And here’s a tongue-in-cheek article by Robert Genn on how the Art Marketing Board of Canada can help you price your artwork.
And here’s a tongue-in-cheek article by Robert Genn on how the Art Marketing Board of Canada can help you price your artwork.
Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.
Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.
As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.
We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.
You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.
I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.
We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.
If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.
So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.
I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.
As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.
The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”
Now think about that a minute.
There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.
But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.
Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.
If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..
If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….
If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..
If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…
…People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.
Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.
Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.
Be brave. Be YOU.
Tell Me A Story: Novelty
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 (fiber & 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….” You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
Remember, to ordinary people, We are the people who ran away to join the circus.
Use the magic.
We humans love the odd and the curious.
The Guinness Book of Records. The story in your local newspaper about the calf born with two heads or the gardener who grew a monster-sized squash. The Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs TV program with Mike Rowe, who volunteers to try out the nation’s dirtiest, most disgusting work. And P.T. Barnum’s famous (or infamous) sideshow attractions. The proverbial “man bites dog” (vs. the boring and predictable “dog bites man”) stories.
What’s at the root of all these?
Although many of you have been inspired by this series of articles on using news values in your marketing, I know some are unconvinced of their value, and grumbling on the sidelines.
I know if some have protested the value of using sex and romance as a story hook, the idea of using novelty in our self-promotion (press releases, artist statement, advertising, etc.) will make them grind their teeth. I can hear it now….
“I’m a serious artist! I don’t want to even be considered in the same (news) ballpark as giant squash and weirdo publicity stunts!”
You—and I—are proud of our business skills, our hard-won credentials, the prestigious exhibits our work has appeared in—and rightly so. We’ve worked hard to get to where we are today, and we want to be taken seriously as artists.
We aren’t some ‘novelty act’ scrounging for a sound bite on the radio or conniving for a mention in the ‘weird news’ section of the newspaper.
Maybe. And…maybe not.
Consider this: In other people’s eyes, our very existence is the novelty.
I’ve sat through many, many seminars conducted by nationally-known speaker Bruce Baker, who talks about displaying and selling art and fine craft. Bruce is a compelling and entertaining speaker who’s spoken to tens of thousands of artists over the years, sharing his insights and observations on marketing. He has a knack for turning a phrase, and one of my favorites is this one:
“Above all, you as artists and craftspeople must remember: To the ordinary public, you are the people who ran away to join the circus!”
He means that our customers, the general public, and yes, sometimes our mothers, think of us as odd and highly unusual people. We didn’t grow up to be insurance salesmen or doctors or shop clerks or teachers. (Or, if those are our ‘day jobs’, they don’t completely define us.)
We are wild and crazy artists.
Oh, yes, we may be successful at what we do, and we may be as disciplined as a brain surgeon when it comes to refining our skills; we may be as focused as a CPA about our bottom line; we may be as dedicated as a teacher and as creative as…well, an artist.
But we did something most people only dream about—we ‘ran away’ from the ordinary life, and did something wonderful.
We work for ourselves, not a corporation or a boss. We set our own hours, create our own practice, follow our own professional goals.
Every day, we create something astonishing out of simple, common materials: A little paint, a few pencils, a glop of clay, a piece of wood.
We make something that looks so real, you want to reach into the canvas and stroke it. We create something that wasn’t there before, perhaps not even imagined before. Our work is found throughout human history, from the earliest dawn of prehistory to the newest 3D movie magic in the theater.
Sometimes the meaning of our work is crystal clear, at times so mysterious others can only guess at the story. When our work is good, it can transport people to another time, another place, another attitude, a deeper understanding and appreciation of their world.
It’s like we’re magicians. It’s like we’re…circus people! Off in our own world, traveling from show to show, creating marvels and miracles, and leaving our mark in people’s homes, in public places, in museums.
We ARE the novelty.
Put some of that magic, that awe, that suspension of belief into your writing. Use the special!
Now, of course, there are more ordinary uses of novelty. (A strange sentence, yes?) Perhaps, even among artists, you are different.
You may grind your own paints or use egg tempura in your murals.
You may specialize in painting airplane nose cone art, or balloon animal art, or other esoteric subject matter.
Perhaps, like Andy Goldsworthy, you’ve pioneered or popularized an unusual or ephemeral art form.
Or you’re the sidewalk artist who incorporates striking optical illusions in your chalk paintings.
Maybe you were an early adapter of the ATC (artist trading card) phenomenon, or the Painting a Day movement. What caught people’s attention was the novelty of the idea, the discipline of daily creation, the accessibility of small works and the (initially) low prices of such work. And, of course, the new idea—the novelty—of being able to view and trade or purchase such works on EBay.
Scratch the normal surface of what it is you do, and how you do it, and why you do it, and see if novelty is a story hook worth your consideration.
And even if it isn’t, understand that you yourself are also a novelty.
And I mean that in the nicest possible way.
If someone else thinks you’re special, it must be true!
Another article I wrote for Fine Art Views, on using story hooks in your press releases and promotional literature….
Tell Me a Story: Eminence
by Luann Udell
Prominence and eminence as news values baffled me when I first read about them. Think of ‘prominence’ as people who are celebrated for whatever reason, and how they are connected to you. And think of ‘eminence’ as honors/celebrity bestowed on YOU. [...]
Read the rest of this article at:
This excerpt appears courtesy of FineArtViews Art Marketing Newsletter by FASO,
a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists,
collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).
For a complimentary subscription, visit: http://www.fineartviews.com
I’m reprinting this article I wrote on June 2, 2005, because it bears repeating. (And because it’s so hard to find on my old blog at RadioUserland…)
I’m doing a series of articles at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog I write for. I realized this post is still timely when talking about marketing our art.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE and the World Batik Conference
In a few weeks I’ll be presenting a speech at the World Batik Conference at Boston College of Art.
I’m speaking on self-promotion for artists, specifically the art of press kits and press releases.
The time is limited, and the message must be succinct. I asked one of the organizers what she felt I had to say would be the most value to their audience.
She didn’t even have to think about it. She said, “In other countries, there is a huge cultural bias against putting your art forward, of appearing too proud of your work. It’s seen as bragging or being boastful. People have a difficult time thinking about promoting their art and themselves. Can you address that?”
I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It’s not just artists in some other countries who have that bias.
It can be very hard to convince most people—especially women, especially artists—that it is not only desirable, it is essential we put our art out into the world at every opportunity. That it is not a selfish act, but an act of generosity.
In fact it is the greatest gift–the ultimate gift–we can make to the world.
My favorite line from the movie “Chariots of Fire” is when the missionary/runner Eric Liddell explains to his sister why he will indeed compete in the 1924 Olympics, though it seems to conflict with their religious goals and plans:
I believe God made me for a purpose; but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt; to win is to honor Him.
When we are given a gift, we must remember that the pleasure the giver gets is anticipating and enjoying the pleasure the gift will give us.
To renounce the gift, to deny its potential, is to ultimately negate the spirit in which it was given. No good comes of that. Love, real love, is not served by that.
I truly believe it is the same with the gifts we are born with. Whoever/whatever you feel is the source of that gift—God (by any name or names), nature, DNA, random chance, the Force. It appeared in Y*O*U. It’s part of what makes you…you know…YOU.
And note that the gift may not simply be what we are good at, but what gives us joy. Don’t confuse talent with passion. They may both be involved in the gift. But what really drives our watch is not the precise movement of the second hand but the spring inside. (Or the battery. Or the electricity coming through the cord. Oh, never mind….)
Find what you are put here on earth to do. Find what gives you joy. Do it, and share it whenever possible with others. Tell it to the world. Show us. Don’t even pretend you know what ripples it will make, or how it will all play out—we can’t know that.
But know that whatever creative force in the universe you celebrate, will be pleased.
Learn to look twice to get at the ‘better lesson’ from life’s setbacks.
My nephew Michael was a tiny hellion when he was young. He wasn’t mean, or malicious, or difficult. He was just….busy. We have many family stories about his escapades. One of my favorites is when my sister left him in the car briefly while dropping something off at my parents’ house. When she came out, he was in the driver’s seat with his hands on the wheel. Before she could say a word, he jerked his head and thumb to indicate the back seat and said firmly, “Get in back. I’m driving!” (He was four.)
Here’s another favorite story about Michael. He visited my folks, and all day he got into all kinds of mischief, including getting into my mother’s purse, looking for gum. Instead, he found a medicine bottle and ate some of her high blood pressure pills.
He was rushed to the emergency room, where his stomach was pumped and he was forced to drink lots of water to induce him to vomit. We were so relieved when he was declared out of danger. As he lay bleary-eyed in his little hospital bed, my sister asked him sternly, “And what did you learn from today’s little adventure?” Whereupon Michael snuffled quietly and croaked sadly, “Not to touch Gramma’s new refrigerator.”
Earlier that day, Michael had been fooling around with the features on my folks’ brand new refrigerator, and Grandma had told him to stop. Not to touch her new fridge anymore. (Gotta admit, that ice-and-water dispenser is pretty appealing.)
Years later, we still laugh at that story. But it’s sad, too.
Michael connected his emergency room ordeal as punishment for not listening to Grandma. He thought that was the lesson he had to learn.
(It’s sad that a loved and cherished child would think a stomach pumping was an appropriate punishment for touching a kitchen appliance, of course, too…. Such is the trustful nature of children. Makes you think.)
I refer to many of my life setbacks as ‘life learning experiences.’ Sometimes finding the knowledge and experienced gained helps offset the pain of falling, failing and flailing. This looking for something good and useful out of the bad things that happen…. It’s a useful skill. It’s part of being a human being and learning how to make our way in the world.
But sometimes, like a child, like Michael, we look at the easy lesson, the most obvious lesson. Not necessarily the deeper, more important lesson.
Sometimes the obvious lesson is not the best lesson.
Learning to choose your better lesson is a way to unchain yourself from your sad old story. Your sad old story about not being good enough, worthy enough, talented enough to achieve your heart’s desire.
Years ago I was part of a small artist group. We met monthly, to support each others’ efforts to fulfill our dreams as artists.
One person, a budding book illustrator, had singled out one lone book publisher as her ‘dream work place.” She submitted her portfolio to them and waited anxiously for their reply.
When she received a rejection letter, she tried to put a good face on it. “I’ll never get hired by that company. I guess I need to learn how to accept failure,” she said dejectedly. “I’d like help from the group on how to do that.”
We managed to convince her that piling all her dream eggs in one tiny basket was too limiting. We encouraged her to explore other possibilities, too. One person offered to put her in touch with a working illustrator who could offer her feedback on her portfolio. Another suggested other small publishing houses she could approach, to gain more work experience. But the last person, reading the letter carefully, opened an even bigger door.
She had experience in the corporate world, and read the letter differently. “I don’t think your portfolio was even seen by the appropriate person,” she said firmly. “I suggest you call the company and ask where to send it. Get a name, not a department. Make an appointment to follow up. You haven’t ‘failed’—you sent it to the wrong place. This line here actually sounds like they’d like you to resubmit it with more support materials, and more examples that match their current needs.”
Our friend, despondent and self-defeating, had looked no further than her own limited vision. Seeing the window barred, she failed to see the door standing wide, wide open.
When I trust a person, and they end up shafting me, it would be easy to say, “Well, that’s what I get for putting my trust in such a person.” But what I prefer to say is, “I like to expect the best of people, and I’m open to all kinds of friendships with many different people. That means some of them will disappoint me or take advantage of my openness. I accept this as an occasional side effect of trust. Bbut I’m not going to let that change the way I am .” (However, I am more careful about who I lend money to.)
Don’t assume life is giving you a smack-down because you touched the fridge door.
Look for the deeper knowledge, the more powerful challenge, the more meaningful message. Because YOU….are worth it.
Wanna here something funny? Michael ended up working as a receptionist at a nursing station in a hospital. He loved it. He’s now working as an emergency medical technician, driving an ambulance.
A much higher calling, for him, for us, than selling refrigerators at Sears, don’t you think?
P.S. I know young people who are proud to work at Sears selling refrigerators. I my intention is not to malign their efforts to be productive people earning their own way in life. But you know that about me already, right?
I had a great idea last night. I’ve been referring people to my old blog at Radio Userland. But it’s hard to maneuver around that site, and impossible to search it.
So I’ve decided to repost all those articles, one at a time, on Fridays, and maybe some weekend days as well.
They will all be marked as reposts, so if you’ve already read them I won’t trick you into reading them again.
Here we go!
Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back
(This was my very first blog post, from November 29, 2002!)
Years ago, when I was getting my master’s degree in education, I met a young woman in one of my math methods course. We paired up for several projects. I found her bright and funny and easy to work with.
One day we were doing some measurements for a hands-on project, and she stumbled on an easy mental calculation, multiplying something by 9. I said something jokingly about her multiplication tables needing work. “Oh, I never learned my 9′s facts,” she explained. “I was absent that day.”
I thought she was joking. But she wasn’t. She said she really WAS absent that day.
Surely someone as smart as she was, and as someone who was taking master’s level math methods coursework, knew that elementary school does not denote one day out of the entire fourth-grade curriculum to teach the nines multiplication table. But she wasn’t kidding. She told me an elaborate story about being sick the day the nines table was taught, and so more than 15 years later, she was still unable to multiply by nine.
I think of that young woman often.
Coincidentally, in that same math teaching course, we were learning how to teach kids their math facts–addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. There are many easy facts. Let’s take the multiplication tables. Everyone knows what the ones facts are–1×1=1, 2×1=2, etc. Next come the twos, and it turns out they’re pretty easy, too. Most kids learn them quickly. Next are the fives and the tens. They’re easily mastered, too. Also the “doubles”–3×3=9, 4×4=16, and so on. Now if you were to map out a chart of all the multiplication facts, and mark off all the “easy” ones, including their reversals (2×3 and 3×2, for example) you’d find almost half of the facts accounted for. And what are the strategies for learning those remaining facts?
The answer, it turns out, is not so much fun. You just have to memorize them. Of course, there are some good tricks, like the nines tables. (6×9, one less than 6 is 5, 5+? = 9? 4. So 6×9=54. Cute, huh?) But the straight skinny is, ya gotta memorize them. The math facts are one of the few academic skills that are ultimately only learned by memorization, and best reinforced by drill and practice. (Acquisition of vocabulary, especially in learning foreign languages, also benefits greatly by this approach, BTW.)
So here we have two statements, or stories, about facts. One is measurable, observable, concrete. To learn the math facts, you gotta work at them. You gotta memorize them. You gotta be able to knock out the answers within a second or two of hearing the numbers. But once you learn them, you never really forget them. You might get rusty, or you might get stuck on one or two. But the foundation, the habit, is still there.
The other story is harder to quantify. Everyone will believe it, few will really examine it. It goes like this: “I have a special story about why I can’t do something. It’s an odd story, but it makes me feel better about not being able to do that thing. So I hold onto it fiercely.” Even when a calm, adult eye would see that it doesn’t even make sense anymore.
What do you gain by holding onto a story like that? Well…you don’t have to try anymore. You can have a clear conscience about why you can’t do that thing. Others might think you’re silly, but it’s possible no one would ever say that to your face. In fact, probably other people, who have their own “I can’t” story, nod their head in sympathetic agreement, relieved that someone else has such a story, too. You may even get sympathy, or admiration. “Wow, that’s quite a story! How awful for you! No wonder you can’t do that!” It also is a way to make sure you don’t have to do the real work of learning those new facts, those new ways of doing something. It’s too hard, it’s too time-consuming, it’s too late, it’s not possible, and so on.
But what do you lose with a story like that? A lot. A lot of missed chances, missed opportunities, a whole world of missed possibilities.
I’m telling this story because I used to tell myself a story like that, too. It was all about how I couldn’t do the things I really wanted to do–make art. It was about how I couldn’t be what I really wanted to be–an artist. It was about how I would never be able to sell my work, or find anyone who would want to buy it. Surprisingly, once I realized my “stories” I told about myself were just that–stories–I found I could change the story to one I like better. A huge paradigm shift occurred, and I began to see that all the things that “couldn’t happen”, could.
I now hear that old story from people who ask me how I accomplished so much in the last five years. When I tell them, they first tell me how lucky I am. (I am, but not for the reasons they think!) I soon hear their story. They think it’s specific to them, a special story, an unusual story. When I point out that I had the same story, they are quick to correct me that their story is different. When I point out the inconsistencies of what they’re telling me, they tell me I don’t understand their story fully. When I suggest ways they could tell another story, they are horrified. They’ve put so much energy into holding onto this old story. There’s just too much at stake. It’s always a really, really good story why they simply cannot do the very thing they just told me is their true heart’s desire.
So my first question for you today is: What is *your* story? What is the story you tell about yourself that is holding you back from doing the things you really want to do?
Tomorrow I’ll tell the story about my friend and his messy house. Now there’s a story!
Something snapped loose inside me in the last few days, design-wise.
I’ve made lots of the usual items for the upcoming League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Fair–very simple and inexpensive animal necklace for the young and the new collector, braided leather cord necklaces for men, etc. And I have lots of pretty new items, too.
But suddenly, things got wild.
Last night I made the most wonderful earrings. They are so amazing, I put them on and have been wearing them ever since. I think I’m keeping them!
I’m really feelin’ the cave these days…. And it feels deep, and rich.
This sends another shiver down my spine…. The second artifacts I made were fossil fish. The story I made for them was that they were trapped in layers of sediment, dreaming of forgotten oceans. “Where is the water they were promised?” I wrote in the little gift cards for them.
How eerie to think that these ancient people perhaps also made stories about these creatures trapped in the stone. Stories that were important enough to include the fossil images in their art.
I can’t even begin to think about what this all means. Perhaps it means nothing. But the on-going synchronicity of it all brings me, metaphorically, humbly, gratefully, to my knees.
Cliches are boring. Your art deserve better.
In yesterday’s article, I shared my first story about my artwork. It was “good enough” to get me going and to sustain my first artistic efforts.
Many, many people are content with this “first story” or their “little story”. Trust me, I’m not here to judge anyone. If what you are doing is working for you, don’t change it.
But if you are wondering if your work can forget a more powerful connection with your audience, if you hunger for something deeper, read on.
When I talk to people about their art, I often get pat answers.
“I just love color!”
“I’m happiest when working at the wheel with clay. There’s just something about it that centers me.”
“I love making other people happy.”
I’ve learned that if you dig a little deeper, you will find true treasure. I learned this by being totally clueless about gallery talks.
So what’s wrong with pat answers?
Good writers avoid clichés wherever they might lurk. Novelist and essayist Martin Amis said, “All writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”
…..cliches of the mind and cliches of the heart…..
A cliche has low energy. When you settle for a cliche, you sell yourself short. You short-circuit your power. By trying to protect your inner life, you actually create a wall between your and a potential audience.
A pat answer is a way of putting people off the trail of understanding who you really art.
The “I just love color” thing. Look–everybody loves color. That’s not why you’re doing the work you do.
“I’m so happy…” Okay, first of all, we know you must be happy working with clay, or fiber, or glass, or words, or music, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Have you ever heard an artist say, “I absolutely hate what I do, but it sells”? (Well. Okay. Yes, I know some artist are burned out and DO hate what they do, but they’re usually so crabby we don’t want talk to them anyway.)
Second, what does that do for me? I asked a very well-known artist about her new work. She kept saying, “I’m having so much fun!” I had to bite my tongue to refrain from saying, “I’m supposed to pay $1,500 for this piece because you’re having fun??!” Sweetie, I’m sure you’re a wonderful person. But I need a better reason than that to spend that kinda money on you.
So what’s wrong with the “I-want-to-make-people-happy” reason-I’m-an-artist? (Or the equally lame “I want to help people.”) Think about it–What would really make people happy is if you walked down the street handing out $100 bills. (Most guys would be even happier if you did it in the nude, but I like to keep things family-friendly here.)
So let’s say what we mean to say.
What you’re really saying is that what you do is a way of engaging with the world that is fulfilling and deeply satisfying, and puts you in a state of grace, and joy. And there are real and personal reasons why it does.
There’s that word again…..
Here’s one example of working through cliche to cachet. During a mentoring session, I talked with an artist about her work. She talked avidly about her craft, but it just seemed like something was missing. Sure enough, she mentioned in passing that her other avocation was gardening.
And she really perked up when she talked about gardening.
When I asked her why she loved gardening so much, she gave the usually pat answers about pretty flowers and being outside. When pressed, she grew exasperated–didn’t everybody love being outdoors? (Believe me, not all of us are wild about hot weather, mosquitoes and black flies.)
I pushed harder: How did she feel when she when she was in the garden?
She felt safe.
It started when she was very young and home was not safe. I didn’t pry for details, let’s just say there was just a lot of tension and anger and harsh words).
And being outdoors is where she felt safe.
Now, she doesn’t have to share that story with her audience, if it’s too personal.
If she wants to share it but doesn’t want to tell it over and over, it can be her artist statement.
She doesn’t have to ditch her craft, which was also satisfying, and become a full-time gardener.
She doesn’t have to “to” anything.
But recognizing her real story, a poignant story about a child who didn’t, who couldn’t understand the unhappiness and discord in her home, who found comfort and haven in the garden, will bring emotional and spiritual power to her art.
Understanding what yearning was filled, what hurt was healed, will create a bridge between her artwork (and her) and the people who are drawn to her work.
Because these themes–moving past fear, finding solace, being healed–are richer, deeper, more evocative human, more honest emotions than simply loving color or fabric or flowers or clay.
Some of you will come to this moment of self-awareness naturally. Some will need to have your feet held to the fire. Some of you simply won’t care. That is your choice.
But know that if I
buy your stuff collect your work, it won’t be because you just love color.
It will be because something about it that is lovely and poignant and human is calling to me.
A little story can pack a big punch–or pave the way for an even bigger story.
I’ve told my story many times about how I got serious about my art.
It’s a powerful story, and it’s true. But I’ve left out the years I spent beforehand making making toys for children and grown-ups, and the story I told about that.
When my kids were very young, I took a workshop from Deborah Kruger. The focus was about creating support systems for making your art.
We were asked to share our work with the group.
I remember waiting for my turn, embarrassed because everyone was a singer, or a dancer, or a writer, or a painter. And I was sitting there with a lap full of tiny dolls, knitted sheep and doll quilts.
And I was panicking because I (thought I) didn’t have a story.
I was proud of my work, though. And when it was my turn, I simply said what was in my heart.
I said I loved making tiny things, things you could cup in your hand. Things that a child would love, but would also bring joy to an adult.
I even said a thing that makes me cringe now, when others say it: “I want to make people happy.”*
Everyone ooh’ed and ah’ed, because even then, my attention to detail, my color and fabric, my technical skills, were pleasing to others.
And until I wrote that bit just now, I didn’t see the connection between that first story and my big story that came later.
There stories are connected because when I was a child, these were precious things I would have cherished.
And when I was a child, I was fierce in my knowledge that I was an artist.
I can see now that my love of the things that would make a child happy, was part of a deeper yearning. A yearning to be in that place again in my life, when I knew what it was I was here to do.
I knew it without questioning it. I just did it. I drew horses. I painted. I collecting stuff (rocks, shells, leaves, ribbon, pretty papers). I made stuff with whatever I could get my hands on. (There is a particularly embarrassing story about that I will NOT share….) (NO!!!) :^D
I could happily spend hours looking for pebbles and shells on a beach. I loved watching animals. I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could ride horses and have lots of cats, and yes, even keep pet mice. I loved things that were “too tiny”–doll house furniture, miniatures, charm bracelets.
Now I can look back and see the seeds that have grown into my art. But I couldn’t see it then.
As I grew up, things got more complicated.
I believed too many myths about artists.
I didn’t know how to pursue something I was passionate about. Because academic stuff came so easily to me, I didn’t have good work habits.
I didn’t understand the stages of competency. So I always quit when I got to Stage 2, and things got hard.
I see now that making little dolls, buttons and small quilts was a safe way of “backing up into” my art.
And that was okay.
That “first story” worked, because it got me making stuff on a regular basis.
It got me thinking about me, and what I wanted to do, instead of what other people wanted me to do.
It got me to a place where I was thinking less about “doing what I was good at” and more about “doing what I liked.”
Eventually I got to the place where I got turned around completely. (Warning: This video is about 16 minutes long. But folks who have watched it say they like it, so maybe you’ll find it worth your time.)
So today I’ve shared with you where a little story can take you. Tomorrow I’ll share an example of a “little” story that hides a big story.
P.S. As I wrote this, I realized the teensy tiny doll was actually inspired by a Waldorf school teacher who made and sold these at a craft fair. I was so enchanted with them, I called and asked her if I could make them without stepping on her toes.
She gave me the green light because she was tired of making them and didn’t want to make anymore.
*And the asterisk thingie? Because I wonder what I would have said if someone had held my feet to the fire and said, “WHY…do you want to make other people happy??”
We all have a story that tells us how to live, and who we are.
There were so many beautiful, thoughtful, passionate responses to the last post, I have to write more on the topic.
There were so many threads to follow, too! Copying hit a nerve, on both sides. Some echoed the plaints of many, that they don’t have a story. Some had a story, but didn’t think it was “big enough”. And others were afraid to share theirs.
I don’t have all the answers. I can offer insights I’ve gained, insights gleaned sometimes easily, sometimes painfully, on my own journey as an artist. And I will continue to share those with you as this series continues.
Today, let’s start with how I know you already have a story:
You are a human being.
Over the centuries, there have been many definitions of what it means to be human. From “Man is the animal who uses tools” to “Man is the only animal that blushes–or needs to” (Mark Twain) and “Man is the only animal that uses Mastercard”, we strive to understand what sets us apart from other living things.
I believe we are the animals who tell stories.
We tell stories about everything. Why we don’t think we are pretty. Why our life sucks. Why we were late to that appointment. Why we deserve a raise, or a vacation, or that outrageously expensive pair of boots.
We have stories about why our mom loved our brothers more, why it’s a good thing to believe in God, why someone else is successful and we’re not, and why we’re successful and other people aren’t.
Whether you tell a funny story about your childhood or the sad story of how your first big relationship ended, you are telling a story.
And if you get to a point in life where you are able to dig deeper, when you feel brave enough, or desperate enough, or simply tired of all the b/s you give yourself…
…You will find a story about why you make the art you do.
My gripe is, sometimes we settle for the easy story and don’t go any deeper. That’s why when a creative person says “I just love color!” I cringe. Who doesn’t love color??
But we all gotta start somewhere.
Here’s your incentive to go deeper:
When you start to know your story well enough to share it with others, you will strengthen the connections they form with your work.
Because no matter how unique your story is, and no matter how ordinary your story is, there are people who will relate to it. It will resonate with something in them. It will inspire them. It will make them laugh–or gasp–in recognition.
So let’s get started.
Your homework for today, if you don’t think you have a story about your art, is to write down what you do have. We’ll start there, and we’ll poke at it, and see what happens next.
Get out your pointy sticks!
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?
Okay, obviously that title has a story behind it….
One person shared a story of taking singing lessons from an acclaimed voice teacher. She felt awkward and unsure of her abilities; he urged her to project and sing with power. Finally, in frustration, the teacher boomed with his heavy accent, “Woman! Assume the power of thy ample bosom!”
We rocked with laughter, but she said she heard the message. And she began to sing as if her life depended on it.
Because it does.
If you are not creating your art with the full force of your being, then you are robbing yourself–and your art–of vitality and authenticity.
Why is that important? (Hint: It will help your artist statement, too.) Tune in tomorrow for the second installment.
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.
MYTH: Real artists never compromise. They never make art that has to matches a sofa.
REALITY: Just exchange “some” for “real”, and “sometimes” for “never”. Oh, heck, just stop making things black and white, and let some gray area in.
Art has fulfilled powerful roles throughout history. From our human need to know and touch our gods, to our cries for social justice, art has served many purposes. Cathedrals are attempts to do the first, Picasso’s Guernica strove for the second. Conceptual art explores ideas at the expense of materials or process.
So…Art is profound. Art says something. Art is provocative. Art demands reaction, engagement, comment.
But art is also….beautiful. Art is healing. Art is quiet, or simply enjoyable.
And we all know art that’s just weird, dumb or shallow.
Art is all of these things, because beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. One generation’s “good art” is the next generation’s sentimental tripe. And one generation’s “garbage” is another generation’s masterpiece.
“Guernica” is a powerful work of art. But it’s also perfectly acceptable not to want it in our living room. For one thing, it’s huge! (And there’s only one, so only one of us could have it.) (I know we could all have prints of Guernica, and its message is that important to some people. But I like to have real stuff that a real person has made–that’s important to me, too.)
Art in the widest sense can fill the smallest spaces. Not every song is a symphony. Not every dance move is a ballet. Not every scribble is a cave painting. Not every poem is The Iliad.
Art is big enough to find a place in everyone’s life. And the world is big enough for all our art.
It’s okay to paint a lovely landscape to grace someone’s home–even one that goes with the sofa pretty nicely. Although it’s also cool when someone chooses a sofa to go with the painting.
Years ago, a visitor to our home perused our record collection (which tells you how long ago this was) and sniffed, “You can tell a lot about people from their music collection.” To which another visitor replied coolly, “Yeah, you can tell what kind of music they like!” I love that! We don’t all like the same kinds of music. But there are very few people who don’t love music, some kind of music, period.
I started my art path by making tiny fabric dolls and knitted animals. They were sweet and adorable. They were not “powerful” by any means. They had nothing to “say”. Or so I thought. But in them were the the tiny seeds of my desire to make something that made people happy. As my desire to connect in a different way grew, so did my handiwork.
And I’m still not done growing yet.
Make the art that’s in YOU. Don’t worry if if’s not “serious” or “profound”. Try not to compare yourselves to others. It’s hard, we all do it. But don’t stay there.
Don’t be embarrassed that we aren’t a Mozart, or a Picasso. Those incredible folks are art’s aberrations, not the norm. There is plenty of room in the world for the rest of us. There is a need for a well-made pot, a truly comfortable chair, a lovely flower arrangement, a catchy song.
Just make it. Bring it into the world. You and your art may “grow”, or not. It doesn’t matter.
Because the art that is in you, is unique to you. And it yours–all yours–ONLY yours–to give.
What you make, may be just what the world needs, today.
Myth: My art speaks for itself. I don’t have to explain anything!”
Reality: Your art will sell better if you can tell your story, create an emotional connection with your audience, and inspire a desire for your work.
We all know the scene:
Artist’s work on display, artist standing off to the side, aloof and austere, sniffing at any plebeian who dares ask a stupid question like “What is your work about?” or “So why do you like to paint green people so much?”
If we can’t tell what the work is about, it’s clear we shouldn’t expose our ignorance by asking.
Here’s my own personal observation:
Artists who won’t talk about their art, often can’t talk about their art. That is, they don’t know how.
Knowing how to talk about your work will also help you write a stronger artist statement. A strong artist statement is important because it is often the first way many people will “hear” you tell your story about your art.
There are as many ways to approach making art as there are artists, and as many reasons to buy art as there are customers.
Here are some ways not to talk about your art:
PROCESS If we talk about our work at all, we often fall into the easy trap of talking about process.
Process is important, to a degree, but there’s gotta be more. I’m not going to pay you by the hour to mow my lawn with a pair of manicure scissors unless you have a really compelling reason.
Yes, some people want to know how we make our stuff, where we learned our craft, where we get our materials. But in my humble experience, many people who care only about my process, want to make something like my work, not buy it.
Here’s a good example. For years, if the first question people would ask me was, “What are these artifacts made of?”, I’d answer, “Polymer clay”.
And once I said that, rarely did the person actually buy something. Often, their first reaction was to actually put down the object they were holding.
Even talking to them at this point, telling them why, had little effect. The spell was broken, and their interest was lost.
I finally wised up. Now I say, “I use polymer clay, and if you look over here, there is a wonderful little piece I wrote on why I chose to use it as my medium.”
Now people are engaged again, reading a short but powerful sign with beautiful examples of all the artifacts I make. And this has ended in more sales. (Hint: The key to why this works is in this paragraph…)
ACADEMIC when I read an artist statement filled with academese or art speak, I sense someone who is afraid to get up close and personal about their work. That, or my eyes roll up into my head, my toes curl and I fall over from total boredom. But then, maybe that’s just me.
RESUME At most shows, when you read the accompanying artist statements, artists carefully list their education, the classes of other, more famous artists they’ve studied under, and the awards they’ve won. Most sound like they were written to impress other artists, perhaps a worthy goal, but I’m guessing most of us would rather impress our customers. They may not realize their statements sound like every other artist in the show. Or they think that’s the way it “should be done.” At the very least, they sure don’t know how to make theirs stand out.
FUN Frankly, I don’t care when an artist tells me they had “such fun” making their latest design. Because why should I care if they’re having fun?? I want to know why I should be compelled to part with my hard-earned money, and make space in my already-crowded home for something new. I can tell you it won’t be because the artist giggles while she works.
I’ve taught many artists about how to write a compelling artist statements, how to write a strong press releases, how to give a powerful interview for the media. It’s very simple, really.
All we really have to do is think about a little three-letter word….
I tell them why….this cave. Why…this point in my life. Why…I use polymer clay. Why…I use these fabrics, those markings, this presentation. I even have a story about the beaver-chewed sticks, and how they contribute to the story.
So why do you do what you do? Why do you choose to do it this way, with these materials?
Most importantly… Why should your audience care??
I believe the work I make sells to people who a) are blown away by the work itself, and b) feel a powerful connection to the stories I tell about the work.
When we talk in a deeply meaningful way about what our work means to us, other people listen. They will feel the truth of what you say. Remember all the times my customers say, “When you said that, a shiver went down my spine”…? Or, “Look, my hair is standing up!” (Yes, these are actual customer quotes.)
They are hearing the power of what my work means to me, and they are responding to it with something going on in their own lives.
That is connection. Human to human connection. Empathy, resonance, heart to heart. Inspiration. The recognition that we as human beings have these things in common: A need to love, and be loved. A desire to belong, and be an individual. A need to protect, and be protected. A desire to remember, and be remembered.
Don’t be ashamed or self-conscious about admitting your humanity. It is to be embraced and celebrated. Hey, we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive.
And when you do that, with honesty and integrity, you will find other people will respond.
How do you know if you’ve done a great job either talking or writing about your art? Basket artist Joanne Russo passed on a terrific tip she heard: An artist statement should make you want to go back and look at the work again.
If you still don’t know what to say about your work, then invest in Bruce Baker’s CD on “Dynamic Sales and Customer Service Techniques”. It will be the best $20 investment you ever make in your art biz.
A quick thought and a short post today. (You folks in the back row heaving a sigh of relief, I HEARD THAT!!)
A lot of people have written to say they don’t think of their art/craft as “serious enough” to be worthy of an artist statement.
Would it make you feel better if we called it a “mission statement” instead? I love this definition because I love the question, “Why do we exist?”
Or how about a “vision statement”? Again, I love how this article distinguishes between a mission statement and a vision statement:
The difference between a mission statement and a vision statement is that a mission statement focuses on a company’s present state while a vision statement focuses on a company’s future.
Your homework, should you chose to accept it, is to write a good mission or vision statement for your craft or art. Heck, go crazy and combine the two!
And someday, when you realize that the work/art/craft you do has its place in the world, see if writing that artist statement comes a little easier to you.
Be the guinea pig! Or be the bunny! Remember, they, too, have their place in the world.
And so do you.