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.
(Hint: It’s what ALL artists have to ignore!)
I’m so overwhelmed with packing up my studio, I look for any excuse to take a break.
I came across an article, an interview of M. Night Shyamalan by Sopan Deb of the New York Times, about Shyamalan’s newest movie, “Glass”. I did not realize he was only 29 when he made the extraordinary (literally!) movie “The Sixth Sense”. The reveal—that the main character was dead—was as startling as Agatha Christie’s novel, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” in 1926. (Spoiler alert!! The narrator turns out to be the actual murderer, a twist that redefined the genre, and created quite an uproar at the time.)
For years, Shyamalan created movies ahead of his time. “Unbreakable”, about the origin of a superhero, without spandex, was made years before the massive onslaught of comic book hero movies. (It’s actually gained in popularity since.) He was typecast as the movie guy with a “twist”. He’s been criticized as always having a twist, or ironically, the twist not being “twisty” enough.
“Glass” is considered his “comeback movie”, and many critics are roaring about it being “less than”, in their eyes.
First, we went to see it last weekend. We both loved it!
The approach is very different than current action-superhero movies. Not a lot of CGI, which makes it feel more grounded, more realistic. The camera action draws us in, making it feel like we are in the same room as the protagonists. The tension is maintained throughout the movie.
The ending was deeply moving, and the twist? Well, I love spoilers, but since most people won’t, I won’t provide them here. Suffice to say, we are left knowing the pain and suffering of all its characters, and the flip side of the “villains”.
Once again, Shyamalan has created a complex, and deeply human film.
Second, what deeply resonated with me in the article was when the interviewer asked him about how the movie is framed makes the film seem like a “comeback” for him, making it seem like his work has been “less than” in the years between. “Was that frustrating for you?”
Here is what Shyamalan says, a response worthy of all creatives:
“No, the journey isn’t really about what others are saying about you. It just can’t be. You’re taking all of your power away from you. That’s not where your energy should be….”
Artists and all kinds of creative people get criticism all the time. Some is constructive, but much of it isn’t.
It’s our human nature to listen. We are hard-wired to want to belong, to be part of a community. Criticism can feel like we don’t belong.
It takes courage and perseverance to recognize the flip side of this innate trait:
Our desire–our NEED–to be seen as an individual.
When we recognize that our work may sometimes (or often!) be seen as “not enough”, or not worth the price, or some other “less than”, and keep making it anyway, because that is how we see ourselves in the world, it’s powerful.
Yes, we can all improve our work. Yes, we can all do better. We are all a “work in progress.” Sometimes negative feedback and setbacks take their toll, and sometimes it only spurs us on to greater heights.
But in the end, the only person we have to answer to, is ourselves. Only you can determine what, if anything, needs to change in your art.
Lots of things (recessions, war, living in a small town or an isolated area, places where there are few people who like our work, or few who like it but can’t afford it), it feels like the world doesn’t want our work. Thanks to social media marketing, we can overcome location, in time. Recessions ease and pass. The day I learned everyone’s sales had slumped awhile back, was a lit-tul embarrassing. (It’s not always about me–doh!)
But that feeling can be hard to ignore.
In my fierce beginnings with my art, I knew that if only one in a thousand people liked my work, that meant there was still an audience of over 7,500,000 in the world.
And if only one person in a million were willing to actually buy it, that’s 7,500 customers in the world! Years ago, it might have been almost impossible to find them, but it’s a lot easier today. (And of course, there are more than one customer in a million….)
Now, almost 25 years later, I, too, often succumb to self-doubt and despair. And yet….
I still remember that day I met my husband at the door, telling him I realized, “I have to be an artist, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m not a GOOD artist. I just have to do it.” That was the day I released every emotional shackle I’d placed on myself.
I still need to remember that. Every. Single. Day.
That same weekend we went to see “Glass”, it grossed over $47,000,000 and was the top movie at the box office. (And I’m glad we were a tiny part of that validation!)
The last thing (OK, there were three things….!) is Shymalan’s answer to whether he’d ever direct a “Star Wars” film.
His answer: He believes it’s best to stick with what works for him. “There are filmmakers who don’t fit easily into a system, and probably I’m one of those.”
He could make a Star Wars movie that would gross even more, and establish his “comeback” forever.
But he will stick with what he does best, and what he loves: Making original movies, making thrillers. And he will be happy.
The next time someone disses your medium, your choice of subjects, your plein air work vs. your studio work, how much (or how little) time you take to do your work, whatever… remember these three things:
Different can be good.
The work of your heart is the work only you can bring into the world.
Respect your process.
Be all you can be. Rejoice that you can be an artist in the world today, with few restrictions, except for the ones you take on yourself.
As the beloved poet Mary Oliver said in her beautiful poem “The Summer Day”;
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?