How to FOMO: Missing Out On the Fear of Missing Out

Gerhard Richter, "Two Fiats," 1964. Photo: Volker Naumann. © Gerhard Richter

Along the long evening avenue of towering hotels during the art fair, you weave through the crowds. Another night. The faces flicker and scatter but many of them you know or think you know or read about or maybe met somewhere. You’ve rubbed their shoulders on molly in a dive bar/ski lodge in Switzerland or shared a taxi in Paris to Le Baron or kissed in Venice on the piazza outside the Bauer or maybe they slept with someone you slept with and you both know it in a glance as they pass, catching your eye but too fast and loose for a word. Or maybe, none of these things happened but their faces simply wear a familiar hunger and exhaustion.

You rush along to the next party, the next cocktail reception, the next private collection viewing and dinner thrown by impresario art dealers and Russian heiresses. You shift and sneak and check your invites, you hustle and cajole, you flirt and beg muscular doormen, telling them anything you can to convince. You know whatever list is in their hands, you’re not on it. Your friends are inside, sending you updates. You want to tell the doormen, “My friends are inside and I’m missing them,” and every new text sends another tear through your tiring soul, the shitty exhaustion of life when you’re stuck at the gates of paradise, unable to get in. Missing out. This is precisely what you were afraid of.

Or: you’re not on the wrong sides of the red velvet stanchions at midnight, you’re at home at your desk receiving messages from far-flung friends who are using your name to sneak into a party you were actually invited to, for once. And you’re checking social media for updates and pics from people you know and people you don’t know but know of, trying to see what can be seen at the biennial, the art fair, the gallery weekend in Berlin, Mexico City, Milan, or wherever you aren’t. Everyone is taking pictures of that one thing, and you feel a little shiver of cynicism about its obviousness.

Or maybe you’re just trawling the internet in your pajamas, feeling benevolent about all the perceived magic of others’ good times. You see that a retrospective of the artist that changed your life is opening in Munich or Buenos Aires. In a flush of excitement, a need to see this rare and special thing, you check ticket prices and then your bank account and then close your computer. You go make yourself a cup of coffee instead.

That picture you almost bought for a hundred dollars just sold at auction for a hundred thousand.  

There are three openings tonight in three different parts of the city and it’s only possible to do one. Your old friend, your new friend, the hip space that just opened, the fancy blue-chip, the one you most want to see, the one you ought to see. Now make a choice. Was it the right one?

Afterwards, and we’ve all done this, you trawl the night, full of hunger and energy for the things you missed, sopping with desire and agency. You are looking for something out there in the darkness, call it the Perfect Party, but it’s really something else. You’re seeking that one experience that you will give you some elusive sublimity and peace. But the night rolls on until it ends, for all of us, sooner or later, all dashed out in a hollowed-out high at the after-after-after party, where your body, pushed to its most elastic boundaries, simply and finally collapses. Or maybe at a much earlier hour, a responsible hour, you flick the screen of your phone as you sit in your car, on the subway, in the taxi, and look at all the world has to offer, but not for you.

And just sometimes, you almost see it all. And the blur is a blur and you’re not sure you’ve seen much of anything. You collapse fully clothed and sleep for two days, punctuating your unremembered dreams with sluggish crawls to sustenance, ‘90s sitcoms, more oblivion. In a moment of rare clarity in the aching fog of both too much and not enough, you wonder what you’re chasing and then, for a briefest flicker, if something’s chasing you?

Those nights, you know there’s a place where the world stops spinning and you look around and seek exactly what you most desire: beauty, ability, style, power, catharsis, bravery, grace. But you missed it, again. You try your best to live a life where you live, but you still steal a glance and spot, with an itchy eye, where you are not.

In art, to miss out feels like a professional fuck-up or a fuck-you, or a sharpish reminder of exactly where you fall. Your accomplishments, hard-won and deserved, feel just a little bit smaller.

The flicker of images flickers out, you turn the screen off and set it aside. You look out your window, then make yourself a pot of tea and pull a novel from the shelf. Or you glance up from your phone, and right there is a work of art you hadn’t seen before. It’s suddenly hitting you at just the right angle. You do not photograph it, but instead just feel it all the way through and back again. You were alive to see this and it beckons you to live longer.

Behind you, the music’s started and these people, here, are dancing. You turn to look at their faces, familiar and new, and feel the tug of the evening, not to see everything but to see this, where you are, with who you are with. They are beautiful and alive and so are you. Your eyes pass over it, and you feel a wave of gratitude not be anywhere else.  

After this, there is tomorrow, but not yet.


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  • Mike says:

    Oh, poor you. You have to go travelling the world, hopping from party to party, the biggest worry on your mind whether or not you’ll get to see a new work of art that probably costs more than America’s median annual income. The biggest stressor on your mind whether or not you’ll get to see your expensive/exclusive friends inside an expensive/exclusive club. The grandest struggle of an era, your ecstasy high wearing off. I am just devastated for you, my friend.

    • Andrew says:

      Hi Mike,
      Thanks for taking some time out of your day to comment. I think what I’m talking about is the struggle to find meaning in the world. I think that all of us worry about being left out, feeling that we’re missing something in life, that others have privileges that we don’t possess but wish we had. I’m advocating here (perhaps poorly) that we shuld concentrate on what;s in front of us rather than let this feeling dominate. Sometimes people do drugs. Sometimes they go to parties. Sometimes I stand in front of prisons that the cost of which to keep a single inmate for a year is quite a bit more than the American median annual income (money I wish was spent on art maybe rather than caging a human). My family and i do our best to solve the terrible inequalities in our world and community with what we can, and all of us, yourself included I hope, are all doing our bests to find meaning in our lives where we can with what we can where we are.

      • Mike says:

        Thanks for the response. Sorry for the harsh (and potentially unwarranted) criticism on my part. I do enjoy your writing style and realize it is much easier to criticize others through the dense filter/gap/barrier that is the Internet. I respect your decision to take the high road anyway. Everyone’s making their way through this world in the ways they know how, and perhaps I am just frustrated with the state of things, including my own inclinations towards art when I know there are so many other incredibly pressing issues at hand in this fucked up world. I was venting that frustration rather than trying to create a personal attack, and it came off very negative in my hasty retort. I do know that pit-in-the-stomach feeling of missing out, and it fucking sucks. Keep writing. Keep taking the high road. Don’t let the asshole in humanity bring you down. Peace, Andrew—and thanks.

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    • Andrew says:

      Hi Michael,
      Also thanks for taking a moment out to comment. I appreciate your writing and the contributions you’ve made in a long career. This particular series is an attempt to think about how we move through a specific community and the feelings that some of us might have there. It’s more meta-criticism in this sense, attempting to think about the context in which art is made and distributed as opposed to analysis of specific works. I do this often in other pieces which I’d be happy to direct you towards. My form of criticism or engagement with art through writing is specific to me, I don’t pretend it’s the best or right way to do this, but as you yourself understand, we do our best to find those things and moments that are worth relating to others in the voices we have.

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