SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

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.

 

img_20160905_170647
I have very good reasons for choosing polymer. Simply put, I could NOT do the work I do without it!

I recently wrote an article called SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”. In it, I shared how we can positively frame our choice of media, especially ones that are considered “less than.”. (I was going to say “justify” in that sentence, but it sounded like an apology. Let’s just stick with “frame”.)

There is a hierarchy in art media, just like there are hierarchies in any creative human activity. For example, even the worse presentation of ballet may be seen as more “sophisticated” than tap dancing, or break dancing.

In art, oil painting may be considered more “real art” than acrylics, which is “better” than watercolor, which is “better” than colored pencil, etc. Many even consider pottery and fiber art to be craft rather than “real art”. (It used to be, if you wanted to start a flame war on the internet, you would just ask what the difference is between “art” vs. “craft”. Actually, that argument’s probably still raging!)

My friend Nicole Caulfield is an extremely talented colored pencil artist. She chose this medium for a variety of reasons. To my eye, they are as beautiful and compelling as any oil painting I’ve ever seen. Yet her work commands far lower prices than even a mediocre oil painting. Does it weigh her down? Nope. This is the work she loves, and excels at. In my mind, she is an art hero! (I’ve linked to one of her website pages, but her portraits are jaw-droppingly beautiful, too!

Over time, new media (especially polymer clay) do gain respect and followers. And yet, there will always be those people who will find fault with them. In the article, I shared how I got to the heart of my “why”—why I chose to work with this material, and its advantages over others, to make my art.

Today I share another insight into why it’s important for us to find these reasons:

When we are challenged by these people who imply (or outright tell us!) our materials are “less than”, we need to be prepared with a great answer….

Because other people are listening!

I did an entire series of articles on awkward, obnoxious, aggressive/dismissive, simply ignorant, or even innocent questions or comments that may startle or stun us.

As artists and makers, whatever our choice of medium, we need to be prepared for an answer that modifies and redirects the conversation on our own terms.  We need to do it with patience, and dignity, and without anger, defensiveness, or apologies.

For one, we gain nothing by responding with anger or snark. We’ve simply lowered ourselves to our detractor’s level. We help create a hostile environment that works against us. (In fact, that’s why some obnoxious visitors do this, consciously or unconsciously. Why else would someone go out of their way to be rude, when all they have to do is walk away??)

But more importantly, when we address our detractors, other people around us. Whether it’s at an art opening, in our booth, in our studio, or even in our family and circle of friends, other people are paying attention to how we handle it.

If we learn to handle these difficult situations with respect, and reframe it to our advantage, we will really impress the people who are listening, who are/could be our real customers.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had someone say something awful to me, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because they are simply an awkward person, and sometimes, because my work has triggered something in them. (I’m guessing envy, and perhaps insecurity about their own creative efforts.)

I realized those questions and comments fall into several categories: My choice of media (not just polymer clay, but fiber, and jewelry.) My source of inspiration. My color palette.  How I talk about it.

I sat down and thought hard about how to respond in a positive way, without being defensive. This actually gives me the power to reframe the conversation in a way that serves me well.

And every time there has been an “audience”—other people browsing, for example—it’s obvious they’ve been listening to how I responded. Because they do one or more things:

They look even deeper at my work.

Often they come up to me afterwards and compliment me on my restraint. (Fortunately, no one can read my mind yet, where less pleasant responses are swarming.) (Yes, I have a lizard brain, too!)

They often buy something, too.

That “difficult person” gave me the opportunity to share my outlook on life, my art, and my medium, in wonderful, positive, life-affirming ways that resonate deeply with my audience.

Again, this took time. I was fortunate to find Bruce Baker’s seminars early on in my art career. For almost two decades, Bruce gave seminars and sold CDs offering great advice on marketing and display skills for artists and makers of all sorts. (He has now returned to his original work of jewelry-making.) [1]

I used his advice (and words!) when two women entered my booth at my very first major show. One looked at a large wall hanging, featuring my own handmade polymer faux bone artifacts. She said, “You’d have to live in a very different house to hang this. A VERY different house!” (It was obvious her “very different house” was not a desirable house…..)

I’d practiced Bruce’s suggested response to detractors, memorized it (so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard) and went into full reframing mode:

“Yes”, I replied cheerfully, “My work IS unusual, and unique. I’m inspired by the Lascaux Cave in France, which for decades was considered the birthplace of human art. I work with recycled fabrics to make each quilt, layered and stitched to look like it’s passed through many generations of family. I make my own faux prehistoric artifacts, one at a time, to embellish them.”

And the kicker line: “My work isn’t for everyone. But the people who do appreciate my work, love it passionately.”

Why is this so appealing?

I established my cred as an artist. I shared a bit of the process behind my work. I emphasized the time involved, and where the aesthetic comes from. I showed I’m not looking for mass appeal, but the story in my heart.

And I issued a small “challenge”: Maybe it’s not for you…or is it???

This is the power of discovering our “why”: Why we use this material. Why we make this work.

And why someone else’s negativity won’t stop us from moving forward with all our heart.

But the biggest gain was the people who came up to me after that person left, and congratulated me on my response!

They saw someone who hoped to get a rise out of me, sent on their way with courtesy, patience, and respect. They heard a response that answered some of their own questions, questions they may have hesitated to ask. (Because some artists can get pretty snarky about what they perceive as “stupid questions!)

It started a whole nother conversation about my work, where I could share how I came to be an artist, why I chose this cave, and why polymer is the perfect medium to tell my story.

So think about why you chose your particular medium. Think about why you choose to make what you make. Think about the questions that have stopped you in your tracks, making you wish you had a snappy response in return.

Then take out the “snappy” bits, and reframe it to your advantage.

Be careful about making a joke, because usually those jokes are at our customers’ expense! I myself have been the butt of such remarks, and even though they make me laugh, I’m also slightly ticked. (See that same “questions” series for ideas!)

And practice your response(s) until you don’t even have to think about it.

If you, too, have found a way to frame your response to detractors (it could be medium, subject matter, color palette, in a positive, respectful way that benefits you, share! Someone else is hoping you’ve found a beautiful way to not only deflect, but perhaps even engage, a difficult person.

Footnote: [1]  Bruce’s old website is long gone, but his excellent and informative CDs on selling and display for makers are still available! You can contact him by phone (802-989-1138) or email him at dunnbaker@aol.com  I assure you they are worth every penny!

Author: Luann Udell

I find it just as important to write about my art as to make it. I am fascinated by stories. You can tell when people are speaking their truth--their eyes light up, their voices become strong, their entire body posture becomes powerful and upright. I love it when people get to this place in their work, their relationships, their art. As I work from this powerful place in MY heart, I share this process with others--so they have a strong place to stand, too. Because the world needs our beautiful art. All of it we can make, as fast as we can! Whether it's a bowl, a painting, a song, a garden, a story, if it makes our world a better place, we need to do everything in our power to get it out there.

9 thoughts on “SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!”

  1. A great post because I think it’s something we all encounter with our chosen mediums. I found the comments and questions easier to address when I was doing demos-on my own studio turf. Confidence in your process while demonstrating its uniqueness goes a long way to show why you do it. And, yes, people nearby listening learn by your response. Thank you for all the tips-every now and then there is that ONE person wanting to challenge you, no matter what. I work in watercolor so you know what I’m saying….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES, Debra, excellent point about demos! A chance for people to watch, and listen. Years ago, when I wrote for The Crafts Report (now known as Handmade Business (https://handmade-business.com/), I wrote about a visitor who was the first person in my booth at a well-respected fine craft show, every single year. And every single year, they criticized me because I wasn’t done pricing. Every single year. I would be almost in tears, feeling slow and unprofessional and overwhelmed. Until I finally realized that, in 10 years, they had never bought a thing. And never said anything about my work, except to explain that some items weren’t priced (yet!) You are right, there’s always one! :^D

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We moved to the Pacific Northwest in the fall so I haven’t experienced an Open Studio situation for almost a year but understand the vulnerability and nerves that go with opening yourself up. It strikes me as rude for people to go out of their way to critique-especially the way your visitor did in such a consistent and intentional manner. There are a few visitors who made me cringe when I saw them coming. If I ever get settled and organized, I will be looking into the local possibilities but this opening up part is something I’ll need to tackle mentally. One good point is that the older I get, the less I care about such things.

        Like

    1. You are a good ally, Emma, thank you for your show of support for watercolorists! And I agree, I can’t even imagine mastering watercolors. You have to know exactly what you want to do, very far in advance. No going back to color something over!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. yes, craft / art….art / craft. Never ends.
    I call myself a craftsperson, not an artist, because my focus is on the process more than the final finish, and in my head; weighting the creation in that way feels more craft-like than art. Added into this weighting, is that my pieces of jewellery are quite plain, with only a little embellishment; not hugely decorative, and therefore, feel less like art. And the final point, is, I think class related – I’m from lower-middle/ upper-working class stock and art is something we are keener to invest in than make! BUT – I’m very aware that this is hugely subjective and I try to be open minded and non judgemental. Great tips again on the interaction with customers – I read all your stuff before my first fairs last summer, and utilised the tips. Thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First, Dawn, THANK YOU for the kudos, and so glad you find my articles helpful. Second, think hard about why “artist” seems….unattainable? I know a lot of my jewelry-making friends call themselves “jewelry artists”. Does that feel more comfortable?

      Another exercise you can try is how I got comfortable calling myself an artist. It was introduced in in a seminar with Deborah Kruger, who used to teach an artist support group workshop (how to create small groups of people who support the work we do.) Our whole class was hesitant to call ourselves “artists”, and she spoke on that at great lengths. She said, “I believe when we have been taught not to believe in ourselves a thousand times, we have to write the opposite 1,001 times!” She suggested we all get a notebook and write “I am an artist” a hundred times a day.

      It sounds so third-grade-ish. But IT WORKED. Soon I could say aloud, “I am an artist” in conversation!

      There are so many issues surrounding this “we are less-than” feeling/identity, ranging from gender issues, history of art revisionism (One famous art history textbook author refused to add women to his writing!), issues of class, etc.

      But in the end, we can simply acquire the habit. I hope you try it. Let me know how it goes, too. It matters!!!

      Like

      1. okay. pep talk absorbed 😉
        I have to say that I am very happy with craftswoman/silversmith. I’ve only just managed to say that without a giant bout of imposter syndrome!!
        and thanks. Hope you are feeling settled – or at least more settled, in the new studio. Hugs

        Like

  3. I AM doing better! 2018 thru Janudary 2019 seems like a bad dream to me now. Thank you for your good wishes. (I am biting my tongue not to say “NOW WRITE “I AM AN ARTIST” A HUNDRED TIMES TODAY!”) ;^D

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s