USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL! Another Life Metaphor for Drivers and Artists

My “New England Autumn” art wall.

USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL!

Keep your audience and collectors in touch with your art/life changes!

 On my kitchen wall, the wall that shows up in my Zoom meetings, is a bright red maple leaf. Not a real leaf. It’s hand-carved and painted, in wood. It joins a collection of fall landscape paintings, and like them, holds many memories of living in the Northeast/New England.  (A friend in New Hampshire told me that only three countries in the world host these amazing, colorful trees: The United States, Canada, and Japan.)

There’s a story behind this leaf. (Of course!)

It took place many, many years ago, at a huge 9-day show in New Hampshire, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

I was still pretty new to the show. Across the aisle from me was a longtime craftsman, who worked in glass. In between the previous year’s show and this one, he switched medium. He now made marvelous nature objects, carved from wood, and painted.

I loved his work, he loved mine, and we had several lovely chats during the show. He had a huge audience, having participated in the show for a long time, and always did well with sales.

Not this year!

His collectors and followers came to his booth. They were stunned to find a completely new body of work. And most of them left fairly quickly, without purchasing anything.

He was stunned to the point of having a panic attack near the end of the first day. (We were told at first he’d had a heart attack, which can mimic the same symptoms, but fortunately a panic attack is non-lethal!) A friend came to cover his booth, (he’s the one who filled me in on the backstory) and a few days later, the artist returned.

He was devastated, of course, and we had a lovely talk.

I told him his new work was beautiful, and in time, he would either regain his audience, or grow a new one. It wasn’t the quality of his work that was failing him. It was catching his long-time audience off-guard. He needed to give them time to adjust.

I know this phenomenon all too well! My work has never fit into anyone else’s “box”, and new work takes time to sell. (Okay, ALL my work takes time. That can get discouraging in hard times, but it has never stopped me.)

He was grateful for my encouragement and insight. The next day, he brought me my maple leaf! And sure enough, even by the end of the fair, his sales were inching up. (Many were new people who were unfamiliar with his former body of work.)

How does this relate to a turn signal while driving? (You know I’ll find a way!)

One of my biggest pet peeves while driving is, when people don’t signal a turn, or a lane change, until they’re actually acting on it. Which isn’t helpful or useful for those of us passing, or approaching an intersection.

Turn signals are for letting others know our intentions. We need to activate that turn signal to let others know we’re going to get into their lane, or slow down to turn soon. (Yes, some people leave them on, which is also confusing. But it’s better to slow down when we don’t have to, rather than maintain our speed, not knowing what they plan to do.)

If this artist had prepared his audience, alerted them of his intentions…

If he had send out a postcard, or an email newsletter, letting them know he was switching gears/directions/media…

They would not have been so surprised when he showed up with a totally new body of work.

Instead, he caught them off-guard, unsure what to say, being disappointed the work they’d grown to love was no longer available.

In fact, he could have even staged a sell-off of his other work from his studio. (This was before the days of online shopping and artist websites!) It would have given his faithful collectors a last chance to purchase his work, and generated some excitement and interest in his new work.

Of course, in these days of social media and our intense use of email newsletters, more people can be aware of our own life lane-changes. We can use these powerful tools to keep our audience informed: New work. New media. New techniques. New studio location.

That little red wood leaf is a powerful reminder for me:

Stay in touch!

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.

10 thoughts on “USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL! Another Life Metaphor for Drivers and Artists”

  1. Bob Dylan had the same problem when he moved from acoustic to electric at the Newport Folk Festival! He was booed and called names.
    But Dylan aside, including our audience as part of the change. Not to have them tell us what we should make because that’s what they are searching for (no dolphins?) but to gently let them know what is going on.

    This post is a great story to remember.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kirsten, what a great story, I had no idea! YES, as the previous posts show, this can be an artist’s “new normal”, which is a good thing. We just can’t take it personally if we lose a few followers along the way. Case in point: I don’t check my email newsletter stats very often, but I’m always a little shocked when people unsubscribe and report them as spam. I don’t sign anybody up unless they’ve given me permission. So I’m miffed, not because they unsubscribe, but because report me. If they no longer find my writing relevant, it’s good to know and it doesn’t bother me. OOOH, and thank you the kudos on this post, MUCH appreciated!

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  2. My first instinct was to go look up what ZIP code goes with 11229, but I resisted. Ahh… changing media or trying different styles can be jarring. I’d add that people who love glass, well…. love glass. Losing a favorite glass artist would hurt. A warning, especially in the form of a beautiful postcard, might have helped lessen the shock, but if someone has the glass bug they’re not going to be satisfied with wood IMO. (I’m trying to imagine the wood equivalent of a chevron bead, for example, or millefiori.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, Lizzie, you caught me! I forgot to put the title in the official title box, and it looks like WP made something up. I’ve corrected it. :-p
      Yes on the jarring part, but I also admire people who make such monumental shifts. It’s obviously something in their heart that wants to go in a new direction, and I applaud that. I don’t think I saw him again, but I’m glad I was able to ease his (emotional) pain, and I hope he is still making those beautiful wood pieces.

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  3. I always love your work, and your writing has inspired and comforted me over the years. Thanks for this one! And thank you for the personal snail mail postcard. What a treat to find it in the mailbox, and how cool is it when I can actually put it on the fridge with a magnet. No need to boot up to enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Andre, good to hear from you! I left “mailing postcards” behind when I left NH, and my mailing list was in the thousands. But this year, I realized my mailing list is MUCH smaller, and it might bring a little joy into someone’s life, to get a postcard for this occasion. Thank you for letting me know how much it meant to you! I’ll keep it up. 🙂 LOVE your work, so strong and brilliant with color.

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  4. We have some bright red maple leaves here, and other autumn foliage. it’s not native to Australia but some locations, especially our colder areas, are noted for their autumn colour.
    I agree, it is very important to let your following know what you’re up to. It can diversify their tastes also.
    An artist friend of mine has produced over the years a wide range or art styles. The first work of hers I saw was naive art, landscapes in acrylics. Then she painted on silk, some beautiful flowers. The local school has samples which they treasure. Glorious colour. And this year, she has been part of an exhibition where her work is white, delicate and made of paper. She’s an indigenous artist and has cheekily made a beautiful cloche-style hat, but decorated it with a delicate spray of emu feathers. Each time she has changed, it has been a surprise. And each time, I have seen her gain a new following. Those of us who have followed her for years now know to stay in touch with her work, because it will always be a surprise. She’s now including photography, of indigenous people wearing her creations.
    She does not signal direction changes, but she’s also very self-deprecating and does not have the following she deserves. However, I think she has the following she is comfortable with. Her pay-off with her art is her love of creating it, and her desire to show her indigenous heritage in new and exciting ways. And in that, she is a success.
    I’d like to see her gain the following she deserves, but I sometimes wonder if she’d feel out of her depth if it got too wild.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So she’s someone that is constantly changing direction, and it’s one of her markers! I love how you recognize she focuses on her wants/needs/desires and that “not signaling” may be a way of managing her journey. AND it sounds like she also has a story that unites it all (like I do.) If she’s happy with that, I’m happy for her! And she’s fortunate to have such a loving, faithful follower as YOU. Thank you for sharing today, Helen!

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  5. Your response to the artist is spot on as usual. I have had that jolt in viewer reaction from fans now and then too . What kept me in the dark about warning people was that, for me, the shift had been coming on for some time. But there is quite a time-lag between pieces finished and venue found and ready to present them to the public and critics. Good post, Luann!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carol, good to hear from you and I’m delighted you enjoyed this post! And yes, you’re right, it’s perfectly human to be incredibly aware of our path and new intentions, and not to see them from the point of view of our audience and collectors. We just need to see such a transition from their perspective, and be prepared for the fall-out, if there is any.

      Liked by 1 person

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