Monthly Archives: June 2010

HOW TO GIVE WITHOUT BEING TAKEN Part 1, ch

Read my suggestions to handling requests to donate your work, at the Fine Art Views blog: How to Give Without Being Taken Part 1.

Check for Part 2 in two weeks! But don’t worry, I’ll be back with more articles before then.

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WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Sometimes There’s a Bigger Story.

Cliches are boring. Your art deserve better.

In yesterday’s article, I shared my first story about my artwork. It was “good enough” to get me going and to sustain my first artistic efforts.

Many, many people are content with this “first story” or their “little story”. Trust me, I’m not here to judge anyone. If what you are doing is working for you, don’t change it.

But if you are wondering if your work can forget a more powerful connection with your audience, if you hunger for something deeper, read on.

When I talk to people about their art, I often get pat answers.

“I just love color!”

“I’m happiest when working at the wheel with clay. There’s just something about it that centers me.”

“I love making other people happy.”

I’ve learned that if you dig a little deeper, you will find true treasure. I learned this by being totally clueless about gallery talks.

So what’s wrong with pat answers?

Because they are cliches. I love this quote from an article by Grammar Girl:

Good writers avoid clichés wherever they might lurk. Novelist and essayist Martin Amis said, “All writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”

…..cliches of the mind and cliches of the heart…..

A cliche has low energy. When you settle for a cliche, you sell yourself short. You short-circuit your power. By trying to protect your inner life, you actually create a wall between your and a potential audience.

A pat answer is a way of putting people off the trail of understanding who you really art.

The “I just love color” thing. Look–everybody loves color. That’s not why you’re doing the work you do.

“I’m so happy…” Okay, first of all, we know you must be happy working with clay, or fiber, or glass, or words, or music, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Have you ever heard an artist say, “I absolutely hate what I do, but it sells”? (Well. Okay. Yes, I know some artist are burned out and DO hate what they do, but they’re usually so crabby we don’t want talk to them anyway.)

Second, what does that do for me? I asked a very well-known artist about her new work. She kept saying, “I’m having so much fun!” I had to bite my tongue to refrain from saying, “I’m supposed to pay $1,500 for this piece because you’re having fun??!” Sweetie, I’m sure you’re a wonderful person. But I need a better reason than that to spend that kinda money on you.

So what’s wrong with the “I-want-to-make-people-happy” reason-I’m-an-artist? (Or the equally lame “I want to help people.”) Think about it–What would really make people happy is if you walked down the street handing out $100 bills. (Most guys would be even happier if you did it in the nude, but I like to keep things family-friendly here.)

So let’s say what we mean to say.

What you’re really saying is that what you do is a way of engaging with the world that is fulfilling and deeply satisfying, and puts you in a state of grace, and joy. And there are real and personal reasons why it does.

There’s that word again…..

WHY?

Here’s one example of working through cliche to cachet. During a mentoring session, I talked with an artist about her work. She talked avidly about her craft, but it just seemed like something was missing. Sure enough, she mentioned in passing that her other avocation was gardening.

And she really perked up when she talked about gardening.

When I asked her why she loved gardening so much, she gave the usually pat answers about pretty flowers and being outside. When pressed, she grew exasperated–didn’t everybody love being outdoors? (Believe me, not all of us are wild about hot weather, mosquitoes and black flies.)

I pushed harder: How did she feel when she when she was in the garden?

She felt safe.

It started when she was very young and home was not safe. I didn’t pry for details, let’s just say there was just a lot of tension and anger and harsh words).

And being outdoors is where she felt safe.

Now, she doesn’t have to share that story with her audience, if it’s too personal.

If she wants to share it but doesn’t want to tell it over and over, it can be her artist statement.

She doesn’t have to ditch her craft, which was also satisfying, and become a full-time gardener.

She doesn’t have to “to” anything.

But recognizing her real story, a poignant story about a child who didn’t, who couldn’t understand the unhappiness and discord in her home, who found comfort and haven in the garden, will bring emotional and spiritual power to her art.

Understanding what yearning was filled, what hurt was healed, will create a bridge between her artwork (and her) and the people who are drawn to her work.

Because these themes–moving past fear, finding solace, being healed–are richer, deeper, more evocative human, more honest emotions than simply loving color or fabric or flowers or clay.

Some of you will come to this moment of self-awareness naturally. Some will need to have your feet held to the fire. Some of you simply won’t care. That is your choice.

But know that if I buy your stuff collect your work, it won’t be because you just love color.

It will be because something about it that is lovely and poignant and human is calling to me.

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WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Starting With a “Little” Story Is Okay.

A little story can pack a big punch–or pave the way for an even bigger story.

I’ve told my story many times about how I got serious about my art.

It’s a powerful story, and it’s true. But I’ve left out the years I spent beforehand making making toys for children and grown-ups, and the story I told about that.

When my kids were very young, I took a workshop from Deborah Kruger. The focus was about creating support systems for making your art.

We were asked to share our work with the group.

I remember waiting for my turn, embarrassed because everyone was a singer, or a dancer, or a writer, or a painter. And I was sitting there with a lap full of tiny dolls, knitted sheep and doll quilts.

And I was panicking because I (thought I) didn’t have a story.

I was proud of my work, though. And when it was my turn, I simply said what was in my heart.

I said I loved making tiny things, things you could cup in your hand. Things that a child would love, but would also bring joy to an adult.

I even said a thing that makes me cringe now, when others say it: “I want to make people happy.”*

Everyone ooh’ed and ah’ed, because even then, my attention to detail, my color and fabric, my technical skills, were pleasing to others.

And until I wrote that bit just now, I didn’t see the connection between that first story and my big story that came later.

Handmade dolls by Luann Udell

There stories are connected because when I was a child, these were precious things I would have cherished.

And when I was a child, I was fierce in my knowledge that I was an artist.

I can see now that my love of the things that would make a child happy, was part of a deeper yearning. A yearning to be in that place again in my life, when I knew what it was I was here to do.

I knew it without questioning it. I just did it. I drew horses. I painted. I collecting stuff (rocks, shells, leaves, ribbon, pretty papers). I made stuff with whatever I could get my hands on. (There is a particularly embarrassing story about that I will NOT share….) (NO!!!) :^D

I could happily spend hours looking for pebbles and shells on a beach. I loved watching animals. I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could ride horses and have lots of cats, and yes, even keep pet mice. I loved things that were “too tiny”–doll house furniture, miniatures, charm bracelets.

Now I can look back and see the seeds that have grown into my art. But I couldn’t see it then.

As I grew up, things got more complicated.

I believed too many myths about artists.

I didn’t know how to pursue something I was passionate about. Because academic stuff came so easily to me, I didn’t have good work habits.

I didn’t understand the stages of competency. So I always quit when I got to Stage 2, and things got hard.

I see now that making little dolls, buttons and small quilts was a safe way of “backing up into” my art.

And that was okay.

That “first story” worked, because it got me making stuff on a regular basis.

It got me thinking about me, and what I wanted to do, instead of what other people wanted me to do.

It got me to a place where I was thinking less about “doing what I was good at” and more about “doing what I liked.”

Eventually I got to the place where I got turned around completely. (Warning: This video is about 16 minutes long. But folks who have watched it say they like it, so maybe you’ll find it worth your time.)

So today I’ve shared with you where a little story can take you. Tomorrow I’ll share an example of a “little” story that hides a big story.

P.S. As I wrote this, I realized the teensy tiny doll was actually inspired by a Waldorf school teacher who made and sold these at a craft fair. I was so enchanted with them, I called and asked her if I could make them without stepping on her toes.

She gave me the green light because she was tired of making them and didn’t want to make anymore.

*And the asterisk thingie? Because I wonder what I would have said if someone had held my feet to the fire and said, “WHY…do you want to make other people happy??”

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WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Yes, You Have One!

We all have a story that tells us how to live, and who we are.

There were so many beautiful, thoughtful, passionate responses to the last post, I have to write more on the topic.

There were so many threads to follow, too! Copying hit a nerve, on both sides. Some echoed the plaints of many, that they don’t have a story. Some had a story, but didn’t think it was “big enough”. And others were afraid to share theirs.

I don’t have all the answers. I can offer insights I’ve gained, insights gleaned sometimes easily, sometimes painfully, on my own journey as an artist. And I will continue to share those with you as this series continues.

Today, let’s start with how I know you already have a story:

You are a human being.

Over the centuries, there have been many definitions of what it means to be human. From “Man is the animal who uses tools” to “Man is the only animal that blushes–or needs to” (Mark Twain) and “Man is the only animal that uses Mastercard”, we strive to understand what sets us apart from other living things.

I believe we are the animals who tell stories.

We tell stories about everything. Why we don’t think we are pretty. Why our life sucks. Why we were late to that appointment. Why we deserve a raise, or a vacation, or that outrageously expensive pair of boots.

We have stories about why our mom loved our brothers more, why it’s a good thing to believe in God, why someone else is successful and we’re not, and why we’re successful and other people aren’t.

Whether you tell a funny story about your childhood or the sad story of how your first big relationship ended, you are telling a story.

And if you get to a point in life where you are able to dig deeper, when you feel brave enough, or desperate enough, or simply tired of all the b/s you give yourself…

…You will find a story about why you make the art you do.

My gripe is, sometimes we settle for the easy story and don’t go any deeper. That’s why when a creative person says “I just love color!” I cringe. Who doesn’t love color??

Luann's wall o'fabric

But we all gotta start somewhere.

Here’s your incentive to go deeper:

When you start to know your story well enough to share it with others, you will strengthen the connections they form with your work.

Because no matter how unique your story is, and no matter how ordinary your story is, there are people who will relate to it. It will resonate with something in them. It will inspire them. It will make them laugh–or gasp–in recognition.

So let’s get started.

Your homework for today, if you don’t think you have a story about your art, is to write down what you do have. We’ll start there, and we’ll poke at it, and see what happens next.

Get out your pointy sticks!

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