but will be up until April 28th, 2012. This one received a lot of fanfare, most notably from Hi-Fructose Magazine, featuring a nice collection of images of pieces in the show. The gallery is a cozy space tucked away in a small alleyway near Yank Sing and Golden Gate University, but it was jam packed with impeccably dressed, rockstar artist types with PBR (ah yes, SF hipsters)  and a glass of wine in hand. Image

Coming from the back door, the first thing that caught my eye were Brad Isdrab’s robot looking dudes:

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Definitely enjoyed their prominent display near the back of the room, guarding the pieces on the wall. They reminded me of those wooden proportion models I have in my studio, the kind you use to study anatomy, except these were whimsically primitive and fun.

Next, I saw Scott Campbell’s pieces, which were toward the side wall. These caught my eye because I actually own a piece by Scott Campbell I bought years ago at Nucleus Gallery in LA, I was happy to see that his work was at a reputable gallery years later.

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Next, I checked out Jon Wayshak’s pieces along the back. I was blown away at each of his elaborate illustrations. It had a decided comic book style, but his technique was more artistic and his compositions were exquisite. The pieces were both comical and horrific, the style both organic and polished. These blew me away.

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My favorite piece of the show was by Rick Berry, who I scrambled to look up after the show. His use of color, lines, and movement capture a mood and aesthetic I can only hope to achieve one day.

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All in all, great looking show with impressively high caliber pieces. No crazy adventurous, avant-garde installations- but I appreciated that. Sometimes there’s value just seeing great mixed media work without all the conceptual weirdness. There were a lot of pieces here where a serious collector would say, “Yes, that looks like it has tons of value and I would buy that,” which is more than what I could say about some other galleries. I also appreciated the fact that the show’s theme was apt, relevant to our current society, and the show highlighted the immense talent in contemporary mixed media artists today.

Next show was at the Luggage Store Gallery, called “Me and My ____.” This one was in a markedly different space, upstairs overlooking the shadier side of Market Street. I’ve been to this gallery before, but they seemed to have done some renovations to it that looks great:

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Most of the work were installations, and the space was great for it. I’ll save the critique and go straight to pictures:

This room was transformed into a crazy surreal experience of rapper saints and milagro-inspired decor.

 

This show had a decidedly different clientele, mainly grungy looking art students and musicians (possibly). I really quite enjoyed the passion the pieces conveyed, and the courageous compositions and subject matter. The space was great for cutting edge installations, and walking into each space transformed your surroundings and perspective.

Overall, very cool space, tons of great installations that made you chuckle and reflect- but seemed a bit esoteric and insular to the conceptual art aesthetic. I imagine that to most people, this gallery would be cool to check out but the work is not particularly accessible to most.


Comparing the Top MFA Programs: Yale School of Art

Yale School of Art (http://art.yale.edu)

Yale School of Art is arguably the most elite of art schools, and one that would make any gallery drop what they’re doing and check out your porfolio. According to a 2003 survey “of deans and department chairs, one per school, at 213 master of fine arts programs” conducted by U.S. News & World Report, the School shares a number one ranking with the Rhode Island School of Design and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago for Masters of Fine Arts programs. Notable alumni (at least, the ones that I know) are household name artists such as Matthew Barney, Eva Hesse, Chuck Close, Richard Serra, etc. Apparently, only 21 applicants a year are admitted to the painting program.

Here’s what you would need to apply to the art school:

Portfolio Requirements (http://art.yale.edu/Admissions)

PAINTING/PRINTMAKING PORTFOLIO REQUIREMENTS

Portfolios are submitted online as part of the online application. The portfolio submission interface will allow you to label each image with a title, a date of completion, the materials used, and a brief description of the work. Digital files must adhere strictly to the specifications outlined below.

Portfolio Contents

Upload a total of sixteen (16) still images and/or moving image files. Only work completed within the last three years should be included, and at least half (8) should be work made in the last twelve months. In the review process, the admissions committee is concerned with scale and the tactility of the work. For this reason, paintings and drawings must be photographed showing the surrounding wall or background. Paintings and drawings must not be digitally masked in black to the edges of the work. Three-dimensional works should also show the surrounding space and context. Do not include detail photos of work in your portfolio unless you consider them absolutely necessary. Under no circumstance should more than two detail shots be included. If you are presenting both still and moving images, please present them in two groups with all still images followed by all moving images. Within these groups, all still and/ or moving image files should be in chronological order starting with the oldest and ending with the most recent work.

File format for still images

To conform to our viewing format, each still image file may be no larger than 16 MB. Do not format images in any presentation program (e.g., PowerPoint, Keynote), or include composite images (more than one work per file). Still image files may be sent in jpeg, png, bmp, or tiff format.

File format for videos and moving images

Videos will be accepted in QuickTime, AVI, FLV, MP4, or WMV format. Video files should be no longer than one minute in length, and the size of your video uploads is limited to 250 MB. Please note that videos are considered as part of your selection of sixteen files, not as additional material. Do not include titles or credits within the video files. If you are primarily a video artist and wish to submit a longer video, you may post it on your own website and provide that website link at the bottom of the portfolio page.

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The Background

Photo Courtesy of Carlos Lopez

That's Me, at Sutro Baths! Photo Courtesy of Carlos Lopez, http://www.carloslphotography.com/

So, It Begins… my first week of “Being an Artist.” Let me start by saying that I’m not as delusional as to think that my creative talents are genius enough to warrant quitting my job at the arguably, “Best Company to Work For.” In fact, it’s likely not. However, a number of things contributed to my decision.

Let me start with a bit of background. Before any of this, I read a book. I have to say, that most major shifts in perspective begin with a book. I have never been inspired to make a life change or think differently by a TV show, or even a movie.  Anyway, this book I read was a pretty cheesy self-help book called Finding Your Own North Star, by Martha Beck. It was recommended to me by my best friend, Danielle Burrow. Now, I’ve never read a self-help book in my life, and in full disclosure- I think the cover of the book is off-putting,  and the title is corny as hell, but the book itself is incredibly insightful and gives very actionable advice.  I read this book a few years ago, but the idea of leaving a stable job to pursue my dreams seemed far-fetched back then.  What it did do, was get me thinking of ways to keep painting while working at Google.

So, I enrolled in a few classes. Well, first I had to research my options for taking classes in the area. I could take classes at a junior college, such as Foothill College, or I could spend 3000% more and go to Academy of Art in SF. As far as I know, Academy of Art in SF would take anyone who could pay, but after looking at the numbers, I decided that $24 per unit at Foothill College made a lot more sense than $740 per unit at SF Academy. I’m not kidding, look it up. Honestly, aside from the potential alumni network and facilities, I really can’t imagine the instructors at Academy of Art being THAT incredibly stellar, considering most of the faculty there also teaches at City College of San Francisco (CCSF). After enrolling in Foothill for a few semesters, I moved up to the City and continued taking classes at CCSF.

Over the course of three years, here were the classes I took (mostly after work at night):

  • Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Watercolor
  • Color Theory
  • Figure Drawing
  • Museum Drawing
  • Sculpture

I might go into these classes later, but this was what started the spiral into what became my journey to becoming an Artist… Namely, being too cheap to shell out the money and get a legitimate Masters of Fine Arts (MFA). Here are a few other resources I’ve discovered in the process of pursuing my own Personal MFA.

  1. Handprint, by Bruce McEvoy – http://www.handprint.com/ This is by far, the most comprehensive documentation of watercolor colors, technique, and materials I have ever seen. This guy is my hero.
  2. Art History Modules at Khan Academy – http://www.khanacademy.org/#art-history. Apparently, this site was made by a father collecting resources for his son. Pretty amazing collection of Art History modules, I just wish there were more.
  3. Art History Resources – http://arthistoryresources.net/ A huge database of random articles, projects, etc. Very poorly organized and hard to navigate, but has some good content.
  4. Art.net Resources: http://www.art.net/links/artref/resources.html Again, hideous looking site with some links and resources. Kinda like how my blog is looking now. *Sigh* Why can’t art sites be more aesthetically pleasing? Oh, the irony.
  5. Lynda.com: Adobe Illustrator/Photoshop Modules – http://www.lynda.com/Illustrator-tutorials/Illustrator-Insider-Training-Type-Text/70166-2.html

Anyway, you get the idea. I have a few more resources to share, but right now, I’m focused on toward ways to earn money while doing creative projects. I’m also working on submitting a poster idea for a contest, so I should get to working on that. More on this later.