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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25 Comments

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

25 responses to “THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD

  1. Jenny Friske-Baer

    Wow, thank you – I really needed to read this right now. Blessings to you!

  2. Wonderful post, thanks.

  3. Thank you for reminding us of these valuable life lessons. Such important points, not just in our creative/artistic endeavors, but for everyday life, too.

    Thanks so much.

  4. Moushka

    Awesome post. Thank you!

  5. Luann-
    Thank you for this post. I spent last weekend working in my studio on long ignored projects that have been nagging at me. Envy, jealousy and sadness have eaten at me as I have been recovering from a long illness. I have felt the world has passed me by!
    Everything you wrote about applies to me directly, you put to words what I needed to hear. There are pieces that must be made and through them my light will shine.
    Thank you again, XOXO.

  6. Thank you for this post!

  7. Once again a brilliant post. I do love how you can take a “regular” life situation and apply it to your art. You then take it and help others by putting it into words for others to learn from. This ability and the willingness to share may be your biggest gift. Thank you…

    • Thank you, good friend!
      Re: Translating “life” into art, that’s one of those talents my kids get really tired of. :^D I’m always relieved to hear my peers think better of it….!!

  8. Yours was the first email I read this morning. It made me cry. Life is very difficult for me right now, probably the worst it’s ever been, but I am beginning to notice that every time I hit a low and feel panic start to close in, something happens that tells me to trust the universe, believe in myself or just BELIEVE. This is very new for me, and the emotion of recognizing that it happens, that it works, that it’s REAL, shakes me hard every time. Thank you for reminding me, right when I needed it. We are all the universe.

    • Carole, that’s powerful stuff!
      I remember the first time I experienced synchronicity as an artist–it was so scary, I had to go lie down for awhile.
      It IS powerful.
      But it’s the kind of power you can trust.

  9. Thanks Luann, this post was synchronicity for me as well. And I love that Martha Graham quote!

  10. Daniel Horsell

    Lu, It is a treasure to read your clear thoughts. Your voice brings compassion to us, that expresses the love and healing grace you feel.
    Thank You, daniel

  11. Rod Lamkey

    Luann,
    Thank you for sharing your sensitive feelings and for trusting us, your readers, to respond with respect. Here are some thoughts on the subject of envy:
    Seeing work that is more skillfully done than yours is a chance to learn!
    People who in any way belittle your effort, your aspirations or work… avoid them! Expunge them from your life! They are not friends. Why associate with them?
    Always follow your heart because that is your purest source of inspiration.

    • Great additions, Rod, and you’re so right about, “…the chance to learn.” I’m not able to afford to travel to take too many workshops, but I’ve met some wonderful friends on the net, in guilds, at shows, etc., who are so helpful and willing to lend advice. I continue to search out those relationships, and try to limit contact with those that are unhealthy. It’s the best way that I know of to stay balanced, healthy, and happy.

      This is a great post and I’m enjoying reading the comments. Thank you Luann for your always thought provoking posts.

  12. What a thought provoking and wonderful post! It fed my soul today! Thank you, dear one!

  13. Wonderful post! Such reminders always seem to be timely somehow. It is very much appreciated.

  14. It was very timely for me that I read your post. I was at a show recently where I lost several sales to other artists who had been commissioned by my “clients” to copy my work and put their horses and cowboys in my piece. It was all I could do to remember that imitation is the utmost sign of flattery. At those times of my life, I try to remember that that client will get exactly what he paid for, but at the same time, I can’t help but wonder what an artist can possibly get out of undercutting someone who will never forget their deed. I will try to keep thinking of your post and try to remember that my own work is what I concentrate on. The rest is out of my hands.

    • Flavia, that IS hard! Myself, I would have to dig very deep to deal with that. :-(
      A few thoughts:
      Is it about the money with these clients?
      Is this kind of commission something you’d be willing to do? (I looked at your landscapes–beautiful!!–but didn’t see any with cowboys and horses.)
      Is this type of work a collaboration you’d be willing to do with such an artist?

      If it’s about the money, that’s hard to get past. Some customers have a real consumer mentality about art–it’s about price, it’s about a bargain, etc. It might be possible to promote the VALUE and INVESTMENT of your work. Your credentials are solid, and that’s a selling point, of course. After all, you might rather have those customers who buy for those reasons, than those customers where it’s only about the price.

      Re: Would you do this type of work in the first place, is it possible people don’t know you’d be willing to do this? A sample exhibited in your booth (something more elegant than a landscape with a sign and arrow saying, “Your horse HERE!”) with a sign saying you happily accept such commissions) might open some doors.

      Is it possible that your manner, when approached (perhaps to take one of your finished pieces and add the horse, etc.) is daunting to your potential customers? Sometimes we inadvertently send a message to our customers that such work is beneath us. Think about what you yourself would need to hear from an artist/contractor/etc. to feel confident about asking.

      Bottom line, the question you have to ask yourself: Are the people who would ask another artist to do this, are they potentially your customer? If so, there are strategies you can try to win them over.

      If they are NOT your customer, and never would be, then you really haven’t lost anything.

      As to the artist who would accept such a commission….Oh, that’s a whole nother thing. There is inspiration, and there is imitation. And btw, IMHO, whoever said that quote about imitation and flattery either WASN’T an artist, or WAS an artist who had no qualms about copying someone else. There is nothing sincere about copying. To be sincere, something has to come from your heart, and from your best intentions. Copying someone else’s work does not come from the heart, and does not have good intention.

      Either way, it’s frustrating. But we cannot control what another artist is willing to do to get that customer.

      Continue to make your own very beautiful work. Consider telling people your own very powerful story about WHY you do what you do–I’ve written a lot of essays on artist statements and the power of connecting with others in a personal, authentic way–and rest easy in the knowledge that you are making the work you were put on this earth to make.

      And no one can imitate that, or take it away from you.

      • You are so right, Luann, about imitation not being the greatest form of flattery. Unless someone would consider stealing, the greatest form of flattery, it makes no sense to me. Taking a class, learning a technique, making it your own, now that’s flattery.

        On a side note, I will add that I generally spend much more time on a commissioned hat (I make felt items), than on anything that I make for my own stock. Perhaps those artists will learn the hard way why you charge what you charge, when they have to refine, refine, refine, to get the item to your standards, and the customer’s satisfaction.

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  16. Thank you for this. I’m just starting out in art jewelry and glass, having come to my artistic talents later in my life, and I struggle sometimes with wishing “I was better at this” or “as good as [somebody else]”. Thanks for helping me reframe this particular mindset so that I can make MY authentic work. The Graham quote has long been a favorite of mine; my former life included devotion to modern dance. :)

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  18. For an artist, one of the most important things to remember is to nurture and honor the child within. Also to find a way to tell your story. I feel that you are also saying this. Encouraging our children to express their creativity is the best way to be good parent.

  19. Pingback: MAKING ART FOR ME | Luann Udell

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