Monthly Archives: October 2010

MY BUSY, BUSY LIFE

My Busy, Busy Life
by Luann Udell

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine, a monthly business resource for the crafts professional, where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (infiber and art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

As modern day artists, we are blessed to have access to all kinds of information about how to make, exhibit, market and sell our art. Art books, art galleries, art magazines, art blogs, art consultants, art reviewers, all give us excellent inspiration, advice, venues and opportunities. The internet puts all this information right at our fingertips and speeds up the entire research process.

Just in case we still have trouble, we don’t have to look far for help. Today in my e-mailbox I have at least a dozen offers from different internet gurus selling their services to help me market my business in all kinds of ways.

The one that caught my eye this morning was about getting things done. Today’s topic was making decisions. Faced with so many opportunities and possibilities, we often still find ourselves paralyzed and unable to move forward. The key, this particular guru claimed, is not enough information.

Hmmmmm, I thought. Not enough information? Or…too much?

Years ago, I was one of those people who researched my budding art career to the max. I was like a sponge, soaking up everything I could get my hands on, any information that could tell me how to stay inspired; how to find galleries to represent me; how to get my work published.

This approach is effective, too. Sometimes you play the numbers—apply to enough exhibitions, for example, and even if you only get into one or two a year, it will quickly add up to an impressive resume. Or you can fine-tune your approach—vetting galleries thoroughly before applying to them, targeting specific jury members or show curators, etc.

As I look back on this busy, busy time, I think I also wanted to be taken seriously as an artist. To me, that meant treating my art as a business, with success attained by achieving measurable goals on a regular basis.

I was such a go-getter, I frightened my peer groups. I was fierce in my pursuit of success.

I was also totally stressed, determined not to let a single opportunity slip by me. I got up early and left my work late, trying to cram 24 hours of business into 12, every single day. Keeping track of all the potential exhibits, shows, galleries and other opportunities was job enough for two or three people–not just a single artist who also had to make the actual artwork.

Then the bottom fell out of the handcraft marketplace. And all my determination and energy, my organizational skills and my beautiful work, suddenly they were getting me nowhere.

I kept trying the same old things, working even harder. I kept trying to figure out what to do next, as if the effects of a recession meant I was “doing something wrong.” Eventually I realized I was throwing good money after bad, as the old reliable venues continued to worsen and fall away completely. A good wholesale show can net enough sales to carry you over a year. A bad one, at $5,000 a pop in fees and expenses, can drive you quickly in bankruptcy.

I was left with a handful of galleries, no more big shows, a dwindling customer base, and a huge mountain of business debt.

So. In a culture where money is the coin of the realm, where money is often the easiest measure of our success….

What does it mean when nobody is buying our art?

It can feel like either your work is no good, or that nobody wants it, or both.

To survive as an artist, I had to change something–fast!

I had to do some deep thinking about WHY I made art, and WHO I was making it for. I had to find a way to stay the course, even when it seemed like the world did not want or need my art.

I realized, finally, that maybe it seemed like the world didn’t want my art–today.

But I needed to make it.

So I let my focus drift. I stopped looking for the “one big thing” or “the next really great show” that would make me successful. I began to see “success” in a very different way. This will be different for everyone, of course. I’m still on that journey, too, so don’t ask too many pointed questions yet! :^)

I grew grateful for the people who still wanted it, even when it was hard for them to buy it. I realized I was learning a lot about myself in the process of making art. I began to share that with people, in my booth at shows, on my blog—and people responded to that.

I began to soften my focus. I even let go of the money thing. I quit pounding on doors. I stopped adding shows to my schedule and even dropped some major ones. I fell off the advertising bandwagon, simply alerting my current customer base when I was doing a show or having an open studio.

I became more comfortable with NOT KNOWING. Not knowing what to do next. Not knowing how much money I could expect to make from any venue or show. Not knowing what where this will all lead.

Instead of looking for the next “big thing”, I focused on making the next $100, slowly chipping away at my business debt.

And a funny thing happened.

My work slowly, but steadily, began to sell again.

Even as galleries cut back on their inventory, others clamored for it. Even as some shut down, others opened. Customers who had not made a purchase in years, suddenly needed a piece of my jewelry or fiber art in their lives. Internet sales picked up.

Within a year I was able to pay down my debt, and have enough money left over to take me through the upcoming year.

Why? I’m not sure. Something of the passion I put into my work, and the place it has in my life, was resonating with other people who wanted the same thing. A reason not to DO, but to BE. Telling that story and letting people respond.

I’d love to say I figured out that this new kind of relationships were key to this new business/life model. But I didn’t. It just happened when I quit struggling so hard. It happened when I let go of controlling everything so well.

I just fell into it by wanted something deeper than simple monetary success. By being open to a different opportunity. And that has started me down a whole other kind of journey with my art.

In fact, during my open studio last week, a customer said something wonderful about my work, how highly personal and original it is. I said, “Yes, when I first started out, I knew not everyone would want my work. And I still know not everyone needs it….” Before I could say any more, she raised a finger and said, “They don’t know they need it….YET.”

Oh, and the example given in the highly-focused email I got today? It was about managing your email. Yep. An entire article on how to manage all that stuff in your inbox.

Me? I think I’ll just let the in box sit for awhile. And go make something beautiful today.

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Filed under art, balance, business, craft, living with intention, mental attitude

THREE LIVES IN KEENE NH

Today I’ll be writing one of the hardest letters I’ve ever written in my life. It is long overdue. And I have no idea how it will be received.

I’m writing a letter to the parents of a boy who died six years ago. We’ve never even met. I don’t know them, and I didn’t know their son. But I owe them a letter.

Let me back up to tell this story.

Six years ago, three children died in our area. They were all around sixteen. Their lives seemed very different. Our local newspaper treated their deaths very differently, too.

One was a young man, a talented athlete, who had recently transferred here from another school district. He had a few beers with friends one hot summer day, and went swimming afterward. An innocent act with fatal consequences. The swimming hole, infamous for a treacherous whirlpool, was a deadly one–it’s claimed 15 lives in just over thirty years. He drowned.

One was a young woman, a talented scholar and musician. Born with a congenital heart defect, she died suddenly while jogging.

The last was a young man who could euphemistically be called a “troubled youth”. He’d recently broken up with his girlfriend. He took her car one evening. Her family reported it stolen. Local police gave chase, tailing him down the street our local high school is on, at speeds approaching 100 mph. Though they abandoned their chase, he continued on, lost control of the car and smashed into a stone bridge. He died instantly.

The young woman was given a lovely tribute in our paper (page 3), with friends, teachers and family mourning her loss.

The young athlete was lauded and honored almost daily in the paper for days, with front page essays alluding to A.E. Housman’s poem,
“To an Athlete Dying Young”. Proposals were made to rename an athletic field in his name. Demands were made to dynamite the swimming hole. Many other memorials were suggested, until his grieving family finally said, “Enough. Please, enough.”

The third young man? I can hardly bear to say….

His death became the source of swirling controversy in our community, on whether police engaging in high-speed chases are justified, or if it results in needless accidents and death. Much was made of his “troubled past”.

Some even wrote letters to the editor, suggesting that anyone who commits a crime and runs from the police, deserves to die.

I asked my daughter if she knew him. Yes, she said, she had a crush on him in middle school. But she was too shy to let him know. She thought he was sweet and funny. One day he drew a picture of a dragon for her.

All I could think of was the grief that must have swamped his family. ALL the families, but especially his. I wanted to write to them.

But I didn’t know what to say.

Except that no sixteen-year-old deserves to be judged in such a way. That no one knows when or how someone will turn their life around. That the loss of a child is hard enough, without people debating whether they deserved to live at all.

In bereavement class last week, I shared this story. Everyone said, “Write the letter.”

But it’s been years, I said. Isn’t it too late?

“It’s never to late to write a letter like that,” the instructor said.

And so here I sit, a copy of the obituary in hand.

It’s unbearably short.

Not the 3-or-4-column listing of achievements and honors. His life was too short for that. And he wasn’t on that track anyway.

No editorial about the loss to our community. Just a mention that friends were invited to the services.

There’s the mention of his family. And a note that he enjoyed playing the guitar.

In lieu of flowers, donations to be made to day care centers in the area, presumably the ones he attended as a youngster.

I hope those were happy times for him.

No mention, of course, that years later, his “bad boy friends” have all succeeded in turning their lives around and are on their way to leading constructive and fulfilling lives. Who could foresee that?

No mention of an act of kindness to my daughter in middle school, where my daughter had a very, very hard time. Who would note such a tiny event?

In any case, I think I’ve found his parents, and I think I know what to say now.

I’m going to apologize for not writing sooner.

I’m going to apologize for not attending the funeral. That at times like that, even a stranger can be a friend.

I’m going to apologize for not letting the editors of the paper know MY opinion of the way these “news stories” were handled.

I’m going to tell them how sorry I am that they lost their son so young, before he even had a chance to find his place in the world. That I know they will miss him forever, because he was their child, and he was loved.

And I’m going to tell them that once he drew a picture of a dragon for a young girl, who thought he was sweet and funny.

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Filed under hospice

AMAZING GRACE

My hospice experience continues this month with bereavement training. It’s different than hospice. The class leader puts it succinctly. “Hospice ends”, she says. “Grieving never does.”

I want to also take the training for working with clients with Alzheimer’s. But I sense I should take it slowly. Let ALL the lessons sink in, stick with this next phase for awhile. See where it takes me. And see where I fit in.

One thing sticks in my mind from the training, and that is, with Alzheimer’s patients, you need to go where they are. Be where they are. Not insist they come back to you.

I think this must be harder for the friends and families, who are constantly reminded of the loss taking place in front of their very eyes.

For us volunteers, who come in at the end, perhaps not as hard. We’re there for a period, we only deal with what’s in front of us. There is humor, and tenderness, and comfort. Respite and peace.

And then the need is gone, and we move on.

Bereavement services start, my supervisor says, when the cards and casseroles stop coming.

My daughter recommended this movie about Alzheimer’s, “Grace” . Grace is a woman whose husband recorded her last years, showing the progress of her disease.

When I researched it, I find this moment compelling. In it, Grace anticipates her appointment with the hairdresser that day. But she’s already been to her appointment. The look on her face when she is told, breaks my heart.

If this were my mother, I’d probably do the same thing–try to bring her back to this reality. “Mom, you went already–don’t you remember? Mom!”

As an outsider, I can see that correcting Grace only brings fear (she realizes something is terribly wrong) and anguish (her excitement and happy anticipation is washed away.)

What does it matter if she’s forgotten? If you tell her she’s already had it done, she’ll just forget it again. And go through the fear and sadness again. And again.

If I meet her where she is–anticipating her appointment with gusto–maybe she wouldn’t have to go through that. (After all, she’ll also keep forgetting the appointment doesn’t come.)

If I were a volunteer working for this person, I might say, “You look so happy! What do you love about getting your hair done?” Or perhaps, “How will you get your hair styled today?” I would let her tell me her stories. I would let her hold on to her happiness, and her plans.

So there is hospice. And there is grieving. And there is Alzheimer’s, where so much of the grieving goes before.

Where do they all connect?

It’s about being, not doing. Being in the moment. My supervisor says, “There are a lot of recovering ‘fixers’ in hospice!” I am learning–slowly–not to fix. Or do. Just….be. (Trust me, trying not to fix things is really, really hard.) (REALLY really hard.)

It’s being present–being a witness to what is going on for that person, in that moment.

It’s being connected. And accepting that person for where they are, right now.

I remember a friend who told me years ago, “I like to believe people are all doing the best they can.” When people fail me, or hurt me, I try to remember that.

And when it’s me doing the failing, and the hurting, I try to remember that, too.

Hospice is teaching me that big, deep lesson.

It feels like amazing grace.

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PUPPIES REVISITED: The Torch Wipe Thing.

When I published the PUPPIES article, people asked me what “torch wipes” were.

I had no idea. Googling didn’t turn much up at the time.

But I kept thinking about it. Gentle readers, I am nothing if not concerned about you getting answers to all your questions.

Well, I just found out what torch wipes are.

I found this wonderful article by Elizabeth Dodd, director of the creative writing program at Kansas State University.

Ms. Dodd was fortunate enough to be invited to actually visit the cave of Chauvet in France. I envy her with all my heart. In a good way.

She says…

…At some point in time, other visitors to the cave marked their way with torch wipes, rubbing the burning surface to knock off ash and renew the flame—and perhaps if the way was unknown to them, to leave signs of the route back up and out….

So there you have it, folks. Torch wipes. Who knew??!!

And what will I do with that envy?

I will put it to good use.

I’m thinking it’s time for another trip to France, to visit the caves I can. I found other sites in Germany, sites that were the home of wonderful artifacts (including the oldest horse artifact ever discovered) that might be open to the public.

If anyone knows someone in the “cave art biz” (is there such a thing??) or someone who can pull strings in the French or German government, start pulling for me now!

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Filed under art, craft, dogs, life with a dog, life with pets

PUPPIES

I just realized I never republished my article “Puppies” that I wrote for The Crafts Report. And I already have a P.S. to add to the article! So….here it is.

PUPPIES

It’s been a typical wild and crazy month, craft biz-wise. Someone filmed a video of me and my work; I was artist of the month at a local gallery; I had my first trunk show, I had some great sales off my web site.

All exciting stuff. But not funny.

“Write about the puppies,” my husband said.

The last few weeks we were foster parents for two rescue puppies—street dogs, or “Potcakes” from the Turks and Caicos islands in the Caribbean, where we got our own puppy, our first dog, last year. Tuck adored the wee visitors and played with them constantly.

Yesterday we found the puppies’ forever home, a little family that is the perfect fit. We said goodbye to our little wards last evening. We woke up today to our first morning sans puppies. We all feel a little sad. Tuck sits with his head in my lap, gazing woefully at me. A line from the song “Puppies” by the Incredible String Band wanders through my head….”Hey, hey, the puppies, they are gone. Left me here, holding this song….”

“I can’t write about puppies!” I exclaimed. “They have nothing to do with my craft biz.

Jon just smiled and said again, “Write about the puppies.”

I’ve always resisted doing “any old animal” in my art, despite many customer requests. And I get requests all the time. “Do you do dolphins?” “Can you make a turtle?” Resulting in my favorite cheerful yet gentle response to one inquiry, “Sorry, there were no kitties in the Lascaux cave.” (Interestingly, this remark also appeared in the video, as a shot of a page from one of my countless journals…)

But having a dog has changed my life, no doubt about it. And the presence of this intelligent, highly intuitive, mischievous creature in our home has me wondering…. What is the “Ancient Contract”? And just how long have dogs been with us humans??

The old answer, 10,000 to 11,000 years, was based on actual dog remains in burial mounds. So, after Lascaux. But DNA studies now suggest the break of dogs from wolves started earlier, up to 100,000 years ago, perhaps the result of changes in behavior and diet. Marks of a human hand? Perhaps. And new evidence found in older European caves indicate the dog domestication process surely began as long ago as 30,000 years.

And to clinch it, here are the words that grabbed my heart today:
“…ancient, 26,000-year-old footprints made by a child and a dog (discovered) at Chauvet Cave, France…(Evidence from) torch wipes accompanying the prints indicate the child held a torch while navigating the dark corridors accompanied by a dog.”

The words of my own artist statement echoing back to me: “Born by the flickering light of torches….”

So I’m writing about the puppies today.

After all, just as I can’t live my life without making room for my art, I cannot make my art without my life spilling into it, either. Just as my art informs my life, my life—with children, with silly pets, with the lessons I’ve learned from climbing, and martial arts, with chickens and yes, puppies, informs my art.

I suspect there is a dog artifact wending its way in the days ahead into my art. I know I will use my art in some way to support the Potcake rescue foundation: A fundraiser with my jewelry, perhaps some artwork to sell in their shop.

And here I am, writing about the puppies.

How did Jon get so smart?

And if he’s so smart, how come he can’t remember to wash the outside of the coffee mugs?

I know something of the puppies will remain with me, always. I know because I just found a last memento of our time with these little creatures….

A big pile of puppy poop in my studio.

Tuck, Mike and Molly

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Filed under art, craft, dogs, life with a dog, life with pets, pets

MAKING THE MOST OF YOUR OPEN STUDIO

Making the Most of Your Open Studio
by Luann Udell on 10/14/2010 10:08:54 AM

With permission from Fine Art Views, the art blog I write for, I’m reprinting today’s blog post here on MY blog! :^)

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did.” You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

I just finished a two-day open studio event, as part of a group that began a few years ago here in New Hampshire. I’ve done other open studios, on my own and as part of larger groups. This particular one is a good one to consider for what works and what doesn’t; we’re a small group (25 artists) and we’ve built it from scratch. It was our third tour and we finally started to see the results of all our hard work.

In the past two years, I felt fortunate if I made enough sales to meet expenses. I had to find other ways to value the experience beyond sales.

Of course, there’s the reward of having a clean studio. In the two weeks I deep-cleaned my space, I finally found all my scissors. And discovered I have not one, not two, but FOUR paper cutters. (Yes, I gave one away.)

I’ve come to appreciate the emotional rewards of hosting such an event. It can be a great way to thank current customers—they love an invitation to see you in your little world!

I discovered the joy of sharing my space with a compatible artist and friend. We tag-teamed the set-up, food and demonstrations. The good energy we created was palpable.

I found new collectors, and met more people who support what I’m doing. I reconnected with long-lost friends and made new ones. A small get-together is planned for like-minded stamp carvers. A defunct artist support group now plans to get back together.

There’s no single right way to have an open studio, of course, and some people prefer not to do them at all. Sometimes our galleries encourage these events, knowing that creating that relationship between artist and collector will benefit all concerned. And sometimes our galleries don’t like it at all.

Here are some thoughts on what worked for us and how to keep everybody happy. It’s not comprehensive, but it may give you insights on aspects of planning that are often overlooked.

Feel free to add your thoughts and share your experiences, too!

It takes time.

You might get lucky and have a stellar event your first time out. I did in years when money was flowing more freely. Nowadays, it can take time. Sometimes you just have to keep doing an event until it gains momentum. That seemed to be the case with our tour.

Piggy-back on another tour/event/holiday.

There’s another more established art tour in our area that runs on the same weekend. Some of their members were miffed we did ours the same time. Others were thrilled. They knew that more options generates more opportunities. Yes, some of their “frequent fliers” tried our tour this year—some of these visitors said they simply wanted to try something new. Next year, our “regulars” will surely try theirs. It’s win/win for everyone.

We also picked a popular regional holiday weekend (Columbus Day) which is perfect for enjoying the fall foliage in New England. People are out and about and looking for things to do. “What a beautiful vista…. Hey! There’s a sign for an art studio tour. Let’s go see some artists!”

Which brings us to…

Marketing is important.

Our signs brought a lot of people in. We had great advertising, too, and snagged some good publicity (free!) in the form of newspaper articles, too. But signs hammer the point home. My husband drove around the area that weekend for a rock climbing venture. He commented that he saw our signs everywhere!

We tried to save money by making our own signs. They are eclectic and fun. But they’re not holding up well and a good wind knocks them off their pinnings. We may end up having signs made commercially—more money, but also more durable. If local politicians running for office can have decent signs, we can, too!

Create a great brochure and an excellent map.

We’re lucky–one of our members had these skills. He designed a lovely brochure using the theme and the rich colors of autumn to tie us all together. It’s bold, bright and professional-looking. He found an extremely affordable online printer and we placed them in key locations all over the area. I heard many compliments about our brochure. It just made us look like we really knew what we were doing! (I’ve included images of it. Forgive my lack of photography skills with glossy paper…) (I forgot to show the map. Trust me, it’s there!)

Tip: Targeting your audience gives you the most bang for your buck. I do a big retail show a month before the tour. I gave every customer a brochure with their purchase and offered them to anyone who expressed a wish to see my studio. Each and every one was delighted with this “personal invitation”. And a lot of them came, too. (I was touched by the collectors who couldn’t come and called to let me know—just as if they’d been invited to a party!)

Work with your galleries.

Some artists have a local gallery that represents them. One particular gallery is not happy when artists sell directly to customers. They believe all sales should go through them. If this happens, try to work out a compromise that keeps everyone happy. One artist only shows and sells work for the open studio that is not in the gallery. This can be work from a different series that’s not compatible with the gallery’s client base, or smaller, lower-priced work (the gallery doesn’t carry her miniatures, for example) or even unframed pieces. They are also more willing to let her sell for very short term events, like our local Art Walk.

You’ll also be wise to never undersell your gallery. That’s almost guaranteed to lose you your place with them. Instead, try the different series/smaller pieces/work-they-don’t-want-to-carry approach.

If your protesting gallery is a major account for you, you might even consider offering them a commission on the work you sell during this event.

Create groups within each location.

Your current customers may feel fine coming to your studio already. New visitors will feel much more comfortable if you have more than one artists in your location. It’s just human nature—multiple options make people feel they’re sure to find something/someone they like! Artists who double up (or even three or four) in a studio consistently report more visitors and more sales than lone artists.

I shared my studio with my friend and fellow artist, Nicole Caulfield. Her work is excellent and appealing, and her personality is, too. We love each other’s work and that showed in the energy level here all weekend. People commented on how wonderful it felt in our space, over and over.

Grouping artists together also allows you to grow your artist list without expanding your tour. We wanted people to visit “all 25 artists” on our tour and created a contest to encourage that. In reality, it would be impossible for someone to do that in two days.

Some folks in our group are talking about limiting the number of artists for that reason. But you want new faces on the tour because…..

Offer variety.

….People love the new. They want to see new artists, new work, new studios. I’m going to suggest to our group that we allow new artists to join a current participating artist in their studio for a year or two. That will allow us to grow our artist list slowly, without adding more stops for a few years. (We’ll be able to reuse our “studio number” signs for a couple years, too!)

Jury your artists (or at least know the quality of their work) for a consistent tour. But don’t worry about having only “proven sellers” on your tour. We have both big names and emerging artists on our tour. People love to see artists at all stages of their careers.

Create variety in your stable of artists, too. Some people get picky about what is “art” and what’s not. By adding a few woodworkers, a potter and a jewelry artist to the tour, we created more buzz for the tour and offered something for everyone. (Why do you think fine art museums have gift shops?)

Let your friends and current customers know. And use social media, too.

I used to do a full postcard mailing for these events. Last year, I finally created an email group for my customers, supporters and friends. A few weeks before the event, I did an email blast and a couple Facebook announcements. I added photos of my studio and images of new work.

I was astonished how well that worked! The times they are a-changin’…..

Be family-friendly.

Me and my buddy Nicole (Nicole's the petite one on the left!)

A display of my artifacts

Nicole worked on a drawing.

I’m always astonished at the folks who can barely tolerate children in their booths or studio. It’s true, usually people with kids are too busy with the kids to actively shop. But it allows people to come who otherwise would have to hire a sitter. We found little things for kids to do and enjoy. Not only were parents and grandparents grateful, I think my friend lined up a few portrait commissions. (She captures children beautifully in her work.)

And tell yourself you are laying the groundwork for a future generation’s appreciation of art and craft.

Remember to have fun.

In our culture, where money is often the measure of our success, it’s good to remember that an open studio doesn’t have to be just about the sales. Yes, I want my work to sell. But I also value the relationships I have with my collectors. At my open studio, they are my guests. Treat your open studio as a way to thank your loyal supporters, consider sales the gravy, and you will never be disappointed.

Yep, that's my work on the cover!

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Filed under art, business, craft, marketing, open studio, self promotion, social networking

A RESPONSE TO “COPYING VS. STEALING”

(For the sake of clarity, I republished this article a day after “WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again”. I didn’t move it very well, and I may have lost some comments. I apologize, they were GREAT!!)

A Response to Kerrie Venner’s article, “Copying vs. Stealing”

I just discovered an article on the International Polymer Clay Association’s website, written by Kerrie Venner, IPCA Vice President for Education and Outreach. Kerrie’s article is here.

The article talked about my artwork and a blog article I wrote about my work being copied. Kerrie refers to me as an example of an artist who has published directions for making my artwork who then gets “antsy” when people copy it. She states that she doesn’t understand what’s wrong with coveting my little totem animals, then making her own versions for her own use, and even to sell, since her customers probably aren’t familiar with my work anyway.

At first I was delighted to read Kerrie’s wonderful comments about my blog and my artwork. But that delight quickly turned to dismay.

Her article is an interesting take on a very complex and emotional issue.

Just to correct a few errors:

1. Kerrie’s article simply linked to the home page of my blog. My article Kerrie that refers to in her article is WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? and the correct url is http://luannudell.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/what-is-the-story-only-you-can-tell/ I discuss why someone who copies another artist’s work is actually short-changing their own creative journey.

2. Contrary to Kerrie’s assertions, I’ve actually only published directions featuring my faux ivory technique (a modification of the technique originally developed by Victoria Hughes.) I provided directions for very simple beads, buttons and bones. Photographs of my animal artifacts and jewelry were for illustration and inspiration only.

3. I have never published projects or taught how to make my artifacts and animal totems, for the very reasons Kerrie mentions in support of her viewpoint: It might imply permission for others to copy my work.

I could address each of Kerrie’s statements and questions separately, and will do so in a future blog article. But here’s the short story:

I’ve done the hard work creating this body of work. I spent years perfecting my craft. Inspired by imagery available to everyone, it is nonetheless a highly original and individual interpretation and presentation. As Kerrie points out, it has a powerful, personal narrative, describing my journey from a place of pain (at not practicing my art), to a place of healing (embracing my unique vision, and sharing with others how that happened.)

I’ve done the hard work to get my work out there. And I’ve spent a lot of money doing that. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to do the high-end shows to sell it. I go to great lengths to find galleries to carry it. I’ve spent thousands of hours marketing, writing, speaking, entering exhibits and juried shows, and submitting work for publication to support and grow my reputation. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to have my work professionally photographed, to construct a booth and create beautiful displays for it.

I’ve spent years developing a loyal following of customers, collectors and supporters. I am deeply moved by the role my art has played in their lives. I love the stories they share with me on how much my work has meant to them, how much it has inspired them, how it has healed them.

I’ve earned my stars and paid my dues. My work-and my prices–reflect that.

We artists may make our art for love or money, or both. But it’s hard to make art without some kind of support from our community, be it emotional, spiritual, or financial.

Kerrie says she admires and desires my artwork. I am truly grateful for that. There are many ways a true supporter can help me get my art out into the world:

1) Tell me how much it means to you, and respect the unique place in my heart it comes from. Tell your friends, too, and point them to my blog, my website or my store.

2) Spread the word about my work by writing great reviews and articles.

3) Buy it for yourself, or for a special gift.

4) If you really can’t afford my work (prices start at $42, and I have a great layaway plan), encourage potential collectors to buy it instead. Or ask friends and family to buy it for you. Christmas is coming!

5) Ask your favorite gallery or museum store to carry my work. Or suggest they include me in an invitational show. Or even a solo show

Actually, the list is endless: Invite me to speak to your local or regional art guild. Ask your public library to purchase the books that feature my work. Hire me for a private consult on your artist statement. Alert me to publishing opportunities. Etc., etc., etc.

Unfortunately, copying my work doesn’t support me.

Copying my work, then selling it as your original work, deprives me of potential customers who might buy my work. This does not support me.

Telling others I am wrong to care about my work being copied does not support me.

In fact, someone copying my artwork short-circuits everything I’m trying to achieve. That is where the pain and the resentment comes from. And that is what I have to get over, and get through, every time it happens.

In the end, although my work is copyrighted, it’s almost impossible for me to protect those rights. I don’t have the deep pockets of Disney, and I don’t have the time or emotional energy to spare. I have to save that energy and focus for my art.

Some amount of copying has its place in the learning process. That’s why a teacher provides a project for a class.

But a body of work based solely on some “variation” of someone else’s work is not the work of your own heart, your own unique vision.

Kerrie’s article was written without my knowledge and did not link to what I actually said. I cannot adequately convey how disheartening it is to see these views-justifying the right to copying my work simply because I have made it visible in the world–expressed by someone who is Vice President of the International Polymer Clay Association’s Education and Outreach Committee.

Kerrie is entitled to her viewpoint, and I appreciate the opportunity to present mine. As she and I both said, this is a complex issue, involving human nature, the creative process and ethics.

Whether or not Kerrie’s reflects the views of the IPCA organization, it was published on their site and incorrectly referred to me as an example of a disgruntled artist who sets herself up for being copied by offering her artwork as projects and classes. Since I’m not one of “those artists”–who are also entitled to their own opinions about others copying their work–and especially because I have consciously chosen not to…that allegation was neither true nor fair.

I’m thrilled Kerrie loves my work. I hope someday she decides my artwork is worthy of collecting for herself. I would be truly honored.

And…I would feel truly supported.

2 P.S.’s (What the heck is the plural of “P.S.”???)
It’s been brought to my attention that Kerrie didn’t mean she would actually copy my work–she was speaking aloud the thought process that many have expressed. So in a sense, she was speaking as “Everyman/Everywoman”. And she never intended these remarks to represent her, or the IPCA’s actual point-of-view.

Again, I’m glad she voiced these thoughts so we can talk about it.

And please, please don’t bash Kerrie! :^)

P.S. For the latest take on this, see WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again

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WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again

CONCRETE ADVICE FOR HOW TO SUPPORT ARTISTS….

Sometimes–no wait, always–it’s a good idea to cool down before you speak your mind.

A few weeks ago, not one, but TWO small drama played out in my studio.

At the very same time I was dealing with someone using my identity to post disparaging and rude remarks about another person…

…It felt like someone else was publicly scolding me on a professional polymer website for me getting upset about people copying my work.

Their article was written in response to MY article, What is the Story Only You Can Tell?

If this is confusing, the chain of events were 1) I write the “What is the Story Only You Can Tell” article; 2) I get an emotional phone call from the victim of the identity theft issue; 3) I wrote an article about the experience; 4) Kerrie read my WITSOYCT article and publishes her response on the IPCA website; 5) I found the article and wrote my response to Kerrie’s article; 6) and now I’m publishing this article. Got it? Whew!

My first emotional response was the lizard brain talkin’. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Even humiliation. And my first article draft in response showed that clearly. With brutal sarcasm and my debate team finesse, I quickly tore apart every argument offered in the article that defended copying.

Fortunately, I WAS embroiled in that identity-borrowing thing. It kept me from immediately publishing my response to Kerrie’s article. The identity thing was a very prickly situation, involving a group of rowdy local activists a sane person just wants to avoid at all costs. In the end, as upset as I was, I resigned myself to damage control–and moved on.

But I was delayed in writing that original response to Kerrie. And I’m soooooo glad.

I realized the identity issue all started because a person had written in anger, fear, resentment, and perhaps a haze of alcohol. (Not Kerrie! The anonymous poster identity-blurring person.)

They may not have even deliberately chosen to “look like me”–as Katherine Tyrrell (whose Making a Mark blog is an astonishing artist resource) posted in my blog comments, it looked like a clumsy effort to use one of my blog articles to bolster their argument, and that came off as appearing like “me”.

So I sat on my hands for a day or two. The anger dissipated. Cooler heads (not Bobohead Lizardbrain) prevailed.

Instead of the wrathful diatribe I’d prepared, I wrote a nicer article in response to Kerrie’s article. I hope it’s nicer. I meant it to be. You can read the discussion in full here. And you can be the judge.

I wanted to write a better response, because I realized, after much deep thinking about where my anger, fear and pain came from, the real issue is our current culture’s LACK OF SUPPORT for artists.

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and “I can do that!” prevail. “That’s so cool, I want to make that, too!” The internet makes it soooooo easy to do that, too.

I’ve actually had visitors to my booth pressure me to tell them exactly how I make my horses, because they want to make them, too. Their attitude is I actually owe it to others to share.

Aside from the fact that I choose other ways to share, this attitude is the extreme end of this condition:

This a very natural, very HUMAN response to the new, the beautiful, the powerful. We want it for ourselves. We want to touch it, do it, have it. We want it to be a part of us, in any way we can. We all feel this. And throughout time, all humans have. It’s part of being human.

After all, didn’t I respond to the cave of Lascaux with my own desire to make work that would resonate in the hearts of others long after I am gone?

It’s what we do, and where we go with that natural, human response that’s important.

My request is simple:

Rather than give in to the notion the artist owes us something…(beyond what they’ve already done by bringing their work into the world…)

Instead of “using up” the artists whose work inspires this in us….

Instead of only seeing these artists as a source of great ideas for our own amusement and use….

Instead of just viewing the work of these artists as a sort of “cosmic clip art”….

Why don’t we REWARD them for their efforts?

Why not give back to them, for the joy they’ve given us?

Why don’t we figure out some way to support them, whether that be financial, emotional or spiritual support?

We should consider supporting them….If only so they’ll keep making the beautiful work that inspires us. (It’s okay to be a little self-serving in our altruism.)

So in the end, I’m glad I waited to respond. (And, after reading my eventual response, maybe I could have even waited a few more days. I still sound exasperated. (But hopefully, not as angry.)

I truly appreciate the support and the good wishes of all involved.

Copying is a spectrum of behaviors and decisions–some useful, some unavoidable, and some outright hurtful. I know everyone’s intentions were good, and I hope this all brings about the desired result–a CONSTRUCTIVE dialog about copying, and one that helps people make thoughtful decisions.

So, taking my own words of advice, and being open to the gifts in front of us, I thank Kerrie for her honesty, for putting into words what many of us think when we justify our actions.

I thank her for loving my work.

And I thank her, and the International Polymer Clay Association for giving me the chance to publicly respond.

I am grateful I had the chance to work through this issue, and get to the other side. The place where I should be….

…In a place where I can leave this behind, and go make my art…

…And tell the story only I can tell.

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Filed under art, choices, copycats, craft, creativity, mental attitude, mindfulness, What is the story only you can tell?