WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours

When we can make our art as a vocation, that’s a good thing. Not everyone can, nor wants to.
When we can make our art as a vocation, that’s a good thing. Not everyone can, nor wants to.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours

Times have changed. We can, too. If we choose.

(5 minute read)

Welcome back to the series that explores why our work may or may not appeal to millennials!

Again, for a less stressful reading experience, I’ve broken up articles in this series into pieces. But we’re getting pretty close the end of the series, so bear with me!

Last week, I wrote about our definitions of “real art” and “real artists”.  Along the way, some folks have shared their thoughts, especially the belief that for many reasons, millennials just don’t get “art” in the first place. So why bother?

I’m leaning in, because I’m willing to test my assumptions from time to time. I hope this is a way for others to do the same.

So, back to the definition of “real art”.

6)  What if we looked further afield at other forms of “real art”?

The term “visual arts” covers a lot of fields besides paintings. Photography and movies (technically “moving pictures”. Much fine craft approaches the standards of visual art, going beyond “functional” and verging on pure aesthetics.) I was mesmerized by the Bayeux Tapestry in college, and yes, it was in an art history class, not history. It is history retold in fiber, long considered “women’s work”, considered a craft, and not “real art”.

And “visual arts” goes beyond 2D work. There are the performance arts, theater arts, music, writing, etc. Even sports could be considered an art, as combat and competition have been with us since the dawn of time. (The Olympics, for example, inspired many Greek sculptures and Roman recreations.) I have friends who are deeply drawn, and moved, by opera. (I love “bits and pieces” but don’t have what it takes to sit through an entire opera. On the other hand, I attended a lot of rock concerts in the ‘70’s. Who knows, these may be “classical art” a thousand years from now?)

Who among us has not been moved to tears by a poignant song, a beautiful voice? How many movies have broadened our horizons and expanded our point-of-view? I’m guessing, most of us. Music, song, moving/movie art, are all art media that can be found in Ice Age cave art. I consider all of these “real art”.

Lastly –

7)  Not everyone can support themselves making art.

When we can make our art as a vocation, that’s a good thing. Not everyone can, nor wants to.

Art teachers, historically, got there because making a living with art was hard. Teaching is a way many artists get money to do what they love. Are they “less real”?

There are a slew of people in the world who make good money making music. There a bajillion more who won’t, and never will. Same with acting, singing, dancing, etc. The world is full of people who will never be famous, or rich, for their pursuit of art.

And yet they persist.

Why?

BECAUSE THEY LOVE IT.

They may eventually make it their avocation, pursuing it even though they will make less money over a job they are good at, that pays well, but aren’t passionate about.

Below that (respect-wise) are the amateurs. They know they will never make any money for what they do. But they can’t live without it.

The worst definition of “amateur” (especially today) suggests the person doesn’t care enough to get good at it. Even today, that’s true.

Except that our modern times have broadened the definition, moved that negative tone to third place.

“Amateur” now means, “for the love of doing, not money.”

If our society valued pursuit for love, if we were paid for the time and effort we put into the work that means everything for us, the work that we’re really good at, then preschool teachers (teaching arts), stay-at-home moms (care-taking art), home health aides (same), social workers (healing), etc., and us artists would make just as much money as rock stars, famous actors, surgeons (which I consider “healing art”), etc.

Yes, we need standards in all those fields. Training and certification certainly helps. Sometimes accredited education is mandated.

But standards, training, certification, college degrees, don’t necessarily guarantee us, their clientele and customers, satisfaction.

I don’t care how many years a surgeon spent in school, nor even what school they went to. I want to know how good their skills are, yes. I want them to know what they’re doing, and that they are who they say they are.

But I also want to know if they’re only interested in being a rock star in the operating room, or if they understand my needs, my issues, and what will work best for me. (For example, one surgeon talked me into getting a partial knee replacement. Now, two years later, I’m looking at a third surgery, for a full replacement, because it didn’t work out that well. Standard knowledge now says partials only delay the inevitable for a few years.) My time, my quality of life, and our budget has been deeply dented. That surgeon is a good one. But their need to be a rock star overrode my desire for this to be my last knee surgery.

I don’t care how amazing a film director is. If they have shown themselves to be a toxic person, all I can see in their work now are the tell-tale signs and hints of their abuse and power over others.

Again, this matters to some people, not to others. There is no single definition that will make us all happy. Only the one that will make us happy.

But there are ones that can be inclusive, uplifting, expansive, as opposed to strict borders, narrow definitions, and “the only way” to be a creative person in the world.

And artists? More on that to come, next week!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

THE ECSTASY AND THE AGONY: Your Creative Cycle at Work

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…
Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

 (5 minute read)

For the past week or so, my partner has been working feverishly on a new project.

He’s in high-tech, and the work he does is highly creative. Now, I can almost see some of you cringe. “He’s a nerd! NOT an artist!” I’ve heard that from people before. Sometimes I try to set them straight.

He is an extremely talented writer, who started off as an English major, tried his hand at fiction, but soon slid into non-fiction. He was awarded a prestigious Hopwood Award at the University of Michigan, a year or so after we met. His work was so good, it didn’t fit into any of their categories—so they created a new one, just for him. (He bought his first computer with the prize money.)

Yes, a computer. Because after he graduated, he worked in a department for the university. When the data management guy quit, Jon took over—and eventually taught himself coding. His superpower is using an open-source (“available for anyone to use or adapt”) information system, usually developed by others, and finding ways to create unique applications that meet the unique needs of each client he works with (“integration”). He has a skill for taking a product, and seeing the potential, usually outside of the original maker’s scope. He makes important work faster and easier for others.

If you don’t think developing new software to assist people in their creative work, that it isn’t creative in itself, please remember who the owner/developer of this blog is, and what he does, okay? (Hint: FASO? Clint Watson?)

He’s working on a new project. Typical of him, he dove into it headfirst, staying up late, getting up early, spending hours and hours in his workspace, on fire with this new idea and process he wants to bring into the world.

Then he finished it, exulting in all the issues, roadblocks, and problems he solved in the process.

Then, he crashed. He’s been in a deep depression ever since.

Okay, that’s the backstory. Where’s the creative lesson here?

This can be a normal part of the creative cycle process.

There are many different creative cycles.

 I took a workshop years ago with a creativity coach, Lyedie Geer. You can read more about her work at thelongingsproject.com. Here is the recommendation I wrote for her the next day:

“Last night I attended an amazing presentation by Integral Coach, Lyedie Geer. The focus was time management for creative people. I attended with much prejudice, assuming we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I was prepared to be bored stiff and take away a nice idea or two. Well, Lyedie blew my socks off. Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals. Her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt. Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) stood up and applauded when she finished.”

 Welp, then we moved, and I can’t find my notes. But until I do, here is the U-theory graph that brought such amazement into my life.

There are other graphs and arcs and diagrams, of course, and many of them are good. But here’s the most important take-away:

You creative process cycle may be as unique as YOU.

The graph I learned was complex. The gist of it is, we start with the spark of a new idea, we go through experimental phases to explore it, figure out how to do it, how to perfect it.

And then, somewhere along the line we run into obstacles and setbacks. We get discouraged. We’re baffled, stymied, and frantic.

Many people walk away at this point. They believe they are too stupid to figure it out. They don’t see how it will make money, so why do it? They believe it’s just too hard, and so not possible. Or they postpone it until “the kids are grown” or “I retire”, when they believe they’ll finally have the time to devote to their creative work.

But perseverance pays off, we rise again, and we might just end up bringing something new into our work, our lives, and the lives of others.

And the cycle repeats.

In Jon’s case, he goes through this with determination and focus. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him stuck for long, because he keeps at it until he figures it out.

HIS funk arrives at the end, after he’s accomplished his goals.

He’s exhausted. It’s not clear it will be received well. It’s not certain it will catch.

That’s because it’s happened before: Major breakthroughs that get chucked (by others), don’t gather the approval of management. Don’t make it to the finish line. (Years ago, the entire company he worked for shut down forever, two days before he could launch his biggest project.) So maybe there’s that dread for him at the end of all his efforts.  (When it does make it through, people/clients love what he’s accomplished.)

Or maybe he’s depleted from lack of sleep, exhausted by a 100% effort. Kinda like how awful it is after you cross that marathon line, when your body lets you know how much pain it’s really in…..

But here’s the thing: This is his cycle. My heart aches for him, that he goes through so much emotional pain and physical exhaustion at the end. But this is how he creates.

I know, when another glimmer of a great idea appears, he will go after it with all his heart.

So when things get hard, when it feels like no one wants our work, when it feels like we aren’t “enough”, take some time to think…  Maybe you are at the hard part of your creative cycle.

Do what it takes to help you stay the course. Don’t accept “failure” as a measure of your success. It’s simply the hard part.

And the hard part can land anywhere. It doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

What is your creative cycle?

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more at Fine Art Views or my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com .

THE AGE-OLD (war) STORY: Art vs. Craft

Luann Udell shares how society defines art vs craft have changed through the years.
Luann Udell shares how society defines art vs craft have changed through the years.

THE AGE-OLD (war) STORY: Art vs. Craft

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.

Times have changed. Have we?

(7 minute read)

If you want to start a flame war/troll fest on the internet, just ask the difference between art and craft. (PLEASE don’t do it here, though.) This is a collection of thoughts about why that line is so hard to define.

A reader recently sent me a story. On the urging of their collectors, they approached a local art organization in their area to see if it would be interested in displaying their work.

But the person who viewed their work said it was craft, not art. They implied the work would probably not be accepted for the more-prestigious art-and-sculpture section of the gallery.

Before we go into strategies about how to move forward with this, let me share my own experiences.

When I first took up my creative work, I thought for sure I knew the difference between art and craft. Pottery was obviously a craft, for example, while oil painting was true art.

Until a potter friend of mine, who made each pot they made by hand (not even a wheel), one at a time, fired in pit rather than a kiln, and each one was distinctive, shared this little insight with me:

If they make a beautiful clay piece, it’s craft.

If they take that same piece and have it cast in bronze, it’s art.

So that next step which is a commercial, industrial process outside the parameter of almost any artist, determines that category. (I am not saying it’s a simple process, or doesn’t involve creativity in its own right. I’m saying casting is beyond the purview of many folks such as silversmiths, or those who work with metal in any form. And for those who do, it’s a case where….um….size does matter. Casting a ring is vastly different from casting a large bronze sculpture.)

Another definition often depends on whether the product performs a function (say, bowls which hold food) or is strictly decorative (art!)

So what would you call a clay sculpture? Can’t be used to serve food, unless you can balance a dish on it. So can we really say that everything made with clay is craft?

A third definition is whether the work is one-of-a-kind, or done in a series. Prints are done in series, for example, while most 2-D work is a one-off. (A series might contain the same subject, or a related theme, but each one is different.)

I submitted prints made with my own hand-carved stamps to the print-making jury at a prestigious fine craft organization. I brought samples of different series I’d made.

But after I described my process, I was deferred. Because I used multiple stamps to create the piece. Three. Because I wasn’t carving “one plate”, and so capable of making multiples, it was determined my work was art, not craft. It was technically a “monoprint”, which is not “craft”. (A pretty nice rejection, but still.)

And yet many of the printmakers in this organization create multiple plates for multiple colors, one for each. One could argue that, if each color used in the series (which could be made in several print runs on different dates) were not exactly the same, would those not be monoprints, too? (I started to look up prints vs. monoprints, and monoprints vs. monotypes, but I got lost in the rabbit hole….) So the intent is craft, but the reality is, you can often tell the prints are dissimilar.

How about digital art? When digital art first appeared in the creative world, almost everyone (including me) did not consider it “real art”. It was made with the aid of a computer, which could, supposedly, be recreated easily by anyone else. Therefore, it was more like calling a coloring book “art”. Nope.

Until I talked with one of these early adaptor artists about their work. Turns out there was a huge amount of uncertainty, and serendipity, random factors involved but not controlled, even in this art medium. They would try for a certain effect, which could result in something unpredictably amazing, and difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce exactly.

And of course, computers are now used for many commercial, and artistic purposes. I’ve met a lot of graphic designers along the way, and despite the common knowledge and tools needed to do their work, each one has their own unique and distinctive style.

Sorta starting to look like art, doesn’t it?

Fiber arts is a whole nother ballgame, too. Yes, anyone can knit a sweater pattern, or make a quilt using templates. But then we come across this designer (following her own original sweater patterns) and find this.

Art? Fine craft?? If my artifacts are in jewelry, probably fine craft. In a fiber collage? Anybody’s guess! Small sculpture? Maybe art. Oh, wait. It’s not cast in bronze!

If we consider that these fiber media have been labeled “women’s art” for years, not measuring up to “real art”, what can we say about “urinal art”? The only component showing a contribution by the actual artist is the signature. And it’s in a museum. In fact, the first sentence of this article is, “Fountain is one of Duchamp’s most famous works and is widely seen as an icon of twentieth-century art…..” It’s an unmodified urinal with a fake name on it.

My point here is not to define these two categories, and I refuse to argue about what is art and what isn’t. I am simply pointing out that the lines are wavering, the boundaries are fuzzy, and it’s simplistic to define “art” strictly by the gender of the artist, the medium they choose, nor even the subject matter. (Mary Cassatt’s work was dismissed as “domestic art” for years, because she painted actual mothers and their children. Now if only she’d painted Mary-and-baby Jesus…..)

Back to my friend’s setback. I went to the organization’s website. Yep, they’ve acknowledged that they accept fiber art. Good for them! I checked out the work my friend submitted, and compared it to the gallery images shown. Their work was comparable/compatible to several paintings in their collection: Color palette, check. Subject matter, check. Quality of design and composition, check. There was a colorful hand-dyed, handmade dress featured. So, functional work. Art? Craft? It’s in the art section. (My friend’s is purely decorative, not functional.)

In this case, I believe the person working that day simply had their own ideas about what is art, and what is craft. The actual work is supposed to be submitted and judged by a jury. (In some galleries, yeah, that could be one juror, usually, the owner. But an art organization? Usually a committee.)

I suggested they fill out the submission forms, following the rules and guidelines exactly. Then wait to see what happens.

If they are accepted, yippee!

If not, they can inquire about the reasons for the rejection, respectfully, to find out how they can “improve” their work to meet the standards. (It’s important to keep your cool here! Being angry or difficult will just strengthen their resolve to keep you out.)

I applied to three different media jury processes with that fine craft organization. If work was rejected or deferred, it was part of the jurying process to advise the artist exactly what they had to do to meet the standards.*

If the reasons are, as above, vague, inappropriate, or seem personal, then it’s time to request a presentation to the board of directors. Not as a fist fight, but to politely, calmly share some of the thoughts in this article. Where…and why…are they drawing that line? (Especially when it’s obvious this artist’s work is just as good, and unique, as their own current gallery artists.)

In a professional manner, they can cite the org’s mission statement, and inquire (again, calmly and politely, out of real curiosity) how they decided this artist’s work does not meet those standards.

If that doesn’t work, at least it will be clear that their actions do not really support their mission statement. And I hope there are other galleries and venues where this person can apply to with their work.

I hope when their passionate collectors take their business to that other venue, it might encourage that org to reconsider.

Again, please, no definitions, no troll wars or flaming swords. As I said, we are all entitled to our own opinions.

Just consider the many, many ways creativity can manifest itself in our modern world. You are entitled to your own opinions, and I truly respect that.

My intention was to share how I’ve changed my own opinionabout this. To suggest how to influence the attitude that the lines between art and craft are written in stone, and will never change.

And consider how many times the creative, innovative, beautiful, powerful work, the work of the heart by others, has been relegated to a back seat on the bus, instead given the chance to stand in the sun, too.

If you know someone who needs to read this, someone whose beautiful work has been rejected for shaky reasons, send this on to them.

And if you’d like to read more articles like this, sign up at Fine Art Views, or subscribe to my blog at https://luannudell.wordpress.com/

*And when at some point, that part of the process ‘disappeared’, too many jurors took advantage of the situation to willy-nilly reject anyone’s work with no reason besides “just because.” They are in the process of correcting that, after they found out many very talented people had been rejected for vague, inappropriate, or even personal reasons. They may also be considering ways to broaden their own definitions of what is “good enough” work. Yay!

If you found this article helpful, feel free to send the link to someone else who might, too. (Thank you!!)

And if you received this from someone else, and liked it, you can sign up for more of my scribbling here.

Screaming Lola

“Don’t let someone else’s noisy agenda be your guiding star…”

Wise lessons from our kitties and dogs, courtesy of a lovely little article “Are you listening to the Lolas of the world?” from artist Ginger Davis Allman, in her newsletter today from The Blue Bottle Tree.

Ginger’s work, which you can see in her email newsletter, her website, and her Etsy shop, are, to me, kind of like the successor to the incredible legacy created by the late Victoria Hughes.

Ginger not only creates wonderful new manifestations of polymer clay, she constantly shares her experiments for new clay techniques, tools, and comparisons of clay brands. You can quickly see what clay will work for your purposes.

Or you can purchase her tutorials for step-by-step guides to imitate all kinds of glass beads–rustic, lampwork, even ancient ‘Roman Glass’ beads.

I’m a huge fan of her skills, her outlook, and her generosity in sharing her knowledge and expertise. If you like what you see, sign up for her email newsletter here.

WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?!

So yesterday I wrote an article for Fine Art Views, an online marketing blog for artists. (They also host websites for artists and do a fine job, too!)

Someone commented on how creative I was to think of the title, Sipping From the Fire Hose.

I used the phrase as a metaphor for the power of the internet. So useful for so much, an astonishing resource not even imaginable a decade ago. We use it for shopping, research, information, selling, marketing, self-promotion and connection. I call it the “Galactic Encyclopedia”.

But everything has its dark side. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and overly-involved in things that take your farther and farther away from your own creative efforts. And when you start comparing your efforts to those of others, it can make you feel pretty darn squished.

I can’t take credit for the actual phrase, “sipping from the fire hose”. It’s been around awhile. A quick Google search turned up this definition from the Urban Dictionary:

to be overwhelmed (with information, work, etc.);
to do something intensely;
to be inundated

(Oddly, it also turned up a blog called Sipping from the firehose.)

What made me think of it was, I’d heard that phrase twice in six months. I heard it from two different friends, who are also friends with each other, but who rarely see each other anymore (one of them moved pretty far away.)

Both of them were describing their respective jobs, which they both love.
But there’s simply too much to do. No matter how hard they work, or how much they try to chip away at their respective massive workloads, there’s always more coming down the pipe.

My friend Carol had just been in my studio a few days earlier. That’s when I heard the phrase for the second time.

Because of the coincidences, I couldn’t get it out of my head. All day I kept thinking, “Sipping from the fire hose….sipping from the fire hose….” I could even see Barb making a gesture like she was trying to drink from…well, a fire hose.

I had to write a column in a hurry. (My poor editor, Carrie Turner at Fine Art Views. No matter how many times she gives me a heads-up, I still forget when my column is due. In my defense, she says the late ones are often my best.)

(Okay, I think she’s just being kind.)

I was enmeshed in editing my series of ebooks. I could not think of an original thing to say.

All I could think about was that stupid phrase…sipping from the fire hose…

Then….water.

Then….the good and the bad about water. How everything needs it to live. And yet too much is awful, too.

I thought, “What in my professional life is wonderful and awful?”

I was sitting there, tearing myself away from my project. Which I was doing on the internet. Which was totally, mind-blowingly amazing. Unheard of ten years, even five years ago. My husband had just told me that the technology for on-demand printing was expanding so quickly, that information I’d read that was more than six months old might already be out-of-date.

I was thinking about the power of the internet….

And how lost and confused and discouraged I’d been the day before while researching how to create a book cover….on the internet.

Sipping from the fire hose….

Water…..

The internet….!!!

Once I had my metaphor, the words just poured forth. (Another water metaphor!)

For me, the use of metaphors helps me wrap my head around a concept. I don’t know how other artists/writers/creative people do it. But that’s usually the starting place for my writing.

There you have it. That’s where my ideas come from. They come from:

My friends. Complaining about work.

A funny phrase: Six months apart in time, 150 miles apart in space, and connected heart-to-heart in friendship.

And Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, with the amazing concept of the Galactic Encyclopedia.

And watching Kenny Roberts, the Yodelin’ Cowboy (on WNEM-TV Channel 5 in Michigan about 55 years ago. One day he sang Cool Water. (Although maybe I’ve squished this with the westerns we also used to watch nonstop around the same time.)

Don't know which we loved more, Kenny or the cartoons.
Don’t know which we loved more, Kenny or the cartoons. Boy, that cowboy sure could yodel!

SCULPTURAL EARRINGS

20130731_074354 (1024x768)

A few years ago, I introduced a wonderful line of sculptural earrings at the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

They were BIG. Each set contained multiple examples of my handmade artifacts. Animals (birds, horses, otter, fish, bears), beach drift (pebbles, sea shells) and small “bones”.

Many were asymmetric, too. I loved balancing color and weight, while varying the elements.

People loved them. A few brave souls bought them.

One of my favorite stories was the professional violinist who fell in love with an especially long pair. They would interfere when she played her violin. We spent a good amount of time, trying to brainstorm a solution. Finally she exclaimed, “Oh, what the heck, I’ll wear them when I’m not playing the violin!” And she bought them.

Many musicians see musical notation in my marks.  They're more right than they know....
Many musicians see musical notation in my marks. They’re more right than they know….

Fellow artist Rosemary Conroy has a pair, too.

Rosemary's animal paintings are marvelous--check 'em out!  She picked animal earrings.
Rosemary’s animal paintings are marvelous–check ’em out! She picked animal earrings.

But many more languished on my worktable, especially since I couldn’t do the Fair last summer.

I love making them. People love looking at them. They’re expensive, for earrings. What to do???

P1000636

As always, a customer–and friend–inspired me.

Marcie had me custom-design several pairs of earrings. And here’s the astonishing thing: Marcie doesn’t have pierced ears. Yes, this amazing woman was going to get her ears pierced so she could war these fabulous earrings!

In the end, Marcie decided not to pierce her ears. Did she want to return the earrings, I asked. “Hell, no!” said Marcie (or words to that effect.) She invited me to her home to see what she’d done with them.

She’d set up a small shrine in a special place. Above it was a small wall hanging she purchased from me years ago. Below it, an upright box, filled with small, precious things that held meaning for her.

And hanging in the box were my earrings.

Today I realized that’s what these earrings are for.

I made this display for my museum mount-making class last year.  Foreshadowing!
I made this display for my museum mount-making class last year. Foreshadowing!

Many people tell me they love my jewelry so much, they never take it off. They tell me it’s their favorite piece. They love the stories, too.

But….There are jewelry pieces I make–pieces that really express my inner ancient woman–that you just don’t wear to to the beach, or to work. They are beautiful. They are powerful. But these pieces often don’t make it out of the jewelry box.

So what if the jewelry box…..became a shadow box? What if they’re sold as a unit?

What if the jewelry….is really a sculpture-in-miniature?

What if you could wear it on occasion….and look at it every single day?

What if it made you…and your home….look beautiful?

It’s a good feeling, standing back and taking a new look at these pieces. I feel that this year, they are finally coming into their own. That’s what happens with my artwork. Sometimes the pieces come into the world, and it takes time to realize what their most powerful place in life will be.

For the days you’re feeling your warrior woman self (or just rockin’ the big earring thing), you can wear them out in the world.

And for the days that call for a quieter, more introspective you, well, they can be on display in their own little shadow box.

Enjoy these sculptural earrings!

LuannPhotos2011 (39) (565x800)

Sculptures look GREAT with these dramatic earrings! Sculptures look GREAT with these dramatic earrings![/caption]

bracelets and earrings in shadow boxes.
bracelets and earrings in shadow boxes.

BOXES

Horse in box

I’m feverishly working on a new presentation for my work. It involves boxes.

A lot of boxes.

I scoured junk yards and antique stores for months, compiling a collection of likely candidates. At first it was hard because I didn’t know what I was looking for. (Let me introduce you to my collection of cigar boxes….)

I had no idea how I would restore them, either. I mean, I had a vision of them in my head–worn, beaten, discolored and encrusted by age and dirt.. But how to get that look? Leave them “raw”? (A greasy, dirty box looks wonderful, but real grease and dirt are stinky and messy.) Paint them? (I’d lose a lot of the writing and markings that make the boxes interesting.) What kind of paint? Latex? Milk? Chalk?

I finally hired a friend, a furniture-maker, to let me work in a section of his woodworking shop. I get to use his tools and supplies, while he guides me through the basics of surface treatments and finishes.

It’s been a nice relationship. And most of all, I’m getting a lot of work done. Nobody can “find” me here, and I work for hours uninterrupted.

P1010324 (318x800)

Soon I learn which boxes work, and which ones one won’t. Cigar box walls are too thin for my purposes, though maybe I’ll find another use for them. Some boxes were promising, but proved to take too much work to restore them. Others that looked grungy clean up surprisingly easily. Some have to be washed and scrubbed, then set out to dry. Others just need a little scrubbing with a brass brush and a couple blasts of compressed air. (Note to self: Compressed air would be AWESOME to clean house with!)

As we work on our respective projects, Gary and I have many discussions on design versus technique. Some boxes are extremely simple–not much fine woodworking technique involved. Sometimes just a few well-placed nails hold everything together. But their dimensions and proportions are beautiful, and the wood soaks up the glazes, paints and wax beautifully.

Some of my favorite small boxes are handmade sets, made for homemade storage chests. They are made from cut-down cheese boxes or slats from fruit crates, painted in gay colors that are now muted and worn. Odd specialty nails act as “pulls” on the fronts. They are simple, lovely and intriguing.

Other boxes look intricate and wonderful. But the quality of wood is poor. Or the box has been cut down badly. Or the finishing is bad, or the “faux aging” techniques are faulty (wear marks that are arbitrary, for example.) Or cheap backing materials are used instead of wood. Eventually, I learn which ones aren’t worth my time to refinish or restore.

A lot to think about from an artist’s point of view. Technique or design? Gary weighs in heavily on design, his forte. His techniques are solid, too, but he believes technique is nothing without exquisite design.

As a juried member of the League of NH Craftsmen and other fine craft venues, it’s tempting to go that route. Easy to judge and feel superior. Sometimes my lizard brain goes there.

But then I remember there’s a place in the world for all. I tell Gary about my dad, who took up woodworking after he retired. He claimed he couldn’t make anything unless someone drew a picture of it for him. He needed measurements and drawings to make his craft. Everything he made was well-made, from good wood. It won’t appear on the covers of any art magazines, though.

And yet, when I look around my home and see the pieces he made for me–a table for behind the sofa, lamp tables, a step stool, a coffee table (why do I always ask him to make tables for me??), I know they are as priceless to me as a Van Gogh.

Something made with love has its own inestimable value.

Unmatched shaman mask earrings, in faux ivory--polymer clay
Unmatched shaman mask earrings, in faux ivory–polymer clay

ODE TO JON (Who Will Never Be Mozart) (Thank Goodness!)

We are creative because that’s part of being human. I believe the greatest harm, the greatest loss, is when we deny the world–and ourselves–the beauty and power of our individual creativity.

I got a comment on a blog post I wrote awhile back. You can read the original article here: TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Prevent You From Becoming a SUCCESSFUL Artist…”

The reader wrote a scathing argument against my assertion, noting the usual suspects (Mozart, et al.) “Artists ARE born! Talent IS innate!”, the writer stated.

I thought long and hard about my decision. I love to hear your thoughts, your insights, your experiences, and I especially love to hear that what I’ve said has resonated with you or helped your on your own artistic journey. And I don’t mind being corrected from time to time (unless I suspect your motives.)

But finally I deleted the comment.

Let me tell you why.

First, I don’t write this blog to argue with people.

This isn’t a forum. This isn’t a venue for debate.

These are my opinions, my thoughts. My blog is a vehicle to get those thoughts out of my head and share them with others.

This blog is part of my creative process.

I totally get that you may violently disagree with me. If that’s the case, go start your own blog. Seriously. I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Just not here in my living room.

Second, the reader totally missed the point of my article.

Of course talent is innate. Of course Mozart had tons of talent. Of course most of us aren’t Mozart, and no amount of practice will ever make it so. Heck, I can barely carry a tune anymore, let alone play an instrument.

My point was, that many, many people don’t recognize the talent they have.
They believe they’re not “good enough” to use their talent.
They believe that because they’re not good enough, there’s no use putting their work out into the world.

Look, creativity IS innate. Everybody is good at something. Even a sociopath is very, very good at lying.

Creativity is a human trait. It’s just that throughout the ages, the definition of creativity–the lines we draw around it, the forms we deem acceptable–have narrowed, and broadened, and narrowed again.

We don’t just use our hands, or our voices, to grub for food, or to yell when a predator appears on the horizon. And we don’t just use our hands to draw things. We use our hands to make things, build things, grow things, cook things (yummy chocolate things!). We fix things, heal living things, comfort living creatures. We sing, we write stories, and poetry (and blogs!) We work for peace, or freedom, or equality. We work for understanding, and acceptance, and recognition.

Even destruction can create a space for something new to appear. (I am not advocating destruction, I’m just sayin’ that Shiva’s dance does both.)

When we create, we are all that, and more.

I believe the greatest harm, the greatest loss, is when we deny the world–and ourselves–the beauty and power of our creativity.

We get way too judgy about creativity. (I made that word up. See how creative I am?)

We care waaay too much what the world will think of our efforts. We care way too much about what WE think of our efforts.

Quick story: My husband’s mother was a talented pianist as a young woman, with dreams of performing in public. But at some point, she realized she would never be a world-class pianist.

She never played the piano again.

Another quick story: My husband has been “noodling” on a guitar for as long as I’ve known him, thirty-five years. The last few years, he’s gotten more dedicated about it. He’s reaching out to play with others. He’s found new online methods of learning. He’s taking lessons. He’s considered performing in public venues, on a very modest scale. He reads books about music, about musicians, about the effect of music on the brain. He watches documentaries about music. Lord love him, he tries to drag me to every live music performance in the area.

Will he ever be famous for his guitar playing? Probably not.
Will he ever make money doing it? Nah.
Is he good? I think so, especially when he actually plays instead of practices. (I’m one of those people who winces at every sour note.)

So why does he do it?

Because he likes it. Actually…he loves.

And it makes him happy.

Innate talent?
Mozart?
True vocation?

Yes, maybe.
No.
I dunno.
Who cares?

When I look at him, deep in his practice, struggling to master a new tune or a new technique, I know he is also deep within himself. Truly himself. In the best way possible.

And that, my argumentative friend, is all that truly matters.

INSIDE AND OUT

Here’s my latest column on the delicate lines between copying and being copied, and inspiring and being inspired, written for Fine Art Views, a great resource for marketing your artwork. Enjoy!

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.

Read more here…

The inspiration for my current exhibition necklace. 30,000 years old, no copyright issue!
My intention transformed as I worked. Lion is now a bear.

POLYMER ARTIFACTS APPEAR IN POLYMER CLAY DAILY!

Today I saw an update in my inbox from Cynthia Tinapple’s delightful blog, It was titled Polymer Artifacts so of course I had to take a peek.

Even more delightful, it turns out it’s about MY polymer artifacts!!

It’s an honor to be featured in PCD, as Cynthia scopes out the best work in polymer clay around the world. Thank you, Cynthia!

There’s a nice balance between focusing your work and being inspired by others’ work. The last few years, I’ve been hunkered down, focusing on keeping my vision clear, and trying not to envy the incredible work being made by other artists. Lately, I realized I’ve hunkered down too much. Cynthia’s blog helps me see a bigger picture of the world. It’s time to explore and see what else is out there.

I also see it’s time to update my images on my website. My beloved photographer, Jeff Baird, died of lung cancer three years ago. I owe a big chunk of my success to his beautiful images of my work. It’s been hard to admit that he’s gone, and I’ve been reluctant to switch out the pics. But Jeff would be the first one to tell me it’s time to do that. Wherever you are, Jeff, know that you are deeply missed.

Enjoy!

Shaman mask pins in faux soapstone–polymer clay
Unmatched shaman mask earrings, in faux ivory–polymer clay
Gaia artifact with faux soapstone bird–polymer clay
Ivory and green soapstone artifacts–polymer clay
I love mismatched earrings!
Ivory bear and pendant, soapstone pebble–polymer clay artifacts

PERSPECTIVE, and ADVICE FOR NEW BLOGGERS

Two pieces of advice you should might want to practice regularly. (I’m trying to cut back on telling people what to do….)

A few weeks ago, I was talking with an artist who had just started blogging. Or rather, blogging regularly and with intent. (As opposed to, “Open Studio Today!” stuff.)

She was complaining that she still hadn’t acquired much of an audience. I’m afraid I laughed out loud.

I hastened to assure her I was laughing AT her. I was just thinking of the early days of my own blog.

It was very much like the day I set out my very first bird feeder.

My husband and I had our very first apartment with a backyard–what a luxury! We’re low-level bird nuts, so I decided I would immediately set up a feeding station for the neighborhood birds.

I found a spot where we could sit on the back porch and watch the activity. I bought a bag of generic bird seed from, oh, I can’t remember, KMart? High quality stuff, I’m sure. (NOT.)

I didn’t have a bird feeder, so I took the lid from an extra garbage can and set it on the lawn. I filled it with the bird seed, put out a bowl of water, and took my seat on the porch.

Half an hour later, I wandered into the living room where Jon was reading. “It’s not working,” I said glumly.

“What isn’t working?” he asked cautiously. (Because when your girlfriend says something like this, the ensuing conversation could go ​anywhere​.

“The bird feeder!” I said. “I’ve been watching for thirty minutes, and not a single bird has tried it out!”

After making a funny noise that sounded suspiciously like a smothered guffaw, he patiently explained to me that birds don’t just smell food and come running. They discover feeding stations, slowly and cautiously, building a routine that takes them through a circuit of opportunity. “It could take weeks, even months for them to realize you’ve provided them a new source,” he explained.

Weeks? Months?? Wow. This bird feeding thing was more complicated than I thought.

Eventually a few crows and house sparrows found our lode. Then the raccoons found it, too, and that was the end of our bird feeding ventures. (Until Jon took it up again a few years ago, with much more forethought and dedication.)

My point, I explained to my friend, is this: Be patient.

A website, or a blog, is just a billboard on the information highway. Actually, it’s more like a sign on a back road in a rural area. For awhile, the only people who will really see it are the people who happen to live there. Or people who drive by when they’re looking for something else.

Eventually, your customers and collectors will realize it’s useful for them to check in regularly. And as you find your voice, other people willing–even hungry–to listen to what you’re saying will drop in, too.

Write what is in your heart, write about the things you really care about. The people who also care about those things will find you.

Some will stay, some will move on. But your numbers will grow.

In short, these things take time. That means being patience. Sometimes, perspective helps grow patience.

I told her that, almost ten years later, my total “regular” readership is probably somewhere around a thousand. But my first few years, I was lucky if a hundred people even knew I had a blog. (Okay, I confess. I think seven people have read my very first blog post. (You can read my very first blog article from November 29, 2002 here: ​Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back​

Now for the perspective.

Re: the numbers…..I try not to check my stats. It’s like constantly asking people what they think of your work. It’s tempting, but ultimately not healthy for your creative spirit. I write because I have to write. I have something to say, that I have to put out there.

My art, the same. I have to make it. I can’t stop and worry about who else will like it, I have to simply do the work. You know, the Martha Graham thing….

“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.

As spoken to Agnes De Mille

The two pieces of excellent advice?

1. Read that Martha Graham quote at least once a day.

2. The next time you’re tempted to read your blog stats, if you absolutely can’t resist, then try this: In the “At A Glance” bar graph, switch from the “daily” total to the “monthly” total.

Oh, gosh, the numbers are so much more satisfying!

HEALING

What is Luann doing with all those little boxes???
I worked in my studio yesterday. It was a major event.

I made eight little pendants for my simple horse necklaces. Not a big deal, usually. Certainly not a big production day for me.

But it was significant. Because it’s the first work I’ve made since my knee replacement surgery last month.

My last post before I went under the knife showed the frayed mental state I was in. It wasn’t pretty! Even now, I lay awake at night, exhausted, my body aching for sleep, my mind racing at 90 mph. A litany of minor sins streams through my brain–all the things I need to do, all the things I have to redo, all the things that need fixing/making/writing/cleaning etc. After what seems like an eternity, I finally fall asleep.

But when I wake in the morning, all I feel is tired.

I’d be more worried, except my very good friend Jennie, a recent surgery patient, too (who was, incidentally, also the first visitor I “received” once I’d stabilized from the surgery) gave me a wonderful insight.

“It’s not so much the surgery, or the pain,” she mused. “The hardest part for me was when I did start feeling better. But I was so damn tired all the time. No energy!”

Oh gosh. I’d forgotten all about that part.

So once again, I have just the right words at just the right time.

I can walk without crutches. The pain is easing. I don’t have to wear those damn compression stockings anymore!

But my body is not healed yet. It will take more time, and I must be patient with myself. Exquisitely patient, no matter what the demands in my life try to tell me otherwise.

And Lydie’s advice was right. Yes, it might be easier to work in here if my space were cleaner, less cluttered, less dusty. Maybe I should have spent more time restocking stores with inventory, or even trying to get fitter before my surgery.

But when I come in the studio, and see the materials for my next big series of works, it makes me think of the exciting new ideas I want to bring into being. I see a studio full of everything I need to take that next creative step forward.

I must remember to ask, every day, when I enter this fabulous space, with patience, with gentleness, with respect and joy:

“What is it you need from me today, that this new work can be brought into the world?”

All it really wants, for now, it seems, is for me to be here, with love. And intention.

And so my studio, too, is patiently waiting for me to heal.

TIME MANAGEMENT FOR CREATIVE PEOPLE

Artifacts, potential wall hangings, jewelry or framed collages.

Last week I attended an amazing presentation by integral coach Lyedie Geer. Her website is here. The focus was time management for creative people.

Now, fifteen years ago, when I first started my artistic journey, I was on fire with professionalism. I was determined not to be that “spacey artist” with no concept of time or discipline.

I was very good at it, too. I entered juried shows early. I had a binder of my galleries, their complete contact info, my shipments to them, their terms, etc. Correspondence was carefully filed in each of their folders. My slides were labeled and up-to-date, and I had duplicates ready on a moment’s notice for any occasion. My Rolodex was full with fellow artists, show management, photographers (I had a photographer and a back-up photographer), suppliers. You name it, I had their name and phone number.

My editor at Lark Books called once, and in an hour, I’d produced every single source and resource we talked about. “Oh my GOD, you’re so organized!” she exclaimed.

Then something happened.

I can’t remember what set it off, but things…changed. I wasn’t frantic about recognition. I didn’t care about publicity or awards. I wasn’t willing to do ANYTHING to keep my income stream going.

I rode more. I wrote more. I dropped everything to be with my family or a friend in need, even when the “need” was a drink. I took in homeless puppies. I volunteered more. I took hospice training.

I paid more attention to other things: The change of seasons. Walks with my husband. Phone calls from my daughter. Driver’s Ed with my son.

The concept of time management began to annoy me. Oh, sure, I understood I could get so much more done if I actually MANAGED my time instead of letting it manage me.

But that just didn’t seem as urgent anymore. I still care deeply about my art and my art business. I just felt that more was being called for of me.

I wanted to explore that call. And everything is different.

So I attended the seminar with extreme prejudice. Borderline hostility, in fact. I assumed we were going to learn about day planners and Google calendar. I expected we would be urged to be more ‘professional’ in our dealings.

I was prepared to be bored stiff and MAYBE take away a nice idea or two. My only defense is I was also willing to be proved wrong, which is why I even went in the first place.

Well, Lyedie blew my socks off.

Her presentation gave me a deeper understanding of my creative process, and how to use that understanding to focus even more on my creative and professional goals.

Like Bruce Baker, her information is the kind I would attend to many, many times, as I would ‘hear’ something different every time. The content is powerful, and Lyedie’s presentation style is earnest and heartfelt.

Some people are monochronic, she said. Time is rigid and linear. There are rules, and expectations. This goes HERE, and that goes THERE.

Creative people are polychronic. Time is fluid, priorities are in constant flux.

To maximize our skills and impact, TIME is not the thing to be managed, but our AWARENESS.

It’s not so much about artists learning to be better businesspeople, or learning how to squish ourselves into a better business model. In fact, the monochronic world is the one that needs to adjust, and flex, and support the polychronic.

Because our creative self–WHAT WE ARE–is what’s of value to the world

And the world needs us now. Badly.

There was more, so much more. A lot of it is science-based, on what we now know about creative people, and how creative thinking works. It’s also full of hope, and wonder, and connection, and everything human. It will take time for me to process exactly what this means for me in the days–years!–ahead.

It’s simply powerful stuff.

Our entire audience of creative professionals (web designers, commercial photographers, graphic artists, etc.) applauded when she finished.

I highly recommend Lyedie to any organization that offers professional development for creative people–your local art organization, your professional guilds, art schools. Her insights can offer benefit to creative people at every level of development, from rank beginner to accomplished professional.

In fact, as I face another dramatic surgery in the weeks ahead (total knee replacement surgery, eeeeeeeeeeeeeek!) I plan to meet with Lyedie. I want a ‘life intention’ jump start.

As I recuperate, I want something pulling me away from the pain and frustration of recovery, to the rich new path I believe lies ahead. It may not LOOK much different, on the surface. But I’m hoping for a ‘unified field theory’ for myself, a way to examine, evaluate, and include all the paths and projects on my plate.

I don’t want to feel distracted and unfocused anymore. I don’t want to feel guilty about my messy studio. I don’t want to feel anxious about the new work that’s in my head, that I can’t quite get out into the world yet. I don’t want to feel like I love so many aspects of my creative self, yet feel that none of them the full attention they deserve.

I want to feel that, whatever I’m doing, whatever has my attention, and my awareness, is what I should be doing. I want to feel that there is a place for me in the world, and a need for what I have to offer.

I’ll keep you posted! And in the meantime, see if you can get your group to host a seminar with Lyedie. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

BE KIND, REWIND. (This Means You!)

Messy? Multiply this by a jillion!

I’m having one of those days.

I was going to goof off and enjoy this fiercely windy and sunny day.

But no. My good friend Bonnie Blandford posted a link to a great list of things to do to be the best artist you can be. Drat.

So I started clearing a surface so I could get busy with my next project. That lasted two minutes.

Got lost in sorting and reorganizing. Oops! I’m out of this widget. Order it now while I’m thinking about it.

An hour later. Surface still not cleared. Great art put on hold. Again.

I try again.

This time I found a metal box full of special orders and repairs from my really big show last August. Uh oh.

Now, there are a few things you need to know about how I do business, and how I treat my collectors.

When something breaks, I fix it.

When someone wants something different, I make it.

When something gets lost, I replace it. Free. Well. I’ll replace an earring, but I’m not going to replace, say, a lost wall hanging.

So I always have a stack of these ‘special projects’ after the show. This year, I had almost two dozen on my plate. Er…in my box.

It’s not my nature, really. After three days of set-up, nine days of selling and standing–in August, in the heat, which I H*A*T*E–the last thing I want to do is all the things that seem to point out my failure.

The repairs say, “You didn’t make it strong enough!” Fail.
The replacements say, “I shouldn’t have fallen out!” Fail.
The custom work says, “I don’t see anything I like!” Fail.

Now add: Two customers who cancelled their layaways right after the show. And the one special order I didn’t do, which angered one customer.

On top of that, add the six-months-from-hell I wrote about recently, and my upcoming knee surgery (which will make me put my life and art on hold, yet again, for months and months) and I get a little weepy.

I am very very good at feeling guilty and useless. I excel at feeling sorry for myself.

So I looked at that box and knew I had to deal with it.

To my surprise, I had actually completed…everything.

I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself. Probably that perfectionist thing that still raises its ugly head from time to time.

But it doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t serve my art. It takes away all the joy. It makes me forget why I do this.

Time to be kind and rewind.

I thought about the two dozen projects and repairs I DID complete, and all the happy responses I’d gotten back.

The repairs say, “I wore this until it fell apart. It’s my favorite necklace.” Success.
The replacements say, “I can’t believe you can make another one, and you’re not charging me!” Success.
The custom work says, “I love what you do, and I want one, I just need it in a different size/style/color.” Success.

I thought back to the angry customer. When I apologized, she calmed down. When I told her what had been going on, she sympathized. She said no worries, she’ll be back next year to look again.

And now that I think on it…last year, a customer commented in passing that she had lost everything she owned, in a major house fire. And I gave her a new piece–a big one–on the spot.

Am I a saint? Nope. Am I perfect? HA!

What I am is 100% human, through and through.

And I’m feeling better already.

N.B., if you have similar issues with repairs and special orders, one way to eliminate a lot of hassle is this: DO NOT TAKE ANY $$$ UPFRONT. I may take a check or write out a charge slip. But I don’t cash the check, or run the charge, til the order is ready to ship. That way, if something comes up and everything falls apart (like it did for me), your customer isn’t trying to get their money back–a far more complicated, and serious proposition.

And a little something extra that says “Thank you for your patience” goes a loooong way to smoothing over your (hopefully rare) goofs, too.

MY ART IS WHO I AM: Another Lesson From Hospice

Every hospice experience teaches me something. And my latest hospice client has already taught me something big.

The first client visit can be tricky. Each situation is very different, and I never know what to expect. So I come prepared for almost anything.

My visiting bag usually holds several books. One is something for me to read if the client is sleeping or not conscious. Another is a book of poetry, or a prayer book, or perhaps a favorite story to read aloud. (One of my favorite memories is reading Dodie Smith’s bittersweet “I Capture the Castle” to an elderly gentleman, who was as enthralled by the story as I was.)

I also carry a good supply of crossword puzzles, a notebook or journal to write in, and sometimes, my latest knitting project.

On my first visit with this client, she spied my knitting needles and asked me about my project. I pulled it out and soon we were talking about knitting. Turns out she was an avid–and extremely talented–knitter. And though her yarn stash does not rival mine, it’s still impressive.

Sadly, she’s losing the ability to knit. “But we can still look!” I said cheerfully. So we spend our time looking at knitting magazines, exclaiming over the pretty pictures of sweaters, hats and scarves, commenting on the yarns and the patterns. Last week, she turned to me and said in a fierce whisper, “I just LOVE looking at knitting patterns!” “So do I!” I whispered back.

Today she spoke sadly (and metaphorically, which is common at this stage) about not being able to knit anymore, and about “an event” that’s coming, something that cannot be stopped, something that comes for everyone.

It’s hard to talk about, she said. And people sometimes pretend it’s not coming, but it is. “It is hard,” I tell her. “People don’t know what to say. So they say nothing.” She nods fiercely.

I ask her how she feels about it. She thinks for a moment.

There are things that have defined her, all her life, that are now slipping away softly but surely, into a growing gray mist. “I can’t remember what it is, but it’s all going away,” she says sadly.

My heart goes out to her. It reminded me of my very first day in hospice training.

One of the hospice chaplains ran the exercise. It sounds laughably simple.

But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

She gave each of us ten little slips of paper. We were each told to write down ten things that were important to us.

They could be people (family, friends), they could be experiences (marriage, traveling, work), skills (arts, gardening, dancing, martial arts), character traits (intelligence, humor).

We spent quite a bit of time getting our lists just right.

Then the chaplain said, “I’m going to come around and take one of your slips. Decide which one you can give up.” It was hard, but it went quickly.

Then she said, “Now I’m going to take three things. Here I come!” Those three things were much harder to choose. We all breathed a sigh of relief when she was done.

Then she said, “Hold up your remaining slips. This time, I get to choose!” I guess I thought she would read each ‘hand’ and make a decision. Nope. She strode purposely around our circle, grabbing randomly at the slips in our hands.

It was really really hard.

What we lost was hard.

What was even harder, was knowing it was coming.

And not knowing what we would lose.

Some people tried to fight it. They held on tightly, refusing to let go. (But they had to, in the end..)

Some people–okay, all of us!–cried out in dismay when a precious slip was taken.

Many of us just cried. I did.

It wasn’t fair! Some people got to keep a few precious slips. Others lost all of them.

I cannot describe how it felt. Anger, fear, resentment, sorrow…. None of us were unscathed.

The power of those little slips of paper was palpable. Losing them was devastating.

“This is what it’s like,” said the chaplain softly. “This is what it’s like, at the end. Everything–everything–is lost.”

Such a simple exercise. Such a powerful lesson.

I looked at this amazing little woman, who was looking at me, wordlessly asking me….something.

I couldn’t remember the rest of that training day. I couldn’t remember what the chaplain said next.

I could only remember a little story this woman’s daughter had told me an hour earlier.

“Remember the sweater you made for your daughter?” I said. “How beautiful it was, and how beautiful it made her feel?”

She nodded.

“That is what will never go away. You did that. You made something beautiful. It made her feel beautiful. It made her feel loved. That is what will last.”

She nodded fiercely again.

I think I saw a little smile on her face.

My friend Kerin Rose once tried to tell me this, a few years ago when I was in a bad place. I felt apart from my art for awhile, and was frightened of who I would–or wouldn’t be–without it.

“You would still be you,” she insisted. I wasn’t sure….

But now I understand.

Yes, my art is who I am.

Not because of what I can or can’t do. Nor because of what I could do.

But because of what I’ve already done.

Because of what it’s already meant to me.

And because of what it’s already meant to others.

And that is what will last.

Dishclothes

THE END OF THE YEAR: Still Standing

It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. Thank you to all of you who wrote, because of the silence, to ask if anything was wrong.

There were some scary things going on this holiday season. It’s been impossible to share them, for many reasons. The main reason is, to do so would violate the privacy of someone I love more than my life. It’s not really my story; I was a bystander who got caught in the backlash of the tornado.

After the worst of the storm had passed, and things looked more like normal (and I am very, very grateful for normal), I wondered why I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly as I usually do. I felt violated, stripped of my reason-to-be, and off-balance about the role art plays in my life.

Two things have put me back on the path.

One is a children’s book I’ve been reading this week. It’s the finale to Susan Cooper’s marvelous series THE DARK IS RISING, about the battle between good and evil in the world. called “Silver on the Tree”. I found “Silver on the Tree” at a thrift shop last week, snatched it up and read it.

Near the end, the heroes venture through a beautiful kingdom, a land of makers and craftspeople, singers and story-tellers, in search of a magic sword to help them in their quest. The king of that land, the maker of the Crystal Sword, sits alone in his castle, immobilized these many long years and silent.

And right there, on page 161, is this amazing passage:

(The enemies of the Light,) they showed the maker of the sword his own uncertainty and fear. Fear of having done the wrong thing–fear that having done this one great thing, he would never again be able to accomplish anything of great worth. Fear of age, of insufficiency, of unmet promise. All such endless Fears, that are the doom of people given the gift of making, and lie always somewhere in their minds. And gradually he was put into despair…..Despair holds him prisoner, despair, the most terrible creation of all.”

I saw myself.

To be open to the world, to be open to your creativity, also means we are exceptionally vulnerable to the dark forces of the world.

When we are open to the chaos of possibility, we are also vulnerable to the chaos of evil.

Even as we delight in the small fierce flame of creation, in ourselves and in others, we are in danger of someone carelessly, deliberately, cruelly, snuffing it out for the sheer enjoyment of tormenting us.

It’s frightening to realize the world has such people in it. They’re surprisingly hard to see, too. In fact, they may be the most charming person you’ve ever met.

Your only clue may be how awful you feel about yourself after dealing with them. How inadequate you feel, how selfish you see yourself, how useless your talents are to the world.

And because you yourself have let in that despair, only you can see it, and only you can tell it to leave.

There’s no logic to it, except this:
You can accept there is evil in the world, and give in to it.
Or you can say there is also good in the world–and embrace it.

I have to choose the latter.

I have to believe in what I do, and in who I am.

The other thing that’s a miracle today, is a little piece of paper I found while cleaning piles and piles of my crap for a party we’re having tonight.

It’s typical of my little notes to myself: Written on a torn sheet of paper, some little thought–the title of a book, an idea, an insight–in an futile attempt to shed some of the mind-slurry that is my brain into something that might help me organize. Or at least remember!

In the middle of a list of books is a quote:

Writing is a meditation for you.”

I have no idea where it came from, or who said it. It sounds like something my friend Quinn MacDonald would say. Heck, maybe I said it! But surely I would have remembered….??

What matters is this: It’s true.

I need to write to process what happens to me. My lack of writing has delayed my healing.

I’ve been writing, privately, the last few days, after this long drought. And slowly, my heart is making sense of the last two months’ events. And some peace is restored in my soul.

So I find myself at the end of the year. It’s been a hard, hard winter already, and many more dark, cold nights ahead.

But now I know this for sure:

When winter comes, can spring be far behind?

And I am so very grateful for these two tiny, wonderful miracles in my life today–a torn piece of paper, and a well-worn old book.

And I’m grateful for my marriage, my children, my family, and friends, and dogs who sleep on your feet at night, and cats who try to sleep on your head.

ART AND FILTHY LUCRE: Does Making Art for Money Muddy the Artistic Waters?

My art’s bigger/better/purer than your art. So there!

Hierarchies come easily to many living creatures.

It can be a brutal process. For birds, hierarchy can mean life or death. That phrase ‘pecking order’? It’s real. I’ve lost chickens and cockatiels to the process. The bird on the lowest rung of the ladder may not get enough to eat. An even slightly injured chicken will be attacked, killed, even eaten by the rest of the flock.

We humans have hierarchies, too. Our fascination for English royalty, our obsession with celebrities, our own yearning for fame and fortune, all are social constructs based on hierarchy.

Artists and craftspeople are no exception.

People who make their own jewelry components sniff at ‘bead stringers’–people who use only purchased components in their designs. The people who do some wire work or only make their own beads, are sniffed at by silver- and goldsmiths.

Glass artists have been the top of the heap in the collecting world for several decades now. Before that, it was something else. Maybe clay. I dunno–I wasn’t in the biz then.

Fine artists look down on all crafts. Once I introduced myself to a small group as a fiber artist. “Hunh! That’s nice…” was the general response. Ten minutes later, a local oil painter’s name came up. “Now he’s a real artist!” someone in the group exclaimed.

But fine artists have their own internal order, too. Pastels are better than colored pencils, watercolors better than pastel work, acrylic paint is better than watercolor, and oils are better than acrylic.

And of course, across all media is the hierarchy of purity. Who makes money from their art, and who makes art purely for art’s sake? Who sullies their ethos for filthy lucre? Is teaching the purest form of sharing our art with the world?

It gets kinda confusing–and funny–after awhile.

If you are in a group of artists who sell their work, the mark of a ‘professional artist’ is your ability to make a living from your work. How much money you make is your achievement award. It’s proof that you are a serious, full-time artist.

Or people place you on the ladder by the prestige factor of the shows you do. Small local shows don’t count, of course. Why, they let just anybody in!

Being vetted by an organization helps, too. I’ve had people express polite interest in my work until I mention that I’m a doubly-juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Suddenly, I’m treated with respect and deference.

But there’s nothing like the disdain amateurs–those who can’t-won’t-don’t sell their work–hold for an artist who actually, actively seeks sale–those artists who want to make their work and get paid for making it. The disdain the amateur holds for ‘professionals’ is huge.

They have history behind them. The word ‘amateur’ originally meant someone who pursued an activity purely for the love it of it. Now it ranks right up there with ‘dilettante’–someone who pursues an activity superficially. (ouch!) Amateurs, by definition, make their art without the requirement of making money from it. Art for Art’s sake. The purest state of making art.

The reality? Not for me to judge. It’s all good.

I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum in my career.

I began by making jewelry entirely from purchased components, and making traditional quilts. I did a very few small local shows, but mostly I gave my work away.

Then I dedicated myself to finding my own personal vision. It was a powerful step. I was grateful to even be making my art. The thought of being accepted into a show, or of someone even buying a piece, seemed too much to ask for.

As my skills and self-confidence grew, the next step was entering exhibitions across the country. Someone had told me they thought the phrase ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ sounded so wonderful, they made that their goal. I made it my goal, too. And I achieved it within a few years by methodically applying to as many opportunities as I could.

When ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ lost its luster, I turned to money as a measure of my success. It was important to me to make sales. The more money I made, the more successful I felt.

After years of making money, I wanted to be in the ‘good’ shows, the prestigious shows that look on a resume. With time and effort, I managed that, too.

And then I went back to square one.

I transitioned from focusing on these external goals, to thinking about the place in the world I occupy. I’m still selling–better than ever, in fact. But that transition came from a powerful place in my heart, and that is more important to me than ever.

Now, according to many people, I can be placed at every step in the art hierarchy. I’ve been ‘pure’, I’ve been ‘mercenary’, I’ve been ‘published/exhibited’, I’ve been hunkered down.

And yet, it’s the same work. And I am the same person.

Hierarchies evolved as a way for a species to survive. The weak, the sickly, were left to die, so that the flock/herd/group could survive.

We humans can–and do–choose differently.

We try to heal our sick. We care for the weak. We are present with the dying, to comfort them.

We’ve learned that even someone who is sick, or weak, or slow, or awkward, or fearful, or (gasp!) untalented, still has a place in the world.

And given that chance, and that place in the world, the gifts they offer can be profound and huge. At the vary least, they are happier for doing what they do.

So make your art.

Sell it, if that’s important to you. Don’t resent others if they sell theirs, and you can’t seem to sell yours.

Don’t excuse yourself by judging others. They are either on a different path, or (like me) simply in a different part of the cycle.

Recognize the hierarchy of who’s making ‘real art’ for what it is–a way to hide our jealousy of people who seem to have something we want for ourselves. A survival strategy we can choose to ignore.

Decide what you want, right here, right now.

And know that you can change your mind, any time. And do something different.

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

AT THE FAIR: A Girl’s First Real Necklace

Being a part of someone’s life, because of the work we make, is a powerful thing.

Today is Day 4 at my big retail show, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair. It’s been exciting, exhausting, enervating, exhilarating, excellent and entertaining. Sort of New Hampshire’s own Big E.

Years ago, a mother and her young daughter came to my booth. The girl–around 9 or 10–fell in love with my horse jewelry, and begged her mom for a necklace.

“No way!” exclaimed her mom. “You always lose your jewelry. You lose everything!”

The girl pleaded her case, promising she would cherish the necklace. There was a little bargaining involved, I found a horse necklace that was a little less expensive, and both of them left with their Luann Udell horse.

Scene: My booth, one year later. A girl and her mother walk in the booth. The girl is wearing–my horse necklace!

We hug and laugh. Her mother tells me the story: “Every night, before she goes to bed, she takes off her necklace and places it in the gift box you gave her. And every morning, she puts it back on. It is the last thing she does before she sleeps, and the first thing she does after she wakens.”

I was so moved that she loved my work so much. I told this story to a friend. She said, “Do you realize, Luann, that YOUR jewelry is her first piece of ‘grown-up jewelry’? Your necklace took her to the next place in her life–you’ve been a part of her growing up.”

Now they come back every year. Sometimes the daughter buys a pair of earrings, sometimes her mother buys a necklace. Sometimes they pick something together, agreeing to share it between them.

It is beautiful to watch them.

They came this year. The girl is a young woman now. There is talk of college, maybe even a gap year program. As always, the love and warmth between them is obvious. She picks a pair of earrings, Mom picks a beautiful necklace–with a promise to share. They may be back for the girl to pick another ‘big’ piece for graduation. As they leave, I feel tears coming.

Yes, their purchases over the years have supported me as an artist. They are lovely people and I’m honored they love my work.

But even more, I am humbled at the idea that I am now a part of their family story. My work, from my hands, graces their lives. It encouraged a child to take her first steps to adulthood, and greater responsibilities. It’s been part of her life for almost a decade now, and will be with her on her first steps out into a bigger world.

I have been a witness to this. I’ve been invited to be a part of this. My art has been my ambassador, and I am astonished and grateful.

Today another young girl and her mother came to my booth for the first time. The girl begged her mother for a horse necklace. I shared this story with them. They laughed, the mother looking thoughtful. They looked and tried on a few pieces, then moved on to see the rest of the Fair.

I have a feeling they’ll be back.

As hard as it is to do this show, these moments, these precious moments, remind me of what the world asks of me. They remind me that my gift serves others, sometimes gentle, sometimes obscured, but always with purpose.

It is why I am here, today, at the Fair.

A little girl's first 'grown-up' jewelry!

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CHARIOTS OF FIRE

I’m reprinting this article I wrote on June 2, 2005, because it bears repeating. (And because it’s so hard to find on my old blog at RadioUserland…)

I’m doing a series of articles at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog I write for. I realized this post is still timely when talking about marketing our art.


CHARIOTS OF FIRE and the World Batik Conference

In a few weeks I’ll be presenting a speech at the World Batik Conference at Boston College of Art.

I’m speaking on self-promotion for artists, specifically the art of press kits and press releases.

The time is limited, and the message must be succinct. I asked one of the organizers what she felt I had to say would be the most value to their audience.

She didn’t even have to think about it. She said, “In other countries, there is a huge cultural bias against putting your art forward, of appearing too proud of your work. It’s seen as bragging or being boastful. People have a difficult time thinking about promoting their art and themselves. Can you address that?”

I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It’s not just artists in some other countries who have that bias.

It can be very hard to convince most people—especially women, especially artists—that it is not only desirable, it is essential we put our art out into the world at every opportunity. That it is not a selfish act, but an act of generosity.

In fact it is the greatest gift–the ultimate gift–we can make to the world.

My favorite line from the movie “Chariots of Fire” is when the missionary/runner Eric Liddell explains to his sister why he will indeed compete in the 1924 Olympics, though it seems to conflict with their religious goals and plans:

I believe God made me for a purpose; but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt; to win is to honor Him.

When we are given a gift, we must remember that the pleasure the giver gets is anticipating and enjoying the pleasure the gift will give us.

To renounce the gift, to deny its potential, is to ultimately negate the spirit in which it was given. No good comes of that. Love, real love, is not served by that.

I truly believe it is the same with the gifts we are born with. Whoever/whatever you feel is the source of that gift—God (by any name or names), nature, DNA, random chance, the Force. It appeared in Y*O*U. It’s part of what makes you…you know…YOU.

And note that the gift may not simply be what we are good at, but what gives us joy. Don’t confuse talent with passion. They may both be involved in the gift. But what really drives our watch is not the precise movement of the second hand but the spring inside. (Or the battery. Or the electricity coming through the cord. Oh, never mind….)

Find what you are put here on earth to do. Find what gives you joy. Do it, and share it whenever possible with others. Tell it to the world. Show us. Don’t even pretend you know what ripples it will make, or how it will all play out—we can’t know that.

But know that whatever creative force in the universe you celebrate, will be pleased.