Category Archives: horses

THE VERY BAD SADDLE

I just found out I can republish my own article that I write for Fine Art Views–yay! Here’s today’s article:

The Very Bad Saddle
by Luann Udell on 9/30/2010

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

If your art career is giving you a hard time, maybe it’s trying to tell you something.

My art life and my “normal” life spill over into each other a lot. Things that occur in my “normal life” often provide surprising insights into my artist life. In fact, it happened just this week.

I’ve been taking riding lessons (horse, not motorcycle!) for awhile now, my reward to myself for getting through an excruciating period in my life.

I’m at the point where, like making art, I simply need to do it more in order to get better. So this month I upped my commitment. I’ve been riding more than the standard weekly lesson, sometimes two or three or even four times a week.

But instead of getting easier, things got harder.

I’ve been riding this new horse on the trails. To put it mildly, he didn’t agree with anything I propose during our rides together. He was getting so antsy, willful and unruly, I began to fear for my safety on him.

I complained to my instructor, who finally took him out herself. And she couldn’t find anything wrong with him.

“So,” I asked gingerly, “Does this mean I really suck at riding?”
“No”, she replied. “You have a really crappy saddle.”

I couldn’t believe it. I’d bought the saddle just a few months ago online, under guidance from someone I believed to be an expert on such things. We’d spent a delightful afternoon shopping for saddles on Ebay, drinking wine and talking about the trail rides we’d take. She helped me find a great deal on what she said was a great saddle.

But apparently, it doesn’t fit the horse at all. It was pinching the horse in all the wrong places. He was doing his best to let me know it. But I couldn’t read his message.

My expert friend was mistaken. Or hey, maybe it was the wine. But my saddle is a cheap, poorly designed saddle from a country famous for cheap, poorly designed saddles.

In a way, I was relieved. Better to blame my woes on a bad saddle that didn’t cost me much in the first place. (And at least that might also mean my riding doesn’t totally suck.) But it got me thinking….

What “bad saddle” am I using when it comes to getting my art out into the world?

Right now, we are in a transitional period on how art and fine craft are marketed and sold. The old ways—getting into great galleries, getting juried into great shows, advertising, finding a patron or agent–are not sure-fire strategies for success anymore.

Yet it’s not clear what we should be doing. And when we don’t know what we should do, we often cling to the old ways. At least they’re familiar.

“My friend says I should do this show. It’s the best in the country! It’s expensive, and shows overall aren’t doing well. But maybe this one will work for me!”

“I’m going to keep applying to juried exhibits. I’ve never sold my work from one before. But maybe this time it will be different!”

“I’ve been doing this prestigious show for years. It used to be my best show! But they seem to be letting a lot of people who aren’t up to snuff, and sales are way, way down. But maybe this year will be different…”

“Nothing’s working for me right now. My work must be bad!”

“Nothing’s working for me right now. It couldn’t possibly be my work! It’s always sold well before…”

I knew an artist whose goal was to exhibit in juried gallery shows in every 50 states in the U.S. Now, there are good reasons to do a juried gallery show. But when I asked her why on earth she thought that would be a selling point for her work, she realized it was a goal she’d outgrown.

I know a prestigious fine crafts show that now juries in people whose work is just not up to snuff. Their spaces are filled, but the quality of the show suffers. That’s a professional credential I can do without.

After rescuing my work from three failed galleries in the past few years, I’m not as eager as I used to be to get into that “perfect gallery”.

Sometimes we just have to take a good, hard look, and listen deep to our heart to see what the next step is. And move on from what isn’t working anymore.

Maybe our work needs a fresh eye. Maybe it’s time to give up that prestigious show. Maybe it’s time to explore selling online. Maybe we need to rethink what potential customers really want to know about us and our work (as opposed to what academics and art schools say we should tell them.)

I thought about some of the events and venues I’ve committed to over the next six months. Some will be worthwhile to keep. Others aren’t paying their way, are not furthering my greatest vision for my art, and take up too much time to boot. I want to clear out some clutter in my life, both literal and figurative. I want to look carefully at all the goals I’ve assumed would move me forward, that are actually holding me back.

I can let go of some of these things I used to think would mean I’d “made it”, and articulate ways my art could “work” more powerfully for me. Get rid of the strategies, venues and goals that don’t work for me anymore, and find a better “fit”. Maybe instead of just getting my work into a great gallery, it could actually serve a great cause.

I’ve learned my lesson—don’t let a bad saddle keep you from having a good ride on a great horse.

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Filed under art, business, choices, craft, horses, marketing

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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Filed under action steps, art, artist statement, body of work, business, craft, creativity, fear of failing, gratitude, horses, inspiration, living with intention, mental attitude, myths about artists, perseverence

SMALL GIFTS

Taking a small break from the latest business series on halfway wholesaling… I just had to share two small gifts in my life lately.

I started back riding two weeks ago. It’s the first time I’ve been on a horse in more than six months–maybe closer to eight, come to think of it. It was wonderful! But that’s not the small gift (because being well enough to ride at all is a big gift….)

My “main ride” at the stable is Fancy, an old blue-eyed quarter horse with a thick black mane and a skinny tail. (He’s the favorite candidate for mane-braiding among the younger riders.)

Fancy could be urged through his paces, but emphasis on the “urging” part. Whenever I asked for a trot, you could see him thinking, “Are you suuuure?”

You could actually see him heave a huge horsey sigh, a low groan, and then, if you were lucky, a reluctant, slow trot–for a few paces. A few more requests, more sighs and groans, and I’d get a finally get a good trot out of him. (Which was a nice one, when he finally got going.)

He carried his head low, low, low, which meant I had to give him a lot of rein room. And just when I would relax and let my attention wander, he would do something like bolt through the barn door and dart outside. I learned to duck in a heartbeat.

But he was reliable, and safe (except for the barn door thing), and I grew to love him. Even the slightly worried look on his face when I came to his stall, which seemed to say, “We’re not riding today, are we??!!”

Fancy is not doing well this season, and I can’t ride him. I miss my old cow pony (though I’m not sure he misses me–he always kinda kept to himself, though he loved the Cheerios I brought him.)

My new ride, Carol, is a smaller, slightly younger mare. She has her “things”–every horse has their “thing”–but they are manageable things. (For one, she’s a head-tosser and needs to work with a martingale.) She’s quicker to respond, and wants a lighter hand on the reins, forcing me to use my legs more. She’s also quicker to see if she can get away with something–but easy to bring back around. I will need to pay attention at all times, and be ready to catch her. She also has more energy, and will work harder for me. I need to get strong fast, so I can keep up with her.

She is, in short, the perfect “next horse” for me.

I also went back to Tae Kwon Do class for the first time since my hand injury (in December.) I was so nervous about going! I feel like I’ve been trying to catch up in this school ever since I started 18 months ago, and now I’m really behind the eight ball. I even took several private lessons with my instructor, to help me build confidence about returning.

There’s another student, brand new to our school but with martial arts training. She’s coming back from horrific injuries and surgeries. My instructor paired us up so we can both train slowly and carefully, bringing each other back up to speed gently.

My new partner is excited to be training again, but overwhelmed with her setbacks. She keeps apologizing for the things she can’t do (when she can barely stand to do the techniques.)

In her I see myself. All the ruefulness, all the regrets for the skill she used to have, and may never have again. The embarrassment for what she can’t do, the self-consciousness of being around people who are better than her. The fear that this is as good as it’s going to get.

And my heart goes out to her.

About the fifth time she apologizes and says, “I used to be able to do this!”, I interrupt her.

“Let’s not go there,” I say.

I tell her we both have to let go of what we used to be able to do. It will destroy us.

We both have to focus on what we can do. We both have to be right here, right now. And we both need to move forward from here.

“You’re doing great!” I tell her. “And I know how much courage it took for you to even show up tonight. Let’s focus on that for now. You and me, we’re going to get better, and do better. Starting now.”

She lets her breath out slowly, and nods. And smiles.

I am the right person for her to train with right now. Because I’ve been there.

And she is the perfect “next partner” for me right now. Because everything I tell her, I’m also telling…myself.

Two gifts in my life right now.

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Filed under courage, health, horses, inspiration, life, martial arts, mental attitude, perseverence

LOOKING FOR A HORSE

When I had my little cancer scare a few weeks ago, some surprising things came of it.

I’ve been through this before–suddenly realizing you may not be around for another Christmas, another New England spring, another round of baby bunnies. Maybe there won’t be “plenty of other times” to take the family to a silly movie, or go get ice cream.

It brings you up short, this little calling card from death. It makes you think really, really hard about what is really important. And what you really want to do today. Today.

It’s a great wake-up call.

So it was interesting when in the middle of my first talk with my dear husband, when I had my first panic attack, about what this might mean for us if the news got bad, what popped out was,

“Can I have a horse?”

We both laughed as soon as I said that. I sounded like a kid. It really took me back to my childhood, when I would have given anything to have a horse.

But maybe it’s not so funny.

After my last round of knee surgeries five years ago, I actually promised myself riding lessons as a way of getting me through my long recuperation and physical therapy. I’m been happily riding once a week since then, and loving it.

Recently I’ve been riding Missouri Fox Trotters with a friend of a friend. It’s deliriously fun! Their trot is like a fish wiggle. Trail riding is a wild, exuberant dash up and down our steep New Hampshire trails. I LOVE it!

And of course, an ancient little horse is where it all began for my art.

But actually own a horse? Be responsible for the care of such a large and expensive animal every day, in summer and winter, rain or shine? During black fly season???!!

Well, maybe I’ll lease a horse instead.

But it’s still a thing of wonder. Over the years, I’ve heard incredible stories of women who went looking for their horse, and incredible stories of how their horses found them.

The stories are beautiful and moving and powerful–because horses can be hugely healing and profoundly powerful animals to be around. (A little too huge and profound when one is standing on your foot….)

I know when it’s time for me to have a horse, a horse will appear. And it will seem as magical and wonderful as that sentence sounds.

So here we are, two very busy professional people with kids still at home and aging parents and full personal lives.

Jon is waiting for a dog.

And I am looking for my horse.

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Filed under art, courage, horses, life, risks, taking chances