HOW NOT TO SAY HELLO

 

There are polite greetings, there are annoying meaningless greetings, and then there’s true engagement. You choose!

Recently my husband and I visited a chic little town north of us. A friend had mentioned some gorgeous galleries that might be a good fit for my work, and both of us wanted a pleasant road trip.

Things started out well, but ended….well, rather badly on several issues.

First, as we crossed a street, I tripped and fell on a complicated section of curb. (Very high and uneven curb, above an equally-uneven sort of culvert-shaped road edge.) I took a serious fall, wrenching my knee, straining my back, and smashing my glasses, which also gave me quite a headache.

We found a delightful hardware store nearby, and the clerk gave me excellent customer service. She walked me over to the glue section and helped me select the right glue to repair my glasses. It didn’t work, but I have no complaints, because she “met me where I was” and did her best to help me move forward.

We continued on to a beautiful gallery. By this time, I was really starting to feel the effects of the fall. I tried to focus on the artwork, but I was suffering. My back was spasming, my shoulder and knees hurt, my head and nose hurt.

The gallery attendant was busy and didn’t look up when we entered. That’s actually a good thing, giving people a minute to “land” once they walk into your booth, studio, or gallery space.

But what happened next was a travesty of good customer service.

They said, “How are you today?”

I was struck speechless. My bad. I wanted to say, “Fine, thank you!” But the reality of that fall was kicking in, and I was momentarily confused. I didn’t want to say, “Not well.” But mostly, I didn’t want to engage in small talk.

So I hesitated. And things went downhill from there.

The person seemed to take offense. They repeated the question again, louder. This was annoying. Because of this, I admit, I was unsure how to respond, and didn’t. (I was thinking, “Really? I have to take care of YOU?!”)

And while I gathered my wits and words to defuse the situation, they grew angrier still.

They threw their hands up in the air dramatically and snapped, “Fine! I get it! You’re on vacation and you don’t want to be bothered!”

Okay, that pissed me off. What an assumption to make on their part! And how not to win over a customer, on their part!

I politely said, “I apologize, I took a terrible fall on the sidewalk a little bit ago, and I’m in a lot of pain. I’m pretty distracted right now.”

Of course, they were embarrassed, and instantly apologized. But the damage was done.

Anyone who gets offended because a visitor doesn’t want to respond to empty greetings and conversation is not going to represent me or my artwork.

Anybody who leaps to conclusions about why someone is quiet, or reluctant to engage (what if I didn’t speak English?? What if I were hard of hearing? What if I had cognitive issues?), and anyone who responds in anger within ten seconds of this interaction, is simply not someone I want to have a conversation with.

And many of us do this all the time. We pressure people to engage in meaningless conversations, thinking we are doing it right.

Consider your visitors’ journey to see you. If you are doing a show, they may have wandered into a dozen or more, maybe even 50 or 100 booths before they get to yours.

And every single booth holder has greeted them with phrases like these:

“How are you today?”

“Nice weather today, isn’t it?”

“Are you enjoying the show?”

Or we jump into asking for too much information right off the bat:

“How many years have you been coming to this show?”

“How did you hear about this event?”

“I work with stoneware fired to cone 10 with copper oxide glaze.” (I have no idea if that even makes sense, which should tell you something. I collect a lot of pottery, and I don’t know, or care, about the conage or the glazage…. I just know if I find it beautiful or not, and if I can afford it.)

By the time our studio/booth visitors get to us, they are tired of talking about the weather, they want to wear a sign that says, “I’m fine, thank you”, and what they really want to hear about your pottery is, is it lead-free, and will it go in the oven.

What’s a better way to engage a visitor?

Don’t pressure them.

After a they take a few seconds to look around, and decide if they want to stay, you do a brief introduction of yourself, the setting, the work, etc. (“Brief” is the operative word here!)

When someone enters my booth or studio, I give them that moment to settle in, a quick hello if anything.

Then when they “collect themselves”, I say, “I’m Luann, and this is all my work, jewelry, wall hangings, sculptures. I make all the artifacts you see here that look like bone or ivory. It’s okay to touch the pieces, it’s okay to pick things up, and if you have any questions, I’m right here.”

Their response?

“THANK YOU!!!”

Always. They have been acknowledged, they are not being forced into silly non-conversations, they have been given permission to relax and enjoy my space.

And so they dig in, and start looking.

Then I shut up and go back to work.

“Work” being relative term. I work on something simple I can pick up and set down at a second’s notice. I am “engaged”, but also “available”.

This is all I want to share today. There’s a lot more on how to proceed, when to talk, what to talk about, what not to talk about. There’s knowing that when people are ready to talk, they will ask a “stupid question” that may feel annoying to us, but is simply their way of saying, “It’s okay to talk to me now, and I want to know more about what you do!”

For example, if someone says, “How long does it take you to make that?” the worst answer you can give is, “It took me 30 years to make that!” (And saying it works because people laugh when you say it, is not understanding that people laugh when we embarrass them. Because you just made fun of their ignorance, and they KNOW that.)

So for today, think about a softer way to address visitors.

Something that doesn’t force a person in pain to put on a cheerful face. And doesn’t force them to apologize to YOU when you take offense, if they don’t.

Think of a simple greeting that doesn’t put them on the spot. An opening that doesn’t force them to respond, or engage. An introduction that allows them to explore your work, and to approach you confidently when they are ready to talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #9: “What Support Do You Need?”

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

Go ahead, ask for help. It’s what tribes are for! 

(6 min. read) 

Here we are at the last question, and it’s a good one, too!

You’ve shared your dreams for your art biz.

You’ve found your action steps, and hopefully a process for finding them over and over again.

You’ve uncovered the secret screaming spooks in your brain that have held you back in the past. (Don’t worry, they aren’t gone for good! But from now on, you have spook strategies for dealing with them.)

And now, you are going to learn to ASK for the help you need.

Because that’s what we’re here for. 

I find it surprisingly hard to ask for help. There are lots of reasons we don’t think we can ask. For me, it might feel like what I think I need seems trivial. Or it may seem like too much to ask. Whatever. It makes me hesitate to ask.

Let’s try to frame these thoughts:

Too trivial.

One participant had trouble carving out time to actually make their art. They asked if someone would be willing call one or two mornings a week, and remind them to go to the studio.

Now, this was before cell phones and smart phones. Now we could simply set a reminder for ourselves. And of course, we could always just put it on the fridge calendar!

But this was before all that. AND this person valued the personal touch, a chance to chat for a few moments, and get the art mojo working.

There was a person in the group who was happy to do that. They later reported it helped them get to their studio, too!

Tiny cues like this are called micro-actions. It’s something as simple as putting on your gym shoes in the morning. This tiny action helps put your brain in “go to the gym mode.”

For almost any goal or practice you want in your life, there are micro-actions that can help.

And it works.

In fact, it can work both ways, as evidenced by the obliging telephone caller.

Recently, I asked a good friend for insight on a family matter, and their response was very helpful. So I asked them if I could do anything in return.

They said yes. Would I be willing to reach out again? Like, maybe a few times a month? The local friend support they needed for a particular new course of action is not available in their world (yet!). And I’m just a phone call/email/text away!

Of course I said yes. And our conversations have grown richer and deeper as a result. Both of us are moving forward in our vision, and both of us are the better for it.

So never be afraid to ask for something that seems trivial. Because it rarely is!

Too much to ask.

Nobody wants to ask for something, and be told, “No”. We worry others will see us as “less than”. And we all worry about getting a “no”. We think it means, “No, that’s too much trouble.” Or “No, that’s too much to ask for.” Or, “No, geez, what a needy person you are!”

But it’s rare for everyone to say “no”.

If they do, if everyone always says no, then you may have asked the wrong people. Or you have asked too many times and not reciprocated. Or you are asking for something only a professional (therapist, coach, physician, etc.) can give you.

So check your assumptions. If these don’t apply, then heck, ask away! The worst that can happen? People can’t do what you ask, they can’t do what you ask right now. They may simply not have the skills, the time, or the ability. Then you’ll have to break it down, spread it out, start smaller, or ask someone else.

Here’s an example of my “big” ask:

When we lived in New Hampshire, I did an annual fine craft retail show that lasts 9 days. One year, I signed up for a sales/demo booth, a huge tent to myself at a reduced rate, in return for demonstrating my process.

In order to do this successfully, I knew I had to hire a sales team to assist me. But who would work for minimum wage or in-trade for my goods??

It turns out a lot of people would!

There were folks who jumped at the opportunity to get a little sales training. People who wanted my work, but couldn’t justify the expense. People who wanted something interesting to do, to hang out with me, to share their own love of my work with others. People who wanted to see what being in an art fair was like. Etc., etc., etc.

I held a pre-show training session, and had enough people commit that I could create a work schedule that fit everyone’s schedule.

It was hugely successful, and I made my highest income ever that year!

    

I’m really glad I asked for, and got help. Because this was a big deal!

I did the same sales/demo thing again the following year. Not all the same people could help. Some had moved to full-time work, some just didn’t care to do it again. No worries! Some people wanted to do more, and new people wanted to try it.

It all worked out!

We don’t know what will help.

Sometimes, we are so unused to asking, so afraid of hearing, “no”, we’ve never even thought of what that help would look like!

It’s okay to ask for help on what would help. (Yeah, I had to read that again, too!)

It’s surprising—and fun!—to realize other people have been there already. They may understand where you are, and what you’re struggling with.

And that means they may have good thoughts and suggestions. (Remember, you are in charge of how much you want to hear!)

Sometimes, the support group is enough.

Sometimes, just knowing you will be checking in with your support group in a month, or two weeks, or two months, is enough to create a little momentum with your action steps.

“Accountability” is a huge factor in our busy, hectic modern lives, especially if we are so used to putting our own needs and dreams on the back burner in order to help others.

Sometimes, the support group can’t help. And that’s okay, too!

I like to think of this support group aspect as the “pre-flight safety speech”:

Put your own oxygen mask on first. (Aka, “Know your own limits.”) 

For example, I didn’t volunteer to call that person to remind them to go to the gym. I had two small kids at home, a husband who was gone almost 12 hours a day, and we were relatively new to the area—no extended family members or reliable sitters to help out. I could barely carve out time for my art, and for this group.

It’s always—always—imperative to meet your needs and set your boundaries. Don’t volunteer for commitments for offers of help if you really can’t fulfill them. No one needs a “yes” that turns into a last-minute “no”.

Don’t feel bad, or guilty. Simply be honest on what you can offer, and what you can’t.

In this particular case, I thought, “We should just make t-shirts that say “GO TO THE STUDIO!” I said it out loud. And it turned out, someone already had! The artist purchased one, in time.

So here we are, at the last of the four questions.

But we’re not done yet!

Send your questions in! You’ve got the gist of the thing, now it’s time to fine-tune and adapt for what works for YOU.

And next week: The little extras that can enhance your get-togethers even more!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #2 Why This Group?

Don't miss Luann Udell's continued discussion on the importance of an art group.
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s continued discussion on the importance of an art group.

 

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

Socializing is good, it’s good to be social! But not all social, all the time.

(7 minute read) 

Last week, I introduced you to an artist support group blueprint I learned from Deborah Kruger decades ago, which I call The Four Questions.

A reader commented they’d recently created their own artist group. They’ve worked their way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and will now move on to other art book projects and discussions.

Any opportunity to meet up with fellow artists and creatives is good. Especially if you respect/like/enjoy/adore them! And they make a good apple pie, too… Well, then! (Otherwise, I just hide out and save my energy.)

The Artist’s Way workbook is an excellent way to explore your hidden fears, your own obstacles, the “faux thinking” that keeps you from moving forward with your art, especially if you don’t have an artist support group. It’s fun. It’s all about YOU. You can do it on your own, too.

Over the years, I’ve seen a few major drawbacks, though, with TAW and with purely social groups:

*Doing the Artist’s Way work can be a great excuse not to do your OWN work. One artist used it for a year. They loved it! Yet they didn’t do one thing to move forward with their own art. The exercises became an excuse not to go to the studio.

*It’s based on writing. Me? I thrive on writing through many of my issues. For others, not so much.

*The Four Questions is based on saying your truth, finding what works for you, and the power of being listened to. Everyone takes turns, everyone gets a chance to speak.

But don’t let that take away from the social aspects of group activities! Socializing is a powerful force for good in the universe. There’s nothing like hearing someone else express their doubts and fears, and thinking, “Wow! I thought I was the only one who felt that way!”

In fact, the first part of a Four Questions meet-up is social. It’s called “checking in”.

You take turns catching up with what’s going on with all of you, in all the worlds you’re in. Art. Family. Day job/income work/whatever. Health. (Deborah’s original group would have dinner together first, and do their check-in while dining.)

There’s no set way to do this, except make sure everyone has a chance to share what’s going on, and what’s coming up. When I was home with my two wee ones in a new house in a new state, sometimes this would be the very first time anyone would ask me how things were going—and listened!—in days.

I also noticed when I was given this time to update everyone, it got the “buzz” out of my brain and on the table. (Er… figuratively, of course!) As I listened to myself, I could see where I had needless worries, and where I had trouble moving forward.

I’ve come to believe that a “check-in” process is a healthy addition to ANY artist group meeting, depending on the size of the group.

It will help to understand why someone seems a wee bit snarky or distracted.

It will help the speaker, and the rest of the group, clarify what they want to talk about during the “working” part of the meet-up.

And when things get hard in life, it will help fulfill another important facet of this group’s support system:

Your artist self will be held and remembered for you during difficult times, until you can return to it.

 

Betty Friedan, noted advocate for women’s rights, said it all: “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Whenever life steps in and deals us a major blow, it can be extremely difficult to find the time and space to make our art.

We may become ill, or injured. We may be called to be a care-giver for someone else who becomes ill or injured. We may have young children to care for: Our own children, our grandchildren, maybe even someone else’s children. We may be dealing with disaster: Divorce. Loss of job. Loss of home, or safety, or car.

A good network and support group holds the memory of who you are, until you are ready to take it up again. And if you should choose a different path back, they will honor that, too.

There’s another reason that other meet-ups, such as The Artist’s Way format, art discussion groups, art road trips, etc. have their place:

Over time, you will find who your true peeps are: Seeing who might be a good fit for your support group, and who would fit better into purely socializing.

Sometimes you find your peeps at a group show. ​

As I’ve always said, I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way. Friendships that worked fine…until I realized the other person always…ALWAYS…had to have their own way.

I realized there are people who need more support, perhaps even professional therapy, than untrained friends can offer.

There are people who are so out of touch with what they want, they will fight and push back every single step of the way. It’s normal to “push back” with some of the Four Questions. But for an ongoing support project, I like the people who eventually push through to their place of power and creative growth.

There are a few people who are charming and charismatic, but also manipulative and destructive. To place yourself in a position of vulnerability with them is not only unproductive, it can be dangerous.

There are people who are just not ready, nor willing, to move forward with their art. And you just can’t make them do it. Nor should you. It’s their choice, their journey, not ours. But that also means they may not be a good fit for your support group.

So your homework for next week, if you haven’t already done so:

Get out there and meet up with other artists!

Go to open studios, opening receptions for art shows, gallery talks. If there’s an art organization in your area, volunteer for events from time to time. It’s amazing what you can learn about people working on the kitchen crew for potluck dinners! I used to volunteer for fundraiser events for a hospice organization. Some people show their true colors when they think you’re just a nobody working on the sidelines.

Some people show you who they are—believe them! If someone treats you badly, pay attention to that. It might just be envy or insecurity, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. We ALL have a lizard brain. Grown-ups work on it. Btw, “ grown-up behavior” isn’t necessarily related to age. I know many wise younger people, and many idiot, know-it-all oldsters who simply don’t. Know it all, I mean.

On the other hand (OTOH), it pays to triangulate. Check in with others who know more about that person. If someone’s behavior is awkward or off-putting, find out if there’s a humane reason behind it. People with Asperger’s Syndrome, or reading disabilities, or who are just ‘nerdy’, can be “different”, but they can be just as sensitive, and even more insightful human beings, because of it. Me? Sometimes it takes me awhile to “play well with others”, especially if I feel I’m not in a group that’s good for me.

Gather together as prospective small groups. See who’s respectful, who’s helpful, whose words resonate. Note who’s whiny and full of self-pity. See who’s open to new ideas and new opportunities. See who wants to be more empowered by making better choices. THEIR choices.

This will be the family you CHOOSE. Make it a good one!

(N.B. If you are truly physically isolated, it’s possible to reach out to others you’ve come across online, on the internet. Group emails, a discussion forum, even conference telephone calls, can help you connect. And of course, TAW is amazing for a solo adventure, provided you USE the work to do YOUR work. Let me know what issues separate you from this process. Maybe together we can figure out a unique way to make this work for YOU.)

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #1 Create Your Artist Support Group

For some reason, I didn’t republish my initial articles for this series, which originally appeared on Fine Art Views. So I’ll be “catching you up” the next few days. Enjoy!

Luann Udell discusses the importance of having an "art group" and how it can help you grow creatively.
Luann Udell discusses the importance of having an “art group” and how it can help you grow creatively.

When your peeps have your back, it’s easier to move forward.

When I first stepped up to the plate with my art and my art biz, I was fearless. I was focused. Not even rejection set me back for more than a few minutes, just enough time to sidestep my lizard brain and get back to my higher self.

I educated myself at every opportunity. I sought out advice and insights from more experienced artists. I took notes and kept good records. Every day I sought to take one step forward.

Many folks were surprised to learn I had only been in business a couple years.

So when I found a notice about an upcoming artist support group workshop (on how to create your own support system), my first thought was, “I don’t need that!”

But something told me otherwise. Just a quiet little voice saying, “Maybe someday it will get harder…” (Spoiler alert: It can, and it does.)

So I took a chance and signed up for that a three-day workshop.

It changed my life

The workshop leader was Deborah Kruger, a fiber artist who already had a solid body of work behind her, including incredible installation art. A beautiful, intelligent vibrant, woman full of insight, and wisdom, good at listening. And really, really good at seeing where we get hung up in the details.

We were in awe of her. (Put a pin in that for a later article.)

Deborah’s work has evolved, as her own story changes.

We did many exercises in that class. I kept a notebook, of course, and filled it with observations, insights, and comments as we went along.

The heart of the class was learning and practicing how a good artist support group works. The main premise is:

The greatest gift you can give a woman is to listen to her…*

(NB. Times are changing, somewhat, so maybe we can now include “artists” or even “creatives” in this premise.)

And the corollary:

Because…We already know what to do.

We all know what is right for us.

We need to listen to that little voice inside. Not the loud, buzzy, snarky, critical lizard-brain-voice that tells us we aren’t good enough, or not smart enough, or not deserving enough.

We are here to find the quiet little voice that knows we are doing our best. The one that knows “we are already ‘enough’.”

We must not override it with too much logic, too much preparation, or too much self-doubt.

To discover this voice, we need people who will ask the right questions.

We need people who will ask, and then listen to what we say.

We need people who keep listening, and questioning, until we come up with our own answer, our own truth. 

It’s actually a scary place to be… because this process is unlike most conversations we ever have with other people. 

This premise (and corollary) is why today, I believe everyone has a place in the world. Everyone has a story. Everyone has a voice.

And everyone’s place, and story, and voice, is unique to them.

Every day, we are told we aren’t good enough, pretty enough, strong enough, lucky enough. Every day, we are told we’re “doing it wrong”. Every day, yet another social media site swears it will catapult us to fame and fortune. Every day, there’s someone who promises they have the secret to success (usually for a hefty price!) Every day, it feels like everyone else “gets it”, and that we never will. 

This is why you need people who will have your back in your support group.

    

Years after that life-changing workshop, Deborah again guided me to my truth: It’s not about the technique. It’s about the story. And I’m not done telling my story.

Did you do your homework last week?

Did you think of a handful of people who might be willing to do this with you? And who, in return, are willing to be recipients of the same process?

Do they accept you, flaws, faults, and foibles, as just another human on their own unique journey? They don’t have to be your best buddies. They don’t even have to be people who have known you a long time.  Heck, they don’t really even have to love your creative aesthetic. They just have to believe we are all capable of moving forward and achieving our dreams.

Do they treat other people with respect and patience?

Do they have an open heart, open to trying something new?

Do they want you to succeed, to achieve your definition of success?

Do they have their own goals and dreams? And do they understand you want the same for them? Because they will get their turn, too.

Reach out to them. Gather them together, meet up. Tell them why you chose them.

Don’t be afraid to jump in. You may have some mishaps.

Some of you may be at different points in your life. That’s okay. Beginners, experts, pros, all have something to offer.

The only requirement is to respect where people are, right now, and to respect where they say they want to go next.

The exercises you will participate aren’t about telling people they’re doing it wrong. It’s about helping them clarify where they want to go, and how they’re going to get there…on their own terms, at their own pace. 

It’s about shining a light on self-blaming, self-denigration, insecurity, and the (incorrect) notion that we don’t deserve to dream big.

And it’s also about holding someone’s feet to the fire when what they say they want isn’t reflected by what they’re doing. (Ow!)

In the weeks ahead, I’ll share powerful exercises we learned in that workshop. They can be hard at first, if you haven’t learned to push back against that lizard-brain. It can be heard to share your true heart with others, if you’ve never been deeply listened too.

Some of the exercises are so simple, you’ll smack your head and exclaim, “Why didn’t I think of that?!” Some will be fun.

And everyone’s experience will be different. You will learn from each other, too.

It’s not about being a saint.

It’s about having, and being, an ally.

Stay tuned for more columns on this! Next is how to put a little fun into the mix. After that, a simple exercise to have more confidence in yourself and your abilities to grow and change.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #7: What Is Your Next Step?

Trite, but true: Every journey begins with a single step.

(7 minute read) 

Okay, you big dreamers, procrastinators (moi!), those who are stuck (oops…me, too!), and people who need it all figured out before they do anything, listen up! Question #2 can be even more important that Question #1!

Question #1, What is your greatest vision for (insert-your-heart’s-desire-here), is a great exercise for going big. Especially for those artists -who have been noticeably absent in art history, art galleries, and art museums, who don’t see evidence they, too, can be successful artists: Women, minorities, other cultures and ethnicities, etc. (Well. Women do show up a lot in art, but usually as subjects, and thus without clothes.)

But for us to “get big”, it’s not enough to just have a dream.

We have to do the work to make it happen. Or at least possible.

That means figuring out a path, no matter how vague, or improbable, to head in the general direction of our goals.

This can still be hard to wrap our heads around. “How the heck do I know what I should do next??”

Consider the following strategies, and hopefully, one will resonate with you.

1)    Eliminate the all-or-nothing approach.

There’s nothing more daunting than an ultimatum. 

The person who dreamed of accepting an award for a movie? They had stopped their film-making. They couldn’t figure out a way to support themselves with it, so they took a well-paying full-time job for a national service corporation.

But they were so exhausted by their day/desk job, they didn’t have the time or energy to create films. Since they simply couldn’t quit their job, obviously they had to give up their dream. Right?

The problem with this approach is, life rarely gives us the perfect opportunity, and all the breaks we think we need to move forward.

Sure, we all hear about people who took the big leap and landed it. They left their job, struggled for a couple years, and now they’re making six-figure incomes doing what they love.

The problem with this thinking is, in our hearts we recognize how rare this is. The older we get, the more responsibilities we take on: Family, aging parents, mortgages, preparing for retirement, health issues, etc. The reasons why we shouldn’t move forward can feel overwhelming.

A small solution to this problem is to carve out a place in your life (if you haven’t already done so) to acquire the skills, the experience, and the joy that comes from making your creative work.

This wonderful little article on how to move forward when we don’t even know what we want shows the importance of making room for doing what you love. It restores us to ourselves, so we can dream bigger.

The film-maker realized making a small, intimate, low-tech, very personal film around a major issue in their life could fit the bill. No expectations of greatness, fame, money, etc. Just something they’d dreamed of doing for awhile. And the scale made it highly doable.

2)    Start small: One action step in the next 24 hours.

What is one thing you can do TODAY to move you forward? 

One small step gets you off your…er…chair…and into active mode. I cannot emphasize how important, how empowering, even a tiny action can be.

First, you have to get out of bed. Not kidding!

I’ve been in a funk the last few months. Family issues, health issues, money issues. It’s consoling to let my art-making slack off (“I don’t feel like it!”) and feel sorry for myself.

I thought the issue was unsolvable. If a huge part of my work’s attraction is seeing it in person, even touching/holding it, (just ask my editor!) then how do I use the internet to market it?? If only a tiny number of my potential local audience ever even sees my work, let alone comes to my studio to experience it, how will I ever grow an audience large enough to support it?

After journaling about this, I realized that representation by a very few, but “good-fit” art galleries and museum stores could help me achieve this.

And instead of slogging through the hundreds or even thousands of potential galleries I could research, I could simply ask my community—those familiar with my work, and me—if they knew of such places.

I reached out on my blog, and Facebook, with my criteria: Would my work fit with the gallery’s aesthetic (and therefore, their audience?) Are the venues close enough that collectors could visit my studio here in Northern California? Is the gallery’s clientele willing to pay my prices? (I know with the right demographic, my prices are actually extremely reasonable for what I do.) Are the galleries close enough I can actually approach them in person with samples? Etc., etc.

Yes, a few people responded with well-intentioned but wild guesses. But a savvy few are responding appropriately.

Now I can use the internet, to research these galleries! Then decide which ones to visit in person.

The beauty of this small step is, even if none of these galleries work out, I’ve found that if the gallery owners/managers like the work (even though it doesn’t work for their customers), many are willing to suggest more appropriate venues—which will save me hours of research and legwork.

If your goal is so big, or so far beyond your imagining you can’t even begin to imagine how to get there, then Strategy 3 might prove helpful: 

3)    Work backwards from your goal.

You can’t win the lottery unless…..

One of my favorite all-time jokes is a minister whose church is in need. Every single day, he prays earnestly, “Oh Lord, please help me win the lottery!” This goes on for months. Until one day, the clouds roll, the lightning flickers, the thunder rolls, and a great voice speaks: “Do me a favor. BUY A DAMN LOTTERY TICKET!!!!”

Years ago, I attended a conference called Craft in the Digital Age. One of the speakers shared a linguistically unique way another culture expresses intention can have wonderful insights our own:

The first panelist was Lynn Martin Graton, Traditional Arts Coordinator for the NH State Council on the Arts… She spoke about living in Japan for some years, and her difficulty learning a language so different than the more familiar Romance languages.  She spoke about having to learn totally new concepts dictating how ideas were expressed, different expectations of the culture.  One example was how the English statement “I need to finish warping this loom today” would be expressed as “If the loom is not warped today, then nothing else can happen” in Japanese.  Part of learning such an unfamiliar language is to actively embrace the different cultural traits that spawned it….

For an expanded take on how this can work, read A Review of the Re-Do of the To-Do List.

Again, the way we tend to frame this feels like an ultimatum: “I have to do this!” Reframing it (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped”) makes it possible to happen.

To put this into practice, think what your ideal outcome is. Perhaps it’s “win an award at a prestigious art show.”

What would have to happen before you win? “Create an astonishing new work of art.”

What has to happen before that? “Start working on a new body of work, then pick the best one in that series.”

Before that? “I need more canvases!”

Or maybe your steps go (in reverse order), “Be accepted into that show”, after “Apply for the show”, and beginning with “Get the prospectus for the show”.

Why do such simple little “first steps” help so much?

In a series of goal-achieving blog articles I wrote awhile back, I talked about “micro-steps”: Why does something as simple as putting on your work-out shoes increases your chances of actually going to the gym?

People: It’s science! Studies showed that even that tiny step of putting on our sneakers can increase the likelihood we’ll follow through with our intentions.

It’s back to that old saw: How do you eat an elephant?

One bite at a time.

For the person who is asking the questions, when you and the speaker get to this question, your job is to keep asking, “What has to happen before this step?” (“For the cloth to be woven, the loom must be warped.”)

And for the person who thinks they had to clean their entire studio to get weaving again, remind them: You only have to clear off the loom.

I don’t have to clean my studio (today.) I just have to clear a little space.

Stay tuned for next week’s next question! It’s a doozy! Bring your hankies!

Rethink on the Reboot

Sometimes a “major change” is simply many tiny changes in outlook.

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I have to admit, simply HOLDING something I’ve created is often enough to reconnect me.

For everyone who wrote me asking why I’m walking away from my art and writing, let me reassure you, I’m not!!!!!

am at what my dear hubby calls “an inflection point”. I’d never heard of that before, except as a math term. But one dictionary describes it as

  1. 1.
    MATHEMATICS
    a point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.
  2. 2.
    US
    (in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.

That’s what it feels like. A “change” is coming, but I don’t know what it is.

What I do know is, my story hasn’t changed.  I’m not done telling that story! And so my art itself, and my propensity for writing about my art (and what I’ve learned from making it), will not change.

I got lost in trying to pinpoint what was going to change. Stuck in trying to figure that out, because sitting with that has been hard.

Because when we choose not to move forward until we’re sure what that looks like, we lock ourselves into the present while fearing the future. (Perfectionism, thy name is “Luann”….!!)

I had fallen so low in my self-esteem in this flux state that I broke my own rule about giving away my work.

I don’t give my work away to people who expect it to be free, or those who demand I give it to them.

Such a simple rule, and I broke it. To the tune of agreeing to do free work worth thousands of dollars. And to be grateful to the person who said I should do it.

No worries, I walked it back! I’m only out $200, and I consider that a lesson I will never have to learn again. I hope!

I was in the middle of a health crisis (not life-threatening, but life-style threatening), a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, a state of living with uncertainty so long, I couldn’t see the gifts I already have: A home, a family, a loving partner, my health in general, the beauty of the California landscape and seascape, my studio, etc. I’ve been focusing on how close we are to losing many of these gifts, obsessed with security, and my struggle to control our future. (Ha!! Good luck with that, human!)

So I made a few more bad decisions.

But I also made some very, very good decisions.

Like reaching out to family, good friends, old friends, new friends, readers, supporters.

I reached out, and found people who listened, deeply.

I overcame my main worry, that I only reach out when I need help, others will  judge me on my own selfishness (“She only calls when she’s stuck!”)–and found they were genuinely happy to help. Not only that, I found everyone was going through similar stuff, themselves. And they welcomed my help/feedback/support! (“Reciprocity” is a word that’s been resonating with me lately, and I was delighted to engage in it.)

They walked me back from the next bad decisions I’d made. And although I’ve been in a deep funk about who I am, they’ve been holding the memory of who I am, when I’m at my best.

And even better, they shared how much they love and respect me even when I’m at my worst. 

Which gets me to where I am today: Tiny steps forward, and for the first time in months (many months!), holding a tiny bit of hope.

How I got there in a few hours yesterday is what I want to share with you today.

There’s an online class offered by Yale University, and anyone can take it if you can cough up $40. (And if you can’t, there are grants available!)

It’s called The Science of Well-Being, a class based on brain science and scientific evidence, developed and taught by Laurie Santos. It’s been in the news since the course wen’t online in March. It’s quickly become Yale’s most popular course.

The short story is, we don’t really know what we want. We don’t really know what will make us happy. And if we don’t understand what really will, or won’t, make us happy, then our pursuits in life won’t result in happiness.

The first video talked about “A ‘Good’ Job”. When you ask people what they want from a job, it’s often things like “a big salary” and “opportunities to advance”, and “prestige”, etc.

But it turns out those can be misleading goals that don’t necessarily make us happy in the long run. Yes, a livable income is important. But not at the expense of other goals that will actually improve how we feel about life. Like work that appeals to our strengths and values, work that challenges us in a good way, work that provides us opportunities to be “in the zone” or what is now called a “flow” state.

So how do we do that? How do we identify those unique strengths, our important values? How do we learn to nurture them those strengths and values? Because doing so will nurture us, will increase our sense of well-being and happiness.

This isn’t the old 90’s thing about “follow your bliss and the money will follow.” It’s more evidence-based, and doable. This class shows what works, and how to do it right.

After a few hours of work yesterday, I read something that gave me a glimmer of hope that I, too, can figure this out.

One evaluation survey showed that after taking the course, and implementing the (very simple) exercises, almost every student showed an average 30% increase in their sense of happiness.  That’s nice.

But what blew my socks off was this statistic:

On average, every single student also reported a 70% DECREASE in depression.

Think about that.

We all know there’s no such thing as “happy all the time”, or a life filled with constant joy. I think we all shy away from anything that promises that. After all, I’m following my passion in life, and I still struggle with insecurity, a sense of not-doing-it-right, not being able to even pay for my studio rent with my art, and not being able to pay for much of anything from my writing. (A friend was gob-smacked when I told her how little I am paid for my one paid writing gig. And that’s just “the new normal” for free-lance writers.)

So “being happier” was something I’m always a little suspicious of.

And I already know some of the more obvious, popluar goals, like “make more money”, won’t fix everything–especially if I sacrifice integrity and what makes my work powerful. I know fame and celebrity can be a shadow goal, and potentially a self-destructive pursuit.

But the promise I could be less unhappy? Significantly less unhappy?? Bring it on!

That tiny ray of hope, the realization that things really could be better, inside, with a shift in perspective, was enough to raise my spirits.

And the way that happens–aligning key character traits and values with my life mission–is already giving me a wee bit of clarity of what that “inflection point” might be.

As always, I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

And in the meantime, I hope you check out the course, especially if you are also struggling with what would really make you happy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #6: The First Question: “What is your greatest vision for your art?”

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

Start with the biggest dream you can imagine!

(6 minute read)

We’ve explored the potential need for an artist support group in your life. We’ve covered the purpose, the roles, the ground rules, and the privacy thing.

And now the rubber hits the road!

The speaker and the asker (because I’m tired of typing “questioner”) are present and ready, the scribe has pen poised and notebook ready, the audience is ready to listen. Here we go!

What is your greatest vision for your art?

I’m not going to kid you. This is a big question. Bigger than most of us can even manage our first time here. No worries! Start where you are, and we’ll go from there.

Pull out all the “dream big” platitudes you’ve ever heard to get going: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? What brings you joy? What is the measure of your success? What do you want to accomplish with your art? What is your greatest goal in life, with your art? What could your legacy be?

Sometimes these dreams are just in us, waiting for a chance to be called forth. When people are in this stage, not much encouragement is needed! It comes pouring out.

One person dreamed they were accepting an Academy Award for their groundbreaking documentary. One person envisioned creating ceremonial garments for spiritual ceremonies. One simply wanted an art space of their own. (More on this….)

Me? My first vision was to make small dolls and animals, tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand, for children, but also for grownups, from recycled materials. (My first artifacts were about a year away.) Something that would bring joy, and happiness. (Still true!) Something that gave comfort and encouraged resilience. (True, too.) Maybe something I could share and teach. (Found a different way to do that, too!)

I thought about how this made ME happy, and how much I wanted to keep doing it. I didn’t want to sit in a garrett (I love how “garret” is a miserable space that inherently suggests its use by an artist!) alone and unknown. I wanted my work to be out in the world, making others as happy as it did me.

It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” (From The Lorax.)

So, it was easy for me to talk about that, and how big that could become.

Other people? Maybe not so much.

Some people are swollen with self-doubt. They are filled with restrictions and conditions, with self-judgment and denial. And who they are may surprise you!

So, the spirit of answering this question, when it feels difficult, is to “act as if…”

Act “as if” you are already an artist. Make up a story about it! Add all the ingredients that would make your heart sing. Dream big. Pretend. Fake it ‘til you make it.

They’re making a movie about a famous, successful artist, and it’s a movie about YOU. Tell us about it!

After all, we aren’t asking you to “fake” being a brain surgeon, and then expecting you to go out and perform a surgery—which is where “fake it ‘til etc.” might prove dangerous to others. (And where it gets its bad rep re: inspiration.)

So gentle encouragement can help these folks through the question.

Strategies:

Give them time.

If they stop talking, refrain from jumping in right away. Simply wait. We are so NOT used to saying our truth, we are trained to see what others say.

So… sit with the silence.

If after a couple of minutes or so, there’s still no more story, then tell them we will sit with that for the rest of the 10 minutes. It’s their time! DON’T cut it short—leave it open.

It’s surprising how that’s often enough to encourage them to add more.

Give them a chance to get out of their own way.

From my artist friend/shrink/reader Susan Delphine Delaney, a professional in counseling/therapy. (She says she’s also been called “The Praying Shrink!)

“If you think the speaker is stuck, please assume that “the thing that lights up the world”, however you think of that, is PRESENT. Truth is, the speaker and the “light” are the two that need to commune. So, ask a question: “You seem to be stuck at x. What ideas do you have to get unstuck?” Then shut up and let the speaker and the light shine together. They will figure it out as you wrap them in your smile and your love.”

Susan also shares this with us: “When I lived at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery for six weeks, studying Spiritual Direction, the monks told us every day that when two people (or more) are problem-solving, the Holy Spirit is there. I used to light a votive when problem solving with my then-teen-aged daughter to remind me that the Spirit was there, helping us. A group could light a votive to help remember that a benevolent Force in the Universe is present to help.”

A benevolent Force is present…. I like that!

Frame it.

“What would that look like?” “Describe an especially satisfying day in this vision.”

Eating an Elephant/One-bite-at-a-time approach.

Do they seem overwhelmed? Encourage them to take smaller bites: “Okay… What does your studio space look like in this vision?” “What body of work are you working on in this vision?” 

Are they still stuck?

A very few people can be incredibly resistant. And a very, very few, in my experience, actually seem to relish the role of “You can’t make me dream big/be an artist/admit there’s hope!!” “You’re not the boss of me!”

“How do I know what I want? I have no idea! What does my studio look like?? I dunno, I should I know?! I don’t believe I can sell my work/exhibit/connect with others/have a vision! I just want to make my stuff and be left alone!”

I am a flawed person. I don’t have the time or patience for this.

I am NOT a trained professional therapist. I’m just a friend who’s been there, lost in the proverbial woods. Someone who learned a process that can work in powerful ways to help us move forward. Someone willing to share this, so others can, too.

I can’t help people whose only mechanism for engaging others is to constantly appeal for sympathy.

We all struggle with something. We all have wounds, burdens, losses, and hardships.

In spite of that, we also have the power of our choices. And if you’re reading this, I’m gonna assume you already identify, or want to identify as an artist. A creative force for good in the universe.

Don’t waste it!!

When someone gets into this mind frame, my first instinct is to think, “Man, I really messed this up!”

But my second thought is, “I can’t waste MY power!”

After all, they CHOSE this opportunity. They SAID they wanted more clarity, more direction. They AGREED to try this process, because they SAID they wanted their art biz to grow.

And here they are, wrapped up in being difficult and obstinate, wearing it with fierce pride. OY!!

They can still heal. But I can’t help them. They need that highly-trained professional. This is not the right place for them—yet.

And so, they don’t get invited back. 

Because the corollary to this question, the whole premise of this support group is this:

Protect your creative vision, your dreams.

Protect your creative space.

USE this particular sacred, creative, protected space to grow, as an artist. 

Don’t get pulled into “helping” people, especially those with the potential to be a “black hole”. We’re learning how to help ourselves. Stick with the people who “get that”.

Next week: The Second Question!