Nice People Finish First

I’m a “nice girl.” I know this about myself. I’ve often told that I may be too nice…perhaps too trusting. “Nice guys finish last” is the old trope that men, in particular, like to point out when they don’t get what they want. I have opinions on this (like I do with most things), but I won’t get into all that.  My point is that I am well-aware of all the problems with being a “nice” person.

“…but you’re so nice.”

I’ve struggled with this characteristic of being a nice girl: On one hand, it has given me immeasurable opportunities to connect with people. On the other, it perhaps reflects some of my inherent need to be accepted, to be liked, and to avoid confrontation.  I’ve also been screwed over more times than perhaps I choose to count. The latter doesn’t bode well with me, especially considering the inevitability of stepping on a few toes and hurting feelings in the game of Art. That can be a dissertation in itself: whether or not you can establish a career in Art without competition. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible at the current state of things- blame Capitalism, blame poor taste in Art, blame Canada, blame it all—but I try my best so I can keep going.

Milestones

As you may know, I’ve recently hit few big milestones in my career in the past few months: landing two great positions with a leading art supplier, Savoir Faire, as a demo artist and a marketing contractor– and being selected to join Pacific Felt Factory as one of the first artists in a brand new,  creative think-tank/community minded artist space in a highly competitive, hostile space/housing market. These are significant achievements for me, mainly because they contribute to three important elements in building my long-term art career:

  • Financial stability
  • A like-minded community of great artists
  • An affordable space to do it in

Oh yeah, and I’m also still teaching the kids. As I said in a previous post, Art is a game of survival, and I’m here to play the long game. In this game, there are no defined rules, no prescribed milestones. You just have to make your own and celebrate them as you see fit. So friends, let’s party!

It Takes a Village

That said, I am enormously proud of these accomplishments because I know I did my part in getting them, but my pats on the back are limited, because, if I am truly honest with myself, I’m pretty sure I didn’t do it on my own merit as an artist. Sure, some of my early success as an artist must have played a factor. But if I’m honest, every one of these opportunities trace back to my one characteristic that has also given me pause: being a nice person. The truth is that I have so, so many people to thank in every little success I have– whether it’s a live painting gig, a commission, a salon I host, a show I’m in, or even just a meal I enjoy (Thank you, Carlos. ;)) Although it seems a bit silly to feel so much gratitude for something so insignificant to others, I feel it all the same so I’d like to acknowledge them… because when other artists ask me how I get these opportunities, I can help them connect the dots and hopefully convince them that– despite the risks, nice people win.

On Getting the Studio

1360 Mission

Current studio I share Downtown with Sandra Yagi (www.sandrayagi.com)

I originally wrote about 6 paragraphs about this, but realized it was really TL;DR (too long, didn’t read), so here’s the synopsis: If you buy me a drink I’ll divulge all the details and more. Here’s how it happened:

December 2013: Met Sandra Yagi by chance, after I spoke on “Choice” Panel, a show juried by Catharine Clark of Catharine Clark Gallery, hosted by Arc Gallery.

April 2014: I featured Sandy at “Escapism” at Art Song Salon – the salon Jessica Wan and I host quarterly. I visited Sandy at her studio afterwards, and we chatted about studio prices being exorbitant. A few days later, she asked me if I’d be interested in sharing her studio. I said HELL YES.

June 2014 (?): Not sure exactly when, but I moved into Sandy’s studio on 10th and Mission.

December 2014: Sandy tells me Michael Yochum (from Arc Gallery) has been working with some folks to a huge project in the Mission aimed to provide long-term, affordable studios for SF Artists and a creative space for gallery talks, lectures, workshops, and events for the community. They wanted a diverse group of well-established, gallery-represented artists who were in need of studio space. Sandy jumped on it, so did I.

March 2015: Found out that not only did Sandy get a studio, I qualified for my own space at Pacific Felt Factory as well. I suspect Michael Yochum and Priscilla Otani gunned for me to get the space, along with Sandy, who has worked and been friends with Michael and Priscilla for years.

Brand new studio building under renovation

Brand new studio building under renovation

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On Getting the Job

novato

This one was much more straightforward: I met Rick Kitagawa and Eve Skylar while taking a course at City College back in 2010, I think, and we’ve stayed in touch. Rick and Eve are amongst my favorite people, and their pure grit, humility, passion, and hustle has inspired my artistic career. So when Rick referred me to Savoir Faire as a potential demo artist, I was honored. After interviewing with Savoir Faire, I realized I also had a mutual friend to the founders of the company, Deb Cook Shapiro, a fabulous painter in my studio building. I had also been helping Deb with some of her tech stuff, which led her to give me a glowing recommendation to Maureen and Pierre at Savoir Faire, who asked me in for a few interviews and promptly offered me a job as their marketing manager.

Surrounding Myself with Good People

me and the crew at open studios

If that was too much for you to read: Here’s an even shorter version. I acknowledge that I’m a crazy lucky person, so I will never take full credit for my successes. BUT– if I were to take credit, it would be for being able to surround myself with great people who, despite having had their fair share of difficulties, choose to be kind and supportive. When I think about the crazy trajectory that I have taken in the past three years since leaving Google, I can only be grateful to those who have believed in me and helped me get to this position. The rest is up to me, and it will be a long game, but I know one thing: I’ll do my best to succeed, and help others get there too.

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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 


Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

Image  Photo: Carlos Lopez

I decided to move to SF in 2004, after graduating UCLA. True to SF tradition, I packed up my life in a VW and cried all the way up the Interstate 5 freeway. I had no job lined up, just a room with three other girls on the corner of Haight-Ashbury. At the time, my rent was $700/month for a prime location. I still worked two jobs to make about $1000/month. I had no savings, so that didn’t last long.

Fast forward to almost a decade later, and I’m in a much better spot: I took a job at Google for a few years, saved up, and quit to become a full-time artist. This makes me a bit of a unicorn in this City, because I see both sides of the Gentrification debate. I have good friends on both sides of the heated discussion, and I am conflicted.

Full Disclosure: For all intents and purposes, on all superficial fronts, I am a full-fledged yuppie transplant. I don’t claim to understand what it’s like to be an SF native. What I do know, however, is the fact that I came here because I loved the City. I love San Francisco for its natural beauty, the fact that the fog paints the light in such a way that this City glows in a different light every single day. That, I can walk down the same streets and look at the same view every single day and see something different and inspiring. I loved the people I know and met here; people cared more about what you know versus who. I loved that people cared about touchy feely stuff, they were politically engaged– they simply, cared.

Fast forward to 2013, a time of ridiculous rents and imminent class divides in this fair city, and what I see are a brand new class of residents who simply don’t care. People like Peter Shih, (no relation I swear) who got busted saying idiotic shit at the wrong place and the wrong time and became the poster child of the assholes ruining the City. In my opinion, Peter Shih’s only crime was his total disregard for the City he hoped to cash out in. To him, and many others, SF is simply a City like NYC to live in, conquer, and move on to the next sexy city.

What I see in San Francisco is a beautiful, tolerant City who isn’t afraid to evolve. We’ve made it through earthquakes, hippies, and we will survive the tech boom. No one is mad about change. What people are angry with, I think, are entitled, young rich people who come in believing that they earned everything they have by themselves, at no expense to their communities. I’d even go as far as to say, a lot of these people really believe they’re making SF a better place simply by moving here. Newsflash: the fact that I’m paying property taxes in SF does not make me some kind of saint, it is my duty as a resident here. Going out to eat at fancy restaurants and bars doesn’t somehow contribute to trickle-down economics. No one asked me to move here.

Now, I’m not asking to resolve the differences between the haves and have-nots. There will always those, and no one denies that. But the sense of smugness, of entitlement, and lack of community concern is really troubling. I say, if you really care about this City, ask yourself why you moved here, and get involved in making that part of the City better- whether it’s through the Arts, the Environment, Education, or Mental Health. If you don’t have time, donate money. If you code, check out Code for America (SF), if you want to help the Arts, check out SOMArts.org,  if you want to volunteer but you’re an Atheist, go to Glide Memorial. Use your talents, whatever it is, and give back to the colorful, vibrant, tolerant community you live in. Do it on a local level, and stop acting like you’re making neighborhoods better simply by moving there. Read about the history of your neighborhood. Chances are, it had its fair share of problems, but was just as awesome before you moved in.

And to my artist friends complaining about tech people. Make your demands. What is it that you want, that would make the City better? Patronage toward Arts organizations? Donations to the SF Food Bank? Blocking the Google bus and impersonating employees doesn’t help articulate the issue. Also, don’t just whine about the City changing, it’s going to happen. That’s the beauty of this City, no two days ever looks the same. That’s why I came. We’re just all here to make it better.


MFA Rankings = A Whole Lot of BS

Been researching more MFA programs lately, and attended the SFAI Graduate Portfolio Day yesterday.  A few observations:

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The view from SFAI is both beautiful and ominous. Symbolic in many ways.

1. Researching MFA programs and MFA prospects is inherently depressing. But I was given great feedback on my portfolio, particularly by Scott Hess, from Laguna College of Art + Design, Yolanda Hester from Art Center College of Design, and SFAI. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

2. I met this 20-year old girl from Fresno who had a solid graphic design portfolio, who wanted to learn more about MFA programs but was totally shut down and discouraged by CalArts and Art Center. I told her she’s already ahead of the game by just showing up and putting herself out there, because most artists find excuses not to show up (for a myriad of absurd reasons). This appeared to make her feel better, but it brings me to this point: Art Schools, you are not doing anyone justice by being jerks. Your role is to educate and help. Quit being snobs.

3. Why is US News.com still considered a reliable source for school rankings? Their ranking methodology looks largely like a whole lot of bullshit: http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/articles/2013/03/11/methodology-best-fine-arts-schools-rankings

“Schools in the specialty rankings, which are based solely on nominations from school officials, are numerically ranked in descending order based on the number of nominations they received as long as the school/program received seven or more nominations in that specialty area.” 

….Um, Are you kidding me? 


What Inspires Me.

People often ask me, “What Inspires You?” And I’ll tell them: People who have paid their dues, pursued their dreams relentlessly, and came out with amazing Character. People like my friend Cathy, aka Eva Dilcue of The Generators. She is not only a brilliantly talented visual artist, I recently also found out she was the lead singer for a punk band called The Generators back in the 80s out in Cleveland, Ohio. And the best part is? They’re f–king FANTASTIC. I’m not joking. They’re a balls out, rockin’, female-led version of the Dead Kennedys. Maybe even better. I mean, they good. Honestly, I really think the only reason they didn’t get as big as they should have was because back then, the record industry was still controlled by the Man. They recorded a bunch of music for a record deal but the Man ran off with some floozy and probably headed down to Mexico before getting offed by the Cartel or something. OK, I’m making that up. Probably happened that way, though.

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But it’s really too bad, because they just don’t make music– and people like this anymore. The good news is that Eva recently dug up some of these old recordings and we sat down together to put them up on a SoundCloud page. She created a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TheGenerators1980s and we decided to release them to the world as a tribute to their band. Eva didn’t think anything of it at first, she just wanted to make sure she preserved their legacy in the age of Social Media and the Internet.

BUT THEN, THINGS GOT EXCITING. Within days, the old Generators fans rolled in one by one, each one of the band members joined in, and people came right out of the woodwork to talk about how amazing the band was (and still is!) It was amazing to witness. All the band members were scattered across the country, doing their own creative thing or still making music, and the Facebook page made it possible for everyone to reconnect after 30 years.

Since then, Eva has been contacted by fans in Cleveland and all over the country, and is currently taking a trip back to Ohio to reconnect with a former bandmate, Neon Don. This is their first jam session upon reuniting: https://soundcloud.com/neondonb/make-it-in-the-world-eva-neon, and I can’t stop smiling when I listen to it. Also here’s a picture of them today:

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(Hi Guys!)

It’s been THIRTY years since they’ve seen each other. That’s how long I’ve been alive. And I say that with admiration and respect, because the thought of being so passionate about something for as long as they have fills me with so much hope and inspiration– that I can honestly say I know someone who has lived the life of creativity. Someone who has undoubtedly seen so much, being a fiery, five-foot-nothing, female punk rocker from back in the day, who stayed true to herself and still rocks to this day.

These are the types of stories that inspire me everyday. Stories of incredibly talented, creative, and passionate everyday people who, despite never getting recognized by the mainstream or gained monetary success in their artwork, just keep waking up every day and plugging away. And guess what? They keep getting better. I’ll leave you with this gem of a song that’ll keep you rockin’: https://soundcloud.com/eva-dilcue/usa.

Eva, no matter what you do, don’t stop kicking ass, and if you guys manage to do a reunion show in SF, I’ll be there, front-row, dressed in my best punk outfit. 🙂


Going Down the Rabbit Hole

Now that the sun’s out, I’m going to attempt to analyze this further: 

I exist in a constant struggle between trying to, on one hand, understand how labels work, and not wanting to be labelled myself. But, communication/relevancy/connection with people require labels. In our society, we have: words and images to describe what we mean. These are both, by definition, limited. Even now, as I use words to describe what I mean, you’re at most- getting about 60% of what I mean. Not because I’m profound, but because of what these words fail to convey. 

We go around in life, trying to make sense of ourselves and how others perceive us through these labels because that’s the only way we communicate and make sense of the world. Some people fall into Angst here, because these limitations are frustrating. As an artist, I find that awareness and understanding of this dichotomy is interesting because that’s how I can ultimately and hopefully– transcend/break these limitations. On the other hand, trying to understand perception and how labels limit this is already going down the rabbit hole… beyond what others want, or care to think about. You’re already becoming less relevant to most people and to society.

But here’s the thing. I don’t think it’s because “most people” are shallow, or don’t care because they don’t understand. I think it’s because, for them, the ways things work (rife with limitations) works just fine. I like to think about these things because I think they matter, and awareness elevates people to think past its limitations and break the cycle.

I’m also apparently a masochist. <– Label.

 


The Seed of Elitism.

So much to say these days, I don’t even know what will come out as I write this. All I know is that these are the times I need to sit down and write, because I have no idea what I’m thinking until it comes out on the page.

Updates on Me, in case you care: the “underCurrents” show ended, I got into another one called “Shifting the Body,” opening in Pacifica, in July (hooray!).  Spring semester classes just ended, I’m got some fun live painting and teaching gigs, I’m continuing to consult with artists and work in social media, and I’m selling work and commissions. With all this, I sat alone last week and thought to myself, “This is fucking amazing. I’m doing the art that I care about, I’ve grown to the point emotionally, that I can finally not be embarrassed to call myself an Artist. I’m an Artist. (Holy shit!)”

Then I thought: this is exactly what I wanted, and I’m about a hundred times happier now that I ever was, sitting in meetings and responding to emails for the purported, Best Company to Work For. But, um, what now?

Sidebar: I’ve never been one to congratulate myself. But here, in the Art universe, you have to learn to pat yourself on the back– because that’s all you’re gonna get. No one is going to hand you a check for showing up every day, or give you a bonus because you put in 20 more hours of work a week. That’s expected. And for better or worse, you’re gonna have to be your own cheerleader and your own critic.

That said, I knew I had to figure out a way to pat myself on the back for coming this far, and simultaneously kick myself in the ass to keep going. I recognize that having only spent a year doing this full-time, getting into seven juried shows, seeing my work evolve and get better, and making some money doing it isn’t anything to shrug at. All that is good and dandy, but what now? I need to keep doing this, and the reality is, I’ll need money to do it.

So, I’m standing at the crossroads– on one hand, I see the need for the funds to do more art, but the defensive, egotistic side of me refuses to see money as a reward for all the accomplishments I’ve made. Putting a monetary value on my personal growth as an artist just doesn’t seem right. It cheapens all the gain I thought I achieved. But that– that, right there is the seed of Elitism. I see it, I acknowledge it, but I can’t keep myself from preventing it from happening.

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I hear it all the time, Art is inherently elitist and exclusionary. Yes, but the irony of it all is that Art is also the only thing that unites us all as humans. (Sidebar: read that article by Leon Wieseltier, it’s provocative and important.) We need art because our society is quickly starting to confuse money with wealth, and information/data with knowledge.

We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily, even giddily governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency, and convenience. The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning – to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work.

But I digress.

In a lot of ways, I see that Elitism comes from the artist’s need for self-preservation. Observing the artist trajectory, I see this happening a lot (sorry for the shitty flowchart):

I’m good at painting/drawing/sculpture/writing/etc, and I want to do this more, but I don’t know if I can be called an artist. —-> Fuck what people think anymore, I’m an Artist. —->  Oh, crap, this is vulnerable and not always fun. Plus dumb people don’t like/understand my work…

This is where the fork splits for the first time in an artist’s career. We all want credibility above all else, and when we don’t get the reward we want, it goes in two directions:

1. Everyone is stupid. I’m an artist, I do what I want. Or,

2. OK, I’m missing something. How do I get through to people? (Does that mean I’m compromising the integrity of my work? What else do you have but integrity?)

At this point, Elitism is born. It’s not that artists don’t want to put in the work– artists are far from shy when it comes to doing the work, but here’s where self-preservation starts to limit you, and limits who you share your work with. And isn’t sharing your art the whole point? Furthermore, if it’s not, why would you expect anyone would pay you to do it?

I suppose at this point I should say that I don’t believe democratization equals monetary reward, because that’s more of a secondary result… but the thing I have to remember, is Money is our society’s way of rewarding for value, and value is determined by others. Sure, I can quote Patti Smith and say that with enough integrity and good work, “your name becomes Currency,” but what about making a living so that you can even get to that point (if you ever get there)? 

Believe me, if I had it my way, I would never have to think/talk/worry about money, and I spend most of my life avoiding it like the plague, but don’t we all secretly wish people would throw handfuls of money at us for just doing anything we want? Patti Smith might be there now, but she could have just as easily faded to complete obscurity– or worse, Quit. Nothing wrong with that, but when artists quit, they become jaded, and they retreat to being the victim.

At this moment, I’m aware of my own talent–enough to keep trying, and naive enough to believe that I can do more. But the more I progress, the more detached I become, and the more I want to retreat into the little, isolated, “elitist” bubble I feel comfortable with, so I don’t have to explain myself in anyone else’s terms, or worry about money. This is much easier to do. But Guess What? Not having to worry about money is inherently elitist, even if you don’t HAVE any of it! But this is precisely when I have to remind myself of something I wrote a bit over a year ago:

“Congratulating yourself for talent is like congratulating yourself for being tall, or having eyes on your head. What I do with it, and if I have lasting power is what time will tell.”

I need to make this last.