Category Archives: artist statement

TWO SENTENCES IS ALL IT TAKES: Lessons from a Michael’s Ad

I don't know what the story of the red stag is yet, but I'll figure it out eventually.

I don’t know what the story of the red stag is yet, but I’ll figure it out eventually.

After reading all my articles about artist statements, are you going to tell me you still don’t like to talk about your art?

Then tell me about YOU.

Yes, I’m going to rag on you about your artist statement again.  (I’m never too busy for that!)

I’m getting ready for the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, and I should be doing a bajillion other things right now. But I got up early. I’ve got half a cuppa coffee in me.

And as always, I found a little artist life lesson in today’s email inbox.

It’s an e-newsletter from Michael’s. They asked six of their employees how they use picture frame to express themselves in their own homes.

I think they’ve taken a online peek at Oprah Magazine, but I took a look.

And here’s your takeaway:

Everyone said what they needed to say in two sentences.

Yes, in two sentences, you learn what these folks’ passions are. What’s important to them. What they chose to display in their homes, and why.

Melissa, like me, loves to shop for vintage eclectic stuff. Jenny has an artist’s eye for the tiny, beautiful details around her. Susan uses her photographer’s eye to capture unforgettable moments in her family’s life.

Yes, it’s a Michael’s ad.

But it’s also an intimate peek into the minds–and hearts–of six creative people.

And they did it in 25 words or less.

Now, it’s not easy to crystallize who you are into that short a sentence. Yes, I struggle with that, too.

But it’s worth it.

People have made art for over 50,000 years. It’s part of who we are. I explore what it means to be human and an artist, in the world today, through ancient stories retold with my modern artifacts.

(I know, it could be better. It’s always a work in progress!) Editor!!

HEY! I know…..
Tell me what you think MY 25-words-or-less could be!

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Filed under art, artist statement, telling your story

COLLECTING STAMPS & MAKING ART

Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.

Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.

As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.

We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.

You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.

I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.

We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.

If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.

So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.

I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.

As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.

The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”

Never?

Now think about that a minute.

There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.

Collectors simply….collect.

But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.

Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.

If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..

If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….

If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..

If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…

People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.

Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.

Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.

Be brave. Be YOU.

Some of my postage stamps

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Filed under art, artist statement, body of work, craft, creativity, inspiration, marketing, press releases, telling your story

HOW TO SOUND SMARTER THAN EVERYBODY ELSE

Artist statement resources for the folks who are smarter/better/more educated/more sophisticated/more talented than me.

Short story:
It’s our choice. We can make the commitment to say something meaningful and compelling about our work.

Or we can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.

I’ve been writing a series of articles for Fine Art Views newsletter about how to punch up your stories–Your artist statement, your artist bio/cv, your press releases. This series, TELL ME A STORY, starts here. The second article is here:, and the next two will appear June 23 and July 7, 2011. Mark your calendars! (Or just subscribe to Fine Art Views newsletter–it’s free!)

Some people are ready to hear this stuff. Others, not so much. When I get resistance, I hear one of two things:

“Can’t you just give me a template, and let me fill in the blanks?”
or
“I really think art critics, galleries and art-collecting audiences want something more….sophisticated than a ‘story’.”

Well, say no more! If this is what you want, I’ve found just the tools for you.

This tongue-in-cheek artist statement template-driven generator by 10Gallon.com is perfect for those who just want to fill in the blanks. My first attempt resulted in this distinctively different artist statement:

Through my work I attempt to examine the phenomenon of Quick Draw McGraw as a methaphorical interpretation of both Georgia O’Keefe and fixing people.

What began as a personal journey of frackism has translated into images of cookies and arms that resonate with Caucasian people to question their own aquamarineness.

My mixed media dog images embody an idiosyncratic view of Billy Graham, yet the familiar imagery allows for a connection between Janis Joplin, cats and french fries.

My work is in the private collection of Darrin McGavin who said ‘Yeow!! That’s some real shapely Art.’

I am a recipient of a grant from Folsom Prison where I served time for stealing mugs and tie clips from the gift shop of The Peabody Museum. I have exhibited in group shows at McDonald’s and the Pucker Gallery in Boston, MA, though not at the same time. I currently spend my time between my den and Berlin.

I’m sure with a little practice, you could get something a little less silly.

For the academically-minded crowd, this artist statement writing tool site from Gurney Journey will surely appeal. It’s actually easier to use than the previous one. No need to even fill in the blanks! Try it. It’s a handy little exercise to create a bang-up, very academic-sounding artist statement in no time flat. All you have to do is combine any items from three different lists, and voila! An artist statement that is sure to start a spirited discussion about your work among the (g)literati.

But for those who don’t even have time to read through the lists, there’s more! This totally mindless automatic artist statement generator it sooooo easy, you don’t have to do anything except click on a tab.

My first result using the Arty Bollocks Generator was promising:

My work explores the relationship between the body and skateboard ethics.

With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new combinations are crafted from both simple and complex layers.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as triumph soon becomes corroded into a tragedy of power, leaving only a sense of decadence and the possibility of a new reality.

As shifting phenomena become frozen through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the limits of our era.

Hmmmmm. Not…quite. So I tried again. I got a message that said I was a little hard to please, and this new statement:

My work explores the relationship between new class identities and midlife subcultures.

With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new synergies are generated from both simple and complex textures.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as vision soon becomes corrupted into a dialectic of greed, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the prospect of a new beginning.

As temporal impressions become clarified through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the inaccuracies of our era.

I still wasn’t satisfied (and the ABG got a little crabby), but I persisted. I clicked the tab again and came up with this one:

My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and urban spaces.

With influences as diverse as Nietzsche and Andy Warhol, new synergies are crafted from both simple and complex textures.

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of relationships. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a tragedy of temptation, leaving only a sense of chaos and the inevitability of a new beginning.

As shifting forms become clarified through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a statement of the edges of our condition.

Wow! Pretty good! But why settle for pretty good when I can have the best? My next try resulted in this one:

My work explores the relationship between emerging sexualities and urban spaces.

With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and Francis Bacon, new combinations are created from both explicit and implicit layers.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of relationships. What starts out as triumph soon becomes debased into a tragedy of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the inevitability of a new synthesis.

As spatial impressions become frozen through diligent and personal practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the inaccuracies of our world.

The ABG grumbled that I was a bit of a perfectionist, but I just couldn’t resist one more try:

My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and recycling culture.

With influences as diverse as Blake and Roy Lichtenstein, new tensions are created from both traditional and modern textures.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of meaning. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a cacophony of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the prospect of a new reality.

As temporal phenomena become transformed through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the edges of our future.

I decided to quit while I was ahead, and told the Arty Bollocks Generator, “Enough already.”

Yep, I had a good laugh. But the scary thing about these very tongue-in-cheek exercises?

These actually sound like real artist statements..

I’m not highly educated, but I do have an MA. And half the time, when I read these ‘sophisticated statements’, I have no idea what the person is talking about. Are these really the things they lie awake nights thinking about? ( Me? I tend to lie awake trying to remember if I let the cats in.)

Remember–It’s our choice.

We can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.

(Let us know how that works for ya, okay?)

We can try to sound like every other artist who wants to sound intellectual, academic, and obtuse.

Or we can do some work. Get real. Get sincere.

Say what is in our hearts.

We can strive to say something meaningful and compelling about our art that anyone can understand.

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Filed under art, artist bio, artist statement, craft, funny, marketing, press releases, writing

ARTISTIC LICENSE

What do you do for credentials when you don’t have any?

(This article was originally published on March 7, 2003.)

Recently, an artist on a discussion forum I participate in posted a plea for help. Her work was accepted into an exhibition. The organizers requested the usual artist credentials from her: resume, artist bio, degrees, etc.

After “wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes”, the she began to panic. Her work is something she’s picked up late in life. She didn’t attend art school. She hasn’t exhibited before. Though she feels her work is solid, she just doesn’t have the credentials. What should she do?

Here was my advice:

It would be tempting to puff up the slim credentials you do have (remember the ‘domestic engineers’ of the 1970’s?) Don’t do that.

Our society seems to demand credentialing for everything. If a plumber has to have a license, or a hair stylist, then maybe artists need one, too.

But what are credentials for, anyway?

It’s wicked easy to get caught up in the credentialing thing, and to overlook what’s really important.

A resume, bio, list of exhibits and a stack of art degrees amount to paper affidavits. They are “proof” to the world that you have been educated in your art; that you’ve paid your educational dues; and that you’ve made the effort to get your work out there through exhibiting and shows.

There are some situations in life where this kind of proof is important and necessary. We don’t want to have surgery by someone who “feels in touch with his inner surgeon” but hasn’t gone to med school.

Fortunately, being an artist does not require a license.

If you haven’t gone the traditional route of artist credentialing, then use another way to present a cohesive, narrative story about the who/what/when/where/why and how of “you, the artist.”

Who you are, what you make, why do you make it, and how did you get to where you are now? Where do you plan to go next? And how serious are you about this whole thing, anyway?? That’s really all that the bio/degree/award/exhibit thing is trying to say, in a more “official” format.

In my mind, a lack of credentials can be freeing. Starting from “nothing” gives you an open door to talk about your art in a more direct and down to earth way. Here are tips on how to do that:

1) An art degree shows you’ve taken classes to master your techniques.

So how did you learn yours? Did you take workshops? Read a book? Stay up late after work and on weekends, painting/knitting/carving into the wee hours? Did you teach yourself? Do you now teach others? Did you swap sculpting lessons for babysitting? Did you apprenticed yourself to a potter?

Talk about the passion you discovered in yourself for this art stuff, and what lengths you went to acquire the skills to do it.

2) An art degree shows you had a vision or goal to make art part of your life. You studied it, and put in the time and effort to get a degree.

You can demonstrate that you, too, have a vision for your work, and that you have steadily pursued it. What are your processes and techniques? Did you experiment? Did you develop them yourself? Did you research antique processes and recreate them? How did you come up with that particular approach or outlook? Have certain artists, cultures, whatever, influenced your style?

3) Use the education you have.

I have two college degrees. Neither of them are in art. So I mention them in relation to how they’ve influenced my work. For example, coursework for an education degree taught me the importance of storytelling. My art history classes provided me the original inspiration for my Lascaux cave-themed imagery, as well as a well-rounded education on art made around the world, and throughout history.

But don’t just stick in stuff hoping to “fill up” the page. Whatever you put in, make sure it relates in some way to your artistic self.

4) Exhibits show that you’ve made a serious attempt to get your work out in front of a variety of audiences, and that your work was good enough to be selected.

Remember: We all have to start somewhere. Everyone has a ‘first show’. So, this one is yours!

You can present enough “credentials” for this purpose by providing a brief summary of what you’ve done to get your art out there. You can show you’ve been making the same kind of effort. Have you done craft shows? Do you have an audience, and steady sales? How has the audience for your work grown since you started?

Awards simply show that someone thought your work was pretty darn good, or unusual. Are there other ways for you to demonstrate that? Anybody famous buy one of your pieces? Has your work appear in a magazine or on TV? Did you get into a terrific, exclusive craft fair the first time you applied, just because your work was so drop-dead terrific?

4) Credentials only encourage a collector who already likes your work.

Keep in mind that ultimately, the person who purchases our work isn’t really buying it because of a list of shows or exhibits I’ve been in or how many awards we’ve won. It may help them feel more confident about their initial desire to buy, but that isn’t why they buy.

They buy it because it moves them emotionally, and because it says something special to them. Something powerful is going on in the work, and they respond to that. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

In fact, years ago I revised my own brochure.

I used to have a list of exhibits and books my work has appeared in, in an attempt to establish myself as a ‘serious player’.

I took it all out,. I replaced it with a little blurb about why I make the art I make.

I’m learning that people only have to talk with me a few minutes to realize I’m a ‘serious player’. Ultimately, it’s all about my work, not the hoops I’ve made it jump through.

When you put your piece together, avoid the ordinary. Be bold! Don’t go on about how much you love color–heaven help us, all visual artist love color!

Don’t make too big a fuss about how much you wanted to be an artist when you were little. It’s cliched. Say what you did. Me? I papered my freshly painted bedroom with hundreds of drawings, all carefully hung with six or seven pieces of scotch tape, as high as I could reach. (Standing on furniture to do so.) My parents were impressed, but not in the way I’d hoped.

Think about the special things in your life, things that may seem ordinary to you from familiarity. Is your studio on a mountain top? Did you build it yourself out of hand-hewn lumber? Are your materials unusual? Do you go dumpster-diving to find your stuff, or hound recycling centers for their glass bottles?

What do you do that no one else does? What is your inimitable style? What is your personal story?

On the other hand, don’t get all obtuse on us and try to bury your lack of credentialing paper with high-falutin’ phrases and five-dollar words. As Bruce Baker, a consultant and speaker for craft and art world issues always says,

“People have a built-in bullshit meter. If you rock that meter, then they will never believe whatever else you have to say. Make sure what you say is true.”

Stick to the essence of who you are and what your art is. Make it interesting, and make it unique. Keep it true. Keep it simple. Make it powerful.

Oh, and remember…Use the credentials of this show as credentials for your next one. There! Your first official credential!

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Filed under art, artist statement, craft

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR–You Might Get It!

When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”

(This post was originally published December 11, 2002.)

“Be careful what you wish for….” This has to be my least-favorite proverb in the world. It’s like those folktales about fools wasting silly wishes (“The Sausage“) and bargains with the devil (“The Monkey’s Paw.”) People get their wishes granted, but live to regret it.

Making wishes is dangerous business, these stories seem to warn us. You can wish for the most wonderful thing in the world and the powers that be will twist it against you. Fairies’ gold turned to dry leaves in the morning light.

It takes the very joy out of wishing, doesn’t it? And what a depressing view of the universe! “The universe likes nothing better than to give with one hand and take away with the other.” Yow!

Taken another way, though, this proverb is actually excellent advice. Instead of a dour caution, see it as an challenge to dig deep into your heart, to what you really want.

When we regret a wish we’ve been granted, it’s often because we unconsciously limited the dream before it left our heart. We down-sized it to increase our chances of getting something. We don’t allow ourselves to dream big. We’re afraid to ask for too much.

Because we don’t really believe our wishes can come true.

You can see this limiting process at work when people take their first tentative steps in their work. I did it. You’ve probably done it, too. You ask for so little. Then when you get it, it’s just not enough. Or it’s just all wrong.

Years ago, I reclaimed my artistic self. (I know, I know, it sounds like I picked up my dry cleaning….)

I didn’t ask for much. I attended a seminar for women artists. I told a roomful of strangers my dream was to make wonderful little toys—tiny dolls, knitted sheep—that you could hold in your hand and marvel at. I wanted to make things that made people happy.

It’s a nice thought. But in reality, I couldn’t imagine affecting people in a more profound way than to appeal to their sense of playfulness.

I didn’t think I had anything deeper or more substantial in me.

So I wished for a way to sell lots of my little toys. Of course, each one took a minimum of two hours to make. And I wanted to make sure they would sell, so I kept the price really low.

After doing some very small local craft shows, I got my heart’s desire. A local store requested four dozen sheep, and of course, they wanted them yesterday.

I spent the next two weeks doing nothing but knitting sheep.

At first it was fun. Each sheep was so cute! But after five in a row, the joy faltered. It was… Hmmmm… Let’s just say that knitting little sheep—lots of little sheep—gets boring fast.

After twelve, I never wanted to see another skein of cream-colored yarn again. At #24, all I could think of was, “Twenty-four down, twenty-four to go.” By #42, I was sick unto death of little knitted sheep.

And I still had to sew them up, and tie little tiny bells on each one.

I managed to squeak out all 48. And swore I’d never make another.

I kept one or two of my stash, because they are so darned cute. And also as a reminder of a lesson learned.

Because in addition to all that knitting, I messed up on figuring my wholesale price. I’d simply cut my retail price in half. So I got $5 per sheep. Ouch. I probably made less than $2 an hour, after my cost for materials.

I didn’t see this granted wish as a disappointment. Okay, I’ll be honest. At first I did.

But then I saw it as a blessing. Thank heavens I hadn’t gotten more orders!

So here’s what I learned from this experience:

I learned production work was not for me. I learned how to establish a decent wholesale price. And at least I had $240 in my pocket, enough money to finance my next endeavors. (Hint: I did NOT buy yarn to make more sheep.)

As time went by, this process occurred over and over.

More ideas and more opportunities crossed my path. Each time I’d think, “Maybe this is the thing that will take off!” They always did—just enough to buy more supplies and make my hobby pay for itself—but not in the way I’d hoped. I followed them til they either petered out or til they grew into something that took me too far away from my heart’s desire. Then I’d let go, and move on.

Along the way I learned a lot about making and selling things. I learned how to sell wholesale to retail stores. I learned about signage and display. I learned how to price my work, how to create a distinctive and original product, how to locate wholesale sources for supplies. I took my profits and reinvested them in my business.

I learned the pros and cons of building a strictly local audience. I learned the potential–and the limits–of advertising. I learned how to promote myself and my work.

I taught classes when I could, but soon learned a little teaching goes a long way for me. I’d rather make more and teach a little. (But I also found I could teach through this blog.)

Finally, I learned what I really wanted, what was truly in my heart.

If you had asked me way back then what I wanted, I would have said, “I want to make something that makes people happy.” I wasn’t digging very deep into what makes me tick.

It turns out there was a story there, a story about how my dreams were echoed in the prehistoric artwork from a cave in France. I thought about why this story was important to me, and how I was going to share that story with the world.

I found a focus and a drive I’d never experienced before. Everything I’d learned about business was now centered on getting my story and my art out into the world.

When I ran into what seemed like insurmountable difficulties, I solved them through perseverance, research and experimentation.

And I loved the entire process. Even the parts that drove me crazy. I was learning so much about myself, my art and my business.

Everything began to fall into place. Opportunities lay everywhere, more than I could take on. Doors opened, people appeared in my life, solutions beckoned.

I still experience failure, but it doesn’t stop me now. It’s a call to evaluate what I really want and whether I’m still on task to achieve it.

I see the presence of something in my life that treasures my creativity, that supports me achieving my dream.

If my true wish had been to sell lots of knitted sheep, there are business models to support that. I could have hired knitters, located a sales rep, done gift shows. But my real wish was to make something totally of myself, so fulfilling and intriguing that I would not tire of the production process; and to make something with such value and power, people would pay a lot to own one.

I had a wish big enough to last me a lifetime. That was the right wish to be granted!

Most small business experts say it can take five years to get a new business off the ground. Even the IRS recognizes that. There’s a lot of learning and failing, growth and change in five years of business….

So look at what you’re doing now. Think about your biggest, deepest wish.

Will you outgrow your current dream? Will you still love it five years from now? If my first wish had been granted five years earlier, I would have outgrown it within six months.

Are you digging deep? Get past the “nice” things to say (“I want to make people happy”) and find your true story. There’s power there.

When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”

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Filed under art, artist statement, business, courage, craft, craft shows, fear of failing, inspiration

UNLOCKING YOUR STORY: The Artist’s Meaningful Message

Help me stamp out boring, pretentious artist statements!
Let’s connect your audience to the real story behind your art!

On Thursday, February 17, 2011 I’ll be teaching a workshop on creating a powerful artist statement:

“Unlocking Your Story: The Artist’s Meaningful Message”

This is a hands-on workshop. We’ll look at a few samples of powerful artist statements, and get right down to work. We’ll do some fun exercises to get the pens rolling. Then small group work to help you get the feedback you need to uncover your own unique and powerful story. I’ll demonstrate a technique for digging even deeper, using the power of being a witness to the heart’s work. Sounds very mysterious, but I guarantee you will leave with the tools you need to connect your art more deeply with your audience, whether that’s music, writing, craft or fine art.

The workshop will run from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Sharon Arts Exhibition Gallery, on Depot Square in Peterborough, NH. You can read more about the class at the Sharon Arts Center’s website here. (My workshop is on page 6.) Or call them SOON at 603-924-7256 to register.

The class is $40 for SAC members, $55 for non-members. Bring samples of artist statements you like, your current artist statement, and materials for taking notes. Actually, all you REALLY need to bring is the note-taking stuff–paper/notebook, and a pen you like to write with. Oh, and a sense of humor and a temporary suspension of belief. Cookies, too, if you got ‘em.

Please–sign up NOW! Some financial assistance may be available if you need it. Even if you can’t make it, please help me spread the word, okay? One of my life goals is to rid the world of boring and pompous artist statements. Let’s find the audience who will love your artwork, and your story.

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Filed under announcement, art, artist statement, writing

RUNNING WITH DOGS

Last week I made my first little dog artifacts.

My very first little dog artifact, in faux green soapstone.

Today I have pics of my very first dog pack. I love them so much already! I stayed with a very ancient-looking prototype, with long snout, upright and slightly cocked ears, and a curly tail. The curling tail seems to be the discerning characteristic of a dog versus a wolf or coyote. I could be wrong, but I’m going with it for now.

A whole pack of ancient dogs!

Running with the dogs. For Joanne!

I also have two little otters who are different from their brethren. Their backs arch up. I think they look like they’re doing that thing kittens do, when they arch their backs and hop sideways. And look–see the tiny toes on this one’s feet??

Bouncy otters!

Otter toes!

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Filed under artist statement, craft books, creativity, criticism, jewelry display, life with chickens, press release, shows

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?

I’m often asked to speak about my art. I’m good at it, too. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve become extremely comfortable sharing what is in my heart.

There is one frustration I sometimes encounter, though.

That’s the people who come up afterward and ask, “Can I make horses, too?” “Can I combine fabric and polymer, too?” The woman who exclaimed, “Oh, I love that idea! I paint gourds, and I’m going to make cave pictures on my gourds, too!”

Or the people that don’t even ask. They just start making cave ponies.

It’s not that they took my idea.

It’s that they got the wrong idea.

I know we all “copy” to some extent. I consider it a spectrum, just like any other human behavior. It ranges the gamut, from being inspired by someone else’s work (“I love that shade of blue! Hmmmm…I could make a necklace…”) to outright hacks. (Like finding your design on a shelf at T.J. Maxx or Target, and yes, that has happened to artists.)

I know I don’t own the idea of horses, the Lascaux horse, or even ancient images. It would be preposterous of me to say no one else can use these images.

I DO own my story.

And if you’ve ever listened to, or read my stories, and really heard them, you know I’m not just making little plastic horses.

I recently had a visitor to my studio, a delightful person who collects my work. We talked about her work. It’s an unusual profession, and one where many people would pick up the “hero” aspect. (I haven’t gotten her permission to write about this, so I’m being very circumspect.)

Her take was different. Deeper. More sensitive. Profound.

And when she spoke, I felt that ring of truth, that recognition of passion, that little shiver that goes down your spine when you hear deep knowledge expressed by someone from their heart.

It was her story. And it was astonishing.

If you know my story, you know my little horses represent many things to me–a childhood desire to run free, to fly, to feel the wind blowing my hair as my horse and I course across a plain together. You know it’s about the beauty of horses, the thrill of watching an animal born to run, run with all their heart. Doing what they were meant to do. Being what they were meant to be.

But they also represent choices. The choice to be the person you were meant to be. The choice to overcome fear, self-doubt and the weight of adulthood, and try something you’ve always dreamed of doing. To step into yourself, to take up your dreams, and live them. To follow the call.

And the choice to create beauty and embrace hope in the face of despair.

It boggles the mind to think that someone can hear my story.

And then copy my work.

Not just because my work is so personal and so important to me.

But because they missed the whole damn point of the story!

It’s that in YOU, is a story that only YOU can tell.

Because it is YOUR story. It happened to YOU. And it changed you–how you look at life, how you look at yourself, where you fit into the world.

Your story creates a place where, when you stand there, you are powerful. And you are beautiful, and you are whole.

How…..can anyone want to ignore their own powerful, wonderful, incredible story? And try to substitute someone else’s??

Even when your story is not about something you do, or something you make, it is still a place that YOU came to, a crossroads, YOU found yourself at, a journey YOU find yourself on.

Example: Anyone can do hospice work. It doesn’t take a “special person”. It just takes someone willing to be there. Anyone could do what I do.

But only I can tell the stories that come to me by doing it.

I know a woman who translates for the rights of an indigenous people in Brazil. She has even spoken at the United Nations. She insists she does not speak FOR them–they speak THROUGH her. She is their pipeline to a world that needs to honor their cries for help.

But the stories she tells about how they found her are incredible, and powerful.

That is why envy, and jealousy, are so destructive to creative people. To ANY of us.

Because it means we cannot see the power of our own stories.

What is the story that only YOU can tell?

And how will you tell it today?

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EMBRACE THE POWER OF THEY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 3

Your homework, before/after you read this article today, is to take eight minutes and listen to this podcast:

Listen to music excerpt and composer David Lang’s statement by clicking Listen to the whole show on this page. (8 minutes, if you skip the fund raising and stuff at the end.)

After that, if you want to listen to the entire composition without the artist’s comments, you can click on Listen to David Lang’s piece – Départs (18’14”) at the bottom of this page. (18 minutes)

Lang was commissioned to create a very special work of music, to quote the intro at WNYC “Radiolab”:

Imagine that you’re a composer. Imagine getting this commission: “Please write us a song that will allow family members to face the death of a loved one…” Well, composer David Lang had to do just that when a hospital in Garches, France, asked him to write music for their morgue, or “Salle Des Departs.”

Sounds morbid. But this piece is so poignant, I’ve listened to it a dozen times already. (Thank you to Heather Lawless for sharing this example in her recent workshop on artist statements at the Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough, NH.)

Lang’s comments do not comprise a formal “artist statement”. But the story this artist tells about his work, contains the elements of a powerful artist statement.

Lang does not focus on describing his techniques.

He tells enough about his process to make you want to listen more closely to the music. Akin to one definition of a good artist statement, that it “makes you want to go back and look at the art again.”

He tells why composing this piece meant so much to him. “I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life for this opportunity…”

He tells a simple, honest, personal story–about death, loss and grieving–that anyone can relate to.

He shares the effects he used to compose the piece: Music that “cannot be performed live, that is beyond the ability of human beings to perform.” Music he hopes “no one should ever actually have to hear.” These are not semantic word play; they are powerful metaphors for the grief born of of any death–but especially sudden, tragic death.

His goal was to create an environment that, unlike most music, does not tell the listener how to feel or how to act. Instead, it gives permission for the audience to define their own experience. “Here is my contribution. Now I leave you so you can make your own.”

It’s possible someone else might intuitively understand everything he says from the music alone. But I couldn’t. If I’d heard this piece alone, I might think it was pretty, even beautiful.

The power of the artist’s words makes the experience richer, more poignant, and more meaningful. I felt like this artist was taking something deeply important for him, and sharing it with me. I felt that sharing, that connection–and it moved me.

Now, for the artists who want the work to speak for itself, no comment needed from them…. Okay. If you want to split hairs, then yes, Lang says his music does not tell the listener how to feel.

And yes, people listening to it in the room would not hear his words and thoughts overlaid. The music would, indeed, have to “speak for itself”.

But the intended audience is in extreme circumstances, not a concert hall. They are in a situation few of us would wish upon our worst enemy–the last chance to say goodbye to a loved one who will never hear it.

We, the ones with the luxury of sitting back, safely at a distance, and only imagining the horrible circumstances under which we would hear this music, are only fooling ourselves with that academic argument.

When we are afraid to talk about our work in this way, when we focus on technique (“I used a #10 camel’s hair brush on gessoed linen canvas”) or our education (“I studied at this university, or under this famous artist…”), when we resort to cliche’ (“I just love color!”), when when we say nothing and insist our art “speaks for itself”, we shortchange our audience.

We leave them to make their own connection. But we’ve eliminated the human interaction. We say, “No need for me to reveal myself as human, or as a feeling/caring/grieving/loving/being person. You either get it or you don’t. So there!”

I believe, as artists, we can do better than this. I believe our responsibility to our customer, to our audience, to the world, is deeper than this.

There are those who will simply not agree with me, and that’s okay. (Just don’t write to tell me, okay? Not today. Not about this.) Maybe my hospice training is removing another protective layer off my psyche. Maybe my age is showing here. Maybe I’ve always been “too sensitive” for my own good.

There’s a time and a place for more formal, stuffy artist statements, I get that. And hey, I’m still nudging closer to my own truth. Haven’t gotten it down to half a page yet.

But to quote one of my favorite writers….(I love Anne Lamotte and I welcome the opportunity to throw her words at you today):

….Then two things happened. One was that I got obsessed with something my best friend had said right before she died, when she was in a wheelchair, wearing a wig to cover her baldness, weighing almost no pounds, but very serene, very alive. We were at Macy’s. I was modeling a short dress for her that I thought my boyfriend would like. But then I asked whether it made me look big in the hips, and Pammy said, as clear and kind as a woman can be, “Annie? You really don’t have that kind of time.” I just got it. I got it deep in my being. And all of a sudden, two years ago, it began ringing through the chambers of my head again: You don’t have that kind of time.

You really don’t have that kind of time.

We do not know when our last day on earth will be. Maybe we got fifty years, maybe fifty weeks. Maybe ten minutes. There is a certain clarity when we do, and that is one of the many gifts of hospice.

Say what you mean to say. Make the work that is important to you. Share it with the world in a meaningful way. We’re big enough, we’re strong enough.

That’s why we were given the gift of being creative.

And so I say to you all, “Artist! Embrace the power of thy ample heart!”

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EMBRACE THE POWER OF THY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 2

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be very afraid. Don’t be even a little afraid.

Yesterday I shared that little story about a teacher urging a student to “step up to the plate”–to “own” the power inside her. Here’s the second part, as promised.

Recently I attended a workshop on artist statements.

Yes, I know I TEACH workshops on artist statements. I like to check out the competition.

Actually, it’s good practice to see how others treat the same topics I teach. I always learn something new. Plus it gives me a different perspective–it’s good to sit in the “student seat” once in a while. It helps me understand what I could do better.

Okay, so at one time (and maybe still??), artists were taught that their art should speak for itself. So, someone asked, what’s the point of an artist statement, if the art is already doing the talking?

The instructor replied that talking about your motivation will help a lot to connect with your audience (which is true).

But one artist said he felt uncomfortable doing that. When asked why he painted a flower next to a rock, for example, he felt uncomfortable; afraid to answer.

So he simply avoided the question altogether, preferring to talk around it.

I wondered….why?

In my humble experience, many, many artists feel this way. They’re nervous, they hesitate, they are afraid to talk about why they make the art they do.

Afraid of what??

I bet it’s the same stuff I’m afraid of.

I’m afraid I’ll sound shallow. Or facile.

I’m afraid I’ll sound un-academic. Unschooled. Naive.

In other words, I’m afraid of what every human being is afraid of:

I’m afraid I’ll open myself to ridicule and humiliation.

Don’t laugh. Fear of humiliation is a powerful socializing force. Human beings will go to great lengths to avoid embarrassment.

Because someone who humiliates you is trying to show you as powerless and without worth.

That is painful, and agony to anyone. It can be death for a creative person.

So we clam up. We refuse to talk about our work; some artists even refuse to show their work. “It’s just for me!” they say. “No one else needs to see it.”

Maybe. But what a loss to the world…. (Yes, I’m going to keep quoting that til it’s plastered all over everybody’s studios!)

When we create work that comes from our core passion, we can choose to not give away our power to those who would deride us.

We protect our power, NOT by hiding our work, NOT by hiding our passion, NOT by hiding our motivation. But by embracing our work fully. By being so grounded with our purpose that pointless ridicule, or attacks that come from envy, cannot penetrate.

The artist thought someone would question why a flower and a rock would be worth painting. Well, William Carlos Williams wrote a poem about eating someone else’s plums. (I’m guessing they were his wife’s watermelon, too.) Fred Gipson wrote a book about a cow dog who sucked eggs. (I cried every time I read it to my kids.) Anne Frank was 13 when she died. What did she know of the world? Why should we care?

Aren’t you glad that didn’t stop her from keeping a diary?

Look, not everyone will like our work. In this interview I did years ago, I thought if one person in a thousand liked my work liked, that would be enough.

Think of it: One person in a thousand. Doesn’t seem like very popular work, does it?

Yet in the U.S. alone, that would be more than 300,000 people.

If only one person in a million liked my work enough to buy it, that would still be almost 7,000 people in the world.

So what do you care about the people who don’t??

We still do, of course. We creative types can be terribly sensitive.

But I hope you’re starting to think a little differently about them.

Tomorrow I’ll share a hauntingly beautiful artist statement, in simple, honest words that will burst your heart wide open.

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EMBRACE THE POWER OF THY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 1

Okay, obviously that title has a story behind it….

Years ago I attended a workshop for women in the arts, led by fiber artist and speaker Deborah Kruger. We learned why our art was so important, and how to make room for our art in our daily lives.

One person shared a story of taking singing lessons from an acclaimed voice teacher. She felt awkward and unsure of her abilities; he urged her to project and sing with power. Finally, in frustration, the teacher boomed with his heavy accent, “Woman! Assume the power of thy ample bosom!”

We rocked with laughter, but she said she heard the message. And she began to sing as if her life depended on it.

Because it does.

If you are not creating your art with the full force of your being, then you are robbing yourself–and your art–of vitality and authenticity.

Why is that important? (Hint: It will help your artist statement, too.) Tune in tomorrow for the second installment.

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS: A Segue

oooh, I’ve always wanted to use the word “segue” in an essay!

In my last “Myths About Artists” post, a reader said there are some people who , feeling entitled, simply want to simply “be” an artist, with all the fame and glory and controversy they think automatically comes with it.

Several themes came to me after reading his thoughtful comments.

First, as a parent, a former teacher, and even a former child (yes, and please, no comments about not having enough fingers, toes or other digits to compute how many years ago that would be), this sounded very familiar.

We all have a desire for our work to gain some attention and respect in the world. And if you’re like me, you probably wish we didn’t have to constantly work so darn hard to get there.

This is a very human trait, after all. Yes, some people work very hard at becoming excellent at their craft, whatever it is. But many of us start out dreaming of an effortless success.

When I dreamed of horses, and of riding horses, I pictured myself riding fearlessly a beautiful horse, galloping wildly across a boundless plain under an open sky.

I did NOT dream of the long and often painful process of learning how to acquire my “seat”–how to sit comfortably for hours on a horse, how to balance instead of bounce (ow, ow, ow), how to control a horse (because atop a wildly running horse can actually be a frightening place to be.)

I did NOT envision the hours of hard work involved in caring for a horse, including grooming, mucking stalls and tacking up. And of course, boarding fees, vet bills and farrier costs never entered my pleasant daydreams, either.

No, it’s all too human to see the glory, not the grit, in our dreams.

But the person who believes they deserve an easy success? This is not the person I have in mind when I write these essays.

In my mind’s eye, I always speak to the person I used to be–the person who never believed that dreams can come true.

I was lost because I was too afraid to pursue my passion, and suffering because of it. I made the lives of my loved ones miserable, because I could be difficult to be with. (Er…still am, actually.)

In the words of my favorite bumper sticker, “Those who abandon their dreams, will discourage yours.”

Eventually, the pain of NOT being an artist surpassed the fear of failure. And that’s when I took my first steps to becoming not just an artist in name only–but an artist with gumption.

When I had the courage to take those first few tentative steps–and to keep on taking them–then I was truly on the path to becoming a more whole person.

That’s what it felt like, anyway. As my pursuit of art became more habit than daydream, my ability to love more freely, to judge less harshly, to be more fearless, to be more thankful, also grew.

Am I perfect? Heck no. I am still racked often–even daily!–by self-doubt, envy, fear, jealousy and sour grapes.

But I just keep on plugging away. Because I believe trying–making a true effort to attain our goals and dreams–matters.

A good friend sometimes says I make too much of this “thing about the horses”. She makes the case that if my current art changed, if I took up another art form, even if my ability to make any art were to disappear, I would still be me. I am not my art.

I get that, I do. But I am still pathetically grateful I had the chance to make this work, and took it, even so.

And every word I write is with this intention–to encourage even just one more person on this planet to do the same.

I encourage you to take the same journey, in your very own individual, inimitable way (of course!)

To paraphrase another friend’s words, I truly believe our acts of creation, by putting positive energy out there, by becoming a more whole human being….

By believing we can all achieve something good by making something that is useful, or beautiful, or both…

…is ultimately an act of peace, and makes the world a slightly better place for all.

Okay, I know I just quoted a hobbit here, but that’s what I believe.

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TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #5: My Art Speaks for Itself

Myth: My art speaks for itself. I don’t have to explain anything!”
Reality: Your art will sell better if you can tell your story, create an emotional connection with your audience, and inspire a desire for your work.

We all know the scene:

Artist’s work on display, artist standing off to the side, aloof and austere, sniffing at any plebeian who dares ask a stupid question like “What is your work about?” or “So why do you like to paint green people so much?”

If we can’t tell what the work is about, it’s clear we shouldn’t expose our ignorance by asking.

Here’s my own personal observation:

Artists who won’t talk about their art, often can’t talk about their art. That is, they don’t know how.

Knowing how to talk about your work will also help you write a stronger artist statement. A strong artist statement is important because it is often the first way many people will “hear” you tell your story about your art.

There are as many ways to approach making art as there are artists, and as many reasons to buy art as there are customers.

Here are some ways not to talk about your art:

PROCESS If we talk about our work at all, we often fall into the easy trap of talking about process.

Process is important, to a degree, but there’s gotta be more. I’m not going to pay you by the hour to mow my lawn with a pair of manicure scissors unless you have a really compelling reason.

Yes, some people want to know how we make our stuff, where we learned our craft, where we get our materials. But in my humble experience, many people who care only about my process, want to make something like my work, not buy it.

Here’s a good example. For years, if the first question people would ask me was, “What are these artifacts made of?”, I’d answer, “Polymer clay”.

And once I said that, rarely did the person actually buy something. Often, their first reaction was to actually put down the object they were holding.

Even talking to them at this point, telling them why, had little effect. The spell was broken, and their interest was lost.

I finally wised up. Now I say, “I use polymer clay, and if you look over here, there is a wonderful little piece I wrote on why I chose to use it as my medium.”

Now people are engaged again, reading a short but powerful sign with beautiful examples of all the artifacts I make. And this has ended in more sales. (Hint: The key to why this works is in this paragraph…)

ACADEMIC when I read an artist statement filled with academese or art speak, I sense someone who is afraid to get up close and personal about their work. That, or my eyes roll up into my head, my toes curl and I fall over from total boredom. But then, maybe that’s just me.

RESUME At most shows, when you read the accompanying artist statements, artists carefully list their education, the classes of other, more famous artists they’ve studied under, and the awards they’ve won. Most sound like they were written to impress other artists, perhaps a worthy goal, but I’m guessing most of us would rather impress our customers. They may not realize their statements sound like every other artist in the show. Or they think that’s the way it “should be done.” At the very least, they sure don’t know how to make theirs stand out.

FUN Frankly, I don’t care when an artist tells me they had “such fun” making their latest design. Because why should I care if they’re having fun?? I want to know why I should be compelled to part with my hard-earned money, and make space in my already-crowded home for something new. I can tell you it won’t be because the artist giggles while she works.

I’ve taught many artists about how to write a compelling artist statements, how to write a strong press releases, how to give a powerful interview for the media. It’s very simple, really.

All we really have to do is think about a little three-letter word….

Why?

I tell them why….this cave. Why…this point in my life. Why…I use polymer clay. Why…I use these fabrics, those markings, this presentation. I even have a story about the beaver-chewed sticks, and how they contribute to the story.

So why do you do what you do? Why do you choose to do it this way, with these materials?

Most importantly… Why should your audience care??

I believe the work I make sells to people who a) are blown away by the work itself, and b) feel a powerful connection to the stories I tell about the work.

When we talk in a deeply meaningful way about what our work means to us, other people listen. They will feel the truth of what you say. Remember all the times my customers say, “When you said that, a shiver went down my spine”…? Or, “Look, my hair is standing up!” (Yes, these are actual customer quotes.)

They are hearing the power of what my work means to me, and they are responding to it with something going on in their own lives.

That is connection. Human to human connection. Empathy, resonance, heart to heart. Inspiration. The recognition that we as human beings have these things in common: A need to love, and be loved. A desire to belong, and be an individual. A need to protect, and be protected. A desire to remember, and be remembered.

Don’t be ashamed or self-conscious about admitting your humanity. It is to be embraced and celebrated. Hey, we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive.

And when you do that, with honesty and integrity, you will find other people will respond.

How do you know if you’ve done a great job either talking or writing about your art? Basket artist Joanne Russo passed on a terrific tip she heard: An artist statement should make you want to go back and look at the work again.

If you still don’t know what to say about your work, then invest in Bruce Baker’s CD on “Dynamic Sales and Customer Service Techniques”. It will be the best $20 investment you ever make in your art biz.

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Filed under art, artist statement, booth behavior, craft, customer care, marketing, mental attitude, myths about artists, press release, self promotion, selling, telling your story

ARTIST STATEMENT = MISSION STATEMENT

A quick thought and a short post today. (You folks in the back row heaving a sigh of relief, I HEARD THAT!!)

A lot of people have written to say they don’t think of their art/craft as “serious enough” to be worthy of an artist statement.

Would it make you feel better if we called it a “mission statement” instead? I love this definition because I love the question, “Why do we exist?”

Or how about a “vision statement”? Again, I love how this article distinguishes between a mission statement and a vision statement:

The difference between a mission statement and a vision statement is that a mission statement focuses on a company’s present state while a vision statement focuses on a company’s future.

Your homework, should you chose to accept it, is to write a good mission or vision statement for your craft or art. Heck, go crazy and combine the two!

And someday, when you realize that the work/art/craft you do has its place in the world, see if writing that artist statement comes a little easier to you.

Be the guinea pig! Or be the bunny! Remember, they, too, have their place in the world.

And so do you.

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THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BABY IN THE WORLD

When you truly open your heart to possibility, you will find beauty, joy, compassion, love and other miracles.

It’s odd, but my hospice training experience is already crossing over into my artistic experience. Last week’s session made me think about the connections we form when we make our art from a powerful place in our heart. (Yes, that place some of you are finding so hard to think about when it comes to your artist statement!) (And I say that with love and acceptance, by the way. No lecturing parent thing here, just bear with me.)

During my first hospice training session last week, we split into small groups to do various exercises.

I worried for a moment. What if I didn’t like the people in my group?? What if they didn’t like me? I decided to set my fears aside and simply see what would happen.

We started our listening exercises. I soon realized the people in my little group, these “randomly selected” people, were soul mates.

Their stories blew me away. Their outlook on life amazed me. When it was my turn to talk, their compassion sustained me during difficult moments. What we shared with each other was astonishing.

Oddly, when we returned to our big group, I noticed we all felt the same way. Everyone felt their little group was the perfect match for them.

The only thing is, the groups were created in a fairly random manner.

How could all of us, have “randomly” ended up in “the perfect group for us”?

After the session, I asked our trainer how often that happened.

She said it happens all the time.

In fact, it happens every time.

In fact, she’s come to believe this:

“If your heart is open to this work (hospice), then that connection is already there.”

I thought about that all night. This insight is one thing that made me realize this is the perfect place for me to be right now.

When your heart is open, so many things are possible. Miracles are possible.

This phenomenon reminded me of a story, one of my personal favorites.

Years ago, before kids, before Keene, my husband and I shared an evening with new friends. They had just started the arduous process of adopting a child from another country, working with an international organization. In one of their support groups, another couple had told them this story, and now they were sharing it with us.

Now, because this story is third-hand, and because we heard it so long ago, I’m sure I have many details wrong. So if I’ve messed up anything that may be distracting if you know more about this kind of thing than I do, please forgive me and go for the story.

This other couple had gone through years of preparation and paperwork, and waiting and disappointment. (At one point, they were almost given a baby they learned at the last moment had been STOLEN from her mother. They were devastated on many levels.)

But finally, the glorious day came. They were told a child was available for them, really truly available. In fact, a number of children were available. A group of prospective parents were traveling to a South American country together, to receive their new babies and return home.

Now, for some reason, they would not be allowed off the plane. Their babies would be brought to the airport from the orphanage, then carried to the plane by the nuns who cared for them. Each baby would be given to its respective new parents, and the plane would take off immediately and fly home again.

On the flight down, the parents-to-be talked excitedly among themselves. They were bubbling with hope, and excitement.

And fear.

It had been so hard. So much had gone wrong. They’d waited so long. Was it really going to be all right today? Were they finally going to have a child to love?

Their biggest fear, they all agreed, was that they might be given an ugly baby.

(I remember the way Cathy told this part, in a hushed voice, and it always makes me laugh. It seems so silly! Yet a year later, I was pregnant, and that’s why I remember this part so clearly. Because I had the same fear.)

They could handle anything–missing toes, deformity, sickness, injury. But maybe something else would wrong with the baby. Maybe it would simply be ugly. And what would they do then?

And everyone agreed that it wouldn’t matter. It didn’t matter at all, not now.

No matter what, they all decided they would learn to love that ugly baby, and give it a wonderful home and a beautiful life.

The plane finally landed at the small airport, and rolled to a stop.

They could see the little terminal from the plane. They could see the doors.

They waited. And they waited.

For what seemed like an eternity, they waited.

Was there a mistake? Had something something wrong? Had the orphanage changed its mind?

Finally, the terminal doors flew open, and a very strange procession marched out into the fierce sunshine.

It was the nuns, with their habits and white wimples flapping in the breeze. They marched quickly, single file, across the tarmac.

And each nun, in her arms, carried a baby.

The nuns-with-babies marched up the steps into the plane, names were called out, hands were raised. And soon every baby was being cradled by its brand new mommy and daddy.

Now, the rest of the story is very fuzzy, probably because it would be almost impossible to describe the joy that must have filled that plane. If you could measure joy, if you could figure its weight, it would have been so big, so deep, so profound, our planet Earth must have surely tilted slightly on its axis that day.

But, Cathy said in a hushed voice, her friend had been very clear on one point:

Every single couple on that plane secretly rejoiced that they had received the prettiest baby in the group.

Each couple whispered to each other that their baby…

….that their baby…

… was the most beautiful baby in the world.

So it’s true. When your heart is open, wide open, fear and doubt will fall away. And the most powerful connections–authenticity…compassion…love–will already there.

Don’t you think that’s a miracle? I do.

That’s why art can be a miracle, too. When we make art from this powerful place in our heart, we will find other people whose hearts resonate with it. And that is a powerful connection. One heart speaks to another. A miracle.

P.S. At the end of our training session, we were asked to give the person next to us a blessing.

Here is mine for you today:

May you find such joy in everything you do in life, especially your art.

May you always have an open heart.

And may you always know, deep in your beautiful, open heart that you, as a child of the universe, as someone who brings your own special creativity to this world, at this time, in this place, may you know that to somebody, somewhere, you are the most beautiful baby in the world.

And may you know that somewhere in the world, your creative work has made someone else feel that way, too.

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Filed under adoption, art, artist statement, craft, hospice, inspiration, lessons from hospice, life, life lessons

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

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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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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