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.
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!
“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!