WHAT ARE YOUR VALUES?

A simple yet extremely effective practice to ground yourself in your life’s purpose. I’m recuperate from yet-another surgery this summer (my 11th, and it’s my foot).  I’ve n…

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WHAT ARE YOUR VALUES?

A simple yet extremely effective practice to ground yourself in your life’s purpose.

I’m recuperate from yet-another surgery this summer (my 11th, and it’s my foot).  I’ve never had my tonsils out, and I still have my appendix. But apparently all my other body parts are either out of whack or get whacked a lot (Tae Kwon Do, Thai Kickboxing, etc.). OTOH, I once twisted my knee very badly chasing a chicken down our icy driveway in Keene, New Hampshire. So maybe it’s just a karma thing.

I’m past the pain and the exhaustion that follows surgery. But I’m still extremely restricted in my activities. No weight-bearing on my foot. No driving. (Which means I haven’t been to TJMaxx, or thrift-shop hopping, or flea marketing in a month. Cruel and unusual indeed.)

But I’ve been listening to more podcasts, watching more movies, and reading, reading, reading. I can’t remember the last time I got to read a book from cover to cover in a day. (Oh, wait, I do remember. My last knee surgery, two years ago!)

Today I found the PinkHairedMarketer, Sonia Simone. I love her business philosophy: Go where your heart follows, do what works for you, as long as you don’t lie, and you don’t hurt people. (More on that below.)

One podcast really grabbed me today. It’s called.A Quick, Enjoyable Way to Sharpen your Vision, Goals, and Values. In it, she talks about the kinds of stress that actually improves our life and our work. She talks about setting goals. And she stresses the importance of including our values when we create those goals.

Values are the things you care about–not necessarily the things you are good at. For example, you might care about family, and yet your family situation could be totally messed up. This snagged me, because in every way, issues around family are hounding me lately. But family is tremendously important to me, though I struggle with how to be a good parent, how to be a good daughter and sib, without compromising my own needs and outlook on life.

Values give meaning to our lives, and our endeavors. When we set goals, it’s important to consider our values. They play a huge part in the way we measure ‘success’. Because the toys and treats and the other signs of success that we usually define as ‘success’, if achieved at the cost of our values, will drain us. There are ways that even a quirky, multi-faceted art-and-writing business like mine could be amazingly profitable. But so far, I haven’t found a way to do that, that would not compromise my values. (Sooooo…..I’m doing something right!)

Sonia quotes often from Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress. (Bless her heart, she also recommended McGonigal’s TED Talk if you only have time for the quick take-away.)

Sonia made many observations I liked. But the big take-away for me is this:

“It turns out that writing about your values is the most effective psychological intervention ever studied.”

That’s right. Simply taking the time to write down your values–or even articulate your values to yourself, in your head–is the best way to align your goals, to create a vision for yourself, to feel more engaged and more purposeful in your life. Sonia says:

Connecting with your values, on the other hand, is easy and energizing. It’s refreshing. It helps you reframe things. And if the research holds true, it lasts a surprisingly long time.

It can just be a matter of writing out a few paragraphs about your values and why they matter to you. Just take a little time to remember what they are, and think about them with some richness for a little bit.

I would definitely recommend that you feel connected to your values — to the ideas that give meaning to your life — as you work with goals and vision. They’ll give you that “Why.”

See why I like this so much? Yep. The big “Why” there. My favorite tool is the word, “WHY?”

And so today, I start off this experiment by identifying, and writing about some of my values:

Family. Complicated. Not always full of love and respect. But I love my family, above (parents, aunts, uncles, grands), below (my kids), and sideways (my husband, my sibs.) Sometimes there has to be protective distance. But I always hold out the hope that things could be better.

Passion for my art. My artwork and my writing are both the work of my heart. They tell my story, all the way. My responsibility is to get it out into the world. Yes, I’d love some money to come of it all. But I will strive to do it even if nothing comes of it.

Compassion.  This can be hard, if I refuse to set aside my assumptions about other people, about how things work in the world. But I am determined to be open, and to listen. To really listen to people who have different experiences in the world than mine. To respect their stories.

Service. By volunteering, I step outside my comfort zone. I learn something new. I expand. I’m almost ready to explore such opportunities here in Santa Rosa. Something will call to me. Soon. And I’ve learned that when I’m called, I should go.

In fact, service is also why I write. I want to share what I’ve learned with anyone else who would benefit from it. I’ve looked at ways to better monetize my writing and teaching. But there are some steps I just can’t justify. And so you get a lot of it free, just by coming here. Or over there, at Bold Brush Fine Art Views newsletter.

Openness, and Authenticity. I am an imperfect human being. I didn’t get where I am today by pretending otherwise. I can’t fake it. When I fail, I’ve let you know. And then I pick myself up, and try to do better. If I can do it, you can do it. And if you can do it, well, maybe that will encourage me to try, too.

Growth. The by-product of all the above.

There are more, of course, but who wants to work with all 50 core values? Wait…you think I should??

I just realized that my artwork is a physical manifestation of my values.

What are some of your values?

And how do they relate to your personal, and professional goals?

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LEARNING TO FLY Part 3: What Rudyard Kipling Said

Learning to Fly Part 3: What Rudyard Kipling Said

by Luann Udell

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for Bold Brush Fine Art Views. 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.
Stay calm, stay focused, stay dedicated … and carry on.

In my first two article in this series, I introduced the concept of the checklist (NOT a to-do list, as many people read it, but periodic ‘checking-in’ with your goals, your creative process and marketing plan, to make sure they align and you haven’t dropped a ball); and the concept of a co-pilot (your support team.)

Today we’ll consider the next critical concept: What to do when things go horribly wrong.

In talking to several small plane pilots over the years, I’ve learned that most plane accidents (outside of terrorism and acts of God) are due to pilot error. A pilot may fly a big, flashy plane that ‘looks good’, but it’s over-powered or tricky to fly, in relation to the pilot’s skill level. Or they ignore bad weather conditions and other obvious dangers, in their over-confidence.

My friend Bob’s next story was about a small plane crash that made big headlines on the East coast in 1999. I’d read much about the weather conditions at the time, and made a judgment about the pilot. Researching this article, I see many others made the same assumptions, and judged harshly. But again, my friend corrected me.

“He actually did everything right,” he said. “The weather conditions were manageable, he was familiar with the route, he did the right things. He went into a spiral, and he’d been trained what to do. What threw him off when the plane began to spiral, his passengers panicked. In the audio tapes of the flight, you can hear them screaming in the background. And then, distracted, he panicked, too.That’s when he followed his instincts instead of his training-and crashed.”

Panic.

Most artists don’t have to figure ‘death by making art’ into their decisions, thank goodness! But how many of us have had those frantic moments-days–years-of snap judgments about our art careers?

“I finally got that solo show, and nobody bought anything!”

“I got into that prestigious gallery, and nothing is selling!”

“I created this whole new body of work, and nobody likes it!”“I’ve been working like a dog to market on Facebook and Instagram, and I don’t have any likes’!”

“I finally put up an online store, and nobody’s buying anything!”

“I (put your latest step forward here), and (insert the measure of success you didn’t meet)!”

Let’s get more general: “No one in this area appreciates fine art/fine craft!”

Let’s get even more horrific⦠“This world economy sucks!! No one buys art anymore!”

We do our best work, the work of our heart, and we still aren’t rich/famous/collected/published/whatever-your-measure-of-success-you’ve-set-for-yourself.

Even worse, we look around and see people who are successful. They make tons of money (or at least earn a living), they’re famous (they’re in the news all the time), they’re talented (they win all the awards), they’re good at marketing (their work appears in the best galleries and the best homes, etc.

It’s easy to assume they’re doing it right. Which means YOU must be doing it wrong.

And we panic.

We decide we’ll paint what so-and-so paints, or we’ll paint like so-and-so paints, we’ll try to get into the same galleries, use the same hashtags, we’ll write an artist statement just like theirs, we’ll dice and slice and chop up our process, and in the process, lose our vision, our way, our very creative self.

And that makes it even worse, because then we don’t even know who we are anymore.

When I consult with an artist about their artist statement, my first question to them is, “Why do you do what you do?” (And you already know, if they exclaim, “I just love color/light/landscapes/the interstices between the tensions generated from both explicit and implicit layers”, I know I’m gonna be holding some feet to the fire. Because these well-meaning people, people who were attracted to art, and make the art they make, have looked around them, been distracted by what others are doing, and have lost their way. They begin to question everything they do, and how they do it, trying to find out what they’re doing wrong.

And yet, when I push a little, many (if not most of them) are not painting just for the money, or for the fame. There is something in them that is unique, something that is precious and beautiful, extremely human and poignant, that represents who they are in the world.

I believe we make art because of this unique ‘us’, because we yearn to make a mark in the world, perhaps even something that will survive us when we’re gone.

Sometimes this results in success, especially if we can articulate what that ‘something is’, so that other people can connect with it. Sometimes it simply results in a new respect and gratitude for what we do, regardless of how others regard it. Sometimes it drives all our actions in the world, creating those damn ripples in the great lake that we can’t see, but have to believe in. (You know, the ones I’m always writing about.

And sometimes, it is simply the story we tell ourselves, so we can create meaning in a vast and overwhelming universe.

So when the panic and the self-doubt hit, take a moment. Or a day, or a week, or even a year. Contemplate. Reflect. Reach out to your support group, or your wise person in your life.

Cross-check for fear and doubt. Hold them up to the light of the fire inside you, and see what is revealed.

Your homework for the day (should you choose to accept itâ¦Hey, you’re a grown-up now! You get to say ‘no’!) is to reread Rudyard
Kipling’s rousing poem, “If”…. Which begins with

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too….

And ends with

“….Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it, And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!”

And for extra credit, reread Philip Larson’s controversial last line his beautiful poem, “An Arundel Tomb”….

“…The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.”

The sentiment is not simple. It means that, whether the tomb represented a true love store, or a medieval burial marker convention,what we see is love…

Because in our hearts, we want it to be true.

I have been with many people near the end of their life, and I never heard them talk about their fame or fortune, their achievements or their honors.

They talked about memories; loved ones (those gone before and those who will be left behind); sorrow; regret; gratitude; and forgiveness.

My advice to you, as an artist, and as an artist who may sometimes panic about your place in the world:

Simply do the best you can, as you can.

Create the work YOU care about, right now.

Do better, and be better, as possible. Leave as little as possible in regret.

And grow as much joy as you can, today, with your art.

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LEARNING TO FLY Part 2: Who Is Your Co-Pilot?

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.

Find the best people to support you in your art-making.

In my first article in this series, I introduced the checklist, the pre-flight assessment that ensures anything and everything about your airplane is in good working condition, doing what it should be doing.

I also mentioned that when there is a co-pilot, there is a process for checking in with each other—one person reads the list, the other verifies. Neither assumes the other has checked already. It’s all about check, cross-check, and verify.

Often, artists consider themselves a one-person business. We think up the ideas, we gain the skills to do our work, we make it, we market it, and we sell it. (Oh, and we wrap it and ship it, too.)

Sometimes we’re fortunate to have a partner or spouse, either one that actually helps us promote our career, or one that has a job with the steady paycheck and health insurance. Even so, it can often feel like a lone endeavor.

Your actual artist support system can be much bigger.

These are the people who offer solace when things get tough. The people who can look at your latest work, and give constructive criticism, feedback, and encouragement.

These are the people who verify and confirm your assumptions, and even challenge them when you’re slightly off-course. People who can hold your feet to the fire, if needed.

These are people who offer another set of eyes on your perceptions, your obstacles, your game plan, and your outlook.

One example: Years ago, I was in a small artist support group. We met monthly to share our latest work, we reported on our progress towards our stated goals, and brainstormed about obstacles we faced.

One member, whose goal was to break into book illustration, brought a rejection letter from a publishing house. After showing it to us, she said, “So I want advice on how to accept rejection and failure.”

Instead, she got an earful on her outlook, and her strategy.

One member said, “Look at the wording, it doesn’t say ‘no, never’. It just says, ‘no, not now, but maybe later’. Why is that a rejection? I say try again in six months!”

Another member noticed that the person who had written the rejection note was NOT the person the letter was addressed to—it was a totally different person in the department, not the actual person she’d been referred to by an author. Not even the traditional initials used by a boss dictating to a secretary. “It’s possible your work was never even seen by the person you wanted to contact!” she said. “Call them back and follow up.” (This was long before everyone had—and used—email.)

I asked how many publishers she was targeting. “Only the one”, the artist replied. “They’re the only one I’d consider working for!” Upon further questioning, it turned out this stance was only supported by her dreams as a youngster, to work for this specific publisher—though there were dozens, if not hundreds, of other companies available—including several local companies. “Why limit yourself, based on what might be faulty assumptions?” I asked. “Right now, working with a different publisher for now, would give you the experience you might need to work with this publisher! At the very least, you could add ‘professional/published illustrator’ to your resume!”

The artist, who had never thought to question her assumptions, agreed with all.

How do we choose our co-pilots?

Ideally, they are someone who has your back—they will tell you the truth. But it’s also crucial you can trust them with your he(art). Because we all know some people will be unnecessarily, even unfairly cruel, ‘for your own good’.

They are good listeners. Deep listeners. They will take the time to listen well.

They’ll call you on your stuff.  They will discern the gulf between what you say and what you do.  You say you need a new website, or artist statement, or time to create a new body of work. But what you do—what you actually use your time for, doesn’t jibe.  (This is where they make your feet hot.) They’ll remind you of the goals you set last week, and ask what progress you’ve made. (Yes, there may be good reasons why you didn’t, and you’d better have one.)

They may take over the controls when you need a break. When you are only thinking of the bad stuff, they will acknowledge that you may be in a hard place—good listeners, right? But they will also remind you of the good stuff. (Our brains have evolved to focus on the bad/sad/scary stuff. It’s good to be reminded of the things we overlook—that big sale last month, the new gallery that approached you, your growing mailing list.) They will help you put it into perspective.

They may have more experience than you. They’ve been on the road—er…in the sky–longer, they know there are updrafts and downdrafts, and how to handle both.

 They may simply have more information than you. It may be a fellow artist who’s also in that gallery you’re worried about, or that show promoter that seems a little ‘off’. They may reassure you everything is okay, or they may share information that confirms your suspicions.

They don’t necessarily have to be other artists, nor good friends, nor even people you ‘get along with’.

How do you recognize the good check-in/advice/feedback/confirmation from the bad? Your intuition. Your gut. If you feel worse after being with someone, chances are you’ve subconsciously recognized something that’s ‘off’. If it rings true, if it restores you to yourself, if you simply feel better, it’s probably sound. Even better if you find that afterwards, you usually walk away with a good insight, a better way of thinking about something, hopefully, even a plan of action.

They may simply surprise you. I have a family member who, over the years, has been quite critical of my choices. But once, when I sighed about not being accepted into an acclaimed show, she practically channeled Martha Graham’s wise words to me. “Your art is not for you to judge!” she said. “It’s only your job to make it and get it out there. Leave it for others to judge.”

I almost dropped my teeth, but I recognized the truth of what she was saying. This is not the person I turn to again and again, but I love her for this time when she was spot-on. Use the same discernment when listening to difficult people.

There are friends you can lend money to, friends you can ask for money. There are friends who you can hang out with anytime, and friends you can call in the middle of the night. There are artists who always ‘feel sad about their art.’ (Avoid these, please.) And there are artists who raise us all with the rising tide of their wisdom and encouragement.

Seek out a select few who have the life wisdom, the integrity, the insight you need, to ensure you fly high.

So in your art career, who is your co-pilot?

And how do you support your artist friends?

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LEARNING TO FLY Part 1: The Checklist

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.

Managing your career as an artist is much like flying an airplane.
Recently we met up with a friend, a professional photographer, who’s been flying airplanes for years. Almost all his life, in fact. Of course, I asked him my go-to question whenever I meet pilots: I asked him about the backstory of a recent local airplane crash.
Turns out almost all small plane crashes are directly due to pilot error.  This set off a fascinating, dynamic course in what’s involved in flying a small plane, the mechanics of flying, the skillset—and the mindset—necessary to fly, and survive.
Anyone can fly!” Bob exclaimed. “When things are going well, when you have good weather, a well-maintained plane, anyone can fly a plane. It’s when things go horribly wrong that determines life or death.” (Note: Few people die when their art careers go horribly wrong, so that’s the one thing we DON’T have in common with pilots.) He went on to list the incredible amount of human error that is the root cause of most small plane crashes.
Turns out that flying a plane, and managing your career as an artist, have lots in common. Similar skills, similar guidelines. Who knew?! And like a plane, when things are going well with your art career—your audience is growing steadily, your sales are strong, your resume is impressive, and your enthusiasm is at its peak—it’s easy to ignore your checklist. “I’ve got it all figured out!” you think. “I’ve paid my dues, and this is my reward!”
But like an airplane, our lives can go from running smoothly to ‘unpleasant surprise’ in months, weeks, days—even hours. And like a recession, when things get super hard in our lives, art and art-making can be the first thing we drop. (“It’s a luxury, right?”)
So let’s start today with the first line of safety in flying—in a plane, or in your art. And let’s assume things are going well today:
The checklist: The very first thing a flight instructor teaches a new student is to complete the pre-flight checklist. This is a visual confirmation that every single item/instrument/safety feature/aspect of the airplane is in its place and doing what it should. This exercise consists of three steps:
1) Reading (or hearing, if there are two of you) the checklist item. You read each item on the list every time, before you ever, ever, get off the ground. Every. Single. Time.
2) Accomplishing the item—verifying the correct setting, executing of the checklist tasks.
3) Responding to the outcome of the action performed: The switch is turned on (or off), the instrument is looked at and the information verified, etc.
This is a constant process of checking and cross-checking, checking and verifying results, and constantly checking in with the other person verbally.
There is a visual check you do of the airplane itself, before you even get in. You do another check in the cabin, before you start the engine, of every single instrument. The ones that should be on, are on. The ones that should be off, are off. There is a checklist after you start the engine, to make sure everything is working the way it should be.
After landing, no matter how soon you go up again, you do the whole thing all over again. Every. Single. Time.
Tedious? Yes. Repetitious? Oh, gosh, yes. Tempted to skip it? Well, in your art career, you may not die from the crash, but it can do a number on your spirit, your enthusiasm, your dedication to your art.
Your checklist can be very basic: Did you get a good night’s sleep? Did you have breakfast? Did you get outside? Go for a walk? Did you hug your kids/your partner/your dog?
Your checklist can be very simple: Get to your studio every day (or whatever is manageable for you, of course.) Get your hands dirty in your studio every time: Make something, anything that gets you to your happy artist place. Is your workspace ready for you to work? Or do you have to clear a surface (or two, or twenty?) Did you order that widget/supply/tool you need to try that new thing you’re interested in?
Your checklist can be more assertive: Maybe it’s managing your venues. Have you checked in with that gallery lately, the one that’s carrying your work? (Oops… gotta put that on MY checklist!) Have you kept track of the ones that are doing well, and figured out what’s going on with the ones that aren’t? Have you researched that new art fair you’ve been invited to?
Your checklist can grow with the times: Is your website up to date? Do you try to post new work regularly? Have you been diligent about adding new email addresses to your newsletter list? Have you checked out Instagram? (It’s easier to use than I thought, and fun!)
Your checklist can be very personal: Are you still excited about the work you’re making? Have you been true to your own, unique vision? Or have you been distracted by someone who seems to be having more success with their style? Does your artist statement sound like everyone else’s in the room? Or does it give your audience an authentic insight at what makes you tick?
Even as I write this, I can see the advantage in a checklist. I’m good at writing things down, but terrible at keeping them in a place I can easily find them again. (Guess how long it took me to figure out which notebook I’d written the original notes of my conversation with Bob?) So on my checklist for today, I’m putting “Create a checklist!”
Next time we’ll explore the cross-check, and the importance of your support network. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what’s going on YOUR checklist!

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CUTE SHIRT!: What to Say When You Don’t Like the Work

My latest column at Fine Art Views–enjoy!

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.

Kindness—and the benefit of the doubt—goes a long way with your peers and in your career.

In my last article, I wrote about respecting other people’s artwork, even if it’s not my thing. What if the person asks for your opinion? What do you say??

Let’s go back a few years… okay, a few decades. I’m a new mom, and my only friends are other new moms. (Most people run the other way when confronted with a frantic new mother and a crying baby. Hence, most of your friends will be other frantic new mothers and their crying babies.) I was in such a group.
Every new parent believes they’re baby is beautiful. No, not just beautiful—the most beautiful baby in the world.  And we know the right thing to say to other parents: “What a beautiful baby!”

That day, we were discussing what to say when presented with an absolutely ugly baby.

The responses ranged from, “Now that’s a baby!!” with a big smile, to “Cute shirt!” What we all agreed on was, you never say what you’re really thinking. That would be hurtful, and serves no one.
After all, we hope every baby is a wanted child, that every child is loved, and that every child, no matter what they look like, is a new human being in the world, with all that entails.  Besides, people come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and abilities—why on earth would we judge a baby by those criteria? No. We simply know that babies have a place in the world, to be their own person.
When it comes to the things people make (er…that aren’t babies, that is), it’s a whole nother kettle of fish.
Entire websites and books (regretfully, Regretsy.com, the truly wonderful curated collection of truly awful stuff on Etsy, is no longer active) generate plenty of caustic reactions to really bad art. Read a review of any movie in The New Yorker magazine that was made after 1956, and you wonder why anyone even bothers to make movies at all, so much so seriously wrong with them. Walk any art fair, flea market, online site, and marvel at the amount of bad art in the world.  It will instantly make you feel so much better about your own.
We can behave like old ffff…folks, and complain how young people ‘just don’t appreciate good art anymore’, or how kids today ‘aren’t taught anything about fine craft anymore’ (as if we ever were!)
And critiques are a long-standing practice of traditional art education. How can we know how to improve our art, if no one points out our weakness in our composition, the flaws in our technique, the naivete of our color palette?
That’s our lizard brain talking—our need to judge, our need to discover where we fit in, in the overall range of art from very, very good to oh-my-god-what-were-they-thinking?? And though critiques can be hugely powerful in improving an artist’s skills, we’ll never know how many ‘good-enough’ artists—or simply artists with more sensitive natures—have been devastated by unnecessarily-brutal art bashing in out-of-control critique sessions, to the point where they really were convinced they were not, and could never be, ‘real artists’.
Yes, good art stands the test of time. We all know it when we see it, right?  But so often, what we consider ‘great art’ was considered gauche, disturbing, or otherwise unpopular when they were originally created, and it could take centuries before opinion changed.
‘Outsider’ art, so-called ‘primitive’ art, ‘intuitive’ and ‘visionary’ art, folk art, Art Brut, naïve art, all were considered simply ‘really bad art’, until somewhere along the line, someone saw something deeper, more powerful, more engaging.
As for the teaching power of critiques, I believe there’s a difference between an opinion that’s offered (or forced on someone), and an opinion that’s asked for. There’s a difference between constructive criticism, and scathing sarcasm. There’s a difference between being wishy-washy, vs. offering good insights into how the artist can increase their appeal, and generating a stronger audience for their work.
Here’s my current situation: I’m newly exposed to artists who are self-trained, young artists who are fearless in the work they produce, artists who are inspired by very different memes and themes than the traditional landscapes and still lifes of my art history training. Video game characters, graphic novel illustrations, comic book heroes, internet memes, steampunk, Goth, the ‘maker’ movement, all contribute to a vibrant, design-driven, eclectic stream of work that simply boggles the mind that usually considers ‘traditional art’ the only ‘real art’. It’s tempting to reject it out-of-hand as immature, Day-Glo bright, or just plain weird.
But when I look at the people who make it, I see something else.  I see the same intense desire for self-expression, the same need to make something, the same dedication to practice, to growth, to connection with an audience, as I do.
So what’s the equivalent of “Cute shirt!” in our modern world today?
One suggestion: Find three things you like. And go from there. I got this idea years ago, from an article about home décor. It said, when looking at magazine spreads of beautiful homes, it’s easy to focus only on the decorating styles you love. But even styles you’re not fond of, can help you train your eye, and increase your design repertoire. Look for three elements you like: a color combination, a texture, a window treatment, a backsplash, or light fixture. Consider why they appeal to you, even in a layout that doesn’t.
It’s good advice. It helps me expand my sources of inspiration, and have new appreciation for different experiences, even in appreciating someone else’s artwork.
If I’m watching someone work, I notice how deft they are with their materials and tools. If I’ve been watching their work over time, I notice how their techniques become more sure, more polished. I note their use of color, textures, design, composition.
I ask about their motivation, their inspiration. I ask who their audience is. I ask what venues they use to show and promote their work. I ask what their professional goals are.
When they go through a rough patch—lots of likes on Facebook, but few sales—I ask how they’re attracting people to their website, their studio, their shows.
If I’m talking to someone working in more traditional media, working with more traditional subjects, I ask similar questions. Why do they focus on this subject over those? How did they end up choosing their particular medium? How did they get started? Where are they headed, and where would they like to be?
All of these focus on the intention, the dreams, the goals of the artist. If these align with the manifestation of their art, well, then, they are successful artists!
A last suggestion: If you sense that your feedback would be appreciated, frame it for easy listening. “I love this, and I’m intrigued by that. You have skills with x, y, and z. What you could do better is…” and then offer your suggestions.
There you have it. It’s not hard to be kind, and people might actually absorb more of your excellent advice if you are.

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MY THREE CATS and the Real Artist

I may not like your art, but I celebrate the fact that it means so much to you, that you have a voice, a vision, and that you chose to share it with the world.

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for Fine Art Views. 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.

I have three cats. One I’ve had for over a decade, the other two are very new. (And coincidentally, both are black and roughly the same age.)

Old Kitty is affable, gets along with the dogs, moves like a raccoon, and does not adjust well to other cats. If I laugh out loud at something she does, she does it again. She hates to be held, but loves to be petted. She prefers floor toys to “air” toys.

Middle Kitty is also affable, and also gets along with the dogs. She gets along well with other cats. She will tolerate being held, but hates to be petted. She loves air toys, and is extremely athletic. She, too, is very funny to watch, but doesn’t seem to repeat when she hears me laughing.

New Kitty is anxious. She’s afraid of the dogs, she’s afraid of the other cats, she’s afraid of sudden moves and loud noises. But she is fearless about moving from her ‘safe’ place in our basement up into the living areas of our home. She’s determined to become a part of our household. She loves being held, and loves to be petted. We took her in off the streets, and she is only just now learning to play. She’s not very funny to watch.

Which one is the best cat?

Huh?

Why on earth would I rate my cats? After all, animal lovers know that our pets are as unique as people are. They have their good points and their annoying habits. They vary in the degree of affection they demand and give. And the value they add to our lives is impossible to quantify. Yes, we can live without pets in our lives, but if you love animals, you know life is richer for their presence.

(If you don’t care for animals, substitute ‘children’. Or ‘friends’. I was going to say ‘or spouses’ but I’m not going there.)

Why, then, do we so easily discuss artists in terms of who’s good, better, best?

I do it. You do it. We all do it. We’re competitive by nature, and our human culture stresses that competition.

Who’s the best student in the class? Who draws the best horses? Who won that race? Which baseball team won the World Series last year? Who makes the most money, and who’s the smartest person in the room? (Notice I am deliberately not including politics.) (Oops!)

And yet, it’s also human nature to embrace individuality, and inclusiveness. We strive to help those who have less than we do. We try to create a level playing field for people who live with disabilities so they can thrive. We applaud those who fight for the underdog, the underserved, the overlooked, those who are ignored ridiculed, or even attacked for being different in any way.

And yet we are so quick to judge the work of other artists, and even our own.

We argue about the difference between what is art and what is craft. Some people believe any work of 2D art is worth more than the finest example of handcraft. We talk endlessly about what a ‘real artist’ is. We even create levels of respect for the medium we work with: Oil is ‘better’ than acrylic, acrylic is ‘more respected’ than watercolor, anything is better than colored pencil or sketching, and this is often reflected in the price people are willing to pay for these categories. Consider a clay sculpture that is then used to create a mold for a bronze sculpture. Which will call for the higher value—the original clay piece? Or the cast item that can be made into multiples?

Who’s the most skilled? That’s a can of worms. Next!

Who’s the most famous? Who sells the most? Shaky ground. You may be a ‘successful’ artist (and we’ve had many discussions on exactly what that really means, you may be in all the fine galleries and in all the art books and magazines. But put ten people in a room, ask them who is the best artist out there right now, and I can almost guarantee there will be at least one person who disagrees).

Years ago, I participated in a workshop called “The Picasso Principle”. The instructor examined Picasso’s undisputed fame, yet listed many artists who are historically considered ‘better’ than Picasso at drawing, composition, color, painting, etc. But no one was better than him at marketing. And so today you can ask any person on the street to name an artist in history, and most will say “Picasso!”—even if they cannot name a single work by him.

Yes, there are standards and measures of technique. There are competitions, there are honors awarded, there are noted ‘masters’ throughout art history. (Though again, I will also point out that entire genders, race, and countries were systematically left out of the so-called definitive textbooks of art history.)

And yet all of this is based on opinion, personal, professional, and historical.

I bring this up because of several conversations I had recently with other artists. In one, someone mentioned a gallery run by two artists. “Now, Joe Blow is a good artist!” they said. And pointedly did not mention the other.

In another group conversation, a fellow artist walking by, and I jokingly said to the others, “Now there’s a real artist!” A person took it personally, and reacted badly. Lesson learned. (My jokes are bad.)

The last was a discussion about artists who have been in a guild a long, long, long time. “Their work is stale, and some haven’t even created new work in years!” one person exclaimed. “They shouldn’t be included anymore!” I disagreed. It costs us nothing to include them, they contribute to the demographics and our finances, they have their following, and their body of work. Who knows why they aren’t making new work? Health issues? Financial problems? I would hate to have anyone judge me based on my occasional fallow periods. “If they were good enough to get in, they should be allowed to stay until they decide to leave. If and when they try to re-jury back in, then we can judge.” And the others agreed.

It all boils down to this:

I may not like you, and/or I may not like your art. I may not like your medium, or your process. You may not meet the standards of whatever group you’re trying to join; they may be wrong, or they may be right. You may be ‘successful’, or you may feel like you’re not doing it right.

But if you are doing your best to make your art
If you have something to say with your art, even if it’s only ‘look what I made!”
If you have a vision of the world, and you share that
If your work connects emotionally, spiritually, metaphysically with others, even one person (notice I did not say ‘physically’ unless your medium is glue.)
If you strive, as you can, to make it better, to improve your skills, your marketing, your relationships with your audience
If all you do is make the world a better place for even one person

Then you, and your art, have a place in the world.

And you are a ‘good enough’ artist for me.

chai mouse

Old kitty, aka Chai

noddy and nick

Middle kitty, aka Noddy, Naughty, and Nutty

bean 2

New kitty, aka Bean. Yes, I can tell them apart, but our dogs can’t.

 

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Filed under Fine Art Views, What is the story only you can tell?