THE MOST IMPORTANT W: Chose Your Humanity Over Your Credentials
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.
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.
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:
*”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!!”
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.
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.)
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!