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402 days. 402 (plus or minus… mostly minus) posts.

Tag: art

XOX-Woah: The Best Headline for The Best Fest

It’s been hard to put together coherent thoughts on my time at XOXO 2016. As my coworker Braden acknowledged, “That thing was designed to not be recap-able.”

It’s because, much like the internet herself, the XOXO festival is organized chaos—a structured, shared space to build ambiguous relationships, create content, and consume everything you find interesting. It’s an experience, not a set of takeaways.

When I first heard about XOXO, it was billed an “experimental festival” that celebrated independent internet artists, from developers and designers to writers and animators. It sounded cool. Earlier this year, Heben Nigatu tweeted that she was going to be one of the speakers on the same day that William, our developer at Zeus Jones, posted about it on our team Slack—so I figured I’d apply for a ticket.

Yes, apply for a ticket. If I remember right, I had to share what I do, what I work on, and something that I’m really proud of making. I also had to share that I identify as someone who hasn’t always been well represented at XOXO—in this case, as a female. The cofounders, Andy McMillan and Andy Baio, were up-front about the fact that their past attendee rosters haven’t been as diverse as they hoped. I think they also wanted to weed out people trying to attend for nefarious reasons, like for trolling famous internet personalities or poaching UX designers.

So I made it through the initial screening and into the ticket lottery, and wound up getting a spot. The pre-conference set-up was unlike anything I’ve experienced. I was immediately invited into the XOXO Slack team, a universe of 200-some channels, filled with hyper-intelligent unicorn people, all hustling on the coolest projects I’d ever heard of. As a gal with a 9-5 (let’s be honest, 8-7. and maybe again at 9.), and some small—nothing major—performing and writing gigs on the side, I felt like I might not belong there. These people were so impressive. They solved problems, they made art, they wrote books, they CODED. My ability to bold text and possibly make it italic was, er, not something I wanted to share.

But I poked around. Gently prodded. Tried to preemptively figure out where I fit in, and if I could bring any useful nuggets back to the folks at Zeus Jones, who awesomely agreed to pay my conference fee in exchange for shared knowledge.

What I ended up learning, in no short feat (for real; this post is long), is:

1. Most people feel like imposters
2. Most people are just trying to give something to the world
3. Some people are particularly good at being exactly who they are and giving things to the world
4. We can all be one of those number 3 people

So, let’s break these down.

1. Most people feel like imposters

During their Friday morning introductions, Andy and Andy shared this tweet on the big screen behind them.

People in the audience tittered and tweeted, and there was a collective sense that, yes, this tweet represented all of us. We were all asking if we deserved to be there—heck, some of the speakers were asking if they deserved to be there. So in our collective discomfort, we could all just relax.

On its very best days, Imposter Syndrome can manifest as humility (and I do mean humility and not modesty… modesty is just pretentious, amiright?). But overall, it’s the worst. It can trick the most intelligent and innovative humans into believing that their voices aren’t valid or their ideas aren’t worth pursuing. That they’re frauds. Until that tweet, I hadn’t recognized that I fall into the same trap. Every day, I work in an environment where a good idea can come from anywhere. Truly. But because XOXO is framed around the internet, and the internet is an endless trove of cool shit, it can be hard to feel like a meaningful contributor.

2) Most people are just trying to give something to the world

From the people I met on the “XOXO street” to the official conference speakers, it was clear that this idea of meaningful contribution weighed heavy on people’s minds, matched by a desire to unite it with the work they found most personally inspiring.

Starlee Kine (of Mystery Show) may have said it best, when—after a hilarious and meandering sidebar about how she really hates giving people her bio so it’s not surprising that her XOXO bio included producing on Marketplace even though she really only did it once and it was a long time ago but what else was Andy supposed to use—she gave the audience permission do to what inspires them. More specifically, she said that it’s okay to do what doesn’t make you feel tired.

Said another way by shitty robot-maker Simone Geritz: “If you find the thing you do interesting, chances are someone else will too.”

Through that lens, doing inspiring work and making a meaningful contribution are the same thing.

Starlee also brought up that when you do this kind of work, it can be hard to clarify private versus public. She’s not always sure when a thought in her head is for her or when it’s for work. Should she explore it in Mystery Show? Should it go into a tweet? David Rees (of Going Deep with David Rees… also Artisanal Pencil Sharpening) asked a similar question. After running through the list of political and news publications he used to browse all day while writing political cartoons for Rolling Stone Magazine, his question was, “Is this work or am I avoiding working?”

Maybe it’s both.

3) Some people are particularly good at being exactly who they are and giving things to the world

Before calling out specific presenters, I’ll say that I attended almost every talk, presentation and screening, and think every presenter is doing this well—whether they’d describe it that way or not.

Esra’a Al-Shafei is the founder of CrowdVoice, MigrantRights.org, Alliance for Kurdish Rights, Ahwaa.org, and Mideast Tunes (audiophile friends, check this one out, especially—it’s a music platform for discovering underground artists in the Mideast and North Africa). These platforms are literally changing people’s lives. And if you’re wondering why any of us felt like imposters, Esra’a is only 30 years old.

(Much) more importantly than her age, she lives by clear principals. She’s committed to her home country. She works in Bahrain, with other female, queer, Middle Eastern developers. When her stuff gets shut down, she figures out how to get it back online—maybe in a different format. Mideast Tunes was born out of the realization that art can be a powerful way to speak one’s truth without being censored.

She’s also incredibly funny. Whenever she recounted an exchange with another person, she’d effortlessly switch into high-register cartoon voice. In her struggles to establish that she actually, legitimately knows what she’s doing when meeting with potential funders, she squeaked a typical response from an older, male foundation VP: “You know what you need? A mentor! I know just the guy.”

“Giving things to the world” takes many different forms, and it’s not always the most obvious ones. Case in point: Jenn Schiffer, your typical lady code troll. She is intelligently, satirically, and relentlessly changing the narrative about what software development is and who gets to do it well.

If you don’t think mansplaining is a real thing that really happens, especially to non-male developers who actually know what they’re doing, check out the comments on Jenn’s satirical article, A Call for Web Developers to Deprecate their CSS. Even with my (very) (seriously, very) limited understanding of development, I know this is satire. CSS does not refer to California Style Sheets (lol tho) and a quick Google proves Jenn is a legit developer with legit jobs, and legit coworkers and bosses who find her work to be excellent. So I’d assume that in one reading, actual developers would catch on, enjoy the piece for what it is, and move on. But nope.

One example of about a million:

Jenn is doing what she loves while she deconstructs—piece by piece—the toxicity of an exclusionary coding culture that takes itself very seriously. And it’s working.

4) We can all be one of those number 3 people

I left XOXO reinforced that I, too, give things to the world. I solve problems. I make art. I provide insight. Sometimes, I’m even funny. And after spending four days in a vortex of intelligent, good-intentioned people who straddle the line between humility and debilitating Imposter Syndrome with such grace, I’m inspired to do more.

(For more on the topic of doing more with purpose and less of all the other stuff, check out When Work Gets Personal: Building Your Own Strategic Framework).

I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes, and a link to a collection of other XOXO 2016 blogs, compiled by Tantek Çelik.

Quotes

“You do cool stuff! Stop saying it’s not cool!” – Catherine Wood, my favorite new friend who I hope writes me back on Instagram and comes to visit me in not-Canada

“Ideas first and tools later…Your ideas might be smarter than you.” – Simone Giertz

“Don’t talk about diversity. Be about diversity.” – Heben Nigatu

“When you make something too realistic, you don’t give people room to see themselves.” – Brendon Chung

“We have to be able to talk about the problems of success if we want to be successful people.” – Frank Chimero

“Be gentle with yourselves.” – Lucy Bellwood

“For a long time, I believed in the myth of no effort.” – John Roderick

“You don’t know what’ll happen if you put your vulnerability in the wrong hands. Invest time finding the right hands.” – Sammus

And, finally, the key to all monetary successes, as evidenced by his frank and open reveal of the (lack of) money he’s made over the last 15 years: “All you need is a white guy in a black apron and the word artisan.” – David Rees

Day 267: The Thing About Art

The thing about art is that everyone should make it.

If you’ve been to a museum, gallery, sculpture garden, dance performance, theater show, opera, etc., you’ve witnessed art that someone else has created. And maybe you thought it was beautiful, inspiring and insightful. Or maybe you thought it was weird, more weird and just totally weird. If the later is closer to your experience, you probably went home afterwards promising yourself that you’ll only attend another artsy thing if someone you deeply, deeply care about is involved. Or if Google and your TV both break at the same time.

The thing about the second scenario is that it’s awfully common. And it’s a crying shame. Witnessing something someone else has created is like getting to peek inside another human being’s brain while they’re dreaming. And if the dreamer has taken the time to be trained as an artist, it can be an extra-moving experience.

Because maybe their dreams are filled with bright colors, winding stories and fantastical creatures you never thought to imagine. Or maybe they contain complex scientific concepts and questions, and experiments that make the questions visibly grow and shrink. Or perhaps the dreamer’s mind is a dark, disorganized and messy tumbling whirlpool, and they’re using art to pull everything apart and examine the pieces.

Either way, it’s a privilege to witness art, even when it’s ugly.

But making art is more than a privilege. It’s a necessity. It’s a complicated and vulnerable process that gives a person equal parts frustration and joy. Creating art lets us organize, categorize, identify, explode, imagine, be selfish, ask questions, make answers, connect to God, refute God, reach to each other and find common ground.

We’re all born artists, but some of us grow up to be self-conscious adults. But for the entirety of our lives, creativity is an outlet we can access just by turning inward. And it doesn’t require anything other than a brain and a body. (And some other stuff, if you want to get complicated.)

So that’s the thing about art. Happy making.

Gerhard-Richter_4One of Gerhard Richter’s Übermalte Fotografien (painted photographs).

Day 192: 7 Tips for Writing Better Grants

My first real job out of college (aside from my brief and miserable stint as a hotel sales coordinator) was as a development associate for Arts Midwest, one of the best arts organizations of all time, ever. In my role, I got to write a lot of grants. And as I developed my own art, I became more and more immersed in the fund-seeking world.

Recently, I’ve been given the opportunity to participate in the other side of the grant world—as a grant reviewer. It’s been an eye-opening and highly educational experience. For those of you out there trying to raise money to support the beautiful and world-changing artistic work you do, here are seven things you can do to make your grant applications stronger:

1. Describe your project like you’d describe it to your parents’ neighbors. There’s no use in being artistically ambiguous or pretentious in your project description. The reader wants to understand what you’re going to do, how you’ll do it and why it’s important. And they want to understand it quickly.

2. Don’t wing it. If you’re not sure how to complete a component of the application (a timeline, a line-item budget, etc.), do some research (Google). The world wide web is filled with examples, so go out and find them. You’ll start to see the differences between the good examples and the bad examples, so model your work after the good ones.

3. Read the questions. Then answer them. It’s as simple as that. If you find yourself writing the same answer for question 7 that you wrote for question 5, you missed a detail somewhere. Go back, figure out the differences between the questions and be specific in your responses.

4. Ask someone to proofread your work. Remember that friend in college who was super nit-picky about commas? Bribe her to help you out. If you’re the only person who reads your proposal, you’re 97% likely to miss a silly error. (I’m almost positive that’s a real statistic.) Anything you can do to make your proposal clear and easy to read will improve your chances.

5. Demonstrate capability. The reader assumes that if you can plan your project, you can (probably) pull it off. So if the application asks how you’ll evaluate the success of your work, don’t say you’ll figure it out later. Make a plan and describe it.

6. Craft and edit your artist statement. Your statement doesn’t just describe what you do; it contextualizes it. It should give the reader insight into your creative brain and make them want to experience your unique creations. Why are you making art? What inspires you? It’s okay to get a little cerebral, but keep your parents’ neighbors in mind. Be brief and clear.

7. Take it one step at a time. Grant applications can be long and a little overwhelming. Give yourself ample time to read the guidelines and the questions before launching into your narrative. It’s easy to separate the thoughtful proposals from the ones written at the last minute.

Day 93: Advice for Artists

Towards the end of my graduate school career, I was well-prepared to create meaningful work, teach at the university level, articulate the vital connections between dance and societal growth, make the world a better place through art, and push the boundaries of collaboration between dance, technology, cultural studies, philosophy, science and a host of other fields.

But I didn’t know how to make a living.

Lois Welk, Director of Dance USA, came to my Producing Dance class during my final semester and gave the class some wonderful advice. I recently dug up my notes from her visit and think all artists (all humans, really) could benefit from her logic.

She drew a quadrant on the board that looked something like this:

Quadrants

She then told us to view every opportunity in terms of those quadrants. In gig + money terms, here’s how the opportunities shake out:

Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 6.59.04 PM

What became immediately apparent to my class of uber-smart dance academics is that we should not pursue opportunities that don’t whet our artistic appetites or pay for sandwiches (in graphic terms, we should stay away from the lower left quadrant). This should have been obvious before Lois came to visit, but most of us had been saying yes to everything. Every show, every choreography request, every plea for an extra stage hand—all in the name of serving the dance community and increasing our personal visibility.

Lois addressed our misguided actions by reminding us that we continuously brand ourselves based on the decisions we make. Consistently agreeing to do mundane work for free would let the community know that we do mundane work for free (duh). Eventually, we’d all be flat broke and faced with more mundane, low-paying opportunities than we could handle.

Conversely, she gave us a life-long challenge to only consider opportunities that:

  • stimulate our brains and pay well
  • stimulate our brains but don’t pay well (or at all)
  • don’t stimulate our brains but enable us to buy food, pay bills, and rent apartments and rehearsal space

In terms of job and artistic growth, nothing else is worth pursuing.

Day 76: Dating Dancers

Here are nine things you should know about dating dancers (inspired by this clever post about dating architects).

1. Dancers’ tastes are highly prone to change. They might love pancakes and blues music on Sunday and then think pancakes and blues music are the worst on Monday. This adaptability serves them well in the studio. If a movement they imagine doesn’t seem to work in real life, they’ll change it. Or, they’ll spend three hours trying to execute it before realizing they don’t like it anymore anyway.

2. They’re a little stubborn. It’s impossible to lift another dancer while doing a handstand, you say? Watch and learn, buddy. Real-world translation: the dimensions of that bookshelf are too large for the allotted area, you say? Watch and learn, buddy. Two dented walls and a broken bookshelf later, everything fits.

3. They like dance and they’re pretty sure you’ll like it too if you see as much of it as they do. They may shield you from the two-hour “Objectified: Why Ketchup Makes Me Look Like Meat” solo show, but they’ll invite you go to see anything and everything moderately audience-friendly. The great thing is that you’ll actually really enjoy it (most of it).

4. They have anywhere from three to fifteen different jobs, at least two of which are unpaid. This makes them seem scatterbrained at times, but they’re actually highly organized and dedicated.

5. Dancers’ financial planning skills enable them to get from Point A to Point B, but Point B is probably only two months away. Or it’s tomorrow. Dancers’ art is ephemeral and so is their money. That said, they don’t want you to buy them things. They can take care of themselves.

6. They talk a lot about their perpetual injuries, especially when with other dancers. It’s important to note that they aren’t complaining; injuries are just common conversation topics. “How’s that strained psoas today, Jen?” “Oh, it’s fine. But my IT band is killing me. How’s your knee healing?” “Pretty slow. Check out these bruises!” “Ooh, pretty!”

7. To combat the injuries, they’re constantly getting massages, acupuncture, acupressure and a variety of other bodywork methods that aren’t covered by the insurance they probably don’t have. If they’ve been in the field for a while, they have a pile of bodywork receipts somewhere that you should please not touch or move. It’s their accounting pile and it’s arranged just-so.

8. Dancers’ wardrobes tend to be either vintage-trendy or I’ve-been-wearing-this-disgusting-shirt-since-sixth-grade-and-it’s-still-comfortable-so-I-love-it. They have mastered the art of layering and are generally un-bashful when it comes to changing clothes in public.

9. They’re quirky by nature and they appreciate other quirky people. Don’t hide your collection of 1960s troll dolls or the fact that you can’t get up from a table without knocking on it first. Their freak flags are generally pretty close to the surface, so you should always feel free to fly yours.