Category Archives: jealousy

MOTHER’S DAY

I’m too hot and lazy today to write a post. So I’m reprinting one from my old blog at Radio Userland, one of the early blog sites.

Enjoy!

Many years ago, I was miserably single, sure that I would end my life alone in a messy house filled with cats. Each new relationship seemed to vie for the previous one for weirdness and dysfunction.

I drove up to my sister’s house for a visit one weekend. While we waited for her husband Tom to get home from work, I helped watch her boys while she took down the laundry.

They lived in a tiny town 30 minutes outside a big city, in a run-down but charming old farmhouse Sue had painted and wall papered to within an inch of its life. It was warm and homey.

We were out in their spacious backyard. It was a beautiful, sunny summer day. A brisk wind whipped the sheets on the clothesline as Sue struggled to unpin them. Joey, her oldest boy, was running happily to and fro, occasionally plowing into a flapping sheet, his little three-year-old body pushing into its folds. Her baby Eddie was gurgling in his bouncy chair.

I was almost heartsick with envy. I was happy for Sue, of course. But I wondered if I would ever have such joy in my life.

The bees buzzed through the flowers, the wind blew, and all birds sang. I finally set aside my envious heart and chased Joe through the sheets as he shrieked with delight.

I remain, to this day, “Aunt You” thanks to Joe’s inability to pronounce the letter “L” at the time.

Years later, my husband and I moved to New England with our newborn baby. We bought our first home, a run-down farmhouse in the middle of Keene.

It was July, and in the middle of a major heat wave when we moved in. We only had one fan. Jon went off in the mornings to his air-conditioned office. I would lie on the floor panting in front of the fan, with Robin gazing at me with solemn eyes at my side.

We had a washing machine, but no dryer. I slogged out huge baskets of cloth diapers (yes, we fell for that ‘environmentally responsible’ crap), clothes towels and sheets to hang on the clothesline in our backyard.

One day, I hung our clothes out to dry. Before I could bring them inside, it rained.

I spun them in the washing machine, and hung them out to dry again.

It rained again.

And then they started to smell, because they’d been damp for so long.

So I washed them again, and hung them up once more.

They were barely dry when it started to sprinkle again. I dashed outside with Robin in her bouncy seat, and frantically began to fling everything into laundry baskets before it really poured.

Despite all the rain, it was still incredibly hot. The rains only seemed to increase the humidity.

The mosquitoes were fierce, and I alternated between smacking them off me and off Robin. She had developed a rash, and was prickly and bumpy. She was usually a happy baby, but not today. She fussed and cried as I raced the rain.

The lawn badly needed mowing–the weeds came up almost to my knees. The mosquitoes absolutely loved it. So did our cat, who repeatedly leaped out of the grass to pounce my ankles whenever I passed too close.

Halfway through unpinning sheets, I suddenly remembered that it was almost time for Jon to come home–and I had totally forgotten about dinner. There was nothing in the house to eat.

And the house was a total mess.

I thought of that day at Sue’s house.

When I called my mom that evening, I told her about my busy afternoon.

She said, “So you realized the dream wasn’t as wonderful as you thought it would be?”

“No, that’s not it at all”, I answered.

“I realized I was deliriously happy.

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Filed under art, gratitude, jealousy, life, mental attitude, mindfulness

ART AND FILTHY LUCRE: Does Making Art for Money Muddy the Artistic Waters?

My art’s bigger/better/purer than your art. So there!

Hierarchies come easily to many living creatures.

It can be a brutal process. For birds, hierarchy can mean life or death. That phrase ‘pecking order’? It’s real. I’ve lost chickens and cockatiels to the process. The bird on the lowest rung of the ladder may not get enough to eat. An even slightly injured chicken will be attacked, killed, even eaten by the rest of the flock.

We humans have hierarchies, too. Our fascination for English royalty, our obsession with celebrities, our own yearning for fame and fortune, all are social constructs based on hierarchy.

Artists and craftspeople are no exception.

People who make their own jewelry components sniff at ‘bead stringers’–people who use only purchased components in their designs. The people who do some wire work or only make their own beads, are sniffed at by silver- and goldsmiths.

Glass artists have been the top of the heap in the collecting world for several decades now. Before that, it was something else. Maybe clay. I dunno–I wasn’t in the biz then.

Fine artists look down on all crafts. Once I introduced myself to a small group as a fiber artist. “Hunh! That’s nice…” was the general response. Ten minutes later, a local oil painter’s name came up. “Now he’s a real artist!” someone in the group exclaimed.

But fine artists have their own internal order, too. Pastels are better than colored pencils, watercolors better than pastel work, acrylic paint is better than watercolor, and oils are better than acrylic.

And of course, across all media is the hierarchy of purity. Who makes money from their art, and who makes art purely for art’s sake? Who sullies their ethos for filthy lucre? Is teaching the purest form of sharing our art with the world?

It gets kinda confusing–and funny–after awhile.

If you are in a group of artists who sell their work, the mark of a ‘professional artist’ is your ability to make a living from your work. How much money you make is your achievement award. It’s proof that you are a serious, full-time artist.

Or people place you on the ladder by the prestige factor of the shows you do. Small local shows don’t count, of course. Why, they let just anybody in!

Being vetted by an organization helps, too. I’ve had people express polite interest in my work until I mention that I’m a doubly-juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Suddenly, I’m treated with respect and deference.

But there’s nothing like the disdain amateurs–those who can’t-won’t-don’t sell their work–hold for an artist who actually, actively seeks sale–those artists who want to make their work and get paid for making it. The disdain the amateur holds for ‘professionals’ is huge.

They have history behind them. The word ‘amateur’ originally meant someone who pursued an activity purely for the love it of it. Now it ranks right up there with ‘dilettante’–someone who pursues an activity superficially. (ouch!) Amateurs, by definition, make their art without the requirement of making money from it. Art for Art’s sake. The purest state of making art.

The reality? Not for me to judge. It’s all good.

I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum in my career.

I began by making jewelry entirely from purchased components, and making traditional quilts. I did a very few small local shows, but mostly I gave my work away.

Then I dedicated myself to finding my own personal vision. It was a powerful step. I was grateful to even be making my art. The thought of being accepted into a show, or of someone even buying a piece, seemed too much to ask for.

As my skills and self-confidence grew, the next step was entering exhibitions across the country. Someone had told me they thought the phrase ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ sounded so wonderful, they made that their goal. I made it my goal, too. And I achieved it within a few years by methodically applying to as many opportunities as I could.

When ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ lost its luster, I turned to money as a measure of my success. It was important to me to make sales. The more money I made, the more successful I felt.

After years of making money, I wanted to be in the ‘good’ shows, the prestigious shows that look on a resume. With time and effort, I managed that, too.

And then I went back to square one.

I transitioned from focusing on these external goals, to thinking about the place in the world I occupy. I’m still selling–better than ever, in fact. But that transition came from a powerful place in my heart, and that is more important to me than ever.

Now, according to many people, I can be placed at every step in the art hierarchy. I’ve been ‘pure’, I’ve been ‘mercenary’, I’ve been ‘published/exhibited’, I’ve been hunkered down.

And yet, it’s the same work. And I am the same person.

Hierarchies evolved as a way for a species to survive. The weak, the sickly, were left to die, so that the flock/herd/group could survive.

We humans can–and do–choose differently.

We try to heal our sick. We care for the weak. We are present with the dying, to comfort them.

We’ve learned that even someone who is sick, or weak, or slow, or awkward, or fearful, or (gasp!) untalented, still has a place in the world.

And given that chance, and that place in the world, the gifts they offer can be profound and huge. At the vary least, they are happier for doing what they do.

So make your art.

Sell it, if that’s important to you. Don’t resent others if they sell theirs, and you can’t seem to sell yours.

Don’t excuse yourself by judging others. They are either on a different path, or (like me) simply in a different part of the cycle.

Recognize the hierarchy of who’s making ‘real art’ for what it is–a way to hide our jealousy of people who seem to have something we want for ourselves. A survival strategy we can choose to ignore.

Decide what you want, right here, right now.

And know that you can change your mind, any time. And do something different.

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Filed under art, choices, craft, craft shows, creativity, jealousy, professional jealousy, selling, starting over

AT THE FAIR: Muscle Memory

Sometimes we could–should–listen to our hearts instead of our bodies.

It’s been a long, wonderful week at this year’s League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair up at Mt. Sunapee Resort in Newbury, NH. Busy! So busy the time seems to fly by. Lots of new faces, and familiar ones, tales of happiness and sorrow.

My heart is full when I come home, but my body is racked with pain.

Last night, I had a session with a chiropractor, who, like me, has a martial arts background. I mentioned I was thinking of returning to my practice. The hurdle is this: Usually I return to classes to get in shape. As I age, I should really be in better shape before I attempt to do that.

He said it was a wise choice. I’ve had a lot of injuries and another surgery in the last year, and things–alignment, balance–are out of whack. “If you return now, without letting your body heal, your muscle memory will kick in. Your body will try to do the things you used to do. But you can’t do them right now, and you’ll injure yourself trying.”

Aha! That’s why some of my ‘returns’ have been so short-lived!

That phrase–muscle memory–stuck in my mind, and helped me understand where some of my discomfort at the Fair comes from.

Most people think we artists and craftspeople are like a big family. Well, that’s more true than you know. When I first joined the ranks, I felt like I’d found my tribe, my true heart’s home. It was a shock to realize it really is like a big family. (I have personal experience–I’m the oldest of seven children.)

Some of us don’t speak to each other. Others come to us for support and comfort and inspiration constantly. Professional jealousy rears its ugly head constantly. And there are others who cheer us on with every step.

Set-up is the hardest. One minute you’re offering someone your precious stool, and the next you’re snarling at them to move their junk out of your booth space.

Sometimes too much has passed between you. Then there is no opportunity missed for a caustic remark to be made, even as you win an award. Some cannot even bring themselves to greet you as you pass on your many trips to the bathroom or Fair office (or the bar at the top of the hill.)

For these times, there is muscle memory: Your body, remembering the acts of unkindness, shrinks when you see them, and you cannot bring yourself to even pretend to be polite anymore.

But there is a way out.

Over the years, I’ve learned that, 99% of the time, someone who is causing you anguish, is carrying their own tight anguish inside their heart. In short–it’s not about you. It’s about THEM. You happen to be a convenient target.

And sometimes it’s us. We’ve done somebody wrong, and it’s time to admit that. Take responsibility for it, and say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me. And if you can’t, I understand.”

Then try to live with the fact that we, too, are imperfect people.

I have done things I’ve had to ask forgiveness for. And sweet Jesus, I received it. I have others who have asked forgiveness from me, and I am overwhelmed by their humility–and courage. It takes real courage to apologize. I know. I’ve been there.

In the end, we have to trust the work of our hands, and the work of our hearts. We live in this tribe, in many tribes, actually. We live in this world.

I like to think if we could trust the muscle memory of of hearts and spirits, a little more than the muscle memory of our bodies, just a little….

Then maybe someday we could even have peace in the Middle East.

Okay, that last line is a family joke, and perhaps not even a very good one. (“I hat you” is also a long-standing family joke.)

But that’s what families are for–a place where we can work out our little dramas and big heartaches, and ultimately find a place where we can stand and say, “You’re a poop, but I love you, and yes, I forgive you. Seventy times seven.”

And cross our hearts and hope for the best.

May you be able to forgive, seventy times seven. And may you also be forgiven, at least ten times as much.

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Filed under art, courage, craft, finding your tribe, jealousy, life lessons, LNHC Craftsmen's Fair, martial arts, mental attitude, myths about artists, professional jealousy

I HATE WORDS (and Zen)

Sometimes I can be in the moment for like….60 seconds? If that. But today is one of those times where I just can’t fit the wisdom of zen into my life.

It’s one of those days where I made the mistake of comparing my words to someone else’s words, and theirs were better. A day where I realize how really, really, really jealous I am that someone else’s words have more recognition than mine–and MINE are better.

A day where my son and I, and my husband and I, exchanged all these words, sharp and angry and cutting…and I have never felt so far apart from understanding either of them, nor they me.

A day where someone’s careless words, admonishing me to “hurry up, people are waiting on you” erased my happy little moment. A day of my words, spilled in anger at a telemarketer–why didn’t I simply take a few seconds to be kind rather than righteously indignant and pompous? A day of words I used to try to curry favor from someone, hating myself the instant they were out of my mouth.

Even my shipment of custom mats for my new work turned out to be the wrong size. Because–yep, you guessed it–I used the wrong words to describe what I wanted.

I’m ready to spill over, frustrated with my lack of patience, my lack of self-respect, my lack of insight and tact and balance. I found myself actually crying in the shower. That time of month? Hah. That train has left the station, baby, and good-bye.

Today, I wish I’d had no words. Bah! Who needs ‘em?? They just get in the way of everything.

In the moment? I HATE this moment!!

But then I remember the sweet words I gave my horse today. She met me halfway when I asked her to do something. “Good girl!” I trilled. I know she heard me, too.

I remember I tried to make it up to my son. I reached out, let him know I’m just trying to figure out how to be a good mom to him. “I love you,” I said, as his door closed in my face. I could almost here him mutter “Whatever…” behind it.

Soon I will have to say, “I’m sorry” to my husband. Even though I still think I was right. I’m trying to remember that new mantra we’re working on: “Who’s right?? Who cares?!!” It’s the “us” that matters.

Hospice is teaching me that I can’t count on words, not all the time. Sometimes, someday, they won’t be there, and sometimes they just are not enough anyway.

But for now, I realize I just want to look up again at that beautiful New Hampshire sky, so blue today, so swept through with lacy sheets of clouds fanned by unseen winds above, and in the silence so deep I could hear the wings of a wren a dozen yards away, I, too, yearn to hear a sweet, small voice trill…

Good girl!

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Filed under art, humor, jealousy, lessons from hospice, life, life with teenagers, love

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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Filed under 9/11, art, artist statement, choices, copycats, craft, creativity, envy, hospice, inspiration, jealousy, lessons from hospice, telling your story, What is the story only you can tell?

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

THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD

The Devil’s two most powerful tools in this world are vanity and envy.

I’ve written so much about jealousy and envy, I thought I had nothing left to say. But I do.

I know that technically speaking, the terms are not identical. Envy is wanting what someone else has. Jealousy is fear of losing what you have.

But the premise is the same: Your perception is, you fear you have something to lose, and somebody else is responsible for that fear.

Envy has been a powerful thread in my life. No matter how “enlightened” I get, I struggle with it. Either I’m preoccupied with someone else having more skill/good fortune/attention, or someone is giving me crap because they envy me.

Seems like much of the trouble in the world is based on envy, from my own small woes to those of great nations.

If someone copies your work, part of that is because they see you have skill/success/attention/money/whatever. They think if they simply make the same work, they will have that, too.

If someone is envious of your artwork, and they are in a position of power over you (a juror for a show, a standards committee member), they can make life miserable for you in countless small and subtle ways.

If they are a peer or a friend, it’s even worse. Suddenly, everything you say or do draws a sarcastic remark, a biting comment, a moment of ridicule. A once-promising friendship warps into something sad and rueful.

When I allow myself to envy, it’s just as bad. Trust me.

But the real sin in envy is not in the behavior itself, or the misery it causes.

It’s because by giving in to it, we give away our power.

We give away everything beautiful, unique and wonderful that’s in us. We destroy the gifts that are given us–our talent, our perseverance, our joy–and turn them into dust.

Earlier this month, I almost left my dojo for another that seemed more compatible. I thought I would join a school that was less physically demanding, more sympathetic to my aging body.

I talked with my head instructor; he reluctantly agreed my reasons were sound. But he said I had to let the head of my school know.

I have one thing I do well that I’m proud of. I make the hard phone calls. I arranged to meet with Mr. R in person.

What happened then was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

I will make a long story short–this was a complex situation, with a long history, involving many talented, good people. Much of it is personal and not tangent to the story, so I won’t go into it.

But the heart of this story is, Mr. R quoted that opening line to me. He told me when he’d heard it, and why.

Envy was at the root of the long, sad story that had left so many people deeply unhappy, and not at peace with themselves.

That’s when I realized that another, deeper reason for me leaving was not simply the tough work-out. The real reason was, I was envious of others in the class. I felt stupid having to step out when things got hard. Others were moving ahead, and I was not.

That was bad. Because I had lost track of my true reasons for practicing Tae Kwon Do.

I’d forgotten that my practice is always, for myself.

Not to be better than so-and-so, or to get to my next belt, or have my teacher praise me.

I must practice because I love what Tae Kwon Do can teach me.

I must practice because I love the discipline of trying to be my best.

I must practice for the joy of mastering something–sometimes in a horribly pathetic long drawn-out process, to be sure–to get good at something simply because I keep doing it, no matter what.

I, and I alone, am responsible for pacing myself within the class. If I can’t do sets of fifty push-ups anymore, then I must break it down into sets of 25, or 20. Or seven, if that’s all I can squeeze out.

If I can’t run fast laps on the hard floor, then I can run slow laps on the mat. Or walk, if that’s all my body can handle that day.

And there is no need to feel embarrassed when I need to step up or slow down. Because 1) it’s not anyone else’s place to judge me, and 2) I must stop judging myself.

Can you see the implications for our art?

I have quoted Martha Graham’s quote many times, but I’ll do it again. And I see I’ve lost the copy I used to hang prominently on my bulletin board, so I’ll print it out again for me, too:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. …

No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

from The Life and Work of Martha Graham[

Everyone always has there own reasons for their behavior. If they are envious of you, it has nothing to do with you. There is nothing you can do to deflect it, or control it, either. Sometimes we have the luxury of removing ourselves from the situation, sometimes we can’t.

Understand that envy is based on fear. Fear that there is not enough love, or not enough attention, or not enough money, or not enough opportunity for all of us. Fear creates a little death. It takes the joy of living away from us.

We can only manage ourselves. The only thing we can change is how we respond. The only thing to do is to keep doing what we’re supposed to do, on the very highest level.

We can only try to make our decisions out of love, and hope, instead of fear.

We can only keep making the unique work, the art, that is in our hearts.

I have had the support of amazing people in my life, who have helped me internalize that. I may need a refresher course from time to time, but I always get back to the same place, the place of inner strength and conviction.

This is my gift to the world, the work of my hands, the work of my words, the work of my heart.

It is all we really have, but it is astonishingly powerful.

And when we truly understand and embrace that, we are astonishing, too.

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Filed under art, copycats, craft, creativity, envy, inspiration, jealousy, life, mastery, Nibble theory, professional jealousy

I’M NOT A BAD PERSON

Today you get permission to be unsociable.

As connected as I am to the world-wide web, I try to insulate myself a bit.

I try not to look at other people’s art too much. If it’s good and I like it, I want to imitate it (which is okay for inspiration, but not for my core aesthetic.) If it’s really good, it just makes me feel bad about my work. If it’s bad, it’s just a waste of time. Or it makes me feel smug, which is not being the Buddha. (If it’s really bad, though, it’s funny.)

I try not to read too much Twitter. Either it’s pretty mundane stuff, or I get caught up in what they’re saying, and forget what I want to say. Although lately I’ve been ROTL at this one and that one. I enjoyed tweeting (love to hear the sound of my own voice, there, I said it), until I realized how much time I was spending doing it.

Same thing with blogs. There are some great ones out there, with heady stuff. But then I start comparing mine to theirs. And then I worry about how many people are reading mine (or rather, how few people are reading mine). It becomes all about the numbers, and not about what I want to say.

It feels like when I worry excessively about how much artwork I’m selling. I stop thinking about the work I want to make, and I focus on what I think will sell.

So when things are slow in the studio, I venture out a bit. Otherwise, I try to unconnect.

Today, from one of my favorite blogs, I received permission to be this way.

There are blessings to social media. But there are repercussions, too. Connection is wonderful. But I don’t want to wander aimlessly from point to point. And I don’t want to be just a point someone passes through to get somewhere else.

Except….in my artwork, and my writing.

I don’t mind being an experience people absorb and go through, to get to where they dream of being.

Not by copying my work. (I just found a website where a former customer, whose been copying my work for four years, brags about her “original” and “unique” designs…. Sigh.)

Not by being the Buddha. Because some days–okay, most days–nobody would ever mistake me for Buddha. Before I had rich dyed dark red hair, BTG (Before The Gray), I had rich medium red hair. And I embody every inch of that redhead temper thing.

I hope by sharing the hard days, and the good days, by sharing what I’ve learned and what I know, I can help people get to where they want to be–to help you get to where you want to be.

I hope that by telling you when it’s hard, it’s not always because you aren’t good enough, or not savvy enough, or not experienced enough, maybe you’ll persevere with your art.. (And even if it IS because of that, you can get better. I did.) Sometimes it’s hard because….it’s just hard. Period. I hope that encouraging you to make your art helps you stay the course.

And like Naomi over there at IttyBiz, I hope I help you by giving you permission to decide for yourself what deserves your focus, and what doesn’t. To decide for yourself what success is, and what isn’t. To make the art that is in Y-O-U, and nobody else, and to get it out into the world.

Take a minute to read her essay.

And remember, it’s okay not to answer your phone sometimes. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay not to text/IM/facebook/tweet/link/ning/blog/read today’s newspaper.

It’s okay to simply be unavailable. To turn off the ringer and let the answering machine/voice mail/thingie do its job.

Now go to your studio and make some stuff.

P.S. Now I wish I hadn’t given myself permission to publish this without thoroughly proof-reading it first! :^) I just fixed six typos….

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Filed under art, business, copycats, craft, inspiration, jealousy, social networking

TRIBES #3: LEAVING THE TRIBE

Your needs and goals as an artist will change and grow throughout your life. You will constantly gather the people you need to you.

And you will also periodically leave people behind.

I started this mini-series with a sort of Ugly Duckling story, as one reader noted. I told how my dog tries to be a cat, and why it’s a good thing he isn’t very good at it. When we find out we aren’t really “bad bankers” but are actually “really excellent artists”, it’s an amazing epiphany.

The second article talks about how to find your own tribe.

Interestingly, some people took that to mean searching out other artists who work in the same medium. Some took it as how some artists learn techniques from a master, then never really develop their own style.

Some even found their new “family”, but grieved when it, too, became contentious, confining and restrictive.

While some of us will be fortunate to find a wonderful, cohesive, supportive group of like-minded folks, others will struggle to maintain that in their lives.

Sad to say, but it happens.

The day may come when you have to leave your bright new tribe, and find another.

There are lots of reasons why this happens.

Sometimes the group is just too big. There’s no time for each person to have a turn to be listened to. You can feel lost in the shuffle.

Sometimes there aren’t enough “rules”. A few folks will take on the role of gadfly (aka “jerk”). Or there are too many rules, too much “business”. The lively group dynamic is strangled with too many procedural stops and starts. (I left one craft guild when the business reports began to take up almost half the meetings.)

Sometimes the group narrows its own dynamic. It can be subtle but powerful. You’ll start to feel constricted. Here’s a true story:

Years ago, a quilting guild I belonged to brought in a nationally-known color expert for a workshop.

During it, she commented that there were definite regional color palettes, patterns and technique preferences across the country.

I asked her how that happened. She said when members brought in their projects for sharing, some would generate a huge positive response from the membership. Others, more eclectic or “out there”, would receive a lukewarm reception. “We all crave that positive response”, she said. “It’s human nature. So slowly but surely, we begin to tailor our work to generate the bigger response.”

It hit me like a brick. Another quilter and I did more unusual fabric work. The response to our “shares” was decidedly in the “lukewarm” category.

And I had begun to do more work in the “accepted style” of the group.

I left after the workshop, and never went back. My fellow fiber artists were a great bunch of people. But I was not willing to “tamp down” my vision in order to garner their praise.

Sometimes, our course changes. We find ourselves in pursuit of different goals. Or we find our own needs sublimated to the needs of the group.

Or we simply grow faster than the rest of the group. You may even outgrow your mentor. If our work fosters jealousy–if our work becomes more successful, attracts more notice–then professional jealousy might raise its ugly head.

It can feel even harder to leave this new tribe that gave us so much joy at first. In fact, it’s brutal.

But it has to be done, if you want your art to move forward.

You cannot control the feelings of others. You can make yourself, and your work, as small and mundane as you can. But if someone is determined to nibble you, nothing can stop them.

Take heart in this knowledge:

This group served your needs for awhile. Enough for you to gain confidence, and to take a step forward.

And you will find another tribe. It may take awhile. But your peers are out there.

Consider that they may not even be working in the same medium. They may not even be visual artists. They may not be “artists” at all.

As long as they share the same values, or can support and challenge you in constructive ways, you can benefit from their company.

It may even be time for you to walk alone. Just for awhile.

Just long enough to really hear what your own heart is saying.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, criticism, envy, inspiration, jealousy, mentoring, networking, perseverence, professional jealousy, tribes

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #14: Artists Don’t Care What Other People Think

MYTH: Real artists have the courage of their convictions. They don’t care what other people think.
REALITY: Oh, it’s sad, but we care very very much what you think!

This is a myth that started out as “Real artists are loners”. Well, some are, and some aren’t. It’s that simple.

But it quickly got tangled into another myth we hold about artists, one that gets pretty jumbled. So bear with me as I untangle some of the threads.

Yes, some artists do need solitude to create. We need time to explore an idea, to follow it through to all its possibilities. Some people can’t listen to conversation or even music lyrics while they write. Me, for one.

Sometimes talking too much about what we’re doing, or our next project, feels like actually working on it. And our creative energy dissipates.

Other artists, however, work well in partnership and collaboration. They find the give-and-take of brainstorming invigorating, forcing them to go further and higher than they ever imagined.

Our own creative processes are so individual to us, it would be impossible to determine any one way any given work of art gets made.

It’s who we hang with, and why, after the work is created, that gets a little dicey.

Artists may act like we don’t care what other people think about our work. You’ve probably met some (or you are one.) You ask them about the work and you get a snotty reply or a cold shoulder. Or you talk with them at a party and they can only talk about how talented and creative they are.

But it is almost pathetic how much we care what others think.

It would be wonderful if we didn’t. A lot less pain in the world, and I probably wouldn’t have to write this series of myths.

But we do care very very much what you think.

And we are terrified you’re going to tell us.

We hope you love it. We hope it knocks your socks off. We hope you think it’s the most marvelous thing you’ve ever experienced.

And it’s so very, very hard to hear, if you don’t.

This need to have our work loved is so powerful, I hate to share it with you.

Because this knowledge is a terrible weapon in the wrong hands.

I don’t mean we’ll necessarily change it if you don’t love it. We have our artistic integrity, after all.

Wait for it…….

bwahhahahahahahahahaha!!

Again, some people will stand firm, and others don’t mind using a little less blue or a few more dots, if that will win approval. It’s your choice.

Even my fiery artist friend Lee, who fiercely created his art at all hours when the muse struck, sometimes going days without sleep, would call me up to come and see the new work. And he waited anxiously, child-like, yearning for my approval. Not my judgment–he was extremely proud of his artist title–but he wanted others to see what he saw, and appreciate what he created.

But the world is not kind to artists, especially those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves.

After all, human beings are creatures of opinions. We all got ‘em, and we have one on everything. Even the things we don’t know much about.

And of course, we all have a little mean streak in us. It is so easy to criticize what someone has made.

But some people cultivate their mean streak. It is very important to recognize and avoid those people.

Caveat: I know the role of the art critique is a hallowed tradition, especially in art schools. I’ve been to literary gatherings where writers submitted their latest piece and subjected it to a group review.

I know that not all art is beautiful, wonderful, powerful or narrative. There’s a lot of stuff out there I don’t care for.

I myself have served as a mini-consultant for artists and craftspeople, evaluating their current work and assessing whether it is appropriate for their perceived goals and venues.

But I see that function as a way of gently aligning what people say they want, and what they do.

All too often, that critical process is used as a chance to savage the work of someone whose talent threatens our own little jealous lizard brain.

If someone says they are an accomplished seamstress and they want their work to sell, they sabotage their efforts by making shoddy work quickly so they can sell to a lower end market. If someone says they’re a writer, but they don’t blog or submit manuscripts or otherwise get their writing out into the world, then I encourage them to show the rest of us that they are, indeed, a writer.

I don’t try to rip them a new one and denigrate their efforts.

Am I saying we should be namby-pamby and never offer honest feedback about the work of others? Or we are so weak in spirit that we can’t handle a little criticism?

Nope, not saying that. What I’m saying is that we must be aware of our need to have approval–and not let others, whose intentions may be less than honorable, use that as a knife to cut us to the quick.

When we make art, it will be stronger if we focus on what is inside us, what we want to say and what we want it to do.

In a perfect world, we then let go. We know it’s done, that it’s out in the world. And we have to truly not care what other people think. That’s hard, but we can at least try.

In the meantime, be very particular who you show your work to, especially during the creative process. We all know people who, for who-knows-what reasons, cannot celebrate our success with us. They will sabotage your efforts in refined and subtle ways.

Instead, create your own artist community.

These workshops by Deborah Kruger, fiber artist extraordinaire, are excellent. Similar to Julia Cameron’s work and The Artist’s Way. (Just don’t do what so many artists do, and focus on all the meetings and exercises instead of making your art!)

Yes, we all need honest feedback. And sometimes criticism spurs us on to do our most truly powerful work.

But it’s a harsh diet to live on all the time. Someone who tries to destroy your spirit with criticism is not your friend, and not your supporter.

Choose your friends carefully when it comes to you and your art.

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Filed under art, business, craft, creativity, criticism, friendship, jealousy, listening, myths about artists, networking, shadow artist

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #7: The Hardest Cut of All

Seventh in a series of getting difficult people out of your booth at a craft show or art fair.

I can almost guarantee you this “difficult person” will be the hardest one of all to deal with. If this happens to you, my only consolation is, you are not alone.

It will happen after you’ve asked a friend to help you in your booth at a show.

Because there may come a time when you will have to ask that friend to leave your booth.

I have a few friends who not only work with me on my booth at some shows, they volunteer to help, calling me months ahead of time to offer their services.

And they are simply amazing at it. I secretly think they are better at this than I am. They are a miracle made manifest in the world, and I am the luckiest artist alive because of them.

And even if someone isn’t stellar at selling, they are such good company, I’m delighted to have them on board. Their companionship is all that is necessary.

I also had a few friends, perfectly good friends…. Friendships of many years duration that have gone screaming down in flames from working with me in my booth.

A day into the show–sometimes an hour into the show, you realize with a terrible sinking feeling that it’s all gone wrong. They are not doing well in your booth. It is so not working out.

They show up dressed inappropriately–either under-dressed (“I want to be comfy!”) or over-dressed–or barely dressed at all. (“Oh gosh, I can’t get this top to stay up!”)

They’re so busy telling you about their hot date last night, they ignore customers in the booth. Or get mad when you interrupt their hot date story to deal with those customers. Or can’t understand why you don’t even want to hear their story when the customers are just looking, for cryin’ out loud.

They don’t know how to talk with customers, saying, “Can I help you?” even when you’ve told them a dozen times that’s the worst possible thing you can say to a potential buyer.

The friend loves to share funny stories about you with your customers. Stories you kinda wish she would not share.

It can get even worse.

One artist told me her assistant used her high-end booth display to do his ballet warm-up exercises. In front of customers. All. Day. Long.

Another told me her friend came back from lunch–two hours late. She’d decided to go shop around the fair. The artist, having sent her to eat first, was starving.

Another said a friend got plastered at a dinner out with important clients–buyers for a chain of stores–and behaved inappropriately. (Still waiting to here the juicy details on that one.)

Two different artists with compatible work share a booth to save on expenses. Only one is constantly trying to steal the customers of the other.

Whatever the attitude or behavior, it’s detrimental to your business and to your mental health.

And you are going to have to ask them to leave. Either at the end of the show (if it’s just mildly annoying), the end of the day (if it’s hugely annoying) or within the hour (if it’s such a disaster you are going to kill them any minute.)

And before you say, “Oh, Luann, we know what a pistol you are! That would never happen to me!”, let me assure you–it happens a lot. It has happened to people who have been in business for many, many years.

It happens so much, I know people in the biz who now have an iron-clad rule: They never–ever–hire friends to work for them anymore.

How can this happen? Why does a normal person who is nice enough to be your friend suddenly turn into the booth assistant from hell?

Reasons:

STRESS Shows are hard. No. Shows are really, really hard. It’s the work of getting enough product made to stock your booth. The weeks of preparation, making sure all your booth components are in place and in good working order. Making travel arrangements (and maybe family arrangements for your absence), and dealing the expense and stress of packing and loading and simply getting to the show. Set-up (ye gods, we could all write a book about the things that go wrong during set-up) and break-down. The weary drive home, the unpacking and trying to get back into your normal life–so you can do it all again for the next show.

In between is the part that is both wonderful and dismal, fun and agonizing–doing the show. Talking to enthralled customers about your work, and watching people walk by who couldn’t care less about your work. Making big sales and wondering if you are going to make booth expenses. Meeting other cool and interesting artists, and dealing with weird, psychotic fellow artists. It’s all there, it’s all happening at the show.

In short, S*H*O*W*S = S*T*R*E*S*S

And there’s your friend, a show virgin who just doesn’t get it. Who just doesn’t get any of it, at all. She doesn’t understand what you’ve already been through, or how critical the show’s success is to you, or how frantic you are underneath your smiling exterior. It all looks fun and glamorous to to her, and that’s what she’s expecting.

Or she’s under stress, too (see “their stuff” below). Or they worry they’re not going to do things right. Or they worry you’re going to do the crazy artist thing and yell at them.

So maybe you’re both stressed. whoo hoo.

UNCLEAR EXPECTATIONS Some people, despite your telling them the way it works, do not understand that being in a show is WORK. They don’t really understand it is a business situation, and that you have to generate sales to stay in business.

They arrive with a vague idea that it’s going to be a fun-filled day, full of chatter and fun food and wonderful sights to see.

They won’t understand why you interrupted their moving reenactment of the last awful days of their collapsed marriage just because a customer came into the booth.

They won’t understand why it wasn’t okay to just disappear for two hours at lunchtime because they felt like taking a walk.

They won’t understand why it’s really, really important to get ALL the numbers imprinted on a charge slip, including the card’s expiration date and the customer’s telephone number.

And because operating the credit card machine is just “too confusing”, they won’t understand why you can’t just do it, while they schmooze your customers.

And they won’t understand why you will have to tell them to shape up or ship out.

SHADOW ARTISTS We’ve covered this in previous chapters in this series, but it bears repeating. At a show, these SA’s are in your booth–a booth that is actually a tiny monument to your ambition and achievement.

They will be surrounded by your work. They will see and hear your fan base–your customers. They will have to listen to people rave about you with excitement and admiration. They will have to listen to you talk about your work with pride and confidence.

It will be too much for them.

It will simply be too painful, the cognitive dissonance too great, and they will resent it. For some people, seeing your success in pursuing your art, up close and personal, will be the final straw.

EGO Some people cannot handle being in a subordinate position in the friendship, even a temporary one as you booth assistant. They will refuse to follow your suggestions for selling. Or they will continue to push their craft over yours. They may resent having their time managed.

CHANGING ROLES We start a friendship with everyone’s roles firmly in place. And then the roles change.

Many relationships struggle with this transitions, not just friendships. Business partnerships. Mentor and student. Parent and child. Even marriages often topple under the stress of two people growing and changing apart.

Somehow, we don’t ever expect our friendships to fail from our changing roles. But they do.

One explanation: If you scratch the surface of the friendship, my humble experience has been it may have actually been based on one of these prototypes.

And like them, subject to the same sad conclusion when the roles change and the pressure to adapt rises.

THEIR STUFF Other people have their stuff–my catch-all term for emotional baggage, hard times, psychological upheaval, whatever.

They may have recently lost someone they loved, or even someone they hated. (The stress from either is great.) They are in a hard place for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

It’s going to spill over at some point. If you are near them when it happens, you are going to get scalded.

So what are the clues this beautiful friendship-cum-sales team is heading south?

They are resistant to your suggestions and training. I give out Bruce Baker’s sales training CD to new assistants before a show. One person said they were too experienced with sales to listen to it. I believed them. The first hour in the booth, it was painfully obvious their experience was not as good as they thought it was.

They forget who’s boss. They will show resentment when you ask them to do something they see as trivial or mundane or demeaning–running an errand, etc.

They will rearrange your display when you step out of the booth, and their feelings will be hurt if you are not happy with their efforts.

They may even decide not to show up at all, telling you that you don’t really need them–leaving you in the lurch and too late to make arrangements for other assistance.

They forget whose booth it is, and whose work they’re selling. I actually had one friend refuse to wear my jewelry in my booth. She wanted to wear her fashion accessories instead. Not wanting to push it, I let her–until the first customer noticed her work and asked her about it, and she happily started to tell them about her business.

They see the time with you in your booth as a social thing, a chance to catch up on all their life changes. This is so hard. Of course you want to hear all this stuff. But the show has to come first.

At a show you are working. The focus has to be on selling your work. And you can’t afford to deal with downer stuff. You must stay upbeat and positive.

Worse, your efforts to remind them of this will sound heartless and uncaring. It’s an impossible situation.

Now for the sad part.

In all my years of dealing with this, I have never found a good way to “fire” a friend.

I have yet to salvage one friendship from a “firing”.

And I have never felt good about what I had to do.

I’ve tried many different approaches.

I’ve tried heart-to-heart talks over dinner and drinks after the first day.

I’ve tried taking in all the responsibility for the misunderstanding (for which I was accused by the friend as “You’re treating me like a damn teenager!” I had to bite my tongue in order not to respond, “That is exactly how you’ve been acting the last 24 hours!!”)

I’ve tried to fudge it by saying I overestimated my needs, and don’t really need to tie up their time for the entire show, or even the entire day.

I’ve tried to be upfront and honest and calm. “Look, I know your life is your life–it’s not my place to expect you to put my needs above yours. I know if you are sick, you shouldn’t be expected to work. But you offered to help, and I told you my expectations, and you accepted them. And when you wait til five minutes before the show opens to call and say you won’t be coming in, that puts me in difficult position. I simply need more time than that to line up someone else to help.”

Nothing worked. Anger, resentment, recriminations follow, all falling on my head and making me feel even worse. The only thing left to do is say nothing more so as not to make it even worse.

When I asked my fellow artists how they handled it successfully, they confirmed a sad fact. No matter how you couch it, it’s going to suck big-time. And the only friendships that survived were the ones where the friend took it in stride and let it go. The friend has to decide it is not going to ruin the friendship.

One consolation for me was, I felt like I was choosing business over friendship. It is only with time and some emotional distance that I can see the storm clouds were often already on the horizons. The show only acting like a giant magnifying glass, focusing little heat rays on the issue and setting it on fire.

It’s also a part of doing business. Sometimes you have to fire someone, and they just aren’t going to like that or deal with it well. If it happens to be a friend, it’s just more gasoline on the fire. But there’s never a good way to fire someone. And there will never be a good way to fire a friend.

If it were a small show, where I only hoped to gross a few hundred bucks, I might feel that it’s not worth it to risk the friendship. You might choose to simply let it go, get through the day, and do things differently next time.

But at a big retail or wholesale show, where thousands of dollars and your professional reputation are at stake, you may have to act–unless you are independently wealthy, or just don’t need the money.

The only thing I can think of that might be worse is if this happens with a family member. And at least there is huge incentive for a family member to eventually come around. Although, come to think of it, there are a lot of divorced people who used to be in business with their ex-spouse…..

Think long and hard before asking–or allowing–a friend to work with you in your booth. And hope for the best. But be prepared for the worst.

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Filed under action steps, art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, customer care, envy, friendship, getting people OUT of your booth, jealousy, life, selling, shows

P.S. More on the Shadow Artist Thing

I’ve had a lot of response to my post on shadow artists in my “GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH” series. People keep saying they thought they were the only artists who, as they became successful, found they were losing friends.

I wrote an essay about this phenomenon awhile back, called MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: Professional Jealousy Part Deux.

I haven’t figured out a solution yet–there probably isn’t one, since this is more about them than it is about you–but I hope it will at least help you feel better.

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Filed under art, business, craft, craft shows, creativity, customer care, envy, getting people OUT of your booth, jealousy, selling, shadow artist, shows

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #2: Shadow Artists

Second in a series of people you need to get out of your booth at a craft show–fast!

Oddly, the next group of people I’d like to talk about are the people who wish they were you.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, described a type of person she called the “shadow artist”. A shadow artist is someone who is an artistic, creative person themselves, who chooses instead to stand in the shadow of someone who is perceived to be a “real” artist. The shadow artist may play a supportive or secondary role in the arts, working for groups that promote artists, or even marrying an artist.

Being a shadow artist can be a sad and painful thing. These people may have never been encouraged to explore their artist self. They may have been told they weren’t good enough. Yet something in them hungers for art, and draws them near others who have it.

Many artists are former shadow artists. I was.

Many of your best customers and supporters are shadow artists. They celebrate what you do. They cheer you on. They delight in you doing what they feel they are not capable of doing themselves.

Many shadow artists are still positive, constructive people. They learn to channel all their creative energy into helping others. They do amazing work, supporting artists and the arts with their time, their money, their patronage. Many of our art guilds, organizations and schools would not be nearly as effective without them.

But they may still be unhappy. Deep down, they may feel the loss of not living the life they would like for themselves.

Consequently, some shadow artists are not positive or supportive people. They may be jealous or resentful of the very artists they say they appreciate and support.

They may even be artists at some level already–but jealous of people they perceive to be “more successful” or “more artistic” than themselves. The pain of seeing others live the life they want so badly for themselves spills over onto other people.

Sometimes it spills right over into your booth. Not good.

I know, because as hard as it is to admit it, that was me, too.

So as much as this type of person annoys and irritates me, I have a soft spot in my heart for them. I’ve been there. I know what it looks like. I know what it feels like.

But I still have low tolerance for their behavior, especially in my booth.

How will this person act in your booth?

You may hear someone like this making snide little comments to a friend as they peruse your work. They may hint the quality isn’t what it should be. At a wholesale show, a buyer may be overly fussy and particular about your work, insinuating that most pieces are just not quite good enough for their store, handpicking through your samples. They may make disparaging comments about your color choices, your materials, your design choices.

Retail customers may imply that they could do your work–the “I can make that!” people. Anything that makes them look good and you look not-so-good.

Now, hey, it’s human nature to think this way sometimes, and I groan and roll my eyes at what passes for “art” and “fine craft” all the time.

But not in someone else’s booth. Not where they can see me and hear me. That’s just rude.

I’ve found a few ways to deal with this kind of behavior. Please feel free to add your own tactics in the comment section.

One way to handle it is to ignore it completely, especially if there is no one else in your booth. There’s simply no way to interact that won’t put you on the short end of the stick emotionally. Recognizing this behavior for what it is–passive-aggressive, hard to pin down, hard to argue with–can help you decide to ignore it.

Resist responding in anger. Either the person doesn’t realize they come across that way, in which case your response will seem unjustified, or they do mean it, and they get a rise out of you. Getting angry in your booth is just bad, bad, bad for you, your booth, your business. People will sense it long after the offender is gone. Resist making comments about that person to the next visitor, too. Otherwise, they worry you’ll be talking about them next!

Your best weapons, believe it or not, are your good humor, your patience, your professionalism, sincerity (yes, sincerity) and the fact that it’s Y*O*U who is at the show, not them.

Bruce Baker recently suggested two good responses for the “I can make this!” crowd. Both have to be done with good humor and as much sincerity as you can muster.

When someone starts hinting or making comments that they could do the same work, simply say politely, “Well, these are for the people who aren’t as creative as you!” I’ve used this statement many times, and it works. It leaves them with absolutely nothing to say. It sounds like you are acknowledging their creativity.

The unspoken point is, that if they were as creative as you, they’d be doing the show, too. You win tons of points for subtlety and restraint. If there are other people in your booth who overhear this, they will actually come up and compliment you on your professional restraint. They’ll marvel that you were able to hold your temper and respond so calmly. I know, because people have done just that.

Another BB suggestion is to respond with total good nature and wide-eyed innocence: “Oh, you’re a potter/jeweler/painter/whatever, too? What shows do you do? What galleries do you sell to?” Again–you must be sincere to make this work. You are gently challenging them to prove they really are at your level.

Most people will back down, mumbling something about being “between studios” or “needing to do more marketing research.” Because, of course, they usually aren’t at a point where they are actually making and selling their work. (This also works for the people who claim their daughter makes the same stuff you do.)

If they claim self-righteously that they make their work for love, not money, keep on pressing with something like, “Oh, so then where do you exhibit your work?”

Then there’s my personal favorite: I take a tough love approach.

I will actually give shadow artists a little lecture about the importance of making their own art. I tune in to that “healing” aspect of my work, by sharing how it came to heal me.

Again, it works best if you are grounded and sincere. And when I do this, I am speaking out of sympathy and love. (If I can’t muster it for the annoying person in my booth, then I do it out of forgiveness for my former, miserable self.)
Without coming out and actually naming what they are doing, I tell them my story of how I got started doing this artwork. I tell them how miserable and jealous I was, sitting on the sidelines, being afraid and critical of everyone else’s artistic efforts–until I finally got into the game myself. I quit being a back seat driver, and started driving my own little art/life car.

I tell them I firmly believe that almost everyone is creative in their own unique way. That everyone has something of value to offer the world. That the world would be a better place if more people had the courage to do just that–figure out what they can offer, then just do it.

I tell them the power of being their authentic self. The healing that comes from being the artist they were meant to be. It’s hard work. But it’s worth it.

The story is about me. But it’s still a challenge–and an opportunity, if they see it–for them.

I think when people hear it, they can see themselves, just for a moment. I think, by being honest about the fact that I wasn’t nice person when I was in that horrible little place, it gives them permission to see a new possibility for themselves.

I hope so, anyway.

It usually is enough to at least turn the energy around, to take that negative stuff and turn it into something positive. Most people who can’t deal with it, hunker down and run at this point.

The people who can hear it, are hungry for more. I refer them to my blog, or to Julia Cameron’s books (or other resources), or offer to talk to them more….

(wait for it.)

after the show. (You knew that was coming, right?)

Shine a gentle yet powerful light on these shadow artists, and watch the scary stuff disappear.

P.S. As for the picky, picky buyer at a wholesale show or a store where you’re presenting your work, I’ve found there isn’t much you can do to turn the attitude around. After all, even if you can turn it around on the spot, you still have to trust them to do the right thing and continue to promote and sell your work long after you’ve sold or consigned the work to them. The most effective ploy takes a lot of courage and conviction and belief in your work.

You can choose to pick up your marbles (er, work) and go home.

Simply say, “I’m sorry, I don’t think my work is right for your store. Thank you for your time.” Pleasantly, professionally.

Surprisingly effective for those buyers hoping to put you on the defensive, because now if they really want your work, they have to cajole you into staying.

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Filed under action steps, art, booth behavior, business, craft, craft shows, creativity, envy, getting people OUT of your booth, jealousy, selling, shadow artist, shows

GREEN-EYED MONSTER

I haven’t written in a few days. I will now admit why.

I have been consumed with jealousy.

There. I said it. I’m not proud. But there it is.

I’m once again in the middle of scraping out my studio, getting ready for my Open Studio this weekend. I’m on the League of NH Craftsmen’s Open Studio Tour this weekend. As usual, I am behind. As usual, I’m in a mild panic about it. Which, as usual, is a gross understatement. Does anyone else ever wake up at 4 a.m. convinced they will be utterly humiliated by the general public’s lack of enthusiasm about their studio??

One of my cleaning “issues” is I tend to hang on to magazines indefinitely. I have hundreds of them. And I don’t know why, but I’ve picked up about half a dozen this week that have articles about the amazing work of other polymer clay artists.

I went surfing while enjoying a cup of coffee the other morning, and came across an artist whose work just stopped me in my tracks. No, I’m not revealing the artist. I may be sick with jealousy, but I’m not masochistic! It’s work I could envision myself doing, if I hadn’t headed down the path I’m on now.

So I’ve been writhing in spiritual discomfort all week, trying to remember my own wise words from another blog entry I wrote about professional jealousy here and here but it’s not helping.

Here’s why (and this sucks, too):

No matter how many times you “fix” a “problem”, it doesn’t simply stay “fixed”.

I can intellectually understand what envy/jealousy does and does not do for me. But when it hits, I have to work my way through it all over again.

So what’s different this time?

This time, I realize it’s my own self-doubt and insecurities–fueled by a few of those “nibbles” from other artists I talked about in my Mean People Suck #2 entry–that are holding me back.

Here’s the rub. I’m “odd” in the polymer clay world because I don’t use a lot of color in my polymer clay work.

For almost every polymer clay artist out there who is big, or going to be big, it’s about color. Technique, skill, composition, etc.–yes, those, too. But mostly it is about COLOR. Even the artist whose work intrigued me actually makes work in the same vein I do–except it’s colorful.

My artifacts are…well, bone-colored. Ivory. Even the new finish is soapstone, in beautiful but subtle, soft tones of gray, gray-green and black.

I rely on other elements for color and texture–beads, fabric, thread.

In fact, in a sense, most of my work is about collecting and assembling other objects to create a piece–antique and vintage beads, old buttons, recycled fabrics, beaver-chewed sticks.

If I can’t find frayed or distressed fabric, I distress it myself. I twist it, fray it, burn it, paint it, overdye it, even rub dirt in it, to get it to look the way I want. If I can’t find the right kind of button, then I make one out of polymer clay. But I usually have one that’s “right”, and use it as a mold to make more.

In fact, I only started making my own artifacts because I couldn’t find artifacts that “worked” in my assemblages. I experimented for ages to get just the right look, size, feel. They still continue to evolve.

The artifacts took on a life and purpose of their own, and a powerful one. This summer, a customer came to my booth to rave about a horse sculpture she’d bought the year before. “I have to confess”, she said, “I only bought him at the time because I thought he’d look so great with the little wall hanging I’d bought the year before. I mean, I thought he was cool and all, but I saw him as a ‘supporting player'”

But now, a year later, she comes to my booth to tell me he has a power and mystery all his own. “He’s really grown on me, and now I think he’s the most incredible piece of art in my home,” she said. “I absolutely love him!”

So obviously something powerful and fresh is happening with my work, whether I’m even aware of it anymore or not.

So where do I go with all this jealousy and lack of color thing?

Here’s my thoughts today–or rationale, if you really think all polymer clay artists should be about color/change/innovation/novelty and I’m simply missing the boat:

My work may never be in those upper echelons of the polymer clay world. I may feel a pang now and then about not being there. But that wasn’t ever really my goal or my vision–to be a famous polymer clay artist. It would have been nice. But that wasn’t on my road map.

I wanted to tell a story about how I felt about a certain cave in France. Why it moved me so. Why it made me cry.

As I told that story, something happened. As I became more thoughtful about what I was doing, and thinking about why I was doing it, I found I was telling my story.

Making art became a way of sneaking up on baring my soul and sharing it with a larger world.

I think my artifacts have stayed simple and neutral in color for a very good reason.

It helps me focus on that story.

I don’t want to get all caught up in the newest techniques and tools–unless they really help me tell that story better. I don’t want to be cutting edge–because then it becomes all about being cutting edge.

Just as I don’t need colored paper and glitter pens to write a good essay, I don’t need the colors to do what I do best.

All I need to do is stay connected to the story that feels true to ME.

I think I can come down from the ledge now. But if you see me up there again in the next few days, please don’t tell me that pink is the new black.

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Filed under art, business, humor, jealousy, life, mental attitude

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: Professional Jealousy Part Deux

Tatjana – Submitted Aug 31, 2007

I have lost more friends to jealousy than to any other disease.
(quote from Robert Genn’s “Painter’s Keys” website Painter’s Keys archives “Evaluating Art” clickbacks.)

I came across the quote above while browsing through Robert Genn’s newsletter archives. It was so true, it made me almost cry.

There’s something no one will tell you, when you start your journey pursuing your art.

It can get lonely out there.

I don’t believe in the “perfect relationship” anymore. I don’t believe in perfect marriages, perfect families, or perfect friendships. I think we do the best we can, until we learn to do better.

In a perfect world, relationships stretch and grow, accommodating all kinds of stress and obstacles. In reality, I believe sometimes a relationship is “good enough”, until it reaches a crisis that cannot be dealt with.

Jealousy is a big one in friendships.

As you grow in your art and begin to achieve success–whether it’s financial rewards, or professional recognition, whatever–you will lose friends along the way. I am not saying you will lose all your friends. But you may lose some, including some that will surprise and dismay you.

The mentor relationship is especially delicate. I’ve found incredibly generous people who helped me tremendously along the way. Until, that is, I began to surge ahead. I didn’t get ahead by stepping on them–far from it! My greatest sin has been encouraging them to come further on their own journey than they were ready to go.

But the damage is still there.

Outshine your teacher, and it’s the rare person who won’t resent you for it. (Remember, it’s okay to feel resentment–it’s how you act on it that can preserve or wreck that relationship!) It’s astounding how badly some people will choose to act….

I think this tendency is why I get almost obsessive about remembering to thank people. I try to always give credit to people who have shared techniques, insights, support. It’s my way of trying to divert any jealousy they might accrue.

But it only helps to a certain extent. What I’ve found is, you cannot control how another person thinks, feels, acts. They truly have their own journey.

If jealousy raises its ugly green-eyed head in their life, you cannot stop that. If they choose NOT to use that to further their own work, you cannot control that. If they began to engage in passive-aggressive behaviors that undermine your friendship, you will find it difficult to turn that dynamic around.

You will know your gut feeling is right when these friends start saying things like, “Oh, you’re just too sensitive.” Which is another way of saying, “I totally deny your right to HAVE feelings.”

I have frequently referred to a little book called THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison. Here is an entry from my old blog about this delightful little book: THE NIBBLE THEORY: A Big Little Book

If you are a truly independent artist/person who can operate fully without a rich support system of family, friends and peers, you will not need this book.

But for the rest of us, who feel real physical pain at how wrong a friendship can go, you need to read this book. It will help. It will explain.

And in the end, it will help you with your art. Because you will be able to recognize the ways a good friendship can–and SHOULD–support you in making your art. (Hint: It doesn’t have to be the big stuff, either!)

One of the most powerful things anyone ever said about my art was from my sister, who says she knows nothing about art and not much about my world. But when I was having a total lack of confidence in my work, and hesitant to enter it in a exhibition where its chances of acceptance were slim, Susan said something I’ve never forgotten.

“Your job is not to judge what you make. Your job is to make it, and get it out into the world. Others can judge it once it’s out there, but you can’t hold it back by judging it beforehand.”

Talk about channeling Martha Graham! It was an astounding thing for a self-confirmed non-artist to say.

Because Martha Graham said:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening
That is translated through you into action,
And because there is only one of you in all of time
This expression is unique.
And if you block it,
It will never exist through any other medium,
And be lost.
The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is,
Nor how valuable, or how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
to stay open and aware to the urges that motivate you.

I know for some people there will always be conflict: How much art to give up for the sake of friendship. How much friendship to give up for the sake of art.

I still struggle with this.

In the end, I realize I am the only person responsible for my art–I am the only one who can bring it into the world, just as I am the only mother my children will ever have.

My children come first. My art comes first. Friendships have to align themselves somewhere around these non-negotiables.

But I still try to be aware of the different loads my various friendships can handle–and which loads they can’t.

It’s worth a try. It’s part of me to try! But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make me feel like a failed human being anymore.

Just a human being who tried–and failed.

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Filed under art, business, courage, creativity, envy, jealousy, life, mentoring

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2: Professional Jealousy

Years ago, I was going through a rough patch with my art career. Other artists were behaving badly. I was dazed and unsure of what was going on. I confided in a friend, who mentioned the matter to her husband, a lawyer. “Be nice to Luann at dinner tonight, dear”, she told him. “She’s had some bites taken out of her lately.” She told him the back story.

Her husband, a person usually brusque and heavy-handed when it came to the tender feelings of artistic types, responded quickly and with passion.

“You tell Luann that lawyers do this to each other all the time!” he told her. “It’s called professional jealousy. It means she’s doing good work.”

I’ve always kept those words in my heart when things get rough with my fellow craftspeople.

Today I was killing a little time and came across Christine Kane’s wonderful blog again. Christine is an artist in the music world. She writes great essays that transfer across all creative endeavors. You can see her writings here:
Christine Kane’s “Be Creative” blog

I read her essay on Jealousy and Envy. In it, a certain paragraph leaped out at me, the one entitled “Mastery”.

Christine wrote, “Whatever career path you’re on, you have the choice to become a master. Not necessarily of the career or the craft or the art. But of you. That’s what keeps me going. If you want to reach, inspire, help, encourage, heal in any way, most likely it’s going to require that you face your own demons in that process. If jealousy comes up, then it’s a teacher for you. That’s all. Let it be. That’s where your biggest treasures will be.”

I’ve never denied being jealous myself of people more talented and creative than I am. I affectionately call that first rush of pure green bile “the lizard brain”. I chalk it up to my inner nature, that ancient instinctive heritage I will always have with me.

But as Christine says, we have choices, too. And this is one aspect of my life with which I think I’ve made good choices.

I used to be consumed with jealousy. Years ago, though, I realized what being jealous did for me.

I realized it let me off the hook.

If someone else was “better than me”, or “doing better than me”, then I didn’t have to try to be the best anymore. I could give up, quit doing what I was doing, and just say, “Oh, well, I wasn’t very good at it anyway…” Or, “Oh, they’ve got it all wrapped up, there’s no room for ME.” I could pick up my toys and go home.

There’s always the temptation, too, of letting jealousy shift your focus. You now have an “enemy” to hate. How delicious! You can now seethe and plot on how to take them down.

What a tremendous waste of our precious creative energy.

Once I realized that, I quite letting jealousy rule my life. I couldn’t banish it completely, of course. But I could make different choices on how I acted on it.

And that’s when I really started making progress in my career as an artist.

I began to focus on doing what I liked just because I liked it, regardless of how “good” I was. It helped me keep starting over, and helped me persevere when things got tough.

And because I kept going and kept starting over, I began to get kinda good at some of those things.

Now that I think about it, that attitude has helped me in all kinds of situations. Another case where learning how to be a better artist has also helped me be a better person.

And now when the green monster raises its ugly head, I savor it. I know it’s going to spur me on to greater heights.

I know somewhere in that mess, that demon still has something to teach me.

Try it yourself! The next time the lizard brain kicks in. Go on, be jealous. Enjoy it.

But only for a minute.

Then get down to work. And figure out how to make that jealousy work for you. Instead of fuming about your object of envy, put that lizard brain to work.

Think how to make it make YOU a better artist.

If only more of us focused on making jealousy work FOR us, instead of focusing on how to take that other person down…..

We might get along better. Or at least have a lot more wonderful art in the world.

p.s. I’m thinking that, after I wrap up the “GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD” series, this might be a good essay in a new “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” series. In fact, I’ve gone ahead and numbered this one accordingly. There isn’t a MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #1 yet, don’t panic.

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Filed under action steps, art, envy, jealousy, life, mindfulness, Nibble theory, professional jealousy