Category Archives: mentoring

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

SILENT EVIDENCE

There’s a great article on the front page of our local newspaper, the Keene Sentinel, written by staff writer Phillip Bantz.

Our big news in New Hampshire (after the devastating ice storm) is the conviction of Michael Addison, a young African American, for killing a white police officer. He is the first person in our state to be given the death penalty in 50 years.

There has been much debate over the morality and efficacy of the death penalty in New Hampshire.

In addition, Addison’s character and motive have been heavily expounded upon the last few months, too. There was evidence he’d bragged about his intentions to “kill a cop” someday. The prosecution resisted any defense of his horrible environment, noting that countless people come from horrible environments, yet they don’t choose to kill. Which is true.

It is not our finest moment, in so many ways.

This article is different. It tells a story about silent evidence.

Here’s a good definition of silent evidence. Usually, silent evidence refers to a happy story of success or survival, that overlooks the stories of those who didn’t succeed or didn’t survive.

This article is about the happier story that could have been….

Eight years ago, someone did imagine a different story for Michael Addison.

Eight years ago, Addison walked into a teen counseling center: Compassionate Connections, in Manchester, NH. Steve Bernstein, a counselor there, saw a troubled youth with a drive to change his life. He saw a young man with hope and optimism.

A young man who was trying to choose differently.

Addison came to the center regularly, of his own free will for well over a year–unusual in and of itself. He became friends with Bernstein. He got his driver’s license. He pursued a GED. He sought counseling. He talked about learning a trade.

He wanted something different. He acted on that. And he showed up, consistently, choosing differently every day, for over a year.

So what happened? How did he end up a handful of years later, murdering a cop in cold blood?

Why did he walk away from everything that was working for him, and choose this?

A few sentences say it all. Bantz writes,

“Addison never left the center. The center left him. After working with Addison for about a year and a half, Bernstein said the grant money that was the lifeblood of his center dried up, and he was forced to close it’s doors.

The next time he saw his friend’s face, it was on the news….”

It’s a weird, inversed modern version of what-could-have-been from Frank Capra’s “It’s A Wonderful Life.”
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Maybe it’s facile to say things could have turned out differently.

But…they could have. A little more money, for a little more time, and there may have been a different story. Maybe no story….

There would have been no murder, no police officer shot in the line of duty, no devastated family left behind, no grieving community. No flurry of news stories and headlines and debate about the dark soul of a heartless monster who killed for no reason. No death penalty debate.

Just a non-story, just another electrician in Manchester, plying his trade, maybe supporting his own young family. Maybe giving back to his community, reaching out to help other youths, as others had reached out to help him, once upon a time.

Just another link in a chain of hope, and compassion, and choice. A chain now broken.

As artists, we create such chains, too.

We choose creativity. We choose passion for making beautiful things. We choose to add to the good in the world.

Yet we cannot see how our actions manifest themselves in the world. We cannot see what good they do, or what is left undone. We may never know what comes of our decision. We may never even see success, or affirmation.

It seems like a small thing, sitting here today–I cannot see the chain I create by putting something beautiful out into the world, the chain I create by making something, whether it’s evocative art, or beautiful jewelry, or a story I tell about my process. I cannot see it.

I cannot see what would happen if I stopped, either.

I believe in silent evidence. I choose to believe. That somehow, the world is perhaps, at least, a slightly better place because of what I put out there.

This story today in our local paper, about what could have been different for this killer, affirms that for me. Not confirm. Affirm.

I hope it does that for you, too.

Because something in my heart says it’s so.

We cannot see the chain.

We can only choose to believe it’s there.

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Filed under art, choices, craft, creativity, inspiration, life, mentoring, silent evidence

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

BIG HELP

I subscribe to a really cool artist e-newsletter put out twice weekly by painter Robert Genn. Although it’s geared toward painting, I find good insight that transfers well to any artistic endeavor.

You can view the newsletter and see the article I’m writing about today here:
Artist for Life

If you scroll about halfway down the page, you’ll see my response, called “Motivation must be internally driven”.

We had dinner with friends last night. We got to talking about our almost-adult children and the choices they were making–some good, some questionable. “Why don’t they listen to us? We have such great advice!”

I finally pointed out that they probably shouldn’t take our advice and do what we say. What we see as “stupid choices” or “lack of insight” is simply a young person starting to make their own way through the world.

Sometimes what looks like stubbornness or lack of motivation is their good decision about something, something we don’t have the full story on yet. For example, a friend kept bugging her child about not hanging out with an old friend anymore. She was mortified when she finally learned the reason. The old friend had started drinking heavily. And her child didn’t want to be around that. What looked like ornery teen behavior was actually a very young person struggling to make a good decision on their own.

I’m actually better at keeping this balance with my kids than my friends, sometimes. I talked about my own tendency to jump in and help other people, especially younger folks the past few years who were in a jam. I was really supportive and encouraging. But eventually things ended badly and we went our separate ways.

“Why did you get involved?” my friend asked.

I thought hard about this one.

Maybe it was because I felt there was something special about each of them. They all had energy and talent and inner beauty. They had all hit a major obstacle in their path. And I thought I could help them through it.

“I guess they reminded me of ME at that age,” I explained. “And I kept thinking, ‘If only I’d had someone older and wiser to tell me what was going on, to encourage me to believe in myself, to tell me what’s what, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to get to where I am now.”

But it doesn’t work that way, does it?

Just like Robert Genn’s gallery-owner friend, and just like us, when we recognize our true role of parents (or mentor, or gallery owner), it’s not our role to smooth the way or eliminate obstacles. We can’t save them time, or effort, or angst, or sorrow.

I said, “I’ve learned you can’t help someone take shortcuts on their journey through life.”

“Write that down!!” my friend said.

“They either have a fire in their belly to get somewhere–to be a real artist, to travel, to achieve their goals, to get what they want in life–or they don’t.”

“Write that down, too!” my friend said.

So I did.   And I am.

You can’t feed another person’s fire, not for very long anyway. They have to learn to feed it themselves.  Eventually, they may even realize it’s the wrong fire to feed.  Maybe they’re supposed to be doing something else entirely.

Because no one really knows what’s in the heart and soul of another person. Because it’s their life, their journey, their process.

So how can you help someone who “needs” help, without mucking it up for them and you?

You can listen.

You can put things into prospective occasionally. Ask a probing question once in awhile. Let them know you care. And that you believe they will figure it out. Or not. And that that’s okay, too.

And you can listen. (Yes, I know I said that twice. I meant to!)

In hindsight, the minute I stopped listening and started advising, everything in those relationships went south. The minute I started telling my young friends, and my daughter what I thought they should do, I was actually telling them I didn’t believe they could figure it out for themselves.

Okay, reality check. Does this insight really mean I’m going to stop advising people? Nah. I really like telling people what I think they should do.
I’ve learned you can only help people so far, and then they must help themselves.

But I truly believe that my odd, convoluted, meandering path through life is truly what brought me to this place in my art and my life.

And that means I really have to leave others to their own journey to do the same.

P.S. I think that’s why this blog has become so important to me. It’s a way of sharing what I’ve learned, or what I hope to learn, in a way that is not obtrusive or hectoring to other people. You can read it, enjoy it and take away what you will from it.

Or not. It’s your journey. It’s all okay.

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Filed under art, choices, craft, life, life with teenagers, mentoring