LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Challenge vs. Injury

There’s a big difference between perseverance and suffering.

I overheard another intriguing comment at the physical therapy practice I go to. Out of nowhere, one of the therapists told a client, “We want to see perseverance, not suffering.”

Oh, the memories…..

Years ago, (seems like an eternity) I was really into martial arts. (No, I never got a black belt, though all my instructors along the way said I was well on my way.)

I never got there because…..injuries.

I pursued martial arts over a spread of 15-20 years in my middle age, sometimes with massive breaks in between practices and schools (Tae Kwon Do, Thai Kickboxing, then back to Thai Kwon Do.)

Typically, I was the oldest person in the class. I always did my best, but I’ve always been “heavy” on my feet as opposed to “light”. Ironically, this quality is not due to weight. Jackie Gleason was always heavy, but he was also “light on his feet”. I’ve talked with my husband (a former gymnast), physical therapists and athletes about this quality. They recognize what I’m saying, but can’t identify what it “is”, whether it is innate or can be learned, and why some people have it and some don’t. It is not an indication of ability, but is a recognizable style.

And so, encouraged by my instructors to push myself, I always, eventually, ended up injuring myself pretty badly. (Although, come to think of it, my most major injuries were inflicted by a) an instructor who should have known better, according to other instructors in the class, and b) another student who was even more inept than I was, tried to kick me below the belt, and when I blocked him, his shoe broke my finger. (He had to wear shoes as he was diabetic.)

The story typically goes like this:

One evening, I went to Tae Kwo Do. We did a kicking work-out. The instructor yelled, “Faster!” and I didn’t want to be the one everyone was waiting on.

So I picked up the pace a wee bit, landed wrong on my foot, and injured my Achilles tendon.

I instantly had a cap on almost all my other activities for many months.

I felt pretty stupid. The instructor wasn’t urging me to go past my limits–he was yelling at the green belts. I was the one who felt I had to prove something–that I may be older, but I was still a competent student.

Well, I went over that delicate balance between challenge and injury, and landed hard on the injury side.

It wasn’t even my own challenge. I was worried what other people would think if I didn’t try harder. Even though I should know by now that is NOT the way to get what I need. The only thing I get with that attitude is more injuries.

I told myself I would not give in to self-pity, nor get angry with myself.

I went swimming instead. And with each stroke, I chanted to myself, “I…..can…..handle…..this.”

I realize I walk a delicate balance in everything I do. Working out. Friendships. Relationships. In my business. And with my art.

I need to push myself enough to challenge myself, to make myself grow stronger, physically, emotionally, artistically.

And yet hold just enough back so as not to injure myself, or others.

As in martial arts, so in my art. There’s that same balance between taking the professional risks that challenge me, without injuring my bottom line (and my ego) irreparably.

That particular injury (and there were many along that path) happened just before my (very full) fine craft wholesale/retail show was scheduled. I realized I was in the same place with my art biz. Although I had no idea what to expect, I knew I had to try.

Sometimes I get freaked out thinking it out–“What am I doing??!!” Other times, I feel it is a reasonable venture.

Hopefully, I would find buyers who were looking for work that had a more western/southwestern/northwestern feel.

If not, I knew I would come home feeling like I need to crawl into a barrel and mosey on over Niagra Falls…..

But not for long. I knew if this show proved not a good fit for my work, I would just have to get over it and try a whole ‘nother strategy.

Like my tendon, my ego eventually healed. And like my injury didn’t keep me away from martial arts very long, guessing wrong will not discourage me from making my art. Not for very long, at least.

In the end, the injuries accumulated to the point where I did have to walk away from that passion. And those shows? Well, that was just before the recession in 2007-2008. They turned out to be a gamble, one I finally decided was not worth it.

After creating new strategies over the years, I finally found what worked for me: One major show with a deep history and very loyal following, open studios, and online sales.

Moving to California meant rebooting in may ways. I’m still working out my best plan to persevere in my art-making.

What worked for me then doesn’t work for me now. What works for me now is still in process. There continue to be obstacles and injuries along the way.

But here are two big truths I hope inspire you on your own journey in making the work that lifts your heart:

As I said, I was not a “natural” when it came to Tae Kwon Do. But every instructor always reminded me: We are competing with ourselves. (One class was “Olympic” but there were plenty of folks who obviously weren’t going down that path.)

Because I was “bad” at it, I had to practice more than others did. I showed up, every class. My last instructor said, after the last big injury that meant I could never practice again, that my perseverance had gained me excellent technique, and indomitable spirit. He said he felt guilty they had started me at the beginning all over again (they doubted my credential from an instructor who had moved away.)

He said I deserved a black belt.

So, wait, four big truths:

I did what I loved.

Perseverance almost got me there. 

Practice makes perfect.

I’ve gotten very good at not giving up.

Whatever you need to do to make your place in the world, never give up what you love until it takes away from you. Even then, there are ways to keep moving forward. (T’ai Chi!)

Find the balance (life/work/art) that works for you.

And keep doing it ’til you get better.

WHY LOVE > $

SCRATCH: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin
SCRATCH: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living by Manjula Martin

WHY LOVE > $

Sometimes What We Want Isn’t Really What We Want*

So in math class, that title would read “Why “love” is greater than “money”.

I started reading a new book this week, called SCRATCH: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living. Based on a series of interviews by Manjula Martin with well-known writers such as Cheryl Strayed,  Roxane Gay, Jennifer Weiner, Alexander Chee, Nick Hornby, and Jonathan Franzen, it is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

In these interviews, Martin encourages each writer to be totally honest about what being a “famous author” really looks like. The inside story is jaw-dropping.

Most started out making not very much money. That’s to be expected. But here’s what I didn’t expect:

Even when authors sign a $100,000 contract for their book, that’s not actually how much money they make.

Here’s how it works:

First, it takes years to get to the point where $100,000 would even be offered. Most start at $2,000. (That was the advance on my one published book.) If the book doesn’t generate stellar sales, there are no royalties. (I never got royalties.) I spent hundreds of hours creating the projects and steps, so I made….$1/hour?) (Of course, that would be $3/hour today, so there’s that.)

Let’s say you’ve climbed the ladder, and the deal is for $100,000.

First, your agent gets 10%. And a good agent is worth their weight in gold.

But the amount is also split into several payments.

There’s a payment for submitting the manuscript, one when all errors are corrected and the manuscript is re-submitted and approved, one when it actually goes to press, and the last when it is finally put out into the market.

This process can take years. Many of the authors thought, “I’ve made $100,000 this year!” But since the process can take from 2-4 years, they make a lot less per year than that. Like $24,000 less $2,400 for your agent.

So in the end, a writer who signs that lucrative contract isn’t exactly gonna get rich on it.

One book review says,

“…In the literary world, the debate around writing and commerce often begs us to take sides: either writers should be paid for everything they do or writers should just pay their dues and count themselves lucky to be published. You should never quit your day job, but your ultimate goal should be to quit your day job. It’s an endless, confusing, and often controversial conversation that, despite our bare-it-all culture, still remains taboo. In Scratch, Manjula Martin has gathered interviews and essays from established and rising authors to confront the age-old question: how do creative people make money?”

Sound familiar?

A lot of parallels to our art-making sector.

If we were to take a $100,000 commission for a work of art, here are some of the possibilities:

There would be the initial deposit for a custom order, usually non-refundable. But most customers wouldn’t give it up without a fight. I was at one of the top three fine contemporary craft shows in the country one year. One booth visitor placed a custom order at the show for a pretty major piece. Woohoo! I thought. A few weeks later, she called to cancel. Because she hadn’t considered the tuition for her son’s private school/academy he’d just been accepted into. (This, after sucking up 45 minutes of my time at the show telling me how rich she was, and about her amazing art collection at home.) When she called to cancel, she made the point (about 20 times) that her husband was a lawyer. I cancelled the order. (Fortunately, something felt “off” about her in the booth, and I had hesitated about starting the order. So, no loss.)

The person may even “forget” to tell you to cancel the order, like in my article about the Design Diva.

Consider the cost of packing and shipping a major piece in that price range. One local artist, a friend, even has to borrow my car to deliver their larger works to local buyers. (I’m happy, to do it, of course!)

Of course, if you work with a gallery, they’ll do that for you. But a gallery takes a 40%, 50%, or even (at the height of the market in NYC just before 9/11) a 60% cut.

Back to that book review quote: This is not a black-or-white issue. This isn’t us vs. the “bad people”. Maybe your bigger art sales aren’t this complicated.

But another interview revealed another side to that “success” we all crave:

Being locked into a “certain kind of fiction” or a “predictable best seller” can be suffocating. And fame can fall away in a heartbeat, with a bad review, with our own bad behavior, almost anything.

Several of the highly-successful writers said even in their “hottest moments” felt locked in, confined, discouraged by the category they found themselves stuck in. Deadlines may conflict deeply with life events. Touring for the book publicity can suck a lot of time and energy. Trying to top your last success can squeeze the creative juice right outta your system. “You’re only as great as your last success” can be a roadblock to creativity.

Most of the writers said they made a decent living three ways: Writing books (that get published.) Public speaking engagements. And teaching/workshops.

Sound familiar?

I highly recommend reading this book, even if you don’t read every interview. Most of these writers went out on a limb to be this honest and forthcoming about the realities of their success.

I wonder…..

If more artists felt safe to do the same thing, would we quit beating ourselves up about not making a good living out of our creative work?

Would we stop being intimidated by those people whose work sells for thousands, tens of thousands of dollars?

Would we realize that sometimes, those famous artists whose work sells for hundreds of thousands, or millions of dollars, don’t actually make a dime from those auctions? Because they sold the work for one price, and now the new owner (or second, or third owner) is selling it for a heckuva lot more? (Publicity is helpful.) Or the artist is dead? (Publicity not so helpful. They’re dead!)

What I took away from the book is this:

We have choices. We have the power of our choices.

If we need to make a living from this work, we can do it. It will start to feel like “a job” rather than a calling, but for some people, this is what they have to do.

If we can be satisfied with SOME money, or even not much, we get to have complete control over the work we make.

We get to choose how much from each end of the spectrum we’re comfortable with. We get to choose what we are willing to do, or not to do.

We get to choose whether it’s full-time/well-paid/a lot more work and not as much creative freedom. Or whether it’s “it makes me happy and that’s all that matters”, or whether it’s “I can find ways to expand my calling into other lucrative ventures by teaching.” I know one artist who has expanded their skills into creating ways for other artists to offer workshops: They have the knowledge, the resources, and the audience to do all the funky work we’d normally have to do ourselves, so all the artist has to do is show up and be ready to teach.

There are no solid, sure-fire ways to make our work and share it with the world. There’s no 100% good side to any of our decisions about it–except what works for us. There’s no WRONG way to do it.

The only thing that’s “wrong” is believing we are doing it wrong, and believing that other people are doing it right. Believing that “success” looks the same to everyone.

It’s all about what’s right for Y*O*U.

On that happy note, I hope this gives you food for thought. If you’ve found the right combo for your creative work and income, please share! If money is our measure of success, it’s good to share information about how that happened for you.

If you know someone who needs to read this, to get clear on their own goals, please share!

If someone shared this with you, you can read more Fine Art Views articles here.

And if you like what I wrote, you can subscribe to my own blog here.

*I was going to call this article, “Be Careful What You Wish For” (You Might Get It!)” but I think that’s just too heartbreaking. It’s not stupid or wrong to want something from our art, including financial success. Go ahead and wish! If it’s not right for you, you can always change your mind.

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Ice Is Your Best Friend!

Luann Udell shares how we can choose to reply positively to the naysayers.

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.

The things people say about our work, and what we can CHOOSE to say back.

 (6 minute read)

 This “ice” remark is one I hear almost every day at the physical therapy place/independent gym where I work out.

When we are injured, sore, aching, our first instinct is to apply heat. A heating pad feels wonderful. And it can help, if we don’t overdo it. But ice is actually even more healing and therapeutic, especially as our first go-to therapy. Granted, it feels better on a hot summer day than a cold winter one, but it really does help.

How does this metaphor apply to our creative work?

There are certain things that never change in our artistic lives. There will be people who love our work and let us know. And there will be people who don’t care for our work, and they are eager to let us know it.

When things are slow at art fairs and fine craft shows, exhibitors often gather in small groups to chat and compare notes. One of the most popular topics is the rude things visitors say about our work.

When someone attacks our artistic skills, process, subject matter, integrity, how we choose to respond says much about us.

Instinct kicks in:

Our first response is usually surprise: “Wha…?”

Our second is disbelief: “Why would you even say that?!”

The third is anger: “Why, you…!!!!”

These are normal, human responses, hardwired in us to protect us from danger. And when someone goes out of their way to be offensive, when all they have to do is simply walk away and go find work they like better, this can register in our lizard brain as “dangerous”.

If we respond instinctively, we jack up the heat.

Instead, in the long run, it’s better to “stay cool” and apply ice.

The thing is, there are many reasons people say such things:

Curiosity: Your work is “speaking” to them, though they may not be sure why. They want to know more.

Ignorance: They don’t know what they’re looking at, nor where it fits in their world.

Entitlement: “I will be the judge of your worthiness.”, “I am a better artist than you!”

Envy/Insecurity: “I can’t sit with the fact that YOU are an artist at this show, and I’m not!”

Antagonism/conflict lovers: They are deliberately looking to start a fight.

When we are attacked, we look for ways to defend ourselves.

There are groups on Facebook and other social media that relish this challenge. Everyone shares their awful stories about the horrible things toxic people have said. And everyone shares their funny/slamming/mocking responses in return.

We do this to minimalize the damage to our own ego. We find sympathy and support in our peer group. We share and memorize witty or snarky ways to respond, or even ask/tell them to leave our booth. Hurrah! We showed them!

I love reading the stories and the comments, and responses. I’m human, too!

But years ago, when I first started out, I sensed something “off” with this approach. It felt “hot”, and we were focusing on how to make it “hotter”.

It put me in a hard placeI felt encouraged to be my worst self, too.

I don’t want to believe people are deliberately cruel. I don’t want to be on the defensive. Taking the offensive feels like falling to their level. And it all circled around to watching out for the next attack.

Not a happy place for an artist to be. I don’t like who I am when I get in that space. All the joy I get from making my work is siphoned off.

Starting out in my industry, I was fortunate. I had the benefit of people who took a higher road, and a more effective approach. They generously shared their tact, and tactics, ways to take the conversation to a more productive place.

They showed me the power of “staying cool.”

There are ways to frame our responses that a) reduce the heat in the conversation; b) show that we can stay calm and centered; c) show mercy for the folks who truly didn’t mean to insult us; d) keep the conversation going on a better plane, or shut it down gently; e) remind us that other people are listening.

 When someone says, “My son makes these!” we can respond with, “That’s lovely! What shows does he do?” or “What galleries is he in?”

When someone says, “I just don’t think these are very well-made.” We can respond with, “My work is not for everyone, but the people who do like it, love it very much.”

When someone says, for the millionth time, “What are these made of?”, that’s an opportunity to expand the conversation and/or show them the sign that explains my process. (Because this gentle, well-intention question is actually them giving me permission to talk with them, and help them go deeper into my work.)

Everything changed when I stopped being annoyed by customer resistance to “plastic clay” and shared the reaons why I chose it as my medium.

Instead of being annoyed by folks who questioned my choice of media,

I promoted its advantages for my work. It worked!

If someone complains about our prices being too high, we may hear “Your work isn’t worth it.” But what they might be saying is, “I love it, but I will never be able to afford it.” (My great layaway plan can help here!)

The times I’ve had to deflect very toxic people when there are other people in my space, after the VTP leave, my other visitors always say, “WOW, you were so gracious with that *******!”

My main reason for choosing to respond this way? I feel like I’m being my highest, best self.

It’s really hard. But it’s its own reward. I’m not knocked off my pedestal (for very long, anyway), I gain the respect of my real customers, and I show that it’s okay to ask a question that might appear awkward/ignorant–because I will do my best to respond with respect and a peaceful heart.

In fact, often after an incident like this, everyone else in the room opens up with their own questions. I’ve shown I welcome the engagement, and I won’t easily take offense if they “phrase it wrong.” I’ve created a safe environment for them, and they can relax and open up.

 Truth is, truly angry/envious/aggressive people are looking for a fight. But we don’t have to automatically give them one. As a friend told me years ago, “You don’t have to go to every fight you’re invited to!”

If you do shows where you encounter a lot of these people, consider that you might be in the wrong shows.

If you believe your work is worth every penny of your prices, be prepared to show how much effort, time, and skill goes into it.

Forgive the nay-sayers. Forgiveness isn’t about letting them off the hook, or ignoring what they’re doing. It’s a way of letting us off the hook. We can stand back and realize we did not deserve their ire, and we don’t have to hold on to it. As I read in an old notebook last night, “Don’t let anyone else’s opinion of you become your reality.”

Of course, this assumes you want to be a force for good in the world. That you care about who you are and what you do. That you are constantly trying to be better at it.

When it comes to dealing with difficult people, just remember: Ice is your best friend.

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LESSONS FROM THE GYM: How to Change Bad Habits       

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews, an online art marketing newsletter. 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.

The body does whatever we ask it to. But it may not be the best way to do it. Only conscious effort can change that!

(5 minute read)

 I was at the old people’s (of which I am one) gym today, the place where I’ve received physical therapy here in Santa Rosa . They have an independent gym program, which I signed up for as soon as I could. It’s the “opg” because almost all of us who are in the program are up there in years. (I might be the youngest one at….gasp!…67! Score!)

I do what I do best in life. I discreetly eavesdrop on nearby conversations, and gain insights to my own issues when something resonates.

Last week, I overheard one of the employees say to a client, “When we move, our body automatically does it the easiest way possible, especially if it’s trying to avoid pain. But that just “locks in” the “bad” behavior/action. And “doing it wrong” can make the situation even worse…”

“To change that, we have to….”

And darn it, I couldn’t catch what he said.

Had to wait til this week. I recounted his response, and asked what his advice was.

Turns out that, to retrain our bodies to move in a healthy, balanced, healing way, we have to consciously move the “right way”.

For example, I tend to walk on the outside of my feet if I don’t consciously think about it. Various injuries throughout my life have created this pattern for me. As I do the DUI walk, as we call it (going toe-to-heel along a line on the floor, a balance exercise), I could see in the mirror my feet weren’t “rolling through” the right way. I have to deliberately think about proper foot position. I never realized my “old way” was creating more issues, until physical therapists pointed it out. The unused muscles weaken, the extra strain on the overused muscles can actually pull a kneecap out of alignment. OW!!!

“Observe. Pay attention. Focus.” Sounds mindlessly simple, doesn’t it?

Except, when you think about it, there are a lot of times and circumstances where we do “what is easiest” and in a way that “doesn’t hurt.”

And the only way we can change that is to choose to do it differently.

One example: How often do we roll through stop signs at intersections?

Probably 99 times out of 100, it doesn’t matter, especially if the intersection is usually traffic-free.

But what I’ve noticed is, if we train ourselves to “roll through”, we do it without thought. We may lapse in checking to see if there is other traffic. Or if there’s someone else who’s running the stop sign. And the consequences could be fatal.

In our city, running yellow, orange lights (orange is when people run through and are still in the intersection when the light turns red) and even red lights, is a thing. It’s heart-stopping the number of times I’ve had the green light, and someone bombs through on their red light. Most of us take a second to actually move forward, and/or stop to check left and right.

The only way to break the “roll through” habit is to deliberately, consciously, stop, or at least pause, even for a second.

Is it annoying? Yes. Has it saved my life? Oh, yeah!

On a much smaller scale, for the first time in my life, I am now flossing daily for the last several months. I realized I was unconsciously choosing not to because “I didn’t have time” on busy mornings. Until I realized I DO have 30 seconds to floss. And I remind myself, by getting out the floss and placing it next to the sink before I even brush. I look at it and think, “30 seconds.” And consciously choose to do better.

How does this apply to our art-making and art-marketing? So glad you asked!

I’ve been writing and posting articles for years, here on Fine Art Views and on my blog. It was only a month ago I realized that if people SHARED those posts, there might not be an easy way to encourage the share-ees (for lack of a better word) to find me, let alone sign up themselves.

So now I try to remember to add, “Share if you like this” and add a link for the people readers share it with. (Hmmmm….let me do that right now!)

Art-making? I’m working on a new line of “statement jewelry”. I’ve been struggling with some the finishing steps, which are even more time-consuming than the actual “making”. Until I finally realized if I swapped out one of my “usual tools” for a different one. It felt awkward. But it cut the time involved in half.

I used to post articles on Facebook, then Twitter, and now Instagram. Time-consuming! But then I learned I could “share” through WordPress directly to my Facebook business page, and from there, post automatically to Twitter. And after Facebook acquired Instagram,  I found I could post to Instagram, and set it up to automatically post to Facebook, and from there, to Twitter. (I just have to remember to post to IG now.)

I was reading Keith Bond’s FAV article on compartmentalizing our art. It made perfect sense! I’ve actually been doing it for years, with separate workstations in my huge studio back in New Hampshire, and as best I can here in California. (The only issue is sometimes having to have duplicate tools on hand, which is why I still own about eleventy-six pairs of scissors….)

I loved the article because it shows how “unconscious actions” can send us into a tailspin if we’re not being fully aware of what we’re doing, and why.

What “bad” habits/assumptions/unconscious actions are holding YOU back?

And what can you do about it, starting today? (Hint: Even acknowledging we DO have unconscious habits/assumptions/actions is a powerful “first step forward” for today.)

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BE THE HERO IN YOUR OWN STORY: Framing Is Everything!

It takes time, but somewhere down the road, there’s a powerful story in our darkest hours.

 We attended a gathering this weekend. Good food, great people, and beautiful scenery. That’s where the idea for this week’s article comes from.

I was talking with a younger person there, who’s right smack in the middle of a difficult life stage. I listened to their woes, which, to be fair, they put a good spin on. In other words, they weren’t whining, but they were definitely struggling, in a situation all too familiar to me.

Without loading them with too much advice, I mostly told them they were doing it right. They had the right attitude, they were seeking the help they needed, and they knew they were fortunate in so many ways, they hated to complain about the exhausting situation they found themselves in.

I gave them two pieces of advice. Or rather, insights.

One, I told them that people who have been through the same thing, will understand. And those who haven’t, won’t. I said, “Seek out the first group, and just ignore the second.”

Two, I told her this, too, will pass. It’s hard, and it’s hard to make it easier. But in the end, they will be okay. And when they get through it, they will be able to see the gifts and blessings along the way.

I get that when we’re in the middle of a big muddle, it can feel like there’s no way out. No solution, no quick fix, no “magic mushrooms” to make it right. It can be hard to have hope.

And yet…

When I look back at some of the hardest times in my life, I can see something of value there.

I can see the goods things that came out of it. I can appreciate the people I met along the way, people who often had exactly what I needed to get through one day.

I can see the hard-won lessons that proved so valuable later in life. I can see the blessings, the gifts, the jaw-dropping miracles that not only helped me get through, but formed me into the person I am today.

“You can’t see it when you’re in the middle of it, and that’s okay,” I told them. “Because right now, it just sucks. So take exquisite care of yourself every chance you get.”

“But years from now, there will be something beautiful here, something that will encourage you, inspire you, help you find your way. This will change you, and some of those changes will be powerful. You will find yourself in a place you never even dreamed of, yet.”

“It will always be part of your story, and YOU will get to decide how to tell it.”

No one would ever choose to be in that hard place. It will simply find us, no matter who we are, no matter what we do. We are going to have very, very hard times in our lives.

And not everything has a happy ending.

But there will be gifts, if we chose to look for them.

The trick is in how we tell our story.

In a slump with our artwork? Uninspired? Tired of the same ol’ same ol’? Someday, we’ll look back and see the wall we hit—and how it led us to an exciting new body of work.

Didn’t get into art school? Maybe the wild and crazy path you DID take, is what makes your art so powerful today.

Didn’t get into that gallery? Or exhibition? Or that top-notch show? Rejection feels like failure. But failures have a way of making us dig deep for our art. We can crumple up and walk away, leaving our creative work behind. Or maybe we realize someone else’s “no” can be our next “maybe”. Maybe I’ll try another gallery in the next town over. Maybe I can simply apply for more exhibitions, hoping I’ll get into just one.

Or maybe I realize that no one can keep me from my studio, and it’s time for me to get back to work.

It can be hard to be Pollyanna in the middle of despair. And yet…

What if we actively thought of ourselves as the hero of our own story?

What if the challenges we face, force us to rise to meet them?

What if that difficult person in our workplace finally inspires us to find another job, a better one, too?

What if our loneliness when things get hard, creates compassion in our hearts for others in the same boat?

What if physical setbacks force us to choose another path, one that has its own rewards? (I’ve met TWO potters this month who had to find another form of creating when their bodies couldn’t take the “weight” any longer.)

What if lack of sales, fame, and stardom as an artist, actually encourages us to focus more on the “why” of our creative work? Helps us pay attention to the joy we get from making our art?

What if all we really need to get through this day, today, is a six-minute film to bring us nearly to tears, filled with awe of the beauty of this perfect day?

Last week, I read an old journal from our last two months in Keene, NH, just before we sold our house and 80% of our possessions to move across the country.

I’d made note of some difficult times, people, and situations. But I was surprised at how little of them I actually remembered! I would read, “I hate Doris!” and think, “Who the heck is Doris?!”

When we were in the middle of that move, all I could see was total chaos.

But as I look back, I see what a powerful experience it really was, on many fronts.

The things I loved so much, it felt impossible to leave them behind—only to find out they were in much worse shape than I’d realized, and couldn’t go anywhere except the dump. (My cheetah-patterned sofa!)

The person who gave me a hard time, and now I can’t even remember who it was, nor what it was about. (As I deal with difficult people here in CA, I’m reminded there are difficult people EVERYWHERE.)

The people who didn’t show up to help (“I’m not going to do one thing to help you leave, because I want you to stay!”) and the amazing gift of the people who DID show up, every day, for weeks.

The fear that I would lose my audience in NH (which DID fall off for awhile), and yet realizing how quickly I could start growing a new audience here.

The people who were upset by our choice to move, until I shared with them our own “hero’s journey” that led us to that decision. (Hallelujah, they came around!)

Now, sometimes we just need to gritch. I get it. I love to gritch, too. It feels good to get a good whine in (with a glass of wine, too!) And it can be cathartic to blow off steam with a good friend who’s willing to listen.

But in the end, I choose to see the miracles, the gifts large and small, the Angels In Odd Places I find in almost every step along the way.

So the next time you get slapped in the face with a big ol’ whipping cream pie of rejection, or lack of sales, or whatever, take note. My bears’ story: “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

I process things by writing, but you may have another process. Maybe painting your heart out, or creating a song, or poem, or prayer. Maybe do something kind for someone even worse off than you. Perhaps a chance to simply blort with a loving partner, or a really good friend who is truly there for you.

Whatever works for you, embrace it.

Be the hero of your own story.

Tell the story only you can tell.

Because your story might  just inspire someone else to be a hero.

Do you have an example of a setback that proved to be a power booster for you? Share it here! It may be just what someone else needs to hear today!

And if someone shared this with YOU, and you like what you see, sign up for more articles at my blog here.

THE THING ABOUT OPEN STUDIOS: Art Events Aren’t About Making Money TODAY

Luann Udell shared how art events are about laying the groundwork for potential collectors
Luann Udell shared how art events are about laying the groundwork for potential collectors

If money is your only measure of success, you may be missing out on the longer game…

I learned years ago that even a “bad” art event has its value. I had to learn that the hard way, by having a lot of poor sales at shows, exhibitions, fairs, open studios, even high-end fine craft shows across the country.

It started when I first did small local art fairs and craft shows. I never did well enough to go back, if my work wasn’t a good fit with other vendors.

But at each show I would a) have one good sale that paid all my expenses, b) made connections that grew, and c) always got a good tip, insight, experience, that convinced me not to give up.*

I began to realize it took time for folks to “get” my work. It wasn’t painting, it wasn’t pottery. It didn’t fit into any “box”. Almost every visitor did, and said, the same thing. They would stop, come in my space, and gaze at my work for several minutes. When they were ready to talk, they all said a version of the same thing:

“I’ve never seen anything like it, and it’s absolutely beautiful.”

So the work was good enough to pull people in, but different enough that they had to really think about it. I realized I was laying groundwork for something bigger, and better, down the road.

It kept me going, and eventually, I leaped into bigger, juried shows. Those people began to show up for other events: Open studios, art tours, art walks, etc. Gradually, my audience grew. I started doing wholesale fine craft shows, and was juried into a major fine craft show (retail) that same year. I did both shows for years and a couple of open studio events.  My audience grew every year, until I left for California in 2014.

I’m still relearning those same lessons over and over.

Last month, I joined another open studio tour, as the guest of another artist. Attendance was good, but sales were not.

It would have been easy to feel sorry for myself. Heck, I didn’t even get that many newsletter sign-ups.

But I realized I had accomplished my main goal: Introducing my work to a brand new audience. I had rich conversations with amazing people, who I know will come back. Only few dozen people signed up for my email newsletter during the event. But I gave out a ton of business cards and postcards, which paid off.

When I checked in after the event, I found a LOT of people had signed up online. (I think they wanted to see more, and liked what they found!) And I had the rare opportunity to get to know my host artist, and their other two guest artists, better. They are all remarkable people! (We drank a lot of Prosecco at the end of each day.)  (A LOT of Prosecco!)

 A few days ago, I was at the kick-off meeting for this year’s Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event, (Both tours are under the same umbrella organization, but focus on different areas in our large county.)

I was sitting at a table with the new manager of this particular 35-year-old tour. I mentioned that I had few sales at the other open studio tour the week before, not even covering my entry fees, but I was satisfied with it, all-in-all.

Then the new manager said the magic words that summarize this entire article into seven truth-filled words:

“Art events aren’t about making money TODAY.”

Perfect! “I’m gonna write about that!” I exclaimed as I scribbled her words down before I could forget them.

Maybe my very own experience of making something positive out of the ordinary made me realize this early on. How to share the essence of this with others in seven words? Thank you, Tenae Stewart!

Art events are about introducing our work to an audience, especially if it’s a new audience. It’s about inviting our visitors and attendees into our world. Open studios are especially powerful, because they see our work and our environment in full. (Well. It’s a little less messy, but I never get my studio perfectly clean anyway. Artistic mess, people!)

It’s like what a friend told me once, at my old studio space, when I complained about how few people actually came by my studio on an average day. They replied, “It’s not who comes by, it’s who comes BACK.”  And as I look back, I see that the most amazing people DID come by, often when I wasn’t there. But my studio’s sidewalk window let them see a sample of my work, and they did indeed come back.

Now I’m on a crusade, encouraging artists who, for many reasons, don’t like open studios. They may believe their studio is not interesting/too small/too messy/not “professional enough” to open to the public. They may have tried it once, then gave up because it wasn’t worth it.

It’s hard to gear up for an event we didn’t have much success with. But there are events we need to give a second, or even third chance for.

I share my own experiences, how very small open studios tours back in New Hampshire grew from one visitor my first year, to scads of visitors during the second year, who didn’t buy anything, to folks who came in droves the third year—and bought enough to rival my sales from major shows. (And I didn’t have to drive anywhere or set up a booth!)

I share how powerful it’s been to give people permission “go deep” in my making space. I share how I give them the chance to look while making myself easily available for their questions: (“Hi, I’m Luann, and I make all the artifacts that look like carved bone and ivory. It’s okay to touch my work and pick things up. And if you have any questions, I’ll be right over here!”) Rather than saying, “No thanks, just looking”, people say, “Oh, THANK YOU!!!!” and dive in. When they’re ready to talk, they ask their question, and the conversation begins.

I recently encouraged another artist in my new building to open their studio during our first major event here. They made the usual disclaimers: Their studio is too small, it’s too messy, they don’t have a body of work yet, they’ve never sold a painting, etc. etc.)

I told them their small space might encourage some visitors to realize they don’t need a huge room to do their own creative work, just a spot they don’t have to clear for dinner. They will love looking at that work in progress. It will captivate them, with the photos, preliminary studies, the rough sketches, and the work-in-progress. They will love the subject. Best of all, this artist is comfortable talking to people. They are full of energy and enthusiasm without being overbearing, and visitors will love that.

And last, I said, “Bruce Baker once said, “To regular folks, artists are the people who ran away to join the circus!” Other people wonder and dream about doing their own creative work. To see someone actually doing that work is powerful medicine for all of us in our torn and tattered world.

Open studios aren’t for every artist. Some galleries restrict their artists from participating in them, perhaps for fear they will lose sales, or the work will be undersold. (If you are represented in stores or galleries, NEVER undercut your gallery prices.)

Some artists have privacy or safety issues. (Ask a friend to keep you company, and safe, or ask another artist to participate with you.)

Some see them as too much work. (Me? It’s like having company for dinner, it forces you to clean up a couple times a year!)

Bottom line, art events are essentially about connection: You with your potential audience, them with you, and with your work. Sales certainly help! But know that sales usually follow after laying the groundwork for a mutually-respectful and satisfying relationship.

Don’t worry about the sales you didn’t make today. You’re laying the groundwork for something bigger, tomorrow!

 

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WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: We Will Never Know Our True Legacy

Try our best, we are not in control of how we will be remembered.

There’s a brilliant cartoon called Non Sequitur by Wiley Miller that ran a few weeks ago. It starts with a caption, “The Get-Rich-Quick Correspondence Art School” and shows an artist standing before a huge empty canvas, paintbrush in hand, reading the first page of the instruction book:

“Step 1: Fill in blank canvas.

Step 2: Sell it for $1,000,000*

*Price triples if you die first!”

Funny? Not funny? Sad? All of the above!

We all know about Vincent Van Gogh, who sold maybe one painting in his lifetime, whose work (one painting) sold in 1990 for a record $82.5 million dollars.

Then there’s the most popular artist of the Victorian era, whose work, within a few decades after his death, was deemed saccharine and trite. He is so forgotten I can’t easily find him by Googling, I just remember that story from one of my art history books.

We have our own Thomas Kinkade, arguably the most commercially successful artist of our time, mass-producing paintings that look like a sickeningly-sweet Christmas card my grandmother might have sent out. Love him, hate him, he certainly knew how to manipulate the market, to the extent it’s estimated that 1 in 20 households in the U.S. own a print of his work. Will his work stand the test of time? We’ll see.

The irony is, we tend to concern ourselves with achieving fame and fortune, or at least a presence in the world. (Yes, I secretly dream of a time when people will clamor for my work!)

But we actually have very little control over that.

Oh, we participate in art events, we self-promote, we strive to work with the best galleries. We work for good publicity, we work our social media, we are delighted when the rich and famous buy our work. (Double publicity!)

Some of us use more extreme measures.

We could be famous for cutting off an ear (this was not done for publicity, of course, but this is how many ordinary people identify Van Gogh), or inserting a crucifix upside down in a bottle of urine. We could be famous for trademarking “Painter of Light”, (except that all painters, technically, are recording light.) It can be difficult to think of a more disturbing painting than Hieronymus Bosch’s “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, and yet, it has held its place in time. In my recent column about finding an audience,  I shared how the attention actress/writer April Winchell’s now-archived website Regretsy actually brought attention—and sales—to truly awful handmade items sold on Etsy.

So maybe we’ll be famous after we’ve been dead awhile. Maybe, if we manipulate the media cleverly, we can be famous now.

If not, well, maybe our art, like the images in those prehistoric Ice Age caves, will survive for thousands of years, to be discovered by an entirely new race of humans (or…..aliens??) who will marvel at our work, find its full beauty, and wonder what the heck we were trying to say.

We’re not wrong to feel this way. We’re just humans.

We all want to believe we matter.

We all want to believe we have made a difference in this world.

We all want to believe the work of our heart matters.

That is the central core of my artist statement, realizing that we all want to leave our mark in the world.

That’s not wrong. That’s achingly beautiful. It’s extremely human.

Maybe we will, maybe we won’t.

In the end, though, all we can do is to do the best we can.

We have to work at our own pace, in our own manner, with our own style. We have to make a little room in our lives to do that work.

We must respect the work we do, and try not to be envious of the work of others, nor their reputation, income, or celebrity.

We have to discover the stories that mean everything to us, and share them, through our creative work, with the world.

In a perfect world, all creative work would foster tolerance, harmony, love, respect for our earth and all the people on it, and be a force for good in the world.

But there is also a darkness in every heart, just as there is a bit of light within the greatest evil.

 That, too, is what it means to be human.

And so my hope for you, today, is that this helps you set aside your agonizing about fame and fortune. I hope it can change your definition of success, so you feel fulfilled with your efforts to make art.

I hope we can create our work today and let go of focusing only on where it lands in the world.

I hope we can all find a way, and a reason, to keep on ‘making’. I hope we can let go of envy of the success of others, and our own fears of failure, and simply rejoice that we have the luxury, and the privilege, to be able to do this work.

Our only real obligation is to make it. And then share it with the world, through sales (yes!), through connection, through relationships, and mostly through our love for what we do.

And have hope that this will be enough.

(As always, if you enjoyed this article, pass it on! Someone you know may need to hear it, today. You can sign up for more articles at my blog here.)