Musings and Muddling 2: What The Hell Is Water?

Thank you, Terry E. for the beautiful inspiration for my owl story

Musings and Muddling…Why Our Creative Work Matters

I’m in a swirl of new work and new ideas. And I’m also in a whirl of indecision, frustration, and unsolvable problems.

Every time I get stuck, I experience self-doubt. Feelings of not-doing-it-right. Afraid the world will finally see how how unworthy of the title “artist” I truly am.

I’ve been here before. And so have you. (We ALL have ‘creative work’ in us, according to my ever-inclusive definition: Any work that is a force for good, that makes the world a better place. That would be the “traditional” arts, including music, dance, drama, etc. But to me, it also means healing, teaching, restoring, repairing, repurposing, inventing, gardening, cooking, nurturing, etc.)

This morning I was searching my Pinterest page. I’m looking for a way to turn a flat object (okay, it’s my owl face artifacts) into a pendant. My usual methods won’t work, for a variety of reasons. The brooch/pendant converter doesn’t work, and using a glue-on bail would interfere with the look of the owl. Hence (my favorite part of “The House Bunny” movie is Anna Faris’s passionate use of this one word) my search on Pinterest, looking for ideas.

As I searched, I found one of my old blog posts from four years ago, How to Make Water.

And as I was finishing this up, a friend sent me this astonishing insight into the real nature of creativity, in a snippet of an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. (Thank you, Gail M.!)

Basking in the astonishing wonder of synchronicity, aka “little daily miracles….)

So no solution yet, but this was exactly what I needed to read, and hear today.

Enjoy!

As always, if you enjoyed this article and know someone who might like it, too, please pass it on! And if you liked this newsletter and received it from someone else, you can sign up for more at my webiste, LuannUdell.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 .

POST HOC FALLACY

My art. My words. My voice.
My art. My words. My voice.

Post Hoc Fallacy

There are a lot of reasons we tell ourselves why our work doesn’t sell.

But not all of them are true! 

 (9 minute read)

 Where do I get my ideas? All over the place!

Today, I read Clint Watson’s post about why we should always work to improve our creative skills. (True dat!) An artist who assumed their work was excellent was so obviously not, and so did not gain representation in Clint’s gallery.

I also read Car Talk in our daily newspaper. (Yes, I’m old. I still read newspapers!) It’s a radio show and weekly article that answers car questions. It was a great radio show with Tom and Ray Magliozzi, two amazingly wise, funny, and sarcastic brothers who own(ed) an auto repair shop in Cambridge, MA. (My husband actually saw them once on Charles Street in Boston one day, while I was inside a shop looking at antique jewelry.) They offer advice and entertainment while answering people’s questions about car problems. (Tom has passed, but Ray carries on the tradition.)

Today’s Car Talk article is “Post Hoc Fallacy”. It’s based on a Latin quote, Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this”. That is, “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.”

This is sometimes true, but not necessarily true.  (From Wikipedia): A simple example is “the rooster crows immediately before sunrise; therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.”

How did I get here from these two articles?

Because on one hand, what Clint said is true: The artist did not get into that gallery because their work was not very good.

On the other hand, there might be a hundred reasons why a gallery may not take our work on. Earlier this year, I covered just some of the hundreds of reasons a gallery may not want our work in “Let Me Count the Ways”.

This, for me, is the artist’s Post Hoc Fallacy:

We don’t think our work is good (or someone tells us that.)

Then, we don’t find our audience. No sales, no gallery representation, not getting juried into shows, etc.

That must prove that our work really isn’t any good.

And that may not be true at all.

Now, I whole-heartedly agree with Clint’s article: If our skills aren’t great, that will wreak havoc on our ability to show, market, and sell our work.  It can be a blessing, if we are able to listen, when someone gently points this out to us. Constructive criticism can be a powerful force for improving our work and improving our sales, no doubt about it.

It’s always hard, as an artist, to hear that truth. Some of us refuse to hear it. Clint did not tell the artist that, but as he described the artist, it’s pretty likely they would not have listened anyway, based on their behavior.

It’s also impossible for us to be perfect. Even extremely talented artists, the ones who are honest with themselves, and us, concede that while achieving perfection is a worthy goal, it may be impossible to get there, and stay there. All of us can do better. Hopefully we all try. We may have to accept we may never actually get there.

But there is power in the trying, and it’s admirable to never give up.

My on-the-other-hand-point is, it does not serve anyone if we believe we will never be good enough—and walk away. The Post Hoc Fallacy has wreaked its destruction on our soul….if we let it.

In fact, I also wrote about how sometimes even really really bad art can have its own power, in my June column on Regretsy. Being authentically “bad” can have a place in the world.

We’ve all seen vendors at art-and-craft shows, on websites, in shows, even in galleries, that are….well, “meh”. Not awful, but not that great, either. We’ve seen people win awards for work we don’t think is that much better than ours. We’ve seen people whose work is twice as expensive as ours, while ours languishes.

The worlds of making art, buying art, exhibiting art, selling art, and honors awarded for art are as wide and varied as the people who actually make art, and certainly as varied as the people who judge it.

I believe that making our work as good as we can, and then striving to do better, is indeed an excellent way of increasing our chances of being “successful”, however we choose to measure our success.

And yet, I’ve seen amazing artists being rejected from shows, from events, etc. Many talented artists whose work doesn’t sell.

In fact, artists have been long judged for their gender, their race, their nationality, their success/sales, their subject matter, their technique of choice, their name recognition, you name it, it’s been done. We’re getting better, I hope!

Many artists get discouraged, sure they are doing something wrong. And many artists believe they simply aren’t good enough, so why bother even trying?

I’ve been there. I’ve been at every stage of this in my art career.

I’ve been told my artistic aesthetic is immature, by the very same person who, a couple years later, demanded to represent my work. (I guess they forgot what they said the first time. It was the same body of work!)

I’ve been told my work is not “real art”.

I’ve been told I make the same “tired old work” with the same “tired old techniques”.

I’ve been rejected from shows, galleries, etc. since the very beginning. I’ve been told my prices are too high since I first started selling my artifacts, even when they were priced at $18 for a horse pin. I’ve gotten into galleries and then pulled out because my work “just wasn’t selling”. I’ve been told I need to focus because my work takes “too many media categories” (fiber, jewelry, sculpture, assemblage, etc.)

But here’s the thing: I don’t care.*

Even as people where making these judgments (and statements) about my work, there were even more people who said amazing things. Like, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s beautiful.” Like, “I can recognize your work anywhere!” I have won a few awards, and I treasure them. I have been juried into some of the top fine craft shows in the country. I found my story about my work, and that made it a cohesive body of work.

In fact, I fully believe that when I finally said, “I have to do this work, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m a good artist anymore, I just have to do it.”, THAT is where my power came from.

The short story? If you can do better, do better.

But if you can’t, or won’t, and yet you love what you make, then make it anyway.

Something that is innovative may be so different, we don’t even know what to think of it. It may be before it’s time. Success can depend on where we live, who we know, the opinions of others who have very narrow definitions surrounding creative work.

At the end of days, there will be no sure-fire, solid, indisputable list of who the “best” artists are, and no permanent place where we fall on that list.

And at the end of our days, we may have regrets. Regrets that we didn’t achieve the recognition we craved, the sales that would have proven we were doing it right. We may regret we didn’t try harder, or do better with our talents.

But I hope and pray you never regret that you didn’t try at all.

It’s true, we might be able to improve our success, and have more sales, if we work in the favored medium, or with the most respected subject matter, if our techniques are really, really good, if we find the right galleries.

But it all boils down to finding the right audience, doesn’t it? Even a gallery must focus on what they think they can sell. And if their audience is not the right one for your work, even if they give us a chance, in the end, we’re taking up precious wall space that they depend upon for their own success.

So even if we really aren’t good enough, it’s still our choice. Do we want to bring this work into the world? Or do we walk away?

We can believe that there truly is an audience for the work of our heart, and it’s on us to make it, get it out there, and find that audience.

We can believe that knowing the “why”, the story that got us to this place, is a powerful factor in our success.

We can acknowledge we can do better, and then make it better. Or accept that it may not be as good as everyone else’s but it makes us happy, and that can be enough. If we need more, we can look at other ways for our audience to find us.

At our own end-of-days, we will look back at our choices. What will we regret?

I have a vision. Even when I am discouraged, even when it feels the world doesn’t want or need my work, I know I want it. I need it. I want it to be in the world somehow. Because my art is one way for me to be in the world.

My art. My words. My voice.

I would mostly regret walking away, especially if it’s because a) I don’t believe I’m good enough, and b) I allowed success, here and now, to be the only measure of its value.

There will be regrets, for sure.

But not that one.

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* If I’m being totally honest, I do care! I wish people didn’t think that about me, or my work. But I also know I shouldn’t care, and that’s how I choose to act.

WAITING

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.

(7 minute read)

Sometimes I have tons of ideas for articles. Sometimes, not so much.

I keep a supply of ideas, rough drafts, etc. so when I’m not inspired, I’ll have something to talk about. Today is one of those days.

So here from the “drafts” section is a one-liner that leapt out at me. Awhile back, I found a quote from “A Serpent’s Tooth”, a book by Craig Johnson (whose series inspired the “Longmire” TV show.)

Sometimes we spend our lives thinking we’re doing something, when in reality all we’re doing is waiting.

Underneath this, I’d typed “What are you waiting for?”

I have no idea why that quote hooked me. I’ve come back to it from time to time, and thought, “Why did I write that down?” Then on to other things.

But today, it stopped me in my tracks. It resonated differently this time.

What are we waiting for???

I’ve been trying to assist a loved one in their goal to “really get started” with their life: “I want a real career, but I’m such a loser, I’ll never figure it out!” “I fail at everything, and I’m behind in life!” “I don’t know what I want, and I never will!” “You don’t understand!!!”

When someone we care about is caught in these never-ending loops, there’s very little we can do. Except listen, try not to give advice (especially when nothing we say is considered valuable in the first place), and to simply be present. It’s not easy. It’s hard. Heavy. And harsh.

But today, when I came across that quote, I realize I’m the one in the never-ending loop.

What am I waiting for?? I ask myself….

I am amazed at the clarity that surfaces.

I am surrounded by the detritus from my fourth studio move in five years. Some stuff has been sold off, some has been donated, and some is simply destined for the scrap heap.

But as a mixed media artist (and a highly-evolved hunter-gatherer!), I have learned to see the beauty in everything. A pebble, a bird feather, a weathered stick, a button, all have potential in my eyes.

So, too, those really ugly pearls I bought on impulse that I cannot bring myself to use. The bags of milk paint I was sure would be perfect for painting old wood boxes. The damaged frames piled up in my studio, dinged and danged from too many venues, too much packing and unpacking, not enough bubble wrap.  “Maybe I can fix them and sand them and repaint them,” I think to myself.

but then I caught myself:

Is that the highest, best use of my time? Probably not.

When I had to clear all that stuff out to make room for said family member’s arrival, I realized it was time to get brutal. Er….but not too brutal.

That’s where the idea to host an artists garage sale came from, a few weeks ago. The first time I organized one, it sucked up so much time and energy, I didn’t have time to organize my own stuff and get it priced and ready to sell. On the other hand, it was hugely successful! People begged me to do it again next year. Unfortunately, I moved to California instead.

This time will be different. A lot of people in our two buildings are already onboard, as well as the building managers. I can set up a table inside my own studio. I can use my Square to take payments. I will have people helping with posters, publicity, and table-wrangling.

OK…..What else am I waiting for?

I struggled with a few great galleries that’s accepted me as a guest artist. But 2018 through the first half of 2019 was filled with many deaths in the family, many trips for last visits, funerals, support. I could barely take care of myself, let alone my art biz. I dropped the ball on restocking, attending receptions, staying in touch. And I realized my sales in New Hampshire galleries had dropped off to practically nothing. (Some had dropped my work, some had only older work, etc.)

Out of the blue, one gallery asked me to restock. When I did, they followed up with, “Um…these new designs you sent….do you have more??!” Yes, I did, and sent them on.

That inspired me. So a month ago, I reached out to all my League of NH Craftsmen galleries, hoping one or two would pick me up again.

To my surprise and delight, six of them wanted me back in! This past month has been spent creating new work and new designs, creating a cohesive collection for each one, tagging, labeling, creating an inventory sheet. Now working on packing and shipping.

That inspired me to reach out to a local gallery, where my inventory had really languished under my neglect. The last time I visited, I found they’d increased the number of jewelry artists, and my display was woefully inadequate. I swallowed my pride, and asked them if they still wanted my work.

They did! Turns out all the members loved my work (okay, most of them do.) The larger works were great attention-getters, but slow sellers. I took them back. Tomorrow, I’ll be setting up a new display with new work (and higher prices!)

What else am I waiting for?

I’ve been feeling cut off from my friendship network. Was I waiting for people to reach out to me? Yes, I was. And this week, one new local friend did reach out, a small artist support group I started took an important “next step up” (which was powerful), and another friend started a neighborhood women’s gathering. I was going to go. “I’m too busy! I don’t have time! I hate gatherings with people I don’t know!”

But I went, and had a wonderful time. I think everybody did. Afterwards, we all responded to the group text information with words like, “This was exactly what I didn’t know I needed today!”

Sometimes, when we are feeling overwhelmed by life and its myriad complications, in trying to create balance with making our artwork and marketing it, it’s easy to get caught up in “fixing it”. If only I had…..! If only I knew someone….! If only I knew how to…! If only I knew what I really wanted!!!!

We end up waiting. For what?

Do we wait til we’re sure we’ll succeed, before beginning that big new work?

Do we wait til we’re sure we’re “good enough” before we explore gallery representation? (I find the people who are really good who hesitate the longest!)

Are we waiting for a “sign from the universe” before we take on a new challenge? Do we wait until we find the perfect solution to our problem? Have a straight 8-10 hours to start that new work? Do we believe we have to clean our entire studio before we can get back to work after a hiatus, rather than just clear off that one surface we need to start it?

I remember a friend’s wise words one morning a few years ago, when I texted to say I was totally confused about what to do about the stuff on “plate”. She replied, “I sit with uncertainty everyday until Clarity makes her presence known.” If that sends a shiver down your spine like it did mine, you might like to read more about Sheri Gaynor’s life work here.

Today, I sat. I poked around, hoping for a little clarifty.

And there it was, in my own notes, just waiting to be found.

Sometimes we wait for clarity. Sometimes we go looking for clarity. Sometimes it’s right where we left it, just under our noses.

Have you experienced this? Been unable to “fix” an issue that seemed to complicated, too random, with no solution… And then seen clarity what was needed, and what you had to do? How did that work out for you?

Please share! I’d love to hear your story, and I’m sure others will, too.

As always, if you like this article, please share with someone you think would enjoy it.

And if someone shared this with you, and you’d like to read more, you can subscribe to the Fine Art Views newsletter (with many other authors contributing!), or sign up at my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

 

 

 

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: You Can Be Focused, You Can Be Diverse, It’s All Good!

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: You Can Be Focused, You Can Be Diverse, It’s All Good!

Topics: advice for artists | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | originality

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.

Luann Udell shared how to be focused and diverse in your art career
Luann Udell shared how to be focused and diverse in your art career

You get to choose what you do, how you do it, how many things you do, and you can change it whenever you’re ready.

When the young art students came to my studio, most of them were still in the exploring stage of art-making. Some already felt “more comfortable” with a specific media, but most were trying this and that, and some hadn’t found what really felt right.

That’s normal! I encouraged them to keep exploring. This stage could take a few years, it could take a decade, it might take more than that. Maybe…..for the rest of their lives!

I think some of them were a little surprised by that. It seemed that some were already feeling the pressure to pick “just one thing” or “just one process” (painting, for example, or drawing, etc.) (It may have been more societal pressure than pressure from their teachers.)

I told them, “If you’ve already figured that out, good on you! But if you haven’t, that’s normal, too. These are the perfect years to explore and experiment. In fact, you might incorporate “new and different” for the rest of your life! And that’s okay.”

Focus is a good thing, of course. When we push all our efforts in one direction, into one medium or process, we can make enormous strides in our skill set.

But that’s not the only way to be a “real artist”. And when people tell us it IS the only way, and we don’t want to do it that “one right way”, it can feel soul-crushing.

Years ago, I attended a seminar with a well-known speaker who created a series of workshops about all kinds of artist/maker issues: How to market our work, how to display it at shows and in galleries, how to talk with customers, etc. All excellent information, garnered not only from their own career as a maker, but from dozens of others who shared their insights with him.

When it was my turn to ask a question, I started to frame my body of work: “So I do jewelry, fiber work, and printing, and I’d like to know…..”

They interrupted me mid-sentence: “FOCUS!!!!”

The whole room erupted into laughter, and I was humiliated. The speaker went on to explain that “certain clueless craftspeople” get into doing everything: “I raise the sheep, I shear the sheep, I spin the wool, I dye the yarn, I make the pattern, I knit the sweater….” They end up with a product that can’t be reasonably priced, and then wonder why their work doesn’t sell. The speaker moved on to the next person.

That wasn’t my problem, and I was pretty peeved. Afterwards, I went up to ask for clarification, and they apologized. “I wanted to make an example of you, because that comes up all the time! But I see now that isn’t what you were sharing, and I’m sorry.”

There’s a lesson there: Don’t make assumptions about the “stupid questions” people ask us. (As in, “How long did it take you to make that?” “It took me thirty years to make!”) (Yes, there are a dozen better ways to answer that question without making a joke at that potential customer’s expense!)

“Lack of focus” was not an issue for me. I already knew I was “doing it right”, FOR ME. I was perfectly comfortable with my multi-media choices, because I had a powerful story that united them. From the very beginning of my art career, people could recognize my distinctive style, use of color, and use of artifacts, even in the different ways I staged them.)

I wanted to know how to approach the top retail shows in the country that, typically, demanded I pick ONE medium to apply in. And usually my jewelry wouldn’t be accepted, because it’s a dense medium at high-end fine craft shows. Often half the applicants are jewelers! I wanted help figuring out how to get out of the “box” most shows and exhibits want to put us creatives in.

(I never solved that, but finally figured out ways around it.)

Nowadays, whenever I ask people about their creative work, I get a wonderful variety of answers. But the ones where I sense folks feel the most embarrassment is when they haven’t focused completely on “just one thing”.

“Oh, I’m not a real artist! I love oil painting, but I’ve also enjoy watercolor and pastels, and I’ve taken clay workshops and loved it, and I want to….” And then they sort of trail off, waiting for me to tell them to “focus”.

I refuse.

I ask them what their goals are, and listen. Unless they feel “held back” by their free choices, I almost always tell them to embrace their path.

From their reaction, I’m guessing no one has ever told them that’s okay. Which is sad.

Some of us know the medium that speaks to us. We leap into with all our heart, and pursue it, perfecting our skills, finessing our techniques, perhaps (hopefully!) even receiving recognition and acclaim for our work.

Others, like me, take longer to figure it out. We try different things, or keep up with several things, until we find our way through.

For me, I did fiber work for years: Cross-stitching (easy!), then embroidery (harder!), then quilting (so much time!!), getting smaller and freer and focusing on making something that looked aged and worn. I got to the point where I rarely bought new fabrics, and instead scrounged yard sales, thrift stores, and antique shops for unusual, vintage, and antique fabrics, and well-worn clothing. Eventually, when I couldn’t find what I wanted, I began to over-dye my own fabrics, and even carved my own stamps to print fabric.

When my kids were born, I knit them sweaters. (Hey, it’s faster to knit for a little kid than an adult, and they’re a lot less fussy about how it fits!) (But you also have to work fast, or they’ll grow out of whatever you’re making for them….)

Eventually, I was frustrated trying to find the perfect buttons for those sweaters, and so I began to make my own.

I couldn’t afford expensive jewelry, didn’t like much of it anyway. I loved the look of old pieces. I started buying broken or out-of-date bits and pieces, restringing them or salvaging the beads for other projects. One year, I was accepted into an exhibit for art quilts, and forgot to read the fine print: Beadwork was required. So I “explained” that the beads I used were too tiny to be seen in the photograph, and frantically added seed beadwork to the finished pieces. (I won a Judges’ Choice Award!)

And I also began using those sweater buttons as embellishments on my art quilts.

Are you sensing an epiphany here? It’s coming!

Until the day came where I stepped up to the plate with my “mom crafts” and found my powerful story, where I found my place in the world as an artist.

All those “little crafty things” I’d been doing for years all came together to make something different. Something unique. Something that became my signature, so that now, people who are familiar with my work, can spot it in almost any form.

If I had “found my perfect medium” all those years ago, I would not be making the work I do today.

Would I be better off? How do I know? We choose a path, and our story is changed forever. I don’t regret my “aimless wanderings” that eventually brought me the work I love with all my heart. I choose to celebrate the skills and insights I gained along the way.

Some of us will “do it right”, focusing on a specific medium and style. Some of us will explore, constantly adding, tweaking, mixing it up. And some may never “settle” into one or two things. They will explore, and experiment, and dabble for the rest of their lives.

My question for them: Are you happy with that?

Because if you are, that’s all that matters.

What matters, first and foremost, is that our work brings us joy.

Oh, not 24/7. I get that. Sometimes things just don’t click, or we get tired of the same ol’ same ol’. (Usually we get our happy back, though!) And if we want to get really, really good at something, we have to put in the time and the work.

Some people pursue one style, or medium, and then walk away from it and pursue something else. That’s okay, too.

And some of us find total joy in the new, the experimenting. Some people only make art when they take classes. Which, I tell them, is really smart! If you can’t make time for your art, then taking a class is an excellent way to set aside the time (to go to class), to experiment (with all the tools and expertise provided by the teacher that you’ll need) and come home with something you love (because you had the chance to actually finish it!)

In our modern times, art is both a necessity (for our emotional/spiritual health) and a luxury (we can all choose what, when, how, and why we “make”). We get to choose how we fit it into our lives, we get to decide whether it’s our “one thing”, our “main thing”, or our “fun thing”.

Somewhere along the line, the word “amateur” (which means doing something because you love it, whether we make money at it or not) became a hugely judge-y thing: “Oh, you’re not a professional, you’re just an amateur!”

In reality, “amateur”, “vocational”, and “avocational” are all on the same spectrum. We do it because we love it, and it supports us, financially, and we do it as if it really were our profession- doing all the steps that a “true professional” artist would do, even if we don’t actually make a lot of money at it. And a few professionals actually step back from that stance, because they find the demands of catering to a market, and having to do the same thing, the same way, for the same people, actually saps some of the joy from our process. They find other ways to earn income, something they’re good at that pays well, and that they like or even love, yet keep their artwork in their life, on their own terms.

It’s all good.

Because when we accept all the reasons that show us we’re “doing it right”, the more art, the more beauty, the more joy there will be in the world.

So keep on keeping on, I told those kids. Do what you can. Do what you want. Do what you have to do. You get to choose.

Make it work for Y-O-U, finding your unique happy place in the world with your art.

The whole world is waiting to see “what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life…”*

*From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS:

There are many ways to be a force for good in the world!

I’ve met many creative people over the years. In fact, I might meet more than most other artists, because, a) I accept many ways of being “creative” in the world, and b) because I ask.

Ask what? Well, when new folks visit my studio for the first time, especially when they are still in the exploring/browsing stage (i.e., not actively looking to buy something), I often ask them, “What creative work do YOU do?

It breaks my heart when they protest they are not creative at all. Nope, not a creative bone in their body. Other people are artists, but not them.

When I tell them my definition of “creative” is pretty broad, that’s when the conversations really get interesting.

I explain that I can be a snoot about what is “real art”, too, but I prefer not to. “Shamans were healers, teachers, and artists,” I say. “So if you get joy from any activity that puts something in the world that wasn’t there before, and it makes other people’s lives better, too, well, then that is creative work, too!”

You should try this sometimes. The results are amazing!

People go from being apologetic and humble, to expanding (figuratively and literally.) They say, “Oh! Well then….” And stories come tumbling out.

There’s art, “fine art”, fine craft, functional craft, paper arts, etc. There are people who love the music arts (singing, composing, playing an instrument, dancing), dramatic arts (acting, writing plays, set designers, cinema), even comedy, mime, etc.

But there are also people who love to cook or bake. They take great pleasure in preparing a lovely meal and sharing it with family and friends. (By the way, baking is a lot harder to get right than cooking, especially when you are creating a new recipe. There’s science involved, just as tricky as creating glazes for ceramics.)

What about people who garden, or design landscapes, or arrange flowers, or work with dried flowers? (Yep, some of these are categories in the highly-respected fine crafts organization I still belong to in NH.) These are people who create something special for memorable occasions (weddings, funerals, Mother’s Day, etc.), or who make our neighborhoods, even our homes, look charming and lovely. It’s a lot harder than it looks (ask me how I know) to consider what blooms when, and how it coordinates or contrasts with other plants, whether it needs sun or shade, a dry climate or lots of rain, high maintenance or low. A beautiful plant can brighten someone’s hospital stay, or celebrate a birthday, or provide food for our family or the neighborhood.

What about healing? Some people just have a knack for getting to the heart of our aches and pains. They listen carefully, ask the right questions, and look for the best solution for us. They help us get better, they calm our fears and anger, they help us live our lives without pain, with clarity, without self-condemnation, and with better resources.

Then there’s nurturing. Some people are simply amazing with babies and youngsters, and whose care for the infirm or elderly makes a world of difference to those clients. We may not “see” them til we need them, and realize how grateful we should/could be.

Teaching can be an art. We’ve all had a teacher or two that made us wonder why they even bothered show up, who made our lives hell. And then there are those teachers whose grace and presence still echo throughout our lives, the teacher who believed in us when no one else did, who floored us with their kindness and attention, or pushed us harder to do better.

There are people who fix things and rebuild things, so that something we need to live our lives work better, last longer, and is more efficient. This becomes even more valuable in a world struggling with climate change and plastic debris, an instance where “less than” is actually a good thing.

What about the scientist who finds something unusual in that experiment, and ultimately finds a new medicine or treatment for millions of people who would otherwise live lives full of pain, disability, or mental anguish? If they save even a few people, how meaningful is their work? For those people, and their family and community, a lot. I started a list of other scientific life-saving and planet-healing stuff, but you get the idea.

Here’s why identifying these activities as “creative” is important:

I find when the person doesn’t do this work that means so much to them, it affects them deeply.

Sometimes it’s obvious. They seem wistful as they browse my studio. They tell a story about why they set that creative work aside. They “don’t have time”, or “it didn’t pay very well”, or “it isn’t ‘real art’”, or someone said they weren’t good at it. It seems like a luxury, something to be set aside when there are more important things to take care of. They miss it, but how can they justify the time and the energy when their lives are so full?

When that happens,I encourage them to do it anyway, however they can fit it into their life. After all, as some readers remind me, not every creative work we do can also earn us a living.

But as we talk, it’s very clear to me that they miss it. It brought them joy, it gave them energy, and now life just seems a little harder, a little crazier, a little more demanding.

They need to put it back in their life so they can live more fully, with a little joy and restoration to their higest, best self.

When I “decided” I wasn’t a “real” artist, there were other things that distracted me. But as I look back, they were creative work, too! Teaching, quilting, knitting, jewelry-making, all brought me a little comfort and joy through the years. It got me through, though, of course, “everything else” always came first: Childcare, housework, etc.

How did that work out for me? Well…it kept me in the look, until I chose to take it to a higher level. The quilting evolved into fiber collage. The buttons I started making (out of polymer clay) for my sweaters became horses, and fish, and bears. The jewelry-making got richer, better, and more uniquely my own. And teaching/sharing skills creates community.

I wish someone had told me there are a thousand ways to be an artist in our modern world, especially with all the new material, new techniques, and  new resources available to us.

I wish other people weren’t so quick to stick me in a box, either judging my worthiness on whether my work was art, or craft, or simply too different to be considered anything. (Let me tell you about my very first attempt to introduce a gallery to my wall hangings, when I was told my “design aesthetic was immature….”) (Let’s just leave it at how relieved I was years later, when reliable sources confirmed that person had “issues”….)

I wish all the boxes weren’t so “square” or so narrow. I remember the relief I felt when I applied for a major fine craft show. I called the show organizers when I couldn’t figure out what medium to check on the application. The person I spoke to said firmly, “I hate that, too! We should appreciate the artists who are SO creative, there’s no single category to put them into!” (I quit pursuing many of those shows because I would be juried in for one medium, but not the others, often excluding the one that generated the most sales: Jewelry.)

I asked the art students what their creative work was. At first I got the usual: “Painting!” “Graphite!” (Ha! What a great way to frame pencil drawing!)

But when I opened that door to a broader definition, one said, “I love baking!” They said it proudly, too! I rejoiced at that and told them so. They may also pursuit the more commonly-recognized forms of art-making. But they were reassured that whatever the work of their heart is, it deserves their attention and time.

There is something for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be what everyone else agrees is “real art”.

If it makes us a better person, if it makes the world a better place, if it gives even one person in the world joy, hope, and validity, well then, I believe that’s a good thing.

And I’m delighted these young people already know they are “doing it right.” I can’t wait to see what they do with their passion, and their skills.

(If this article was forwarded to you, and you liked it, you can sign up for more here: https://luannudell.wordpress.com/ If you’d like to hear about open studios, etc. you can sign up for my newsletter here: https://luannudell.com/email-newsletter )

This article is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….”

  

I WRITE FOR MYSELF and Maybe for You

I’ve always known my writing is not for everyone. Some folks expect more concrete “do this” and less “we’re all in this together, and that will make us better”. That’s okay, I get that.

Sometimes that’s what I’m looking for, too. Like today. Why do none of my LED bulbs work in my old booth lighting fixtures??”  (The results: It’s complicated.)

The thing is, when people criticize my writing because that’s what they’re looking for, it’s really a moot point. There are other writers who will give them that.

Me? I share when I’m stuck or overwhelmed, or when I’m feeling “less-than”, and how I got through that, as close to “in the moment” as I can.

But here’s the deal with the “just the facts’, ma’am” approach:

I’m a woman, born in the ’50’s, who never saw an artist growing up. (There was one potter in the county I grew up in, but I only heard of her after I graduated high school, and never saw their work.) I was raised to blend in, to go along, not to talk back, and to be nice.

There were school budget constraints that created a total lack of actual art education.

My college art history textbooks featured no women artists. One author even stated publicly he did not believe women could be considered “real artists”, and of course, that meant no women artists were featured in his book until 1987.

1987.

1987, people!!!!! Nineteen effin’ eighty-seven.

Janson’s History of Art has become so problematic as Janson’s own personal canon of “real art” is, that efforts to be more representative still can’t restore its usefulness in art history education.

You know where all the women are in art history? Nudes, as subjects. For the shock value, and publicity.

I’ve seen and read examples of many, many women supporting their male partner’s art career, often at the expense of their own. The Wife, anyone?

I cannot recall one instance of a man doing the same for his wife. (Some wives-of-artists even have a secondary career of advice-giving of how to be a successful artist. Without admitting that it can be hard for us wives to have our own “wife”.)

(Full disclosure here: I could not afford to have a studio nor have an art career, nor even to be a writer, were it not for the fact that my partner’s work pays 100x more than my meager income. And he helps with computer issues all the time. But he does not do my marketing, my correspondence, my social media, sales, shop upkeep, etc.)

Even in workshops on technique, and writing about marketing, most folks refer to famous male artists. It took the Netflix “comedy” special Nanette to share the real reason Van Gogh is famous, and to frame his situation for modern art-lovers. (Van Gogh’s work was hampered by his mental health issues, not inspired by it, and his work is visible today not because he was “good at marketing”, but because “…he had a brother who loved him.”

Although making your place in the art world can be harder if you are a woman, there are several things I also am, that make it a little easier for me. I’m white. (Not a person of color.) I’m middle class. (Not born into poverty, and I was able to attend college.) (No, my family didn’t “buy” my way in, either.) I identify as a woman. (Not LGBTQ.) I was raised Christian. (Not Muslim, Jewish, or any other religion that some consider “less than”.) (And though I now identify myself as agnostic.)

All of these identities are in my favor, NOT because they make me “better than”, but because some believe these traits make us “less than.” (It does not.) These folks have far more difficulty navigating the waters of our culture, throughout our history, and to this day, unfortunately.

Then of course, there is our choice of media we use to tell our story. I cannot tell you how many times people have told me I’m not a “real artist” because of my choice of media. I work in fiber (“That’s craft!”) and polymer (“That’s just fake clay, and clay is just a craft, too!”)

There are those who tell me I’m an awful writer, because I tell a story rather than simply “get to the point and tell me what to do!” (At one point, after someone complained my articles were too damn long, I put things like “5 minute read” in the bylines. In case, you know, five minutes was too much of a drain on their time.)

So when I write, I write for myself first. I write to reassure myself–and other artists who feel the same way–that our work IS needed in the world. It DOES serve a “purpose”–it’s our voice, our chance to have our say.  Yes, making money from making our art is wonderful, empowering. But even if we don’t, we still have to find the time and energy to make it, if only for ourselves.

.And so when I write, I write for myself. To inspire myself. To remind myself, that though there are some who still would not consider me a “real artist”, the only person who can stop me from making my art (barring a drunk driver) is myself.

And the one single factor that keeps most of us from creating is…..

Doubt.

Such a little word, and so much damage comes from it! I came across this quote recently, but I can’t trace it to the original author.

Doubt kills more dreams than failure ever will.

This is why I share my writing with you.

Doubt kept me from trying harder. From making good decisions about my life work until my early 40’s. Doubt kept me from calling myself an artist, until I hit the wall, hard. Until the day I knew I had to do the work of my art, or I would destroy everything around me with bitterness. Doubt made me frightened, weak, and full of excuses why I wouldn’t take my work seriously.

Once I learned to pat doubt on its head, shush it lovingly, and move it back to its corner, failure was nothing. Failure I could deal with. Because if you give it your best shot, if you try and do your best, and fail? Well, at least you tried.

And then we learn to try again. And again. And again, until we either find a way through, or realize we will build a different path over, under, and around that obstacle in our way.

So when I share my beginnings, when I share my setbacks, when I share how I healed my toxic self-image, it’s because I want you to have what I have:

Hope.

Hope, and courage, inspiration, and strength, and my own definition of success.

I want this for every single artist I meet.

And though we may never meet in person, I want this for YOU.

Hope is the thing with feathers

Emily Dickinson1830 – 1886

Hope is the thing with feathers  
That perches in the soul,  
And sings the tune without the words,  
And never stops at all,  
   
And sweetest in the gale is heard;          
And sore must be the storm  
That could abash the little bird  
That kept so many warm.  
   
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,  
And on the strangest sea;         
Yet, never, in extremity,  
It asked a crumb of me.