FEEL THE FEAR (And Do It Anyway)*

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.

FEEL THE FEAR (And Do It Anyway)*

Share your work, your thoughts, yourself on social media, and own it!

(5 minute read)

There’s a hidden underbelly to using social media to promote our creative work. We don’t talk about it much, it’s quite prevalent, and it can’t really be fixed.

There will always be someone who’s happy to tell you what’s wrong with it: Your style, your subject, your technique, your skill level, your choice of color, theme, title, etc. And also what’s wrong with Y*O*U.

If this happens to you, here are some words of comfort and encouragement.

In 1948, Shirley Jackson’s most famous short story, often included in high school reading/literature classes, “The Lottery” was published in the New Yorker magazine. It generated a (quote) “deluge of complaints” to the editor, and a substantial number of cancelled subscriptions. (Just FYI, the new movie about Jackson is not based on her actual life, according to her son, and contains incredible untruths, as does the book it’s based on. The author says it’s fiction, though it can ‘read’ like a true bio. Although I also hear Elizabeth Moss’s performance is amazing!

One of my all-time favorite mystery writers, Sue Grafton, died before completing her famous “alphabet series” (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar, etc. and her last one was Y is for Yesterday. No Z.) She’s won almost every mystery award you can think of, multiple times.) Critics have called her one of the top mystery writers in every category, especially her series. I’ve read them all multiple times.

Out of curiosity, I checked some reviews and ratings on Amazon, while buying her last book. I was shocked to see how many 3-stars and below ratings her books got, usually between 17-19%. One longtime reader gave her 1-star and a terrible review, because she “wrote too much”. (Remember “Too many notes” in the movie Amadeus?)

One of my top three favorite advice-givers, Captain Awkward, is hugely popular, known for her wit, in-depth analysis of what’s going on, her insights, etc. She is an advocate for kinds of good causes and movements, all people, all genders, etc. She has thousands, tens of thousands, of followers, maybe more, including thousands of paying supporters on Patreon.

And yet, she has created a special folder for the deluge of hateful, angry, highly-critical comments she receives on a daily basis, which she doesn’t even read. (She also deletes their comments and blocks them forever after their first rant.)

And we wonder why people hesitate to post their thoughts, their writing, their artwork, their stories online….

I actually wrote a series a while back called “Haters Gonna Hate”, about how we can’t focus on who hates us/our work, we just have to get it out there. I received quite a bit of blowback about using the word “hate”. (Can you spell “irony”?) And another series, Mean People Suck, has truly stood the test of time.

We know that Shirley Jackson persisted and began a highly-popular and highly-respected author (faux movie dialog notwithstanding), as did Sue Grafton. Captain Awkward (aka “Jennifer Peepas”) does not let the haters slow her down for a minute.

Neither should YOU let these people slow YOU down.

I used to engage with nay-sayers, until my team/partner/wise people in my life encouraged me not to even try. I still struggled, hoping to convince those toxic people to simply skip over or delete my posts/emails/columns/articles.

Now,in the movements for justice and equality today, people deep in those movements advise the same: Don’t waste time or energy trying to change someone’s mind. Instead, find ways to support the people/communities/organizations who are already working to change the world for the good.

You could do the same. Delete, mute, block. Move on. And get back to your happy place so you can make your art, and get it out into the world.

It took courage to see the artist in yourself. It took courage to take up brush/pencil/clay/a camera/a microphone/dancing shoes and pursue the work you care about.

It will also take courage to put it out into the world.

I’m reminded of this today from another source: Ginger Davis Allman’s email newsletter The Muse. Allman works in polymer clay, but her wisdom and insights apply to almost any creative endeavor. In today’s article, she concludes, “Best is subjective. Because each of us is different, things resonate with us differently and hit us in different ways. So we each have our own idea of “best” or “favorite”. There IS no best.” Yes, in certain instances, the opinions of others are relevant. But in the end, “the only idea of “best” that matters is your own.”

I get it. I dread reading comments. I’ve gotten some doozies, and it can be daunting. But I’ve worked too hard to get where I am today, and I’ll be darned if I let someone who’s having a bad day/hair day/time/life take me down to their level.

Do your work. Do it for yourself. Take a deep breath and share it with the world, however you can. Be proud of where you are, and be excited about where you’re going.

I wrote some of my best articles when I had no audience. Because, I learned even before my favorite “Sally Forth” comic was published, that it’s not about having an audience….

It’s about having a voice.

It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice.

You can be afraid. You can worry about being judged. You can worry about feeling ‘less than’. It’s human.

We all want our work to be loved, respected, collected, displayed with joy. Once it leaves our hands, it has its own journey. To be loved now, or in a hundred years (like Van Gogh), or in 10,000 years.

Or forgotten, like so many others lost to us in time. No matter. It’s not where it goes that counts.

It’s what it brought YOU, in the making.

Feel the fear (and do it anyway.)

 

*Thanks and a hat-tip to Susan Jeffers for her amazing book, where this title came from!

WAYBACK WEDNESDAY: ART vs. CRAFT: I’m Losing

I’ve decided to publish a blog post on Wednesdays, republishing posts from my now-defunct and hard-to-find blog at Radio Userland.

Hence, Wayback Wednesday!

Yes, it’s just by chance that this blog post first appeared on a Wednesday. 🙂

If you’d like to see the original post (and others!), click on the title below.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I’m feeling bipolar lately. My mood has been up and down, sometimes all at once. SAYING I need to rethink how to get my artwork out into the world sounds very brave and confident. In reality, I just want to hunker down and run away.Today, in between making horse sculptures for some stores, I followed a link to an interesting blog called “Redefining Craft” which you can see here: http://www.redefiningcraft.com/

I really don’t speak academese, so I skipped through some of his entries until I hit the one for February 8 entitled, “Art vs. Craft: Who’s Winning?” In this entry, Dennis Stevens posts two images, one of a Nike shoe on a stick, and one of a mask by glass artist William Morris.

Or rather, according to Mr. Stevens, “non-artist” William Morris. It turns out the Nike shoe is the image that provokes and enlightens, while Morris’s work is merely a hijack of another culture’s imagery for his own gain.

Wonder what Mr. Stevens would say about my Lascaux imagery?

Oh, well, at least it’s possible that Lascaux IS my cultural heritage. It’s possible some of my ancestors were French.

But I have to admit, I felt a certain dismay that as a craftsperson, I’m in danger of being left on the side of the high-culture highway for lack of having anything potent or portent or important to say.

Doesn’t help that I also recently watched the movie “Art School Confidential” which you can read about here: http://imdb.com/title/tt0364955/

It’s a movie about a young art student at college. He finds his beautiful work is totally ignored by his teachers, his peers and the art world while pretentious, self-aggrandizing crap is revered as “true art”. The kid eventually passes himself off as a serial killer so he can attain his ultimate goal of being a famous artist. (Because as soon as he’s arrested, his paintings sell like hotcakes.)

There’s one thought, and one thought only that moves my heart gently back to its rightful place.

I didn’t deliberately choose any of this (except for one thing.)

I didn’t deliberately manufacturer the message of my art.

Call me lazy, call me shallow, call me a clueless craftsperson or a non-artist. All I know is, ten years ago I felt like I was dying inside. And when I hit the lowest point in my life, I make one of the most important decisions of my life.

I decided to make the stuff that made me feel human again.

I tried a lot of different things and a lot of different techniques until I found the ones that felt…that resonated…the most with what was in my heart.

It just FELT right.

Of course I have great hopes for my artwork. And of course I want people to buy it. And of course I hope to be recognized for making beautiful things.

But I didn’t choose what I do to attain that. It chose me.

All the discussions about art vs. craft, about what makes great art, and who is a “real artist” make my head hurt. They always have.

In the end, I’m left at the end of the day with one question.

Did I make something I’m proud of?

And did I put enough of myself into it that it calls to other people?

And did I do at least one thing to get it out into the world for others to experience?

Okay, more than one question at the end of the day.

But these are the questions I CAN answer.

I’ll leave the more academic questions for wiser people than me to answer.

ABNORMAL: It Can Be a GOOD Thing!

I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog. He may be an expert on marketing, but a lot of his posts also offer incredible insights into how to have a life well-lived.

Yesterday’s post was no exception. I was gonna skip  it, because the title was  odd. “Abnormal” did not sound like a good fit for my day.

And yet, it was exactly what I needed to read:

“Are you hesitant about this new idea because it’s a risky, problematic, defective idea…

or because it’s simply different than you’re used to?

If your current normal is exactly what you need, then different isn’t worth exploring. For the rest of us, it’s worth figuring out where our discomfort with the new idea is coming from.”

I’ve been writing for the online art marketing newsletter, Fine Art Views for many years now. At first, I focused more on marketing, salesmenship, display and lighting at fine craft shows, etc.

But more and more, as I struggled with my own role as an artist in this modern world, I shared deeper thoughts and musings: What it’s like to be a woman in the art world. (Kinda scary, sometimes!) What it’s like when you realize your sales aren’t great, and it’s really hard to figure out how to change that. (Do you quit? Or do you keep on? What’s the point??) What do you say when someone insults your work? (Snappy comeback at their expense? Or something so deep and embracing, it challenges them to look again?)

I write mostly what I’ve learned along the way, the powerful things others have taught me, and how to be a force for good in the universe.

I try to tread carefully on posts I know may trigger critical comments, and use humor often. Most of the comments complain my articles are too long.  (To be fair, they complain all the FAV articles are too long, but especially mine. I started finding the word count and adding “7 minute read”, so that people who don’t have seven minutes could pass.)

But nothing stops a truly negative person. I actually did a series called “Haters Gonna Hate”, about how we cannot possible please everyone with our work and how to move on to focus on the people who do…..

And almost every article drew a comment (or three) complaining about me using the word “hate”. Because….I kid you not….they hated it.

I am always happy to engage in a discussion, because that benefits everyone in the end.

But over the last few years, I’ve gotten some toxic comments that were so out-of-line, they took my breath away. And although every writer on the site gets slammed from time to time, I seemed to get more. (I seriously think it’s because for a few years, I was the sole female writer in a historically male-dominated art world.)

I’ve learned not to slam back. (Not my usual style anyway.) I’ve tried to explain why my reality may not be theirs, and that’s okay. (Though the commenter usually thinks THEIR reality is the “real one”.) I always wait until the pain and frustration softens, so I can respond with my highest, best self.

And now, my editor has agreed to move the weekday my articles are published, so they can monitor those toxic posts better. (I chose Saturdays, but because the editorial staff is not available on weekends, I had to sit with that poison for two more days before they could be deleted.)

So back to Seth’s blog post yesterday.

I think this is why I get such blowback from some of my columns.

I’m sharing something so different from the traditional definition of “artist”, the way an artist measures their success, and including those who don’t even consider themselves a “real artist”, it is

People accuse me of misreading the term “triggering”.

But I think that’s exactly what happens. What I’m writing about is a different thing from what they believe is “true.” So they find it problematic, defective, instulting….instead of just “different.”

I love it when people sit with the “different”, and reconsider their assumptions and definitions about “real art” and “real artists”.

It means I did it right.

I’m comfortable exploring the “different”. I don’t need to change because they aren’t.

I’ve always said, from the very beginning of my art career, “My art isn’t for everyone.” I can sit with that.

And I also know my writing is not for everyone, and I can sit with that, too.

No one is forced to buy my art, nor read my writing. (In fact, even now, if you hate reading this, you can…..delete it! (Takes a second, and poof, it’s gone!)

But here’s who I write for.

People who struggle constantly with, “Am I good enough?”

People who work hard on their art, their art skills, their marketing, their social media, and still can’t rely on good sales.

People who wonder what the point of making art is, if no one wants to buy it.

People who think they’re doing it wrong.

People who think everyone else is doing it right.

People who don’t see other artists like them in the world.

People whose social circle constantly diminish or demean their choice of subject, medium, color palette, style, etc.

And of course, people who want advice on selling, marketing, customer service, display, etc. etc. etc.

I always preface or end with the statement, “If what you’re doing works for you, don’t change it!!”

And yet, although, of course, I always think I’m right (I’m human!!!) I also recognize the power of emotional and social growth. The power of changing my mind. Seeing the life lessons and tiny gifts in the hard times. Crossing the path of people who DO know better than I, and who share their hard-earned insights with people like me.

And so, although sometimes my words hit the wrong places in the wrong people, I will keep on writing until I can’t.

A big thank you to those who like what I write (at least most of the time) and who share your own comments and insights. You are proof that we all have something that can lift someone’s heart and encourage them to pursue their own creative work. You also show that you are a true, open spirit in the world, embracing every step of the journey. You make my heart sing!

Because the world needs our art, no matter what form it takes. Creativity of any kind is a force for light in the universe. (My Star Wars mantra!)

In this vein, if you are reading this today and like it, pass it on to someone else who might enjoy it, too.

And if someone who has your back, forwarded this to you, and you like it, you can sign up for more at my blog here.

 

 

 

 

ORCHIDS: Not Your Typical Little Hothouse Flower

I love orchids, especially the ones that cost less than $10.

I love the flowers, especially the ones in unusual colors and patterns. I love how long the flowers last. I love how little care they need.

But I do not have a green thumb. I usually toss them or give them away when the flowers are gone, and I forget to water them for months. Or worse, when I leave them outside in the spring and they actually drown from too much rain.

I heard they can rebloom, but who wants to wait a year for that?!

Eventually, though, I simply began to keep them in the window, adding new ones to the mix every six months or so. And yes, they will rebloom, given time and a little bit of care. In fact, they bloom even more vigorously the second time! I don’t know why. I don’t feed them, I forget to water them, and they still reboot.

Until one year, I did leave one neglected and unloved, in the mudroom, for a looooong time. I finally saw it walking by our house one day. (I’d set it behind the window blinds, and it was visible from the street.)

Chagrined, I took it out of the window and brought it into the kitchen. It was completely dried up. Even the root-looking things that actually take moisture from the air (which is why they don’t need a lot of water) were shriveled and dry.

I almost threw it into the compost bin, but stopped. I thought, “What the heck, I’ll give this little one a chance.”

Here it is:

20190307_110640
Uh oh, looks dead to me….

And here it is, one week and two brief waterings later:

20190307_110758
It lives!!!!!!

Why am I writing about orchids? Especially a hothouse orchid?? The British site I just linked to defines this term with humor:

Hothouse Flower: A flower that isn’t hardy enough to grow under natural conditions. It has to be pampered and grown in a greenhouse or hothouse. : On “Frazier,” (a U.S. television show), the main character was complaining about various things that bothered him. His father said, “Aren’t you the little hothouse orchid.”

And yet, in my humble experience, orchids are anything but pampered.

In fact, they are extremely hardy, as my abysmal care of them proves.

You know what else is a “hothouse flower”?

Us. You. Me. People. Humanity.

We are all tender and vulnerable when we are born. We rely on those around us to take good care of us. Typically, the care extends for decades, though on a lower-maintenance level as we grow from infants to young adults. Some of us get that love and care. Some don’t.

The world, and our fellow humans, can be vicious, and cruel. There are people who go out of their way to hurt us, and plenty more who don’t intend to be mean, but are. If we’re lucky, it’s our heart and soul that get bruised and broken. If not, we may not even survive….

And yet….

Every day we hear or read a hero story. (My use of “hero” includes all genders.)

We learn about someone who rose above the chaos, the destruction, and survived, even thrived. We hear about people who persisted, despite the insults, setbacks, obstacles, and disrespect. We hear about people who have suffered great pain, physical, mental, spiritual–and turned into a force for good in the world. We hear about people who even sacrifice themselves for others, willing to lose their lives so that others will live, the ultimate sacrifice.

Wherever we go, we find people who are doing it right. They work tirelessly for justice, for restoration, for those who cannot fight for themselves. They get discouraged, they get hurt, and yet they keep on going.

Sometimes, it’s wisdom, information, encouragement, shared just when we need to hear it. Sometimes it’s a simple act of kindness, and compassion that keeps us going.

Sometimes these people don’t even know the miracles they’ve brought to our lives.

These people are all our life heroes.

And by their actions, they encourage us to do the same, too. To pass it on, play or pay it forward. Somewhere in the world (or even next door) there is someone who needs your story, your art, your words, your kindness, maybe even a few bucks so they can eat. All of it is worthwhile. All of it, even the tiniest little bit, makes the world a better place.

So the next time someone brings something painful and hurtful into your life, and, when you push back, they sneer something about how senstive you are, how it was just a joke, sometimes when they are hurting themselves and choose to pass that on, remember this:

We may be hothouse flowers.

But we are also going to bloom again. And when we do, we will be even more beautiful, in our hearts and our souls.

20190307_114022

 

LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: Why Didn’t That Gallery Take My Work??

FineArtViews Newsletter|Saturday, March 2, 2019|Issue 3407

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. 
LET ME COUNT THE WAYS: Why Didn’t That Gallery Take My Work??

By Luann Udell

Remember, gallery owners are just customers with stores.

Years ago, I wrote an article listing all the reasons why a gallery might not accept your work. Well. Not all the reasons. Because I think more are being born every minute….

Why did I do this? Because at some point in our art career, when we approach a gallery, we will probably face rejection. And when that happens, we struggle to figure out why.

Many of us will blame the gallery. Some of us will blame ourselves. A very few of us might have the courage to actually ask the gallery. (They may or may not give you an honest answer, but it’s worth a try!)

1. Your work isn’t up to snuff.

2. Your work is really good, but not their preferred medium.

3. Your work doesn’t fit in with their current inventory.

4. Your work looks too much like work in their current inventory.

5. Your work is overpriced.

6. Your work is under-priced

7. Your work is fine, and well-priced, but will not appeal to their clientele.

8. They like your work, but they don’t like you.

9. They like you, but they don’t like your work.

10. They don’t like you or your work.

11. They can tell you don’t like them.

12. They’re having a really bad day.

13. You’re having a bad day, and it shows.

14. You dropped in unannounced, and rudely assumed they would drop everything to look at your work. (There are ways to drop in and not rudely make such an assumption, but you have to have your script ready.)

15. You are too meek when it comes to talking about your work.

16. You are too arrogant when it comes to talking about your work.

17. You try to establish your creds by dissing their other artists.

18. Your color palette is too dull.

19. Your color palette is too shocking.

20. You’re already in every other gallery in town.

21. You don’t have an established reputation, and they only take the same artists.

22. Your work is all over the map-not a cohesive body of work.

23. Your work is all the same-no variety.

24. You are high-maintenance. (I have watched this in action, and it is truly off-putting!)

25. They can tell you expect them to handle everything, from sales to marketing and everything in-

between. So you don’t have to do anything to grow and connect with an audience.

26. They aren’t doing well, and they may even be closing up shop soon.

27. They aren’t dealing with their artists honestly, and they know your partner is a lawyer.

28. Your work is controversial.

29. Your work is technically good, but has no soul.

30. They know nothing about your medium.

31. They hate your medium.

32. They love your medium, but they are only looking for X medium.

33. They love your medium, but they already carry too many works in it.

34. They love your medium, but they don’t love you.

35. They know your work is already carried by their biggest competitor.

36. They don’t take local artists.

37. They only carry local artists.

38. They used to carry your work because you used to be a local artist, and then you moved away, and all their customers want to know why they’re carrying an artist on the other side of the country.

39. Your work is too fragile-breaks easily, can’t be packed or shipped, etc.

40. Your work is too big.

41. Your work is too small, too easy to shoplift.

42. Your work is too hard to display-too big, too heavy, has lots of loose parts, etc.

43. Your work is too trendy.

44. Your work is passe.

45. Your work is craft, not “fine craft”.

46. Your work is fine craft, not art.

47. Your work is art, not craft. (Yup, I was disqualified for this once!)

48. Are you sensing a pattern here?

There are as many reasons why a gallery won’t take your work as there are stars in the sky. Or at least as many reasons as there are galleries.

Do some of these reasons sound familiar?

They should. Many of these reasons are the same reasons our potential customers don’t/won’t buy our work.

We often imbue gallery owners/managers with more power than our customers.

In fact, they may have more expertise, more experience, more clout. They may be fair, and kind, and compassionate, too. But they are still just human beings, like us, prone to prejudices, errors in judgment, egomania, and even envy. In fact, a fellow artist told me years ago:

“Galleries are just customers with stores.”

I have heard many variations on these reasons in my art career. When I first started approaching galleries, I was pretty fearless. I was starting in the middle of nowhere, and figured any progress would get me somewhere. I didn’t offend easily, and I quickly saw that a gallery’s refusal was not to be taken personally. (I think I sensed the “customers with stores” thing already. But then, I forgot.)

Every encounter with a gallery was a learning experience. I realized when someone seemed mean, it was more about them than me. My work may or may not be “good enough”, etc. But the bottom line was, it just wasn’t right for them, period.

Am I offended when a visitor doesn’t buy my work? Or criticizes it?

To the first, absolutely not. Not everyone is our customer. We all know that, and yet, it can still feel daunting.

The latter, yes, it’s offensive. But again, someone who feels compelled to complain to me about my work is revealing more about who they are. I can choose to pick that up and carry that anger, that embarrassment. Or I can choose to let it go, and find my true “next” customer.

These reasons are similar for group shows, too. A curator might want variety in every single piece in the show. In which case, if your work looks too much like what they’ve already accepted, they may not accept it.

But if they are creating a cohesive show with light-colored contemporary pottery, and your work is pit-fired and dark-colored, you might not get in.

I share these “reasons why” not to discourage you, but to encourage you.

I want you to persevere with the work of your heart. I want you to make the work that only you can make.

I want you to tell the story with your art that only you can tell.

I want you to make the work that brings you joy, and creates a powerful place for you to be in the world.

Not every person is our customer (yep, I’m saying it again!) and not every gallery is our gallery.

Every minute we spend being angry, hurt, disenfranchised by someone else’s opinion of us, our work, our medium, is a minute wasted.

We could use that time and energy to find our real customers, including the “ones with stores.”

I know that’s easy to say. Disappointment is the curse of all creatives. Books get rejected, Oscars are awarded to the “safe” choices, artists are passed over. I get it.

Just remember that we are dealing with fellow human beings. Some are wise and loving and respectful and evolved. Others? Not so much. We all have our preferences, especially petty ones!

Here’s my last example: When I approached my first gallery, a non-profit, there were two managers. One oversaw the fine craft area, the other the fine art area. Being a fiber artist, I approached the fine craft person with my wall hangings first.

I was roundly rejected as having “an immature design aesthetic” and “an illogical composition style.” They went on for quite a while, lamenting the fact that I would never have a “real” art career. They suggested I make smaller pieces and sell them as pins. (I am not making this up.)

DSCF0007 (2016x3040) (2)
Well, this is certainly small enough to be a pin!

I was baffled, but feeling too strong to feel threatened. It was obvious this person had issues, and I knew there was something about my work that threw them off. I thanked her and left with my work.

A few months later, our town of Keene had its annual “art walk.” Participating business venues exhibited the work of local artists in their windows for a week. A very popular and fun event!

A friend told me afterwards that a very well-known (okay, famous!) artist, who was a friend of hers, saw my work while they were perusing the event. He stopped in his tracks when he saw my work. He said something amazing I can’t remember (more on this later), something to the effect that he loved it, it was fresh, it was different, it was unique, it was powerful, and it was beautiful.

Anya said, “You don’t think the design aesthetic is immature?” (His response was literal “wtf”, and he was baffled until she shared how my work had been received a few months earlier. His next response? “Wtf is wrong with them?!” The venue, not me.)

Cut to a couple years later. My fiber work had appeared in several exhibitions at the same facility, and the art manager asked me to become one of their permanent exhibitors.

A few days later, as I walked through the craft gallery with my work, that very same person who’d rejected me roundly ran up to me, saying, “I want to talk with you! Those are craft, not art! I want to carry those in my section!”

I told her politely I was there by invitation, but appreciated her enthusiasm. And kept walking to the art manager’s office.

No, my work wasn’t significantly different-same style, same techniques, same colorways, same artifacts. The only difference was, I believe, my work was becoming better known.

My point is, we are hard-wired to pay attention to bad stuff. “Bad stuff” implies a threat, danger, and so we instinctively tune in to it to keep ourselves safe. (Which is why, as I suggested above, all these years later, I can remember the mean things that person said, and can’t quite remember the lovely things that famous artist said.)

If we let this dominate our lives, if we pay too much attention to those who would take us down, we will let them–help them–crush our spirit.

Try not to agonize about the gallery that didn’t work out. Try not to take it personally when someone else wins that prize. Let go of the people who don’t appreciate our art, or our medium, or our subject matter, or anything else people gritch about.

Yes, it’s good to keep in mind we can always do better with our artwork. Our art biz has an arc similar to life. As we know better, we strive to do better, and be better. It’s the same with our art.

Take all the energy generated by disappointment and failure, and channel it right back into the work of your heart.

And I hope, someday, you, too, get a chance to prove your detractors dead wrong!

You can subscribe to the Fine Art Views newsletter here.

 

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

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.

 

img_20160905_170647
I have very good reasons for choosing polymer. Simply put, I could NOT do the work I do without it!

I recently wrote an article called SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”. In it, I shared how we can positively frame our choice of media, especially ones that are considered “less than.”. (I was going to say “justify” in that sentence, but it sounded like an apology. Let’s just stick with “frame”.)

There is a hierarchy in art media, just like there are hierarchies in any creative human activity. For example, even the worse presentation of ballet may be seen as more “sophisticated” than tap dancing, or break dancing.

In art, oil painting may be considered more “real art” than acrylics, which is “better” than watercolor, which is “better” than colored pencil, etc. Many even consider pottery and fiber art to be craft rather than “real art”. (It used to be, if you wanted to start a flame war on the internet, you would just ask what the difference is between “art” vs. “craft”. Actually, that argument’s probably still raging!)

My friend Nicole Caulfield is an extremely talented colored pencil artist. She chose this medium for a variety of reasons. To my eye, they are as beautiful and compelling as any oil painting I’ve ever seen. Yet her work commands far lower prices than even a mediocre oil painting. Does it weigh her down? Nope. This is the work she loves, and excels at. In my mind, she is an art hero! (I’ve linked to one of her website pages, but her portraits are jaw-droppingly beautiful, too!

Over time, new media (especially polymer clay) do gain respect and followers. And yet, there will always be those people who will find fault with them. In the article, I shared how I got to the heart of my “why”—why I chose to work with this material, and its advantages over others, to make my art.

Today I share another insight into why it’s important for us to find these reasons:

When we are challenged by these people who imply (or outright tell us!) our materials are “less than”, we need to be prepared with a great answer….

Because other people are listening!

I did an entire series of articles on awkward, obnoxious, aggressive/dismissive, simply ignorant, or even innocent questions or comments that may startle or stun us.

As artists and makers, whatever our choice of medium, we need to be prepared for an answer that modifies and redirects the conversation on our own terms.  We need to do it with patience, and dignity, and without anger, defensiveness, or apologies.

For one, we gain nothing by responding with anger or snark. We’ve simply lowered ourselves to our detractor’s level. We help create a hostile environment that works against us. (In fact, that’s why some obnoxious visitors do this, consciously or unconsciously. Why else would someone go out of their way to be rude, when all they have to do is walk away??)

But more importantly, when we address our detractors, other people around us. Whether it’s at an art opening, in our booth, in our studio, or even in our family and circle of friends, other people are paying attention to how we handle it.

If we learn to handle these difficult situations with respect, and reframe it to our advantage, we will really impress the people who are listening, who are/could be our real customers.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had someone say something awful to me, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because they are simply an awkward person, and sometimes, because my work has triggered something in them. (I’m guessing envy, and perhaps insecurity about their own creative efforts.)

I realized those questions and comments fall into several categories: My choice of media (not just polymer clay, but fiber, and jewelry.) My source of inspiration. My color palette.  How I talk about it.

I sat down and thought hard about how to respond in a positive way, without being defensive. This actually gives me the power to reframe the conversation in a way that serves me well.

And every time there has been an “audience”—other people browsing, for example—it’s obvious they’ve been listening to how I responded. Because they do one or more things:

They look even deeper at my work.

Often they come up to me afterwards and compliment me on my restraint. (Fortunately, no one can read my mind yet, where less pleasant responses are swarming.) (Yes, I have a lizard brain, too!)

They often buy something, too.

That “difficult person” gave me the opportunity to share my outlook on life, my art, and my medium, in wonderful, positive, life-affirming ways that resonate deeply with my audience.

Again, this took time. I was fortunate to find Bruce Baker’s seminars early on in my art career. For almost two decades, Bruce gave seminars and sold CDs offering great advice on marketing and display skills for artists and makers of all sorts. (He has now returned to his original work of jewelry-making.) [1]

I used his advice (and words!) when two women entered my booth at my very first major show. One looked at a large wall hanging, featuring my own handmade polymer faux bone artifacts. She said, “You’d have to live in a very different house to hang this. A VERY different house!” (It was obvious her “very different house” was not a desirable house…..)

I’d practiced Bruce’s suggested response to detractors, memorized it (so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard) and went into full reframing mode:

“Yes”, I replied cheerfully, “My work IS unusual, and unique. I’m inspired by the Lascaux Cave in France, which for decades was considered the birthplace of human art. I work with recycled fabrics to make each quilt, layered and stitched to look like it’s passed through many generations of family. I make my own faux prehistoric artifacts, one at a time, to embellish them.”

And the kicker line: “My work isn’t for everyone. But the people who do appreciate my work, love it passionately.”

Why is this so appealing?

I established my cred as an artist. I shared a bit of the process behind my work. I emphasized the time involved, and where the aesthetic comes from. I showed I’m not looking for mass appeal, but the story in my heart.

And I issued a small “challenge”: Maybe it’s not for you…or is it???

This is the power of discovering our “why”: Why we use this material. Why we make this work.

And why someone else’s negativity won’t stop us from moving forward with all our heart.

But the biggest gain was the people who came up to me after that person left, and congratulated me on my response!

They saw someone who hoped to get a rise out of me, sent on their way with courtesy, patience, and respect. They heard a response that answered some of their own questions, questions they may have hesitated to ask. (Because some artists can get pretty snarky about what they perceive as “stupid questions!)

It started a whole nother conversation about my work, where I could share how I came to be an artist, why I chose this cave, and why polymer is the perfect medium to tell my story.

So think about why you chose your particular medium. Think about why you choose to make what you make. Think about the questions that have stopped you in your tracks, making you wish you had a snappy response in return.

Then take out the “snappy” bits, and reframe it to your advantage.

Be careful about making a joke, because usually those jokes are at our customers’ expense! I myself have been the butt of such remarks, and even though they make me laugh, I’m also slightly ticked. (See that same “questions” series for ideas!)

And practice your response(s) until you don’t even have to think about it.

If you, too, have found a way to frame your response to detractors (it could be medium, subject matter, color palette, in a positive, respectful way that benefits you, share! Someone else is hoping you’ve found a beautiful way to not only deflect, but perhaps even engage, a difficult person.

Footnote: [1]  Bruce’s old website is long gone, but his excellent and informative CDs on selling and display for makers are still available! You can contact him by phone (802-989-1138) or email him at dunnbaker@aol.com  I assure you they are worth every penny!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”

Don’t focus on the “what”. Focus on the “how” and the “why”.
What’s it made of?
This used to be my most dreaded question to answer. Until it wasn’t.
Recently, Cynthia Tinapple, a long-time polymer clay artist/teacher/writer/curator, told about a recent visitor who said she “loved polymer clay.”
Cynthia was caught off-guard. Usually, we polymer clay users jump “defend” our choice of medium. This visitor acknowledged it, respected it, and praised it, all without prompting.
Polymer clay is an amazingly versatile, adaptable, and accessible art medium. And like any other medium, you can use it to make crap, or to make something astonishingly beautiful.
It was originally used in Germany as an art doll medium, and well-respected.
But when it was originally marketed in the U.S., it was framed as a simple clay for children and amateurs to use, especially Sculpey: Supersoft, easy to work, quick to fire in an ordinary toaster oven.
Those of us who worked with it soon found ourselves constantly judged as “less than”…. Less than “earth clay” artists. We worked in “plastic”. It was cheap, and it broke easily. I remember my first little craft fair, featuring pens I’d covered in patterned mosaic polymer, selling for a few bucks. A couple stopped by, and the guy picked one up. “What is it?” his partner asked, and he responded in disgust, “A cheap pen covered in plastic.” He put the pen down and walked away.
I felt flatter than a pancake.
Innovators like the late Tory Hughes (who inspired my faux ivory work), City Zen Cane, Kathleen Dustin, and many others, soon showed us what could be done with this material.
Still, the stigma remained.
Years ago, I noticed a disheartening phenomenon: Whenever a booth/studio visitor picked up my work and asked what it was, I’d reply brightly, “It’s polymer clay!”
And they would put it down again and move away.
I realized I had to reframe what this material meant to me, and why I chose to work with it.
First, I created a few small “sample” card of things I’ve made with the clay. There are faux bones and pebbles, mosaics and buttons, pieces of turquoise, coral, and amber, tiny fish and other wonders, all arranged attractively and attached to a piece of poster board.
Then there is my “Welcome to my world!” sign next to it.
I’m much wordier when I talk about it. I show them the little sign-with-samples that’s now an instant attention-getter in my studio and at shows.
I remark on what a miracle it is to have this material in the world at the same time in history that I’m in the world.
I put a little horse, or bear, into their hands, and tell them the story of a customer who chose her horse necklace based on how it felt in their hand.
I show them the grain, and tell them about the guy I met at the Boston Gift Show years ago, who owned a company that makes artifact reproductions for museum gift stores, who said they can’t make a scrimshaw reproduction that so beautifully mimics ivory like I do.
I share how important it is to make “bones” and “ivory” without harming animals, a choice that better reflects our modern times.
And I always add, “It’s not what the material isit’s what you do with it.
So once again, I am grateful to all the innovators and early-adaptors of polymer clay, for curators like Cynthia and others, new teachers who share their expertise and knowledge about this amazing medium, and the amazing, talented, unique artists who have chosen it to work with.  Thank you!!!
I would show you the sample card, but I’m not sure where it is right now. I’m moving to a new studio in a few weeks, and my space is filled with boxes, packing tape, and boxes marked like this:
moving studio box
Yes, I have a small collection of puppets in my studio. I LOVE THEM!!!
Which reminds me of when we packed for our move to California four years ago, and Jon labeled THIS box:
moving
I love this man. He always makes me laugh!

It is the fourth time I’ve moved my studio in four years, and we also moved our home twice times in four years.  I’m a lit-tul bit exhausted. But I think I see some light at the end of the tunnel!

The Stories We Tell

Our stories can be a force for good in the universe, or a source of darkness. Choose wisely!

The day I found my “first story” was a powerful day.

I was at loose ends in my life. I was in my late 20’s, and had already met my life partner. I wasn’t sure I wanted to have kids. But I put together a few key concepts that were important to me: I love to read, and I believe reading expands our minds, and our world.

And I liked kids.

I realized the best gift I could be to the world was to share my love of reading with kids.

With the support and encouragement of said partner, I had the courage to apply to graduate school, and get a master’s degree in elementary education.

It was a powerful time in my life. I was fully focused on my goals, and my studies. I met people–fellow students, professors, supervising teachers–who changed my life. Getting my degree was the first time I’d ever pursued a goal I’d picked, a goal that had called to me.

Years later, I realized, for various reasons, I couldn’t be “just” a teacher. (There’s no judgment there about the profession, I mean that literally: In terms of me, I needed more.)

I believe this helped me, when I hit rock bottom (for me) regarding my art, decades later. I told a new story: “I have to be an artist, or I’ll die. And I don’t even care if I’m a GOOD artist, I just have to do it.” And pulled on that success I’d achieved years before, and worked just as hard, with just as rich an attitude, and succeeded.

I started to write “stories” about my journey. Every time I hit a high note, or a low point, I wrote about it. I shared what I’d learned, how I framed my experience, how I realized I could CHOOSE what it would mean in my life.

It’s a powerful thing.

I also remember I shared a story someone else told me about their conversation with another family member. It was beautiful, and sweet. I was actually envious of said F.M., because they got a lot of kudos in the story. It reflected well on them.

And then F.M. called me in a fury to tell me what I’d written was a sack of lies.

They were embarrassed by what I’d written. And of course, I’d was immediately embarrassed I’d written it.

But when I asked for clarification from them, I was confused. It turns out the sense of the story, the heart of the conversation, the spirit of love, the intimacy and power of long-unspoken dreams revealed, all these true.

The “lies”? There were what any writer would consider “minor” details in exactly what words were used, and in what order. “I didn’t say I wanted to do that! I said I’d THOUGHT about doing that!”

I was baffled anyone would take offense, and I was distraught that people think “stories” are “lies”. This was not a “news event” or the records of a city government meeting.

Whenever we tell a story, there are elements that could be marked a “lie”.

First is our memory. Our brains are not tape recorders or DVDs. Our memory is affected by our emotional state at the time, the context of the situation.

There is the fallacy of “the shared experience”. Five people at an event may all have vastly different opinions on what just happened. There’s an amazing episode of the 80’s TV show “Thirty-Something” that shows the two lead couples in a restaurant, from each person’s point-of-view. As the scene replays, over and over again, we see it from each particular person’s POV. Including the totally oblivious, “What the frick just happened??” version from Michael’s seat. (He can’t figure out why everyone else is so upset, because he’s not paying attention.) If I can find it, I’ll put a link here!

There is what we bring to that event: Our filter. How we feel about the other people involved. What our mental and physical state was. What our history is with the other people involved.

There’s also what we DIDN’T bring! What we don’t know, behind the scenes. What we don’t know about the other people involved.

There’s the incredible effect of hindsight–realizing what was going on behind the scenes, etc. Our own personal growth since then. Our own “evolution”, or our own bitterness.

And finally, there’s the simple art of telling a story.

This is where some people are when they accuse us of “lying”.  They think every story is literally, excruciatingly, true. Or it has no value.

A good storyteller frames the story.

They create a context.

They share what it means to them, and what it could mean for you.

They might eliminate details that slow down the narrative, or segues that detract from “the message”. Awkward sentences get edited (unless that would dilute the “message”.)

Some writers would keep the quotes in dialect, because it adds authenticity. Some would leave it out, because maybe it’s harder to read “the message”. Neither is “wrong”, or “lying”. It’s an editorial decision.

Some would record every single sentence and statement, no matter how repetitive, because that’s what happened. Or it’s funnier that way. Others would edit out the repetition, because that gives the story more clarity. That’s not “lying”.

Many people consider the Bible “literally 100% true”, when the fact is, if you are a believer of its faith, it is “figuratively true”. There are plenty of contradictions, if you look for them. As one source says, “…written over 1,400 years, 66 books by 46 authors….” And written by HUMAN BEINGS, to boot. Deeply flawed, deeply earnest, deeply devoted, deeply conflicted, deeply prejudiced humans, just like you and me.

I myself am sooooooo frustrated when I write an impassioned plea for people to set aside their fears and follow the work of their heart, and write (what I hope is) a powerful story to illustrate that, and someone writes to say, “Great article! There’s a typo in the fourth paragraph, VERY distracting!!”  Oh, THANK YOU MR. LANGUAGE PERSON!!!

I can understand the lack of understanding by non-writers. It must be a cognitive dissonance for them! But to take grace, and minor editing, and reworking to create clarity, power, and truth as a “lie”?  As a “lack of integrity”??

I don’t get it.

But….that’s THEIR truth.

Here’s where a lie is evil:

If someone tells lies to manipulate you, to attempt to have power over you, to cover up deeper evils, then it’s bad.

If someone lies to make themselves look good….That takes some deeper thinking, and evaluation. We ALL want to “look good”, and as human beings, we do that constantly. It’s understandable. But not always excusable, especially if our major goal is to make someone else look bad, who doesn’t deserve that.

Making a story more clear, more powerful, is “lying”? Not so much, in my book.

Go for integrity. Go for your truth. Go for compassion, understanding, ultimately forgiveness, if that helps you move forward, if and when you’re ready, on your own terms.

Speak your truth. And let others speak theirs, in their own time and space.

 

 

 

 

 

MAKING ART FOR ME

There’s more than one way to get your art out into the world.

I wrote in my journal this morning, dragging my feet as usual. (I often start out writing “blah blah blah”. No joke.)

I was writing–no, complaining–about not being able to hear myself think over the noise of Jon’s radio. Until I realized it was coverage on the Egyptian people, fighting for the right to govern themselves. Just as I stopped to listen, I heard a woman’s voice saying, “I just want to be a real citizen…”

So then I wrote how embarrassing it was to complain about the noise of freedom….

Then suddenly, I found myself writing, “I want to make a XXXX–for ME!”

(Forgive the mystery, I’m just not ready to talk about these new projects yet. I don’t want the energy of talking about it to replace the energy of doing it.)

Where…did THAT thought come from?

It took me totally by surprise. And I immediately found myself wondering how it could be done as a new product, a new line.

Just as immediately, another thought popped out:

What is it were something I simply made for MYSELF?

I write all the time about respecting your inner spirit, your inner source for ideas and inspiration. I urge others constantly to make the work that makes their heart sing, and worry about finding an audience for it later.

And here I sit, my brain immediately hopping into “How could I sell this?” How embarrassing! (Again.)

So I write, “I don’t have to make something to sell. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And I can make it for myself. It’s something I would love to have in my home.”

Buzzy brain bites back: “You HATE it when people refuse to share their art with the world! How come it’s okay for YOU do it??!” (Buzzy Brain is rollin’ today.)

I write all the time about the importance of getting our work out into the world. I love Martha Graham’s famous quote on how we are the only people who can express that unique vision, how others need to see it and do the same. (I’ve posted links to other articles I’ve written about her quote at the bottom of this one.)

So where is the power in making something for myself?

Well….a lot of things started out as something for me. That freedom to please only myself, the peace of working out the details in a place free from outside comment or criticism, the power that comes from making work from my heart…that’s always been my modus operandi.

But then I realized there are other ways of getting that energy, that vision, out into the world.

I can write about what I’m doing, and why. (Ta da!)

I can tell others about that process (of working from my heart), and encourage them to do it, too.

And I can let this process help me be a better person.

I can learn to be aware, to be in tune with the creative force of the universe. I can learn to be someone who knows the joy and the passion and the power that comes from doing our heart’s own work.

Down the road, the private work of my heart may well become public. Perhaps a solo exhibition or an installation. Perhaps a book. Maybe even a new product. I have no idea.

But the freedom to simply make something that will please me is my gift to myself today.

And my heart rests easier knowing, somehow, someday, it will also be my gift to the world.

A list of other articles I’ve written with Martha Graham’s wise words you might enjoy:

BLESSED UNREST
THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD
MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: PROFESSIONAL JEALOUSY PART DEUX

WHEN IS A WYSIWYG NOT A WYSIWYG?

When is “What you see is what you get” not what you think? When it’s something else.

(Originally published December 4, 2002)

Last week I got a call from someone on committee. They were in a bind. They needed someone to help with a project–could I volunteer for half an hour? I checked my calendar, saw an open spot and said yes.

I went in today for my assignment. I was greeted by the person in charge and put to work. Half an hour later, the task was done, and I asked the person in charge, “Is that it?”

She said, “Yes. Now, wasn’t that easy? That wasn’t such a big deal, was it?” with a kindly smile.

Being a grown-up, I managed to bite my tongue before the words “I think the words you’re looking for here are ‘thank you’!” popped out. I simply smiled and left.

At my next stop, I related my story to the woman behind the counter, bemoaning how ungrateful some people can be..

“Oh, that’s nothing,” she said.

Last year her fiance was at a local organization here in Keene, NH. He saw their Christmas tree project in the lobby, covered with dozens of tags. (This is their special Christmas project. Each tag has a child’s name, a child who was in one of their community outreach programs, with the child’s age and one wish for a gift.)

It was a week before Christmas, and no one had taken any of the tags.

Her fiance found the woman in charge of the program. He told her he wanted every tag on that tree. He was determined that no child’s wish went unfulfilled.

Together, they went shopping. He bought every single child not only their designated gift, but lots of extra presents as well.

He spent over $2,500.

They returned to the facility and stored all the presents to be distributed the next day. He told her he preferred to remain anonymous. And he had to hurry, because he still didn’t have a Christmas tree himself.

The woman said, “You said you don’t even have a tree for Christmas yet? Why don’t you take that tree home with you? It’s the least we can do to thank you!”

So the took the tree. As he walked out the door with it, the facility director walked in and saw him.

This week (one year later), the man saw this year’s tag-covered tree in the lobby. Again, he approached the front desk, where the facility director was standing. “I’d like to help out again with your Christmas program again this year,” he said.

The director looked at him. He only remembered seeing this guy walk out of the facility a year ago with the tree. He sneered, “I don’t think we’ll need your kind of help this year.”

What you see is not always what you get…..

I told the woman to have her fiance write a letter to the guy, cc’ing the board of directors, the woman in charge of the Christmas program, and the local United Way, which supports and funds this facility. Oh, and the local newspaper, too.

He should explain that last year, he had donated his time and $2,500 of his personal money to make sure no child in their care was left out at Christmas. This year, he had repeated his offer, and had been told his help was not needed this year. And he should say how delighted he was that the facility had been so successful in their efforts that they needed no other help from their membership or the community to ensure every child had a wonderful Christmas.

He won’t do it, of course. But what a lesson for all of us!

Sometimes what you see is NOT what you get.

Sometimes…there’s whole nother story being told.

Update: The generous gentleman preferred to suffer in silence, and vowed never to participate again. But eventually, he realized only the children were hurt by his decision. He continues to make Christmas wonderful for these kids.

P.S. This is a perfect example of BIBS, the Baby In the Back Seat phenomenon. Here’s where I read this concept by conflict resolution expert Anna Maravelas and here’s a recent retelling.) Please read them if you have a moment, it will change your life!

TIME TO SIT ON MY HANDS AGAIN

I write for several venues now. Fortunately, my humorous column at The Crafts Report rarely draws complaints. (Or maybe it does and Jones Publishing is just shielding me from them….??)

There’s another blog I write for every two weeks, usually about getting your art out there. And it seems like every time I write, someone complains I’m not writing about “art”, just about “selling art”. And the monstrous idea of making art “for filthy lucre” raises its ugly head once again.

The idea of “art for art’s sake” is a very common one among many modern artists. I don’t really disagree. I do hold my art passionately, and with integrity, in my heart. Anyone whose read my blog for the last eight years, or heard me talk, or teach, or met me in my booth, knows that. I will always make my art and I will always write, whether I’m paid to or not. (For example, I’m not paid to write this blog and I’ve been doing it for eight years now.)

We all already create our art with passion, with joy and with zest. I often write about my art processes here. At this other site, I figured a bunch of artists might be less interested in my prattling about MY art, and more interested in how to get to get people excited when they prattle about THEIRS.

And most of them appreciate that. I’ve gotten many thoughtful comments and words of thanks for giving people another point of view, for sharing an insight that helps us be more successful artists, or simply more compassionate people.

But art does NOT exist in a vacuum. If our work only sells “if it’s good enough”, and nothing else should matter, that would limit much of the stuff we normally call “art.” And oh, if only it were that easy….

Exhibiting, publishing, marketing, selling are simply venues for getting one’s work out into the world.

I don’t know why our modern times puts such a judgment on that process. When did getting paid to make art get such a bad rap??? Many of the great masters had wealthy patrons or commissions to do their work. The Sistine Chapel was painted on commission, after all. Picasso was not only a famous artist, he is famous BECAUSE he was a master at self-promotion and marketing. Remember the picture he drew to pay his tailor bill? Or the check he wrote and told the recipient if he waited, the signature would be worth more than the amount of the check? Marketing. (See more “myths about artists” here. (I don’t know why all fourteen don’t show up, but if you do a little digging while you go through these, you should be able to find them all.)

Yes, it would be nice if artists only had to sit and paint/carve/sculpt/write/sing all day, and not worry about anything else. I would be terrific if we could all have someone else to promote, market and sell our work. In fact, it would be wonderful! But it doesn’t happen very often. In fact, that’s what that website for artists I write for is for–to help artists exhibit, show, market AND SELL their work.

Saying we shouldn’t care about exhibiting or selling our art is easy. But most of us DO care, very very much. IMHO, many people who say they don’t care of the world sees their work are actually afraid of the world seeing their work. It is so precious to them, they fear and avoid rejection, ridicule, humiliation. Those fears (very human, and very common to us all) are so powerful, the person would rather embrace obscurity than risk it.

And even if we don’t fear these and truly believe our art is ONLY for ourselves, then we inadvertently disconnect art from its very purpose–to enrich the world emotionally and spiritually. The cave paintings of Lascaux weren’t hidden because they were personal. They were protected because they were so powerful. The welfare of the entire community was wrapped up in their creation. Maybe it was hard to get to see them, but they WERE seen. Evidence of torches, evidence of men, women and children (foot prints, hand prints), even doggy foot prints prove that.

A piece of art that is never exhibited, that is not shared, or sold, is a loss to the world, like a song that is never sung, a poem that is never read. Emily Dickinson is often given as an example of a powerful writer whose work was never published and someone who never sought recognition. But she desperately WANTED to be recognized, and she worked hard trying to get her work published. She wanted her art to be visible in the world. And though it didn’t happen til after her death, the world is richer for her words. Her work was certainly “good enough” to make her successful. But for different reasons, that didn’t happen in her lifetime.

My articles serve many purposes. Sometimes I just need to write about an issue to find my way through it. Sometimes I find a deeper truth than what I originally planned. Sometimes I find myself in a hard place; I’ve learned that being honest about that, and sharing that, will sometimes help someone else through the same rough spot.

I ALWAYS try to encourage everyone who makes art, or who wants to make art, to just do it. The world is full of despair and sadness and hardship. Art serves many purposes, but the one I celebrate is its role in healing some of that. Every work that comes from the joy of our creating is an act of love and healing on our part.

Art is a constant reminder that we are all alike, and that we are all very, very different. I like to believe each of us brings something to the world that can be–should be–celebrated.

Some people feel art has a much narrower role, and a sharper definition. They will not be happy with my writing. And being so open about my thoughts will leave me vulnerable to people who are very comfortable with their own rigid guidelines. So be it. I’d rather be open than limited.

Normally, too, I sit on my hands awhile before responding to people. Right now, I’m in between two major gigs–I just finished a nine-day outdoor show (yes, 9 days!!) and I’m packing to leave for a week-long artist-in-residency (7 days). The mind boggles. Perhaps I am not at my most resilient today.

So for the next few weeks, I am totally immersed in the process of showing/talking about/selling my work. The joy of creating has segued into the power of people connecting with and reacting to my work.

It is a different energy, but part and parcel of the entire process.

RUNNING WITH DOGS

Last week I made my first little dog artifacts.

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

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

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

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

Bouncy otters!
Otter toes!

MY FAVORITE BUMPER STICKER

I had the same bumper sticker on my car for years, right next to my “BRAKE FOR MOOSE, IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE!” sticker from the NH Fish and Game Department. (I love the looks I get from it when I drive around in Philadelphia….)

It says:

Those who abandon their dreams will discourage yours.

Some people take this to mean you should only hang out with happy people. Well, yeah, there’s that.

For me, it was a constant reminder that people who nay-say your dreams, your ideas, your business, your art…

They are not necessarily telling you that “for your own good”.

They have their own motivation, their own agenda. And their motive is to not further yours.

I was especially reminded of this a few years ago. I’d hit a roadblock with my work. Wasn’t sure where to go with it, or what to do next. Heck, did the world even want my art? It sure didn’t feel like it….

That was a rough time, a scary time.

What was even scarier was, I became hyper-critical and hyper-jealous of those who did appear to have their act together.

And I also took some big hits from other artists I suspect were in the same scary boat/place.

In fact, some of the biggest crap I’ve gotten from people are people who are shadow artists. Or nibblers.

So my take on this little homily is this:

If you love the work you do, if you are making the best art you can, if making it makes you a better person….

Then it’s good enough to be in the world.

Maybe I don’t like it. But that’s my problem, not yours. It probably serves somebody’s purpose, even if it isn’t mine.

And when other people are giving you crap, don’t take it personally.

In fact, don’t take it at all.

Because chances are, it’s somebody who’s in a really bad place with their own work.

You can sympathize, if you are a big person. (I’m not.) But don’t give in to them.

Because….

Those who abandon their dreams,

will discourage yours.

EATING MY WORDS ABOUT ART SCHOOL

A quick segue today, before the amazing artist statement I promised you yesterday.

I’ve had to eat my words re: what I said about going to art school.

Here’s what I said in a reply to a comment on that post:

Actually, Aza, I recently had an experience that made me see the value of a good art school education. And that is the connections and opportunities that are made possible. I attended a workshop presented by a young woman who just finished post-graduate degree studies at a prestigious art school. In the course of her studies, she visited the studios of many well-known artists; gained access to facilities (museums, galleries) beyond the reach of most people, even allowed access to their “backstage”, so to speak.

It was enough to make me wish I’d gone to art school, too! :^D

I think everyone has their own needs and desires re: art school. If you feel drawn to it, go. Explore. Take what you need and leave the rest. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect, network, and experiment.

And then, be sure to come back and tell us what you learned.

I’ve never said you shouldn’t go to art school. I say you shouldn’t rule yourself out as an artist if you don’t go.

I remember bugging a friend who decided to go to art school late in life. She was already a productive artist–why did she need an art degree??

She replied that no one in her family had ever gone to college before her, and certainly no one had ever achieved a master’s degree.

She wanted to be the first.

I realized that mattered very, very much to her. And that was a good enough reason to do it.

Sometimes you need a college degree for credentialing. Sometimes you need it to prove something to yourself. And now I know the connections, networking and opportunities you get can be worth every penny.

Just know your reasons.

And don’t use not going as an excuse to not make art. Because I know better.

EMBRACE THE POWER OF THY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 2

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be very afraid. Don’t be even a little afraid.

Yesterday I shared that little story about a teacher urging a student to “step up to the plate”–to “own” the power inside her. Here’s the second part, as promised.

Recently I attended a workshop on artist statements.

Yes, I know I TEACH workshops on artist statements. I like to check out the competition.

Actually, it’s good practice to see how others treat the same topics I teach. I always learn something new. Plus it gives me a different perspective–it’s good to sit in the “student seat” once in a while. It helps me understand what I could do better.

Okay, so at one time (and maybe still??), artists were taught that their art should speak for itself. So, someone asked, what’s the point of an artist statement, if the art is already doing the talking?

The instructor replied that talking about your motivation will help a lot to connect with your audience (which is true).

But one artist said he felt uncomfortable doing that. When asked why he painted a flower next to a rock, for example, he felt uncomfortable; afraid to answer.

So he simply avoided the question altogether, preferring to talk around it.

I wondered….why?

In my humble experience, many, many artists feel this way. They’re nervous, they hesitate, they are afraid to talk about why they make the art they do.

Afraid of what??

I bet it’s the same stuff I’m afraid of.

I’m afraid I’ll sound shallow. Or facile.

I’m afraid I’ll sound un-academic. Unschooled. Naive.

In other words, I’m afraid of what every human being is afraid of:

I’m afraid I’ll open myself to ridicule and humiliation.

Don’t laugh. Fear of humiliation is a powerful socializing force. Human beings will go to great lengths to avoid embarrassment.

Because someone who humiliates you is trying to show you as powerless and without worth.

That is painful, and agony to anyone. It can be death for a creative person.

So we clam up. We refuse to talk about our work; some artists even refuse to show their work. “It’s just for me!” they say. “No one else needs to see it.”

Maybe. But what a loss to the world…. (Yes, I’m going to keep quoting that til it’s plastered all over everybody’s studios!)

When we create work that comes from our core passion, we can choose to not give away our power to those who would deride us.

We protect our power, NOT by hiding our work, NOT by hiding our passion, NOT by hiding our motivation. But by embracing our work fully. By being so grounded with our purpose that pointless ridicule, or attacks that come from envy, cannot penetrate.

The artist thought someone would question why a flower and a rock would be worth painting. Well, William Carlos Williams wrote a poem about eating someone else’s plums. (I’m guessing they were his wife’s watermelon, too.) Fred Gipson wrote a book about a cow dog who sucked eggs. (I cried every time I read it to my kids.) Anne Frank was 13 when she died. What did she know of the world? Why should we care?

Aren’t you glad that didn’t stop her from keeping a diary?

Look, not everyone will like our work. In this interview I did years ago, I thought if one person in a thousand liked my work liked, that would be enough.

Think of it: One person in a thousand. Doesn’t seem like very popular work, does it?

Yet in the U.S. alone, that would be more than 300,000 people.

If only one person in a million liked my work enough to buy it, that would still be almost 7,000 people in the world.

So what do you care about the people who don’t??

We still do, of course. We creative types can be terribly sensitive.

But I hope you’re starting to think a little differently about them.

Tomorrow I’ll share a hauntingly beautiful artist statement, in simple, honest words that will burst your heart wide open.

TRIBES #3: LEAVING THE TRIBE

Your needs and goals as an artist will change and grow throughout your life. You will constantly gather the people you need to you.

And you will also periodically leave people behind.

I started this mini-series with a sort of Ugly Duckling story, as one reader noted. I told how my dog tries to be a cat, and why it’s a good thing he isn’t very good at it. When we find out we aren’t really “bad bankers” but are actually “really excellent artists”, it’s an amazing epiphany.

The second article talks about how to find your own tribe.

Interestingly, some people took that to mean searching out other artists who work in the same medium. Some took it as how some artists learn techniques from a master, then never really develop their own style.

Some even found their new “family”, but grieved when it, too, became contentious, confining and restrictive.

While some of us will be fortunate to find a wonderful, cohesive, supportive group of like-minded folks, others will struggle to maintain that in their lives.

Sad to say, but it happens.

The day may come when you have to leave your bright new tribe, and find another.

There are lots of reasons why this happens.

Sometimes the group is just too big. There’s no time for each person to have a turn to be listened to. You can feel lost in the shuffle.

Sometimes there aren’t enough “rules”. A few folks will take on the role of gadfly (aka “jerk”). Or there are too many rules, too much “business”. The lively group dynamic is strangled with too many procedural stops and starts. (I left one craft guild when the business reports began to take up almost half the meetings.)

Sometimes the group narrows its own dynamic. It can be subtle but powerful. You’ll start to feel constricted. Here’s a true story:

Years ago, a quilting guild I belonged to brought in a nationally-known color expert for a workshop.

During it, she commented that there were definite regional color palettes, patterns and technique preferences across the country.

I asked her how that happened. She said when members brought in their projects for sharing, some would generate a huge positive response from the membership. Others, more eclectic or “out there”, would receive a lukewarm reception. “We all crave that positive response”, she said. “It’s human nature. So slowly but surely, we begin to tailor our work to generate the bigger response.”

It hit me like a brick. Another quilter and I did more unusual fabric work. The response to our “shares” was decidedly in the “lukewarm” category.

And I had begun to do more work in the “accepted style” of the group.

I left after the workshop, and never went back. My fellow fiber artists were a great bunch of people. But I was not willing to “tamp down” my vision in order to garner their praise.

Sometimes, our course changes. We find ourselves in pursuit of different goals. Or we find our own needs sublimated to the needs of the group.

Or we simply grow faster than the rest of the group. You may even outgrow your mentor. If our work fosters jealousy–if our work becomes more successful, attracts more notice–then professional jealousy might raise its ugly head.

It can feel even harder to leave this new tribe that gave us so much joy at first. In fact, it’s brutal.

But it has to be done, if you want your art to move forward.

You cannot control the feelings of others. You can make yourself, and your work, as small and mundane as you can. But if someone is determined to nibble you, nothing can stop them.

Take heart in this knowledge:

This group served your needs for awhile. Enough for you to gain confidence, and to take a step forward.

And you will find another tribe. It may take awhile. But your peers are out there.

Consider that they may not even be working in the same medium. They may not even be visual artists. They may not be “artists” at all.

As long as they share the same values, or can support and challenge you in constructive ways, you can benefit from their company.

It may even be time for you to walk alone. Just for awhile.

Just long enough to really hear what your own heart is saying.

TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS #14: Artists Don’t Care What Other People Think

MYTH: Real artists have the courage of their convictions. They don’t care what other people think.
REALITY: Oh, it’s sad, but we care very very much what you think!

This is a myth that started out as “Real artists are loners”. Well, some are, and some aren’t. It’s that simple.

But it quickly got tangled into another myth we hold about artists, one that gets pretty jumbled. So bear with me as I untangle some of the threads.

Yes, some artists do need solitude to create. We need time to explore an idea, to follow it through to all its possibilities. Some people can’t listen to conversation or even music lyrics while they write. Me, for one.

Sometimes talking too much about what we’re doing, or our next project, feels like actually working on it. And our creative energy dissipates.

Other artists, however, work well in partnership and collaboration. They find the give-and-take of brainstorming invigorating, forcing them to go further and higher than they ever imagined.

Our own creative processes are so individual to us, it would be impossible to determine any one way any given work of art gets made.

It’s who we hang with, and why, after the work is created, that gets a little dicey.

Artists may act like we don’t care what other people think about our work. You’ve probably met some (or you are one.) You ask them about the work and you get a snotty reply or a cold shoulder. Or you talk with them at a party and they can only talk about how talented and creative they are.

But it is almost pathetic how much we care what others think.

It would be wonderful if we didn’t. A lot less pain in the world, and I probably wouldn’t have to write this series of myths.

But we do care very very much what you think.

And we are terrified you’re going to tell us.

We hope you love it. We hope it knocks your socks off. We hope you think it’s the most marvelous thing you’ve ever experienced.

And it’s so very, very hard to hear, if you don’t.

This need to have our work loved is so powerful, I hate to share it with you.

Because this knowledge is a terrible weapon in the wrong hands.

I don’t mean we’ll necessarily change it if you don’t love it. We have our artistic integrity, after all.

Wait for it…….

bwahhahahahahahahahaha!!

Again, some people will stand firm, and others don’t mind using a little less blue or a few more dots, if that will win approval. It’s your choice.

Even my fiery artist friend Lee, who fiercely created his art at all hours when the muse struck, sometimes going days without sleep, would call me up to come and see the new work. And he waited anxiously, child-like, yearning for my approval. Not my judgment–he was extremely proud of his artist title–but he wanted others to see what he saw, and appreciate what he created.

But the world is not kind to artists, especially those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves.

After all, human beings are creatures of opinions. We all got ’em, and we have one on everything. Even the things we don’t know much about.

And of course, we all have a little mean streak in us. It is so easy to criticize what someone has made.

But some people cultivate their mean streak. It is very important to recognize and avoid those people.

Caveat: I know the role of the art critique is a hallowed tradition, especially in art schools. I’ve been to literary gatherings where writers submitted their latest piece and subjected it to a group review.

I know that not all art is beautiful, wonderful, powerful or narrative. There’s a lot of stuff out there I don’t care for.

I myself have served as a mini-consultant for artists and craftspeople, evaluating their current work and assessing whether it is appropriate for their perceived goals and venues.

But I see that function as a way of gently aligning what people say they want, and what they do.

All too often, that critical process is used as a chance to savage the work of someone whose talent threatens our own little jealous lizard brain.

If someone says they are an accomplished seamstress and they want their work to sell, they sabotage their efforts by making shoddy work quickly so they can sell to a lower end market. If someone says they’re a writer, but they don’t blog or submit manuscripts or otherwise get their writing out into the world, then I encourage them to show the rest of us that they are, indeed, a writer.

I don’t try to rip them a new one and denigrate their efforts.

Am I saying we should be namby-pamby and never offer honest feedback about the work of others? Or we are so weak in spirit that we can’t handle a little criticism?

Nope, not saying that. What I’m saying is that we must be aware of our need to have approval–and not let others, whose intentions may be less than honorable, use that as a knife to cut us to the quick.

When we make art, it will be stronger if we focus on what is inside us, what we want to say and what we want it to do.

In a perfect world, we then let go. We know it’s done, that it’s out in the world. And we have to truly not care what other people think. That’s hard, but we can at least try.

In the meantime, be very particular who you show your work to, especially during the creative process. We all know people who, for who-knows-what reasons, cannot celebrate our success with us. They will sabotage your efforts in refined and subtle ways.

Instead, create your own artist community.

These workshops by Deborah Kruger, fiber artist extraordinaire, are excellent. Similar to Julia Cameron’s work and The Artist’s Way. (Just don’t do what so many artists do, and focus on all the meetings and exercises instead of making your art!)

Yes, we all need honest feedback. And sometimes criticism spurs us on to do our most truly powerful work.

But it’s a harsh diet to live on all the time. Someone who tries to destroy your spirit with criticism is not your friend, and not your supporter.

Choose your friends carefully when it comes to you and your art.