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.
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.”
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 horrificâ¦ “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
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
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.