I have to make a hard decision today. I have an opportunity to do a teaching gig that would pay fairly well, a week’s work. Something I would have jumped at a few years ago.Trouble is, I’m an atypical artist. I don’t want to teach other people how to do what I do. I never really wanted to in the first place. As time goes on, and my art is more important to me, I find I’m even less interested in teaching it. I want to do it.
Running a business based on making your art sucks up a lot of time. I spend lots more time on the business side than the making art side. So setting aside time to allow other people to make art while I watch is particularly painful sometimes.
Nevertheless, it is an opportunity. And I can’t make up my mind whether to do it or not.
A friend once said, “When you have a situation you just can’t make up your mind about, make a list of the pros and cons. Otherwise, it’s like doing long division in your head.” (I originally typed “long decision in your head.” Quite Freudian!) The trick then is not how many pro’s vs. con’s. It’s to pay attention to which ones make you cringe.
Here’s what my decision list looks like.
1) It’s a thousand dollars.
2) It’s a week’s work. 3)
It’s teaching, and I’ve always liked teaching.
4) I could really use the money.
5) The guy who asked me is really nice and excited about my work. His enthusiasm is infectious.
6) It’s hard for me to say no.
1) It’s much, much more than a week’s work. It’s actually 8 classes, 6 per day, for 5 days. That’s 30 different teaching sessions.
2) It also means a lot of preparation time. Probably several weeks’ of preparation time, for presentations, projects, etc.
3) It’s a long drive, too.
4) The last time I did something similar to this proposal, it turned into something awful. It was the most miserable day I’ve had in my entire professional career.
5) For a variety of professional reasons I won’t get into, I don’t want to teach how I make my own artwork. I’ve made a point of not teaching how to make it, and I don’t want to start now. Even in modified form.
6) If I’m going to teach, I want to either introductory skills (with jewelry, polymer clay, stamp-carving, etc.) or professional skills (writing an artist statement, etc.)
7) It’s a month before my major wholesale fine craft show, which takes a huge amount of time and energy to prepare for. Including the two to three weeks I’d sink into this teaching opportunity if I were to take it on.
8) Other than financial, it doesn’t fulfill a single other professional, business, personal or artistic goal I have.
9) As hard as it is to say “no”, I have to say “no” sometimes in order to make room for other things that are more important to me.
As I look over my reasons, I can see that some of the cons are fear-based, As in, “The last time I did this, it turned out badly.” And there is some good to be gained—some money to put back into my business, and the opportunity to hone my teaching skills.
I can also see, though, that what I could learn from taking this opportunity is something I’ve already learned. And don’t need to do this same thing again to learn the same lesson again.
The teaching skills I want to hone are as a presenter of professional skills. Teaching my methods will not help me with this teaching goal.
I was talking with the same friend about something completely different, and she said something that’s now stuck in my mind.
I’d said I was really excited about teaching the workshops on my schedule now—self-promotion for artists, wholesaling, writing a powerful artist statement, etc. It could be something that might conflict with my artistic/professional goals. But it didn’t feel that way right now.
I found as I prepared for this seminar, my thoughts clarified. I began to gain more insights into my own processes. While researching press releases, I learned how to make mine even better. I’m actually working out my own roadblocks and obstacles by sharing what I’ve learned along the way with others. I’ve learned more as I prepare to teach.
She said, “I’ve found that I often teach what I want to know.”
Such a simple phrase, but very useful today.
I’m going to have to call that very nice gentleman and refuse his generous offer. I hope I can think of someone else who might be able to fill the slot, someone who would be grateful for such an opportunity, who finds it a better match for where they are in life. As nice as I’d like to be, I need to be kind to myself, the artist, first.
HUNGRY ART (follow-up to the above post.)
A few people e-mailed me after yesterday’s blog entry, to ask how the decision had gone. This is how:
I thanked the person for the opportunity, said no, and offered to pass on the name of another person if possible. And this morning I did just that. I thought of another artist who might work well, and contacted both parties with information about the other. I really hope this works for both of them.
Another e-mail from a former student commented that she was spending a lot of time buying art materials and playing with them, but wasn’t actually making much art. She sounded like she has the right attitude, though—“All in good time, all in good time,” she said.
It’s natural to hit fallow periods where the art doesn’t come easily. Julia Cameron, in her book “The Artist’s Way” calls these periods “filling the well.” They are necessary and can be very productive, healing times. Playing with new materials and new ideas often leads to exciting new developments in our art.
And some people don’t feel the need to go any further than this. Their art is truly a pastime, something pleasant and enjoyable.
If you begin to feel a nagging sensation, though, a “could” rather than a “should”, maybe it’s time to impose a little more structure.
I started to do something this morning, and realized some of our pets hadn’t been fed or given fresh water. I thought, “I’ll get to it after I eat breakfast.” And then stopped. No. They are dependent on me for their physical needs. I need to take care of THEM first. And I did.
Our art has the same dependency on us. The unique vision we have as a unique person, a unique artist, cannot come into the world except through us. It sits and waits, sometimes patiently, sometimes anxiously. If you ignore its need to exist too long, however, it will come crashing through. “FEED ME!!”
Don’t let your art get too hungry today.
11 thoughts on “MAKING A DECISION and HUNGRY ART”
Your words resonated strongly today. Thank you!In 2008 I retired from full time teaching art for 33 years. I do teach a small adult group now. With Covid we stopped last Spring. All this isolation and nothing but time has freed me. I do feel I am “filling the well ” after decades. Wow.
I love the energy I get from enthusiastic students but it does exhaust. This time I have now is a gift. Experimenting with ideas which I have let hibernate for many years has led to some self surprise. I loved “The Artist’s Way”. I have done morning pages for decades! I enjoy your posts,Luann!Stay well. ~ Karen
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Karen, first, thank you for the validation! Yes, I love to teach a little here and there. But in the midst of it, I miss creating my own work. I love assisting people with their ‘next step forward’, and I’ve learned to frame all my teaching that way. Second, ‘filling the well’ is the highest, best use of our time right now. So easy to forget, so hard to make time for it. And yet a dry well serves no one. (Except crickets, maybe? 😀 Glad you are finding ways to grow and learn, an excellent use of your time!
It sounds like you made a good decision. If it were now, the virus thing would be part of the no. the last paragraph reminds me of Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC. If you haven’t read it, consider reading it, because you two get each other.
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Thanks for the supportive statement, Susan! I love Elizabeth. And I’m a huge fan of Brene Brown. I embraced ‘vulnerability’ early one (though I often catch a lot of flack for it) and Brene validated that for me!
I read your post to my husband who is not an artist, he just has one for a wife. He is, however, a financial analyst. We both agree that $1000 for 30 classes is a ridiculously low fee. Perhaps there were extenuating circumstances for that… nevertheless, if you were going to devote that amount of time and work to teaching, organize your own class and charge what you are worth. As a fellow artist (who also had to learn to say “no”) I am very glad YOU said no.
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Some interesting points, Luann. A suggestion — as and when you can, take notes for a possible teaching course. What are the things you feel students would need to know? What are the things you wish you had known? Also consider that there is a lot to teach without encroaching on your own style of creation. Also, in teaching, you are opening yourself up to potential new customers.
I often teach creative writing. i haven’t done a whole course for some time now, I mainly do one-day workshops, or an hour here or there. The more I have taught, even just a short session, the more I learn about what people really want in a course, vs what they want in my art. Often at such sessions I have opportunities to sell my books. I’ve also made some valuable contacts who I never would have thought to meet at a simple writing course.
Teaching is a special kind of networking experience where you are the head honcho.
So I keep a file of lessons on my computer. I have some resources I can trot out at short notice. With a little more notice I can prepare other materials. Does this encroach on my own form of art? Like you, I tend to steer people away from my own style. But I’ve also noticed that sometimes people do try to copy my style. And they never do it as well as I can. So I feel more confident as time goes by, that my individual style will remain mine.
In teaching, I’ve had a few lukewarm or even potentially disastrous experiences. I learned what worked in those situations and what did not. I also learned to find out more about the class they want me to teach. I think my worst experience was when I found out, too late, that my class was a group of elderly people who were using my class as part of a social morning, using me to fill in between their gentle exercise class and lunch. All they wanted to do in my class was gossip. The day I had scheduled for poetry, all the men got up to leave. Poetry was, to them, something flowery and feminine. I started quoting dirty limericks in a desperate attempt to persuade them that poetry is not just daffodils for pages and pages…
Sometimes I have a student who is clearly more talented than I am. When that student writes in a different genre to me, I am delighted. My background and my experiences colour my own work in unique ways. Thinking about it, your art and mine are similar in that they are a blend of art, and science. It’s an unusual mix and very few people can pull it off well.
Given the other time constraints you mentioned, not doing this class this time sounds like a good decision. But if you have something already prepared, and another request comes in at a time when you’re not preparing for an exhibition, you could be more confident in accepting.
I like the idea you suggested of teaching some practical advice on selling yourself and your work to the market. An included brainstorm session can produce some very useful information all round.
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Love all your insights, Helen, I know readers will love them, too! Just a note, this article originally ran in 2004, so I’ve learned a lot about teaching since then. Since then I’ve taught for art marketing organizations in other states, local art organizations, in my own studio, and at other facilities. And like you, I learn as much from teaching as my students! I empathize with your walk-outs. I gave a talk about writing a powerful artist statement to a local fine art group in Keene, NH, and every older guy walked out. It felt weird in the moment, but it didn’t stop me. The ones that stayed? They LOVED it! Just like our art, our workshops aren’t for everyone. But the ones who do love them, are grateful, and empowered. Keep it up, U R doing it right!
So true! So right! Good for you, Luann. You inspire me with your Artist-Mind over and over, year after year! Profound thanks. So glad you said NO!
Carol, thank you for that!! You are someone I keep writing for…. WHERE’S THE HEART EMOJI??? 😀
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Another great article. I have been teaching for so many years and would always have felt that I learned more than I taught,. But lately I have wanted to just create and grow my own art rather than, as you said, watch others create. Sometimes we have to Listen to our heart rather than say yes to every request, regardless of how lovely the opportunity or the people involved. I have in the past said yes to work, when I really didn’t want to take it on. I didnt want to let people down so let myself down instead! After reading this wonderful article I can see more clearly how to think before accepting in future!
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Asiling, love your comments! Yes, there’s no simple answer re: yes/no. Sometimes we can, sometimes we want to, sometimes we need the money, sometimes we don’t want to but don’t know how to say ‘no’. Love what you said, “I didn’t want to let people down so I let myself down instead…” Excellent insight. I’m glad sharing my experience, helped you clarify yours.