NEWSLETTERS 101: #5 What Is the Story Only YOU Can Tell?

Yep, I'm a little obsessed with my horses. Because they represent the start--and heart--of everything I am today.
Yep, I’m a little obsessed with my horses. Because they represent the start–and heart–of everything I am today.

NEWSLETTERS 101: #5 What Is the Story Only YOU Can Tell?

Apologies, I just realized I forgot to republish this article here on my blog! This is part of my series “NEWSLETTERS 101” and this one is a biggie!

We may not be ‘used to’ digging so deep. But the gold you find there is worth it!

(5 minute read)

Last week’s article about knowing our creation story sounded simple. But I’m guessing from some of the questions I received privately that most of us don’t find it that easy.

When I work in person with someone, it’s easier. There are questions I can ask, hints in people’s responses I can follow, and body language that tell me I’m getting close. And when people get to their truth, it’s powerful to hear, and see. Their stance gets ‘brave’: They stand/sit taller, their voice deepens, their words are simple, straightforward, and powerful. And often, there are tears. From both of us!

Unfortunately, before people get there, it can be very hard. For me, and for them.

Some people get annoyed. Or angry. Or they shut down, or push back: “I dunno. I dunno. I DON’T KNOW!!! Why do you keep asking me that??!!” (“That” is usually the word “why”, and I’ve written about it for years on my blog and on Fine Art Views (along with other authors.)

I’ve written about five drafts of this article in the last few weeks, and get overwhelmed with everything I want to say. So instead, for those of you who truly want to find your story, today I am assigning you homework. THREE homework assignments, actually:

Check out this article on what makes each one of us special: 10 Things That Make A Person Unique And Different

Read carefully, and think of how you would respond to each of the aspects given.

Next, invest $5 on a copy of Kaleel Jamison’s book, The Nibble Theory and The Kernel of Power. The link actually goes to the best bookfinding tool on the internet called (surprise!) Bookfinder.com.

This book will take you less than an hour to read, but it can be a life-changer. It was for me. The first section is understanding why some people always try to take us down by ‘nibbling’ away at us until we are not a threat to them anymore.

The second section, finding our Kernel of Power, can help you dig deeper into what makes you YOU. Take your time in reading this part, and think carefully about the questions. (Also note that Jamison says how our tears come with our truth.)

Third, this homework assignment is more creative. Remember that meme that went around on Facebook, 25 Random Things About Me, where we were asked to create a list of ‘things’ most people would not otherwise know about us? (Yes, I did it, and it led to another blog post. Of course!) (And also ‘of course’, I did an entire series of articles on how 25 Random Things can help us write a stronger artist statement.)

Last, there is an unspoken element in all these assignments:

The power of our choices.

Mine came when I realized I didn’t have to be “good enough”. I simply had to make the work of my heart. It was the beginning of everything with my art.

Many people say there was no ‘turning point’ or creation story with their art. They never ‘chose’ their art career. They always knew they were creative, and simply followed that path.

If that’s the case for you, then those three exercises may give you clarity. Because ‘just following a path’ still entails many, many tiny choices along the way.

I’ve written about this process—finding our central truth, our creation story–many times. I wish I could do it in person with each of you who are still searching. I also realize, I’m a writer. I constantly write my way to my truth. (To all of you who have signed up for my newsletter or subscribe to my blog, that’s why you get emails every week instead of once a month! Can’t apologize anymore, it’s part of who I am!)

I shut myself in my studio that day I wrote my artist statement. I was frustrated many times, but would not let myself leave until it was done. And I knew when it was done.

I know there’s still nuance in it. Most people call it a poem, and I agree. I elaborate on it once people, visitors, collectors, let me know they want to talk about it with me.

But it still resonates, and it still speaks my truth: I am here, now. I am only here for a short time on this planet. I want to have my voice in this world. Writing and making little plastic horses is part of that voice.

Yep, I’m a little obsessed with my horses. Because they represent the start–and heart–of everything I am today.

I found that looking for humanity’s roots in ancient times gave me hope that we can all do better at being a good, compassionate, generous, creative human being. Including me. Again: The power of our choices.

There are many other ways I am unique. Like loving melted ice cream. Like not liking watermelon. Like taking up martial arts and my art in my ‘40’s, dyeing my hair for the first time in my ‘50’s and sitting with the dying in my ‘60’s.

All of these are choices.

You’ve made choices all along the way, too.

Think about them. Do the homework. Let me know if you have questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.

On one hand, no, none of this will be on the test. (There is no test.)

On the other hand, you already have all the right answers. They’ve been there all along.

Let them out. Let them breathe. Let them shine. Just like YOU.

If you enjoyed this article and know someone who might enjoy it, please feel free to forward this to them.

If you received this from someone, and liked it, you can subscribe to more artists’ views at the Fine Art Views blog.

And if you’d like to read more of my stuff, you can subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation

Your story, at the heart of your art, your creative, is a powerful force for good in the world.
Your story, at the heart of your art, your creative, is a powerful force for good in the world.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation

How I Poke(d) People Into Telling Me Their WHY 

Yet still she persisted….

How I Poke(d) People Into Telling Me Their WHY 

Yet still she persisted….

(8 minute read)

I know I’ve told this story a million times. But I can’t find it to share with you, and so I’m telling it again.

Soon after I heeded the call of my art, I entered my work in a group exhibition. The group was the Women’s Caucus for Art (the New Hampshire Chapter) and this was my very first art exhibit. I was already on fire with my newfound life mission, and it showed.

The show organizer asked for volunteers to present gallery talks. I volunteered, but wasn’t chosen. Which I carried NO resentment for, and when I asked, courteously, telling them I just wanted to know for my own education, they said they picked people they knew would be up to the task. And they didn’t know me yet. (Which shows the power of gentle inquiry in finding out in a way we can LEARN from, instead of simply assuming the worst.) (TWO life lessons for you today!)

Having never heard a gallery talk, let alone actually giving one, I went with eager anticipation, hoping to hear the story behind these artists’ work.

It was a long drive, we only had one car at the time, and one of the other artists offered me a ride. We hit it off and had a lovely talk on the way up. (Keep note of this!) The exhibit was beautiful, the typical run-of-the-mill artist statements were displayed, and after an hour or so, the selected artists’ presentations began.

It was abysmal. THEY were abysmal (the talks, not the people.)

The first speaker shared a lot about their process, a much-maligned medium (digital art) at the time. Perhaps to compensate for the expected push-back (digital art was not considered “real art” at that time), the artist understandably spent a lot of time on the “how”. Their talk had a good reception, though. The work was nowhere near “simple” to create. Their subject was inspired by a Greek island the artist had explored in their academic research, where a priesthood of women in ancient times had resided. Those recently-discovered images were the foundation of her work. Their presentation was quite academic in nature.

But then it was time for their question-and-answer session, and that’s where it almost fell apart.

The first questions were fairly mundane: What software had they used? Who did their framing? Etc., etc.

Then I posed my question.

WHY?

Okay, this was almost 30 years ago, and I can’t remember exactly how I phrased my question(s). It took about a dozen tries on my part. The more I persisted, the more defensive the artist became, again understandably. But my intent finally got through.

I simply wanted to know why this particular island was so important to this woman. And, to be blunt, why it should be important to us, too. (More on this at the end.)

I said, “There are thousands of islands in Greece.” (Just looked that up. There are around 6,000 Greek islands, though fewer than 300 are inhabited.) “Thousands. And people have lived on them for millennia. Why THIS ISLAND? And why THIS POINT IN TIME?”

Aha! The lightbulb visibly lit up in their head.

They unfolded their arms. They stood up, straight and proud. Their voice deepened, slowed down, became firmer:

“Because on this island, in this all-too-brief moment in time, women were revered and respected. They could walk the streets, at night, in safety, alone and unafraid.”

Boom. Mike drop.

The entire room did that gasp thing, where everyone else suddenly gets it, too.

It was a powerful moment. Still is.

The rest of the talks went the same way. When everyone was done asking the run-of-the-mill questions, I would ask the “why”.

Now, this was hard for me. I do not welcome confrontation. I usually run from it as fast as I can. It was hard for the speakers, too. They had clearly never considered the “why”.  And no one had ever held their feet to the fire to do so.

Afterwards, every single speaker came up to me. I would start to apologize: I was new to art-making, I was on fire with my art. And I wanted to know what the fire was in my newly-found community of artists.

Every single artist said, “No. I want to THANK you!” (THAT took courage, too.)

My fellow artist/speaker/driver said the same thing. I was worried that after our intense, deep conversation on the way up, that I’d wrecked it. Their work was titled, “The Hidden Story”. And I was the only person who actually asked what the story was!

“No,” they said, “I know who you are. I’ve never told that story before today, and I’m glad you asked me about it. I looked at your face in the audience. I felt safe, and I felt SEEN. I told you my story, and I’m glad I did!”

An article about the exhibition ran in the state’s largest newspaper, and I was mentioned. Not by name. I was the “persistent woman in the audience” who encouraged every speaker to tell their powerful story.

Persistent.

Yup, that’s me.

I don’t do that much anymore. I’ve done a similar process with anyone who takes me up on my offer to help them find their story. It’s easier, in some ways, to do it in person, or in a workshop. I have to show them my (persistent) intentions are honorable. Even so, there is always someone who simply can’t do this. They aren’t ready. Or the years of experience they already have keeps them from wrapping their heads around this. Obviously, this isn’t something that happens much in art school, I’m guessing, though maybe times have changed.

And even when it’s someone I know and love, it’s hard for ME. It DOES feel confrontational when I won’t let some lame response fill the bill. I keep going until I know that person is speaking their truth, because I see the same signs when it does: Posture changes, defenses come down, voices strengthen, and slows.

Truth is told.

And even when others see this, it can offend them, make them defensive. I gave an impromptu presentation when asked at a gallery exhibit a few years ago. I know my stories, and somehow I know which one will “rise to the occasion” when I talk. I’ve told them many times, there are always new ones in the work, and I rarely lack for something to say, when asked. (This from a newly self-identified introvert, remember!)

But the very next person who was asked, said angrily, “My art isn’t verbal!” and clammed up. (Too bad, because their piece was one of my favorites in that show.)

So if you did the homework assignment from last week, with full attention and intent, and are still stuck, try this:

Is there someone in your life who you would trust with your tender, creative heart?

They don’t have to be an artist, nor a collector, nor even a fan. They simply have to be someone who you trust to act with integrity and kindness. Ideally, someone who is also willing to persist.

You keep talking, and every time you pause, if the story hasn’t appeared yet, they keep asking you that question about your artwork: Why?

Why this medium? Why this subject? Why this composition? Why these colors? Why, why, why.

They need to pay very close attention to what comes too easily from you. What feels like a no-brainer for you:

“I just love color!”

“Why? Why do you love color? Why did you choose THESE colors? What do they represent to you? What mood are you striving to create with them? Why that mood? Where does that mood come from in this piece? Why?”

I don’t have any sure-fire tricks here. Every time I do this, I worry I’m doing it wrong, if that helps. When the person gets defensive, REALLY worry: Have I just killed our relationship???

But that defensiveness is exactly the clue, the proof, that we are on the right path.

Our closely-held assumptions, our protective coloration (sorry, couldn’t resist!), our cherished (yet often superficial) beliefs about our work are being challenged. That can feel like an attack. Hence, the defensiveness.

But if you truly want to get to your creation story, which you can choose to incorporate into your artist statement or not (your choice), this will be well worth your time and momentary discomfort. (It might help to have a bottle of wine ready when you’re done?)

You can also try this in writing, by yourself. I did. When I locked myself in my studio, determined to get to the heart of what I do, I started with, “Why this cave?” And after I’d write my answer, I would write, “Why?”

Until I got to my true answer.

Last, here is why the “why” is so hard:

I’m really asking you why I should care.

And here’s why you need to find it, even though it’s hard:

Everyone has a creation story.

Every creation story is a hero’s journey.

No matter where you are on your journey, there’s a story.

You are not alone, with your story.

Everyone is struggling with something.

Everyone is healing from something.

Everyone wants to be “seen”.

Everyone wants to have a voice in the world.

Everyone wants to know that they matter.

And when we share our story, there are people who are going through something similar, or know that it’s something they WILL go through, someday.

Your story will not only resonate with someone, it will uplift someone, encourage someone, inspire someone. It may comfort someone, it may give someone hope. It make clarify their own intentions, wants, and desires.

Your story, at the heart of your art, your creative, is a powerful force for good in the world.

That alone is a pretty good reason to dig deep for it, don’t you think?

YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT: It’s About Y*O*U!!

Warning: Snark zone ahead!!!!

I’m offering a service for artists and craftspeople…heck, for anyone who needs a ‘mission statement’. I’ll rewrite your current artist statement for a small fee $100.

I’m not putting the dollar amount in stone yet. That’s because I charged my first paying customer $25. And then spent five hours arguing back and forth in dozens of emails, until I finally called them and snarled for 15 minutes, (which I hardly ever, ever do) laying out all the reasons why mine might work better than theirs, that they could add whatever they wanted to it, just don’t tell me to do it, and if they didn’t like what I’d written, then throw it away and write their own.

So I made $4/hour AND had to listen to a lot of complaining and what I’d ‘left out’. So, setting boundaries. Lesson learned.

In my defense, I contacted a friend of mine who works in the same medium, and read them what I’d written. “Holy crap!!” they yelled, “If THEY don’t use it, I want it!!! That’s terrific!” (Thank you, thank you.)

I actually learned two things from this experience. I need to be charging more than $25 I need to make it clear I am not a work-for-hire. I am a consultant. I will rewrite or suggest a different way to present yourself as an artist. You are then free to use this information–or not.

I also learned I must be crystal-clear on what I’m offering. Or rather, what I’m not offering.

What I write will have very little to do with how long/how many years you’ve been doing….whatever it is you do.

I do not particularly care who you studied with, nor where you went to art school. (That’s for your bio/resume/cv, though why we brag about who we’ve paid to teach us something counts as a credential is beyond me.)

I’m not interested in the galleries you’re in, the awards you’ve won, or the shows you’ve been in. (See above.)

I don’t want to read your single-spaced two-page artist statement in a 10 point font. (Come on!)

I don’t especially care how you do what you do. (And this is where I ran into conflict with my first paying client. For them, it was all about process–the how. Yeah, I might want to know down the road, but honestly, I can probably Google it just as quickly.)

I want to know the WHY.

I want to know why you chose this medium.
I want to know why you use it the way you do.
I want to know why it gives you joy.

Why it resonates with you, why it ‘fits’ you, why it provides you your voice in the world.

I don’t want to hear that you ” just love color”. Or texture. Or anything else that literally everyone in the world likes.

I don’t want to hear that your prefered medium is “alive”. It sounds like you might segue to other living things as your medium of choice down the road. Like…people. After all, that wood is not “alive” after you cut it, slice it, carve it, paint it, is it? (Wood people–please take note.)

And if I hear, “Because I want to make people happy” one more time, I am kicking you to the curb. (Just kidding.) (NO I’M NOT.) People will be happy if you drive around in a car and throw money at them as they’re walking down the sidewalk. That is not an artist statement.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written for the past twenty years, if you’ve ever taken a class from me, if you’ve ever seen my artwork/visited my booth/talked to me in person, you will understand.

And even though I break some of my own rules in my own artist statement, I still believe it has power and it says enough.

How do I know?

Because after people read it, they do exactly what I want them to do.

They go back and look at my art, again. They look deeply and reverently. And then they turn to me and ask a question.

Former art marketing and display consultant Bruce Baker taught me the wisdom of this first question from our exhibition/booth/gallery/studio visitors. It is a sign from your visitor that it’s okay to talk to them about your work. The question may seem silly, or mundane. It may be profound and thoughtful. Whatever.

They have connected with your work, and they want to know more about it–and you.

You have said something in your writing that speaks to them, that resonates with them. And they look at your work again, seeing something deeper, something powerful, something they might otherwise have missed.

Believe me, please….. If your artist statement is all about your credentials, about your schooling, about your techniques, then you will have to start at the bottom to connect this person with you and your work.

Come on, folks. Thousands and thousands of artists have graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Tens of thousands have taken workshops with a well-known painter or ceramist. Tens of thousands have worked in the same medium you do. Hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent by people perfecting their craft. Millions of people wanted to be an artist when they were little. And billions of people (aka “everybody on planet Earth”) “just love color.”

But there is only one ‘you’ in the entire universe.

And yet, that is the one credential most people are afraid to talk about in their artist statement.

Oh, most people talk about themselves in some way, shape, or form. (See above.)

But in my humble experience, most of us are truly hesitant about sharing what really matters to us, in our art, in our lives, in our hearts.

What happened to that person’s artist statement? About a year later, a magazine ran an article about them.

And what I’d written for them was center stage. I think it was the best part!

P.S. And if you’re still not convinced, if you are a true fan of art-speak, fancy-schmancy words, and something vaguely art-acadamese-sounding, help yourself to this amazing website: ArtyBollocks, the best artist statement generator. Check it out! Or this “art-speak generator“.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it sure looks promising!

P.P.S Apologies, I’ve just finished my volunteer assignment for a local art event that entailed reading about 140 artist statements, and I am totally fried.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #4: Know Your Creation Story

 The moment you chose to live your life and make your art with intention is the heart of everything you do, write, say.

(4 minute read)    

Last week, I shared how introverts can shine in the world, thanks to email art marketing newsletters.

Today, I had a long article planned. But, lucky you! I realized it was about two different topics I had squished into one:

Your Most Important Story of All

Before we get to suggestions about this, let’s talk about the most important topic of all of this:

The Story of YOU.

Here’s the biggest obstacle when it comes to every aspect of marketing and selling our art:

Sooooo many people don’t know their own story!

Let’s back up a little. There are two powerful stories in every creative person.

The first is what I call the ‘creation story’.

The second is our artist statement, which I’ll tackle next week. Because it helps to know your creation story first.

What’s the difference?

Your creation story marks your first step, the moment you knew you were meant to be an artist. It’s that aha moment when we realized we had to be an artist. The moment where we completely embrace what we want, regardless of whether we even know how, or why. It’s the point in your life where your deepest intention occurred.

Dave Geada, FASO’s marketing guru, talks about this story in almost every webinar I’ve watched so far. He phrased it perfectly: After a near-death experience, he vowed to live his life with intent. With INTENTION. I’ve called it our “hero’s journey story” for years, and Dave calls it that, too. (Whew! I love it when the experts and I are on the same page!)

That’s what your first step was: Your intention to make your art. Here’s mine. It’s what made me take the leap, and it still resonates with me today.

Unlike your artist statement, it doesn’t have to be public (though there are ways to modify it so it can, so don’t rule that out.)

You DO have to know it. Because once you realize it, it will provide the foundation of everything you do, write, make, talk about, going forward with your artwork. It will ground you when you are lost. It will reassure you when you are discouraged. It will lift you up when life gets hard.

Knowing it will help you lift others, too. Because when we speak our truth, it not only resonates with others, it can inspire them to see theirs.

Years ago, I created a workshop designed to help people write their artist statement. It was powerful, and eye-opening. I got to hear how several dozen people got their start, and why. My favorite was the artist who started with, “I had a baby. I nearly died. Everything changed…” I exclaimed, “THAT’s your artist statement!” What I meant was, this was the foundation of her artist statement.

To frame this better: That may or may not be what she decides to use, publicly. But it was that point in time where “everything changed.” It would inspire her artist statement, however she chose to frame it. It was her creation story, it was powerful, and she knew it.

Another great creation story was one I’ve written about before, which illustrates that our creation story will evolve. It’s about long-time artist who lost their sight late in life—and everything changed. Did they stop making? Nope. But it’s different, now. Because everything changed. But it was compelling enough for me to go back to that ‘weird crappy’ piece of “art” hanging on the gallery wall, and find something beautiful in it. Courage. Perseverance. Letting go of what was, and embracing the new ‘what is’.

Your homework: What is your creation story? Write it out, if only for your private use.

If you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

 

 

HOW TO GET TO THE “HEART” BEHIND YOUR ART

HOW TO GET TO THE “HEART” BEHIND YOUR ART

Get into the habit of thinking why we make the choices we do.

(9 minute read)

In last week’s column, I shared how thinking about the “why” helps us write a more powerful artist statement.

Some people got it right away. Others, who are just as good at making their art, were baffled. Believe me, I understand! When I first considered writing an artist statement, I looked to see how others were doing it. Which, I believe, is why most of us continue to use the Artsy Bollocks method of creating an artist statement. (I see they now even offer an “artist certification” generator for those of us who didn’t go to art school or who didn’t study with famous artists.)

What inspired me to dig a little deeper came from a speaker, Bruce Baker, who shared why a good story was so important.

Baker has retired from the lecture/workshop circuit, but you can see more about him here.

When a potential customer or collector first sees our work, it does have to “speak” to them first (although they may not know why it attracts them.) That is our “product”, the work that grabs their attention. “Oh my goodness, I just LOVE this piece!”

The second stage is the price. “How much is it?” To which we might reply, “That is a hand-formed, pit-fired clay vessel and it is $350!”

Bruce always added a slug of humor to his presentations, and went on, “So if they don’t faint, or walk away, here’s the next critical part of making that connection, especially if they don’t just buy it on the spot….”

The story.

And if we don’t nail down our story, we run the risk of the energy ebbing away: “Well, I’ll have to think about it, thank you! I’ll be back!”

My story is critically important for selling my work. Oh, like you, I’ve had the occasional customer who simply bought something, and as I was wrapping it up, they would ask, “So what’s it made out of?” But that’s pretty rare.

From the very beginning of my art-making, most first encounters were more like this: A person enters my space (my booth, or my studio). I greet them and give them a very brief intro to my work. I end with, “It’s okay to touch and pick things up, and if you have a questions, just let me know.” And then I do my best to leave them alone until they signal that it’s okay for me to talk to them.

Early on, people would walk by my booth, do a double-take, and come inside. They would look and suddenly find a piece that intrigued them. They do a head-tilt. (A more experienced friend said that’s what people do when someone is trying to “figure something out”, unconsciously accessing a different part of the brain.) (I have no idea if this is true or not, but I DO see it happen a lot.)

When I would ask, “What are you thinking?” (I was new to this, so though it’s not the best “opening line”, I was hoping to decipher how people viewed my work.)

They would almost always say, slowly, thoughtfully, “It’s absolutely beautiful, and I’ve never seen anything like it.” Sometimes even, “What am I looking at??” (in a nice way.)

Not all people, of course. I learned early on that my art wasn’t for everyone, but I did find an audience for it, which is all I care about.

I now have many stories to begin the conversation. I explain why I chose the medium I work with. I explain its benefits, to me, to my collectors, and to the planet. I share where my inspiration comes from, and why it is a story that speaks to us all.

But I rarely, if ever, saw that same deep dive in other artist’s statements.

What changed for me, when I heard that presentation, was my willingness to be vulnerable, to be honest, and to share what was in my heart. I was an “outsider” in the art world, I always felt like an outsider. But telling my story felt like recognizing I had a place in the world, regardless.

Years ago, I ran through the exercise for a friend, helping them untangle their own story. After reading her story, I bombarded her with “why” questions. It helped them focus on every single decision they make while creating their work. I wrote down her last comments: “ I don’t want to get too analytical in what I say about myself in this statement but I am also trying to look a little deeper and try to answer your questions.  I often don’t think about these things so much when I choose a subject to paint but not thinking about this doesn’t mean that there is not a thread to it all.  Thanks for making me think!”

And that’s the trick of it, the trick to writing a good artist statement.

My favorite strategy: When people say, I like to paint this, this way, etc. I ask them why? Over, and over, and over again.

Think about it. We make hundreds–no, thousands of tiny choices every day. Everything from the time we choose to get up in the morning, the breakfast cereal we prefer, the route we take to work, to the grocery store we shop at, going in the car we bought, filled with the gas station we go to,  shop with the cart (or basket) we pick (As in do you bring one in from the parking lot? Or prefer to get one in the store? Or avoid the one that still has paper trash in it?), and fill it with the brands we select in the aisles.

We choose the names of our children and our pets, and the doctors and vets that see them. We choose whether to take on a married name or not, our dishes, the color of our bath towels. We choose our way of exercising (or not to exercise), the people we befriend, the restaurant we go to, the entrees we order (or never order!) etc., etc, etc..

Our days are filled with tiny choices, most of which become habits. When they become habits, we eventually forget that first they were choices we’ve made.

All based on a myriad of conditions: Our taste. Our preference. Our budget. What works for us, what works for our partner/family/social circle, our life.

We do the same thing when we make our art.

Especially with our artwork! We choose the color palette, the medium, the glaze, the composition. We eventually acquire our own distinctive style. We have artists who inspire us, teachers who educate us, mentors who encourage us, spouses/partners/friends who cheer us on (or not). We make our own decisions about which shows, galleries, and events work for us, and which one’s don’t. We market our work in dozens of different ways, from postcards and signage to social media (or not!)

There are not only hundreds of choices of WHAT we make, but hundreds more after that. The kind of paint we use, the substrate, time we paint, what we paint. I could go on, but surely by now, you get the picture!

To move efficiently in the world, we make these choices–and are usually totally unaware of them. Soon we take them for granted. And we assume that everybody else has made the same choices, for the same reasons.

But that’s not really true, is it?

I know “special snowflake” is a popular meme these days, mostly because we’ve come to see it as derogatory. Yes, we are all special, but does that mean each of us should be treated uniquely?

Well…..yeah!

 Because knowing we all, as human beings, have so much in common, always, always has to be balanced with how distinct and unique we are, too.

And that has been a “thing” since those ancient, prehistoric times, too.

Even those ancient caves that inspire all have much in common. But each one is distinctive, too. There’s no single way to paint a bull, a horse, even a handprint. (And handprints on cave walls are a subtle, powerful way of realizing how many people participated in the ceremonies associated with those paintings, even down to a good guess about their age and gender, based on size and finger length ratios.)

Maybe a clueless potential customer (and I can be one!) can’t tell the difference between your work and someone else’s.

But you do.

You may focus on why yours is better, or worse. Whether yours sells, or why it doesn’t, and theirs does. Why their work got into that gallery or show, and yours didn’t, or vice versa. So will your true collectors.

But it all boils down to the hundreds of small choices you made along the way. Because that other artist made slightly different choices.

So your homework today, should you choose to accept it, is to think about as many choices as you can:

Why do you focus on that particular medium? (Or why do you choose to work in several?) Why do you use that tool, that process, that style?

Why did you chose those objects for your still life? Why did you arrange them the way you did? Why do you even like to paint still lifes? Or why do you not?

Why do you paint/draw/collage/sculpt/sing/dance/insert-your-creative-work-here the way you do? I know artists who are capable of using any medium but CHOOSE colored pencil work. Not because they can’t do anything else, but because it feels right to them. (Which is why I hate it when people automatically believe that some media are “better” than others.) (In cave art, the techniques varied from brushing, daubing, and spitting ground-up pigmented rocks to incising and carving.)

It can help to have a friend, a good friend who you trust with your help, fire these questions at you. It can help to have someone else (same qualifications) to take notes.

It helps to notice when you become exasperated, too, or even angry.

Why?

Because all that prodding gets you closer and closer to the why of everything you do. Are. Want. Create.

 It gets to the heart of Y*O*U*.

And that’s a pretty powerful place to be.

Try it. Let me know how it works. Let me know where you get stuck.

Remember, if it feels too personal, you get to control how much of your story to share.

But knowing your story is a major game-changer in understanding your own work of your heart.

It’s worth it. For you, and your audience.

Because we all have a story to tell.

What’s yours?

If you enjoyed this article and know someone who might enjoy it, please feel free to forward this to them.
If you received this from someone, and liked it, you can subscribe to more artists’ views at the Fine Art Views blog.
And if you’d like to read more of my stuff, you can subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

THE MOST IMPORTANT W: Chose Your Humanity Over Your Credentials

Let the world see who you are and why you matter!
Let the world see who you are and why you matter!

THE MOST IMPORTANT W: Chose Your Humanity Over Your Credentials

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 the world see who you are and why you matter!

Awhile back, I attended a seminar on professional development skills for artists. I love to hear from other people on what has proven important for them to get their art into the world. And I almost always learn something, too.

This seminar focused on creating a cohesive body of work; approaching galleries; the pros and cons of framing, and more.

This presenter was articulate and organized, the presentation covered a lot of ground, but the time passed quickly. They mostly focused on 2D artwork, so much of it didn’t apply to me at all. But I appreciated their expertise in their medium, and how clear their presentation was.
When I got home, I visited their website.
And here is where I was totally baffled and frustrated:

There was absolutely nothing there about the “why”.

There was plenty of information, especially around credentials. In fact, the bio/about-the-artist section was nothing but credentials. Degrees, prestigious galleries that represent them, the famous collections their work is in, the other roles they play in their art community, etc.
Their work was varied, across several different media (but almost all 2D, hence the blind spot in the presentation).

But I couldn’t find anything about what the artist wanted to say in the world. I couldn’t find an artist statement. There was nothing about that that said anything about what they wanted to say, nor who they wanted to be in the world, nor why I should even care.

Now, to be fair, maybe it’s on the website somewhere. But I only spent about 15 minutes poking around until I gave up. Since the work wasn’t personally appealing to me, I wasn’t determined to do any more deep digging.

The website may prove this person is WHAT they say they are: An accomplished and successful artists.

It said nothing about WHO they are.

No, I am not a wealthy art collector.
I am not an art expert, concerned about where this person’s place in history will be.
I am not a prestigious client, an art critic, or anyone else who will matter to this person.
I am, however, another human being, who is curious about why their work is appealing to their audience. I am curious about why they create the art they do. I am curious about how they relate to potential collectors. I am puzzled about why the “why” is so unimportant to them.

Now, it’s possible that they create a new “artist statement” for each exhibit proposal, or that their audience and the gallery they co-manage is so well-known, anyone who needs to ask is NOT their ideal client.

But for the rest of us, that might be exactly what a potential buyer needs to know before they invest their hard-earned money in our heart-born work.
Sometimes, WHO an artist is doesn’t matter to me, nor WHY they make the work they do. I have bought work that simply spoke to me (if I can afford it!). And maybe this dynamic is working for you.
But I also know that if our work is unique, if it’s not something people see every day, if our choice of materials is odd or unusual, if our work is outside the box….
Then telling your story is the best, most powerful way to connect your work to potential collectors.
Even as I write this today, I’m realizing this is the gift of being that ‘outside the box” artist. When people saw my earliest work, it took time for them to understand what they were looking at, and why it attracted them. My story helped bridge that gap between “It’s beautiful and I’ve never seen anything like it” to “Oh, WOW, that’s even better!”

There was power in hearing, “I’ve loved your work for years, and wanted to own a piece, and THIS piece just leaped out at me today! I have to have it.”

There was gratitude in me hearing, “I love absolutely love your work, but I can’t afford it” and turning that into, “Your layaway plan is too wonderful to pass up!”
There is humility in learning someone found a piece of my work at a yard sale, fell in love with it, and went to the trouble of tracking me down, through online research, galleries, etc. until they found me so they can let me know how much they enjoy it–and bought another piece. (VERY different than those people who bragged about how nobody else wanted my work, so they got it for a song.) (Phrasing, people! Phrasing.)
When we create our artist statement, or “about the artist”, or even our bios, we naturally look to how other artists (especially hugely successful artists) write theirs. And if yours works for you, don’t change it.

But here’s the thing for me:

I don’t care what school(s) you attended.
I don’t care how many awards you’ve won. (Well. I’ll be a little envious, but I’ll get over it!)
I don’t care about the artists you admire. Especially if you list a dozen. Especially if you only list famous 19th century European men.
I don’t care what your medium is.
I want to know, what did you learn at that school that changed your life.
I want to know why you choose to make the work you do.
I want to know why your medium is the perfect medium for you.
I want to know who you are, and what you want to say to the world.

I’d also love to know if you’re a good person, with good energy, but sometimes that doesn’t matter to me. Unless it’s a situation where I have to deal with you a lot (like an artist in my own community), because if you’re a jerk, eventually every time I look at that piece I bought from you, I’ll be reminded of that. In which case, I will give it away or give it to a charity auction. (Ha! Another solution for last week’s topic!)

You are an artist. You are brimming with creativity, full of passion for how and what you make, with strong preferences for a medium that matches what you want to make.
You are a human being, with a powerful story about how you ended up where you are today, and with a yearning about where you want to go.
You are a person who is like no other person on this planet.

Don’t hide behind your artwork, your website, your credentials.

Tell me your story. I’m listening.
If you enjoyed this article and know someone who might enjoy it, please feel free to forward this to them.
If you received this from someone, and liked it, you can subscribe to more artists’ views at the Fine Art Views blog.
And if you’d like to read more of my stuff, you can subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

DOES STORYTELLING WORK??

This article by Luann Udell originally appeared on Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog hosted by Fine Art Studios Online.

DOES STORYTELLING WORK?

 Yes. Yes, it does.

 For years now, I’ve advocated for creative people telling their stories. I believe the “why” of what we do is far more powerful than just the “how”.

I also know that some artists have fought long and hard for their credentials—their education, the shows they’ve been juried into, the awards they’ve won. Anything else seems, well, unprofessional. Perhaps even fluffy.

I get it. I do. When I first started my art career, I methodically entered all kinds of juried exhibits. I’m proud of the awards I’ve won. I’m especially delighted when my professional peers—other artists, galleries, etc.—sing my praises. After all, they see a lot of work. When they choose mine for their own homes, it’s a major thumbs-up for me.

I also know how extremely uncomfortable some people feel about sharing what’s in their heart and soul. They feel safe sticking to the tried-and-true. What they do is working for them, so I won’t ask them to change that.

And yet…..

I spent a weekend at a state-wide storytelling workshop, a collaboration between our Sonoma County Library, Creative Sonoma (of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board), the California State Library and StoryCenter.org. The project’s goal was to gather 100 stories that represent the ‘voices’ of California.

You can read more at http://www.storycenter.org/.

Ten people from Sonoma County were selected to share their stories, which would be transformed into ‘digital stories’—recorded in our own voices, with images, and music—no more than two or three minutes in length.

As a matter of full disclosure, I was NOT one of the original ten people selected. Someone else dropped out, and I was offered their place.

Also, when we first told our stories to the group, I said I had no trouble telling stories. Keeping it to 300 words? Almost impossible.

Two huge things happened during the class.

First, I was overwhelmed with technical difficulties. My laptop crashed, my internet connection wouldn’t take, I had trouble working with the video production software (WeVideo.com). I was the absolute last person to create a video, and it’s really not even finished yet. (I’ll be putting the last details on it in the upcoming week—I hope!) That was hard. There’s a steep learning curve to any video editing process, my husband reassures me, and at least I’ve discovered SoundCloud and CreativeCommons.com, social sharing sites for images and music. A challenge, but it’s good to challenge ourselves.

The second thing is wonderful. I was astonished and amazed by the stories people brought to share.

Every single person had a story. Each was very different from the other (although most people were involved in the creative arts.) Some were funny, some were hard. Some weren’t resolved yet. Some had no ‘answer’. But each one was intriguing.

And these are only our first stories. I realized there will be many more to come.

Here was another powerful aspect of these stories:

I remembered everyone’s name in the class, something that’s usually problematic for me.

I remembered everyone’s story.

And everyone’s story was powerful beyond words.

Not all the stories sounded like winners during our first ‘sharing’. This was probably due to the fact that some folks hadn’t actually shared them before. They rambled, they had trouble finding the ‘point’. Some stories were so new, people were was still working through them.

But in the composition and editing process (and our teachers’ experience guiding us), we learned to find the ‘hooks’. We were strongly encouraged to not tell several stories at once, something I struggle with. (Hence, my 1,000-word articles!) We found our strong beginnings, and our thoughtful endings.

Images were powerful. Music helped connect.

And our voices?  Oh, our voices…..

We each created a ‘script’ of our stories, and read and recorded them.

And every single one of us nailed it on the first reading.

One instructor marveled at this. “Even the people who insisted on a second take? Their first version was better!” she said.  “And everyone read it with such power…it’s astonishing!”

At the end of the class, we watched the (mostly) finished videos. Each one was a winner.

You don’t have to rush out and create a video (although I’m definitely going to explore this further.) You don’t have to have a full-media story telling experience to connect with an audience. Although I hope it’s not lost on you that, as artists, we already have our visuals. In fact, I used images of my artwork, as my story was about how I became an artist in mid-life.)

I do hope you’ll consider telling your story to your audience.

A thousand people here in Northern California paint the ocean, the vineyards, the rolling hills. Every artist captures the light, a moment in time, or a glimpse of something hidden. Many are beautiful, and most are at least competent.

And yes, there are people who, unsure of their decision, will be reassured you are as good as you say you are, by reading your list of accomplishments and awards, or checking the well-known galleries that carry your work..

But a good story, a story that connects your experience to those of your customers, will make you stand out from the crowd.

Create that powerful connection. Make your mark.

Be unforgettable.

 

BRING OUT YER DEAD

Today’s post was originally published on Fine Art Views

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.

 Don’t bury your lead. Keep it up front, in its most powerful position.

 I love helping people write artist statements. Especially if I’ve had an opportunity to actually sit and talk with the artist. Especially if I’ve had an opportunity to pound them over the head with this one simple question:

 Why should I care about your art?
I try to tread carefully. I know how deeply artists care about their work, and what they want to say about it.
OTOH, if I have to read one more artist statement about line, color, texture, about boundaries and schisms, about anything that could have come from an Artsy Bollocks, I swear I will do damage to someone.
If I have a chance to meet with someone, or at least talk with them, my job gets easier. Because everyone has a story, a reason, a turning point in their history, that’s the deeper “why” about what they do.
And coincidentally, usually this powerful reason, if they include it at all, is at the very end of their statement.
It’s called burying your lead.
This writing structure is the bane of journalism and professional writing. We run on about our background, our training, our credentials, our methods, our materials, our media, etc. etc. And there, at the very end, is the deeper reason for it all.
It’s natural. Many of us were not raised to share our deepest, richest thoughts and history. We worry we’ll embarrass ourselves, admitting to pain, or loss, or even joy. No, we must be professional. Which means not a single sentimental, fluffy, unmanly thought will pass our lips. Er…pencil.
Here’s why it’s time to change that:
I know people who have known each other a very long time. They’re all artists themselves. They’ve also spent years—decades!—actually working in art galleries.
Over the years, there’s been a marked change in the world of art marketing. “It used to be,” said one, “Artists created work for the market. They figured out what was selling, and they worked accordingly, finding their niche in that market.”
“And now it’s flipped! The trend is to make the work that is unique to you—and find your market for it!”
That’s why the old artist statement style of the past is no longer working.
People want to know who you are.
People want to know why you make the work you do.
A few artists are sticking their toes into the new water. It’s very hard. It goes against everything they’ve seen to date.
But what we gain when we open our hearts, and stop hiding behind our work, is huge. It’s powerful.
This doesn’t mean your new statement has to read like a letter to Dear Abby. No need to hang all our dirty laundry in public.
But you need to understand….
Everyone has lost someone.**
Everyone wants to be loved, and respected, for who they are.
Everyone is longing for something.
Everyone needs to be protected from something.
Everyone has obstacles to overcome.
Everyone has a dream in their heart.
Because we are all human.
Our individual stories are as unique as we are. And yet we are all connected by common themes, similar fears, shared needs, and dreams.
It is also right on trend to be vulnerable. It’s now perfectly acceptable to wear your heart on your sleeve.  It’s been my own mantra for years. And now we have company!
Because other people want what you have—a vision, a talent, a gift, a story—for themselves.
And when you share what you’ve lost, what you’ve gained, what you’ve found, what you’ve learned, what you’ve overcome, you are actually setting an example for them.
You’re showing them it can be done. You’re showing them how to do it.
That is the power of our true narrative. It helps us connect the work of our hand, the work of our hearts, to the hearts of others. Your story can inspire. It can heal. It can encourage.
So go out on a limb today.
Get out your artist statement. Cross out every reference to education, technique, medium, credentials.
You can only reference one or two of these, if you can share why you chose this medium, this technique. (And no, “Because I just love color” is not enough.)  For example, one reason I chose polymer clay to make my artifacts is, no animals are harmed in the making. (E.g., I don’t want to use real bone or ivory.)

“There’s a really good reason why I use polymer clay to make my artifacts.”
Look for your power sentence. The one that, if you were speaking aloud, would make you stand up straighter, would make your voice more sure.
Put it right up front where it belongs. Take that buried lead—and lead with it!
Build that bridge, from your work, to your audience.
If you build it, they will come.***
Footnotes:

*”Bury the lead” made me think of dead bodies, which made me think of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with its infamous plague scene and the memorable quote, “Bring out yer dead!!”

**I also got to quote Guardians of the Galaxy!!
***And Field of Dreams!!!!  Triple play!

ARTIST STATEMENTS: How to Explain the How With a Why

You can still share the how, but ground it with your ‘why’.

This week on Fine Art Views, I wrote about why it’s more important to share the ‘why’ of your artwork (why you make it) than the ‘how’ (how you make it.) Like a magician sharing how he does his tric, focusing only on the ‘how’ takes away a huge part of the magic of what you do.

Readers raised a few interesting points, noting that our customers do want to know how–so they can tell their friends, and be more invested in the artwork they’ve purchased from you.

I couldn’t agree more. As I said in the original article, I do provide a simple explanation that describes my process. Puff pastry, Samurai sword-making, scrimshaw.

But I believe that why you chose the ‘how’ is even more important to your audience.

One of my best signs in my booth is this one:

Welcome to my world!

I make artifacts from a lost culture, an imagined prehistory.

 My work is inspired by Ice Age cave paintings and other prehistoric art.  I want my artifacts to echo real ivory carvings of horses, deer, bear, fish and birds.

I use polymer clay, stacked in layers and stretched to make a block that has the grain and the feel of ivory. I make each animal one at a time, then bake, carve, and polish. The hands you see are miniature images of my own hands. A scrimshaw technique brings out the details of the markings.

I use polymer because I can make it look like real ivory, soapstone, coral, shell, and bone.

Unlike working with real ivory or bone, no animals are harmed.

Polymer is durable, yet lightweight and comfortable to wear.

I want my artifacts to look like they’ve been worn smooth by the touch of human hands. (Feel free to touch!)

I imagine the stories they carry. I retell those ancient stories, with these modern artifacts.

I use antique trade beads, semi-precious stones, and other collectible beads, to give my jewelry the look of a treasured piece, handed down through time, and many hands, and many hearts, connecting those ancient artists of the distant past, to you.

Do you see how the ‘why’ of my choice of techniques and materials, fits into my overall story about my art?

To get back to Bruce Baker’s comments that I mentioned in my Fine Art Views column, explain your choice of technique in terms of how it benefits your collector. “I use titanium glazes because they let me create colors that are richer and more vibrant. I use a higher firing temperature because it makes my pots more durable, so they’ll last a lifetime.”  (I have no idea if this is true, I’m not a potter myself, so I made it up.)

Another point was raised about being generous in sharing our techniques. I agree whole-heartedly.

But I’m not paying booth fees to give people a one-on-one class in how to do what I do.

As I said in my column, there are people who are only interested in your techniques. That’s fine, but they don’t get to use up my precious energy when I’m doing a show, or hosting an open studio. When people want more technical information on how to create faux ivory with polymer clay, I tell them it’s practically in the public domain, and recommend websites and how-to books to check out. Or I ask them to contact me after the show. 

There’s being generous, and there’s being generous. Only you can decide how much of your time , and energy, you want to spend teaching in the middle of selling your work, and whether or not you want to be compensated for that. I’ve found my own middle ground that reflects my integrity and priorities. You are always free to find yours, and it’s perfectly fine if it’s different than mine.

WRITING AN ARTIST STATEMENT: Consider the Magician

Telling the “how” undoes all the magic you’ve created.

Today’s column for Fine Art Views, on why you should’t focus on the how. (Hint: It’s about disappointment.)

Enjoy!

Pod beads detail
Yes, these take a lot of work, a lot of skill, and a lot of practice to get right.

JUST FOR TODAY: Try Something Different

Today’s post from Fine Art Views
Just for Today: Try Something Different
by Luann Udell

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. 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. 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….”

Step outside the But-That’s-How-Other-Artists-Do-It box and see what else is possible.

I was talking with an artist I’d just met the other day. I love her engaging personality. I love her gift for creating engaging display. (She’d just set up my jewelry at a new gallery, and it looks great!) Everything about her smacks of authenticity, integrity, insight, and experience.

She told she was on fire with her newest body of work, which wasn’t on display yet. But she showed me the catalog she’d created, and pointed to her artist statement.

Which, I’m sorry, read like almost every other artist statement I’d ever read. Full of quotes about line, composition, light, color, and form. Academic, formal, and lifeless.

Absolutely nothing about the powerful, emotional circumstances that led her to explore a new process, a new dynamic. Nothing about what she hoped to achieve, nor why.

And I told her that.

This is one of those Oh-God-I-Just-Blorted-And-Put-My-Foot-In-My-Mouth moments. (I’m into titles today.) Thank heaven she took it the right way.

Artist statement. Artist bio/CV. Artist resume. We all have a notion of how they ‘should’ be written. All we have to do is look around at how other artists do it, and follow their example, right?

Wrong. Because how we all do it is simply convention. And, let’s face it, easier.

It’s easier to create a list of the galleries we’re in, the shows we jury into, the awards we win. It feels good to list the famous people and the prestigious corporations that have collected our work. And let me be the first to admit that on those days where I’m not feeling so successful, it helps to look back and see the accomplishments I’ve racked up over the years.

But what do they mean?

Yes, they can be a good reflection of our work—or at least, our work ethic. If a lot of people like our work, that’s good, right? If our work sells well for galleries, if we’re competent enough to attract the eye of a curator or a judge and garner that Best in Show award, if our work is interesting enough for a prestigious magazine to review with a two-page full-color spread, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

Yes, all of these ‘measurable’ things are good. And of course, for our collectors who need to be reassured that we are indeed as good as we say we are, those milestones can be validating.

We also know that if these milestones were truly accurate measures of our worth as an artist, then the artist with the most, wins. If you are in more galleries than I am, are you really a ‘better’ artist than I? Your aesthetic may simply be more accessible to more people. If you won more awards than him, what does that mean? It means your aesthetic intrigued more judges than his. If she gets juried into more shows than you, what does that prove? Maybe her work is better. But maybe she simply applies to more shows than you do.

In my snarkier, lizard-brain moments, it’s easy for me to say, “Good lord, who let THAT into the show?!” (If you want to see wonderful examples of really bad handmade things, with hysterically snarky commentary, check out this smaller sampling from the now defunct website Regretsy.com.

But when I listen to the angels of my better nature, I know that what surely looks like bad art has a human heart and soul behind it. The work means something to the artist, something powerful enough for them to put the time, and the effort, to get it out into the world. The world’s reaction may or may not affect what the artist does next. That’s our choice. But it shouldn’t control everything.

So back to paying less attention to how we think things should be done…

Thank goodness, that artist took my words for what they were—a gentle challenge to be a little vulnerable. “You just told me that something happened to you a few years ago. You didn’t say what it was, and you don’t have to tell me. But everything changed for you. You “woke up”, you saw the world differently. It changed the way you make your art. There’s something really important you want to say. And you’re not saying it.”

Ironically, isn’t this exactly what art is supposed to do? One human being, sharing a different way to look at the world. Nothing…nothing… is more powerful than that. It’s not all about how you made that line, or how much you love color. You may use color to represent that powerful something. But what if there were a color you couldn’t see? Would you still be able to bring that powerful something into the world? (Of course you would!)

And so, just for today…

Try to write an artist statement that doesn’t include these words, especially all of them together: Line. Color. Composition. Form. Transcendant. Relationship. Synthesis. Oh, heck, go to the Arty Bollocks website and read a few of the results from their instant artist statement generator. If they smell a whiff like yours, think about what you could do differently.

Just for today…

Don’t try to impress other artists (as a profession). Try to connect with your audience (which may include other artists.)

Just for today, lose the artspeak—and speak from your heart.

Just for today, share what happened in your life that changed everything, that got you here from where you were before. If the ‘what’ is too personal, share the ‘why’.

Just for today… Try it!

TWO SENTENCES IS ALL IT TAKES: Lessons from a Michael’s Ad

I don't know what the story of the red stag is yet, but I'll figure it out eventually.
I don’t know what the story of the red stag is yet, but I’ll figure it out eventually.

After reading all my articles about artist statements, are you going to tell me you still don’t like to talk about your art?

Then tell me about YOU.

Yes, I’m going to rag on you about your artist statement again.  (I’m never too busy for that!)

I’m getting ready for the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, and I should be doing a bajillion other things right now. But I got up early. I’ve got half a cuppa coffee in me.

And as always, I found a little artist life lesson in today’s email inbox.

It’s an e-newsletter from Michael’s. They asked six of their employees how they use picture frame to express themselves in their own homes.

I think they’ve taken a online peek at Oprah Magazine, but I took a look.

And here’s your takeaway:

Everyone said what they needed to say in two sentences.

Yes, in two sentences, you learn what these folks’ passions are. What’s important to them. What they chose to display in their homes, and why.

Melissa, like me, loves to shop for vintage eclectic stuff. Jenny has an artist’s eye for the tiny, beautiful details around her. Susan uses her photographer’s eye to capture unforgettable moments in her family’s life.

Yes, it’s a Michael’s ad.

But it’s also an intimate peek into the minds–and hearts–of six creative people.

And they did it in 25 words or less.

Now, it’s not easy to crystallize who you are into that short a sentence. Yes, I struggle with that, too.

But it’s worth it.

People have made art for over 50,000 years. It’s part of who we are. I explore what it means to be human and an artist, in the world today, through ancient stories retold with my modern artifacts.

(I know, it could be better. It’s always a work in progress!) Editor!!

HEY! I know…..
Tell me what you think MY 25-words-or-less could be!

COLLECTING STAMPS & MAKING ART

Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.

Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.

As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.

We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.

You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.

I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.

We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.

If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.

So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.

I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.

As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.

The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”

Never?

Now think about that a minute.

There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.

Collectors simply….collect.

But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.

Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.

If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..

If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….

If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..

If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…

People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.

Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.

Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.

Be brave. Be YOU.

Some of my postage stamps

HOW TO SOUND SMARTER THAN EVERYBODY ELSE

Artist statement resources for the folks who are smarter/better/more educated/more sophisticated/more talented than me.

Short story:
It’s our choice. We can make the commitment to say something meaningful and compelling about our work.

Or we can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.

I’ve been writing a series of articles for Fine Art Views newsletter about how to punch up your stories–Your artist statement, your artist bio/cv, your press releases. This series, TELL ME A STORY, starts here. The second article is here:, and the next two will appear June 23 and July 7, 2011. Mark your calendars! (Or just subscribe to Fine Art Views newsletter–it’s free!)

Some people are ready to hear this stuff. Others, not so much. When I get resistance, I hear one of two things:

“Can’t you just give me a template, and let me fill in the blanks?”
or
“I really think art critics, galleries and art-collecting audiences want something more….sophisticated than a ‘story’.”

Well, say no more! If this is what you want, I’ve found just the tools for you.

This tongue-in-cheek artist statement template-driven generator by 10Gallon.com is perfect for those who just want to fill in the blanks. My first attempt resulted in this distinctively different artist statement:

Through my work I attempt to examine the phenomenon of Quick Draw McGraw as a methaphorical interpretation of both Georgia O’Keefe and fixing people.

What began as a personal journey of frackism has translated into images of cookies and arms that resonate with Caucasian people to question their own aquamarineness.

My mixed media dog images embody an idiosyncratic view of Billy Graham, yet the familiar imagery allows for a connection between Janis Joplin, cats and french fries.

My work is in the private collection of Darrin McGavin who said ‘Yeow!! That’s some real shapely Art.’

I am a recipient of a grant from Folsom Prison where I served time for stealing mugs and tie clips from the gift shop of The Peabody Museum. I have exhibited in group shows at McDonald’s and the Pucker Gallery in Boston, MA, though not at the same time. I currently spend my time between my den and Berlin.

I’m sure with a little practice, you could get something a little less silly.

For the academically-minded crowd, this artist statement writing tool site from Gurney Journey will surely appeal. It’s actually easier to use than the previous one. No need to even fill in the blanks! Try it. It’s a handy little exercise to create a bang-up, very academic-sounding artist statement in no time flat. All you have to do is combine any items from three different lists, and voila! An artist statement that is sure to start a spirited discussion about your work among the (g)literati.

But for those who don’t even have time to read through the lists, there’s more! This totally mindless automatic artist statement generator it sooooo easy, you don’t have to do anything except click on a tab.

My first result using the Arty Bollocks Generator was promising:

My work explores the relationship between the body and skateboard ethics.

With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new combinations are crafted from both simple and complex layers.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as triumph soon becomes corroded into a tragedy of power, leaving only a sense of decadence and the possibility of a new reality.

As shifting phenomena become frozen through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the limits of our era.

Hmmmmm. Not…quite. So I tried again. I got a message that said I was a little hard to please, and this new statement:

My work explores the relationship between new class identities and midlife subcultures.

With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new synergies are generated from both simple and complex textures.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as vision soon becomes corrupted into a dialectic of greed, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the prospect of a new beginning.

As temporal impressions become clarified through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the inaccuracies of our era.

I still wasn’t satisfied (and the ABG got a little crabby), but I persisted. I clicked the tab again and came up with this one:

My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and urban spaces.

With influences as diverse as Nietzsche and Andy Warhol, new synergies are crafted from both simple and complex textures.

Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of relationships. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a tragedy of temptation, leaving only a sense of chaos and the inevitability of a new beginning.

As shifting forms become clarified through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a statement of the edges of our condition.

Wow! Pretty good! But why settle for pretty good when I can have the best? My next try resulted in this one:

My work explores the relationship between emerging sexualities and urban spaces.

With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and Francis Bacon, new combinations are created from both explicit and implicit layers.

Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of relationships. What starts out as triumph soon becomes debased into a tragedy of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the inevitability of a new synthesis.

As spatial impressions become frozen through diligent and personal practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the inaccuracies of our world.

The ABG grumbled that I was a bit of a perfectionist, but I just couldn’t resist one more try:

My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and recycling culture.

With influences as diverse as Blake and Roy Lichtenstein, new tensions are created from both traditional and modern textures.

Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of meaning. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a cacophony of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the prospect of a new reality.

As temporal phenomena become transformed through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the edges of our future.

I decided to quit while I was ahead, and told the Arty Bollocks Generator, “Enough already.”

Yep, I had a good laugh. But the scary thing about these very tongue-in-cheek exercises?

These actually sound like real artist statements..

I’m not highly educated, but I do have an MA. And half the time, when I read these ‘sophisticated statements’, I have no idea what the person is talking about. Are these really the things they lie awake nights thinking about? ( Me? I tend to lie awake trying to remember if I let the cats in.)

Remember–It’s our choice.

We can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.

(Let us know how that works for ya, okay?)

We can try to sound like every other artist who wants to sound intellectual, academic, and obtuse.

Or we can do some work. Get real. Get sincere.

Say what is in our hearts.

We can strive to say something meaningful and compelling about our art that anyone can understand.

ARTISTIC LICENSE

What do you do for credentials when you don’t have any?

(This article was originally published on March 7, 2003.)

Recently, an artist on a discussion forum I participate in posted a plea for help. Her work was accepted into an exhibition. The organizers requested the usual artist credentials from her: resume, artist bio, degrees, etc.

After “wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes”, the she began to panic. Her work is something she’s picked up late in life. She didn’t attend art school. She hasn’t exhibited before. Though she feels her work is solid, she just doesn’t have the credentials. What should she do?

Here was my advice:

It would be tempting to puff up the slim credentials you do have (remember the ‘domestic engineers’ of the 1970’s?) Don’t do that.

Our society seems to demand credentialing for everything. If a plumber has to have a license, or a hair stylist, then maybe artists need one, too.

But what are credentials for, anyway?

It’s wicked easy to get caught up in the credentialing thing, and to overlook what’s really important.

A resume, bio, list of exhibits and a stack of art degrees amount to paper affidavits. They are “proof” to the world that you have been educated in your art; that you’ve paid your educational dues; and that you’ve made the effort to get your work out there through exhibiting and shows.

There are some situations in life where this kind of proof is important and necessary. We don’t want to have surgery by someone who “feels in touch with his inner surgeon” but hasn’t gone to med school.

Fortunately, being an artist does not require a license.

If you haven’t gone the traditional route of artist credentialing, then use another way to present a cohesive, narrative story about the who/what/when/where/why and how of “you, the artist.”

Who you are, what you make, why do you make it, and how did you get to where you are now? Where do you plan to go next? And how serious are you about this whole thing, anyway?? That’s really all that the bio/degree/award/exhibit thing is trying to say, in a more “official” format.

In my mind, a lack of credentials can be freeing. Starting from “nothing” gives you an open door to talk about your art in a more direct and down to earth way. Here are tips on how to do that:

1) An art degree shows you’ve taken classes to master your techniques.

So how did you learn yours? Did you take workshops? Read a book? Stay up late after work and on weekends, painting/knitting/carving into the wee hours? Did you teach yourself? Do you now teach others? Did you swap sculpting lessons for babysitting? Did you apprenticed yourself to a potter?

Talk about the passion you discovered in yourself for this art stuff, and what lengths you went to acquire the skills to do it.

2) An art degree shows you had a vision or goal to make art part of your life. You studied it, and put in the time and effort to get a degree.

You can demonstrate that you, too, have a vision for your work, and that you have steadily pursued it. What are your processes and techniques? Did you experiment? Did you develop them yourself? Did you research antique processes and recreate them? How did you come up with that particular approach or outlook? Have certain artists, cultures, whatever, influenced your style?

3) Use the education you have.

I have two college degrees. Neither of them are in art. So I mention them in relation to how they’ve influenced my work. For example, coursework for an education degree taught me the importance of storytelling. My art history classes provided me the original inspiration for my Lascaux cave-themed imagery, as well as a well-rounded education on art made around the world, and throughout history.

But don’t just stick in stuff hoping to “fill up” the page. Whatever you put in, make sure it relates in some way to your artistic self.

4) Exhibits show that you’ve made a serious attempt to get your work out in front of a variety of audiences, and that your work was good enough to be selected.

Remember: We all have to start somewhere. Everyone has a ‘first show’. So, this one is yours!

You can present enough “credentials” for this purpose by providing a brief summary of what you’ve done to get your art out there. You can show you’ve been making the same kind of effort. Have you done craft shows? Do you have an audience, and steady sales? How has the audience for your work grown since you started?

Awards simply show that someone thought your work was pretty darn good, or unusual. Are there other ways for you to demonstrate that? Anybody famous buy one of your pieces? Has your work appear in a magazine or on TV? Did you get into a terrific, exclusive craft fair the first time you applied, just because your work was so drop-dead terrific?

4) Credentials only encourage a collector who already likes your work.

Keep in mind that ultimately, the person who purchases our work isn’t really buying it because of a list of shows or exhibits I’ve been in or how many awards we’ve won. It may help them feel more confident about their initial desire to buy, but that isn’t why they buy.

They buy it because it moves them emotionally, and because it says something special to them. Something powerful is going on in the work, and they respond to that. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

In fact, years ago I revised my own brochure.

I used to have a list of exhibits and books my work has appeared in, in an attempt to establish myself as a ‘serious player’.

I took it all out,. I replaced it with a little blurb about why I make the art I make.

I’m learning that people only have to talk with me a few minutes to realize I’m a ‘serious player’. Ultimately, it’s all about my work, not the hoops I’ve made it jump through.

When you put your piece together, avoid the ordinary. Be bold! Don’t go on about how much you love color–heaven help us, all visual artist love color!

Don’t make too big a fuss about how much you wanted to be an artist when you were little. It’s cliched. Say what you did. Me? I papered my freshly painted bedroom with hundreds of drawings, all carefully hung with six or seven pieces of scotch tape, as high as I could reach. (Standing on furniture to do so.) My parents were impressed, but not in the way I’d hoped.

Think about the special things in your life, things that may seem ordinary to you from familiarity. Is your studio on a mountain top? Did you build it yourself out of hand-hewn lumber? Are your materials unusual? Do you go dumpster-diving to find your stuff, or hound recycling centers for their glass bottles?

What do you do that no one else does? What is your inimitable style? What is your personal story?

On the other hand, don’t get all obtuse on us and try to bury your lack of credentialing paper with high-falutin’ phrases and five-dollar words. As Bruce Baker, a consultant and speaker for craft and art world issues always says,

“People have a built-in bullshit meter. If you rock that meter, then they will never believe whatever else you have to say. Make sure what you say is true.”

Stick to the essence of who you are and what your art is. Make it interesting, and make it unique. Keep it true. Keep it simple. Make it powerful.

Oh, and remember…Use the credentials of this show as credentials for your next one. There! Your first official credential!

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR–You Might Get It!

When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”

(This post was originally published December 11, 2002.)

“Be careful what you wish for….” This has to be my least-favorite proverb in the world. It’s like those folktales about fools wasting silly wishes (“The Sausage“) and bargains with the devil (“The Monkey’s Paw.”) People get their wishes granted, but live to regret it.

Making wishes is dangerous business, these stories seem to warn us. You can wish for the most wonderful thing in the world and the powers that be will twist it against you. Fairies’ gold turned to dry leaves in the morning light.

It takes the very joy out of wishing, doesn’t it? And what a depressing view of the universe! “The universe likes nothing better than to give with one hand and take away with the other.” Yow!

Taken another way, though, this proverb is actually excellent advice. Instead of a dour caution, see it as an challenge to dig deep into your heart, to what you really want.

When we regret a wish we’ve been granted, it’s often because we unconsciously limited the dream before it left our heart. We down-sized it to increase our chances of getting something. We don’t allow ourselves to dream big. We’re afraid to ask for too much.

Because we don’t really believe our wishes can come true.

You can see this limiting process at work when people take their first tentative steps in their work. I did it. You’ve probably done it, too. You ask for so little. Then when you get it, it’s just not enough. Or it’s just all wrong.

Years ago, I reclaimed my artistic self. (I know, I know, it sounds like I picked up my dry cleaning….)

I didn’t ask for much. I attended a seminar for women artists. I told a roomful of strangers my dream was to make wonderful little toys—tiny dolls, knitted sheep—that you could hold in your hand and marvel at. I wanted to make things that made people happy.

It’s a nice thought. But in reality, I couldn’t imagine affecting people in a more profound way than to appeal to their sense of playfulness.

I didn’t think I had anything deeper or more substantial in me.

So I wished for a way to sell lots of my little toys. Of course, each one took a minimum of two hours to make. And I wanted to make sure they would sell, so I kept the price really low.

After doing some very small local craft shows, I got my heart’s desire. A local store requested four dozen sheep, and of course, they wanted them yesterday.

I spent the next two weeks doing nothing but knitting sheep.

At first it was fun. Each sheep was so cute! But after five in a row, the joy faltered. It was… Hmmmm… Let’s just say that knitting little sheep—lots of little sheep—gets boring fast.

After twelve, I never wanted to see another skein of cream-colored yarn again. At #24, all I could think of was, “Twenty-four down, twenty-four to go.” By #42, I was sick unto death of little knitted sheep.

And I still had to sew them up, and tie little tiny bells on each one.

I managed to squeak out all 48. And swore I’d never make another.

I kept one or two of my stash, because they are so darned cute. And also as a reminder of a lesson learned.

Because in addition to all that knitting, I messed up on figuring my wholesale price. I’d simply cut my retail price in half. So I got $5 per sheep. Ouch. I probably made less than $2 an hour, after my cost for materials.

I didn’t see this granted wish as a disappointment. Okay, I’ll be honest. At first I did.

But then I saw it as a blessing. Thank heavens I hadn’t gotten more orders!

So here’s what I learned from this experience:

I learned production work was not for me. I learned how to establish a decent wholesale price. And at least I had $240 in my pocket, enough money to finance my next endeavors. (Hint: I did NOT buy yarn to make more sheep.)

As time went by, this process occurred over and over.

More ideas and more opportunities crossed my path. Each time I’d think, “Maybe this is the thing that will take off!” They always did—just enough to buy more supplies and make my hobby pay for itself—but not in the way I’d hoped. I followed them til they either petered out or til they grew into something that took me too far away from my heart’s desire. Then I’d let go, and move on.

Along the way I learned a lot about making and selling things. I learned how to sell wholesale to retail stores. I learned about signage and display. I learned how to price my work, how to create a distinctive and original product, how to locate wholesale sources for supplies. I took my profits and reinvested them in my business.

I learned the pros and cons of building a strictly local audience. I learned the potential–and the limits–of advertising. I learned how to promote myself and my work.

I taught classes when I could, but soon learned a little teaching goes a long way for me. I’d rather make more and teach a little. (But I also found I could teach through this blog.)

Finally, I learned what I really wanted, what was truly in my heart.

If you had asked me way back then what I wanted, I would have said, “I want to make something that makes people happy.” I wasn’t digging very deep into what makes me tick.

It turns out there was a story there, a story about how my dreams were echoed in the prehistoric artwork from a cave in France. I thought about why this story was important to me, and how I was going to share that story with the world.

I found a focus and a drive I’d never experienced before. Everything I’d learned about business was now centered on getting my story and my art out into the world.

When I ran into what seemed like insurmountable difficulties, I solved them through perseverance, research and experimentation.

And I loved the entire process. Even the parts that drove me crazy. I was learning so much about myself, my art and my business.

Everything began to fall into place. Opportunities lay everywhere, more than I could take on. Doors opened, people appeared in my life, solutions beckoned.

I still experience failure, but it doesn’t stop me now. It’s a call to evaluate what I really want and whether I’m still on task to achieve it.

I see the presence of something in my life that treasures my creativity, that supports me achieving my dream.

If my true wish had been to sell lots of knitted sheep, there are business models to support that. I could have hired knitters, located a sales rep, done gift shows. But my real wish was to make something totally of myself, so fulfilling and intriguing that I would not tire of the production process; and to make something with such value and power, people would pay a lot to own one.

I had a wish big enough to last me a lifetime. That was the right wish to be granted!

Most small business experts say it can take five years to get a new business off the ground. Even the IRS recognizes that. There’s a lot of learning and failing, growth and change in five years of business….

So look at what you’re doing now. Think about your biggest, deepest wish.

Will you outgrow your current dream? Will you still love it five years from now? If my first wish had been granted five years earlier, I would have outgrown it within six months.

Are you digging deep? Get past the “nice” things to say (“I want to make people happy”) and find your true story. There’s power there.

When it seems like nothing you wish for comes true, ask yourself, “Am I dreaming big enough to last a lifetime?”

UNLOCKING YOUR STORY: The Artist’s Meaningful Message

Help me stamp out boring, pretentious artist statements!
Let’s connect your audience to the real story behind your art!

On Thursday, February 17, 2011 I’ll be teaching a workshop on creating a powerful artist statement:

“Unlocking Your Story: The Artist’s Meaningful Message”

This is a hands-on workshop. We’ll look at a few samples of powerful artist statements, and get right down to work. We’ll do some fun exercises to get the pens rolling. Then small group work to help you get the feedback you need to uncover your own unique and powerful story. I’ll demonstrate a technique for digging even deeper, using the power of being a witness to the heart’s work. Sounds very mysterious, but I guarantee you will leave with the tools you need to connect your art more deeply with your audience, whether that’s music, writing, craft or fine art.

The workshop will run from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Sharon Arts Exhibition Gallery, on Depot Square in Peterborough, NH. You can read more about the class at the Sharon Arts Center’s website here. (My workshop is on page 6.) Or call them SOON at 603-924-7256 to register.

The class is $40 for SAC members, $55 for non-members. Bring samples of artist statements you like, your current artist statement, and materials for taking notes. Actually, all you REALLY need to bring is the note-taking stuff–paper/notebook, and a pen you like to write with. Oh, and a sense of humor and a temporary suspension of belief. Cookies, too, if you got ’em.

Please–sign up NOW! Some financial assistance may be available if you need it. Even if you can’t make it, please help me spread the word, okay? One of my life goals is to rid the world of boring and pompous artist statements. Let’s find the audience who will love your artwork, and your story.

RUNNING WITH DOGS

Last week I made my first little dog artifacts.

My very first little dog artifact, in faux green soapstone.

Today I have pics of my very first dog pack. I love them so much already! I stayed with a very ancient-looking prototype, with long snout, upright and slightly cocked ears, and a curly tail. The curling tail seems to be the discerning characteristic of a dog versus a wolf or coyote. I could be wrong, but I’m going with it for now.

A whole pack of ancient dogs!
Running with the dogs. For Joanne!

I also have two little otters who are different from their brethren. Their backs arch up. I think they look like they’re doing that thing kittens do, when they arch their backs and hop sideways. And look–see the tiny toes on this one’s feet??

Bouncy otters!
Otter toes!

WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? Sometimes There’s a Bigger Story.

Cliches are boring. Your art deserve better.

In yesterday’s article, I shared my first story about my artwork. It was “good enough” to get me going and to sustain my first artistic efforts.

Many, many people are content with this “first story” or their “little story”. Trust me, I’m not here to judge anyone. If what you are doing is working for you, don’t change it.

But if you are wondering if your work can forget a more powerful connection with your audience, if you hunger for something deeper, read on.

When I talk to people about their art, I often get pat answers.

“I just love color!”

“I’m happiest when working at the wheel with clay. There’s just something about it that centers me.”

“I love making other people happy.”

I’ve learned that if you dig a little deeper, you will find true treasure. I learned this by being totally clueless about gallery talks.

So what’s wrong with pat answers?

Because they are cliches. I love this quote from an article by Grammar Girl:

Good writers avoid clichés wherever they might lurk. Novelist and essayist Martin Amis said, “All writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”

…..cliches of the mind and cliches of the heart…..

A cliche has low energy. When you settle for a cliche, you sell yourself short. You short-circuit your power. By trying to protect your inner life, you actually create a wall between your and a potential audience.

A pat answer is a way of putting people off the trail of understanding who you really art.

The “I just love color” thing. Look–everybody loves color. That’s not why you’re doing the work you do.

“I’m so happy…” Okay, first of all, we know you must be happy working with clay, or fiber, or glass, or words, or music, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Have you ever heard an artist say, “I absolutely hate what I do, but it sells”? (Well. Okay. Yes, I know some artist are burned out and DO hate what they do, but they’re usually so crabby we don’t want talk to them anyway.)

Second, what does that do for me? I asked a very well-known artist about her new work. She kept saying, “I’m having so much fun!” I had to bite my tongue to refrain from saying, “I’m supposed to pay $1,500 for this piece because you’re having fun??!” Sweetie, I’m sure you’re a wonderful person. But I need a better reason than that to spend that kinda money on you.

So what’s wrong with the “I-want-to-make-people-happy” reason-I’m-an-artist? (Or the equally lame “I want to help people.”) Think about it–What would really make people happy is if you walked down the street handing out $100 bills. (Most guys would be even happier if you did it in the nude, but I like to keep things family-friendly here.)

So let’s say what we mean to say.

What you’re really saying is that what you do is a way of engaging with the world that is fulfilling and deeply satisfying, and puts you in a state of grace, and joy. And there are real and personal reasons why it does.

There’s that word again…..

WHY?

Here’s one example of working through cliche to cachet. During a mentoring session, I talked with an artist about her work. She talked avidly about her craft, but it just seemed like something was missing. Sure enough, she mentioned in passing that her other avocation was gardening.

And she really perked up when she talked about gardening.

When I asked her why she loved gardening so much, she gave the usually pat answers about pretty flowers and being outside. When pressed, she grew exasperated–didn’t everybody love being outdoors? (Believe me, not all of us are wild about hot weather, mosquitoes and black flies.)

I pushed harder: How did she feel when she when she was in the garden?

She felt safe.

It started when she was very young and home was not safe. I didn’t pry for details, let’s just say there was just a lot of tension and anger and harsh words).

And being outdoors is where she felt safe.

Now, she doesn’t have to share that story with her audience, if it’s too personal.

If she wants to share it but doesn’t want to tell it over and over, it can be her artist statement.

She doesn’t have to ditch her craft, which was also satisfying, and become a full-time gardener.

She doesn’t have to “to” anything.

But recognizing her real story, a poignant story about a child who didn’t, who couldn’t understand the unhappiness and discord in her home, who found comfort and haven in the garden, will bring emotional and spiritual power to her art.

Understanding what yearning was filled, what hurt was healed, will create a bridge between her artwork (and her) and the people who are drawn to her work.

Because these themes–moving past fear, finding solace, being healed–are richer, deeper, more evocative human, more honest emotions than simply loving color or fabric or flowers or clay.

Some of you will come to this moment of self-awareness naturally. Some will need to have your feet held to the fire. Some of you simply won’t care. That is your choice.

But know that if I buy your stuff collect your work, it won’t be because you just love color.

It will be because something about it that is lovely and poignant and human is calling to me.