I’ve always known my writing is not for everyone. Some folks expect more concrete “do this” and less “we’re all in this together, and that will make us better”. That’s okay, I get that.
Sometimes that’s what I’m looking for, too. Like today. Why do none of my LED bulbs work in my old booth lighting fixtures??” (The results: It’s complicated.)
The thing is, when people criticize my writing because that’s what they’re looking for, it’s really a moot point. There are other writers who will give them that.
Me? I share when I’m stuck or overwhelmed, or when I’m feeling “less-than”, and how I got through that, as close to “in the moment” as I can.
But here’s the deal with the “just the facts’, ma’am” approach:
I’m a woman, born in the ’50’s, who never saw an artist growing up. (There was one potter in the county I grew up in, but I only heard of her after I graduated high school, and never saw their work.) I was raised to blend in, to go along, not to talk back, and to be nice.
There were school budget constraints that created a total lack of actual art education.
My college art history textbooks featured no women artists. One author even stated publicly he did not believe women could be considered “real artists”, and of course, that meant no women artists were featured in his book until 1987.
1987, people!!!!! Nineteen effin’ eighty-seven.
Janson’s History of Art has become so problematic as Janson’s own personal canon of “real art” is, that efforts to be more representative still can’t restore its usefulness in art history education.
You know where all the women are in art history? Nudes, as subjects. For the shock value, and publicity.
I’ve seen and read examples of many, many women supporting their male partner’s art career, often at the expense of their own. The Wife, anyone?
I cannot recall one instance of a man doing the same for his wife. (Some wives-of-artists even have a secondary career of advice-giving of how to be a successful artist. Without admitting that it can be hard for us wives to have our own “wife”.)
(Full disclosure here: I could not afford to have a studio nor have an art career, nor even to be a writer, were it not for the fact that my partner’s work pays 100x more than my meager income. And he helps with computer issues all the time. But he does not do my marketing, my correspondence, my social media, sales, shop upkeep, etc.)
Even in workshops on technique, and writing about marketing, most folks refer to famous male artists. It took the Netflix “comedy” special Nanette to share the real reason Van Gogh is famous, and to frame his situation for modern art-lovers. (Van Gogh’s work was hampered by his mental health issues, not inspired by it, and his work is visible today not because he was “good at marketing”, but because “…he had a brother who loved him.”
Although making your place in the art world can be harder if you are a woman, there are several things I also am, that make it a little easier for me. I’m white. (Not a person of color.) I’m middle class. (Not born into poverty, and I was able to attend college.) (No, my family didn’t “buy” my way in, either.) I identify as a woman. (Not LGBTQ.) I was raised Christian. (Not Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion that some consider “less than”.) (And though I now identify myself as agnostic.)
All of these identities are in my favor, NOT because they make me “better than”, but because some believe these traits make us “less than.” (It does not.) These folks have far more difficulty navigating the waters of our culture, throughout our history, and to this day, unfortunately.
Then of course, there is our choice of media we use to tell our story. I cannot tell you how many times people have told me I’m not a “real artist” because of my choice of media. I work in fiber (“That’s craft!”) and polymer (“That’s just fake clay, and clay is just a craft, too!”)
There are those who tell me I’m an awful writer, because I tell a story rather than simply “get to the point and tell me what to do!” (At one point, after someone complained my articles were too damn long, I put things like “5 minute read” in the bylines. In case, you know, five minutes was too much of a drain on their time.)
So when I write, I write for myself first. I write to reassure myself–and other artists who feel the same way–that our work IS needed in the world. It DOES serve a “purpose”–it’s our voice, our chance to have our say. Yes, making money from making our art is wonderful, empowering. But even if we don’t, we still have to find the time and energy to make it, if only for ourselves.
.And so when I write, I write for myself. To inspire myself. To remind myself, that though there are some who still would not consider me a “real artist”, the only person who can stop me from making my art (barring a drunk driver) is myself.
And the one single factor that keeps most of us from creating is…..
Such a little word, and so much damage comes from it! I came across this quote recently, but I can’t trace it to the original author.
Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.
This is why I share my writing with you.
Doubt kept me from trying harder. From making good decisions about my life work until my early 40’s. Doubt kept me from calling myself an artist, until I hit the wall, hard. Until the day I knew I had to do the work of my art, or I would destroy everything around me with bitterness. Doubt made me frightened, weak, and full of excuses why I wouldn’t take my work seriously.
Once I learned to pat doubt on its head, shush it lovingly, and move it back to its corner, failure was nothing. Failure I could deal with. Because if you give it your best shot, if you try and do your best, and fail? Well, at least you tried.
And then we learn to try again. And again. And again, until we either find a way through, or realize we will build a different path over, under, and around that obstacle in our way.
So when I share my beginnings, when I share my setbacks, when I share how I healed my toxic self-image, it’s because I want you to have what I have:
Hope, and courage, inspiration, and strength, and my own definition of success.
I want this for every single artist I meet.
And though we may never meet in person, I want this for YOU.
Hope is the thing with feathers
Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul, And sings the tune without the words, And never stops at all, And sweetest in the gale is heard; And sore must be the storm That could abash the little bird That kept so many warm. I’ve heard it in the chillest land, And on the strangest sea; Yet, never, in extremity, It asked a crumb of me.
Bad/Mad/Sad Brain and “Aha!” Moments
I love orchids, especially the ones that cost less than $10.
I love the flowers, especially the ones in unusual colors and patterns. I love how long the flowers last. I love how little care they need.
But I do not have a green thumb. I usually toss them or give them away when the flowers are gone, and I forget to water them for months. Or worse, when I leave them outside in the spring and they actually drown from too much rain.
I heard they can rebloom, but who wants to wait a year for that?!
Eventually, though, I simply began to keep them in the window, adding new ones to the mix every six months or so. And yes, they will rebloom, given time and a little bit of care. In fact, they bloom even more vigorously the second time! I don’t know why. I don’t feed them, I forget to water them, and they still reboot.
Until one year, I did leave one neglected and unloved, in the mudroom, for a looooong time. I finally saw it walking by our house one day. (I’d set it behind the window blinds, and it was visible from the street.)
Chagrined, I took it out of the window and brought it into the kitchen. It was completely dried up. Even the root-looking things that actually take moisture from the air (which is why they don’t need a lot of water) were shriveled and dry.
I almost threw it into the compost bin, but stopped. I thought, “What the heck, I’ll give this little one a chance.”
Here it is:
And here it is, one week and two brief waterings later:
Why am I writing about orchids? Especially a hothouse orchid?? The British site I just linked to defines this term with humor:
Hothouse Flower: A flower that isn’t hardy enough to grow under natural conditions. It has to be pampered and grown in a greenhouse or hothouse. : On “Frazier,” (a U.S. television show), the main character was complaining about various things that bothered him. His father said, “Aren’t you the little hothouse orchid.”
And yet, in my humble experience, orchids are anything but pampered.
In fact, they are extremely hardy, as my abysmal care of them proves.
You know what else is a “hothouse flower”?
Us. You. Me. People. Humanity.
We are all tender and vulnerable when we are born. We rely on those around us to take good care of us. Typically, the care extends for decades, though on a lower-maintenance level as we grow from infants to young adults. Some of us get that love and care. Some don’t.
The world, and our fellow humans, can be vicious, and cruel. There are people who go out of their way to hurt us, and plenty more who don’t intend to be mean, but are. If we’re lucky, it’s our heart and soul that get bruised and broken. If not, we may not even survive….
Every day we hear or read a hero story. (My use of “hero” includes all genders.)
We learn about someone who rose above the chaos, the destruction, and survived, even thrived. We hear about people who persisted, despite the insults, setbacks, obstacles, and disrespect. We hear about people who have suffered great pain, physical, mental, spiritual–and turned into a force for good in the world. We hear about people who even sacrifice themselves for others, willing to lose their lives so that others will live, the ultimate sacrifice.
Wherever we go, we find people who are doing it right. They work tirelessly for justice, for restoration, for those who cannot fight for themselves. They get discouraged, they get hurt, and yet they keep on going.
Sometimes, it’s wisdom, information, encouragement, shared just when we need to hear it. Sometimes it’s a simple act of kindness, and compassion that keeps us going.
Sometimes these people don’t even know the miracles they’ve brought to our lives.
These people are all our life heroes.
And by their actions, they encourage us to do the same, too. To pass it on, play or pay it forward. Somewhere in the world (or even next door) there is someone who needs your story, your art, your words, your kindness, maybe even a few bucks so they can eat. All of it is worthwhile. All of it, even the tiniest little bit, makes the world a better place.
So the next time someone brings something painful and hurtful into your life, and, when you push back, they sneer something about how senstive you are, how it was just a joke, sometimes when they are hurting themselves and choose to pass that on, remember this:
We may be hothouse flowers.
But we are also going to bloom again. And when we do, we will be even more beautiful, in our hearts and our souls.
FineArtViews Newsletter|Saturday, March 2, 2019|Issue 3407
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.
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: Why Didn’t That Gallery Take My Work??
By Luann Udell
Remember, gallery owners are just customers with stores.
Years ago, I wrote an article listing all the reasons why a gallery might not accept your work. Well. Not all the reasons. Because I think more are being born every minute….
Why did I do this? Because at some point in our art career, when we approach a gallery, we will probably face rejection. And when that happens, we struggle to figure out why.
Many of us will blame the gallery. Some of us will blame ourselves. A very few of us might have the courage to actually ask the gallery. (They may or may not give you an honest answer, but it’s worth a try!)
1. Your work isn’t up to snuff.
2. Your work is really good, but not their preferred medium.
3. Your work doesn’t fit in with their current inventory.
4. Your work looks too much like work in their current inventory.
5. Your work is overpriced.
6. Your work is under-priced
7. Your work is fine, and well-priced, but will not appeal to their clientele.
8. They like your work, but they don’t like you.
9. They like you, but they don’t like your work.
10. They don’t like you or your work.
11. They can tell you don’t like them.
12. They’re having a really bad day.
13. You’re having a bad day, and it shows.
14. You dropped in unannounced, and rudely assumed they would drop everything to look at your work. (There are ways to drop in and not rudely make such an assumption, but you have to have your script ready.)
15. You are too meek when it comes to talking about your work.
16. You are too arrogant when it comes to talking about your work.
17. You try to establish your creds by dissing their other artists.
18. Your color palette is too dull.
19. Your color palette is too shocking.
20. You’re already in every other gallery in town.
21. You don’t have an established reputation, and they only take the same artists.
22. Your work is all over the map-not a cohesive body of work.
23. Your work is all the same-no variety.
24. You are high-maintenance. (I have watched this in action, and it is truly off-putting!)
25. They can tell you expect them to handle everything, from sales to marketing and everything in-
between. So you don’t have to do anything to grow and connect with an audience.
26. They aren’t doing well, and they may even be closing up shop soon.
27. They aren’t dealing with their artists honestly, and they know your partner is a lawyer.
28. Your work is controversial.
29. Your work is technically good, but has no soul.
30. They know nothing about your medium.
31. They hate your medium.
32. They love your medium, but they are only looking for X medium.
33. They love your medium, but they already carry too many works in it.
34. They love your medium, but they don’t love you.
35. They know your work is already carried by their biggest competitor.
36. They don’t take local artists.
37. They only carry local artists.
38. They used to carry your work because you used to be a local artist, and then you moved away, and all their customers want to know why they’re carrying an artist on the other side of the country.
39. Your work is too fragile-breaks easily, can’t be packed or shipped, etc.
40. Your work is too big.
41. Your work is too small, too easy to shoplift.
42. Your work is too hard to display-too big, too heavy, has lots of loose parts, etc.
43. Your work is too trendy.
44. Your work is passe.
45. Your work is craft, not “fine craft”.
46. Your work is fine craft, not art.
47. Your work is art, not craft. (Yup, I was disqualified for this once!)
48. Are you sensing a pattern here?
There are as many reasons why a gallery won’t take your work as there are stars in the sky. Or at least as many reasons as there are galleries.
Do some of these reasons sound familiar?
They should. Many of these reasons are the same reasons our potential customers don’t/won’t buy our work.
We often imbue gallery owners/managers with more power than our customers.
In fact, they may have more expertise, more experience, more clout. They may be fair, and kind, and compassionate, too. But they are still just human beings, like us, prone to prejudices, errors in judgment, egomania, and even envy. In fact, a fellow artist told me years ago:
“Galleries are just customers with stores.”
I have heard many variations on these reasons in my art career. When I first started approaching galleries, I was pretty fearless. I was starting in the middle of nowhere, and figured any progress would get me somewhere. I didn’t offend easily, and I quickly saw that a gallery’s refusal was not to be taken personally. (I think I sensed the “customers with stores” thing already. But then, I forgot.)
Every encounter with a gallery was a learning experience. I realized when someone seemed mean, it was more about them than me. My work may or may not be “good enough”, etc. But the bottom line was, it just wasn’t right for them, period.
Am I offended when a visitor doesn’t buy my work? Or criticizes it?
To the first, absolutely not. Not everyone is our customer. We all know that, and yet, it can still feel daunting.
The latter, yes, it’s offensive. But again, someone who feels compelled to complain to me about my work is revealing more about who they are. I can choose to pick that up and carry that anger, that embarrassment. Or I can choose to let it go, and find my true “next” customer.
These reasons are similar for group shows, too. A curator might want variety in every single piece in the show. In which case, if your work looks too much like what they’ve already accepted, they may not accept it.
But if they are creating a cohesive show with light-colored contemporary pottery, and your work is pit-fired and dark-colored, you might not get in.
I share these “reasons why” not to discourage you, but to encourage you.
I want you to persevere with the work of your heart. I want you to make the work that only you can make.
I want you to tell the story with your art that only you can tell.
I want you to make the work that brings you joy, and creates a powerful place for you to be in the world.
Not every person is our customer (yep, I’m saying it again!) and not every gallery is our gallery.
Every minute we spend being angry, hurt, disenfranchised by someone else’s opinion of us, our work, our medium, is a minute wasted.
We could use that time and energy to find our real customers, including the “ones with stores.”
I know that’s easy to say. Disappointment is the curse of all creatives. Books get rejected, Oscars are awarded to the “safe” choices, artists are passed over. I get it.
Just remember that we are dealing with fellow human beings. Some are wise and loving and respectful and evolved. Others? Not so much. We all have our preferences, especially petty ones!
Here’s my last example: When I approached my first gallery, a non-profit, there were two managers. One oversaw the fine craft area, the other the fine art area. Being a fiber artist, I approached the fine craft person with my wall hangings first.
I was roundly rejected as having “an immature design aesthetic” and “an illogical composition style.” They went on for quite a while, lamenting the fact that I would never have a “real” art career. They suggested I make smaller pieces and sell them as pins. (I am not making this up.)
Well, this is certainly small enough to be a pin!
I was baffled, but feeling too strong to feel threatened. It was obvious this person had issues, and I knew there was something about my work that threw them off. I thanked her and left with my work.
A few months later, our town of Keene had its annual “art walk.” Participating business venues exhibited the work of local artists in their windows for a week. A very popular and fun event!
A friend told me afterwards that a very well-known (okay, famous!) artist, who was a friend of hers, saw my work while they were perusing the event. He stopped in his tracks when he saw my work. He said something amazing I can’t remember (more on this later), something to the effect that he loved it, it was fresh, it was different, it was unique, it was powerful, and it was beautiful.
Anya said, “You don’t think the design aesthetic is immature?” (His response was literal “wtf”, and he was baffled until she shared how my work had been received a few months earlier. His next response? “Wtf is wrong with them?!” The venue, not me.)
Cut to a couple years later. My fiber work had appeared in several exhibitions at the same facility, and the art manager asked me to become one of their permanent exhibitors.
A few days later, as I walked through the craft gallery with my work, that very same person who’d rejected me roundly ran up to me, saying, “I want to talk with you! Those are craft, not art! I want to carry those in my section!”
I told her politely I was there by invitation, but appreciated her enthusiasm. And kept walking to the art manager’s office.
No, my work wasn’t significantly different-same style, same techniques, same colorways, same artifacts. The only difference was, I believe, my work was becoming better known.
My point is, we are hard-wired to pay attention to bad stuff. “Bad stuff” implies a threat, danger, and so we instinctively tune in to it to keep ourselves safe. (Which is why, as I suggested above, all these years later, I can remember the mean things that person said, and can’t quite remember the lovely things that famous artist said.)
If we let this dominate our lives, if we pay too much attention to those who would take us down, we will let them–help them–crush our spirit.
Try not to agonize about the gallery that didn’t work out. Try not to take it personally when someone else wins that prize. Let go of the people who don’t appreciate our art, or our medium, or our subject matter, or anything else people gritch about.
Yes, it’s good to keep in mind we can always do better with our artwork. Our art biz has an arc similar to life. As we know better, we strive to do better, and be better. It’s the same with our art.
Take all the energy generated by disappointment and failure, and channel it right back into the work of your heart.
And I hope, someday, you, too, get a chance to prove your detractors dead wrong!
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