Monthly Archives: March 2009

25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #5

Our stories are already inside us, waiting to come out. All we need is a truly sympathetic listener who will allow that to happen.

Fifth in a series of how to use that 25 Random Things list to write your artist statement.

“They have ears, but hear not….” Psalms 115:6

I marvel every day how we listen–and don’t listen–to each other.

We may think we are listening. But how often do we jump in with, “Oh, that happened to my cousin!”. Or, “I know just how you feel…” Or, “Speaking of cancer, did you know the ancient Greeks thought cancer was caused by eating too many crabs, and that’s why the astrological sign of the crab is also called cancer?” I made that last bit up, by the way, but we all know friends who do that. We do that, too.

We can’t even bear to simply let someone cry. We jump in to soothe and comfort–”It’s okay. It’s all right”–even though it obviously isn’t. Sometimes a hug is appropriate, of course. But sometimes, we’ve cut the person short because their pain is more than we can bear.

Allowing someone to tell their story, giving someone the time and support to really think about what is in their heart, and letting that come out, without comment or interruption, is a powerful gift.

I learned about this technique of really, really listening to someone, from Deborah Kruger. I took a workshop from her called “Empowerment for Women in the Arts”, where we learned how to form small support groups for each other, groups where we could freely share, in safety and kindness, our highest vision for our art.

Interestingly, it looks like we’ll be practicing the same skill in my hospice training.

Why should we learn to be good listeners today? So you can get to the bottom of why you make the stuff you do.

It can be a little tricky of you’ve never done this before, but it’s a great technique if you’ve tamped down your passion for so long, even you don’t know what it is. It might take a few tries, but if you are willing to do the hard work of really saying what is in your heart, you will find what lies there.

This exercise works well with 2-3 people. You can take turns listening to each other. All you you need to be on the same page. You need to be a good listener, and you need to find a good listener. That’s why I move back and forth between “you” and “them” in this article.

Find someone who loves you and/or loves what you do. Someone who truly wants you to succeed with your art, who wants only good things for you.

Find someone who has not a shred of jealousy or back-stabbing or passive aggression. Someone who, if you say, “I once threw up on someone” they’d say, “Yeah, hey, that was me but I know it was an accident and I still love you” and not “Um…yeah…look, I just remembered another appointment, can we do this later?”

Explain what your working on. They are going to hold your feet to the fire until you confess what it is you deeply, truly care about.

And they are going to do it with perfect kindness and perfect support.

Make sure they understand they are NOT to tell you “what you should do” or what they think. There will be no giving of advice today. They can only ask questions that force you to step up to the plate, questions that probe deeper until you hit your inner truth.

Oh! If you have another trusted friend who can take notes, that would help. But in a pinch, you can either tape this conversation or let your friend write your responses down. But it has to be quick–the PROCESS, the conversation is more important than getting it down perfectly. Although, sometimes asking for more clarity, or repeating what you think you’ve heard before you write it down, is a good listening tactic, too. (see Rule #2 below)

THE RULES: (and these are important)

1) The only response the listener can make is signs of loving acceptance.

We often stood up and held hands, but the important thing is eye contact and a smiling face or a calm face. (I tend to frown when I’m listening really hard, and I have to consciously control that when it’s my turn to listen.) No hugs til the end. Tears are okay.

2) No dialog!

The only questions you can ask are to ask for more information about something the speaker has said. And do that minimally. Just use it to clarify, or to move the narrative along, or help the speaker refocus if they get off course.

The scribe/recorder can only ask a question, with the speaker’s permission, and with the same guidelines, and only if everyone really seems stuck.

But…(and this is really important):

3) Give them time to answer.

We’re so used to giving pat answers, or short answers, because we’re not used to someone listening so carefully, to being so fully present. Silence is okay. You’ll be surprised how many speakers will pick up the thread on their own, once they realize the listener is not going to jump in and take it for themselves.

4) All of this is done in safety.

What goes on here is private. The speaker must know and believe that what they say will not be repeated, nor even referred to again, without their express permission. We all know about attorney-client privilege and doctor-patient privilege. That’s how you’re going to think about this process, okay?

5) Give enough time to answer, but timed so you have to focus.

The first time is rough, because the process is so different than any way we’ve ever talked with each other before. But half an hour should be enough time to some part of our story out.

6) Practice.

This exercise gets easier with practice. If you can’t quite “get there” with your first try, then try again another time.

In the workshops I took with Deborah, we asked four questions that led to a plan of action. For the purpose of finding the heart of your artist statement, we’re just going for one really great question:

Why do you make the art you make?

Yep, it’s that “why? why? why?” thing again. Why? Because it works.

We are looking for your artist statement, your mission statement. Literally, your reason d’etre, your “reason to be”. Why you are here, on this planet, why you are here at this point in time, why you are living this life of yours, to make this art.

(Relax. It sounds hard, and it is, but it’s exhilarating, too.)

A good warm-up question is: “Tell me what’s special about your art” (Note to questioner: Almost every artist will answer this question with an explanation of their techniques. Take good notes here, because this is a way of waffling. But it CAN lead to some good, honest answers later.

Other questions you can explore:

How to people respond to your art? Why do you think they respond that way?

What kind of people love your work enough to buy it? Why do you think THEY respond that way?

When did you start making this work? (Questioner: If something traumatic started this, take notes and follow this thread. Because something changed in order for this to happen, and that’s important.)

Why did you start making it? Was it required for a class? Did you do it with someone else, say a relative who showed you how?

Why do you make that? Why do you use those materials, those techniques?

Any time you get some adademic-bs or artist-speak (“I love to explore the interstices that occur between the full saturation of colored edge and line…”) or a cliche (“I just love color!”) start applying pressure.

This is where it gets hard.

I can’t give your questioner hard-and-fast rules about where to press and where to back off. But a sensitive person will know where you are bull-shitting about your answers, fobbing them off with a glib answer or a smart answer instead of a deep, rich answer.

You may feel angry at the person for pressing you–that’s a good sign! You may be scared at first and get defensive. The questioner can decide whether to keep pressing or “move sideways”, anything to get you past those defenses.

Because what you are defending yourself against is expressing the thing that really means something to you, and you are afraid to say it because people might laugh at you.

Social scientists say we fear humiliation more than almost anything else in life. Sometimes we fear it more than we crave success.

I believe the reason we fudge our artist statements, and why we find it hard to talk about this stuff, is we are afraid of looking like an idiot.

What you must understand is…that’s okay.

It’s part of the human experience. And we are human.

So at this point, where you are fudging and avoiding and getting defensive and hostile, your listener needs to go for the big guns.

And bring out that WHY word, over and over and over til you give it up:

The real reason you feel compelled to make the work you do.

They’ll know it when they see it, and hear it. And you will, too.

Because you-the-artist will act differently, and speak differently.

You may stand straighter (if you do this exercise standing up). I’ve seen some people literally “step up” and take a step forward.

Your voice may deepen. You may talk faster if you’re a slow talker, or slow down if you’re normally articulate.

But the clincher is when you, or your listener feel a shiver run down your spine, or a thrill in your heart.

You will have spoken your truth.

And when you speak your truth, from your heart, people hear that. They FEEL that.

Congratulations! You now have the heart of your artist statement.

I’ve done workshops using this technique to get at the heart of artists’ stories. I could always tell when we’d struck gold:

“I had a baby, I nearly died, and everything changed.”

“My grandmother took care of me because my parents couldn’t, and grandma taught me how to do this. And when I make this work, I still feel her love and kindness in my heart.”

“I lost my husband, my job, and my house. I had nothing left, except this… And it saved my life.”

These are the moments in life where something important happened, whether we knew it at the time, or not. But these moments are part of who we are, as human beings. They may be moments of love, or joy. They may be moments of yearning. They may be moments of self-discovery and survival. Whatever they are, your art is a response, or an outcome, of these moments.

Other human beings will respond to that, and respect it. Other people will connect with that–”Me, too!”–and be inspired. Or consoled. Or empowered.

Telling your story helps others to discover their story. And the connection continues.

We’ll talk more about how you can edit this and round it out with other random, interesting things about you to make a powerful statement about you and your work.

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Filed under art, artist statement, business, craft, inspiration, life, listening, self promotion, telling your story

CLEANING UP, CLEANING OUT–AGAIN!!

I was wondering if it were maybe time to start clearing out again. I’d almost talked myself out of it–too much time, too much stuff, it’s spring, dammit, I want to read a book and take a nap and enjoy the sun.

But no. I browsed through a friend’s blog to another blog to another blog and ended up here: http://voodoonotes.blogspot.com/2009/03/myth-of-scarcity.html and here:http://rozwoundup.typepad.com/roz_wound_up/2009/03/scarcitya-corollary-to-journaling-superstition-4-perfect-pages.html.

Dang. Oh well. Maybe I’ll clean out some more after my book. And my nap.

And I’ll be sooooo glad when I figure out why WordPress is not letting me code my links anymore!!!

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Filed under art, cleaning the studio, craft, life

25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #4

It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to make other people laugh. And it’s okay to write an artist statement about art-that-makes-us-laugh, too.

Many people have left comments or emailed me with concerns about my artist statement series. They say they don’t make “heavy” or “serious” art. They make art that is funny, or cute, or whimsical, or charming, or clever. So they don’t need an artist statement, right?

I’ve always said, if what you’re doing is working for you, don’t change anything.

But I still encourage you to think about why you’ve chosen–or been called–to make that kind of work.

And I encourage you to think about what would happen if you shared that reason, that realization, that insight, with your audience.

Remember when I said your art doesn’t have to be serious, but understanding why you make it is still important?

Here are the reasons:

1) It makes you step up to the plate and take what you do seriously.

2) Joy and laughter and sweetness are passions, too, just as important as more “serious” passions.

3) Your reasons for making this art, whatever they are, are still personal and powerful. People will respond to those reasons.

When I first started making stuff, I, too, made “whimsical” and “sweet” things. I made things simply because I enjoyed it. It was fun!

Then I attended a workshop for blocked or emerging artists. We had to bring examples of our work and talk about it.

I was in a tizzy. I thought of everyone else present as “real artists” and I was not. I just made stuff. There was nothing “heavy” or “serious” about it. Even if you could call what I did “art”, couldn’t art just be for fun?

But something happened when I was forced to really look at my work, to really think about why I made it, and then to talk about that to an audience.

Here is a reconstructed version of what I said about my work:

I make tiny dolls, only 2″ tall, made from recycled sweaters. I make small knitted sheep, too. I crochet small “pouches” on cords, so you can carry a doll or sheep around your neck. I also make small wall quilts based on traditional patterns and made with natural fabrics recycled from used clothing, so they really look old.

I imagined my body of work as something that would intrigue and delight at the same time, little “toys” newly made with old materials, giving them a timeless quality.

I used to think of these pieces as children’s toys, but adults are just as fascinated with them. I think it’s important to have joy and delight in our lives, so I guess in a way, I love making “toys for adults”–tiny little marvels, beautifully made, that enchant and delight.

Almost everything I make would fit in your hand. That is very important to me. I guess it’s so you can have these little gifts with you all the time, and take them out and hold them anytime you need to be happy. Because I want them to make people happy, and joyful.

I laugh when I look back and see how tentative I was about my work, even as I felt so compelled to make it. “I guess…” “I think….”

But in that first “artist statement” (because that’s exactly what it was), I can see the shape of things to come. I can see some of you who are familiar with my work, already nodding and saying, “aha!”

Small artifacts…made to be touched and held in your hand…carried with you as jewelry, as talismans…recycled fabrics and artifacts giving an aura of antiquity to the work….intriguing…connection…

….and passion. Joy.

Within a year, I was making an entirely different body of work, with the same qualities, the same aesthetic, almost the same story–but with a powerful message.

I began to make fabric wall hangings made with recycled fabrics. I made artifacts to put on these quilts; artifacts of ancient horses galloping through endless grass lands, their hearts full of joy and freedom. Artifacts that carried a message for us, that spoke to us across the ages, that told us how to live with more joy and freedom in our hearts.

I learned not to be denigrate how I felt. I learned to respect the reasons why I make what I make. I learned to really love and celebrate the artist in me.

I stepped up to the plate.

Does your whimsical art have to evolve into something more serious? Absolutely not!

In a world full of hardship and horror, pain and destruction, sorrow and sadness, there a profound need for art that makes us rejoice, and dance, and celebrate, and love. There is a time for being silly, for laughter. There is room for all our art.

Joy. Laughter. Delight. Silly. These are all part of the human condition, too. And they are just as important in creating a rich, loving and wonderful life.

There is power in joy, and laughter.

I am only asking you to think about that power, and acknowledge that power, and ultimately, to respect that power in your art, and in your heart.

Coming soon: How to get to that all-important WHY.

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Filed under 25 Random Things, art, artist statement, body of work, craft, humor, inspiration, life, telling your story

NEW JOURNEY: The Fifth Step

I discover I’m not lost–I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

Awhile back, I wrote about a coaching session I had with longtime friend and life coach Quinn McDonald, of http://www.QuinnCreative.com. (I’m leaving out the links because WordPress does not seem to want to process my html coding today.)

During that session, I mentioned my odd desire to sign up for hospice training. Quinn said she didn’t think it was at all odd. After we’d talked, she said I was asking myself, “what are the values that are calling to you to be fulfilled in your life?” They’ve changed since I first started my journey as an artist. No better place to search for them, she said, than to look at what happens at the end of life.

I told a few people about my decision.

Some people said, “Oh, you’d be great at hospice!” I loved their support and faith, but I cautioned them, “I’m not even sure why I’m doing this! But for sure it’s not because I necessarily think I’ll excel at it. I just feel I have to do this.”

Some people pooh-poohed it, or looked at me like I’d given in to the woo-woo thing.

Other people I knew I couldn’t tell.

And most of the time, I just knew I shouldn’t talk about it too much. Sometimes, talking about doing something takes all the energy out of it. Like your brain mistakes the “talking” for the actual “doing.

So I just needed to do it.

Today was my first training session.

It was powerful.

It was amazing.

I cried like a girl. (Well, I am a girl, so that’s okay.)

I haven’t even begun to process everything that happened. And maybe I shouldn’t, for awhile, anyway.

I will say this:

When I first felt the desire to pursue this, I had no idea why. It felt irrational, crazy and self-indulgent.

But now, there is no doubt in my mind anymore.

I KNOW that this….

…this is exactly where I need to be right now.

It is exactly the right place for me to be.

That feeling alone is enough to make my spirit soar for the first time in ages.

I don’t really know much more than that right now. I’m just telling you, so if you have any odd urges or yearnings right now, it might behoove you to check them out.

And yes, behoove is a word.

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Filed under art, change, choices, craft, lessons from hospice, life

MARKETING IN A RECESSION

Here’s a nice little benefit to LinkedIn… I formed a new connection recently, which generated an invitation to connect from the person’s spouse, which led me to his blog, where I found this little gem today.

Ed Sucherman’s post is essentially, hard times come and go, and it can be scary….but people still desire, and need, the same things. He shares a poignant example from his own life, and ends with this thought:

Match your product’s marketing message to the very depths of human emotional needs and you cannot miss. No matter what target market. No matter what economy

In the hands of some people, this could sound manipulative.

In Ed’s hands, it sounds sweeter. Like if we remember that we are all in this mess together…

…If we can remember that it won’t last forever, and if we recognize that, being human, we all still have powerful needs and desires–beautiful, human needs and desires…

…Like our need to love and be be loved, our need for companionship and family, our need to be accepted, our need to feel protected, our desire to be seen as competent, our need for home and security, our desire to find peace and friendship even with those who are strangers to us, our desire for our lives to have purpose and meaning …

…Then we can find a way to do the work (and the art) that is important to us, and find the audience who will find it meaningful, too.

Hey, and how can we express those values we hold?

Yep….your artist statement.

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Filed under art, artist statement, business, craft, inspiration, marketing, mental attitude, self promotion, social networking, telling your story

LinkedIn EXPERIMENT

I’m exploring a new social networking site, LinkedIn, this one for professionals. Professional what?, you ask. Well, there are a lot of professional artists, writers and bloggers there already. You can be, too!

So IF you are already LinkedIn, and IF you read my blog/know my art/read my article in The Crafts Report magazine, or if you’ve enjoyed my guest articles that were published in Clint Watson’sFine Art Views daily email newsletter….

… I’m humbly asking you to recommend me in my LinkedIn Profile.

And if you figure out how to use this new resource, let me know, because everyone is asking me!

If you are NOT already LinkedIn, consider it. I know, I know…. As my friend and fellow TCR writer Nancy Lefever always says, it can feel like we are Plurked, Twittered, Facebooked, emailed and blogged to death and distraction these days.

I agree. Yet I still participate.

It takes time to figure out a comfortable level to work these venues at, and I tend to avoid following anyone who states that they Twitter 152 times a day….

But it’s about visibility, it’s about connections, and it’s about exploring new ways to get our work out there.

Some of these venues will fail miserably, some will peter out quickly. The life span of these new ventures runs about 2-3 years. It’s impossible to try them all, and it’s hard to foresee which ones will amount to anything.

And yet, one of them may forge that one connection that gets your to your next step.

Is it worth it? I dunno. But I’m willing to try.

I actually find it interesting and challenging. A creative act. Just another aspect of my artistic self, connection. My art is all about connecting, so this feels like a natural extension. In a way, building an online presence is another “body of work”, similar to the one we build with our art: Who am I? Who am I to other people? What is my public image, and how much does it align with my private self, and the work I want to do? How does this online presence contribute to the knowledge of others, and to the greater good in the world?

My body of work–my artwork and my writing–tells you who I am as a person, and shows you the better person I strive to be.

Ultimately, this social networking stuff, it’s just another way to tell my story.

And on a lighter note, it can be fun to Twitter, my friends. If it sucks your time, confine it to your coffee break(s).

One bright note….LinkedIn might be a good one to join because it’s easy to search for the contacts you already have. I was surprised to create almost 150 contacts the first day, more than I have in several months of Facebook presence. And the connections are one I already treasure, I just hadn’t thought of them as my network. That person who I met on Freecycle? They work for our city government. That artist who commented on my blog? They work in academia, too.

Suddenly, my world seems bigger than I ever imagined.

Live and learn. And if you are truly a lifelong learner, as I strive to be, we’ll will be learning for many years to come.

p.s. A big shout-out and thank you to Gerri Newfry, who “recommended” my blog before I could even post this! Thank you, Gerri!

And geez, I went back to see how you can recommend me, and I can’t figure it out, either! If someone knows, please let me know, okay? I’m not sure if you have to be signed up on the site, but here are the instructions from LinkedIn:

To recommend a person from their profile:

1. Click ‘Recommend this person’ found in the upper right hand corner of the profile. You will also find a recommendation link in the Experience section under the position for which you want to recommend them.
2. Choose a category: service provider, business partner, student, or colleague.
3. Follow the instructions provided based on the category you selected.

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Filed under body of work, craft, creativity, life, marketing, networking, self promotion, selling online, social networking, telling your story, Twitter, writing

25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #3

Continuing with my mini-series about how to use Facebook’s “25 Random Things About Me” to write promotional materials.

The next question is from an artist who wrote:

“Hi Luann,
I was intrigued by your letter today in the FAS newsletter. I just joined Facebook to find out more about the “list” of 25 things about yourself. After you compiled the list, how did you write it into an artist statement? I really feel clueless how to start. You are a very good writer!”

(This was the question I was going to answer first because of the compliment. Always feel free to put those in, btw….!!)

Okay, so first, you can’t just use the 25 Random Things as your artist statement. That would be a loooong statement!

The list is a) a warm-up exercise for learning to write easily about yourself. And b) a source for snippets about yourself that get to the heart of what you do.

Just like musicians might play scales to warm up for performing, this list is a warm-up for more ‘serious’ writing.

It’s also a way to ‘warm up’ to putting more passion into your artist statement.

I picked “artist statement” as an end goal for this warm-up exercise. In reality, artists need all kinds of self promotional materials: artist bio, cv (curriculum vitae, sort of a ‘life resume’ with your art as a focus), artist statement, press releases, etc.

Some of your list items are going to jazz up your statement. Because unless you think people go crazy with excitement reading lists of your exhibits and educational background, you must learn to talk about your art with the same passion you use to make it.

You don’t have to go over the top–no drama major needed. But think about ways to talk about your art that shows why it really, really matters to you–and that it isn’t just “something you do” to fill in your spare time. Even if it is only that, you can talk about that in a way that is more engaging than, “Well, I was bored, so I made this stuff.”

Don’t be afraid to tell people what you care about.

Think of the 25 Random Things as a way to collect these things you care about the most. Some of them will provide you with a jumping-off place.

In my last post on this topic, we left off with the suggestion that a good artist statement should make you want to look at the artist’s work again. Some of you did that experiment with the artists I suggested, and graciously acknowledged that it worked. Yay!

The key to the 25 Random Things is, somewhere in a good list, there is something you’ve listed that might make people “look again”.

If your art is light-hearted, your approach to your 25 Random Things list, and your artist statement might be light-hearted, too. Remember–light-hearted art is not necessarily lightweight art. Laughter is powerful medicine. Humor can be a powerful weapon. Whimsy can still be serious stuff.

You might also choose different approaches (more serious, more whimsical) for different applications. For example, the “About Me” section of my blog has a more light-hearted approach. That’s because I want to entertain as well as inspire. Yes, I’m serious about my writing, but I’m willing to laugh at myself, too. (I just don’t want you to be laughing at me too hard, okay?)

The introduction to my art calls for a more serious, inspirational tone. It’s not that I don’t want you to have fun with my work. But it’s not what you’d call “whimsical”. It’s a different manifestation of what I bring to the world.

My actual “artist statement”, is no longer on my website. I realize I should make room for it again.Here’s the short version of it:

I dream of the cave of Lascaux…

Its beautiful paintings of running horses,
born by the flickering light of torches….
Never meant to see the light of day,
yet brought to light in our lifetime.
Survived ten thousand years,
yet nearly destroyed by the breath of ten thousand visitors…
Too delicate to survive the climate of our modern world,
The cave was closed, and finally, sealed.

Lost.
Found.
And lost again.

The horses now run
in the darkness of their cave
forever.

We do not understand the mystery of these paintings.
We know not what they meant to the people who created them.
Their message was not meant for us.

But their beauty and power create profound echoes
in our modern hearts.

What ancient, yearning dreams of hope and beauty
brought forth these haunting images?

Ten thousand years from now,
Who will know the makings of our hands?
And who will know the mysteries of our hearts?

If you go back to my 25 Random Things About My Biz, you will see the seeds of where that statement comes from.

I know there are other “rules” I’m breaking with this statement. I haven’t changed significantly in ten years.

But every time I think of changing it, someone who reads it for the first time tells me how powerful it it is.

And so I keep it.

Just as it’s hard to present you with a template for a statement, it’s hard to give you a step-by-step model for turning your list into a statement. I’m thinking about how to do that, and present it in more manageable form for you. It’s easier to do face-to-face, using a technique I’ll explain next time.

But for now, write up a few lists. Play around with them. Write some in a humorous vein, make others more serious. Put a star next to the entries that create a lump in your throat, or bring tears to your eyes.

Because…I’ll say it again, because it is so important:

Whatever makes you cry, that’s where your heart is.

And where your heart is, that is your truth.

Don’t be afraid to tell people what you really care about.

If it is honest, if it is heartfelt, it will be…POWERFUL. You’ll know. And your audience will know.

And when you speak the truth, it is so powerful, people will hear it and know it for the truth.

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Filed under 25 Random Things, action steps, art, artist statement, craft, creativity, inspiration, life, marketing, mental attitude, self promotion, telling your story

25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #2

Why you need to jazz up that “perfectly good” artist statement of yours.

You say you have a perfectly good artist statement, thank you very much, and you’ve written it the way everybody else is writing theirs, so what’s wrong with your artist statement anyway?

Or you don’t know where to start, so do I have a template you can use to just ‘fill in the blanks’?

(The answer to that one is no, btw.)

Here’s why you might want to add some pizzaz your statement:

Yours sounds like everybody else’s.

The most extreme example I can give you is an group art show I attended awhile back. I’m going to say it was art made with Play-Do. It wasn’t, but I don’t want to pick on any specific group of artists, and I want to make my point.

There was only the Play-Do art on exhibit, and an artist’s statement on display under each piece.. No one had any business cards, or brochures, or pamphlets, or anything for viewers and potential buyers to take. So you had the art, and the artist statement.

The first one said something like this:

I live in X town, Y state. I have used Play-Do as my art medium for 12 years. I have studied under Mr. Z, the foremost Play-Do artist in the northeast. Last year I won best of show for my Play-Do art.

I have played with Play-Do since I was a child. I love Play-Do because it’s so colorful and versatile as an art medium.

The next one said something like this:

I live in B town, C state. I have studied Play-Do as my art medium for 15 years. I studied under Ms. C for four years, and then studied under Mr. D. I have exhibited in Play-Do art shows all over C state.

As long as I can remember, I have loved working with Play-Do. I continue to work in Play-Do, as it challenges my color aesthetic. I love the colorful interplay of aesthetic and emotional tones in my work.

The next one said,

I’ve been worked with Play-Do for 18 years. I studied with so-and-so at the such-and-such Institute for 8 years. I have won many awards for my Play-Do art.

I used to work with crayons, but now I chose to work in Play-Do because I enjoy the range of colors and tones I can achieve with it.

Every single artist statement had the same bland tone; the same litany of how many years the artist had worked with their medium; the same listing of more famous artists they’d studied under; everyone “just loved color.”

(For the record, it is unusual to find a human being who doesn’t like color, music, sunsets or food.)

Obviously, one member of the group with some academic training, who knew the “right things” to include in an artist statement, who had had some success with their art, had set the tone.

And everybody else followed.

So the compelling Play-Do artist in this exhibit is….the one who’s been working with it the longest??? That’s all we have to go on, from the information we’ve been given.

Acclaimed basket maker JoAnn Russo shared this thought about artist statements once. I don’t know where she got it, but I think about it often:

“An artist statement is something people read after they’ve looked at your work. And a great artist statement makes them go back and look at your work again.”

Here’s an example of a statement that makes you go back and look. Look at the work of glass artist Christina Bothwell.

Now read her artist statement.

After I read it, I immediately went back to look for the “inner image” inside each figure. Did you?

After reading that she works in glass because it does everything other sculptural media does, and also transmits light, I wanted to see that, too.

Side note: I was originally drawn to Christina’s work several years ago. She had a different statement/intro to her work then. It was just as compelling.

So a statement changes. It’s not set in stone. It can change as your work and your focus change, perhaps even to meet the needs of your current exhibit.

There are many reasons people buy art. It can be because they simply like the subject matter. Or they like the colors. Or they like your style. An artist statement probably can’t override their initial “like/don’t like” reaction to your work.

But if they like it enough to want to know a little more about you….

And if what you tell about yourself is compelling enough to make them look again….

Then why risk boring them to death, when instead you could be forging an even more powerful connection?

Make them look. Twice.

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25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #1

My article about using Facebook’s “25 Random Things About Me” exercise to create an artist statement appeared in the FineArtViews newsletter this week.

People are asking me exactly how to do that–turn that list into their statement. Should they just make 25 Random Things into their artist statement??

Well, you could, but I didn’t mean for you to actually do that. For one thing, that’s one looooong artist statement.

Rather, think of the 25 Random Things as a jumping-off exercise to do an actual statement.

I’ll respond to some of these queries today and in upcoming articles. Maybe some examples will help make this more concrete.

I was going to first address the question from someone who told me I was a very good writer. Flattery gets you everywhere!

But a comment from another writer should come first. Because this artist can’t even get started on the 25 Random Things.

The artist left this comment on my blog:

I have been confronted with the list a number of times – but find that I am either too shy or just simply unable to list anything because I am changing too often to want to simply put anything down that would be so permanent that I could not go back and add another two millions or so things on a constant basis

Let’s look at the beliefs behind this block, and address them one at a time. (And I don’t mean to pick on this one reader, because a LOT of artists feel this way…including, from time to time, ME.)

Shy I can’t help you with. Except…

Nobody will care more than YOU do, about what you do.

Corollary: If you can’t articulate why what you do is amazing, or explain why we should care about it, you won’t even be able to communicate that to someone you HIRE to do it FOR you.

Here’s an article I wrote awhile back about why it’s important to step up to the plate with your artist statement, your promotional materials, and yes, your 25 Random Things.

It’s not about writing “two million things”, it’s about selecting 25 things.

What would you think if an artist said, “I can’t paint, there are just too many things in the world I could paint. I can’t make up my mind which one to paint, so I just won’t paint at all.”

That’s not a painter with too much to do. That’s a great excuse for not being a painter at all.

We know this person is an artist. We’re going to apply the same principles to getting out and making art, to getting out there and doing the list, and getting out there and writing an artist statement.

You’re selective when you make your art. Be selective when you make your list.

This will help when you do your artist statement, too. Most artist statements are far too long. I saw one once at a show that was a full typewritten page, with miniscule margins in an even minisculer font. (Yes, I know minisculer is not a real word–I made it up!) I tried and tried to read it, and kept losing my place.

Plus it was just plain boring, which is sad because the work was exciting. Plainly, the artist had trouble putting the same passion that drove him to make that work, into his artist statement…. Which brings me to my next point:

It’s 25 interesting things, okay?

More on this in the articles ahead. And why most artist statements sound alike, and how to make your stand out.

Anything you write has to stay that way…forever! (NOT)

Now, I know I’ve stated in other articles that what you say online is there a long time. But the truth is, it will take some digging to find. Your little list of 25 Random Things is not the Gutenberg Bible. It’s not written in stone, either.

When you do those million other things, you can simply go back and change it. Or heck, write a new one. It’s okay–nobody cares how many times you do it!

It’s just for fun.

Nobody is keeping track of how many times you do it. Nobody is keeping score. Nobody is hanging out on Facebook with a judge’s hat on, saying, “Well, he had a good rhythm, you could dance to it, but the lyrics…!! I give it a 5.”

What’s matter-of-fact for you might be HOLY COW!! I DIDN’T KNOW THAT ABOUT YOU! for someone else.

I always think the oddest thing about my martial arts practice(s) is how old I am. In reality, most people are amazed I do it at all. I guess “artist” never seems to go hand-in-hand with kung fu.

Just as the things you’ve done so long or so long ago, they are something you hardly think about, could be a hook for your audience. I never knew my friend Mark was a yoga nut. Or that my friend Judy knows more about football than anyone else I know. It enriches my relationship with them.

Last, I recognize one of the blocks, this because I suffer from this one myself:

Perfectionism.

Here’s a tip: Perfectionism=Stultifying

Perfectionism keeps us from doing anything until we can do it perfectly. When, in reality, practice makes perfect.

The only cure for perfectionism is….

Start where you are. When you know better, do better.

If you don’t want to publish your list on Facebook, then don’t. But write it in a notebook or a journal. Set it aside for now. Pull it out when I write the next article on what to do with those 25 Random Things.

Extra credit homework: A list of some good articles I wrote on self promotion for artists.

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ALL THIS SOCIAL MEDIA and Still Nobody’s Asking Me to Dance

Why it’s okay if you aren’t Twittering/Facebooking/meta tagging/Stumbling/LinkedIn or otherwise filling your social media dance card this week.

A quick sidestep from social media (Facebook 25 Random Things topic) to social media in general.

Sometimes I beat myself up that I’ve been slow to use social media to promote my art.

Other times I’m glad I didn’t get sucked into the whole thing with “meta tags” and “SEO” and that other crap.

I’m blessed to have a net-savvy husband. (When asked what he does, I just reply, “He’s an internet visionary.”)

He’s not only responsible for my lovely web site, he’s also guided me
on my entire online journey the last ten years.

By that I mean he told me from the start that whatever I said or did online would stick around for a long, long, long, long, LONG time.

From my very first email correspondence, my earliest postings to usergroups, then email lists, forums, blogs and now Twitter and Facebook, I have always been hyper aware of what I say, how I say it, and who I’m saying it to. (Or as Lily Tomlin would say, ‘the party to whom I am speaking….”

I’ve taken advantage the internet gives me to stop and think before I post; to reread what I’ve written before I hit the send button; to consider my flow of thought before I publish an article. I sort through my words to make them more clear. I wait til anger has passed before I react to a snotty remark. I ask myself what my intentions are before I jump into a discussion.

Saying what I care about. Sharing what I’m trying to do. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

Telling you what tribe I belong to.

So I’m always amazed at people who flame others on discussion boards; people who spam their entire email list with warnings about AIDS-infected needles stuck in gas station pump hoses; people who try to leave spam on my blog comments; people who think they can boost their web presence over bajillions of other web sites by using clever tags and search terms; people whose only correspondence with me is to get me to buy stuff from them.

Here’s an IttyBiz blog post on why social media is dead.

Naomi Dunford states that broad, untargeted, shotgun-style marketing has destroyed a lot of what used to work with social media.

In a recent telephone seminar, Naomi said, “Integrity is the coin of the internet.” (And we know Naomi’s cool because, hey! she and I wear the same glasses…)

This is what my husband hammered into me from the very beginning, and it’s still true:

People will respond to my authentic self.

And that’s why a boring everyday I-had-eggs-for-breakfast style blog won’t work, too. Nobody cares if I have chickens…

…unless I share with you a valuable story about what I learned when I twisted my knee chasing my chicken.

I don’t care if I have 10,000 hits to my website, or 10,000 blog readers. I don’t care if I have the world’s attention.

I just want to find my tribe.

I want my tribe to find me.

As people come by your online presence, they will either be attracted and intrigued by who you are and what you offer–or they won’t.

People who agonize about manipulating content and tagging to get mega hits are fishing with the biggest net they can find. It’s purely a numbers game.

Maybe with certain kinds of product, that will work for you. But what I what to accomplish is not about a numbers game.

So don’t stress about what the latest social media hotspot is, or how to stand out among 20,000 other Etsy artists. Quit talking about how to drive traffic to your website.

Instead, treat each venue as a way to connect with an audience that would care about you and your work.

Use each venue as a way for the people that care, to stay connected to you.

Do what you can, in a way that is authentic for you and your business. Be who you are. Make the work you are proud of.

And dance like nobody is watching you.

Because then you don’t have to wait for somebody to ask you.

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PLAYING IT SAFE: Don’t!!

Martial arts teaches me that playing it safe means no playing at all.

When I decided to quit practicing Tae Kwon Do, it felt like the right decision. The safe decision.

I was keeping myself safe from more debilitating injuries, right? After all, I’d been in physical therapy to strengthen my knee for six weeks already, when I stumbled in class and twisted my knee again.

So I quit. For two months. I was terrified of being injured again. I thought I was making a good decision.

It was a physical therapist during my second round of pt who finally set my head straight. “Luann,” he scolded me. “Professional athletes in peak condition still get hurt. It’s just something that happened.”

He assured me that being active was the best strategy to staying ‘safe’. He pointed out that he gets just as many clients in for therapy who are total couch potatoes, who fall on their way to the kitchen for another bag of chips and injure themselves.

If doing something you love motivates you to work out every day, then do it.

In his mind, “playing it safe” meant continuing to do the strengthening exercises he’d given me, faithfully.

Somehow, I ‘got that’, and decided to return to class.

In fact, I decided to also return to kickboxing as a way to train better for tae kwon do.

I heard a lot of protests from friends and acquaintances. “Are you crazy?! You’ll get hurt again!” they exclaimed. “Don’t you think you should take it easy?” Some suggested swimming–it was much safer.

Play it safe.

But here’s the thing: If you live your life fully, you can’t play it safe.

I like swimming okay, but I don’t love it. I don’t love it enough to show up to do it three to five days a week.

I do love martial arts–tae kwon do, kickboxing, tai chi. And I doshow up to do them, at least five days a week.

I know now that a daily practice may occasionally result in injury. But it will also strengthen me, stretch me, and improve my balance. All things that will serve my body, and my spirit well as I approve my sixties, my seventies, my eighties and beyond.

I’ve been playing it safe in my art, too.

Not just in getting it out into the world, but in doing the work I love. I’ve been holding back, making less expensive work, worried about whether it will sell.

Telling myself to give up on certain dreams and desires. Too unlikely. Can’t see it. It will never happen.

Figuring if what worked the last ten years wasn’t working anymore, then nothing would work.

So give up. Keep my head down. Play it safe.

You know how well that’s worked (NOT!) because I’ve been writing about the pain.

Art needs a different kind of daily exercise.

Normally, that’s simply doing the work. Making art generates wanting to make more art.

But I’ve been ‘injured’ doing my art. So I tried a little “emotional physical therapy” suggested by Martha Beck in her latest book, Steering by Starlight.

I can’t picture my perfect life right now. Too big, too scary, too unlikely. So I’ve been practicing how I’ll feel when I’m living my perfect life.

I imagine feeling joy instead of fear. I imagine feeling anticipation instead of dread. I imagine the world wanting exactly what I’m making, instead of me trying to imagine what I could make that the world wants.

And it’s working.

I see a wall hanging that my brain tells me could never be purchased. It simply wouldn’t fit in anyone’s house I can imagine.

But I imagine feeling my heart leap with joy. And suddenly I saw that piece laid out on a worktable in sections, waiting for me to work on it.

I have an idea for a book I can’t imagine would be published. I can’t imagine how I would find a publisher. I can’t imagine an editor who would be so on board with what I want to write, that she would call me every few days to read what I have and exclaim in delight and encouragement, with excellent suggestions on how to make it even better.

But I imagine what that would feel like, to have an editor like that, working on a book like that. And I feel anticipation instead of dread.

I know I’ll never be young again, ‘thin enough’, good enough to do justice to my martial arts practice. It’s too hard to lose weight, too hard to practice daily.

But I imagine what it would feel like to be light on my feet, to be strong enough to throw a kick perfectly, easily–and my spirit soars.

I’ve been doing this a handful of days. And I cannot express to you how much lighter and happier I feel.

I’m starting to really feel like good things are ahead.

Pulling out of my ‘normal’ routine for the last few years helped clear the decks. Cleaning the studio helped, too (though I’m sorry to tell you, my friends, that you can’t tell I cleaned at all in here anymore.) Following my heart on hospice has cleared a space in my schedule this spring. My dear husband allowing me the space to simply get through this and see what happens, has helped enormously.

For the first time, I am not afraid to simply wait and see what’s next. (While moving ahead all the same.)

And to prove that playing it safe does not necessarily keep you safe….

I did badly twist my knee again yesterday.

But it wasn’t in kickboxing, it wasn’t in tae kwon do. It wasn’t climbing a wall. It wasn’t while I was snowshoeing, yoga-cizing or riding.

I slipped on the ice while chasing a chicken out of my garage.

And when it happened, I laughed at the absurdity of it all.

p.s. I’m okay. Sore–but okay.

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Filed under art, choices, courage, craft, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude, risks, taking chances