My column for Fine Art Views, on all the ways to make room for your art:
Category Archives: fear of failing
Fear Of Missing Out results in so very many, so very bad decisions.
Today’s little Venn diagram from Indexed (by Jessica Hagy) sums up this week’s brain buzz (mine) pretty well:
FOMO. Aka, Fear Of Missing Out.
Whenever I see an artist who’s more successful than I am, whenever I see a booth that’s busier than mine at a fair, when another artist is mobbed at a gallery I’m in, I freak out inside.
Whenever I see someone whose work is so amazing and powerful, I writhe with envy.
Whenever I see someone who seems to have nabbed every lovely opportunity/venue/award/kudos/publicity spot under the sun, I die inside a little.
Because I’m sure I’m missing out.
I’m sure that person has it figured out. I’m sure they’re more savvy in their marketing, more practiced in their technique. I’m really sure they’re ‘on trend’, riding that glorious 15 foot wave with the perfect curl, hair blowing in the wind, dolphins cavorting in their wake squealing, “You GO, grrl!” (Or “Way to go, dude!”)
I mope in my studio, trying to figure out what will sell. Trying to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Trying to figure out how I’ll pay my business debts.
Will I ever write another book? Will I ever be a successful artist again? (Relatively speaking….) Will I ever be that cool, sophisticated artist who “explores the interstices of form and chaos, reveling in the capricious nature of conforming and rebellion. As momentary derivatives become clarified through emergent and academic practice, the viewer is left with a clue to the possibilities of our culture.” (Okay, I totally stole that last line from Arty Bollocks, the online artist statement generator.)
Jessica Hagy’s illustration brings a touch of clarity to the buzz. “What you’ve heard” vs. “What matters” is simply “PR trumping journalism”.
It’s the lizard brain reacting, instead of the work that is in your heart resonating.
It’s not who comes by. It’s who comes back.
It’s not about how many people will like my work. It’s about introducing my work to a new audience, even if that’s a handful of people.
It’s not how much money I make at any given show. It’s about being at least successful enough to keep moving forward. And being brave enough to try.
I love, love, love making whimisical jewelry from vintage buttons and old radio resistors. And I love making freshwater pearl jewelry. But only I can tell my story, the one that reveals how the Lascaux cave became a metaphor for my entire body of work.
And so I soothe my fevered brain today. Yes, it’s been awhile since I’ve set up for a show, especially ones that are limited in space. Yes, I worry about my prices with a new audience. Yes, I have no idea where half my booth stuff is, and whether my car is big enough to pack what I need.
But this isn’t about creating a smaller booth orthe best display, it’s not about looking professional (arrrrrgh!!), it’s not about doing it perfectly.
It’s about getting my art out into the world again, in a new place, in unfamiliar territory…one small step at a time.
OH, almost forgot: I’ll be at the San Francisco Center for the Book’s Holiday Craft Fair this Saturday, Nov. 21, from 10-5. It’s on Rhode Island Street. That’s all I know.
OH, forgot again: Thank you, Jessica Hagy!!!!
Reflections from Stormy Weather, a story I wrote 8 years ago, and still can’t read without crying.
I work well under pressure…even if I have to create it myself (damn it!)
I’ve had all these visions in my head for a wonderful new body of work for months. And now that I’m on fire with making them visible in the world, I’m running out of time.
To be fair, the delay wasn’t all my fault. I really was stuck. Couldn’t move forward. Too many technical obstacles.
Simply put, I want to create displays–permanent display cases–showcasing my artifacts and animals, including jewelry. I imagine them sitting on table tops or wall hung, each one a shrine. Collectors can use them as I make them. Or they can add their own favorite objets de mémoire et le désir, as many customers have done. (You send pictures, people! I LOVE that.)
Soon I was overwhelmed with questions:
Where do I get the boxes? Okay, make that affordable boxes?
What kind of boxes will work? How do I refinish or restore them to keep/create that old, worn well-used look?
What about the mounts? Despite taking a terrific online mount-making class, I still can’t solder brass. What about using the steel stands I already have? Wait–I need more! But they’re getting to expensive to have custom-made!!
I’ve been a guest in his workshop the last four months, and he’s helped me find the answers to all these questions. I’ve learned to size up a good box candidate, determine what it needs to get the right “look”, where to find the necessary products and tools, how to order the parts for steel stands and hammer them together myself. I’ve learned a lot, and look forward to…well, soldering brass pretty soon.
I never thought the damn polymer would stymie me.
I tried to put together a magnificent new animal sculpture. I had a vision, and I knew all the techniques. Surely that would be the “easy” part, right?
It all came apart late last night. (Literally and figuratively.)
And again, to be fair, I’m working outside my comfort zone, trying new sculpture techniques, experimenting. Always scary territory for an artist, and one that probably shouldn’t be undertaken two weeks before the damn thing is due at the exhibit.
This morning I took as long as I could to check my email and surf my tribal forms (e.g., the forum at BeadCollector.net and Facebook.) But finally, I had to admit it was time to start over with new antlers. (Oops!)
As I mixed up more clay, I saw a funny scrap of raw clay on my worktable.
It looked like….a rabbit.
So I made a rabbit bead.
Rabbits and I go way back. I’ve written many times about the life lessons my beloved Bunster has taught me.
And I’ve noticed that, in the world, so many, many times, the things people write about/rant about/resent/judge are the very things they carry so painfully in their own hearts. Myself included. This astonishing article about Debbie Miller and her advice about taking creative risks and daring to be our true selves–which she never took herself until recently–resonated with me today. Beautiful,powerful words–if only we could really hear them!!!
It’s like writing about these things helps US be brave. And hopefully, helps readers, too.
And maybe I’m being too harsh. Maybe we can’t hear these words until the ground is ready to receive them.
So what am I writing about today?
I’m writing about not being afraid.
But I’m actually writing about being very very afraid.
Afraid my work will be judged (again!) by unhappy, vindicative people.
Afraid my work is just a bad, sad echo of people who are much further on the cutting edge of polymer than I will ever be.
Afraid I am not worthy of making the stuff I make.
And yet I have to make it.
And so the rabbit.
Lee’s words come back to me like a prayer:
“Quit reading about the fear!” he exclaimed. “Be ordinary! You are creative—make your art!” He bent over to stroke Bunster, and his voice became gentle again. “Be like your bunny. She’s fearful—but she has a place in this world…”
I have a place in this world….
My art, my writing, my buzzing brain, my restless dreams, my searching, searching, searching for what I bring to this world…and what will be forgotten as soon as I’m gone, my best intentions and my worst fears, my generous and gracious soul and all my many, many, many shortcomings…
All have a place in this world.
Sometimes it’s okay to be ordinary….
If it gets you to an extraordinary place in your heart, eventually.
Here’s a link to the column I wrote for the art marketing blog at Fine Art Views:
I hope it helps you with your next studio housekeeping chore!
It’s been awhile since I’ve written here. Thank you to all of you who wrote, because of the silence, to ask if anything was wrong.
There were some scary things going on this holiday season. It’s been impossible to share them, for many reasons. The main reason is, to do so would violate the privacy of someone I love more than my life. It’s not really my story; I was a bystander who got caught in the backlash of the tornado.
After the worst of the storm had passed, and things looked more like normal (and I am very, very grateful for normal), I wondered why I wasn’t bouncing back as quickly as I usually do. I felt violated, stripped of my reason-to-be, and off-balance about the role art plays in my life.
Two things have put me back on the path.
One is a children’s book I’ve been reading this week. It’s the finale to Susan Cooper’s marvelous series THE DARK IS RISING, about the battle between good and evil in the world. called “Silver on the Tree”. I found “Silver on the Tree” at a thrift shop last week, snatched it up and read it.
Near the end, the heroes venture through a beautiful kingdom, a land of makers and craftspeople, singers and story-tellers, in search of a magic sword to help them in their quest. The king of that land, the maker of the Crystal Sword, sits alone in his castle, immobilized these many long years and silent.
And right there, on page 161, is this amazing passage:
(The enemies of the Light,) they showed the maker of the sword his own uncertainty and fear. Fear of having done the wrong thing–fear that having done this one great thing, he would never again be able to accomplish anything of great worth. Fear of age, of insufficiency, of unmet promise. All such endless Fears, that are the doom of people given the gift of making, and lie always somewhere in their minds. And gradually he was put into despair…..Despair holds him prisoner, despair, the most terrible creation of all.”
I saw myself.
To be open to the world, to be open to your creativity, also means we are exceptionally vulnerable to the dark forces of the world.
When we are open to the chaos of possibility, we are also vulnerable to the chaos of evil.
Even as we delight in the small fierce flame of creation, in ourselves and in others, we are in danger of someone carelessly, deliberately, cruelly, snuffing it out for the sheer enjoyment of tormenting us.
It’s frightening to realize the world has such people in it. They’re surprisingly hard to see, too. In fact, they may be the most charming person you’ve ever met.
Your only clue may be how awful you feel about yourself after dealing with them. How inadequate you feel, how selfish you see yourself, how useless your talents are to the world.
And because you yourself have let in that despair, only you can see it, and only you can tell it to leave.
There’s no logic to it, except this:
You can accept there is evil in the world, and give in to it.
Or you can say there is also good in the world–and embrace it.
I have to choose the latter.
I have to believe in what I do, and in who I am.
The other thing that’s a miracle today, is a little piece of paper I found while cleaning piles and piles of my crap for a party we’re having tonight.
It’s typical of my little notes to myself: Written on a torn sheet of paper, some little thought–the title of a book, an idea, an insight–in an futile attempt to shed some of the mind-slurry that is my brain into something that might help me organize. Or at least remember!
In the middle of a list of books is a quote:
Writing is a meditation for you.”
I have no idea where it came from, or who said it. It sounds like something my friend Quinn MacDonald would say. Heck, maybe I said it! But surely I would have remembered….??
What matters is this: It’s true.
I need to write to process what happens to me. My lack of writing has delayed my healing.
I’ve been writing, privately, the last few days, after this long drought. And slowly, my heart is making sense of the last two months’ events. And some peace is restored in my soul.
So I find myself at the end of the year. It’s been a hard, hard winter already, and many more dark, cold nights ahead.
But now I know this for sure:
When winter comes, can spring be far behind?
And I am so very grateful for these two tiny, wonderful miracles in my life today–a torn piece of paper, and a well-worn old book.
And I’m grateful for my marriage, my children, my family, and friends, and dogs who sleep on your feet at night, and cats who try to sleep on your head.
Who knew exercise could be so educational!?
(This article was originally published on Wednesday, January 07, 2004)
What do kickboxing and pursuing a career in art have in common?
My kickboxing instructor had a handout for us recently. Entitled : “Cycle of Performance/Formula for Success”, it was a brief description of the learning process for, in this case, martial arts. It had four little phrases on it:
INCEPTION: Unconsciously incompetent
DECEPTION: Consciously incompetent
TRANSFORMATION: Consciously competent
IDENTITY: Unconsciously competent
We talked about it during class. It provided “aha!” moments for many of us. Turns out this little handout explains more than how to learn martial arts; It’s an insightful road map into any life endeavor we pursue. It goes something like this:
Inception, the first stage, is that wonderful, giddy stage of learning a new skill, the excitement of potential. I remember the first time I sat down to a wheel with a lump of clay. I was fearless! I plopped down the clay, centered it, made a cylinder and pulled out my first pot. It was great! It was easy! I thought so, anyway. ” I must be a natural!” I remember thinking.
I was “unconsciously incompetent“. I was gloriously unaware of what I didn’t know yet, and how hard it would be to recreate my initial success. I was so thrilled with with my “innate” abilities that I smashed that first pot down, confident I could throw another just as easily the next time.
You know what comes next. The next class, I sat down confidently to throw my next ball of clay.
And nothing happened. I mean, nothing right happened. I couldn’t center the clay for the life of me. I kept trying until I had a sloppy plop of drooly clay. I threw it aside and tried another ball. Same thing. Slightly daunted, but still game, I tried to raise a cylinder from the wobbly mass. What a disaster! I went home discouraged.
My next class was just as discouraging and I turned to slab work, making a few simple tiles and such. But I was overwhelmed with failure. I had entered the dreaded second Deception stage, “consciously incompetent“. I recognized how much I didn’t know, and how much I still had to learn. The ration looked something like 1:1,000,000, if you what I mean.
If you’ve ever taught, you know how difficult it is to even observe this stage in others, let alone go through it yourself. Frustration bubbles to the surface, masking everything else. You are totally aware of how bad you really are at this. No matter how many times you practice, you don’t seem to get any better. You can’t seem to do anything right. Pots plop, your kicks flick harmlessly, the souffle falls, the watercolors don’t blend right. It seems like everyone else is “getting it” except you.
Most people quit at this stage. They become convinced they are never going to get it, they aren’t cut out for this, they just aren’t good at that. They get angry–at their instructor, at the other people in the class who seem to be doing just fine, but most of all at themselves. (That’s me, anyway.) They may complain, or clam up. They quit trying, or even quit coming to class, convinced that this just isn’t for them. I believe most people who are afraid of making change in their life have let this stage totally defeat them, incorporating it into their very image of themselves. “I’m just not good at math.” “I’m just not very graceful.” “I’ll never be able to (insert your dream activity here.)”
But if you persevere, you will come to the next stage, well-named Transformation: consciously competent. This is what happens after thousands of hours of practice and drills. It may take a long time, but you will get there. You eventually begin to find yourself able to perform that skill. You can do it, but you have to think about it. You begin to see what needs improving and what needs strengthening. You may begin experimenting with minor changes, trying what works best for you and what doesn’t. You become more willing to plug away at it, perhaps even enjoying the process of learning for its own sake. (Think of the perpetual graduate student….)
Finally, as anyone who has ever mastered a skill, knows, eventually you reach the fourth stage, Identity: Unconsciously competent. The skill or knowledge has become a part of you.
You don’t even think about what you’re doing anymore, it’s just….YOU. You are a pianist, or a painter, or a doctor, or a black belt.
You may not even remember NOT knowing that skill. Do you really remember how hard it was to learn to ride a bike? Or does it feel like you’ve always known? Do you really remember looking at a page in a book, and having no idea what those mysterious squiggles meant? Surely we thought at one point, “I’ll never be able to ride a bike!” (I believe getting past this stage is what makes a good teacher: Someone who remembers ‘not knowing.’)
I’ve been thinking about this little handout a lot for the last few weeks, especially that deadly little second stage. It occurs to me that as adults, we’ve mostly forgotten the process of learning, and how truly awful it can feel. In fact, it’s so awful, most people probably quit when they hit that stage, feeling they are really “meant” to learn how to paint, how to knit, how to learn a new language, or whatever.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what people need to see them through that second stage, and safely into that third stage…because this is what life changes and pursuing your dreams is all about.
Sometimes, of course, we are forced to make changes. That becomes our determination. But what about when we choose to make those changes? It’s so important to either have a wonderful support system (a terrific teacher, encouraging friends or family, a great book that serves as a guide), or a tremendous sense of purpose, drive and determination. Or both.
How many of us have started out to change something in our lives, to pursue a new interest or tread a new path, hit that second stage and bagged out? What if we simply made a conscious decision to believe in our selves one more day, one more hour, maybe another five minutes–what could we achieve? How far could we really go?
When I started back in martial arts last spring (after sustaining a devastating injury by one of my previous instructors seven years ago) all I hoped for was to gain back some strength and stamina. I could barely do one push-up anymore. But I’m determined to stick with it, and now I can do thirty. (well….on a good day.)
When I started back with a dream of pursing art seven years ago, I was determined to stick with it, even if I didn’t turn out to be a particularly good artist. “Good” didn’t matter anymore. I knew that being an artist was so important to me, I simply had to try. And keep trying. When I look back at what I accomplished in seven years, I am amazed.
Type out this little handout, and post it somewhere where you can see it every day. The next time you feel discouraged about achieving your goals, look and see where you are in the process. Realize it isn’t something about YOU, but about the process. And stick with it, if just for a little bit longer. You may surprise yourself…..!