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.
If my curve is large, why bend it to a smaller circle?
Henry David Thoreau
The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power will rock your world.
Years ago, I came across a remarkable book that changed my life for the better.
For the life of me, I can’t remember how I found out about it. But I give thanks every single day of my life that I did.
You’ve heard me mention it, and maybe some of you have already found your own copy. If not, head over to this amazing search tool and find an affordable copy. (Although even a brand new copy won’t set you back much, either.)
THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison really is a 15-minute read. It even has pictures/cartoons, which beautifully illustrate the concepts she presents.
But although the concepts are simple, they are not easy, as Jamison herself says in the first page.
When I first started out with my artwork, combining different media wrapped around a powerful personal story, I was fearless. I had a late start in my art life, and I wasn’t going to let anything or anybody stand in my way. I slipped and slided over every bump in the road, moving forward with passion and joy. (Side note: How come it’s glide/glided and not slide/slided??)
Just like any other exciting new venture in life, the honeymoon period eventually comes to an end. That’s where the real work comes in.
And it’s also when the Nibblers showed up.
I’ve talked on end about Nibblers, the people who deem us “too much”: Too much free time, too much courage, too much to say, too much talent. They “nibble us down” by making us feel like “not enough”: Not enough skill, not enough credibility (“Pastels are just chalk!), not enough of anything.
My biggest insight came from a couple who were part of our inner social circle back in New Hampshire, wonderful, intelligent, supportive, loving folks. I told Ruth about the book, and a few years later, shared with her my frustration about the Attack of the Nibblers. (There was quite a swarm of them that year!)
She told her husband, a lawyer, that he should be gentle that night when we came over for dinner. “Luann’s had a lot of ‘nibbles’ lately”, she said.
That’s when Ted replied with the words that created another sea change in my life”:
“You tell Luann that lawyers do this to each other all the time!” he told her. “It’s called professional jealousy. It means she’s doing good work.” You can read more about professional jealousy in this series, Mean People Suck on my blog, or searching for “professional jealousy” for similar articles there.
This insight helped me get over the nay-sayers, the back-biters, the foot-trippers, the people who say I smell funny (WE ALL SMELL FUNNY), the folks with back-handed “compliments” that are actually swats, etc.
The major premise of the first half of The Nibble Theory is that we all start out as small people with a lot of personal growth ahead of us. That ‘personal growth’ is symbolized by a small circle. As we go through life, we have many opportunities to grow personally, emotionally, spiritually. Sometimes we overlook these opportunities, but we will all encounter them on our journey. And we can’t judge someone else’s journey, because….well, because it’s their journey, not ours..
But along the way, we’re going to run into not only small circles who will be jealous of our journey, we may run into bigger circles who may be threatened by ours. They will “nibble us down to size” so we aren’t as scary or enviable.
This book helps us understand our own power is about our own personal growth. And it helps us “frame” the attacks of others who feel threatened, who feel “less than”, so we don’t take on their toxicity personally.
I’ve read this book many, many times over the years. From time to time (like now!) I even buy up additional copies, and give them away to friends and family who may benefit from reading the book.
But here’s an interesting twist in my own story:
I completely did not spend much time on the second half, devoted to “the kernel of power”.
And this is exactly what I need to be working on right now.
Oddly, in our little WAG group (Women Artists’ Group, my first artist support group here in California), we had a little exercise in January: We all picked a word to be “our word” for 2019.
And I picked “power”.
I had no idea why. I don’t want to be a superhero, I don’t want to boss people around (though my dear hubby might beg to differ), and I don’t want to be “in charge”. I was actually offered a chance to serve on a local art event group’s steering committee, and turned it down. (I prefer “ad hoc” participation, I told them.)
And yet, for some reason, the word “power” resonated.
Eventually, I found an article about a different kind of “power”, the kind that comes from being grounded (sounds vaguely electrical??) and getting clear about the path we are on, bringing our energy and efforts to focus on doing the best work we can, and using it as a force for good in the world.
And now I’m reading and rereading that last section of the THE NIBBLE THEORY more carefully.
The beauty of it is, it includes an exercise which strongly echoes my series where I talk about the structure of a powerful artist support group, THE FOUR QUESTIONS.
Aha! The right kind of power! Now I know my mission for the rest of 2019.
Jamison knew first-hand the importance of finding our power. She was a first-generation Lebanese woman, born in the ‘30’s in West Virginia. She founded her own consulting company, and became a pioneer on issues of gender, race, affirmative action, and differences. She died way too soon, but her work lives on. And it has even more relevance for our contentious, fractured world today.
What the heck does this have to do with art?!
You already know that.
As artists, we, too, live in a time where, even with all the opportunities and ways to get our art out in the world, it can still be hard. Hard to discover what is unique about our work, and our story. Hard to figure out how to make our work stand out from the crowd. Hard to value our work and ourselves at a time where Nibblers seem to outnumber mosquitoes in the world.
And yet, every single one of us got here today from different times, different places, different circumstances, different education, different support systems, and with different media, different processes, different goals, different audiences, and different expectations. Her goal was not to be famous, or to make a lot of money. She simply wanted to make the world a better place, and put her special skills to work to achieve that.
What do we all have in common?
We all want to make the work that means something to us, something that is a product of our story. Our story is who we are in the world, and who we want to be.
And we want people to see us. Not just our work, but us. Who we are, what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. (We want people to buy it, too, of course. And they will, if it resonates with them enough, and they can afford it.) (And if they have room for it!)
I believe we also all want people to value our work, to appreciate it.
We want our work to be “in the world”, and to mean something to others.
And like the Netflix special, “Nanette”, we can focus on Van Gogh’s work selling for $21 million dollars.
Or we can focus on the fact that Van Gogh’s work exists today because he had a brother who loved him.
As an eternal student of life, I strive to keep learning, to keep growing as a human being, to do the work of my heart, and to help others do the same. I want to have few regrets when I leave this world.
OH, and I also want to have the most beads, rocks, shells, and pets.
What is your inner truth? What does your work say, that you want the world to know? Not sure? Go buy the darn book!
P.S. As I republished this article on my blog, I realized the best example of what I espouse here. Kaleel Jamison died way too soon, but her work, her foundation, and powerful book are still with us today. Her words still bring solace, healing, and empowerment to people who need it to do their good work, and bring it into the world. She did it right!