Category Archives: What is the story only you can tell?

A RESPONSE TO “COPYING VS. STEALING”

(For the sake of clarity, I republished this article a day after “WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again”. I didn’t move it very well, and I may have lost some comments. I apologize, they were GREAT!!)

A Response to Kerrie Venner’s article, “Copying vs. Stealing”

I just discovered an article on the International Polymer Clay Association’s website, written by Kerrie Venner, IPCA Vice President for Education and Outreach. Kerrie’s article is here.

The article talked about my artwork and a blog article I wrote about my work being copied. Kerrie refers to me as an example of an artist who has published directions for making my artwork who then gets “antsy” when people copy it. She states that she doesn’t understand what’s wrong with coveting my little totem animals, then making her own versions for her own use, and even to sell, since her customers probably aren’t familiar with my work anyway.

At first I was delighted to read Kerrie’s wonderful comments about my blog and my artwork. But that delight quickly turned to dismay.

Her article is an interesting take on a very complex and emotional issue.

Just to correct a few errors:

1. Kerrie’s article simply linked to the home page of my blog. My article Kerrie that refers to in her article is WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? and the correct url is http://luannudell.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/what-is-the-story-only-you-can-tell/ I discuss why someone who copies another artist’s work is actually short-changing their own creative journey.

2. Contrary to Kerrie’s assertions, I’ve actually only published directions featuring my faux ivory technique (a modification of the technique originally developed by Victoria Hughes.) I provided directions for very simple beads, buttons and bones. Photographs of my animal artifacts and jewelry were for illustration and inspiration only.

3. I have never published projects or taught how to make my artifacts and animal totems, for the very reasons Kerrie mentions in support of her viewpoint: It might imply permission for others to copy my work.

I could address each of Kerrie’s statements and questions separately, and will do so in a future blog article. But here’s the short story:

I’ve done the hard work creating this body of work. I spent years perfecting my craft. Inspired by imagery available to everyone, it is nonetheless a highly original and individual interpretation and presentation. As Kerrie points out, it has a powerful, personal narrative, describing my journey from a place of pain (at not practicing my art), to a place of healing (embracing my unique vision, and sharing with others how that happened.)

I’ve done the hard work to get my work out there. And I’ve spent a lot of money doing that. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to do the high-end shows to sell it. I go to great lengths to find galleries to carry it. I’ve spent thousands of hours marketing, writing, speaking, entering exhibits and juried shows, and submitting work for publication to support and grow my reputation. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to have my work professionally photographed, to construct a booth and create beautiful displays for it.

I’ve spent years developing a loyal following of customers, collectors and supporters. I am deeply moved by the role my art has played in their lives. I love the stories they share with me on how much my work has meant to them, how much it has inspired them, how it has healed them.

I’ve earned my stars and paid my dues. My work-and my prices–reflect that.

We artists may make our art for love or money, or both. But it’s hard to make art without some kind of support from our community, be it emotional, spiritual, or financial.

Kerrie says she admires and desires my artwork. I am truly grateful for that. There are many ways a true supporter can help me get my art out into the world:

1) Tell me how much it means to you, and respect the unique place in my heart it comes from. Tell your friends, too, and point them to my blog, my website or my store.

2) Spread the word about my work by writing great reviews and articles.

3) Buy it for yourself, or for a special gift.

4) If you really can’t afford my work (prices start at $42, and I have a great layaway plan), encourage potential collectors to buy it instead. Or ask friends and family to buy it for you. Christmas is coming!

5) Ask your favorite gallery or museum store to carry my work. Or suggest they include me in an invitational show. Or even a solo show

Actually, the list is endless: Invite me to speak to your local or regional art guild. Ask your public library to purchase the books that feature my work. Hire me for a private consult on your artist statement. Alert me to publishing opportunities. Etc., etc., etc.

Unfortunately, copying my work doesn’t support me.

Copying my work, then selling it as your original work, deprives me of potential customers who might buy my work. This does not support me.

Telling others I am wrong to care about my work being copied does not support me.

In fact, someone copying my artwork short-circuits everything I’m trying to achieve. That is where the pain and the resentment comes from. And that is what I have to get over, and get through, every time it happens.

In the end, although my work is copyrighted, it’s almost impossible for me to protect those rights. I don’t have the deep pockets of Disney, and I don’t have the time or emotional energy to spare. I have to save that energy and focus for my art.

Some amount of copying has its place in the learning process. That’s why a teacher provides a project for a class.

But a body of work based solely on some “variation” of someone else’s work is not the work of your own heart, your own unique vision.

Kerrie’s article was written without my knowledge and did not link to what I actually said. I cannot adequately convey how disheartening it is to see these views-justifying the right to copying my work simply because I have made it visible in the world–expressed by someone who is Vice President of the International Polymer Clay Association’s Education and Outreach Committee.

Kerrie is entitled to her viewpoint, and I appreciate the opportunity to present mine. As she and I both said, this is a complex issue, involving human nature, the creative process and ethics.

Whether or not Kerrie’s reflects the views of the IPCA organization, it was published on their site and incorrectly referred to me as an example of a disgruntled artist who sets herself up for being copied by offering her artwork as projects and classes. Since I’m not one of “those artists”–who are also entitled to their own opinions about others copying their work–and especially because I have consciously chosen not to…that allegation was neither true nor fair.

I’m thrilled Kerrie loves my work. I hope someday she decides my artwork is worthy of collecting for herself. I would be truly honored.

And…I would feel truly supported.

2 P.S.’s (What the heck is the plural of “P.S.”???)
It’s been brought to my attention that Kerrie didn’t mean she would actually copy my work–she was speaking aloud the thought process that many have expressed. So in a sense, she was speaking as “Everyman/Everywoman”. And she never intended these remarks to represent her, or the IPCA’s actual point-of-view.

Again, I’m glad she voiced these thoughts so we can talk about it.

And please, please don’t bash Kerrie! :^)

P.S. For the latest take on this, see WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again

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WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again

CONCRETE ADVICE FOR HOW TO SUPPORT ARTISTS….

Sometimes–no wait, always–it’s a good idea to cool down before you speak your mind.

A few weeks ago, not one, but TWO small drama played out in my studio.

At the very same time I was dealing with someone using my identity to post disparaging and rude remarks about another person…

…It felt like someone else was publicly scolding me on a professional polymer website for me getting upset about people copying my work.

Their article was written in response to MY article, What is the Story Only You Can Tell?

If this is confusing, the chain of events were 1) I write the “What is the Story Only You Can Tell” article; 2) I get an emotional phone call from the victim of the identity theft issue; 3) I wrote an article about the experience; 4) Kerrie read my WITSOYCT article and publishes her response on the IPCA website; 5) I found the article and wrote my response to Kerrie’s article; 6) and now I’m publishing this article. Got it? Whew!

My first emotional response was the lizard brain talkin’. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Even humiliation. And my first article draft in response showed that clearly. With brutal sarcasm and my debate team finesse, I quickly tore apart every argument offered in the article that defended copying.

Fortunately, I WAS embroiled in that identity-borrowing thing. It kept me from immediately publishing my response to Kerrie’s article. The identity thing was a very prickly situation, involving a group of rowdy local activists a sane person just wants to avoid at all costs. In the end, as upset as I was, I resigned myself to damage control–and moved on.

But I was delayed in writing that original response to Kerrie. And I’m soooooo glad.

I realized the identity issue all started because a person had written in anger, fear, resentment, and perhaps a haze of alcohol. (Not Kerrie! The anonymous poster identity-blurring person.)

They may not have even deliberately chosen to “look like me”–as Katherine Tyrrell (whose Making a Mark blog is an astonishing artist resource) posted in my blog comments, it looked like a clumsy effort to use one of my blog articles to bolster their argument, and that came off as appearing like “me”.

So I sat on my hands for a day or two. The anger dissipated. Cooler heads (not Bobohead Lizardbrain) prevailed.

Instead of the wrathful diatribe I’d prepared, I wrote a nicer article in response to Kerrie’s article. I hope it’s nicer. I meant it to be. You can read the discussion in full here. And you can be the judge.

I wanted to write a better response, because I realized, after much deep thinking about where my anger, fear and pain came from, the real issue is our current culture’s LACK OF SUPPORT for artists.

DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and “I can do that!” prevail. “That’s so cool, I want to make that, too!” The internet makes it soooooo easy to do that, too.

I’ve actually had visitors to my booth pressure me to tell them exactly how I make my horses, because they want to make them, too. Their attitude is I actually owe it to others to share.

Aside from the fact that I choose other ways to share, this attitude is the extreme end of this condition:

This a very natural, very HUMAN response to the new, the beautiful, the powerful. We want it for ourselves. We want to touch it, do it, have it. We want it to be a part of us, in any way we can. We all feel this. And throughout time, all humans have. It’s part of being human.

After all, didn’t I respond to the cave of Lascaux with my own desire to make work that would resonate in the hearts of others long after I am gone?

It’s what we do, and where we go with that natural, human response that’s important.

My request is simple:

Rather than give in to the notion the artist owes us something…(beyond what they’ve already done by bringing their work into the world…)

Instead of “using up” the artists whose work inspires this in us….

Instead of only seeing these artists as a source of great ideas for our own amusement and use….

Instead of just viewing the work of these artists as a sort of “cosmic clip art”….

Why don’t we REWARD them for their efforts?

Why not give back to them, for the joy they’ve given us?

Why don’t we figure out some way to support them, whether that be financial, emotional or spiritual support?

We should consider supporting them….If only so they’ll keep making the beautiful work that inspires us. (It’s okay to be a little self-serving in our altruism.)

So in the end, I’m glad I waited to respond. (And, after reading my eventual response, maybe I could have even waited a few more days. I still sound exasperated. (But hopefully, not as angry.)

I truly appreciate the support and the good wishes of all involved.

Copying is a spectrum of behaviors and decisions–some useful, some unavoidable, and some outright hurtful. I know everyone’s intentions were good, and I hope this all brings about the desired result–a CONSTRUCTIVE dialog about copying, and one that helps people make thoughtful decisions.

So, taking my own words of advice, and being open to the gifts in front of us, I thank Kerrie for her honesty, for putting into words what many of us think when we justify our actions.

I thank her for loving my work.

And I thank her, and the International Polymer Clay Association for giving me the chance to publicly respond.

I am grateful I had the chance to work through this issue, and get to the other side. The place where I should be….

…In a place where I can leave this behind, and go make my art…

…And tell the story only I can tell.

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WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Sometimes There’s a Bigger Story.

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?

Because they are cliches. I love this quote from an article by Grammar Girl:

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…..

WHY?

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.

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WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Starting With a “Little” Story Is Okay.

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.

Handmade dolls by Luann Udell

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??”

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WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Yes, You Have One!

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??

Luann's wall o'fabric

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!

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WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL?

I’m often asked to speak about my art. I’m good at it, too. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve become extremely comfortable sharing what is in my heart.

There is one frustration I sometimes encounter, though.

That’s the people who come up afterward and ask, “Can I make horses, too?” “Can I combine fabric and polymer, too?” The woman who exclaimed, “Oh, I love that idea! I paint gourds, and I’m going to make cave pictures on my gourds, too!”

Or the people that don’t even ask. They just start making cave ponies.

It’s not that they took my idea.

It’s that they got the wrong idea.

I know we all “copy” to some extent. I consider it a spectrum, just like any other human behavior. It ranges the gamut, from being inspired by someone else’s work (“I love that shade of blue! Hmmmm…I could make a necklace…”) to outright hacks. (Like finding your design on a shelf at T.J. Maxx or Target, and yes, that has happened to artists.)

I know I don’t own the idea of horses, the Lascaux horse, or even ancient images. It would be preposterous of me to say no one else can use these images.

I DO own my story.

And if you’ve ever listened to, or read my stories, and really heard them, you know I’m not just making little plastic horses.

I recently had a visitor to my studio, a delightful person who collects my work. We talked about her work. It’s an unusual profession, and one where many people would pick up the “hero” aspect. (I haven’t gotten her permission to write about this, so I’m being very circumspect.)

Her take was different. Deeper. More sensitive. Profound.

And when she spoke, I felt that ring of truth, that recognition of passion, that little shiver that goes down your spine when you hear deep knowledge expressed by someone from their heart.

It was her story. And it was astonishing.

If you know my story, you know my little horses represent many things to me–a childhood desire to run free, to fly, to feel the wind blowing my hair as my horse and I course across a plain together. You know it’s about the beauty of horses, the thrill of watching an animal born to run, run with all their heart. Doing what they were meant to do. Being what they were meant to be.

But they also represent choices. The choice to be the person you were meant to be. The choice to overcome fear, self-doubt and the weight of adulthood, and try something you’ve always dreamed of doing. To step into yourself, to take up your dreams, and live them. To follow the call.

And the choice to create beauty and embrace hope in the face of despair.

It boggles the mind to think that someone can hear my story.

And then copy my work.

Not just because my work is so personal and so important to me.

But because they missed the whole damn point of the story!

It’s that in YOU, is a story that only YOU can tell.

Because it is YOUR story. It happened to YOU. And it changed you–how you look at life, how you look at yourself, where you fit into the world.

Your story creates a place where, when you stand there, you are powerful. And you are beautiful, and you are whole.

How…..can anyone want to ignore their own powerful, wonderful, incredible story? And try to substitute someone else’s??

Even when your story is not about something you do, or something you make, it is still a place that YOU came to, a crossroads, YOU found yourself at, a journey YOU find yourself on.

Example: Anyone can do hospice work. It doesn’t take a “special person”. It just takes someone willing to be there. Anyone could do what I do.

But only I can tell the stories that come to me by doing it.

I know a woman who translates for the rights of an indigenous people in Brazil. She has even spoken at the United Nations. She insists she does not speak FOR them–they speak THROUGH her. She is their pipeline to a world that needs to honor their cries for help.

But the stories she tells about how they found her are incredible, and powerful.

That is why envy, and jealousy, are so destructive to creative people. To ANY of us.

Because it means we cannot see the power of our own stories.

What is the story that only YOU can tell?

And how will you tell it today?

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EMBRACE THE POWER OF THY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 1

Okay, obviously that title has a story behind it….

Years ago I attended a workshop for women in the arts, led by fiber artist and speaker Deborah Kruger. We learned why our art was so important, and how to make room for our art in our daily lives.

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.

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