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Restraining Order uses art to explore economics

The image of “the artist” has become a universal trope—free-spirited, impulsive, unpredictable. The recent exhibit at the Center for Advanced Hindsight, headed by professor of behavioral economics Dan Ariely, challenges this notion with the installment Restraining Order: The Art of Self-Control. Twenty-six local artists participated in the exhibition and reflected on self-control through their work in both written and visual forms. Over the allotted two months of the project, Ariely requested weekly pictures of the developing pieces, documenting the progress and requiring the artists to incorporate self-discipline in their artistic process. Many of the participants were returning artists from the center’s previous exhibitions “Creative Dishonesty: Cheat Codes” and “Poor Quality: Inequality.”

“I really like the social awareness values that this [project] has, that many other art exhibits don’t have,” said artist Gracelee Lawrence, who also has been involved with the previous two shows. “[They bring] in outside research, ideas and experiences in a really upfront way…rather than something that might be in the background.”

While self-control is a very prevalent idea in behavioral economics, Ariely also has a personal connection to this exhibition’s focus. His interest in self-discipline and immediate versus long-term rewards began at a stay in the hospital, where he was required to take medications with unpleasant side effects.

“It was something that was good for me in principle in the long term, but every particular day it was just miserable,” said Ariely.

While he did not find the long-term goal of eventually improving his condition particularly motivating from day to day, he used smaller daily rewards as incentive for taking his injections. From there, Ariely began to think about other ways where our short- and long-term priorities tend to conflict.

“I started to think …‘Where else are there cases where we don’t do the right thing for ourselves in the long term but we could fix it?’”

With this exhibition, Ariely hopes to tie in both the scientific and artistic aspects of human behavior to provide additional insight about the topic. He sees both mediums as distinctive ways to accomplish similar goals.

“Art is a way to reflect on life and science is a way to reflect on life, so I think the beginning of the two are very similar…What fascinates me is that they provide you with two very different types of lessons to observe the same things,” he said.

In the exhibition, the artists took many different approaches to this project, some incorporating personal experiences or knowledge of self-control into their art, while others employed self-discipline techniques while creating their piece. Lawrence allotted 30 minutes every day for the creation of her paper installation, providing an additional challenge to her craft.

“My [interpretation] was quite literal – my own restraint was in the creation of the piece,” she said.

In another piece, an artist used a seven-by-eight matrix to represent the days of the week over the two-month period. If he completed his work from his second job, he allowed himself to fill in a portion of the painting that week. If he did not accomplish his work goals or if he did not exercise, he wrote the words “poor” or “flabby” on the painting.

“He used the art to make him behave very differently,” said Ariely.

Artists also felt that this exhibit showcased to viewers the self-control necessary in an artistic career. While many people may see artists as less organized or disciplined, the participants argue the opposite.

“There’s a lot of stereotyping that goes on about art and the people that make it their careers; about how artists are spacey or disorganized or overly subject to their emotions,” Kimberly Gormley, whose work is also in the exhibition, wrote in an email. “As an artist, and as the daughter of two artists, I can tell you this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Fine artists are all self-employed to a degree, which takes an incredible amount of self-control and discipline.”

Ariely anticipates that the exhibit spurs discussion surrounding how we use self-control in our day-to-day lives, and how we each see the world differently. The artists hope that through this project, audiences can see the work and development that goes along with its creation.

“An important thing is to look deeper into the process of the pieces rather than the just the finished product,” added Lawrence, “thinking about how the concepts came to be and also how the specific pieces of artwork came to be – instead of just looking at them as an object, thinking of them as a process.”

Restraining Order: The Art of Self Control will be on display at the Center of Advanced Hindsight, located at 2024 W Main St, Bay C until Feb. 22.


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