Reasons Why Millennials Don’t Buy Our Art

Reasons Why Millennials Don’t Buy Our Art: Examine Our Assumptions

REASONS WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Examine Our Assumptions

We can tell a different story that just might open doors

(7 minute read)

At last, we’re ready to dig into the many reasons millennials don’t buy our art.

As you guessed, there are many, many reasons. And there are many, many wrong assumptions. If we are willing to have our assumptions challenged, this series might be helpful. Read on!

In hindsight, I wish I’d co-authored this series with fellow/former FAV author Lori Woodward. As you know from the wealth of insights she’s shared over the years, one of her superpowers is digging into the actual numbers and data to verify if an assumption, or a marketing strategy, is true useful or not.

I can’t do that. Or rather, I won’t. I tend to read a lot about whatever it is I’m writing about, note what resonates with me, and share a narrative. If the information is solid enough, useful, makes sense, it can change my narrative for the better.

That’s why I swapped “useful” for “true” above. You may have your own version of what’s “true”, but if it holds you back from finding your voice, and an audience, then consider framing, and embracing, what’s useful instead.

So if this series doesn’t work for you, I get it.

My first insight is that being annoyed/frustrated/less-than-impressed/derogatory about younger people is not new. I shared that in the original article and yet it didn’t seem to affect the tone of the comments. About a third to half of the comments were “negative” in tone, or started out positive/sympathetic, but ended up negative.

New technology, online media, discussion groups, video/computer games, were blamed for everything from “lack of attention span” to “shallow world views”. Lack of exposure to “real art”. A fixation on “likes”, popularity, expensive clothes, etc. Perceived lack of appreciation for the values we have, and yet this same argument has been used for many millennia.  (No put intended!)

People in 1816 bemoaned the disgusting erotica of new dance called the “waltz”.

In 1859, an article in Scientific American complained about the inferior amusement gained from a popular new game called “chess”, You can read more funny, crabby moments in history here and here.

After I was done laughing, I realized that complaining about “kids today” is nothing new. We’ve been doing it since Bork made a lumpy hammered iron knife to kill a wildebeest, and the elders complained about “young people today!”, asking “why do that when a simple rock will do the trick??”

Short story, this is a story, an attitude that always has been, and always will be, with us. If it’s been going for untold generations, I doubt there’s anything I can say that will change everyone’s mind! (I’m hoping to encourage a few.)

In fact, I read a review of a book I recommended last time, KIDS THESE DAYS by Malcom Harris. Halfway through, the columnist berates Harris for not coming up with solutions to enable future generations to work together (he does) and then admits their “quibbles” are just that—pretty minor—and also acknowledges they might seem to be a “grumpy Gen Xer” themselves. (This is the generation following us Boomers, people born between 1965 and 1980.)

An even more poignant take on generational differences is, we tend to judge quality by what we loved, what caught our hearts, when we were that age, too. Amidst all the angst and drama surrounding the prequels and sequels to the original Star Wars series, a long-time, avid Star Trek fan explained why the latest TV series is not respected by the earlier generations:

 “…So this isn’t your grandfather’s Star Trek. As someone pointed out about the new Star Wars trilogy “It’s not for you, it’s for people who are your age when you started liking Star Trek”.”

In fact, we, the Baby Boomers, were judged pretty harshly by the previous generation, too.

Your homework for today, should you choose to accept it (I’m guessing by now you realize I’m also a Mission Impossible fan), is to make a list of all the awful things said about our generation, all those ago. What did The Greatest Generation say about us?

For me, art was a frivolous pursuit. Growing up, my family found my interest in art “interesting” but baffling. I was encouraged to find a “real” job that paid well, never mind whether it was emotionally or spiritually fulfilling, get married, and quit complaining. Every grade I got in school that was less than an A came with anger and a scolding. Many of us, especially those who had young kids to care for, turned to art later in life, either through yearning, a sideline, a hobby, or after we retired.

TGG experienced some major world calamities: Two world wars, the worldwide influenza epidemic in 1918, the Great Depression in the ‘30’s. Harsh realities of an older time.

Yet they came home from WWII to GI bills, affordable college educations, a housing construction boom, vaccines to fight polio, and a booming national economy. They worked hard for their progress, too.

They considered boomers to be frivolous and privileged, focused on getting high and zoning out. No morals, no discipline, spoiled, lazy, and lightweight.

We are not evil people—no one generation is–but we had our moments, too. We were ridiculed for “Make Love, Not War”, and were considered rebellious idiots for protesting the Vietnam War. Some of us marched with King, risking life and limb, but most of us didn’t. And once the Civil Rights movement created legal protections for people of color, we thought we were done.

And now? The complaints, the ridicule, the slams we face, and give. How we found ourselves in a pivotal moment in history, and took all the credit for it.

We were lucky. We found our wave and rode it out. Most of us were able to buy homes, find careers, create families, and retire in comfort, too. Workers at auto factories in Michigan were well-paid, and often owned second homes (lake homes, at that!). Many companies offered pensions, too, and matched retirement investments.

We cannot conceive the realities and disappointments “young people today” face: Robotics and automated assembly lines; the gig economy (where no benefits nor health insurance are offered, let alone pensions); recessions just when they would have reached higher income levels, etc. I had an apartment and a car while making not much above minimum wage in the early ‘70’s. Today, minimum wage is a little over $7/hour, though many states are higher. Yet, one estimate is that if that had been adjusted over the years for inflation/purchase power, it would be closer to $11-$22/hour. The official federal poverty level income is just over $25,000 for a family of four. A family would need 3-4 jobs to jump that financial strata.

Gah! I’ve actually overwhelmed myself researching these facets of the generation gap. Thank you for bearing with me!

My sole point today is to show how even a few major insights can help us change our attitude towards millennials:

Every generation tends criticizes the newer ones. Every generation is told “they are doing it wrong”. And that creates assumptions, grudges, resentment and lack of connection among us all. How will younger people even connect with our art when they know we already feel they are “less than”?

Every generation faces unique societal, financial, moral issues that are not simple to resolve, and difficult to understand once we’ve gotten passed them. The Spanish influenza epidemic killed more people world-wide than WWI, and killed almost as many soldiers as combat did. That is unimaginable today. Oh wait: Millennials are facing the possible death of our entire civilization due to climate change. Yep, that’s pretty scary, too.

So…if we can sit with the discomfort, we can shift our thinking just a little, we can exchange judgment for insight. We can turn resentment into compassion. We can trade disappointment and the fear that no one wants our art, into creating a bridge between our experiences, and the younger generations coming up.

Stay tuned for more myth-busting next week!

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

WHY AREN’T PEOPLE BUYING OUR ARTWORK?

It may not be what you think…

(3 minute read)

I spent most of the holidays visiting my daughter and her spouse on the east coast. We always have interesting conversations (in a good way) and this time was no exception.

One topic that came up was, why don’t millennials buy art? The list of reasons she gave was astonishing, and all of them made perfect sense. (Spoiler alert: Millennials DO buy art. Maybe just not OUR art.)

And there are lots of reasons why.

One of my New Year’s Intention (I’m giving up on “resolutions”) is to write shorter more articles in series, breaking up a topic into a series of points. We’ll see how long that lasts, because my style is my own, and I’m not ashamed of that. You either have five or six minutes to enjoy my journey to clarity, or you don’t.

Still, this topic is worth expanding upon, and I’d like you to participate.

In the comments below, please list your opinion about why people—but especially millennials, defined as younger adults from who were born between 1981-1996 (age 23 to 38 in 2019) are not buying our work. I’ll answer as many as I can, and share the reasons I’ve discovered, in columns to come.

Do you believe they don’t appreciate “real art” over something found at Target? Share it in the comments!

And a small request: Ask with an open heart, and a willingness to expand your understanding. That way, we can all move forward with insights that could help us all.

Also, keep your heart protected, because some of the insights will be hard to hear. None of them are directed to any of us personally. My intention is not to make anyone feel bad, but to increase our understanding of the reality of a lot of millennials today, and having compassion for the straits many of them are in. (#NotAllMillennials  etc.)

So as not to keep your hanging (too much), I share one reason (out of many) why the market for my own more expensive work has fallen off:

Most of people who originally collected my bigger, more expensive work were older than I, and several have already died. Or they’re still here, but they’ve downsized their home, and have no more room for more art.

We’ve experienced this ourselves. Moving from New Hampshire to California did this to us. We’ve already had to move to a new rental in the five years we’ve been here, and each new home has been smaller than the one we had before it. We’ve gone from a 2,500+sf home to 980sf. (We’re not retired, as one reader inquired, that’s all we can afford here in California. Plus we’re renting, AND we own three cats and a dog, so we’re lucky we even found a place to rent. Ouch!)

I simply have no more wall space for new art. There isn’t room for half the art I already own!

Hold this in your heart: The deepest, most powerful reason for making our art is that it gets us to our highest, best place in the world. It heals us.

Everything else is gravy.

Another spoiler alert: Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to check out this book preview titled KIDS THESE DAYS by Malcom Harris. If nothing else, it will help explain “OK Boomer”.

My favorite? People my age constantly complain that “young people today” are on their phones all the time. Do you know what they’re doing?

They are reading. Articles. Columns. News. Letters, long (blog posts or Facebook posts) and short (texts and other instant messaging from friends and family.) Listening to music. Watching videos and movies. Doing research.

You know what tech innovations older people have complained about for the last three thousand years? Claiming that these “new inventions” are destroying human society?

Books. Newspapers. Radio. Hi-fi. Equality for women, people of color, people of “questionable” or “unacceptable” gender. Resentment against Italian and Irish immigrants. Celebrating Christmas with gift-giving and festive trees. Dancing. Moving pictures (aka “movies”.) Umbrellas and chess.

Enough! Post your “reasons why millennials don’t buy art” below, and check in next week.

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

 

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The SAID Principle

Challenges can be just enough to keep us moving forward
Challenges can be just enough to keep us moving forward

Accommodation can be our friend, or our enemy…

(5 minute read)

More lessons about life, and art, overheard at the gym this week.

A client was amazed at how much better they felt after only a few days of physical therapy. The therapist working with him said something that caught my interest, describing a well-known principle in the field: The SAID Syndrome.

Posited by a Hungarian physicial, Dr. Hans Selye over a hundred years ago, SAID stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands. That is, our body, given any form of stressors (biomechanical or neurological), will specifically adapt to that stress. (There are now more modern acronyms and phrasing similar in tone, but this is the one I overheard.)

That can be a good thing, a neutral thing, or a bad thing.

For example, if all we do we sit all day, month after month, year after year, our bodies will adapt to that. We may lose our ability or inclination to do any physical activity, or worse.

If we train by running laps, we may get fit and strong, but it won’t necessarily mean we prepared for lap swimming. The two activities use different muscles. We have to cross-train in both activities, in order to get better at both.

If we gently, slowly, challenge our body, all our muscles, and our mind, they will adapt to that, too.  We can challenge our body in different ways, too.

We can strive to go from simple motions to complex motions. From moving slow to moving faster. To go from using a low level of force to higher force. To walking/running a short distance to a longer distance.

We can get stronger, faster, more flexible, more resilient, more persistent.

How does this apply to making, marketing, and even selling our art?

If we get discouraged with our sales, we could slump into our sad place and believe no one wants our work. Or, if sales matter, we can experiment with shows and fairs until we find the ones where we find an audience. We can approach stores or galleries to represent us. We can use an online sales venue or sell from our website.

If our art isn’t quite up to snuff, we could keep our blinders on and do nothing about it. Or we can explore ways to get better: Use better tools, or experiment with a new media that might suit us better, or expand our skillset with classes/books/online tutorials.

If we feel like failures, if we believe our work of our heart doesn’t matter, we could walk away from the work we love. Or we can seek out a supportive community, realizing if it makes us happy, that can be “good enough”. We can ask for input about how we could do better, whether it’s our technique, our color palette, our subject matter, etc. (I overheard one local artist declaring if they never painted another vineyard, they would be totally okay with that.) (We live in wine country. Guess what most landscapes are?)

Short story: For our work to change, WE have to change. For our skills to get better, we have to do the work. For our attitude to change, we have to explore what our goals really are, what is important to us—and practice that mindset. To find our audience, we have to believe there IS one for us out there somewhere, and do whatever we can to get our work out into the world.

This effort doesn’t have to be a major shift, either. Some of us can do that, maybe. (We moved across the country to California five years ago, to reboot my partner’s career.) But usually, small incremental steps, moves, and changes will suffice. Otherwise, we could injure ourselves by trying to do too much, too soon, too fast.

One of my favorite challenges I’ve seen (which I haven’t tried yet, myself) is the 100-day daily challenge: Painters a single small work every day. Collage artists create an ATC (artist trading card) every day. Writers write a page a day. Then share it with our audience. I’ve seen these so many times, and it’s jaw-dropping how this simple exercise seems to not only improve the person’s skillset, but also set them on an entirely new journey, one they couldn’t see until they tried this.

My goals moving forward are pretty manageable so far. Keep a happy heart. Do the work. Get “bigger” in a way that’s manageable for me, and let myself be the judge of what “bigger” is. Trying the occasional new thing, whether it’s materials, subject matter, color palette, venues, etc.

Even my story, which still means so much to me, has evolved over the years. The heart of it is still there. But as I’ve faced spiritual and emotional challenges about my place in the world, my story has grown: A woman artist finding a place in the world, a place in prehistory and more modern history. Finding the medium that let me tell that story, then adding new media to the mix. (First fiber, then jewelry, then prints and sculpture, now assemblage.) Expanding my color palette from “only what we’d find in the Lascaux Cave paintings” to what those ancient artists would have used if they’d had the access. (Indigo/lapis blue! Aqua! Turquoise!) Expanding my skill set. (Refinishing antique boxes, creating museum-inspired mounts for display.) In the process, my definition of “creative work” has gotten bigger and stronger, too.

If everything is working for you, then the “challenges” can be just enough to keep us moving forward, or comfortable with staying in the same place. Maybe we can share our techniques and knowledge with others, so they can take our original journey and move onto their own. Maybe we can encourage other artists by making recommendations for a gallery that might be a good fit for them. Or we could assist them with finding their own powerful stories.

Or we simply share conversations overheard at the gym, sharing a little insight in our lives, for others who just might need to hear them, today.

How do YOU challenge yourself? Have you had a successful experience with challenges, like the “make a ‘whatsits’ every day for a 100 days”? Where are you stuck, and did this article get you thinking about an intriguing challenge, just for you? I would love to hear about it, and I bet others here would, too!

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

THE ECSTASY AND THE AGONY: Your Creative Cycle at Work

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

Not all parts of the creative process are fun…

 (5 minute read)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many different creative cycles.

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

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

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

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

You creative process cycle may be as unique as YOU.

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

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

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

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

And the cycle repeats.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your creative cycle?

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

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Building Strength

There are no “instant cures”, just building good, daily habits.
There are no “instant cures”, just building good, daily habits.

There are no “instant cures”, just building good, daily habits.

 (6 minute read)

 Another insight gained at the independent gym program at my favorite physical therapy facility.

On Monday, I overheard a conversation between a physical therapist and a client. I immediately thought, “Ooooh, that would make a good column!”

Yesterday, I couldn’t remember an important part of the “lesson”. I didn’t intend to go to the gym today. But then a) I found an article that related to a something the PT had said on Facebook, and b) I realized if I followed my own advice, I would go to the gym, deliver that newspaper article, and ask them for that lost component.

So here I am, with my exercise in for the day and a clear conscience, sharing the wisdom I overheard, get the “missing piece”, and share how it relates to our art biz.

The client in question felt 100% better after a few therapy sessions, and wanted to know why they had to come back in several months for a follow-up evaluation. The therapist replied, “Because during the actual therapy sessions, we work to a) alleviate your pain, and b) restore your range of motion. Then we provide you with follow-up exercises to help you strengthen the muscles involved. That can only take place with sustained healthy practices, i.e., actually doing those exercises!”

“But”, they added, “In 99% of our follow-ups, we find people don’t do those exercises. They don’t make time, or they forget, or feel fine and think they don’t have to do them anymore. And the problem comes back all too soon.”

That’s why they recommend clients who have finished therapy either fully commit to their exercise program, or sign up for the facility’s independent gym program. There, the PTs can monitor our progress, offer corrections if we’re “doing it wrong”, and adjust our plan as we improve. This is why I’ve maintained my gym program for over 5 years now, and made many new friends with the staff, and with other clients as well.

And if you’re a writer, like me, you can also gain incredible insights in our own “work of the heart”.

Here’s what occurred to me in that moment:

If we love what we do, and we’ve found our audience, and our work is selling like hotcakes, then clearly we’re doing it right. We can just keep doing the same thing, because it’s working.

But if we haven’t found our happy work/life/art/income balance, we may need to seek help to put that together.

When we either don’t love what we do (because we’ve focused purely on what sells vs. what makes it worthwhile emotionally/spiritually… when we haven’t found our audience… when our work isn’t selling….

Then it feels like we’re doing it wrong, or we’re simply not good enough. THAT is painful indeed!

If we improve our range-of-motion, if we reach out, step outside our comfort zone, then the pain begins to ease. We take classes to improve our skills. We explore ways to share our work in the world, so our audience can find us. We learn how to price our work, how to find the venues—shows, galleries, sales from our website, etc.—that will work for us.

But if we don’t strengthen our commitment to those strategies, if we don’t make that a daily practice, if we don’t regularly commit to marketing, practicing, connecting through our powerful story….

Then we’ll be back in the same place before long, wondering what the heck we’re doing wrong. Fretting about why it never seems to get better.

Just like our work techniques can’t get better unless we practice, practice, practice, we can’t keep our momentum going without commitment to our long-term goals: Finding our venues, finding our audience, and telling our story in ways that deepen our connection to potential and current customers. And to keep our commitment strong, we need to create daily practices (or at least weekly practices!)

It can be hard to create that momentum. We never know what “practice” will gain us the best results, or how long it will take. I’m here to tell you that just when it feels like our routine is ‘perfect’, life will intervene with another crisis, obstacle, challenge, or inconvenience. That’s life.

And yet…even without these distractions and setbacks, most of us (being human) “forget” to make time for even those simple things that will build our strength. We tell ourselves we don’t have time… (I finally realized that telling myself I “don’t have a minute” to floss was ridiculous. Once I had that insight, my new daily habit was solidly in place.) We say we did it for a while, but nothing changed. (We didn’t do it long enough, or perhaps we were doing it wrong.)

Our personal challenge, every day, is to just keep trying. To get back on the horse when we fall off. To persevere. To become resilient. To keep hope in our hearts. To keep moving forward.

What is something you can do regularly? Going to your studio and making your work, yes! But what else?

I have an “obligation” to write at least one column a week. I missed my deadline several years ago, with a bad habit of waiting until “the last minute” to turn in my column. My column didn’t run at all. I was so embarrassed, I’ve never missed one since. Knock on wood! Yes, I have an hour a week to write, and edit, and sometimes even to “illustrate”. I’m better at being early, or letting my editor know ahead of time if there’s a good reason I can’t hit my deadline. I don’t want to be a “problem” for my editor, nor my audience, ever again.

I sign up for the open studio tours and other local events that help build my biz. Recently, I did a small local, indoor show that only drew around five people last year. This year, I decided not to do it. But the host had featured my artwork in their marketing, so I felt I had to. And guess what? It was hugely successful! Tons of shoppers, and great sales for me. One customer said, “I saw your work last year at (some event) and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all year!” (Yes, they bought something for themselves, and two gifts for friends. Proving that art events aren’t always about making money TODAY.) So you can bet I’ll be doing that show, and others, in the years to come.

I strive to post something about my work regularly on social. I fail miserably, but I do enjoy it, and I just have to commit to doing it regularly. When I do, it’s so gratifying to hear the responses.

And I am committed to finding new galleries, soon, that might do well with my work, for me and for them.

What is a daily/weekly practice you can focus on with YOUR work? Don’t wait for New Year’s resolutions! Most of them are way too big in the first place, impossible to put into motion. Start by what you can accomplish in a few minutes, today. And tomorrow. And the “tomorrow” after that.

Share your own daily practice that helps your heart, your art, your story become stronger! I’d love to hear it, and I bet others will, too!

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 .

WHAT WE LOST: Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks
Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

What We Lost

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

(8 minute read) 

I had a great idea for this week’s column. “Had”, not have. Because….where do I start??

Six months ago, I tried to clear my computer of old emails, because Google said I was “out of storage space.” My husband said it’s mostly photos that take up most of the space, so at first I only deleted emails with images already stored on my computer.

But the numbers didn’t go down much, so I began to delete more and more. At one point, my actions were moving so slowly, I thought I was doing it wrong, so I would hit “delete” several times before I’d see messages disappear. Which resulted in me accidentally deleting EVERY SINGLE EMAIL before 2018.

I didn’t think it would matter, until I realized a) that meant every single article I’ve sent to various magazines and online venues by email was also deleted; b) important conversations I wanted to refer back to were deleted; c) orders to companies for critical goods and services I only use every few years, were deleted.

Every week, there’s something I think of, and go, “Oh, I’ll search my email for that!” And then realize it’s gone, gone, gone.

Six weeks ago, I also got clarity on how to move forward with a project I’ve long carried in my heart. I needed to create my own “mounts” for displaying artifacts. I actually took an online class on mount-making for museum mounts just before we moved to California. I still have the book, I’m sure I saw it around that time, and went to look for it last week.

I can’t find it anywhere. I looked at home. Nope. I thought maybe I took it to the studio, but can’t find it there, either. I searched all my storage space at home. Nada. So I looked for it online, but it’s out of print. And Bookfinder.com, which usually comes to the rescue, only showed the folks that sell out-of-print books for thousands of dollars. I thought, “Oooh, I could search my emails for the rich conversations I had with my online teacher!” Then remembered….Oh, poo.

About that great idea for this column. I wrote it down, as is my habit, in my notebook, where I write down everything I need to remember: chores, appointments, commitments, insights, and yes, ideas for columns. I typically get 2-4 months of entries in each one, so that’s how much time is represented in each one.

Last Friday, I lost that notebook. I’ve searched high and low for it, even home, studio, storage. I’ve looked under furniture, car seats, inside backpacks packed for the fire evacuation, etc. I even called places I visited that day, asking if anyone has seen it or turned it in.

I feel like my brain is breaking!

And my biggest fear: This is a metaphor for the biggest fear for many of us, as we age, the loss of our memory. Scary stuff!

But is that the best metaphor?

Are we living computers, with memory that prevails for ages until injuries or conditions take them away? Is everything we “remember” even true? Are all our judgments and decisions that important over time?

Even as I wrote that, I looked once more on Bookfinder.com for the book, and found a copy that was affordable.

I visited a great hardware store that sold the brass rods I need to make those mounts, bringing samples and images of what I needed them for. A customer service rep assured me that making my own L hooks would be time-consuming, and there was an easier way to make those mounts with glue.

Yes, I miss the emails, still. But the articles aren’t actually “gone”, because they are somewhere in my documents file, even though it’s increasingly hard to find them. I will always regret some of the wonderful email conversations I’ve enjoyed over the years, but the healing, wisdom, and care I received from those are still with me.

And of course our most recent experience with our California wildfires helps put this all into perspective…..

The Kinkade fire was similar to the Tubbs fire in 2017 that destroyed 5% of the homes in Santa Rosa, except it wasn’t. Winds were less sustained, fire crews had more support, and they learned from the Tubbs fire. Almost 3,000 homes (over 5,000 buildings) burned in the Tubbs fire. Only 150 homes were lost in the Kinkade fire. There was more information available, because the lessons learned from 2017. Still not perfect, but a lot better. And most important? 22 people died in the Tubbs fire. The Kinkade fire? Zero.

This time, we had more time to think about what to take and what to leave behind, should we have to evacuate. I found it harder to leave my studio than our home!

These losses, real and imagined, concrete and anticipated, all sit in my heart today. Here are the gifts I’ve found there:

It’s hard for us to think about our unsold work, especially if it tends to outnumber our SOLD work. But at least it will go somewhere. It might sell after we pass, it may be gifted, it may be found in antique galleries and thrift shops, or heck, a yard sale! But that’s still better than having it all destroyed, for all time.

I’m frustrated at all the information I lost in that notebook. But I can find some of the more vital information (for taxes, etc.) I usually have a separate notebook for my more emotional/spiritual/blorting writing, and I still have all those! In fact, as I came across them while searching for my last journal, I’ve been pulling them out of storage and rereading them. My favorite so far is the year I recorded every funny thing my kids said. So many things I did not remember, until I read them again! So many setbacks and recoveries. So many problematic people for me to complain about, and so much insight gained on some, from good people.

The self-doubt I thought was new? Turns out I’ve had it since I took up my art! Yes, I was fearless in practice. But I still had to write my way to that place of power, over and over and over.

It was poignant to reread all my “biggest visions” and dreams I had for my art, that seem pretty small compared to the ones I’ve made in the last few months. Maybe I’ll surprise myself again, with even bigger ones!

It was empowering to read of the “dream galleries” I yearned to be accepted by, and so I get to contemplate the ones that worked out, and the ones that didn’t –and why.

We tend to think our lives, and our art career, as constantly moving forward, building and growing, or, if we’ve lost hope, stalled and pointless, when in reality there are peaks and valleys, profits and loss, insights and changes-of-heart, every step of the way.

Some of the things that felt like enormous roadblocks at the time, I usually referred to as “that incident”, or initials (if a person), and I can’t even remember who or what those were! They felt monumental at the time (and were!) And that stuff still happens, and will continue to happen. Hopefully, I will continue to move past them, and maybe even forget these, too.

And in the last year, several dear friends from my artistic path have popped up on my radar. No need to have those email conversations from decades ago! We now have new ones to savor and cherish.

That great idea I had for a column? It will either pop again, or it will be lost forever. No matter. Losing it inspired me to write this one instead.

I have a lot of unsold work in my studio. No matter! If it’s still around after I die, somebody will enjoy it, somehow. (I tell my kids how to manage my art and supplies when I’m gone: Give everybody a big bag to fill and charge them $250. They’ll make a mint!)

Even trying to jot down every idea, inspiration, question, isn’t proof against forgetting something, even something important.

Every day we will overlook an opportunity to get better, do better, find better, help better.

 And every day, we will find a new one.

As you make the work of your art, know that we can never be completely in control of our hopes, our thoughts, our intentions, our efforts.

We can only do our best. Because we are only human. Imperfect, inefficient, bad memories, displaced anger, trying to see our path in a firestorm of life events. 

It’s our greatest flaw, and our greatest super power.  Especially because we are artists, makers, creatives, constantly striving to use our work to have our say in the world, to tell our story, in ways that are good for the world. 

Embrace it! Go to the studio today, and make something that brings you joy.

And hold on to your dreams. Even one small step today will bring you closer to their fruition. You won’t know until you try.

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ONE IN A MILLION

We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!
We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!

One In A Million

We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!

(6 minute read)

A week ago, I read the latest newsletter from Robert Genn, who created the powerful series of articles called “The Painter’s Keys”.

Genn died in 2014, and he is sadly missed. His articles range from “how to paint” to “how to be”, and all are well-written and illustrated. Fortunately, his artist daughter Sara has continued the tradition, and carries it well.

This article was originally published in 2011, but still has relevance today. Perhaps even more so! You can see the article here: https://painterskeys.com/plight-undiscovered-artist/

He opens with this sentence:  “Last night I met with five of the 17 million artists who currently need to sell more of their art.

His take focused on the need to “get better” at our work, rather than “feeling good” about our work.  Obviously, although this little group were working very, very hard to sell their work, his advice suggests he considered the work slightly “less than.”

Remember, this is a guy who, when he realized he would not live out the year, sorted through all his paintings, pulled the ones he thought were “less than”…..and burned them. He did not want a shred of evidence of any low quality left behind.

Part of me understands this.

Part of me balks.

I have older works, older artifacts, etc. that make me squirm a little when I see them. I mentioned this to a dear friend in Keene many years ago. I said maybe I should destroy them.

She said, “Did you love making them?” I said yes.

She said, “Did people love them, and buy them?” Again, I said yes.

She said, “Then there will be people today who will love them, too.”

Bonk. Head slap.

In fact, this very insight came into full force during the two weekends of my open studios. People went through my artifacts drawers (a printer’s type tray chest) where all my older pieces and overstock pieces are stored. (If I have the perfect piece of real turquoise in hand for a necklace, I’ll use it. If not, I’ll make it. And while I make it, I make extras so I’ll have them on hand.)

I have just started selling a few of the older ones, the ones I don’t care for that much, and the ones I’ll never actually use. (Oddly, the ones I don’t like aren’t my first pieces, but my “middle period. Go figure!)

So there may actually be buyers for every stage of our creative work: Our earliest efforts, the period where we expand our skillset, and now, when we are making our best work ever.

And yet, why is it so hard to sell today? (Genn wrote his original article during the recession, when many galleries actually closed, sales were so poor.)

I think it’s in his very first sentence.

17 million artists in the world today.

Now I spent some time trying to verify this (although, I dunno, maybe he just threw it in there for effect. It worked!) And of course, “artist” usually only refers to 2D painting. It may or may not include people who work in other 2D media, or people who work in 3D media. It may include stone sculpture but not clay work. It may not include people who do fine craft, or even not-so-fine craft. It may not include singers, actors, dancers, writers, poets, etc., etc. For sure it doesn’t include my broader definition of creative work.

Although one of my favorite responses I found simply stated, “That would be the number of people in the world. Because everybody has some creativity in them.” YES!

So between the estimate of 2.1 million artists I found for the U.S. (a city the size of Chicago or Houston) and everybody on the planet, perhaps 17 million is a pretty good guess.

So every day, we are trying to make our work visible, accessible, and sales-worthy in competition with enough other people to populate a city smaller than Beijing (22 million) and slightly greater than Istanbul (15 million).

Wait for it…..

DO NOT LOSE HOPE.

I know our first reaction might be, “Why bother?!! I’m just gonna throw away my brush/pencil/clay/etc. and become a doctor/lawyer/CEO/pilot (or whatever your other, more lucrative dream career might be).”

And if you’re in art for the money, maybe that’s a good idea.

But that’s not why we took up art, is it?

I’ve heard every possible “creation” story” of how we came to making art. Many of us felt that urge to make something, even before we were old enough to know what it was called. (When I was four, I was given a pad of typewriter paper and a pencil. I drew something on every single sheet, including a spider wearing a little shoe with shoelaces on each foot, and affixed them to the walls of my bedroom with scotch tape onto my newly-painted walls.) (My parents were not happy.)

Some had no idea they had this in them until they were much older. Some walked away, thinking they weren’t good enough, only to return to it when they realized how fulfilling it is to make something wonderful. (Ahem. That would also be me.)

Some of us constantly judge ourselves, our process, and our work. Remember the commenter on one article who was mocked by family for working in “chalk”?

And yet they persisted, because pastels speak to them in a way that cannot be ignored.

We may feel less-than, we may feel we’re “doing it wrong”, we may feel we aren’t “good enough”, and maybe that’s true. Lord knows, there’s always someone who feels free to tell us that, even when we haven’t asked.

But the power of embracing where we are right now, the power of telling our story with the work of our heart, the power of starting where we are and stay focused on doing better, is heady stuff.

Genn went on to conclude his thoughts from that meeting:

Everyone left with more questions than they brought. Maybe you can answer some of them. Which is better — feeling good or getting good? What is good? Has everything already been done? Does it matter? What courses should monetarily artists take? How much of the current art-poverty is due to the current recession — or does the current poverty have something to do with sliced cows?

That last remark refers to some of those folks thinking if you’re selling skills are good enough, you can still sell poopy work.

Here’s my take-way:

Do it because you love it.

It’s not selling yet, because your audience hasn’t found you. YET.

Keep getting better. But don’t let the judgment of others keep you from the work of your heart. (There’s constructive criticism, and there’s vicious criticism. You get to choose which to listen to.)

 We may be just another “one” in a million.

But there is nobody else on earth who can tell our story. There is no one else in the world who can speak with our voice.

 We are, each of us, truly “one in a million.” Or maybe even several billion.

Do the work of your heart. Get better. Keep trying. Persevere.

Do it because you love it. And because it’s good for you!

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