Category Archives: criticism

MAKING ART FOR ME

There’s more than one way to get your art out into the world.

I wrote in my journal this morning, dragging my feet as usual. (I often start out writing “blah blah blah”. No joke.)

I was writing–no, complaining–about not being able to hear myself think over the noise of Jon’s radio. Until I realized it was coverage on the Egyptian people, fighting for the right to govern themselves. Just as I stopped to listen, I heard a woman’s voice saying, “I just want to be a real citizen…”

So then I wrote how embarrassing it was to complain about the noise of freedom….

Then suddenly, I found myself writing, “I want to make a XXXX–for ME!”

(Forgive the mystery, I’m just not ready to talk about these new projects yet. I don’t want the energy of talking about it to replace the energy of doing it.)

Where…did THAT thought come from?

It took me totally by surprise. And I immediately found myself wondering how it could be done as a new product, a new line.

Just as immediately, another thought popped out:

What is it were something I simply made for MYSELF?

I write all the time about respecting your inner spirit, your inner source for ideas and inspiration. I urge others constantly to make the work that makes their heart sing, and worry about finding an audience for it later.

And here I sit, my brain immediately hopping into “How could I sell this?” How embarrassing! (Again.)

So I write, “I don’t have to make something to sell. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And I can make it for myself. It’s something I would love to have in my home.”

Buzzy brain bites back: “You HATE it when people refuse to share their art with the world! How come it’s okay for YOU do it??!” (Buzzy Brain is rollin’ today.)

I write all the time about the importance of getting our work out into the world. I love Martha Graham’s famous quote on how we are the only people who can express that unique vision, how others need to see it and do the same. (I’ve posted links to other articles I’ve written about her quote at the bottom of this one.)

So where is the power in making something for myself?

Well….a lot of things started out as something for me. That freedom to please only myself, the peace of working out the details in a place free from outside comment or criticism, the power that comes from making work from my heart…that’s always been my modus operandi.

But then I realized there are other ways of getting that energy, that vision, out into the world.

I can write about what I’m doing, and why. (Ta da!)

I can tell others about that process (of working from my heart), and encourage them to do it, too.

And I can let this process help me be a better person.

I can learn to be aware, to be in tune with the creative force of the universe. I can learn to be someone who knows the joy and the passion and the power that comes from doing our heart’s own work.

Down the road, the private work of my heart may well become public. Perhaps a solo exhibition or an installation. Perhaps a book. Maybe even a new product. I have no idea.

But the freedom to simply make something that will please me is my gift to myself today.

And my heart rests easier knowing, somehow, someday, it will also be my gift to the world.

A list of other articles I’ve written with Martha Graham’s wise words you might enjoy:

BLESSED UNREST
THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD
MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: PROFESSIONAL JEALOUSY PART DEUX

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Filed under art, business, courage, creativity, criticism, inspiration, writing

WHEN IS A WYSIWYG NOT A WYSIWYG?

When is “What you see is what you get” not what you think? When it’s something else.

(Originally published December 4, 2002)

Last week I got a call from someone on committee. They were in a bind. They needed someone to help with a project–could I volunteer for half an hour? I checked my calendar, saw an open spot and said yes.

I went in today for my assignment. I was greeted by the person in charge and put to work. Half an hour later, the task was done, and I asked the person in charge, “Is that it?”

She said, “Yes. Now, wasn’t that easy? That wasn’t such a big deal, was it?” with a kindly smile.

Being a grown-up, I managed to bite my tongue before the words “I think the words you’re looking for here are ‘thank you’!” popped out. I simply smiled and left.

At my next stop, I related my story to the woman behind the counter, bemoaning how ungrateful some people can be..

“Oh, that’s nothing,” she said.

Last year her fiance was at a local organization here in Keene, NH. He saw their Christmas tree project in the lobby, covered with dozens of tags. (This is their special Christmas project. Each tag has a child’s name, a child who was in one of their community outreach programs, with the child’s age and one wish for a gift.)

It was a week before Christmas, and no one had taken any of the tags.

Her fiance found the woman in charge of the program. He told her he wanted every tag on that tree. He was determined that no child’s wish went unfulfilled.

Together, they went shopping. He bought every single child not only their designated gift, but lots of extra presents as well.

He spent over $2,500.

They returned to the facility and stored all the presents to be distributed the next day. He told her he preferred to remain anonymous. And he had to hurry, because he still didn’t have a Christmas tree himself.

The woman said, “You said you don’t even have a tree for Christmas yet? Why don’t you take that tree home with you? It’s the least we can do to thank you!”

So the took the tree. As he walked out the door with it, the facility director walked in and saw him.

This week (one year later), the man saw this year’s tag-covered tree in the lobby. Again, he approached the front desk, where the facility director was standing. “I’d like to help out again with your Christmas program again this year,” he said.

The director looked at him. He only remembered seeing this guy walk out of the facility a year ago with the tree. He sneered, “I don’t think we’ll need your kind of help this year.”

What you see is not always what you get…..

I told the woman to have her fiance write a letter to the guy, cc’ing the board of directors, the woman in charge of the Christmas program, and the local United Way, which supports and funds this facility. Oh, and the local newspaper, too.

He should explain that last year, he had donated his time and $2,500 of his personal money to make sure no child in their care was left out at Christmas. This year, he had repeated his offer, and had been told his help was not needed this year. And he should say how delighted he was that the facility had been so successful in their efforts that they needed no other help from their membership or the community to ensure every child had a wonderful Christmas.

He won’t do it, of course. But what a lesson for all of us!

Sometimes what you see is NOT what you get.

Sometimes…there’s whole nother story being told.

Update: The generous gentleman preferred to suffer in silence, and vowed never to participate again. But eventually, he realized only the children were hurt by his decision. He continues to make Christmas wonderful for these kids.

P.S. This is a perfect example of BIBS, the Baby In the Back Seat phenomenon. Here’s where I read this concept by conflict resolution expert Anna Maravelas and here’s a recent retelling.) Please read them if you have a moment, it will change your life!

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Filed under art, craft, criticism, silent evidence, world peace

TIME TO SIT ON MY HANDS AGAIN

I write for several venues now. Fortunately, my humorous column at The Crafts Report rarely draws complaints. (Or maybe it does and Jones Publishing is just shielding me from them….??)

There’s another blog I write for every two weeks, usually about getting your art out there. And it seems like every time I write, someone complains I’m not writing about “art”, just about “selling art”. And the monstrous idea of making art “for filthy lucre” raises its ugly head once again.

The idea of “art for art’s sake” is a very common one among many modern artists. I don’t really disagree. I do hold my art passionately, and with integrity, in my heart. Anyone whose read my blog for the last eight years, or heard me talk, or teach, or met me in my booth, knows that. I will always make my art and I will always write, whether I’m paid to or not. (For example, I’m not paid to write this blog and I’ve been doing it for eight years now.)

We all already create our art with passion, with joy and with zest. I often write about my art processes here. At this other site, I figured a bunch of artists might be less interested in my prattling about MY art, and more interested in how to get to get people excited when they prattle about THEIRS.

And most of them appreciate that. I’ve gotten many thoughtful comments and words of thanks for giving people another point of view, for sharing an insight that helps us be more successful artists, or simply more compassionate people.

But art does NOT exist in a vacuum. If our work only sells “if it’s good enough”, and nothing else should matter, that would limit much of the stuff we normally call “art.” And oh, if only it were that easy….

Exhibiting, publishing, marketing, selling are simply venues for getting one’s work out into the world.

I don’t know why our modern times puts such a judgment on that process. When did getting paid to make art get such a bad rap??? Many of the great masters had wealthy patrons or commissions to do their work. The Sistine Chapel was painted on commission, after all. Picasso was not only a famous artist, he is famous BECAUSE he was a master at self-promotion and marketing. Remember the picture he drew to pay his tailor bill? Or the check he wrote and told the recipient if he waited, the signature would be worth more than the amount of the check? Marketing. (See more “myths about artists” here. (I don’t know why all fourteen don’t show up, but if you do a little digging while you go through these, you should be able to find them all.)

Yes, it would be nice if artists only had to sit and paint/carve/sculpt/write/sing all day, and not worry about anything else. I would be terrific if we could all have someone else to promote, market and sell our work. In fact, it would be wonderful! But it doesn’t happen very often. In fact, that’s what that website for artists I write for is for–to help artists exhibit, show, market AND SELL their work.

Saying we shouldn’t care about exhibiting or selling our art is easy. But most of us DO care, very very much. IMHO, many people who say they don’t care of the world sees their work are actually afraid of the world seeing their work. It is so precious to them, they fear and avoid rejection, ridicule, humiliation. Those fears (very human, and very common to us all) are so powerful, the person would rather embrace obscurity than risk it.

And even if we don’t fear these and truly believe our art is ONLY for ourselves, then we inadvertently disconnect art from its very purpose–to enrich the world emotionally and spiritually. The cave paintings of Lascaux weren’t hidden because they were personal. They were protected because they were so powerful. The welfare of the entire community was wrapped up in their creation. Maybe it was hard to get to see them, but they WERE seen. Evidence of torches, evidence of men, women and children (foot prints, hand prints), even doggy foot prints prove that.

A piece of art that is never exhibited, that is not shared, or sold, is a loss to the world, like a song that is never sung, a poem that is never read. Emily Dickinson is often given as an example of a powerful writer whose work was never published and someone who never sought recognition. But she desperately WANTED to be recognized, and she worked hard trying to get her work published. She wanted her art to be visible in the world. And though it didn’t happen til after her death, the world is richer for her words. Her work was certainly “good enough” to make her successful. But for different reasons, that didn’t happen in her lifetime.

My articles serve many purposes. Sometimes I just need to write about an issue to find my way through it. Sometimes I find a deeper truth than what I originally planned. Sometimes I find myself in a hard place; I’ve learned that being honest about that, and sharing that, will sometimes help someone else through the same rough spot.

I ALWAYS try to encourage everyone who makes art, or who wants to make art, to just do it. The world is full of despair and sadness and hardship. Art serves many purposes, but the one I celebrate is its role in healing some of that. Every work that comes from the joy of our creating is an act of love and healing on our part.

Art is a constant reminder that we are all alike, and that we are all very, very different. I like to believe each of us brings something to the world that can be–should be–celebrated.

Some people feel art has a much narrower role, and a sharper definition. They will not be happy with my writing. And being so open about my thoughts will leave me vulnerable to people who are very comfortable with their own rigid guidelines. So be it. I’d rather be open than limited.

Normally, too, I sit on my hands awhile before responding to people. Right now, I’m in between two major gigs–I just finished a nine-day outdoor show (yes, 9 days!!) and I’m packing to leave for a week-long artist-in-residency (7 days). The mind boggles. Perhaps I am not at my most resilient today.

So for the next few weeks, I am totally immersed in the process of showing/talking about/selling my work. The joy of creating has segued into the power of people connecting with and reacting to my work.

It is a different energy, but part and parcel of the entire process.

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Filed under art, balance, craft, creativity, criticism, marketing, myths about artists, world peace

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

MY FAVORITE BUMPER STICKER

I had the same bumper sticker on my car for years, right next to my “BRAKE FOR MOOSE, IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE!” sticker from the NH Fish and Game Department. (I love the looks I get from it when I drive around in Philadelphia….)

It says:

Those who abandon their dreams will discourage yours.

Some people take this to mean you should only hang out with happy people. Well, yeah, there’s that.

For me, it was a constant reminder that people who nay-say your dreams, your ideas, your business, your art…

They are not necessarily telling you that “for your own good”.

They have their own motivation, their own agenda. And their motive is to not further yours.

I was especially reminded of this a few years ago. I’d hit a roadblock with my work. Wasn’t sure where to go with it, or what to do next. Heck, did the world even want my art? It sure didn’t feel like it….

That was a rough time, a scary time.

What was even scarier was, I became hyper-critical and hyper-jealous of those who did appear to have their act together.

And I also took some big hits from other artists I suspect were in the same scary boat/place.

In fact, some of the biggest crap I’ve gotten from people are people who are shadow artists. Or nibblers.

So my take on this little homily is this:

If you love the work you do, if you are making the best art you can, if making it makes you a better person….

Then it’s good enough to be in the world.

Maybe I don’t like it. But that’s my problem, not yours. It probably serves somebody’s purpose, even if it isn’t mine.

And when other people are giving you crap, don’t take it personally.

In fact, don’t take it at all.

Because chances are, it’s somebody who’s in a really bad place with their own work.

You can sympathize, if you are a big person. (I’m not.) But don’t give in to them.

Because….

Those who abandon their dreams,

will discourage yours.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, criticism, envy, jealousy, Nibble theory, professional jealousy, shadow artist

EATING MY WORDS ABOUT ART SCHOOL

A quick segue today, before the amazing artist statement I promised you yesterday.

I’ve had to eat my words re: what I said about going to art school.

Here’s what I said in a reply to a comment on that post:

Actually, Aza, I recently had an experience that made me see the value of a good art school education. And that is the connections and opportunities that are made possible. I attended a workshop presented by a young woman who just finished post-graduate degree studies at a prestigious art school. In the course of her studies, she visited the studios of many well-known artists; gained access to facilities (museums, galleries) beyond the reach of most people, even allowed access to their “backstage”, so to speak.

It was enough to make me wish I’d gone to art school, too! :^D

I think everyone has their own needs and desires re: art school. If you feel drawn to it, go. Explore. Take what you need and leave the rest. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect, network, and experiment.

And then, be sure to come back and tell us what you learned.

I’ve never said you shouldn’t go to art school. I say you shouldn’t rule yourself out as an artist if you don’t go.

I remember bugging a friend who decided to go to art school late in life. She was already a productive artist–why did she need an art degree??

She replied that no one in her family had ever gone to college before her, and certainly no one had ever achieved a master’s degree.

She wanted to be the first.

I realized that mattered very, very much to her. And that was a good enough reason to do it.

Sometimes you need a college degree for credentialing. Sometimes you need it to prove something to yourself. And now I know the connections, networking and opportunities you get can be worth every penny.

Just know your reasons.

And don’t use not going as an excuse to not make art. Because I know better.

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Filed under art, career, choices, craft, creativity, criticism, mindfulness, myths about artists, networking, social networking

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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Filed under art, artist statement, choices, courage, craft, creativity, criticism, inspiration