Because I forgot to post the link to last week’s article you get a two-fer today!
Have a wonderful weekend!
Because I forgot to post the link to last week’s article you get a two-fer today!
Have a wonderful weekend!
(N.B. I’ve been blogging about the business and spiritual side of art since 2003. Unfortunately, when I switched my website to another host, all the links to those articles (almost 500) were “lost”, invisible to internet search.
It’s been a slow, painstaking journey to reset those urls. And so today, I’m republishing on of the most important ones I’ve ever written: THE HARDEST QUESTION
I promise to find and republish that process, because it MUST be done with love, support, and respect.)
This post was originally published on July 31, 2006.
A reader’s comments on yesterday’s blog, on the process of getting to the “why” of our work, got me thinking.
Here’s a tip I’ve learned from doing active listening exercises I don’t think I’ve shared in my blog.
When a question makes you angry, go there.
I don’t mean the offensive or hurtful questions that come from people who are out to get you. I mean the questions someone asks you out of innocence, out of interest, out of caring or out of any positive place.
If those questions make you uneasy, or irritable, or downright angry, take a step back–and ask yourself, “Why?”
Because that anger, or anxiousness, means we’re getting close to something important.
Let me backtrack and explain.
I occasionally do active listening exercises with people I think would really appreciate and USE the experience. I learned the technique from one of my mentors, fiber artist and workshop leader Deborah Kruger. You can see Deborah’s work here, though as of today, it’s in the process of being revised: http://www.deborahkruger.com/
Deborah trains artists how to find and create support groups for each other. The formal structure of the support is offered through four questions that each person gets asked, one by one:
What is the greatest vision for your art?
What is your next step?
Where does it get hard?
What support do you need?
They seem like simple little questions. But I watch people struggle mightily with them. Sometimes one of the questions brings them to tears. Other times, one will make them angry.
I’ve learned, as a listener, to follow the tears AND the anger. Because sadness and anger are often what we use to protect our core. And often, the very answers we need are at our core.
Now you see why I only offer to do this with people I care about! It’s hard for me to deal with other people’s anger or defensiveness. I have to feel the process is going to be worth the crummy part.
I’m going to do a bait-and-switch today. I realize each of these four questions is an entire column’s thoughts. So I’m going back to the question I talked about yesterday:
Why do you make this work?
Why do you do it the way you do?
Why do you use THESE tools, THIS technique?
Why is it important to you???
When I am really interested or really care about someone or their work, I want to know the “why” of it. And if I don’t get that answer, if I’m determined enough, or care enough, I will keep asking it til I do.
And often people get angry. But if they are people who “get it”, I find they’re usually amazed and grateful later.
Because “WHY?” gets at the heart, the core, of everything we’re about as artists.
That can be a scary, uncharted place to go. Especially if we’ve never dared go there before.
But go there we must, if we are to create the strong emotional connection between our artwork and our audience. Articulating OUR connection facilitates our AUDIENCE’s connection.
Look, a jillion people on this planet have the technical skill and wherewithal to do whatever we artists and craftspeople do. The massive manufacturing industry in China churning out cheap replicas of our work proves that. There’s a thriving market for this stuff, too, and almost all of us are guilty of supporting it. We all love a bargain, especially for something that’s “good enough”.
But when your work speaks deeply to someone, when it is so beautiful or profound or meaningful or wonderful they just HAVE TO HAVE IT, that’s when price is almost no object. (Hint: It often helps to offer layaway!)
If you don’t have the foundation for that connection—if you don’t really know yourself WHY it has the effect it does—then you may be missing opportunities to create that connection.
I know many people might disagree with this. We can love a song without knowing anything about its creator, we can enjoy a meal without knowing how it was prepared, we can buy artwork without understanding anything about the artist.
But when you learn that Beethoven created some of his most powerful work even when he could not hear it, you may pay attention a little more to his music.
When you learn that Renoir’s final paintings were made with brushes strapped to his hands, because he was so crippled with arthritis he could no hold a brush, the soft blurry edges of his later nudes take on new poignancy.
When an artist tells you the story that generates their “ethereal, abstract” work, and that story is about the loneliness of a child who finds solace and control in during airplane flights–where all the confusion fades away and only serene landscapes and cloudscapes are left–the work now speaks to you in thundering whispers.
Because the “why” informs us more than the “how” ever will. An intellectual exercise is just that–from the head. An emotional leap into the abyss is from the heart.
The “why” is not an easy place to get to. And yes, it will morph and change as we let go of one “why” and pick up another. And it will change as life picks US up and drops us in another place.
But our job as artists goes far, far beyond achieving technical skill and mastery of our processes.
Our job is to look at the “why’s” in our life, to bring the questions—and—the answers—into visible or audible form. So that others can see it and feel it and connect with it in ways that enrich THEIR lives.
So get a trusted friend or supporter to play the “why” game with you. They start asking you the “why” questions. They have your permission to be persistent. They have your permission not to accept facile answers or technical jargon. If they feel you are deflecting, they have permission to persevere.
If it gets too heavy, or you get angry, that’s okay. Step back and take a break.
If you find yourself wondering WHY it got heavy, or WHY you got angry, well, now you’re getting somewhere.
Remember, you will know you’ve found your “why” when you feel the tears. Because whatever makes you cry, that’s where your heart is.
P.S. Again: If you believe this would be of service for you, or a friend, please act with love, kindness, and respect. ASK FOR PERMISSION to do this exercise, do it with others who have the same supportive mindset. Remember that we all have our deep inner truth we want others to respect, and accept. LISTEN to THEIR deep inner truth. It’s not for us to tell. It’s for THEM to discover.)
This post was originally published May 30, 2004, on a now-defunct blog-hosting site. This slightly edited version is dedicated to Rhonda K. Hageman, who read it when it first appeared on DurableGoods/Radio Userland. Thank you, Rhonda!!
Still timely. So enjoy!
A topic came up this week on a small private e-mail list I host. The list started as a way for artists to learn how to get their work in front of a larger audience than friends and family, by exploring ways to sell, publish and exhibit their artwork.
Some have found the process daunting. Perhaps they had difficulties selling their work as it was, then started producing work they thought would sell better. Or well-meaning people made discouraging remarks or suggestions that just didn’t feel right.
I’ve never advocated making anything just because you think it will sell. I realized from the get-go that this process will whisk you away from your core vision (making the work that is in you and pleases you) and sends you scuttling down the path of trying to please others. No can do, says this girl.
The thing is, so many times, when I hear artists have decided not to explore ways to sell their work, it’s for all the wrong reasons. They don’t get enough money, they find the quality of the work degenerates, the sales are disappointing, and the whole process doesn’t make them feel very good, nor creative, nor successful.
Part of the reason this happens is we misunderstand what selling our art can really mean. In fact, many people associate “selling art” as “selling out”.
I have found the complete opposite is true when I sell my work.
I make the most beautiful work I can envision. Someone else appreciates the work I have made. I tell them the story behind the work. A connection is made. An exchange is made—usually their money for my work (or, if you prefer, the fruit of their labor for the fruit of my labor.) Hopefully, both parties are pleased with the transaction.
That’s all. That’s it. That’s what selling my art means to me. No value judgments, no demeaning transactions, no loss of my artistic vision, no selling out.
Lately, though, I’ve come to see another dimension, just as rich (no pun intended) to this transaction. ..
And that is the power my art has on others even after the sales transaction.
The last few weeks I’ve received half a dozen e-mails, postcards and letters from people who have bought my work, or seen it in a magazine, or read what I wrote on 9/11.
Apparently, the impact of my work on their lives has continued long after I sold them the piece.
One woman wrote to tell me how much she enjoys looking at her wall hanging every day when she works at her computer. Another wrote to say how much she loved hers—and that it even inspired her to revisit her own interest in fiber art. She is now creating her own unique pieces, revitalized by our discussion on art and life and my passion for my work. She now appreciates my handwork even more, if that is possible, she wrote. (You can see this incredible letter from Kathleen Faraone here.) (N.B. I had forgotten all about this, until I found it just now–April 20, 2018! Kathleen, wherever you are now, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your powerful words!)
And that is the magic of selling/exhibiting/publishing your work. Not just the excitement of being able to generate some cash flow, perhaps even a livable income (which is pretty darned exciting!) But seeing how what you create working from your heart, seeing it start its own journey of inspiring hope, creativity, and passion in others.
That is something I did not expect when I started my journey of making my art accessible to a larger audience. It is something I could not predict nor control. It’s just another affirmation that I am doing the right thing and on my true path.
So before you sell yourself—and your art—short (or decide not to sell at all), consider this: Selling your art can be a good thing. A very good thing.
It is a process, and sometimes a long process. As the saying goes, “It took me twenty years to become an overnight success!” Most small business consultants say it takes at least five years for a business to get established. Most people only plan for a year or two at most. Many artists give up after one bad show or one dismal gallery experience.
The secret to success with your art?
Stay with it.
Keep on making the work you are passionate about. Then look for its market.
Ask for help, but don’t assume what someone else says about your work is automatically true. Experiment. Adjust. Tweak. Sometimes small changes in format, size or presentation can make huge differences. But these need not be fundamental changes in what your art is. You should still be able to work with total commitment to your inner voice.
In fact, most of the time, when I see an artist or craftsperson who is not having much success, it’s because they’ve “dumbed down” their work, made it more cheaply, made it more mundane. They doubt their ability to astonish, so they set their sights lower. They end up aiming too low.
Make your best work. Make sure as many people as possible see it.
Then you will never have to worry about “selling out.”
Because your heart and soul are not for sale.
They can only be given, with love and joy.
When you try to do everything, nothing gets done.
(5 min. read) (Quote from the movie AMADEUS)
Thin people limit their options.
This strategy is to avoid eating for excitement and stimulation. The less variety in our diet, the sooner we are sated. More variety, more eating. (Again, with moderation–no one can live forever eating Rice Krispies, bananas and walnuts.)
This concept of limiting our options may seem to contradict Thin Secrets for Success No. 6: Thin People Enjoy Their Food. That principle involves eating foods you enjoy, eating slowly to truly savor each bite and learning to love the foods that are healthy choices.
This is about when you’re full of salad, but you could still go for a piece of cake. Don’t go there, girlfriend. (Er…LUANN!)
For our purposes (i.e., how to healthify our art and craft biz) (Yes, I made that word up!), it’s a remedy for dissipating your creative energy by taking on too many creative outlets and options. We can choose to conserve our creative energy by focusing on a select few goals at a time.
Boy, this tip has got to be the hardest one for artists. We’re creative, dammit! We see the creative potential in everything, and we’re excited by it. We want to do it all, and do it all ourselves. What’s wrong with that?!
Well, just that. If everything has creative potential, and everythingdemands–and gets–our full creative attention and energy, how will any one thing ever get the focus it needs to rise to the top?
And how will you–one person–handle it all?
Even then, it’s not necessarily a bad thing-unless it constantly gets in the way of us moving ahead and achieving our goals. Then we must understand it’s not working for us. Then we can make different choices.
Here are some ways creative people overload and overreach themselves:
The first example is the craftsperson who simply does too many crafts. They do a little knitting, they do a little sewing. They make jewelry. They make polymer clay buttons. They also like to cross-stitch and make dolls. And they want to sell their work, and make some money.
What do you tell this person?
How do I know?
That person was me.
I LOVE knitting kids’ sweaters and making tiny dolls. But I no longer have any desire to make them for anyone but grandchildren. (If and when I have grandchildren!)
I was lucky. I found a way to combine many of my interests (embroidery, polymer clay, sewing, and dyeing) to create an entirely new “thing”. The different media add interest, but each is subordinate to a cohesive body of work. That gestalt thing.
But the very first thing I had to do was focus on telling the story that would pull it all together, a story that enabled me to create a cohesive body of work.
Not everyone can do this with their interests–and you may not need to if you don’t need to make money or don’t care about a national reputation yet–but it’s a solution.
Artists–especially new artists–have a hard time narrowing down their creative bent to a few strong choices.
At some point, if we’re lucky, we realize that mastering one medium, or subject matter (portraits instead landscapes, collages, still lifes, and drawings) looks much more professional than a booth filled with “a little bit of this, a little bit of that”. That’s all the insight we need to cull our product lines and bring a new coherence to our display.
But sometimes, even if we see why we should do it, it’s hard for us to figure out how.
Start with a few questions:
Which of these do you like best?
It’s amazing how people hate to admit this. It feels like choosing your favorite child. Trust me, the other media you don’t choose, for now? Their feelings will not be hurt.
Which of these are you best at?
If your heart lies in jewelry-making, but you’re creating mediocre work, or work that is not distinctive, or work that is easily copied, you’re going to have to really dig deep to turn that around.
Which of these do you feel is the most distinctive and unique?
Often there’s something that stands out. It’s unusual, it’s quirky, it’s…distinctively you. And with a little more energy, refinement, and focus, it could be your “big thing.”
Sometimes the person likes them all, but it turns out what they really love is teaching. In which case, they only need to make and sell stuff enough to improve their skills and establish themselves as a working artist. Their real energy will go into marketing themselves as a teacher: Teaching classes, demonstrating, even selling downloadable tutorials online are ways to create an income stream without actually making painting or other art-making your full-time activity.
One artist offers dozens of tutorials on polymer clay, from beginner level to expert. She also experiments to find which clays are the strongest, which are best suited for specific uses, which are the most transparent. Then she shares that information with her audience. She excels at the testing/comparison process, and she has saved me hours of doing my own research.
All of this encourages people to purchase and download her tutorials, and that’s how she makes a passive income from her art.
But the most important question is this one:
What do you want to achieve out of all this?
If you’re having fun doing a little bit of everything, and it’s working for you, and you don’t need to get any” bigger”, then “not focusing” is fine.
If you are just figuring out what it is that calls to you, then take time to experiment and to explore, take classes, and play!
If you don’t really care about a career, if money would be nice but isn’t critical, it’s perfectly okay to stay in this stage, until you want to do it differently.
The minute you find you want to go somewhere, and all this baggage is not going to fit in the car, that’s when “focus” will help us through.
This “Thin Secret #9 Part Deux” will be continued next week, so stay tuned. We’ll look at other ways artists lose their way with too many options.
Have you ever gotten lost in the woods, trying to take on too many goals at once? Are you still in those woods? Or did you find your way out? Share in your comments and solutions. Your words may be just what someone needs to hear today!
When a tiny shift in your point-of-view makes a world of difference….
(4 min. read)
So yesterday was one of those days where nothing really went well.
First, I realized I’d missed going to the gym. I didn’t want to feel guilty, but I did. I’m really trying for three days a week, and I hated to miss a day my third week in. Dang!
I’m working on a commission order, a jewelry item that might appeal to a niche audience. Another artist suggested. It was not a hugely out-of-the-box thing, but the composition, the findings, how it works, all are new to me. I’d start down one path, check in with Mike, and regroup. Everything I assumed, was wrong. Argh!
Special orders and commissions make me nervous. It’s fine when someone sees something in my studio and loves it. Trying to make something and HOPING they’ll love it is a whole nother thing.
I’m participating in a wonderful show (with a tiny preview this Friday at Suzanne Edminster’s Saltworks Studio at Backstreet Gallery).
We were supposed to deliver a wall piece on Wednesday for this mini-preview. (As you can see, the show doesn’t “officially” open until the First Friday in May.)
I picked a piece that wasn’t really my best work, but it filled the definition of “wall piece”, a framed fiber fragment. I need to tweak it, though, and I really should reframe it. But I didn’t have time, and thought it would be okay.
I walked down to the studio at the agreed-upon hour and NOBODY WAS THERE. I knocked, I called two people, I snarked and barked, and grumbled all the way back to my studio.
And here’s the kicker, in case you hadn’t already guessed…..
It wasn’t Wednesday, gym day, delivery day.
It was Tuesday.
I called and emailed everyone to apologize re: the delivery issue. (I didn’t snark AT them, thank goodness, but I’d been THINKING snark. Gotta own that.)
So here I am, the REAL Wednesday.
I went to the gym.
I set aside the wall piece that was “good enough” and selected another piece, a wall-hung shrine, that I’m happier with. I made a few tweaks that made it even more powerful, and took them both for Suzanne to choose from. She agreed the shrine is the stronger piece, and she’s happy to have it.
Special orders? Yeah, they’re crazy-making. Still, I realize I need a challenge from time to time, to step outside my comfort zone. And half the time, something wonderfully new comes from that. I looked at my two “perfect” prototypes and realized there were some other options I could try. I ended up with five. I’m still not sure I’ve got it “right”, but at least he’ll have enough options to try, and give me good feedback on the prototypes….I hope!
I had a spare 40 minutes, and realized that was just enough time to sort, price, and photo a box of leather scraps I want to sell on my Etsy site. (I just add a destash section.) One more box removed from my cramped storage shed, and a slight load off my mind, too.
So today, Wednesday, was a good day. And that’s when I realized….
Only one thing had changed….
Everything that was “wrong” about Tuesday was because I thought it was Wednesday.
Everything I was miffed about on Tuesday was no one’s fault but my own, for thinking it was Wednesday. And probably my own guilty conscience about submitting a piece I knew could be better.
The guilt I felt about not working out was totally pointless, because…well, it was Tuesday, not Wednesday.
That special order will be a good thing, no matter what the outcome. I stepped out of my comfort zone, did the experiment, and figured it out. (Now for the hard part: NOT ORDERING findings until I know for sure which ones will work best.)
Nothing really changed on the “real” Wednesday. I just made better choices–because I paid attention to how I felt about Tuesday. (Er…the “faux” Wednesday.)
Sometimes, all we need is a chance to choose a different window to look through.
And what a blessing it is when we realize that, and choose differently.
Just a few hours of my studio work today. From (muddy) rags to (ivory) riches, and the small miracles that keep me going.