Tag Archives: inspiration

INSIDE AND OUT

Here’s my latest column on the delicate lines between copying and being copied, and inspiring and being inspired, written for Fine Art Views, a great resource for marketing your artwork. Enjoy!

Years ago, an artist friend said something that threw me for a loop.

I was just starting out as a full-time artist and craftsperson. I was open to everything. How-to books, craft magazines, patterns, you name it, I had to have it. I wanted constant inspiration and distraction, and I wanted it NOW.

She said she didn’t read many books or magazines about art or craft, and didn’t go to many exhibitions or shows. Her work was highly original and personal, she said. (It was, too.) She found that if she looked “outside” at what others were doing, it distracted her, and muddied her personal vision.

Her words made me rethink that practice. No, I didn’t turn the creative faucet off completely. But I learned to recognize the times where I needed to isolate myself from the rest of the pack, and simply focus on my own work.

Of course, it was a LOT easier to hunker down and stay focused in those days before the internet. That faucet of ideas and inspiration has turned into a fire hose.

Read more here…

The inspiration for my current exhibition necklace. 30,000 years old, no copyright issue!

My intention transformed as I worked. Lion is now a bear.

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Filed under art, copycats, craft, creativity, Fine Art Views, inspiration

CLEANING MY DESK

Here’s a link to the column I wrote for the art marketing blog at Fine Art Views:

Cleaning My Desk

I hope it helps you with your next studio housekeeping chore!

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Filed under art, craft, customer care, fear of failing, Fine Art Views, mental attitude

OPEN STUDIO

People have been asking for pictures of my last Open Studio, so I published an album today. You can see it here

The next sunny day we have in Keene, NH, I’ll take more pics and add another album.

My next Open Studio is Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 6 & 7, 2011, as part of the statewide NH Open Doors event. Hope you can come, and til then….

Enjoy!

Little clown bank.

Dolls

Vintage button jewelry.

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Filed under art, cleaning the studio, craft, display, inspiration, jewelry, jewelry display, open studio

COLLECTING STAMPS & MAKING ART

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.”

Never?

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.

Collectors simply….collect.

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.

Some of my postage stamps

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Filed under art, artist statement, body of work, craft, creativity, inspiration, marketing, press releases, telling your story

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CHARIOTS OF FIRE

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.

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Filed under art, courage, craft, creativity, inspiration, marketing, press release, self promotion, Tell Me A Story, telling your story

WE ARE MAGICAL: Know That What We Do Is Not ‘Ordinary’

I’m in a tear trying to get ready for a jam-packed weekend. Our 29th wedding anniversary is Sunday, and that’s actually #5 on our list of things to do.

On Monday, we stuff my booth into our car and drive four hours north to
The Balsams, where I’ll be doing a week-long artist-in-residency for the hotel guests–teaching classes, demo-ing, displaying and (hopefully!) selling my artwork.

This kind of thing is really hard on a perfectionist like moi. Trying to do everything perfectly, preparing for every contingency, planning on providing the perfect artistic experience… It’s easy to get lost in all the mundane details of getting everything from here to there, retrieving artwork from other exhibitions today, trying to figure out where my beloved Claudia Rose rubber stamps are. (They’re perfect for the make it & take it workshops I do at The Balsams.)

I know we’ll get all the way up there and I’ll realize I’ve forgotten some critical piece of display or equipment. There will be tears and late-night searches for duct tape and twine, and wondering where the heck I packed the bug spray.

And like a little feather of hope falling gently into my life, came a little card in the mail today.

It was from someone I’d done something nice for a few weeks ago. Short story, part of the nice was a little pair of handmade earrings I threw into a package at the last minute. It wasn’t even my signature polymer work. They were pearl earrings accented with hand-soldered and shaped sterling wire accents, very pretty and organic. But, in my mind, nothing extraordinary at all.

What stopped my buzzy brain was this line:

Luann–the earrings are beautiful! I’ve never had a piece of jewelry that was made by someone I knew. I will wear them often & think of you when I do!

This woman–an intelligent, multi-degreed, active and attractive woman–has never owned a piece of jewelry made by someone she knows…. And she is astonished.

That tiny little gesture I made on a whim, has shifted her whole perception of handmade jewelry. She now owns something she deems doubly–no, triply precious: they are beautiful, they are handmade, they are handmade by me, her friend. Her mind boggles.

How often do we diminish our gifts?

How many times have you thought, “Well, yeah, these are cute. But I’ll never make anything as cool as so-and-so, world-famous artist person.”

How many times have we underpriced our work, certain that no one will think it’s actually worth the time, the skill and the creative vision we’ve put into it?

How many times have we hesitated about entering an exhibition, or approaching a gallery, or doing a new show, certain that no one would really be interested in our work?

How many times have we secretly squirmed when a customer admired our work or even bought it, wondering what they’d think if they knew how easy it was for us to make it?

I do it all the time. Even when I set a reasonable price for my work, I often find myself apologizing for it.

No more.

What we do isn’t easy, except that we’ve gotten very good at doing it.

What we do isn’t ordinary, except that it is so familiar to us.

What we do isn’t unworthy, because it comes from the skill of our hands, the judgment of our eyes, the passion in our hearts.

What we do is just….amazing.

Sometimes, it takes another person, someone whose life works on other levels, in other circles–perhaps even one who saves lives, as this woman does–to see the beauty, the astonishment, the miracle in what we do.

Simply put:

We are magical.

(With apologies the the delightful blog Hyperbole and a Half by Allie, whose post about her simple-minded dog made me laugh til I cried, and inspired the title of this post.)

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LET’S NOT DO WHAT WE OUGHT, BUT WHAT WE WANT

This article originally published on Sunday, March 30, 2003
The advice still applies.

Let’s NOT do what we ought, but what we want

A cry for help appeared on a list serve I subscribe to. An artist gave up painting for years. She’s now determined to take it up again. Unfortunately, all her paints are so hardened in their tubes, they are almost unusable. Can anyone tell her how to salvage them??

I’m not sure how welcome my advice would be, but it’s clear to me the universe is sending a message here, loud and clear.

BUY NEW PAINTS.

What a huge obstacle she has overcome! The urge to paint again is wonderful, and I wholeheartedly tell this artist to go for it.

But the artist is already stuck again. “I can’t paint until I fix my paints.”

Where have we heard that before?

Well, I used to hear it every day. And sometimes, when I’m down or overwhelmed with the simple problems, I still hear it:

“I should do the laundry first.” “I really need to run a few errands first.” “I’ve got to get this mailing out this week–I’ll work on some new art ideas later.”

Sometimes it feels like my passion for my art, the work of my heart, is the last thing I take care of.

To that renewed artist, I’d say….

Maybe those paints are ruined for a reason.

Maybe the universe is sending a message here. You can paint again, it says, but maybe it’s time to really start anew.

Here’s a powerful thought: Maybe you don’t have to do penance by fixing those tired, dried-up old paints.

Maybe the message is, “Go out and buy wonderful new paint. Buy some of your favorite old colors, but try something different, too.”

Maybe it’s time start fresh with new ideas, new inspiration, maybe an entirely new direction.

Maybe it’s time to play with colors again, to regain the same sense of wonder and excitement when you first began to paint. And then to move ahead in a different way. Forge a new path.

But to do this, you need to get rid of everything that held you back the last time.

You have found your inspiration to paint again, and you’re determined to really set aside the time and energy it deserves. And that means not wasting time and energy working to revive dead paint.

What a lesson for me today! I’ve been sitting in the middle of an overwhelmingly messy studio, bemoaning the fact that I “should” clean up before I get back to work. Then I get the note about dried up paint. Sometimes what is easy to see in others is what I need to see in myself.

Maybe it’s really okay to just jump right into making something today, messy space notwithstanding. Maybe it’s okay to do a little cleaning up after I have fun.

Hmmmmm… Okay, I’m putting away the dishcloth now!

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Filed under art, choices, craft, creativity, inspiration

WE ARE ALL MADE OF STARS

Do you realize how amazing you are?

Why are we so willing to believe the worst about ourselves?

I had a conversation with a friend recently. She tends to believe she presents herself worse than she does. She accentuates her perceived weaknesses and berates herself for being “stuck”.

When I commented on her strengths and her perceived weaknesses (more on that), she smiled. “Yeah”, she said, “A friend once told me what my real problem is. My friend said, ‘Your problem is, you don’t realize how amazing you are.”

I agree with her friend.

I told her about a presentation I made last year, to an auditorium full of people. I’d goofed pretty badly–thought I was doing a presentation on one topic, only to realize the night before I was committed to a different one.

I was still more than adequately prepared. I’ve taught this workshop before, and have plenty of material on hand. But throughout the presentation, I kept apologizing. “I’m handing out a resource list–I’m so sorry, it would have been longer….” “Blah blah blah, sorry!, blah blah.”

When I read the evaluations later, everyone raved about me.

Except for one astute soul who commented, “The presentation was excellent, good information. Just one negative. She apologized too much. I found it distracting.”

Oy.

It’s time to quit apologizing for ourselves.

It’s so easy to see this in other people. So hard to see it in ourselves: Not trusting our instincts. Focusing on our weaknesses and flaws. Taking our strengths for granted.

Taking ourselves for granted.

So in the interest of full disclosure, here’s the back story behind my blog:

I merrily make my art/write my column/prepare a seminar. Things are humming along. Life is good!

Then I hit roadblocks. An envious peer. A missed deadline. A new injury (usually acquired doing something absolutely stupid.) A rejection from a show. Oh, and a very low checking account balance.

Some people thrive in adversity. Yay for them! (And we all can do that sometimes.) But often we are struck in vulnerable places. The roadblock looks similar to a struggle in our past. And there are some people in this world, in a kind of pain themselves, who know exactly where to aim their blows.

If I’m in my powerful place, I shrug these off as annoying but manageable, tiny little bumps in my path. I will not be deterred from my journey.

But if I’m in a fragile period, I get knocked off-center. “Why do I bother making this work? Nobody likes it!” “How can I make her like me and stop being so mean?” “I’m so disorganized!”

Soon I feel like there’s no place for me in the world. No gifts I can offer. No way I can contribute. I’m just a whirling bundle of fret and anxiety and unkindness and ineptitude. (I thought I was making that last word up, but spell check says no, I’m good to go. Until I spelled “spellcheck” wrong….)

I eventually sit down to write. I dump it all out onto paper. I whine, I cry, I resent, I blame.

And then something wonderful happens.

I realize how amazing I am.

Not in the swelled-head, I’m-okay-you’re-not, aren’t-I-grand kinda way.

Just…amazing…in the ordinary way. A person, here in this world, in this time, trying to love and be loved. Trying to be kind. Trying to shine. Trying to do the work I was put here to do. Trying to do the best I can. (Another friend, years ago, said to me, “I like to believe people are doing the best they can.” It brought tears to my eyes.) (Although it’s hard to remember that when someone cuts me off in traffic.)

For a few wonderful, incredible minutes, maybe a few hours, maybe even an entire day, I see how powerful I am, how brightly I shine. Just enough for me to get back in the saddle and try again. (OH! A riding metaphor!)

At some point, this struggle, this journey, turns into a blog article, or a keynote speech, or a new wall hanging. If it’s funny, it goes to my column at The Crafts Report.

I write about the struggle. I write about how I end up in the hard place, and how I find my way back from there.

And how I still end up there again.

And find my way back home, to my own heart–again.

I write about how our weaknesses are not something to be cried over, but something to be celebrated. Because our weaknesses are the true source of our strength, if we let this awareness happen.

If we are the victim of cruelty, we can still choose to be kind.

If we are gripped by sadness, we can simply embrace that, for now. Or we can choose to act as if we are happy. Or we can help someone else who is sad.

If we grieve, it is because we loved. Or because we wanted to love, or to be loved.

These things are not imperfections. Or rather, they are imperfections. They are what make us beautiful, just as as stress, flaw, disease and even death make something beautiful in wood.

If we don’t think we are amazing, it is simply because we are afraid of what that might mean. We think we don’t know what that looks like. We don’t know what might change or what we might lose, or that we are setting ourselves up for even bigger failure. We are afraid we will have to work harder, and we are afraid we won’t be able to.

We are afraid we are not enough.

And yet, in each of us, is the potential to simply be ourselves. To be present. To respect our gifts, and USE them.

What inspires me, what makes me cry, is that this very place that’s so hard for us–”I am not enough”–comes from a very powerful, very beautiful place–”I want to be somebody</em, somebody worthy of love, respect, kindness, joy, achievement. I want to be seen and cherished. I want to do good work. I want to be remembered after I'm gone."

Don't you think it's amazing that we all want these things?

Isn't it astonishing that this desire drives everything we do, every choice we make, whether we act on this consciously ("I'm going to hold the door open for that person behind me.") to unconsciously ("Huh! That person cut in front of me! He acted as if I were totally not worth his kindness!" or choice words to that effect….)? (I am praying you did not get lost in the punctuation of that last sentence.)

And that's why, when people say I'M amazing, or do such beautiful work, or write something good, I do a little foot shuffle and blush, and say, "Aw, tweren't nuthin'…"

Because I DON'T have this all figured out, or rather, it doesn't STAY worked out. I'll have to do the same thing tomorrow, and next month, and probably for the rest of my life–fall down, cry, take hope and get back up.

I know I just have to do this. And I don't have to do it perfectly, either.

Because when I look at my work, at my art, at the artifacts, the fiber work, the little bears and otters, the grumpy fish, the horses….oh, the horses!

When I remember my story I tell about myself and this work, what it's done for me spiritually, and what others say it does for them….

When I remember how far I've come from that lonely, sad place, where I was so sure there was no place in this world, I actually tried to leave it….

When I look at the wonderful guy who is my life partner, and our children, our friends and family, even the stranger on the street who chooses to be kind… When I realize all the opportunities there are in life to BE that partner, that child, that friend, that stranger…

I realize we truly are all made of stars.

I am. And so are you.

p.s. Thank you, Moby, for the title of this post.

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life, mental attitude, world peace, writing

TURN ON YOUR (CREATIVE) LIGHTS!

Know the habits that keep Y-O-U creating.

I have habits that really fire me up to make art.

I have a lot of habits that drain me and distract me from making art.

None of these habits are intrinsically good or bad. They are just habits that produce different results. The trick is to identify the outcome you want, and see if the habits you’re holding onto support that desired outcome.

For those of you in the back row ready with some snide remark about which habits I’m obviously still hanging on to that don’t have good outcomes (like having candy bars for lunch yesterday)… Look. I get it. It’s not about living a perfect life. It’s about getting back on the horse after he’s spilled you a few times. (Hey! A riding metaphor!)

I have several outlets for my creativity: Writing, making jewelry, fiber work, stamp carving. Today I finally realized that these different outlets need different switches to flip ‘on’.

Here’s one concrete example for writing:

In the morning, I usually make that first cup of coffee and head into my studio to “check my email”. (Raise your hand if you do that, too.) (Ohhhh….so many hands!)

Soon I’m doing a heckuva lot more than slogging through my in box. (Yeah, you know.) Soon I’m surfin’ and networkin’ and tweetin’ and other good stuff.

Now, all this isn’t necessarily a “bad” habit. After all, I like seeing what my friends are up to. I like to explore new venues for my artwork. I like reading funny blogs like Hyperbole and a Half, and watching funny videos on Today’s Big Thing. And we all need down time. In fact, sometimes you just need to waste time.

The problem is, an hour goes by. Every. Single. Morning. That’s a lot of downtime, before I even do anything to deserve it.

It’s not just the lost time, though. I’s worse. It actually drains me of creativity.

If I spend too much time abmiring other people’s art, I start to feel insecure about mine. (“Why bother?? So-and-so’s work is light-years ahead of mine!”) If I read too many other blogs, I start to feel inadequate about mine. (“What’s the use?? He has 10,000 followers, I have a few hundred. And he said it better!”) If I offer too much advice in a forum, I feel like I’ve done my writing for the day.

Either way, the down time ends, and it feels like I did something productive. But I didn’t.

So something harmless, fun, maybe even helpful to others, is good under the right circumstances, and not good in others.

But something happens if I simply stay in the dining room with my coffee, pick up a pen (has to be a Uniball Vison pen, too–no ball points for me!) and start writing my morning pages (a la Julie Cameron’s THE ARTIST’S WAY.)

It’s odd. I always starts out kinda bitchy. From there it goes to whining. Then I run out of steam around the middle of page 2. That’s when I simply blather. “I hate this I have nothing to say who would even WANT to listen to anything I have to say, this is too hard, my new idea for a wall hanging sucks blah blah blah….” And yes, there are many days where I simply write, “Blah blah blah.” In an artistic way, of course.

But somewhere in the midst of the wailing and whining, something marvelous happens.

A new idea pops up. A new insight creeps out. Suddenly, I get something I didn’t get before.

I know what I have to do. I know exactly what my next step is.

Many of my blog ideas come from those awful, whining, boring morning pages. It’s a light switch for my writing, and a pretty powerful and reliable one, too.

Some days I simply forget to do them. Some days I don’t have time to do them. Sometimes I go for months without doing them, thinking I don’t need them anymore.

But I always come back. Because they work.

Now, on the other hand, writing those morning pages is really good for generating an idea for a blog, or an article. But not always so good for my other artwork. Again, because I feel like I’ve ‘already made something.” In fact, I had that insight this morning as I wrote. I actually need to think of another switch to flip for my other stuff.

But now that I’m thinking about what works, and what doesn’t, I don’t think I’ll have to spend too much time figuring that out.

So what is YOUR process? What little habit do YOU have, that helps you flip on the switch to YOUR art?

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Filed under art, craft, creativity, inspiration, writing

TRAINING CATS TO DRINK WATER

To achieve new heights, we have to acquire new habits and tell ourselves a different story.

Stay with me, there’s a point to this drinking water thing.

We’ve always had cats. If you have cats, you know what happens.

Cats train you to do some really funny things. They get us to act in ludicrous ways, irrational ways. And we end up believing in the idiocy, too. We even believe it’s natural. “Cats are like that–they’re finicky!” we say.

It starts out very innocently. Maybe the cat starts playing with water coming out of the kitchen tap. Soon, every time you turn on the tap, the cat is there to play some more, and maybe take a few sips.

After a while, you begin to notice that the water level in his official water dish, stays the same. “Oh, no!”, you think. “The cat isn’t getting enough water!” So you turn on the tap. He jumps up and gratefully starts drinking.

Before you can say, Holy Catfish! you have a cat who will only drink out of the faucet.

Eventually, you even have to adjust the flow of water to just the right speed–not too fast, or he’ll be frightened. Not to slow, or he’ll walk away in impatience.

It will seem very normal to you, too. You will simply accept the process as what you have to do to get him to drink.

Until you see someone else doing this in their house, with their cat. And then you see how ridiculous the situation is.

For us, it was when we visited a friend with a cat. He had half a dozen caps from cans of shaving cream arranged around his bathroom floor, each cap filled with water. He told us (in total seriousness) he had to do this so his cat would drink water.

I burst out laughing. Because, you know, I know, and Pete knows….

No cat dies of thirst because his water is in the wrong-sized container.

No cat starves to death because his food is not the right brand.

Your teenager isn’t going to starve because you don’t make his sandwich the right way, with the right bread.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you’re hungry enough, when you’re thirsty enough.

“Finicky” goes out the window when you want something badly enough.

I was thinking about this today. Oh, all right, I admit, because I now have a cat who will only drink water who has trained me to think she will only drink out of the bathtub faucet.

As I watched her drink this morning, it suddenly occurred to me…

I wondered what have I trained myself to do….
What story have I told myself….What story do I ‘know’…
That’s getting in the way of getting what I really want in my life?

I’ve been fearful of “not doing it right” with an upcoming workshop I’m teaching–to the extent that I wanted to cancel it. I want to do it badly. But I think I can’t do it unless I do it perfectly.

I have a project dear to my heart, something I’ve been dreaming about for six years. I have a million reasons ‘why it won’t work’. Today I wrote in my journal all the excuses I’ve made up for why I shouldn’t do it: ‘I know’ there’s no way to exhibit it. ‘I know’ there’s no one who would buy it. ‘I know’ I shouldn’t start it til I have the whole concept figured out perfectly.

Well, duh, who cares??!!

I want to do it.

And the only thing holding me back is the story I’ve been telling myself, and all the ridiculous reasons I’ve made up about why it won’t work.

So giggle a little at the thought of Tomcat Toes drinking daintily out of a lovely assortment of plastic cups. Smile at the thought of chubby Chai shlurping heartily from the bathtub faucet. Let’s tease my sister not wanting her son to go to California years ago because he would never make himself a sandwich and so he would go hungry….

But the next time you have a project, an idea, a glimmering of something that makes your heart beat a little faster….

Listen hard for the imaginary can’t/shouldn’t/no-way thinking that could have you drinking out of a shaving cream cap within a few weeks.

Won’t that look silly?

Now go to your studio. Write that song. Start that video. Get out your brushes.

Me? I’m gonna go dust off my sewing machine.

And yes, I will share my big project when it firms up a little more. Just keep those cups of water outta my sight for awhile, okay?

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Filed under action steps, art, business, courage, craft, creativity, fear of failing, inspiration, life with pets, mental attitude

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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MUSIC TO MY EARS

Today someone sent me a link to a compelling music video. (Thank you, Ann!)

Usually I’m big on drums, especially frame drums. Coincidentally, I’ve just learned that women and frame drums go back, oh, many thousands of years. If you get a chance, watch Who Does She Think She Is?, a fabulous movie exploring why it’s so damn hard to be an artist. Layne Redmond, drummer extraordinaire, explains the history of women and frame drums in the film. As an art history major, I instantly recognized all of the images shown that depicted women playing drums. And realized I’d never heard that mentioned, referenced or discussed in a single art history class.

But today, this excerpt from Philip Thornton’s “Tibetan Meditation” hits me hard. Especially the initial images of animals, which coincidentally, encompass all my favorite animals featured in ancient cave art. That, and the amazingly beautiful images of mountains, and clouds, and air, praying people, and the deep resonating music, transport me to a time far, far away.

I feel like I am listening to the earth holding its breath, gently, softly, waiting to exhale.

And I wonder where I’ll be transported on that outward breath.

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DEEP THOUGHTS

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!

Earrings for my inner wild woman.....

Not only are they beautifully made (if I do say so myself), they are incredibly light and easy to wear.

I’m really feelin’ the cave these days…. And it feels deep, and rich.

On a lighter note, I found this fascinating page while surfing the net for ideas for new markings. (More complete reading can be found here. Incredible!!

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.

When people asked me why my fish were grumpy, I said it was because they missed their oceans.

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.

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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? 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 THEY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 3

Your homework, before/after you read this article today, is to take eight minutes and listen to this podcast:

Listen to music excerpt and composer David Lang’s statement by clicking Listen to the whole show on this page. (8 minutes, if you skip the fund raising and stuff at the end.)

After that, if you want to listen to the entire composition without the artist’s comments, you can click on Listen to David Lang’s piece – Départs (18’14″) at the bottom of this page. (18 minutes)

Lang was commissioned to create a very special work of music, to quote the intro at WNYC “Radiolab”:

Imagine that you’re a composer. Imagine getting this commission: “Please write us a song that will allow family members to face the death of a loved one…” Well, composer David Lang had to do just that when a hospital in Garches, France, asked him to write music for their morgue, or “Salle Des Departs.”

Sounds morbid. But this piece is so poignant, I’ve listened to it a dozen times already. (Thank you to Heather Lawless for sharing this example in her recent workshop on artist statements at the Sharon Arts Center in Peterborough, NH.)

Lang’s comments do not comprise a formal “artist statement”. But the story this artist tells about his work, contains the elements of a powerful artist statement.

Lang does not focus on describing his techniques.

He tells enough about his process to make you want to listen more closely to the music. Akin to one definition of a good artist statement, that it “makes you want to go back and look at the art again.”

He tells why composing this piece meant so much to him. “I felt like I’d been waiting my whole life for this opportunity…”

He tells a simple, honest, personal story–about death, loss and grieving–that anyone can relate to.

He shares the effects he used to compose the piece: Music that “cannot be performed live, that is beyond the ability of human beings to perform.” Music he hopes “no one should ever actually have to hear.” These are not semantic word play; they are powerful metaphors for the grief born of of any death–but especially sudden, tragic death.

His goal was to create an environment that, unlike most music, does not tell the listener how to feel or how to act. Instead, it gives permission for the audience to define their own experience. “Here is my contribution. Now I leave you so you can make your own.”

It’s possible someone else might intuitively understand everything he says from the music alone. But I couldn’t. If I’d heard this piece alone, I might think it was pretty, even beautiful.

The power of the artist’s words makes the experience richer, more poignant, and more meaningful. I felt like this artist was taking something deeply important for him, and sharing it with me. I felt that sharing, that connection–and it moved me.

Now, for the artists who want the work to speak for itself, no comment needed from them…. Okay. If you want to split hairs, then yes, Lang says his music does not tell the listener how to feel.

And yes, people listening to it in the room would not hear his words and thoughts overlaid. The music would, indeed, have to “speak for itself”.

But the intended audience is in extreme circumstances, not a concert hall. They are in a situation few of us would wish upon our worst enemy–the last chance to say goodbye to a loved one who will never hear it.

We, the ones with the luxury of sitting back, safely at a distance, and only imagining the horrible circumstances under which we would hear this music, are only fooling ourselves with that academic argument.

When we are afraid to talk about our work in this way, when we focus on technique (“I used a #10 camel’s hair brush on gessoed linen canvas”) or our education (“I studied at this university, or under this famous artist…”), when we resort to cliche’ (“I just love color!”), when when we say nothing and insist our art “speaks for itself”, we shortchange our audience.

We leave them to make their own connection. But we’ve eliminated the human interaction. We say, “No need for me to reveal myself as human, or as a feeling/caring/grieving/loving/being person. You either get it or you don’t. So there!”

I believe, as artists, we can do better than this. I believe our responsibility to our customer, to our audience, to the world, is deeper than this.

There are those who will simply not agree with me, and that’s okay. (Just don’t write to tell me, okay? Not today. Not about this.) Maybe my hospice training is removing another protective layer off my psyche. Maybe my age is showing here. Maybe I’ve always been “too sensitive” for my own good.

There’s a time and a place for more formal, stuffy artist statements, I get that. And hey, I’m still nudging closer to my own truth. Haven’t gotten it down to half a page yet.

But to quote one of my favorite writers….(I love Anne Lamotte and I welcome the opportunity to throw her words at you today):

….Then two things happened. One was that I got obsessed with something my best friend had said right before she died, when she was in a wheelchair, wearing a wig to cover her baldness, weighing almost no pounds, but very serene, very alive. We were at Macy’s. I was modeling a short dress for her that I thought my boyfriend would like. But then I asked whether it made me look big in the hips, and Pammy said, as clear and kind as a woman can be, “Annie? You really don’t have that kind of time.” I just got it. I got it deep in my being. And all of a sudden, two years ago, it began ringing through the chambers of my head again: You don’t have that kind of time.

You really don’t have that kind of time.

We do not know when our last day on earth will be. Maybe we got fifty years, maybe fifty weeks. Maybe ten minutes. There is a certain clarity when we do, and that is one of the many gifts of hospice.

Say what you mean to say. Make the work that is important to you. Share it with the world in a meaningful way. We’re big enough, we’re strong enough.

That’s why we were given the gift of being creative.

And so I say to you all, “Artist! Embrace the power of thy ample heart!”

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EMBRACE THE POWER OF THY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 2

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be very afraid. Don’t be even a little afraid.

Yesterday I shared that little story about a teacher urging a student to “step up to the plate”–to “own” the power inside her. Here’s the second part, as promised.

Recently I attended a workshop on artist statements.

Yes, I know I TEACH workshops on artist statements. I like to check out the competition.

Actually, it’s good practice to see how others treat the same topics I teach. I always learn something new. Plus it gives me a different perspective–it’s good to sit in the “student seat” once in a while. It helps me understand what I could do better.

Okay, so at one time (and maybe still??), artists were taught that their art should speak for itself. So, someone asked, what’s the point of an artist statement, if the art is already doing the talking?

The instructor replied that talking about your motivation will help a lot to connect with your audience (which is true).

But one artist said he felt uncomfortable doing that. When asked why he painted a flower next to a rock, for example, he felt uncomfortable; afraid to answer.

So he simply avoided the question altogether, preferring to talk around it.

I wondered….why?

In my humble experience, many, many artists feel this way. They’re nervous, they hesitate, they are afraid to talk about why they make the art they do.

Afraid of what??

I bet it’s the same stuff I’m afraid of.

I’m afraid I’ll sound shallow. Or facile.

I’m afraid I’ll sound un-academic. Unschooled. Naive.

In other words, I’m afraid of what every human being is afraid of:

I’m afraid I’ll open myself to ridicule and humiliation.

Don’t laugh. Fear of humiliation is a powerful socializing force. Human beings will go to great lengths to avoid embarrassment.

Because someone who humiliates you is trying to show you as powerless and without worth.

That is painful, and agony to anyone. It can be death for a creative person.

So we clam up. We refuse to talk about our work; some artists even refuse to show their work. “It’s just for me!” they say. “No one else needs to see it.”

Maybe. But what a loss to the world…. (Yes, I’m going to keep quoting that til it’s plastered all over everybody’s studios!)

When we create work that comes from our core passion, we can choose to not give away our power to those who would deride us.

We protect our power, NOT by hiding our work, NOT by hiding our passion, NOT by hiding our motivation. But by embracing our work fully. By being so grounded with our purpose that pointless ridicule, or attacks that come from envy, cannot penetrate.

The artist thought someone would question why a flower and a rock would be worth painting. Well, William Carlos Williams wrote a poem about eating someone else’s plums. (I’m guessing they were his wife’s watermelon, too.) Fred Gipson wrote a book about a cow dog who sucked eggs. (I cried every time I read it to my kids.) Anne Frank was 13 when she died. What did she know of the world? Why should we care?

Aren’t you glad that didn’t stop her from keeping a diary?

Look, not everyone will like our work. In this interview I did years ago, I thought if one person in a thousand liked my work liked, that would be enough.

Think of it: One person in a thousand. Doesn’t seem like very popular work, does it?

Yet in the U.S. alone, that would be more than 300,000 people.

If only one person in a million liked my work enough to buy it, that would still be almost 7,000 people in the world.

So what do you care about the people who don’t??

We still do, of course. We creative types can be terribly sensitive.

But I hope you’re starting to think a little differently about them.

Tomorrow I’ll share a hauntingly beautiful artist statement, in simple, honest words that will burst your heart wide open.

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Filed under art, artist statement, choices, courage, craft, creativity, criticism, inspiration

WE CAN ALWAYS USE ANOTHER HERO

We all need a hero.

And we can all BE a hero.

Although I love that Tina Turner song from the movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, I have to disagree…

We do need another hero. Lots of ‘em.

I’m often asked how I got started making my art, and I’ll share it here.

I was the typical “class artist” throughout grade school, drawing at every opportunity. (Mostly horses, come to think of it.) Then drawing for other kids (“Draw a dog for me!” “Can you draw a mouse?”) Then cartoons for the school newspaper (and writing a funny column, come to think of it).

I couldn’t wait to go to college, so I could learn to be an artist. (Our school’s art programs constantly fell victim to budget cuts, so I had very little access to making “real” art.) That didn’t happen, for a lot of reasons, none of them very good in hindsight.

And so I left my art as a young person. Mostly because I believed so many MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS.

I backed away from it later because when I stayed home with my children, it was so very very hard to make time for anything beyond trying to be a good wife and a good mother. (Raise your hand if you’ve ever introduced yourself as “(your child’s name here)’s mom”. I still introduce myself to some people as “Doug’s mom” and “Robin’s mom”.)

There was barely time to knit a hat or finish a project before I had to clear the table for lunch, or dinner, let alone take on any serious or involved ventures.

I actually got to the point where I decided to simply focus on good wife/good mom, and wait til there was more time/money/opportunity to do differently.

I thought it was the right thing to do. There was some relief in “letting go” of that dream.

But something in me was sad, too. I pushed it down and tried to forget about it.

Shortly after that, as I watched my darlin’ three-year-old daughter at play, I found myself daydreaming about her…

What would her life be like? It seemed to spread before us like a tiny brook, growing into a mighty river.

What kind of person would she be? I hoped she’d be the same person she was now: Quiet but deep-thinking; shy but fierce in her beliefs; talented in so many ways; loving yet independent; quirky, different, her own person, comfortable in her own skin.

What kind of work would she do? There were so many possibilities.

Who would she love? Would she marry, too? I hoped she’d find someone who would respect her strengths and encourage her dreams. I hoped she’d find a loving partner who would let her shine, who would let her simply be herself.

And then an epiphany whacked me right over the head. Three big questions tumbled into my brain. In big glowing capital letters.

1) Did my mother want that for me when I was young?
(I still don’t know the answer to that one. I was the oldest of seven, there may not have been time to spend daydreaming!)

2) How could I want that for my daughter, and not want that for myself?

3) How will my daughter know what that looks like–to be all she can be–if I didn’t model that for her?

I knew I had to be a hero for my daughter. And for me.

I knew I had to be authentic for my daughter. And for me.

That was the day I knew I had to be an artist. Or die.

That was the day I knew it didn’t even matter if I would be a good artist. I just had to do it.

It’s a perfect inspirational story for parents. These are powerful questions for breaking through the barriers we erect between ourselves and our dreams. It’s amazing to see the look of shocked enlightenment on the face of something who “gets it”:

“What am I teaching my kid??”

Are you actually teaching them to NOT live their dream? (Because you’re not?)

Are you showing them they shouldn’t try if they think they might fail? (Beause you’re afraid to?)

Are you telling them that someone else’s needs always outweigh their own? (Because that’s what you always do?)

Ow. Ow. OW!!

If you don’t have kids of your own, maybe this would be helpful:

“Someone–somewhere–is looking to you to be a hero.”

Maybe someone we care about deeply. Maybe not.

Sometimes it’s easier to be brave for someone else we care about, braver than we would normally choose for ourselves. Hopefully, as we grow older/wiser/more evolved, we choose to follow our power because that’s the right thing to do. (See the Martha Graham quote here.

But til then, altruism can be a force for good that’s also good for us.

Be someone’s hero. Be your own hero.

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Filed under art, business, courage, craft, creativity, inspiration, life, mental attitude

THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can you see the implications for our art?

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

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

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

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

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

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

from The Life and Work of Martha Graham[

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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