Monthly Archives: March 2010

THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD

The Devil’s two most powerful tools in this world are vanity and envy.

I’ve written so much about jealousy and envy, I thought I had nothing left to say. But I do.

I know that technically speaking, the terms are not identical. Envy is wanting what someone else has. Jealousy is fear of losing what you have.

But the premise is the same: Your perception is, you fear you have something to lose, and somebody else is responsible for that fear.

Envy has been a powerful thread in my life. No matter how “enlightened” I get, I struggle with it. Either I’m preoccupied with someone else having more skill/good fortune/attention, or someone is giving me crap because they envy me.

Seems like much of the trouble in the world is based on envy, from my own small woes to those of great nations.

If someone copies your work, part of that is because they see you have skill/success/attention/money/whatever. They think if they simply make the same work, they will have that, too.

If someone is envious of your artwork, and they are in a position of power over you (a juror for a show, a standards committee member), they can make life miserable for you in countless small and subtle ways.

If they are a peer or a friend, it’s even worse. Suddenly, everything you say or do draws a sarcastic remark, a biting comment, a moment of ridicule. A once-promising friendship warps into something sad and rueful.

When I allow myself to envy, it’s just as bad. Trust me.

But the real sin in envy is not in the behavior itself, or the misery it causes.

It’s because by giving in to it, we give away our power.

We give away everything beautiful, unique and wonderful that’s in us. We destroy the gifts that are given us–our talent, our perseverance, our joy–and turn them into dust.

Earlier this month, I almost left my dojo for another that seemed more compatible. I thought I would join a school that was less physically demanding, more sympathetic to my aging body.

I talked with my head instructor; he reluctantly agreed my reasons were sound. But he said I had to let the head of my school know.

I have one thing I do well that I’m proud of. I make the hard phone calls. I arranged to meet with Mr. R in person.

What happened then was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

I will make a long story short–this was a complex situation, with a long history, involving many talented, good people. Much of it is personal and not tangent to the story, so I won’t go into it.

But the heart of this story is, Mr. R quoted that opening line to me. He told me when he’d heard it, and why.

Envy was at the root of the long, sad story that had left so many people deeply unhappy, and not at peace with themselves.

That’s when I realized that another, deeper reason for me leaving was not simply the tough work-out. The real reason was, I was envious of others in the class. I felt stupid having to step out when things got hard. Others were moving ahead, and I was not.

That was bad. Because I had lost track of my true reasons for practicing Tae Kwon Do.

I’d forgotten that my practice is always, for myself.

Not to be better than so-and-so, or to get to my next belt, or have my teacher praise me.

I must practice because I love what Tae Kwon Do can teach me.

I must practice because I love the discipline of trying to be my best.

I must practice for the joy of mastering something–sometimes in a horribly pathetic long drawn-out process, to be sure–to get good at something simply because I keep doing it, no matter what.

I, and I alone, am responsible for pacing myself within the class. If I can’t do sets of fifty push-ups anymore, then I must break it down into sets of 25, or 20. Or seven, if that’s all I can squeeze out.

If I can’t run fast laps on the hard floor, then I can run slow laps on the mat. Or walk, if that’s all my body can handle that day.

And there is no need to feel embarrassed when I need to step up or slow down. Because 1) it’s not anyone else’s place to judge me, and 2) I must stop judging myself.

Can you see the implications for our art?

I have quoted Martha Graham’s quote many times, but I’ll do it again. And I see I’ve lost the copy I used to hang prominently on my bulletin board, so I’ll print it out again for me, too:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. …

No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

from The Life and Work of Martha Graham[

Everyone always has there own reasons for their behavior. If they are envious of you, it has nothing to do with you. There is nothing you can do to deflect it, or control it, either. Sometimes we have the luxury of removing ourselves from the situation, sometimes we can’t.

Understand that envy is based on fear. Fear that there is not enough love, or not enough attention, or not enough money, or not enough opportunity for all of us. Fear creates a little death. It takes the joy of living away from us.

We can only manage ourselves. The only thing we can change is how we respond. The only thing to do is to keep doing what we’re supposed to do, on the very highest level.

We can only try to make our decisions out of love, and hope, instead of fear.

We can only keep making the unique work, the art, that is in our hearts.

I have had the support of amazing people in my life, who have helped me internalize that. I may need a refresher course from time to time, but I always get back to the same place, the place of inner strength and conviction.

This is my gift to the world, the work of my hands, the work of my words, the work of my heart.

It is all we really have, but it is astonishingly powerful.

And when we truly understand and embrace that, we are astonishing, too.

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Filed under art, copycats, craft, creativity, envy, inspiration, jealousy, life, mastery, Nibble theory, professional jealousy

FLEETING BALANCE

Perfect balance is not only overrated, it’s not necessarily desirable. The only perfectly balanced pot is one with a flat bottom. And flat bottoms are good for pots, but not for people.

Balance. We know it’s a good thing. When it comes to our bodies, our professional and personal goals, our relationships, perfect balance is a good thing to strive for, right?

Well…some concepts about balance are good for you. And some aren’t.

Balance regarding bodies makes an excellent metaphor, so let’s take a look.

Balance as parity can save us a few tricks to the doc.

It’s widely accepted that we all have one leg that’s longer than the other. Right?

Wrong. Our legs are petty close to being equal lengths. What happens is we tend to favor one side or the other. We tend to use our “strong” leg, and end up standing more on our “weaker” leg.

Try it yourself. Stand up, then assume a relaxed position, as if you were in for a long conversation with someone. What leg are you standing on?

For me, I put my weight on my left leg. It might be because my right knee has sustained a lot of injuries over the year, and it feels less “solid”.

But standing on my left leg also frees up my right leg, which is still stronger and faster for kicking. (Taekwondo, folks, not randomly kicking people in the street.)

Over the years, this gradually led to a shortening of the muscles in my left leg. It isn’t really shorter, I’ve squashed it!

I found this article on your golf swing as an excellent description of this.

This kind of “non-parity” also leads to more than a bad golf swing. It can aggravate problems with your back, shoulders, wrists. My husband makes a point of shoveling snow and raking leaves by switching his “lead” from time to time. It’s dramatically reduced his back problems.

It’s good to mix it up!

Just as lack of physical parity slowly creates big problems out of tiny choices over time, the search for perfect balance can, too.

People who should know–physical therapists, etc.–tell us that walking is a process of regularly losing–and finding–our balance.

We need that constant process to move forward. Perfect balance–when we stand only equally on both feet–is standing still.

Think about when we strike a tree pose, a great balance stance in yoga. We aren’t ever really being still. Our first efforts may result in widely flailing arms and torso. But even when we can hold that position for five minutes, our bodies aren’t actually static and immovable. Muscles in our feet and ankles are constantly constantly making tiny adjustments to keep everything in alignment. We just need tinier movements. How do you know those muscles are working? Think how exhausting it would be to stand in that pose all day.

How does this relate to our art, and to the business of exhibiting/marketing/selling/teaching our art?

Well, one way is how we think about a “perfect balance” in our art. We think there’s a perfect blend of art/business/family/other work/community, etc.

Some artists struggle to balance work, family, art. Sometimes they give up. There’s no way to make it work!. Sometimes all they need is permission to their art on the back burner–on “simmer”–for awhile. (But don’t forget to come back and turn the heat up someday!)

Some of us struggle to find the right balance in our art biz. Sometimes the business of getting our art “out there” more grueling and less exciting that actually making art. We force ourselves to do the inventory thing, the invoice thing, we apply to shows or write the press releases or whatever, grumbling as we go.

But if we aren’t careful, we lose that beautifully precious, joyful synergy that comes from making. There’s no way to “balance” that. It’s the spring from which everything else flows.

Some of us even find the balance of “making” to be difficult. Some days I come in my studio determined to make stuff and can’t decide where to start. Make more little horses? Cut some leather strips for necklaces? Mix some colors? Do more sculptures? I feel torn in eight different directions. Even when I start in on something, I feel guilty that I haven’t answered that email, or updated my store, or gotten those postcards out.

Yes, our art has to eventually be out in the world.

But we have to make it–bring it into being–first.

What sparked this post was a comment I heard of made by a 2-D artist. He said there was a discipline to his craft. He made sure he drew, even if just a little bit, every single day.

I was in awe of that. He’s absolutely right, in many ways. We need to make even tiny little spaces for our art. Because pushing it entirely out of our lives is never a good thing.

At the same time, I see he has a simpler life right now. Retired, no partner, no young children, a small apartment. He is able to make more balanced choices at this point in his life.

Like our bodies, the balance we seek in our art, and in the pattern of our lives, perhaps will never exist. Waiting for it before we make art is a trap. Even if you have to let your art “simmer”, think of ways to keep it in your heart. And never miss an opportunity to add a few carrots to the pot.

There will be periods where we are on fire with our creativity, and nothing can pull us out of studios. There will be periods where our children, our partners and spouses, simply need us profoundly, and time spent with them is not wasted. There will be times when we need to put down the brush or the blow torch and simply get outside and move.

Whatever your particular “blend” of life is right now, embrace it. Know that in a day, a month, a season, the demands will change.

And your greatest blessing–and peace of mind–will be knowing that you will change your particular balance right along with it.

P.S. How am I making myself lose my balance today? I wanted to write this post so desperately. I have so much to do today, I’m not letting myself do that series of final edits. I’m just publishing it!

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Filed under art, balance, business, change, choices, craft, creativity

NEW TO SHOWS, WHERE DO I START??

I’m going to be very lazy today, and share a post I made recently on a crafts forum.

A craftsperson posted that they were thinking about doing some shows. She was at a loss on where to begin designing a booth. Was there such a thing as a “booth designer” she could hire?

Someone responded that there are companies who design major exhibits for corporations and such, and perhaps one would be willing to freelance.

But probably not. I wish there were such services available to folks in our budget range. There’s a magazine devoted to the trade show industry called Exhibitor Magazine. Unfortunately, it’s geared to companies whose trade show budgets begin at “up to $50,000″ up to “over $1,000,000″.

The exhibit industry is geared toward displays manned by a team of people, setting up in huge indoor convention halls, and reconfiguring the entire display every couple years.

Consequently, anyone involved in that industry will probably not understand that most of us start out budgeting perhaps a tenth of that figure, maybe even less. They may not understand why your set-up has to be windproof, or how it will fit into your station wagon. They may be aware of poster services and display that start at hundreds and thousands of dollars. But they won’t be able to tell you why velcro ties are more cost-effective than zip ties.

But the magazine is still kinda fun to look through, it’s free, and some of the articles are good reads. A few months ago, it featured one of the best articles on fire safety/fire retardant booth materials I’ve ever read.

And it’s nice to know that sometimes even folks with exhibit budgets of tens and hundreds of thousand dollars still get to a show and realize their booth is too tall for the venue….

Other forumites mentioned Bruce Baker’s CD on Booth Display and Merchandising and I also highly recommend his CD. If, after listening to his CD and rolling through my Good Booths Gone Bad design series, you still have questions, you could ask Bruce for consult. And no, it’s not free, but it will be great advice.

The problem is, we can all tell you what to do and what not to do. It will still feel like (as I always say) someone handed you a pamphlet on driving laws, four tires and a seat belt and told you to design your car.

Ultimately, only you know all your needs and all your trade-offs, what you are willing to scrimp on and what you are willing to throw money at, what you are willing to put up with, what you won’t.

I feel your pain if you carry multiple lines. I have to have solid wall space for wall hangings, some sort of shelves for small sculptures, and cases for jewelry. No simple solutions there!

My best advice is to echo what another poster said, and start looking at other booths with a critical eye. Look at what people use for lighting, what tent they use, etc.

If vendors are not busy, most will be happy to offer you a suggestion or give you a source for their displays. But please–try not to treat them as a walking resource center, though. One of my (many) pet peeves is the people who try to “pick my brain” about everything in my booth. Especially in front of customers. I’ve paid good money to be at that show, and my primary focus is making enough money so I can keep doing my artwork. Be considerate of the artists’ time, unless they actually say they don’t mind talking with you.

Once you have a general idea of what might work for you, you can either search other online forums, and ask people’s opinions about things like tent choices, etc. Or you can ask to be directed to specific sites and displays for your product. For example, jewelry artist Rena Klingenberg has created an amazing website with tons of good information and advice about photographing, displaying and selling jewelry.

When you’ve narrowed your choices down, you can even look for artists who are selling off parts of their booth and display. I’ve bought lots of stuff at very reasonable prices from folks who were updating their booth or getting out of the business. For example, ProPanels has a section on their forums for artists selling or renting their ProPanel walls.

And last, don’t be afraid to make mistakes! Trying to get it “perfect” the first time will frustrate and exhaust you. (I know, because that’s what I do!) Try to just do “good enough”, then see what works and what doesn’t. You can always sell the ideas that don’t work to another new exhibitor. And new booth/tent/display stuff is coming out all the time, too.

I would come up with a snappy ending to this post, but Bunster is chewing through my jeans hem. Her latest way of letting me know she wants to be petted. I would teach her to use email, but then I’d have to give her access to my computer. And we all know where that would lead: Mystery boxes of jelly beans, purchased on Ebay, arriving at my doorstep daily.

P.S. In response to Rena Klingenberg’s wonderful suggestions in the comments section, here’s an article I wrote for the April issue of The Crafts Report on how I learned the hard way I was never going to win a Best Booth award.

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Filed under art, booth design, booth display, booth walls, business, craft, craft shows, display, Good booths gone bad, jewelry display, ProPanel, resources, selling, shows