LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The SAID Principle

Challenges can be just enough to keep us moving forward
Challenges can be just enough to keep us moving forward

Accommodation can be our friend, or our enemy…

(5 minute read)

More lessons about life, and art, overheard at the gym this week.

A client was amazed at how much better they felt after only a few days of physical therapy. The therapist working with him said something that caught my interest, describing a well-known principle in the field: The SAID Syndrome.

Posited by a Hungarian physicial, Dr. Hans Selye over a hundred years ago, SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. That is, our body, given any form of stressors (biomechanical or neurological), will specifically adapt to that stress. (There are now more modern acronyms and phrasing similar in tone, but this is the one I overheard.)

That can be a good thing, a neutral thing, or a bad thing.

For example, if all we do we sit all day, month after month, year after year, our bodies will adapt to that. We may lose our ability or inclination to do any physical activity, or worse.

If we train by running laps, we may get fit and strong, but it won’t necessarily mean we prepared for lap swimming. The two activities use different muscles. We have to cross-train in both activities, in order to get better at both.

If we gently, slowly, challenge our body, all our muscles, and our mind, they will adapt to that, too.  We can challenge our body in different ways, too.

We can strive to go from simple motions to complex motions. From moving slow to moving faster. To go from using a low level of force to higher force. To walking/running a short distance to a longer distance.

We can get stronger, faster, more flexible, more resilient, more persistent.

How does this apply to making, marketing, and even selling our art?

If we get discouraged with our sales, we could slump into our sad place and believe no one wants our work. Or, if sales matter, we can experiment with shows and fairs until we find the ones where we find an audience. We can approach stores or galleries to represent us. We can use an online sales venue or sell from our website.

If our art isn’t quite up to snuff, we could keep our blinders on and do nothing about it. Or we can explore ways to get better: Use better tools, or experiment with a new media that might suit us better, or expand our skillset with classes/books/online tutorials.

If we feel like failures, if we believe our work of our heart doesn’t matter, we could walk away from the work we love. Or we can seek out a supportive community, realizing if it makes us happy, that can be “good enough”. We can ask for input about how we could do better, whether it’s our technique, our color palette, our subject matter, etc. (I overheard one local artist declaring if they never painted another vineyard, they would be totally okay with that.) (We live in wine country. Guess what most landscapes are?)

Short story: For our work to change, WE have to change. For our skills to get better, we have to do the work. For our attitude to change, we have to explore what our goals really are, what is important to us—and practice that mindset. To find our audience, we have to believe there IS one for us out there somewhere, and do whatever we can to get our work out into the world.

This effort doesn’t have to be a major shift, either. Some of us can do that, maybe. (We moved across the country to California five years ago, to reboot my partner’s career.) But usually, small incremental steps, moves, and changes will suffice. Otherwise, we could injure ourselves by trying to do too much, too soon, too fast.

One of my favorite challenges I’ve seen (which I haven’t tried yet, myself) is the 100-day daily challenge: Painters a single small work every day. Collage artists create an ATC (artist trading card) every day. Writers write a page a day. Then share it with our audience. I’ve seen these so many times, and it’s jaw-dropping how this simple exercise seems to not only improve the person’s skillset, but also set them on an entirely new journey, one they couldn’t see until they tried this.

My goals moving forward are pretty manageable so far. Keep a happy heart. Do the work. Get “bigger” in a way that’s manageable for me, and let myself be the judge of what “bigger” is. Trying the occasional new thing, whether it’s materials, subject matter, color palette, venues, etc.

Even my story, which still means so much to me, has evolved over the years. The heart of it is still there. But as I’ve faced spiritual and emotional challenges about my place in the world, my story has grown: A woman artist finding a place in the world, a place in prehistory and more modern history. Finding the medium that let me tell that story, then adding new media to the mix. (First fiber, then jewelry, then prints and sculpture, now assemblage.) Expanding my color palette from “only what we’d find in the Lascaux Cave paintings” to what those ancient artists would have used if they’d had the access. (Indigo/lapis blue! Aqua! Turquoise!) Expanding my skill set. (Refinishing antique boxes, creating museum-inspired mounts for display.) In the process, my definition of “creative work” has gotten bigger and stronger, too.

If everything is working for you, then the “challenges” can be just enough to keep us moving forward, or comfortable with staying in the same place. Maybe we can share our techniques and knowledge with others, so they can take our original journey and move onto their own. Maybe we can encourage other artists by making recommendations for a gallery that might be a good fit for them. Or we could assist them with finding their own powerful stories.

Or we simply share conversations overheard at the gym, sharing a little insight in our lives, for others who just might need to hear them, today.

How do YOU challenge yourself? Have you had a successful experience with challenges, like the “make a ‘whatsits’ every day for a 100 days”? Where are you stuck, and did this article get you thinking about an intriguing challenge, just for you? I would love to hear about it, and I bet others here would, too!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

Be Your Authentic Self (or suffer the consequences!)

Just found this in Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter today and it is exactly what I needed to hear. Maybe you, too?

ADVICE TO MYSELF by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.

Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.

Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.

Don’t keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll’s tiny shoes in pairs, don’t worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.

Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic—decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don’t even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.

Don’t sort the paper clips
from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we’re all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don’t answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.

Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in through the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.

Recycle the mail, don’t read it,
don’t read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

– “Advice to Myself” by Louise Erdrich, from Original Fire: Selected and
New Poems”

So I have two questions today:

How can I best put this sentiment into practice for myself, today?

And how the heck did he know what our household looks like??!!

OK, three questions: IT IS NOT OKAY FOR YOU TO USE MY TOOTHBRUSH!!! (JON!!!) (Not a question, I guess.)

THE ECSTASY AND THE AGONY: Your Creative Cycle at Work

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…
Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

 (5 minute read)

For the past week or so, my partner has been working feverishly on a new project.

He’s in high-tech, and the work he does is highly creative. Now, I can almost see some of you cringe. “He’s a nerd! NOT an artist!” I’ve heard that from people before. Sometimes I try to set them straight.

He is an extremely talented writer, who started off as an English major, tried his hand at fiction, but soon slid into non-fiction. He was awarded a prestigious Hopwood Award at the University of Michigan, a year or so after we met. His work was so good, it didn’t fit into any of their categories—so they created a new one, just for him. (He bought his first computer with the prize money.)

Yes, a computer. Because after he graduated, he worked in a department for the university. When the data management guy quit, Jon took over—and eventually taught himself coding. His superpower is using an open-source (“available for anyone to use or adapt”) information system, usually developed by others, and finding ways to create unique applications that meet the unique needs of each client he works with (“integration”). He has a skill for taking a product, and seeing the potential, usually outside of the original maker’s scope. He makes important work faster and easier for others.

If you don’t think developing new software to assist people in their creative work, that it isn’t creative in itself, please remember who the owner/developer of this blog is, and what he does, okay? (Hint: FASO? Clint Watson?)

He’s working on a new project. Typical of him, he dove into it headfirst, staying up late, getting up early, spending hours and hours in his workspace, on fire with this new idea and process he wants to bring into the world.

Then he finished it, exulting in all the issues, roadblocks, and problems he solved in the process.

Then, he crashed. He’s been in a deep depression ever since.

Okay, that’s the backstory. Where’s the creative lesson here?

This can be a normal part of the creative cycle process.

There are many different creative cycles.

 I took a workshop years ago with a creativity coach, Lyedie Geer. You can read more about her work at thelongingsproject.com. Here is the recommendation I wrote for her the next day:

“Last night I attended an amazing presentation by Integral Coach, Lyedie Geer. The focus was time management for creative people. I attended with much prejudice, assuming we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I was prepared to be bored stiff and take away a nice idea or two. Well, Lyedie blew my socks off. Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals. Her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt. Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) stood up and applauded when she finished.”

 Welp, then we moved, and I can’t find my notes. But until I do, here is the U-theory graph that brought such amazement into my life.

There are other graphs and arcs and diagrams, of course, and many of them are good. But here’s the most important take-away:

You creative process cycle may be as unique as YOU.

The graph I learned was complex. The gist of it is, we start with the spark of a new idea, we go through experimental phases to explore it, figure out how to do it, how to perfect it.

And then, somewhere along the line we run into obstacles and setbacks. We get discouraged. We’re baffled, stymied, and frantic.

Many people walk away at this point. They believe they are too stupid to figure it out. They don’t see how it will make money, so why do it? They believe it’s just too hard, and so not possible. Or they postpone it until “the kids are grown” or “I retire”, when they believe they’ll finally have the time to devote to their creative work.

But perseverance pays off, we rise again, and we might just end up bringing something new into our work, our lives, and the lives of others.

And the cycle repeats.

In Jon’s case, he goes through this with determination and focus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him stuck for long, because he keeps at it until he figures it out.

HIS funk arrives at the end, after he’s accomplished his goals.

He’s exhausted. It’s not clear it will be received well. It’s not certain it will catch.

That’s because it’s happened before: Major breakthroughs that get chucked (by others), don’t gather the approval of management. Don’t make it to the finish line. (Years ago, the entire company he worked for shut down forever, two days before he could launch his biggest project.) So maybe there’s that dread for him at the end of all his efforts.  (When it does make it through, people/clients love what he’s accomplished.)

Or maybe he’s depleted from lack of sleep, exhausted by a 100% effort. Kinda like how awful it is after you cross that marathon line, when your body lets you know how much pain it’s really in…..

But here’s the thing: This is his cycle. My heart aches for him, that he goes through so much emotional pain and physical exhaustion at the end. But this is how he creates.

I know, when another glimmer of a great idea appears, he will go after it with all his heart.

So when things get hard, when it feels like no one wants our work, when it feels like we aren’t “enough”, take some time to think…  Maybe you are at the hard part of your creative cycle.

Do what it takes to help you stay the course. Don’t accept “failure” as a measure of your success. It’s simply the hard part.

And the hard part can land anywhere. It doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

What is your creative cycle?

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more at Fine Art Views or my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com .

ON GIVING AND GETTING ADVICE: Be Careful What You Wish For

Be Careful What You Wish For...
Be Careful What You Wish For…

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.

Being listened to, and being a good listener, is powerful!

 (7 minute read)

Awhile back, I went through two unusual (not in a good way) experiences.

The first one, I asked for advice/input on social media. It was one of my most popular posts ever. (Which should tell you something about the power of appealing to other people’s expertise!)

How much of it was useful?

Almost none.

It was interesting on so many levels. So many people didn’t even read the actual post. They thought they knew what I asking for, but they got it wrong. So their answers were not helpful. Good intentions, but a waste of time.

More than half the responders didn’t read the comments. They read the post, but did not take 20 seconds to see if someone had already suggested a solution. I got the same solution many times over. (None of which applied, anyway.)

And when some people neither read the post, nor the previous comments, it made me want to scream.

Which goes to show, if people don’t even know what we’re asking for, there’s no way their advice will be useful, nor applicable.

There was one person (ironically, the person I knew had the most expertise in the first place) who read my post, and added a unique opinion. And surprisingly (or not), their response was the best one. It didn’t solve my problem, but it made me realize I’ve was barking up the wrong tree to begin with.

In the second situation, I was sharing some really hard “places” in my life with friends. That in itself was helpful. Sometimes we just need to speak our truth, with compassionate ears listening. My premise is, we almost always know what we have to do. It’s truly surprising how much insight we can gain from ourselves, when people simply listen to us, deeply.

In this case, I was met with a tsunami of advice, most of which did not land well.

I’m grateful I have people who want the best for me. But it was frustrating to look back at my notes and realize how devastating the advice was. (I won’t go into details, except that it was all about doing the exact opposite of what makes my work unique, personal, and powerful.)

I’m now in a position where a loved one literally hounds me for advice in every conversation. I try to focus on what THEY want, to support them in any way I can. But they insist they just want me to tell them what they should do.

And then they reject every single thing I say. They are frustrated that I don’t “get it”. They insist my own experiences have no relevance. Well…yes….and no.)

It’s really really hard. But I have to simply not fall into the pit of thinking I can help. No. More. Advice. (Which I offered again, fifteen minutes after typing this. WHEN WILL I LEARN?!)

Am I an idiot? (Please don’t answer that!) Yes and no. For me, it proves how desperately we want to help others, even when we can’t. Which is not evil. Just annoying for that other person.

Ironically, in my email box this morning was this Ask Polly question. Near the end of the long article (she writes more than I do!), this paragraph stuck out for me:

“I had to be humbled for years in order to recognize that I was just another human on this earth, just as bad and just as good as anyone else. I couldn’t be vulnerable with myself or anyone else until I was at peace with being ordinary. I couldn’t feel right until I was okay with being wrong. And once I was finally comfortable with being a regular mortal human, I could recognize that my needs weren’t immoral. What I wanted and needed and loved mattered, even when it seemed frivolous or shameful or it was more enormous than I could stand.”

 At peace with being ordinary….

This sounds at odds with most of the advice we seek in life, and the advice we give to others. Except that, what’s wrong with being ordinary??

Of course we want to do good work.

Of course we want to find our audience.

Of course we all hope to make money with the work of our heart.

Of course we want to be a force for good.

And of course we want others to love us for being…..well, ourselves!

We believe that if we get to a point where our work is amazing, we’ll surely feel better about our work. The truth? Sometimes I think people are just being nice. Sometimes I think I am fantastic. And then I do something that messes it all up. Respond badly to a situation or a toxic person, retreating in fear because I said something idiotic, embarrassed because a line of work I was so sure would sell, languishes in a place of honor in my studio.

We believe if we make decent money from our art/creative work, we’ll feel “more authentic.” Truth? We have more money. Deep down, we know that financial success is not the authenticity “proof” we’re looking for. How does winning an award, making more money than someone else, make us “better than” them?

We believe if our work serves a powerful purpose, we will be truly “real”. Reality? The more people praise how my work makes them feel, the more humble I feel. After all, I haven’t discovered a cure for cancer, nor have I done anything meaningful about hardship, trauma, war, famine, disease, terrorism, and all the other evil in the world. I simply make these little horses.

Am I loved for myself? I have family members who have made it clear how little they respect me and the work I do. I mean, they should know, right?

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but it’s kind of about monitoring advice, the advice we give (even mine!), and the advice we get.

When we get advice, if someone says something that resonates in a good way, pay attention. It’s a reflection of what we’re leaning towards, yearning for. It may take a while to uncover the gold. But it’s worth waiting for, and worth working towards.

When the advice we get lands badly, let it go. Either they meant well, or they didn’t. It doesn’t have to matter either way. As long as we recognize it’s not “our thing”, we’re still good.

When someone asks for advice, and we have expertise in that area–we’ve experienced it, we recognize it, we know what worked for us—yes, share it. But don’t push it. It’s based on OUR experience, and circumstances might be similar, but are never exactly the same. “Your mileage may vary” as the car commercials go.

If someone just can’t hear you, let that go, too. “Let me know how that works out for you” is a good “release line”.

Understand that sometimes, we just need to “blort”. (My long-standing word that combines “blurt” and maybe “storm”. Can’t remember!)

Sometimes, we just need to listen. Someone just posted on social media, and when I commented, they said I had helped them hugely in dealing with a major life issue years ago. Wha…..? I didn’t remember, so I asked them what I’d said.

They replied, and ended with, “….and after I was finished sharing with all my fears and anxiety, you said, ‘So if I’m hearing you correctly, you’re saying….’ And that was so powerful!”

All I did was listen. And echo/reflect back. So simple. And yet I still forget to do that, even now!

So, as always, if everything is working out for you, don’t change anything.

And if things aren’t working out for you…..

But if you need advice, remember:

We are a human being. We are no better, and probably no worse, than millions of other people. It’s okay for us to want what we want from our sales, from our art, from your life. It’s okay to do something different, (or not), it’s okay to take a step forward (or back), it’s okay to stay the course we’ve chosen, or to choose something completely different. It’s okay to be confused about our next step, and it’s okay to be sure of where we’re going. It doesn’t matter how “big” our work is, nor how “small”.

You have a story only you can tell.

Don’t miss that opportunity to share it.

Because even the tiny, seemingly insignificant things we choose, can be powerful.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more at Fine Art Views or my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com .

I “just” make “plastic” horses. It’s more than that, isn’t it?