NEWSLETTERS (AND BLOGS!) 101 #28: Share Who You Are
Years ago, an artist friend said something that threw me for a loop.
I was just starting out as a full-time artist and craftsperson. I was open to everything. How-to books, craft magazines, patterns, you name it, I had to have it. I wanted constant inspiration and distraction, and I wanted it NOW.
She said she didn’t read many books or magazines about art or craft, and didn’t go to many exhibitions or shows. Her work was highly original and personal, she said. (It was, too.) She found that if she looked “outside” at what others were doing, it distracted her, and muddied her personal vision.
Her words made me rethink that practice. No, I didn’t turn the creative faucet off completely. But I learned to recognize the times where I needed to isolate myself from the rest of the pack, and simply focus on my own work.
Of course, it was a LOT easier to hunker down and stay focused in those days before the internet. That faucet of ideas and inspiration has turned into a fire hose.
(For the sake of clarity, I republished this article a day after “WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again”. I didn’t move it very well, and I may have lost some comments. I apologize, they were GREAT!!)
A Response to Kerrie Venner’s article, “Copying vs. Stealing”
I just discovered an article on the International Polymer Clay Association’s website, written by Kerrie Venner, IPCA Vice President for Education and Outreach. Kerrie’s article is here.
The article talked about my artwork and a blog article I wrote about my work being copied. Kerrie refers to me as an example of an artist who has published directions for making my artwork who then gets “antsy” when people copy it. She states that she doesn’t understand what’s wrong with coveting my little totem animals, then making her own versions for her own use, and even to sell, since her customers probably aren’t familiar with my work anyway.
At first I was delighted to read Kerrie’s wonderful comments about my blog and my artwork. But that delight quickly turned to dismay.
Her article is an interesting take on a very complex and emotional issue.
Just to correct a few errors:
1. Kerrie’s article simply linked to the home page of my blog. My article Kerrie that refers to in her article is WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? and the correct url is https://luannudell.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/what-is-the-story-only-you-can-tell/ I discuss why someone who copies another artist’s work is actually short-changing their own creative journey.
2. Contrary to Kerrie’s assertions, I’ve actually only published directions featuring my faux ivory technique (a modification of the technique originally developed by Victoria Hughes.) I provided directions for very simple beads, buttons and bones. Photographs of my animal artifacts and jewelry were for illustration and inspiration only.
3. I have never published projects or taught how to make my artifacts and animal totems, for the very reasons Kerrie mentions in support of her viewpoint: It might imply permission for others to copy my work.
I could address each of Kerrie’s statements and questions separately, and will do so in a future blog article. But here’s the short story:
I’ve done the hard work creating this body of work. I spent years perfecting my craft. Inspired by imagery available to everyone, it is nonetheless a highly original and individual interpretation and presentation. As Kerrie points out, it has a powerful, personal narrative, describing my journey from a place of pain (at not practicing my art), to a place of healing (embracing my unique vision, and sharing with others how that happened.)
I’ve done the hard work to get my work out there. And I’ve spent a lot of money doing that. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to do the high-end shows to sell it. I go to great lengths to find galleries to carry it. I’ve spent thousands of hours marketing, writing, speaking, entering exhibits and juried shows, and submitting work for publication to support and grow my reputation. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to have my work professionally photographed, to construct a booth and create beautiful displays for it.
I’ve spent years developing a loyal following of customers, collectors and supporters. I am deeply moved by the role my art has played in their lives. I love the stories they share with me on how much my work has meant to them, how much it has inspired them, how it has healed them.
I’ve earned my stars and paid my dues. My work-and my prices–reflect that.
We artists may make our art for love or money, or both. But it’s hard to make art without some kind of support from our community, be it emotional, spiritual, or financial.
Kerrie says she admires and desires my artwork. I am truly grateful for that. There are many ways a true supporter can help me get my art out into the world:
1) Tell me how much it means to you, and respect the unique place in my heart it comes from. Tell your friends, too, and point them to my blog, my website or my store.
2) Spread the word about my work by writing great reviews and articles.
3) Buy it for yourself, or for a special gift.
4) If you really can’t afford my work (prices start at $42, and I have a great layaway plan), encourage potential collectors to buy it instead. Or ask friends and family to buy it for you. Christmas is coming!
5) Ask your favorite gallery or museum store to carry my work. Or suggest they include me in an invitational show. Or even a solo show
Actually, the list is endless: Invite me to speak to your local or regional art guild. Ask your public library to purchase the books that feature my work. Hire me for a private consult on your artist statement. Alert me to publishing opportunities. Etc., etc., etc.
Unfortunately, copying my work doesn’t support me.
Copying my work, then selling it as your original work, deprives me of potential customers who might buy my work. This does not support me.
Telling others I am wrong to care about my work being copied does not support me.
In fact, someone copying my artwork short-circuits everything I’m trying to achieve. That is where the pain and the resentment comes from. And that is what I have to get over, and get through, every time it happens.
In the end, although my work is copyrighted, it’s almost impossible for me to protect those rights. I don’t have the deep pockets of Disney, and I don’t have the time or emotional energy to spare. I have to save that energy and focus for my art.
Some amount of copying has its place in the learning process. That’s why a teacher provides a project for a class.
But a body of work based solely on some “variation” of someone else’s work is not the work of your own heart, your own unique vision.
Kerrie’s article was written without my knowledge and did not link to what I actually said. I cannot adequately convey how disheartening it is to see these views-justifying the right to copying my work simply because I have made it visible in the world–expressed by someone who is Vice President of the International Polymer Clay Association’s Education and Outreach Committee.
Kerrie is entitled to her viewpoint, and I appreciate the opportunity to present mine. As she and I both said, this is a complex issue, involving human nature, the creative process and ethics.
Whether or not Kerrie’s reflects the views of the IPCA organization, it was published on their site and incorrectly referred to me as an example of a disgruntled artist who sets herself up for being copied by offering her artwork as projects and classes. Since I’m not one of “those artists”–who are also entitled to their own opinions about others copying their work–and especially because I have consciously chosen not to…that allegation was neither true nor fair.
I’m thrilled Kerrie loves my work. I hope someday she decides my artwork is worthy of collecting for herself. I would be truly honored.
And…I would feel truly supported.
2 P.S.’s (What the heck is the plural of “P.S.”???)
It’s been brought to my attention that Kerrie didn’t mean she would actually copy my work–she was speaking aloud the thought process that many have expressed. So in a sense, she was speaking as “Everyman/Everywoman”. And she never intended these remarks to represent her, or the IPCA’s actual point-of-view.
Again, I’m glad she voiced these thoughts so we can talk about it.
And please, please don’t bash Kerrie! :^)
P.S. For the latest take on this, see WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again
CONCRETE ADVICE FOR HOW TO SUPPORT ARTISTS….
Sometimes–no wait, always–it’s a good idea to cool down before you speak your mind.
A few weeks ago, not one, but TWO small drama played out in my studio.
At the very same time I was dealing with someone using my identity to post disparaging and rude remarks about another person…
…It felt like someone else was publicly scolding me on a professional polymer website for me getting upset about people copying my work.
Their article was written in response to MY article, What is the Story Only You Can Tell?
If this is confusing, the chain of events were 1) I write the “What is the Story Only You Can Tell” article; 2) I get an emotional phone call from the victim of the identity theft issue; 3) I wrote an article about the experience; 4) Kerrie read my WITSOYCT article and publishes her response on the IPCA website; 5) I found the article and wrote my response to Kerrie’s article; 6) and now I’m publishing this article. Got it? Whew!
My first emotional response was the lizard brain talkin’. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Even humiliation. And my first article draft in response showed that clearly. With brutal sarcasm and my debate team finesse, I quickly tore apart every argument offered in the article that defended copying.
Fortunately, I WAS embroiled in that identity-borrowing thing. It kept me from immediately publishing my response to Kerrie’s article. The identity thing was a very prickly situation, involving a group of rowdy local activists a sane person just wants to avoid at all costs. In the end, as upset as I was, I resigned myself to damage control–and moved on.
But I was delayed in writing that original response to Kerrie. And I’m soooooo glad.
I realized the identity issue all started because a person had written in anger, fear, resentment, and perhaps a haze of alcohol. (Not Kerrie! The anonymous poster identity-blurring person.)
They may not have even deliberately chosen to “look like me”–as Katherine Tyrrell (whose Making a Mark blog is an astonishing artist resource) posted in my blog comments, it looked like a clumsy effort to use one of my blog articles to bolster their argument, and that came off as appearing like “me”.
So I sat on my hands for a day or two. The anger dissipated. Cooler heads (not Bobohead Lizardbrain) prevailed.
Instead of the wrathful diatribe I’d prepared, I wrote a nicer article in response to Kerrie’s article. I hope it’s nicer. I meant it to be. You can read the discussion in full here. And you can be the judge.
I wanted to write a better response, because I realized, after much deep thinking about where my anger, fear and pain came from, the real issue is our current culture’s LACK OF SUPPORT for artists.
DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and “I can do that!” prevail. “That’s so cool, I want to make that, too!” The internet makes it soooooo easy to do that, too.
I’ve actually had visitors to my booth pressure me to tell them exactly how I make my horses, because they want to make them, too. Their attitude is I actually owe it to others to share.
Aside from the fact that I choose other ways to share, this attitude is the extreme end of this condition:
This a very natural, very HUMAN response to the new, the beautiful, the powerful. We want it for ourselves. We want to touch it, do it, have it. We want it to be a part of us, in any way we can. We all feel this. And throughout time, all humans have. It’s part of being human.
After all, didn’t I respond to the cave of Lascaux with my own desire to make work that would resonate in the hearts of others long after I am gone?
It’s what we do, and where we go with that natural, human response that’s important.
My request is simple:
Rather than give in to the notion the artist owes us something…(beyond what they’ve already done by bringing their work into the world…)
Instead of “using up” the artists whose work inspires this in us….
Instead of only seeing these artists as a source of great ideas for our own amusement and use….
Instead of just viewing the work of these artists as a sort of “cosmic clip art”….
Why don’t we REWARD them for their efforts?
Why not give back to them, for the joy they’ve given us?
Why don’t we figure out some way to support them, whether that be financial, emotional or spiritual support?
We should consider supporting them….If only so they’ll keep making the beautiful work that inspires us. (It’s okay to be a little self-serving in our altruism.)
So in the end, I’m glad I waited to respond. (And, after reading my eventual response, maybe I could have even waited a few more days. I still sound exasperated. (But hopefully, not as angry.)
I truly appreciate the support and the good wishes of all involved.
Copying is a spectrum of behaviors and decisions–some useful, some unavoidable, and some outright hurtful. I know everyone’s intentions were good, and I hope this all brings about the desired result–a CONSTRUCTIVE dialog about copying, and one that helps people make thoughtful decisions.
So, taking my own words of advice, and being open to the gifts in front of us, I thank Kerrie for her honesty, for putting into words what many of us think when we justify our actions.
I thank her for loving my work.
And I thank her, and the International Polymer Clay Association for giving me the chance to publicly respond.
I am grateful I had the chance to work through this issue, and get to the other side. The place where I should be….
…In a place where I can leave this behind, and go make my art…
…And tell the story only I can tell.
Lately I’ve been “shopping my stash” for new design ideas–going through my countless drawers of goodies (beads, findings, wire, chain) to see what inspires me. It’s a concept that’s become popular in home decorating, seeing what’s already on hand that can be repurposed/rearranged/upcycled.
I have some examples today, riffs on an older design. I’m using tiny, tiny hand rolled silver beads culled from strands of Thai hill tribes silver beads. I used these a couple years ago, alternating the silver beads with turquoise chips.
But this week I’m using tiny, tiny, tiny turquoise chips. And teensy tiny pearls. And very, very small faceted crystals of smokey quartz.
How tiny? Well, the pearls are about 2mm. The turquoise chips, about 3mm. I cannot even imagine how the holes are drilled in such tiny beads. (For reference, I’ve put a #2 pencil in one of the photos.)
My thumbs hurt from picking up such tiny things, and when my eyes began to swim a few minutes ago, I decided to take a break and write instead.
But it’s worth it. Because I love the extreme delicate look of these. And I especially love how the tiniest of my artifacts (stones, otters, birds, bears, horses) look with them.
The weird thing is, sometimes as my brain struggles to wrap itself around this miniscule work, I can feel my thoughts narrow down, too. For example, this is what popped up as I made a little stone for one of these necklaces today.
I realized I’ve always hesitant to show my work in “real time”–as I’m making it, etc. So much of my work has been copied over the years. A “crafter” here in NH actually “borrowed” my popular Sea Stone and Pearl designs a few years ago, to make her own line of jewelry with the same colors, identical components, even a similar-sounding name. She was on my mailing list for awhile, so she either bought some from me or visited my booth the year I introduced them. She now sells them at smaller fairs in the region. Ow. Last year, a customer came in who’d bought a piece from her and raved about her work, saying that I would really enjoy it, because “she does stones, too.” I had to bite my tongue….hard. I see some evidence she is evolving in her designs so that it’s more her own work.
I console myself with the idea that I must be one of her artistic “heroes”. And pray for her to evolve faster….!!!
My lizard brain wants to dwell here, nursing old hurts and grudges. But I try to let go.
After all, I can’t control this. And though it’s painful, I’m trying really, really hard not to give it too much energy anymore.
We are ALL inspired by others. I am. I just try to make sure that, as an idea comes to me from someone else, it gets substantially transformed into something that’s truly mine.
It also happens that different artists work through different ideas from different directions, and innocently converge onto similar territory. That’s happened to me a lot, too. There are, after all, very few truly new things under the sun.
Whatever. It happens. It’s time to move on. And so, in that light, there will more images in my blog from now on.
Who benefits? YOU do! You get to preview my new work for the show. You get to sneak a peek at
the less messy parts of my studio.
Hopefully, I benefit, too. I get to spread the joy as I work.
I’m often asked to speak about my art. I’m good at it, too. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve become extremely comfortable sharing what is in my heart.
There is one frustration I sometimes encounter, though.
That’s the people who come up afterward and ask, “Can I make horses, too?” “Can I combine fabric and polymer, too?” The woman who exclaimed, “Oh, I love that idea! I paint gourds, and I’m going to make cave pictures on my gourds, too!”
Or the people that don’t even ask. They just start making cave ponies.
It’s not that they took my idea.
It’s that they got the wrong idea.
I know we all “copy” to some extent. I consider it a spectrum, just like any other human behavior. It ranges the gamut, from being inspired by someone else’s work (“I love that shade of blue! Hmmmm…I could make a necklace…”) to outright hacks. (Like finding your design on a shelf at T.J. Maxx or Target, and yes, that has happened to artists.)
I know I don’t own the idea of horses, the Lascaux horse, or even ancient images. It would be preposterous of me to say no one else can use these images.
I DO own my story.
And if you’ve ever listened to, or read my stories, and really heard them, you know I’m not just making little plastic horses.
I recently had a visitor to my studio, a delightful person who collects my work. We talked about her work. It’s an unusual profession, and one where many people would pick up the “hero” aspect. (I haven’t gotten her permission to write about this, so I’m being very circumspect.)
Her take was different. Deeper. More sensitive. Profound.
And when she spoke, I felt that ring of truth, that recognition of passion, that little shiver that goes down your spine when you hear deep knowledge expressed by someone from their heart.
It was her story. And it was astonishing.
If you know my story, you know my little horses represent many things to me–a childhood desire to run free, to fly, to feel the wind blowing my hair as my horse and I course across a plain together. You know it’s about the beauty of horses, the thrill of watching an animal born to run, run with all their heart. Doing what they were meant to do. Being what they were meant to be.
But they also represent choices. The choice to be the person you were meant to be. The choice to overcome fear, self-doubt and the weight of adulthood, and try something you’ve always dreamed of doing. To step into yourself, to take up your dreams, and live them. To follow the call.
And the choice to create beauty and embrace hope in the face of despair.
It boggles the mind to think that someone can hear my story.
And then copy my work.
Not just because my work is so personal and so important to me.
But because they missed the whole damn point of the story!
It’s that in YOU, is a story that only YOU can tell.
Because it is YOUR story. It happened to YOU. And it changed you–how you look at life, how you look at yourself, where you fit into the world.
Your story creates a place where, when you stand there, you are powerful. And you are beautiful, and you are whole.
How…..can anyone want to ignore their own powerful, wonderful, incredible story? And try to substitute someone else’s??
Even when your story is not about something you do, or something you make, it is still a place that YOU came to, a crossroads, YOU found yourself at, a journey YOU find yourself on.
Example: Anyone can do hospice work. It doesn’t take a “special person”. It just takes someone willing to be there. Anyone could do what I do.
But only I can tell the stories that come to me by doing it.
I know a woman who translates for the rights of an indigenous people in Brazil. She has even spoken at the United Nations. She insists she does not speak FOR them–they speak THROUGH her. She is their pipeline to a world that needs to honor their cries for help.
But the stories she tells about how they found her are incredible, and powerful.
That is why envy, and jealousy, are so destructive to creative people. To ANY of us.
Because it means we cannot see the power of our own stories.
What is the story that only YOU can tell?
And how will you tell it today?
The Devil’s two most powerful tools in this world are vanity and envy.
I’ve written so much about jealousy and envy, I thought I had nothing left to say. But I do.
I know that technically speaking, the terms are not identical. Envy is wanting what someone else has. Jealousy is fear of losing what you have.
But the premise is the same: Your perception is, you fear you have something to lose, and somebody else is responsible for that fear.
Envy has been a powerful thread in my life. No matter how “enlightened” I get, I struggle with it. Either I’m preoccupied with someone else having more skill/good fortune/attention, or someone is giving me crap because they envy me.
Seems like much of the trouble in the world is based on envy, from my own small woes to those of great nations.
If someone copies your work, part of that is because they see you have skill/success/attention/money/whatever. They think if they simply make the same work, they will have that, too.
If someone is envious of your artwork, and they are in a position of power over you (a juror for a show, a standards committee member), they can make life miserable for you in countless small and subtle ways.
If they are a peer or a friend, it’s even worse. Suddenly, everything you say or do draws a sarcastic remark, a biting comment, a moment of ridicule. A once-promising friendship warps into something sad and rueful.
When I allow myself to envy, it’s just as bad. Trust me.
But the real sin in envy is not in the behavior itself, or the misery it causes.
It’s because by giving in to it, we give away our power.
We give away everything beautiful, unique and wonderful that’s in us. We destroy the gifts that are given us–our talent, our perseverance, our joy–and turn them into dust.
Earlier this month, I almost left my dojo for another that seemed more compatible. I thought I would join a school that was less physically demanding, more sympathetic to my aging body.
I talked with my head instructor; he reluctantly agreed my reasons were sound. But he said I had to let the head of my school know.
I have one thing I do well that I’m proud of. I make the hard phone calls. I arranged to meet with Mr. R in person.
What happened then was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
I will make a long story short–this was a complex situation, with a long history, involving many talented, good people. Much of it is personal and not tangent to the story, so I won’t go into it.
But the heart of this story is, Mr. R quoted that opening line to me. He told me when he’d heard it, and why.
Envy was at the root of the long, sad story that had left so many people deeply unhappy, and not at peace with themselves.
That’s when I realized that another, deeper reason for me leaving was not simply the tough work-out. The real reason was, I was envious of others in the class. I felt stupid having to step out when things got hard. Others were moving ahead, and I was not.
That was bad. Because I had lost track of my true reasons for practicing Tae Kwon Do.
I’d forgotten that my practice is always, for myself.
Not to be better than so-and-so, or to get to my next belt, or have my teacher praise me.
I must practice because I love what Tae Kwon Do can teach me.
I must practice because I love the discipline of trying to be my best.
I must practice for the joy of mastering something–sometimes in a horribly pathetic long drawn-out process, to be sure–to get good at something simply because I keep doing it, no matter what.
I, and I alone, am responsible for pacing myself within the class. If I can’t do sets of fifty push-ups anymore, then I must break it down into sets of 25, or 20. Or seven, if that’s all I can squeeze out.
If I can’t run fast laps on the hard floor, then I can run slow laps on the mat. Or walk, if that’s all my body can handle that day.
And there is no need to feel embarrassed when I need to step up or slow down. Because 1) it’s not anyone else’s place to judge me, and 2) I must stop judging myself.
Can you see the implications for our art?
I have quoted Martha Graham’s quote many times, but I’ll do it again. And I see I’ve lost the copy I used to hang prominently on my bulletin board, so I’ll print it out again for me, too:
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.
And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. …
No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”
from The Life and Work of Martha Graham[
Everyone always has there own reasons for their behavior. If they are envious of you, it has nothing to do with you. There is nothing you can do to deflect it, or control it, either. Sometimes we have the luxury of removing ourselves from the situation, sometimes we can’t.
Understand that envy is based on fear. Fear that there is not enough love, or not enough attention, or not enough money, or not enough opportunity for all of us. Fear creates a little death. It takes the joy of living away from us.
We can only manage ourselves. The only thing we can change is how we respond. The only thing to do is to keep doing what we’re supposed to do, on the very highest level.
We can only try to make our decisions out of love, and hope, instead of fear.
We can only keep making the unique work, the art, that is in our hearts.
I have had the support of amazing people in my life, who have helped me internalize that. I may need a refresher course from time to time, but I always get back to the same place, the place of inner strength and conviction.
This is my gift to the world, the work of my hands, the work of my words, the work of my heart.
It is all we really have, but it is astonishingly powerful.
And when we truly understand and embrace that, we are astonishing, too.
Today you get permission to be unsociable.
As connected as I am to the world-wide web, I try to insulate myself a bit.
I try not to look at other people’s art too much. If it’s good and I like it, I want to imitate it (which is okay for inspiration, but not for my core aesthetic.) If it’s really good, it just makes me feel bad about my work. If it’s bad, it’s just a waste of time. Or it makes me feel smug, which is not being the Buddha. (If it’s really bad, though, it’s funny.)
I try not to read too much Twitter. Either it’s pretty mundane stuff, or I get caught up in what they’re saying, and forget what I want to say. Although lately I’ve been ROTL at this one and that one. I enjoyed tweeting (love to hear the sound of my own voice, there, I said it), until I realized how much time I was spending doing it.
Same thing with blogs. There are some great ones out there, with heady stuff. But then I start comparing mine to theirs. And then I worry about how many people are reading mine (or rather, how few people are reading mine). It becomes all about the numbers, and not about what I want to say.
It feels like when I worry excessively about how much artwork I’m selling. I stop thinking about the work I want to make, and I focus on what I think will sell.
So when things are slow in the studio, I venture out a bit. Otherwise, I try to unconnect.
Today, from one of my favorite blogs, I received permission to be this way.
There are blessings to social media. But there are repercussions, too. Connection is wonderful. But I don’t want to wander aimlessly from point to point. And I don’t want to be just a point someone passes through to get somewhere else.
Except….in my artwork, and my writing.
I don’t mind being an experience people absorb and go through, to get to where they dream of being.
Not by copying my work. (I just found a website where a former customer, whose been copying my work for four years, brags about her “original” and “unique” designs…. Sigh.)
Not by being the Buddha. Because some days–okay, most days–nobody would ever mistake me for Buddha. Before I had rich dyed dark red hair, BTG (Before The Gray), I had rich medium red hair. And I embody every inch of that redhead temper thing.
I hope by sharing the hard days, and the good days, by sharing what I’ve learned and what I know, I can help people get to where they want to be–to help you get to where you want to be.
I hope that by telling you when it’s hard, it’s not always because you aren’t good enough, or not savvy enough, or not experienced enough, maybe you’ll persevere with your art.. (And even if it IS because of that, you can get better. I did.) Sometimes it’s hard because….it’s just hard. Period. I hope that encouraging you to make your art helps you stay the course.
And like Naomi over there at IttyBiz, I hope I help you by giving you permission to decide for yourself what deserves your focus, and what doesn’t. To decide for yourself what success is, and what isn’t. To make the art that is in Y-O-U, and nobody else, and to get it out into the world.
Take a minute to read her essay.
And remember, it’s okay not to answer your phone sometimes. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay not to text/IM/facebook/tweet/link/ning/blog/read today’s newspaper.
It’s okay to simply be unavailable. To turn off the ringer and let the answering machine/voice mail/thingie do its job.
Now go to your studio and make some stuff.
P.S. Now I wish I hadn’t given myself permission to publish this without thoroughly proof-reading it first! :^) I just fixed six typos….
Over the last few weeks, a mini-drama has played itself out behind my blog.
I received a “fan mail” from a person who wanted to buy a necklace. By the second exchange, the person wrote an email that sounded like she’d copied my work and had changed her mind about the necklace.
I ran the exchange by several people whose professional opinion I respect and trust. All read the email the same way, and all were outraged by it.
I wrote an article about how this issue affects artists. To make a dramatic point, I published some of the email exchange between this person and me. I felt I had something important to say about the people who–innocently or not–cause artists such misery. It happens to us all the time–the “fan” who says, “I just love your work, and I’m going to go home and make something just like it.”
I didn’t publish the person’s name or any contact information, but her words were out there for all to see.
The person wrote back, deeply hurt and claiming she’d meant no such thing. She insisted I retract the post. She said it was a personal attack on her, and not fair.
She said I was as much to blame as her. And though she said she was sorry things had gotten out of hand, it felt more like, “I’m sorry you’re so sensitive.”
I pointed out that I had a right to my feelings. I said I still didn’t know what her real intentions were. I said MY intentions were not to humiliate her, but simply to write about how much these incidents hurt, and how I got past it.
She responded again, insisting I remove the post, and saying again it was a huge misunderstanding.
I got angrier and angrier. I was determined to stick to my guns. I knew I was right. Most of my community supported me. A very few didn’t.
Then something happened.
I noticed that it just didn’t feel right.
Several issues came to mind, and they are convoluted. I’ll spare you the tangled workings of my mind there!
I decided to give the person a chance to show they’d acted in good faith.
I emailed her one last time.
Send me one of the little horses you made, I told her. I’d like to see it. Give me the name of the animal rescue organization you were going to give them to, to raise money. Let ME donate a horse necklace to them. It does sound like a good cause, and I’d be happy to help.
Do this, and I’ll take the post down.
Now, I haven’t heard a word back since then.
But I felt much, much better.
Late last night, though, I realized it still wasn’t enough. I talked more with my husband, whose opinion I always respect.
My husband said, “It seems that this particular person–who sounded like she was going to copy your work–took all the brunt of all the pain in you, caused by other people who did copy your work, and bragged about it.”
And he was right.
I also realized I was afraid. By selling my work in a more public online venue, I was opening up the likelihood that more people would indeed copy me. That’s scary.
But recognizing my fear just made me more determined to get back to square one.
I believe the world can only heal from all the anger and evil in the world when we step back from being right, and focus on being whole.
I believe when we make decisions based on fear, we are not acting in our best interest, nor the best interest of the world at large.
My art and my writing have always been about making better choices. Maybe even better choices than I can always make in my personal life. (I can be very impatient and judgmental of people. And I’m afraid of a lot things!)
Regarding this person’s actual intentions….I cannot fully know, or control, other people’s intentions.
I can only know mine.
My intentions are to make the artwork that makes me feel whole. My intention is to write in ways that inspire other people to know their true intentions. And to make their own powerful work. To play it forward.
I got caught up in being right. I may have been right. But maybe I was wrong.
I certainly have a right to my own feelings. And I have the right to write about them. But I can do it in a way that doesn’t make a scapegoat of a person who may or may not deserve it.
I want to focus on the power of my intentions, and get to a better place in my heart.
In that spirit, I’ve removed the post, and I fully apologize for my role in this.
It’s ultimately better (for YOU) to get out there and make MORE art than to protect what you’ve got.
An artist on a crafts forum posted about someone finding a protected image file on her website. The person had left a cryptic message on her guest book: “Thanks”.
The artist is in a panic about possible copyright infringement. Will her design be stolen? Manufactured in China? Sold in Target stores across the U.S.??
It’s a real fear for artists today, and I don’t want to make light of it. She received plenty of good advice about dealing with copyright infringement, and what you can do about it. (Precious little, actually.)
But it also brought me back to the times I thought someone was stealing my designs. And what kind of energy that built in me.
Here is my take on it, FWIW:
I know the potential for someone lifting your images is real.
On the other hand, you’ve really worked yourself up over one word someone posted to your guest book.
I do not mean to disrespect your fears or feelings here–we ALL do this! And this incident may indeed be legitimate grounds for concern.
BUT my thoughts will be a little different than those who are giving you sound advice about copyright issues:
Try not to let anxiety and fear drive all your business decisions.
Your best defense against having a design stolen is what’s actually good for you as an artist as well: Keep moving! Keep developing more work, keep your ideas coming, keep your work fresh.
I’ve been there. I’ve found myself in situations where I felt paralyzed, fearful an action would put me in the way of being copied or my designs ripped off.
But when I look back, I realize that all the energy I thought I had to devote to protecting myself, would have better spent simply getting my work out there and making a heckuva lot more of it.
I’m NOT saying roll over and play dead. Sometimes all that’s needed is a cease-and-desist letter from you or your family lawyer to put a little fear into the heart of your copycat.
I’m saying that the energy you put into controlling this possibility could be better spent on your artwork.
In fact, if you “shut down” and try to control all access to your images, and focus on protecting yourself, you will be working against yourself.
In fact, your best defense is to get your work established, recognizable, and GOOD. True, that alone may not get you $$ from the design infringement. But it goes a long way to getting the infringement STOPPED.
We only have so much time, energy and money to spend on the things that are important to us. We read in the news about people who win big lawsuits and huge settlements. It’s easy to think that could be us.
In reality, those “windfalls” involve time, angst, lots of lawyers, and yes, more money. When people say, “Nobody gets rich but the lawyers”, believe them.
In the end, even if you COULD get rich and famous from defending a design, is that what you want?
Or do you want to get rich and famous by getting your work out into the world and seen and enjoyed and bought by as many people as possible?