Category Archives: living with intention

WHAT WILL SURVIVE OF US IS LOVE…

I wrote this post for the Fine Art Views marketing blog. Check out their beautiful website hosting services and other artist resources here.

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

I used to think there was something wrong with me, for all the thinking I do about death. Now I’m learning this is actually common. No, not even common—it’s part of the human condition.

In fact, one professor of psychiatry posits that fear and anxiety about death are at the foundation of ALL our fears and anxieties. What we know and experience intellectually is very different than what we know emotionally. As we say in hospice, “Everyone knows they’re going to die. But nobody wants to die today.”

I’ve been reading STARING AT THE SUN: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin D. Yalom. A reviewer says, “…Once we confront our own mortality, Dr. Yalom writes, we are inspired to rearrange our priorities, communicate more deeply with those we love, appreciate more keenly the beauty of life, and increase our willingness to take the risks necessary for personal fulfillment.”

These aspects speak directly to being an artist in today’s modern world.

We’ve rearranged our priorities. We strive to communicate, deeply. We appreciate the beauty of the world around us, and inside us. We are willing to take the risks necessary to be the artist we dream of, and to get our work out into the world.

I’ve talked before about creating a legacy. I believe this drives all our actions to create our work, exhibit it, market it, and perhaps even sell it. If you have a FASO website, then you are already committed to finding an audience and a market for your work.

I once mistakenly stated that Emily Dickinson never published any of her poetry, and therefore she didn’t care, and kept writing anyway. “Oh, she cared desperately,” a more learned acquaintance corrected me. “She wasn’t published, but she really, really wanted to be!”

So in an age where someone halfway around the world can see, and like, and even buy your work…

In an age where someone halfway around the world can see, like and even copy your work…

In an age where, no matter how many artists there are, there is no one who works exactly like you…

In an age where you are one artist among tens, hundreds, thousands of thousands of other creative types with a website…

In an age where Bieber fever reigns (he started on Youtube) and videos of silly cat tricks garner a million views…

In an age where the most popular television shows cater to the dreams of people who want to be stars, and said people enter contests to achieve their goals…

What does it mean to create a body of work? What does it mean to be successful? What does it mean to “make it big”? What does it mean to create a legacy?

Sorry, no answers today! Just some questions to get you thinking about what these goals would mean to you.

What will survive of us? The only way we know anything about the people who lived in the dawn of prehistory is through the art they left behind.

But if you study archeology, you know that garbage is just as revealing. (Most archeology finds are found in ‘midden heaps’, which is a nice way of saying ‘trash pit’. The ancient Mayans had to move their entire cities when too much garbage made life in the area unsustainable.) Will future civilizations (or aliens) learn about us through our artwork? And will they judge us by the work of Thomas Kincade? Or perhaps from the plastic clamshell packaging that everything we buy is packaged in?

And whose work will survive? Whose art will define our times? One of my favorite stories from the art history textbook Janson’s History of Art told of a mediocre Victorian painter who was the most popular painter of his day. But the artists whose work now defines the age? Monet. Renoir. Cezanne. Even one who died in relative obscurity (then)—Vincent Van Gogh.

So how do we proceed? How should we live our lives? How do we approach our art? How do we shape our legacy?

I believe there’s no way to anticipate what we will leave behind. There’s certainly very little we can do to control what that will be, for more than a few decades, anyway.

All we can do is let ourselves be guided by the strongest intuition we have:

What is it you love?

Do you love to paint landscapes? Still lifes? Clowns? Paint them!

Do you love to sell your work? Sell with all your heart.

Do you love to see your name in print? Submit your work to every publication/exhibition/website you can.

Do you love to teach? Teach!

Do you love to write about art? Write!

Do you love to support yourself with your art? Be the professional you want to be, learn the skills you need, and sit in the driver’s seat of your art automobile.

Do you resent trying to make your art a business? Do the work you love to earn a living, and focus on keeping your art making open-ended and fun.

Trying to set a balance between all this? Set the balance that’s right for you.

What matters, in the end, is the kind of life you strive to lead. The ripple effect of your actions in the world—the kindnesses, love, energy, opportunities you were given, and in turn gave to others, create wavelets that move far past our own seeing. We have to simply trust they carry our best intentions, wherever they go.

What comes after us…
Whatever is made of our efforts when we are gone,
Whatever it will mean to those others who remain, what they will understand,
There is only one thing we know for sure….

It will be what serves their need, not ours.

I love the last stanza in Philip Larkin’s haunting poem, An Arundel Tomb. As he looks upon the figures carved in stone, he realizes that, whether those who lie there meant to be remembered this way or not, this is, truly, how we will remember them:

“…Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin

Their story may not be our story.

1 Comment

Filed under art, death, Fine Art Views, lessons from hospice, living with intention

ASK THE TURTLE

Years ago, I was driving along a New Hampshire highway, and spotted a turtle by the side of the road.

From the tomb of King Tut, one of four guardian figures believed to be modeled after his mother. I see protection, gentleness, peace, love and serenity.

My heart went out to it. So many times, you see crushed turtles on the road. They simply can’t move quickly enough to escape the rushing traffic.

Now, on the other side of the highway was a lake.

Clearly, the turtle was confused, and needed help. So I pulled over, picked up the turtle, and took it to the lake side of the road.

I was so proud of my good deed. I patted myself on the back for taking the time to help a little turtle.

Imagine how embarrassed I was to learn, years later, that I had done exactly the wrong thing.

Turtles don’t get lost.

Female turtles have powerful drives to do exactly what this one was doing. They travel long distances to a safe, dry place away from their watery home, to lay their eggs. When they’re done, they return to the water.

I had simply prolonged this poor turtle’s journey. And forced it to cross the dangerous highway again.

I read an article about our nation’s tendency to offer international aid, with good intentions. But we often neglect to let each country determine what aid it really needs. The author used the same example of giving misguided ‘help to the turtle. “Ask the turtle,” she admonished. “The turtle knows exactly what it needs.”

I love this story, though I still feel bad for my own turtle.

I had a phone consultation with Lyedie Lydecker a few days ago. With a messy studio, new projects looming, new work I want to do, small orders I need to fill, upcoming knee surgery and the resulting loss of income (I can’t do my big League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair this year), I’ve been overwhelmed with how to best use my remaining non-invalid time. I’d ask Lyedie to help me sort it all out.

She listened, which is a blessing in itself. So many people listen, but then try to fix. (I do that!) I was listened to with exquisite care.

But the best insight was how to approach my studio.

It’s such a mess, and the thought of cleaning it now is overwhelming.

Now, about our studios…. Lyedie firmly believes that our studio isn’t just a physical space to work. It’s a partner in our creative process.

She said, “Ask your studio–your beloved partner in your creative process–what it needs.

As I look over the notes I took of our conversation, I flashback to an article I wrote almost eight years ago. As I reread it, I’m astounded by what I wrote that day.

Because it echoes Lyedie’s words so clearly, it’s eerie.

I firmly believe that we already know what we need to know. Sometimes it takes someone else to tease it out of us. And sometimes we just need someone to tell us.

So how do I ask my studio what it needs? Hmmmmmm……

Someone once told me how to do just that. The universe will give us everything we ask for, she said, if we would ask the right way.

You look down and close your eyes, droopy. Then expand and stand tall. Raise your face to the sky, turn your hands out, and ask. Out loud. Ask for what you want with your whole heart. (I did it a few times, and it worked so profoundly, I was scared to ask any more. Mistake!)

Now what does that remind me of??

I realize today I’ve seen this posture before.

You can see it in the figure above, one of a group of four female figures I saw in the King Tut exhibition in Toronto many, many years ago. They are guardian figures (of Tut’s sarcophagus?), believed to be modeled after his mother. They protect the remains of her beloved son, with serenity, with peace, with gentleness and love.

So that’s what I did this morning. I entered the studio today as a supplicant, as a loving partner, eager to restore my beautiful relationship with my beloved space.

I asked my studio what it needed from me.

Because I was willing to see, to listen, to feel, to love, I heard what my studio needs.

And it was not what I thought it was. It doesn’t want much. There are no demands, no resentment, no punishment or resentment. Just a few gentle requests. All things I can manage, and all things that will return tenfold in joy.

Today, I asked the turtle.

12 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, cleaning the studio, craft, living with intention, mental attitude

LEARNING TO LOVE YOUR TO-DO LIST

My to-do list: It's not what you think it is!

Your to-do list is really a travel brochure.

My plate is loaded. Full up. Spilling over.

I have so many projects in the air, I’ve been suffering major brain buzz. I hardly even know where to start.

Now, life coach and writer Martha Beck has a great article on how to unhook yourself from a to-do list. I think she actually suggests scheduling “empty time” in there.

And I know my life is so much more than a to-do list. One of her clients, on her deathbed, jokingly said, “At least this is one more thing I can cross off my to-do list!”

But I needed something more. Something that felt more like my whole approach to life. And this morning, I found it.

I was writing my morning pages–the “brain data dump” I try to do every morning. Sure enough, “more things I have to do” kept popping up as I wrote, and I dutifully added them to today’s ever-growing list. It’s already so long, I couldn’t possible complete the tasks in a week, let alone a day.

With a big sigh, I started to prioritize my tasks. What could wait? Which ones were more important? Which IS more important–the ones about my family? The ones about the latest foster puppy? The new open studio tour I’m working on? Cleaning my studio so I can HAVE an open studio? What about my upcoming surgery? Should I focus on getting healthy? What about my phone date with Lyedie this afternoon? (You can read more about integral coach Lyedie Lydecker here and read my article about her here.

Ah. Lyedie. What was that she said about time?

It’s not about priorities. It’s not even about balance–balancing family time with art time, friend time with exercise, pet care with health care.

It’s about awareness, and intention, and engagement.

For me, it’s about crafting a whole life. Seeing, learning, participating, growing. Not sideways(sigh), but inside-ways.

That’s when it hit me. What my to-do list really is.

It’s a travel guide for my life.

It’s not an AAA road map. It’s a list of possibilities.

Priority be damned.

Some of these tasks aren’t high priority. But they also won’t take much time or effort. Or I can do them on my way to another, “higher priority” task.

Some are totally unimportant. But I like doing them. They look like work, but they are actually fun.

Even some of the most important ones aren’t necessarily time-sensitive. They’re big, but they can wait. And sometimes, they can’t happen until other smaller, simpler steps are taken.

But what really blew me away today was thinking about the unimportant, quick, not fun, actually dreaded tasks on my list from a week ago.

It involved picking something up from a person I’ve had totally negative encounters with. This person is sarcastic and resentful, in a job they hate and not getting the recognition they feel they deserve.

I thoroughly dreaded the pick-up, and had to force myself to do it. Actually, I did it first because I wanted to get it over with.

I decided to be my higher self for just a few minutes. I said I was sorry for the circumstances behind their donation.

And the walls of anger came tumbling down.

I’m sorry to be so circumspect, but want to protect their privacy. Let’s just say that I saw another side to this person, a totally different aspect of their life that blew me away. They opened up to me, sharing their sadness and joy, their dreams and hopes.

It turns out I was able to speak to that in a way that encouraged and supported them. I gave them the small thank-you gift I’d prepared, and they were delighted and grateful.

Now, the point here isn’t that all people (okay, almost all people) have an inner beauty, if only we knew where to look.

The point is, this was an item on my to-do list I’d dreaded. And it was actually a door into something powerful and profound.

There was a connection, a reconciliation, a new way to interact with this person in the future.

And it all came from a place I never could have predicted.

Now I’m sitting here with that same to-do list.

It looks different. It doesn’t seem to fill me with as much anxiety. Time doesn’t seem like a upside-down bottle of sand with grains running out the bottom.

It looks like a travel guide to a mysterious, exciting and beautiful new country, a country I’ve wanted to visit all my life..

7 Comments

Filed under art, balance, craft, life lessons, living with intention, mental attitude, mindfulness, to do list

YOU CAN CHANGE THE WORLD

If you’re like me, when somebody says something like, “One person can change the world”, I think of the big names.

There are the bad big names: Hitler. Stalin. Atilla the Hun. Pol Pot.

There are the good big names, like Siddhartha (aka The Buddha); Martin Luther King. Beethoven.

I never see myself in that group.

The list of women who changed the world is a lot smaller. Catherine the Great. Queen Elizabeth I. Marie Curie.

Even with these, I never see myself in their ranks.

For some reason, I’m always drawn to the ones whose impact is softer (though still profound.) Florence Nightingale. Mother Theresa. Anne Frank.

Their attraction is subtle. These women did not start out in positions of power and influence. They did not seek out fame and glory. They were not ‘more special’ than other people.

They did what was in their hearts. Even when it got hard, even when they felt alone, they did what they cared about. They did the work that called to them.

Last week at our hospice volunteer meeting, we watched a film called PIONEERS OF HOSPICE: Changing the Face of Dying.

I thought it would be boring, but I was wrong. It was compelling on many levels.

The biggest was that the modern hospice movement really did start with one person.

And it wasn’t a physician. It wasn’t a social scientist. It wasn’t someone with power and influence.

It was a nurse.

Cicely Saunders, considered the founder of modern hospice and palliative care, says it wasn’t the doctors who started it. After all, they were trained to cure and save patients. They were actually taught to distance themselves from the dying.

It was nurses who were on the front lines of patient care.

It was they who saw the needless pain and suffering. Not just the physical pain, but emotional, social, financial and spiritual pain. “Who will care for my family when I’m gone?” “Will anything remain of me?”

Saunders saw the dying as people, separate from their disease or condition. She saw there was much to be done to support them, and to manage their pain.

She also saw there was much they could teach us about living.

She quickly realized her role as a nurse, and a social worker, would limit how much influence she could have. She understood that being a physician herself would empower her. She returned to school, and became a doctor.

Interestingly, although there is a profound spiritual side to hospice care, and though she is a devout Christian herself, Saunders deliberately did not link Christian faith to hospice. She felt it would close doors. She wanted the doors to be wide open.

Cicely Saunders and others have something to teach all of us, in our art and in our lives:

Follow the work that calls to you.

Do what needs to be done.

If you need more influence, figure out what will work, and pursue it.

Don’t seek fame for fame’s sake. Fame is not necessary to do important work in the world. In fact, it can distract and deflect you to your purpose. Never lose sight of where your energy is truly needed.

You will have doubts, and setbacks, and hard times. There may be sadness and loss.

But wouldn’t you rather experience those things in the context of doing the work you love? Doing the work that is important to you?

First do no harm. Hospice takes that oath further.

When the possibility for cure and recovery has past, there is still hope.

There is hope for comfort. There is hope for healing. There is hope for solace. Perhaps even for reconciliation and forgiveness. There is hope for gratitude. There is hope for a legacy.

There is always hope for love, and for peace.

Do the work that gives you peace in your heart. As our modern world rages around us, with delights and terrors, with war and reality TV, with distractions and isolation, create the work that comes from your own unique self.

Don’t judge it. Celebrate it!

Be fierce in service of your art.

5 Comments

Filed under art, hospice, lessons from hospice, living with intention

JUST ANOTHER BEAUTIFUL MORNING

Yep, life was weird and scary this fall and winter, and I’ve been in a funk.

So many days I didn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of my own bed. I couldn’t think of a reason why I should, either. I slept ten hours, eleven hours, sometimes twelve hours at night.

And still felt lethargic and only half-here.

Now some of the grey has lifted. Slowly, I return to the things that have always given me strength–my writing, my craft, my marriage, my family.

And my friends.

Last week, on an impulse, I invited myself to piggy-back along on a friend’s trip down to Webs, a fabulous yarn store in Northampton, MA. I’m in knitting mode, which hits me in winter. Actually, I’m in yarn-and-pattern-and-book buying mode, but whatever.

I couldn’t believe how much I anticipated that road trip. Jenny was taking a class, and would spend most of the day at the store. It’s the kind of place I can hang out in for hours, too–shopping the yarn warehouse, with its bargain-basement prices. With a shopping cart, people! I need more yarn like a hole in the head, but it was so soothing to be with the lovely colors and textures of yarn. Then I spent more hours browsing through every single pattern book and leaflet.

It all appeals to the hunter-gatherer in me.

I was in fiber junkie heaven.

And I got to spend some time with Jenny. Which turned out to be the best, most healing part.

To know Jenny is to love her. She’s simply a good, gentle woman. Always there for her family and friends. She has an open and loving heart, and we gravitate to her as a sunflower follows the sun.

One particular exchange resonates with me today. Jenny has sheep, and she’s the ‘morning feeder’. She gets up at the crack of dawn, rain or shine, to care for them. (Her husband Mike, another treasured presence in our circle, is the ‘night feeder’.)

Jenny said sometimes she hates getting up in the cold winter mornings. It can be a hard time of day here in New England. Freezing rain, deep snow, cold winds can put a damper on your enthusiasm. (I’m personally grateful we don’t have ducks or chickens this year…. The feelings of guilt on those zero degree nights is mind-numbing!)

But then Jenny, as she usually does, said something quiet and clear, and deeply profound.

“I look around, and see the morning,” she said. “And each morning is so different, Lu! Each one is beautiful in its own way….”

Light. Sky. Clouds. Wind. Water–snow, ice, rain, mist, dew. Birds. Color–in the flowers, in the leaves, everywhere you look. Something that catches your eye, or your ear, or your heart, something different, every day….

Sometimes the sunrise is brilliant and gorgeous. Other times, perhaps just a small cluster of rose-gold clouds glowing on the horizon. Sometimes the wind puts all the trees in motion. Other times, she said, it’s so quiet, you can’t even hear the traffic from the country road a few miles away. Sometimes you hear the cackling commotion of crows, other times, simply the sweet, low cry of a morning dove.

Every day. Something different. Something…unique.

Something you only see when you pull yourself out of your warm and safe bed, and venture bravely out into the new day.

I’ve thought about that every day since.

I am so grateful for people like Jenny, who gently, sweetly, help me remember what it is to be alive.

And though I’m more of a sunset person than a morning person, today I, too, try to se–with fresh eyes, an open heart, a calm spirit and grateful nature–the beauty of each new day.

8 Comments

Filed under friendship, gratitude, inspiration, knitting, life, life with chickens, living with intention, mindfulness

COMMITMENT

It’s been a busy month, with a week-long gig at a glorious old grand hotel as artist-in-residence (and marriage counselor); our son moving into his own digs (it’s time, it was expected, but Oh God, it was still hard….) and my daughter Robin announcing her engagement to a very nice young man named….Rob. (He told me earnestly last week, “Mrs. Udell, when you say ‘Rob’, I can almost always tell which one of us you’re talking to!”

So marriage, and committment is on my mind today. Mine, my daughter’s, and the delightful woman I spoke with at length during little artist workshops I gave at The Balsams.

How on earth did I end up advising a perfect stranger about marriage?? It started when the woman corrected me when I referred to her partner as her husband. “We’re not married, but we’ve been together 10 years,” she said. I asked why they hadn’t married. It was a sad story of a difficult first marriage, and fear about making that kind of commitment again.

We talked over several days. It was obvious they were both good people and cared deeply for each other. She said she had no doubts about him–”He’s a good man.” But still she was afraid of history repeating itself.

I finally said to her, “Don’t make decisions out of fear.”

How long does it take for a man to prove to his beloved that he is the real deal? That his love is real, and their relationship is based on respect and love?

It’s like saying, “When I have a lot of money, then I’ll feel safe.” Then you have a million dollars, but it’s still not enough. “When I have TWO million dollars, then I’ll feel safe.” True story, from Martha Beck.

If 10 years is not enough for someone to prove their intentions, what will another 5 years mean? Another 10? A lifetime?

And you’ve essentially said to this person you love, “Actually, ‘never’ is good. Is ‘never’ good for you?”

Of course, I immediately felt I’d overstepped myself and apologized.

But the day I left for home, she told me she was starting to change her mind.

Later that same day, my baby girl told me Rob had proposed to her, and she had accepted.

My only concern was they hadn’t known each other for years and years, and began dating each other only recently. Did they have enough evidence to make this decision? What if it didn’t work out?

Then I realized I’d decided about Jon in just about as much time.

And I realized there is no way to be absolutely sure about love. We make our best guess, based on the evidence that matters to us.

And we take that magical leap of trust, and hope.

She posted her relationship status change on Facebook, and my husband had this to say:

It has been a wonderful thing to behold. Rob and Robin are highly self-aware people who are smart enough to know the right thing when they see it, and strong enough to work through a process that will take some time and adjustment. I was quite unprepared for how happy this has made me!

My post? “Plus he’s funny & SAYS he thinks we’re nice!”

What does this have to do with art? Plenty. Why am I writing about marriage here today?

Because so many of the things that really matter in the world are based on this leap of faith.

Pursuing your passion. Making art. Getting married. Having kids.

Even pursuing success, when I deconstructed my desires for it, came from a need to show my love and commitment for my art; to hope people love it–and me!; to create a teensy bit more love and hope in the world with the work of my hands and my words.

Whether we mean it or not, whether we sought it or not, or found it or not, love has been by our side every step of the way.

Sometimes we are surrounded by people who cannot show their love very well, or even by some who can’t love very well.

Sometimes we have to create for ourselves the love we can only imagine.

But it’s there. And if we are lucky, and if we are open to it…

When we find it in some small measure, it is a treasure.

And when we find it in abundance, it is a blessing.

The more times I sit by a hospice bedside, holding someone’s hand as they they go out on the tide of their life, the more I know the truth of these hauntingly beautiful words…

…Time has transfigures them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

by Phillip Larkin, from “An Arundel Tomb”

In all that you do, in all that you make with your whole heart, may love find you there.

6 Comments

Filed under art, craft, hospice, inspiration, lessons from hospice, life, living with intention, love

BLESSINGS

I keep a gratitude journal (irregularly, but it’s there.) It’s a powerful tool for attitude adjustment, especially a few years ago when I had three surgeries in six months and was in constant, frightening pain. The journal really helped me see what my blessing were, even though, during that time, the lens I viewed them through had grown very small.

I also have days where I wonder if the time and energy I put into my art and my writing have had any effect on the world. On those days, I console myself with the image of a pebble thrown into a great lake. We know we throw that pebble with our greatest intention. But we may never know how far the ripples travel, nor what shores they eventually fall upon.

So those are my tips on how to get over the Eeyore thing.

Yesterday was a perfect day for me. I finished up a new series of small framed pieces for a little art show at a friend’s coffee shop, Prime Roast, in Keene NH.

Judy Rogers roasting coffee at Prime Roast Coffee in Keene, NH. Photo from the Keene Sentinel.

Judy Rogers roasting coffee at Prime Roast Coffee in Keene, NH. Photo from the Keene Sentinel.

That’s my friend Judy in the photo. She hosts exhibitions for emerging and local artists, supporting our community artists.

I’m thrilled with the new work, and I had a few compliments before I’d even finished hanging them.

The icing on the cake was finding this reaction to articles I wrote recently.

Is it bragging to share with you? I dunno. Well, yeah.

(Remember, I said I’m trying to be a better person. I didn’t say I was perfect.) (VBG)

But it’s not often we get to see the shore where the ripples gently fell. And when we do, it’s a blessing.

So I am grateful to LaDonna today. Thank you, LaDonna!

P.S. And just in case you think I take myself too seriously, here’s one of my favorite movie quotes, about what Conan the Barbarian thinks is good in life.

I don’t think he keeps a gratitude journal, do you?

7 Comments

Filed under gratitude, living with intention

MY BUSY, BUSY LIFE

My Busy, Busy Life
by Luann Udell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does it mean when nobody is buying our art?

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

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

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

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

But I needed to make it.

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

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

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

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

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

And a funny thing happened.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———————————————-
This article appears courtesy of FineArtViews by Canvoo,
a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists,
collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).

This article originally appeared at:
MY BUSY, BUSY LIFE at Fine Art Views.

For a complimentary subscription, visit: Fine Art Views.

5 Comments

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

NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

Used to be, when the new year rolled around, you’d find all kinds of articles in the news about resolutions.

Nowadays, it seems like you see just as many about why we never keep those resolutions.

I started to set my own “usuals” this week: Be more productive with my artwork, get organized, exercise more, eat less.

Then I read those darn downer articles, and wonder why I bother?

The answer came to me last night.

Yes, it’s hard to maintain those good intentions.

But I love the place of hope they come from.

This year I’m going to enthusiastically make those same ol’ resolutions, with some new additions.

I’m considering the lessons of my hospice training, and thinking about the difference between “curing” and “healing”. Between “fixing” and “truly listening.”

I’m going to take my passions–riding, martial arts, tai chi and yoga–and dig in a little deeper. I may restart a little chubbier than usual, but I know I’ll feel better for simply showing up and trying.

I’m positioning my artwork right where it belongs–as something I do for myself, and then share with the world. With no regrets and no measuring. It will go where it will, perhaps only a small pebble in a very big ocean. But even a small pebble makes ripples. I may not be able to see where they go, but I know they are there.

I intend to write something every day. Not all of it will be earth-shattering or special. But I want to make writing as daily a habit as…..cream in my coffee.

I will NOT give up cream in my coffee. Maybe in 2011…..?

Oh, and to remember to be grateful for what I have and for all the people in my life. All of ‘em, even the highly annoying ones, bless ‘em. I have something to learn from them all. And…grateful to just be here.

Some of these intentions will stick. Most probably won’t. I get that.

But I won’t give up on myself.

I kinda like the fact that I still believe I could be a better artist, a more successful biz owner, a kinder, healthier person, a better friend, if I try.

What do YOU resolve in 2010?

7 Comments

Filed under action steps, art, choices, craft, gratitude, inspiration, life, living with intention, mental attitude, perseverence

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #13: One Big Break is All You Need

Myth: If only I could get into X Gallery/get Famous Person Y to see my work/get a website, I would be successful!

Reality: No one person, event or venue will make or break your vision.

When I first started showing and selling my art, I read these very wise words somewhere:

Every day you will find an opportunity to move your art/biz forward. Every day you will overlook an opportunity to move your art/biz forward.

I quote them now because a reader posted this comment on my blog recently, and with her permission, I reprint it here:

Hello, again! I get what you’re saying, Luann, I really do. But right now I’m really in a down space.

Filled with excitement, I opened up a space in Etsy back in September thinking that *there* I would find people who would see value in handspun hand-dyed yarn. They do, apparently–there are lots of other spinners on Etsy–but evidently they don’t see any value in mine.

Lots of looks, a few hearts, no sales.

One part of me is bugging me to get busy and make more yarn, but the other part of me is saying, “Why make MORE beautiful yarn that no one will want to buy? What’s the point of doing that, when no one wants what I’ve already made?”

I’m sorry for dumping on you my own pity-party, but I need someone who is an artist and “gets it” to vent to. ..

Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me to give up and become a boring housewife who grades papers and washes dishes and remembers when she used to make beautiful stuff. I don’t know.

Dear Reader, I give you permission to wallow for awhile. Things do get hard, and we all get discouraged. (See Myth #14 about this.) (Not yet, I haven’t written it yet!!)

But I can assure you wholeheartedly that the Lord is not telling you to stay small and regret your lost dreams. :-)

Sometimes we take that leap and many things fall into place. Sometimes we take that leap–and things stay hard.

In fact, that is the major purpose of my blog: To chronicle my journey pursuing my art, with honestly and self-examination. And hopefully, a huge helping of inspiration.

Because, as my husband pointed out to me a short while ago, we always hear about the instant overnight successes. (What I call the Cinderella stories.) And we also hear about the not-so-overnight success stories, where the hero struggles and perseveres, and finally gets a lucky break.

The point is, we already know how those stories end. We know the goal was achieved, because the tales are always told afterwards–not while the ball is actually in play.

My blog is all about the ball being in play. And sharing that process with you.

So here are some possible scenarios regarding this handspun yarn biz, but don’t take the “you” thing personally. These are just some things to think about:

1. When we stand at the beginning of our stories, we cannot see the end.

Sometimes, we can’t even see what our ultimate goal will be. Longtime readers may remember my sad little story about wishing my handknit toy sheep idea taking off.

And when they finally did, how I discovered how much I hated knitting toy sheep.

If your handspun biz where to be an instant hit, you could be locked into a business that takes too much time away from your other pursuits right now. Or you might find spinning is fun for a few hours a day, but not so much fun doing it all day. Maybe you’ll realize you like writing about the process, or teaching the process, more than making yarn to sell. (Although that piece of it will give you the insights you need to do the other stuff–writing, teaching, demonstrating, etc.) Maybe you’ll end up developing a therapy program with your skills. Who knows what the possibilities are?

So maybe right now you think your dream is to sell handspun yarn. But maybe even bigger things are in store for you.

2. We cannot tell what strategy will work, and which ones will peter out.

Etsy looks like a “sure thing” from the outside, but having an Etsy shop does not guarantee success.

We dream of getting into “that great gallery”, sure we will be successful if they would only represent our work. We dream of finding “the perfect show” where we will find all the buying customers we need. We know if only we had a great website, we would be flooded with orders.

In reality, there is no “perfect venue” or “perfect strategy”. There is simply another opportunity to try.

Maybe e-commerce will work for you. Or maybe your yarns would sell better “in person”–at small local shows, or certain events. (We have a big “Wool Tour” here in New Hampshire on Columbus Day weekend. People come from hundreds of miles to tour small farms, see llamas and sheep and angora goats and bunnies, and buy fleece, roving and finished yarns.) Maybe people need to touch your yarn to fully appreciate it first, and then you turn those customers into online customers with reorders.

Maybe a “new product release” about your yarns to a knitting or spinning magazine would bring interested buyers to your Etsy store.

3. We may be trying to sell to the wrong people.

Etsy is the biggest and best-known venue for handcraft. But it’s also a huge venue for vintage goods and craft supplies. And it’s a big shopping venue for other artists. So you may be inadvertently trying to sell to people who can make it themselves.

At a friend’s suggestion, I used Etsy as a way to sell to my current customers. I didn’t actually think I could join an already established, close-knit online community (no pun intended) and create a strong presence there.

Even so, I didn’t have a single sale on Etsy. I’m exploring other ways to sell online, and will use Etsy to offload my old supplies.

4. It just may take more time than you think.

Another reader posted a reply to the original comment, and it’s a good one. (In fact, I just realized I’ve repeated a lot of what Kerin said!! oops…)

And see item #1 above, where things taking time can be a good thing.

5. And sometimes it’s just hard.

It’s true–it’s just hard sometimes. There are days when we just feel like the universe is saying “no”.

But what does your heart say?

Because if you give up, there is only one thing that can happen: Nothing!

If you persevere, anything can happen. Including failure, but failure is not necessarily a bad thing. (Go back to the knitted sheep thing.)

#5: What is “success”, anyway? What does it mean to Y*O*U?

Right now you haven’t had any sales. Is that your only measure of success?

Have you learned how to spin and dye beautiful yarn? You’ve successfully developed a product.

Have you learned how to photograph it? Have you successfully uploaded images to a website? You’ve successfully done something millions of people have no idea how to do. (Since I lost my photographer, I’ve had to work on developing a whole nother skill set, and that learning curve is steep!)

Have you learned how to talk about it, write about it? You’ve learned how to pitch your product.

And have you learned how to create a unique product? Which leads us to….

#6. Are you telling your real story?

Sometimes, especially when we first start out making stuff and getting it out into the world, we focus on the surface of the process. When you hear artists say, “I just love color!” or “I just love knitting!”, we are listening to someone who has either a) not bothered to dig deeper; b) doesn’t know how to dig deeper; or c) or is afraid to dig deeper.

What is it about hand-spinning and dyeing that excites you? What does it mean to you? Don’t say, “Oh, it’s fun” or “Oh, it’s relaxing.”

Tell us why.

Here’s a perfect little example that Bruce Baker tells in his seminars.

A potter makes tiny little pots with lids, very charming. But so what?

She explains that her life is so hectic, so harried, that when she takes time to make these tiny wonders, she envisions she is creating a little moment of serenity, of quiet. “And then she draws up the tops, and makes a little lid, and there is a little moment of time preserved….”

Doesn’t that make you want to own one of her little pots? And when you are harried and frazzled, you can lift the tiny lid….and there is your own little moment of quiet and peace.

She told us the “why”. And when you purchase her product, you can have a little of the “why”, too.

7. If it brings you joy, you should not–cannot–stop doing it.

It’s hard when it feels like the world does not want our beautiful work. But remember when I said, “I have to do it anyway, or I’ll die?” That’s what got me through.

Yeah, I know I wouldn’t drop dead if I never made another little horse. But I know something inside me would wither away. And the world, whether it knew about the loss or not, would simply be a sadder place for it.

I want to believe in my heart that somehow, in ways I may not see or could even possibly imagine, that the world is a better place for me making my work. For me being in the world. I have to believe that. Because to believe otherwise is to give in to self-doubt, and eventually, despair.

And whatever we believe in, whatever our religion or creed or ethics, if we are creative people, then we have to believe that creativity makes the world a better place. That anything we make–a lovely skein of yarn, a useful pot, an inspiration movie, a beautiful song, a warm and loving home for those we care about–the world is a better place for that.

Or what are we here for?

So keep making your yarn, because it makes you happy. Don’t give up, but be open to where it leads you (because it may not take you where you think you’re going!) Take the opportunities you find. Let go of the ones you miss, and move on. Think about the deep “why?”, and don’t be afraid to share it.

And know that whatever happens, it’s all good.

11 Comments

Filed under art, business, choices, craft, creativity, depression, inspiration, life, living with intention, mental attitude, myths about artists, selling, selling online, telling your story, world peace

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.

12 Comments

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