Last week, I received an email plea. Someone in the art world was headed down to Miami this week, and she was feeling overwhelmed already. She wanted help figuring out how to manage her attention, and how to actually find some good art hiding in the hundreds of gallery booths she would inevitably wander through.
These are tricky questions. Inevitably, at any single art fair, let alone twenty-something of them this week in Miami, you will see much too much art, much of it bad, and you will find yourself suffering from “fairtigue.” But probably the best way to discover some good, interesting art is a combination of two things: planning and mood.
In terms of the first, it makes sense to research the fairs and try to focus on the ones with tastes and aesthetics that align with yours. Then, within a given fair, you can also focus on certain galleries that you know do good work.
But even if you plan correctly, if you’re feeling panicked and stressed and overwhelmed, you’re not going to notice much beyond the ironic neon signs and silly oversize sculptures. Part of finding good art at the fairs is, I think, accepting that you’re just not going to see everything, so you may as well take your time seeing what you can. In other words, you need to achieve a kind of art fair zen.
Advice From a Pro
To that end, I emailed Lucy Jo Palladino, a psychologist and attention expert, to ask her for some insight on how to achieve the peace of mind necessary to actually see and engage with art. Here’s what she had to say:
Art Basel Miami Beach creates excitement, opportunity, and fertile ground for FOMO — the Fear of Missing Out. FOMO is a plain language term for “loss aversion,” a well-established principle in both neuroscience and social psychology. (Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for applying it in the field of economics.) What is “loss aversion?” The adult human brain registers loss three times more intensely that it registers reward. So, left unchecked, the urge to avoid loss is stronger than to achieve gain. The brain is more immediately reactive to “They’re talking about that one. What if I miss it?” than to, “That’s the one I’ve been wanting to see.”
“Understanding this fortifies us in our resolve to keep FOMO in check,” she added.
- Know your purpose for being there. No wind favors a ship without a destination.
- Before you go, plan a reasonable schedule. Does it serve your purpose?
- Know yourself. What distracts you from your purpose? Notice and identify FOMO, and let it know who’s in charge.
- When you’re at the show, create a quiet bond with the art you’re appreciating. If your situation permits, to shut out the noise, use high quality ear plugs or listen to classical music through ear buds. Again, use your distraction as a signal to identify FOMO and put it in its place.
- Stay in the present moment. If you start to feel overwhelmed, close your eyes, go within, and pay attention to your breathing. If the feeling persists, take a break by yourself in a quiet place, preferably outdoors with nature. Simplify your thoughts. Shift to a lower gear. Use anchor words, like “peace,” “focus,” and “here-and-now.” If you feel frustrated about what you cannot get to see, substitute thoughts of gratitude for what you are seeing.
I don’t know about you, but I think letting FOMO know who’s in charge is some serious life advice (especially considering loss registers three times more intensely than reward!). From FOMO to fair zen, everyone. Om.