ABNORMAL: It Can Be a GOOD Thing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So back to Seth’s blog post yesterday.

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

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

People accuse me of misreading the term “triggering”.

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

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

It means I did it right.

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

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

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

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

But here’s who I write for.

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

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

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

People who think they’re doing it wrong.

People who think everyone else is doing it right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

I HATE TURQUOISE

turquoise and sterling horse necklace
Turquoise! Turquoise, turquoise, turquoiseturquoiseturquoiseturquoise…..

Actually, I love turquoise. I love aqua, apatite, amazonite, every shade of bluey-greeny and greeny-blue, and everything in between. Especially green turquoise.

I love turquoise so much, I have to consciously STOP USING IT when I realize every single new piece has turquoise beads in it.

As I’m working today, I keep thinking about an artist who commented on my Fine Art Views post yesterday.

They asked for insight on how to keep their partner inspired to make art, when their partner’s work had been rejected by a gallery. They had not returned to their art-making since their rejection.

Okay, my lizard brain immediately thought, “One gallery?! You’re gonna let ONE GALLERY be the judge of your entire body of work?!”

My kinder brain understands completely. And I responded in kind. (No pun intended, but it slipped in there anyway.) Rejection is always hard, even when we know not everyone will love our work.

But here’s a story of how ridiculous that is, to let ONE GALLERY, one person, determine whether your work is “good enough”.

A few years into my jewelry-making, I approached several area stores to carry my work, and a few said yes.

Less than a year later, one gallery manager called me to pick up my work. “It just doesn’t sell!” they exclaimed. And as I looked at the display, surprise! I could see instantly why it wasn’t.

It was on a bottom shelf, about six inches above the floor. Nobody could even SEE it.

I’d already suspected my work wasn’t going to work with this venue. When I first brought my work in, they examined every piece. They would heave a sigh, and shake their head as they moved an item into the “no” pile. (Which was about half my work.) It was obvious they found much of my work “lacking”.

And obviously, to ensure their assessment of my work was “right”, they made sure it wasn’t even in the line of sight of any would-be collectors.

Fortunately, a good friend gave me clarity on this manager, and encouraged me to take my work elsewhere, which I did.

If I had let that person shut me down, I would not be here today, encouraging you to look past the nay-sayers (some of whom may actually be intimidated by our work!)

A few years later, I approached another store, not a fine craft gallery, but a store where I was sure my horse jewelry would well.

This manager LOVED my work, as did their sales associates, and happily picked out a nice selection. Until….

They came across one necklace with turquoise accent beads.

“Ugh! I HATE turquoise!!”, they exclaimed, and set it aside for me to take back home.

I was baffled. Surely this person, a well-respected businessperson in our community, understood that THEY might hate turquoise, but a lot of their customers would love it.

Nope. So I gathered up those “rejects” and saved them for another gallery at another time.

What’s my point here?

I’ll say it again, what an old craft friend, Tim Christensen, told me years ago:

“Gallery owners are just customers with stores!”

Does every customer love all our work? Nope.

Does every customer love all our designs, and color schemes? Nope.

Does every customer appreciate our pricing, the value of our work? Nope.

Customers come and go, visitors look and leave. Some people love my horses, some love my bears, and some people prefer my more abstract, non-figural work. And a very few love all of it, and a lot of people are totally baffled, and leave within a few minutes of entering my space, be it my studio, a show, or a gallery.

Not everyone will love our art.

And neither do the galleries we hope might carry our work.

This post lists all the reasons why a gallery might say no to your work.

Some are….contradictory…no? Some don’t make sense, and some make perfect sense.

Gallery owners are people, just like you and me. Some of them are secure in their own work, and embrace ours. Some are envious, and look for ways to take us down. Some love our work, but know their customers won’t. Some aren’t fond of our work, but they know it will sell. There are a million reasons why they say yes, and a million reasons why they say no.

My deepest hope for you today is to consider these stories when your work is deemed “not right” for whatever gallery you’re dealing with.

I hope you understand that one “no”, or two, or even a hundred, doesn’t necessarily mean the world does not want your art.

Yes, maybe you’re not quite ready for gallery representation. (Did you bring in a sample of everything you do, which can come across as a lack of focus, or a lack of a cohesive body of work?) Yes, maybe you need to improve your skills. (Did you apply to a major show after one year of painting classes?) Yes, maybe you didn’t do your research and you’ve approached a gallery that focuses on abstracts, with your realistic landscapes. Yes, maybe you are kinda difficult to deal with, full of smugness about your work. (Some galleries will still take you on, if they’re sure they can sell your work. But why make it harder for them to decide to take you on??)

But remember……

Maybe they just don’t like turquoise.

THE GIFT OF RISK: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone Has Its Own Rewards

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.

Rewards, Insight, Setbacks, and …K…K….courage, all this can be yours!

Painting on glass for an out-of-my-comfort-zone book project ultimately led to this new body of work.

As I typed the title to this column, I realized I almost had an acronym! But I couldn’t think of a “k” word except “kindness”. Maybe spell “courage” with a k??? Aw, what the heck, let’s put both in there!

Last week, I shared my story about “luck”, and how we can make ourselves ‘luckier’.  I told how setting aside my expectations of being paid for everything I do opened doors I never even knew were there.

I shared the rewards of that risk, which expand even into today:

  • I had my work published and made visible before the internet made that easy.
  • I created fun projects that not only were well-paid, but upped my own skill set: Using vintage buttons to make distinctive jewelry. Painting on glass, which (I only realized after writing that article) paved the way for a new series of work. I’m painting cave art images on my handmade faux ivory medallions.
  • I wrote and illustrated the first mass-market craft book on carving soft vinyl stamps.
  • I met amazing people, who were a powerful, wonderful presence in my life for years. And I continue to do so! (It turns out our dentist here in California pulled out her stamp carving book to make her annual handmade holiday cards, saw my name on the cover, and realized I was her patient!) (Yes, I autographed her copy.)
  • I’ve bought old copies of my book (which is now out of print) to sell to students who take my stamp-carving classes.

Another big reward from taking a risk deserves its own list: Insight.

  • We cannot control everything in life. Not even close! But “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a powerful insight. Here’s my favorite joke about that, but be forewarned, there’s a naughty word in there!
  • If you look back to my previous article, where two Mary’s had vastly different lives, then you will understand the power of ‘framing’, what we pay attention to and what we choose to let go of.
  • I found out what works and what doesn’t work, when it comes to choosing shows. I have respect for the wisdom of “never do a first-year show”….!
  • Not all rewards in life are about money.
  • It takes courage to pursue your dream, patience for it to build into something profitable, and a sense of self-worth to keep it somewhere in your life, even if it doesn’t work as your paying job.
  • There will always be people who will be uplifted by our work—professionally, emotionally, spiritually.

Now for the downside: Setbacks!

  • Not everyone is your friend. There will always be people who are deeply threatened by us, and our work. It’s taking less time for me to suss them out, thank goodness! (Thank you, The Nibble Theory!)
  • Not all shows are as well-managed as others. After all, show organizers/promoters make money on a show even if vendor sales are awful. (Of course, they can’t continue to be successful if their vendors aren’t. Still, there are always people like me who are willing to try….)
  • Hard financial times (9/11, war in the Middle East, the dot.com crash, the stock market crash of 2008, etc.) are especially hard on art and fine craft markets. Art is considered a luxury, not a need. (Debatable, of course) It can feel very personal, like ‘we are doing it wrong’. Many, many people in the industry—artists, craftspeople, show runners, galleries, etc.—suffered mightily in those years, and many never recovered. Many folks took wild chances, shifted strategies, tried desperately to hang on, where sometimes just hunkering down and waiting out the storm made more sense.

The danger of setbacks is, it’s all too easy to give them a major role in our decision-making. Once burned, twice shy, etc. Yes, it’s simply good sense not to keep sticking your hand in the fire.

Otoh (on the other hand), not all failures are useless. As good ol’ Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So here’s that word again: Courage! (I almost went off on a bunch of metaphors based on Tennyson’s poetry, but I spared you. You’re welcome!)

Courage was a relatively new concept for me, as a child. Oh, I had exercised it a few times as a young adult, but always in pursuit of a dream. Going back to school, getting a teaching degree, even traveling across the country looking for work in the 1980’s recession.

But when I took up my art in my forties, I exercised courage in a sustained manner for years, viewing each setback as a valuable lesson learned, and always, always continuing to move forward. Even moving across the country in our 60’s was a monumental act of courage. Sometimes I’m still surprised we did it, though I don’t regret it for a minute. (Well. A few minutes….)

It takes courage for me to write these articles. I get paid a nominal sum, far less than when I wrote for magazines even 15 years ago. But though it doesn’t bring in a big income, it fills my need to share what I’ve learned, and expands my audience weekly. (Thank you, faithful readers!!!)

In fact, all my writing comes from sticking with it, even when it felt like nobody cared. Because…

It mattered to me.

It’s a risk. When I put my work/words out there, I want them to serve someone else as it served me. I hope it reaches someone who needs to hear that story, today. I’m delighted when people say it did. I love it when people pass it on to someone else, who may also need to hear it.

And yet, there are setbacks, too. There is always someone who thinks we’re “doing it wrong”, and they never overlook a chance to let us know that.  There are people who are offended by my titles, fercryin’outloud.  There are those who believe there is nothing worth doing for free, and those who believe my writing is toxic.

Still, I persist.

And now, here comes kindness….

My art, and my writing, have taught me to practice kindness even…or especially… to the naysayers, the contradicters, the folks who seem to be looking for a fight.

It felt impossible at first. It’s obvious my work is not for them, and that’s okay. The kind thing to do, of course, is for them to simply stop reading, or to delete it, or move on to the next studio on the tour.

But I’m learning. Like the people who call pastels “just chalk”, or the people who claim fiber is not an art medium, etc. they are where they choose to be. Yep, maybe even doing the best they can.

By responding with as much kindness as I can muster, I can let go. I am restored to the person I want to be in the world. My risk—putting my work out there to be criticized or ridiculed, is offset by the knowledge someone else is grateful I did take that risk.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

In the end, the choice is ours. We can play it safe. We can avoid risks, ditch change, never step outside our comfort zone.

It’s up to you. I can’t even pretend to think I know better than you. As I always say, if this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it!

I can only share what’s lifted my heart, write what’s helped me move forward, what restores me to my better self.

What risk have you taken that’s moved you forward? What did you learn when it didn’t work out? Remember, both are valuable, and both are worth sharing!

A HANDY GUIDE TO NIBBLERS: The Fifteen-Minute Read that Can Change Your Life.

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.

If my curve is large, why bend it to a smaller circle?

Henry David Thoreau

The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power will rock your world.

Years ago, I came across a remarkable book that changed my life for the better.

For the life of me, I can’t remember how I found out about it. But I give thanks every single day of my life that I did.

You’ve heard me mention it, and maybe some of you have already found your own copy. If not, head over to this amazing search tool and find an affordable copy. (Although even a brand new copy won’t set you back much, either.)

THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison really is a 15-minute read. It even has pictures/cartoons, which beautifully illustrate the concepts she presents.

But although the concepts are simple, they are not easy, as Jamison herself says in the first page.

When I first started out with my artwork, combining different media wrapped around a powerful personal story, I was fearless. I had a late start in my art life, and I wasn’t going to let anything or anybody stand in my way. I slipped and slided over every bump in the road, moving forward with passion and joy. (Side note: How come it’s glide/glided and not slide/slided??)

Just like any other exciting new venture in life, the honeymoon period eventually comes to an end. That’s where the real work comes in.

And it’s also when the Nibblers showed up.

I’ve talked on end about Nibblers, the people who deem us “too much”: Too much free time, too much courage, too much to say, too much talent. They “nibble us down” by making us feel like “not enough”: Not enough skill, not enough credibility (“Pastels are just chalk!), not enough of anything.

My biggest insight came from a couple who were part of our inner social circle back in New Hampshire, wonderful, intelligent, supportive, loving folks. I told Ruth about the book, and a few years later, shared with her my frustration about the Attack of the Nibblers. (There was quite a swarm of them that year!)

She told her husband, a lawyer, that he should be gentle that night when we came over for dinner. “Luann’s had a lot of ‘nibbles’ lately”, she said.

That’s when Ted replied with the words that created another sea change in my life”:

“You tell Luann that lawyers do this to each other all the time!” he told her. “It’s called professional jealousy. It means she’s doing good work.” You can read more about professional jealousy in this series, Mean People Suck on my blog, or searching for “professional jealousy” for similar articles there.

This insight helped me get over the nay-sayers, the back-biters, the foot-trippers, the people who say I smell funny (WE ALL SMELL FUNNY), the folks with back-handed “compliments” that are actually swats, etc.

The major premise of the first half of The Nibble Theory is that we all start out as small people with a lot of personal growth ahead of us. That ‘personal growth’ is symbolized by a small circle. As we go through life, we have many opportunities to grow personally, emotionally, spiritually.  Sometimes we overlook these opportunities, but we will all encounter them on our journey. And we can’t judge someone else’s journey, because….well, because it’s their journey, not ours..

But along the way, we’re going to run into not only small circles who will be jealous of our journey, we may run into bigger circles who may be threatened by ours. They will “nibble us down to size” so we aren’t as scary or enviable.

This book helps us understand our own power is about our own personal growth. And it helps us “frame” the attacks of others who feel threatened, who feel “less than”, so we don’t take on their toxicity personally.

I’ve read this book many, many times over the years. From time to time (like now!) I even buy up additional copies, and give them away to friends and family who may benefit from reading the book.

But here’s an interesting twist in my own story:

I completely did not spend much time on the second half, devoted to “the kernel of power”.

And this is exactly what I need to be working on right now.

Oddly, in our little WAG group (Women Artists’ Group, my first artist support group here in California), we had a little exercise in January: We all picked a word to be “our word” for 2019.

And I picked “power”.

I had no idea why. I don’t want to be a superhero, I don’t want to boss people around (though my dear hubby might beg to differ), and I don’t want to be “in charge”. I was actually offered a chance to serve on a local art event group’s steering committee, and turned it down. (I prefer “ad hoc” participation, I told them.)

And yet, for some reason, the word “power” resonated.

Eventually, I found an article about a different kind of “power”, the kind that comes from being grounded (sounds vaguely electrical??) and getting clear about the path we are on, bringing our energy and efforts to focus on doing the best work we can, and using it as a force for good in the world.

And now I’m reading and rereading that last section of the THE NIBBLE THEORY more carefully.

The beauty of it is, it includes an exercise which strongly echoes my series where I talk about the structure of a powerful artist support group, THE FOUR QUESTIONS.

 Aha! The right kind of power! Now I know my mission for the rest of 2019.

Jamison knew first-hand the importance of finding our power. She was a first-generation Lebanese woman, born in the ‘30’s in West Virginia. She founded her own consulting company, and became a pioneer on issues of gender, race, affirmative action, and differences. She died way too soon, but her work lives on. And it has even more relevance for our contentious, fractured world today.

What the heck does this have to do with art?!

You already know that.

As artists, we, too, live in a time where, even with all the opportunities and ways to get our art out in the world, it can still be hard. Hard to discover what is unique about our work, and our story. Hard to figure out how to make our work stand out from the crowd. Hard to value our work and ourselves at a time where Nibblers seem to outnumber mosquitoes in the world.

And yet, every single one of us got here today from different times, different places, different circumstances, different education, different support systems, and with different media, different processes, different goals, different audiences, and different expectations. Her goal was not to be famous, or to make a lot of money. She simply wanted to make the world a better place, and put her special skills to work to achieve that.

What do we all have in common?

We all want to make the work that means something to us, something that is a product of our story. Our story is who we are in the world, and who we want to be.

And we want people to see us. Not just our work, but us. Who we are, what we do, how we do it, and why we do it.  (We want people to buy it, too, of course. And they will, if it resonates with them enough, and they can afford it.) (And if they have room for it!)

I believe we also all want people to value our work, to appreciate it.

We want our work to be “in the world”, and to mean something to others.

And like the Netflix special, “Nanette”, we can focus on Van Gogh’s work selling for $21 million dollars.

Or we can focus on the fact that Van Gogh’s work exists today because he had a brother who loved him.

As an eternal student of life, I strive to keep learning, to keep growing as a human being, to do the work of my heart, and to help others do the same. I want to have few regrets when I leave this world.

OH, and I also want to have the most beads, rocks, shells, and pets.

What is your inner truth? What does your work say, that you want the world to know? Not sure? Go buy the darn book!

P.S. As I republished this article on my blog, I realized the best example of what I espouse here. Kaleel Jamison died way too soon, but her work, her foundation, and powerful book are still with us today. Her words still bring solace, healing, and empowerment to people who need it to do their good work, and bring it into the world. She did it right!

ORCHIDS: Not Your Typical Little Hothouse Flower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is:

20190307_110640
Uh oh, looks dead to me….

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

20190307_110758
It lives!!!!!!

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

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

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

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

You know what else is a “hothouse flower”?

Us. You. Me. People. Humanity.

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

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

And yet….

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

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

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

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

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

These people are all our life heroes.

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

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

We may be hothouse flowers.

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

20190307_114022

 

What You and M. Night Shyamalan Have In Common

What You and M. Night Shyamalan Have In Common

(Hint: It’s what ALL artists have to ignore!)

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.

(Hint: It’s what ALL artists have to ignore!)

I’m so overwhelmed with packing up my studio, I look for any excuse to take a break.

I came across an article, an interview of M. Night Shyamalan by Sopan Deb of the New York Times, about Shyamalan’s newest movie, “Glass”. I did not realize he was only 29 when he made the extraordinary (literally!) movie “The Sixth Sense”. The reveal—that the main character was dead—was as startling as Agatha Christie’s novel, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” in 1926. (Spoiler alert!! The narrator turns out to be the actual murderer, a twist that redefined the genre, and created quite an uproar at the time.)

For years, Shyamalan created movies ahead of his time. “Unbreakable”, about the origin of a superhero, without spandex, was made years before the massive onslaught of comic book hero movies. (It’s actually gained in popularity since.) He was typecast as the movie guy with a “twist”. He’s been criticized as always having a twist, or ironically, the twist not being “twisty” enough.

“Glass” is considered his “comeback movie”, and many critics are roaring about it being “less than”, in their eyes.

Two things:

First, we went to see it last weekend. We both loved it!

The approach is very different than current action-superhero movies. Not a lot of CGI, which makes it feel more grounded, more realistic. The camera action draws us in, making it feel like we are in the same room as the protagonists. The tension is maintained throughout the movie.

The ending was deeply moving, and the twist? Well, I love spoilers, but since most people won’t, I won’t provide them here.  Suffice to say, we are left knowing the pain and suffering of all its characters, and the flip side of the “villains”.

Once again, Shyamalan has created a complex, and deeply human film.

Second, what deeply resonated with me in the article was when the interviewer asked him about how the movie is framed makes the film seem like a “comeback” for him, making it seem like his work has been “less than” in the years between. “Was that frustrating for you?”

Here is what Shyamalan says, a response worthy of all creatives:

“No, the journey isn’t really about what others are saying about you. It just can’t be. You’re taking all of your power away from you. That’s not where your energy should be….”

Artists and all kinds of creative people get criticism all the time. Some is constructive, but much of it isn’t.

It’s our human nature to listen. We are hard-wired to want to belong, to be part of a community. Criticism can feel like we don’t belong.

It takes courage and perseverance to recognize the flip side of this innate trait:

Our desire–our NEED–to be seen as an individual.

When we recognize that our work may sometimes (or often!) be seen as “not enough”, or not worth the price, or some other “less than”, and keep making it anyway, because that is how we see ourselves in the world, it’s powerful.

Yes, we can all improve our work. Yes, we can all do better. We are all a “work in progress.” Sometimes negative feedback and setbacks take their toll, and sometimes it only spurs us on to greater heights.

But in the end, the only person we have to answer to, is ourselves. Only you can determine what, if anything, needs to change in your art.

Lots of things (recessions, war, living in a small town or an isolated area, places where there are few people who like our work, or few who like it but can’t afford it), it feels like the world doesn’t want our work.  Thanks to social media marketing, we can overcome location, in time. Recessions ease and pass. The day I learned everyone’s sales had slumped awhile back, was a lit-tul embarrassing. (It’s not always about me–doh!)

But that feeling can be hard to ignore.

In my fierce beginnings with my art, I knew that if only one in a thousand people liked my work, that meant there was still an audience of over 7,500,000 in the world.

And if only one person in a million were willing to actually buy it, that’s 7,500 customers in the world! Years ago, it might have been almost impossible to find them, but it’s a lot easier today. (And of course, there are more than one customer in a million….)

Now, almost 25 years later, I, too, often succumb to self-doubt and despair. And yet….

I still remember that day I met my husband at the door, telling him I realized, “I have to be an artist, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m not a GOOD artist.  I just have to do it.” That was the day I released every emotional shackle I’d placed on myself.

I still need to remember that. Every. Single. Day.

That same weekend we went to see “Glass”, it grossed over $47,000,000 and was the top movie at the box office. (And I’m glad we were a tiny part of that validation!)

The last thing (OK, there were three things….!) is Shymalan’s answer to whether he’d ever direct a “Star Wars” film.

His answer: He believes it’s best to stick with what works for him. “There are filmmakers who don’t fit easily into a system, and probably I’m one of those.”

He could make a Star Wars movie that would gross even more, and establish his “comeback” forever.

But he will stick with what he does best, and what he loves: Making original movies, making thrillers. And he will be happy.

The next time someone disses your medium, your choice of subjects, your plein air work vs. your studio work, how much (or how little) time you take to do your work, whatever… remember these three things:

Different can be good.

The work of your heart is the work only you can bring into the world.

Respect your process.

 Be all you can be. Rejoice that you can be an artist in the world today, with few restrictions, except for the ones you take on yourself.

As the beloved poet Mary Oliver said in her beautiful poem “The Summer Day”;

Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

With your one wild and precious life?

We Are Enough (and So Is Mary Oliver)

Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not.

It was the last day of December, the last day of 2018. It’s been a hard year in so many ways. I don’t know whether to embrace or watch with suspicion the dawn of this new one. Do I move forward with hope, and courage? Or do I hunker down until it’s safe to come out?

But a book arrived in the mail that day, Mary Oliver’s book of poetry, Blue Horses. As always, it’s an unpected gift at just the right time.

I’m a fan, and not just because I love her poetry for what it is to me. I used several of her works when I created a grief writing workshop as a hospice volunteer. Her poems are accessible, full of the beauty of small moments in nature, with a big bang of wonder and insight inside. They always draw a gasp of amazement, and they often make us cry.

I don’t know much about her. I only recently discovered she was in a relationship with a woman, Mary Malone Cook, for over 40 years, and her partner died in 2005 I didn’t know about the hardship and abuse she suffered as a child. I didn’t know she lived in Ohio but took up New England as her home years later. And as I read “Blueberries”, with her musings about eating blueberries year round, something new for her, I wondered where she lives now.

And so I Googled “Mary Oliver where does she live now” and came across a Wikipedia entry. And found this somewhat disturbing entry in “Critical Reviews”:

Vicki Graham suggests Oliver over-simplifies the affiliation of gender and nature: “Oliver’s celebration of dissolution into the natural world troubles some critics: her poems flirt dangerously with romantic assumptions about the close association of women with nature that many theorists claim put the woman writer at risk.”[13] In her article “The Language of Nature in the Poetry of Mary Oliver”, Diane S. Bond echoes that “few feminists have wholeheartedly appreciated Oliver’s work, and though some critics have read her poems as revolutionary reconstructions of the female subject, others remain skeptical that identification with nature can empower women.”[14] In The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Sue Russell notes that “Mary Oliver will never be a balladeer of contemporary lesbian life in the vein of Marilyn Hacker, or an important political thinker like Adrienne Rich; but the fact that she chooses not to write from a similar political or narrative stance makes her all the more valuable to our collective culture.”

I had to stop reading.

Who are these people??

Who are they to judge a poet’s work based on how “political” her thinking is, or how much she aligns publicly with her gender?

My husband, an English major as an undergrad, contemplated a career in academia briefly. He says this is exactly why he didn’t pursue it. “It’s just academic-speak”, he says.

I think it’s more than that.

Someone is saying Mary Oliver is “not doing it right”.

They are saying she is not enough.

Jon said, “You read poetry? I haven’t read any poetry since college!” What?! “You haven’t read “Wild Geese?!”

Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Even as I tried to read it aloud to Jon, I knew I couldn’t. Tears were already welling up. I handed him my phone to read it.

Or how about “Summer Day”?

Summer Day

by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I’ve rarely enjoyed poetry “analysis”. I’ve never understood the desire to write in specific forms or meters as a professional challenge, unless the rhythm and patterns lend themselves to even deeper feelings of connection. (As in Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”:

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
I understand there are hidden gifts in complex musings, and challenges that can deepen our experience. It’s like doing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle as opposed to the 5-minute versions that always appear in our local newspaper.
But there are reasons it’s okay for poetry to be accessible, and simple.
It’s okay not to speak for everyone. Geez, white guys of Northern European descent have been doing it for years.
It’s okay for a writer to simply share what’s in their heart.
It’s okay to make people cry with our beautiful words.

If I Wanted A Boat
by Mary Oliver, Blue Horses

“I would want a boat, if I wanted a
boat, that bounded hard on the waves,
that didn’t know starboard from port
and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed
dolphins and headed straight for the
whales, that, when rocks were close,
would slide in for a touch or two,
that wouldn’t keep land in sight and
went fast, that leaped into the spray.
What kind of life is it always to plan
and do, to promise and finish, to wish
for the near and the safe?  Yes, by the
heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want
a boat that I couldn’t steer.”

What do I hear in this?

It takes courage to let go of trying to control our future.

Or this one:

WHAT GORGEOUS THING

by Mary Oliver

I do not know what gorgeous thing
the bluebird keeps saying,
his voice easing out of his throat,
beak, body into the pink air
of the early morning. I like it
whatever it is. Sometimes
it seems the only thing in the world
that is without dark thoughts.
Sometimes it seems the only thing
in the world that is without
questions that can’t and probably
never will be answered, the
only thing that is entirely content
with the pink, then clear white
morning and, gratefully, says so.

It tells me it’s okay to seek solace in the tiny moments in life. To hold the simplest things and see. To listen. To wonder.

They won’t fix everything. Maybe they won’t fix anything. 

But if they give me a teensy break, a moment of relief and respite, I’m taking it, with gratitude.

Fortunately for my mood today, I came across this lovely article by Ruth Franklin in The New Yorker: What Mary Oliver’s Critics Don’t Understand. It helped me back to my happy place. Still, a few off remarks: Oliver didn’t write much about her lover, and she rarely writes about the dark places in her life. Such a lack “…flattens her range….” in the opinion of this writer.

Whatever. I’ve been writing articles, essays, and blog posts for almost two decades. I never write about my relationship with my husband, and although I write about what it feels to be in dark places, I keep away from the deeply personal. And don’t bury myself in the dark.

I don’t, except in my “blort book”, because it’s my dark place. Yes, it’s part of me. But I get to decide how much I share, and when, and how.

When I’ve had suicidal thoughts (and I’ve had them all my life), I know what they are: A response to the despair and hopelessness I’m overwhelmed with. I also know it will pass. It looks like an escape, but I know it will only bring enormous pain to those I leave behind.

(To be perfectly frank, I’m also a chickenshit. I’m afraid I’d mess it up and have to live with pain, and shame, and disability the rest of my life. So no, I’m not gonna do it.)

But most people will “hear” a plea for help. They will respond with a “solution”, a “fix”.

There isn’t one. Or at least, it’s never the right one.

My truth: I’m kinda hard-wired to be in mild despair. I always expect the worst.

But I choose to look for the light instead. I choose look for the life lesson that will help me move forward. I choose to seek out the folks I know I can trust, who know who I am, and who I want to be, to help me find my way back.

I also want to respect my partner’s privacy. We’ve been together 40 years. That wouldn’t be true if he weren’t a good human being, worthy of love, who is simply trying to do the best he can. He has saved my sanity a jillion times. At his best, he meets me where I am, and helps me take a step forward. At his worst, he is bad about cleaning up after himself. Not too shabby, in my book.

I even want to protect the privacy of those who have hurt me. It’s on me to work my way back to the light. They have their own story, and it may involve things I know nothing about, no matter how much pain they’ve created for me.

That’s my choice. It doesn’t make me “less than”. (Yes, I am a proud member of the “#metoo” moment, but it’s just not for public consumption. For now.)

I’m not going to hold it against Mary Oliver, either.

Thank heaven for the last part of that “critic review” section by Sue Russell:

“…but the fact that she chooses not to write from a similar political or narrative stance makes her all the more valuable to our collective culture.”

So go forward today, with the joy you find in the small things. For me today, it’s Noddy wanting a drink from the kitchen faucet. Chai trying to sneak a lap of milk from my cereal bowl. Tuck wanting a butt-scritch. Jon reassuring me that academic critics live in a world of their own making, and not to worry about it.

The sun shining, for the fourth day in a row.

A flock of bluebirds in the California winter.

A murmuration of starlings in the evening.

Another poem by Mary Oliver.

Hey! A new year!

Now I feel like can can deal with it.

baby goat
A baby goat!

rocks on a beach
Rocks on a beach!

Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Stories We Tell

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

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

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

And I liked kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a powerful thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A good storyteller frames the story.

They create a context.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t get it.

But….that’s THEIR truth.

Here’s where a lie is evil:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

HATERS GONNA HATE: You Aren’t My Customer

A problem shopper is a problem for EVERYBODY. And it isn’t about you. 

This weekend I went thrifting. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s hitting as many thrift shops as I can before my husband wants the car back. (We are managing with one car since we’ve moved to California, and so far we’ve also managed to actually stay married.)

Some people would never consider shopping at a thrift store, and some people can’t afford to shop anywhere else. In between are those of us who love the thrill of the chase, and the lure of the bargain. It’s hit-or-miss, of course, especially if you are looking for a specific item. But if you have an open mind and a small budget, it’s almost as much fun as a yard sale or a flea market, and there’s usually air conditioning, too.

So far, I’ve become (in)famous with a small group of photographers, who gave a workshop on how to photograph your own artwork. They highly recommended a tripod. I used to have one in New Hampshire. Unfortunately, it didn’t make the cut during the Big Move. Now I realized it’s critical to getting a crisp, clear image.

So on our lunch break, I ran out to a nearby thrift shop—and found a very nice tripod for under $10. (Actually, I found TWO, and bought them both for $13, total.)

The facilitators (mostly men) were gob-smacked. And very impressed! “We never thought of that!” they exclaimed. “And you just went out and did it and came back with TRIPODS!” (I AM good at thrifting. I has skills, people.)

So there I am at Salvation Army, in the mood for t-shirts and open to the idea of great pair of new dress pants, with the original sales tag, for $6, when I hear an angry voice at the cash register.

A large, older man is venting his frustration at the elderly woman at the counter.

“I HOPE WHOEVER DECIDED TO SORT YOUR SHIRTS BY COLOR INSTEAD OF SIZE HAS BEEN FIRED, AND IF THEY HASN’T BEEN, THEY SHOULD BE!” He boomed. “IN FACT, THEY SHOULD BE SHOT!”

He continued, “I don’t want a RED shirt, I want a LARGE shirt! And I shouldn’t have to check out every shirt on the rack to find one!”

The clerk looked nervous, but calmly apologized. She said their policy was not to sort clothing by size. “WELL, THEN, YOU SHOULD ALL BE SHOT!” he yelled. A few more similar remarks, and he finally left the building, fuming that his perfect shopping experience had been spoiled.

When I was ready to check out, I spoke to the clerk, telling her she had my sympathy. And that I love when items are sorted by color, because I was looking for specific colors and it saved ME a lot of time to find what I was looking for.  She was relieved. We chatted cheerfully, and I left with my new purchases.

Does this man have a point? Of course he does! If he really doesn’t care what color his shirt is, it can be frustrating to have to look at every shirt to find his size. He wants to go to one spot, find all the shirts that meet his criteria, and get outta there.

Except…..There are plenty of places you can do that. In fact, EVERYWHERE else. If you still can’t afford the big bucks, you can try Kmart, Walmart, Costco, or some of the other thrift shops in the area.

So is he justified to have this attitude towards the one place he chose to shop that day? Not really. And you want to suggest a change in a productive way, why would you go off on a person (who probably was a volunteer) at the one thrift shop that doesn’t do things “your way”?

Because you can.

Because you feel entitled. “This is what I want, and I expect to get it, cheap! Now!” And the thrift store is not accommodating you.

Because you are frustrated you are big, and the world isn’t accommodating you. Because you don’t want to spend money (why else would you be in a thrift shop?) but you want a great selection, and you also don’t want to spend a lot of time. (Remember the three kinds of printing available—good, fast, or cheap? And you can get any two, but rarely three? That applies to shopping, too.)

Because you are a big, loud, angry man, and the clerk is petite, and elderly, and frightened, you can blow your stack and since it looks like there’s nobody around who’s going to stop you, you can get away with it. She’s a captive audience—she can’t walk away, she has to mind the store. And you’re the “customer”, and she has to listen.

Sometimes, that’s the damaged, angry, entitled person who comes into your creative space, and trashes you, your work, your display, your aesthetic, and in the process, maybe your soul. 

It isn’t about you. It isn’t about your work. It isn’t about your color choices, your prices, your artist statement.

It’s all about them, and you are simply available. You can’t leave your space, and they are the customer.

Except….they’re not!

As I write this, I’m trying to think if ANY of the truly difficult people I’ve encountered while selling my work…the REALLY rude, patronizing, insulting, angry people….have actually bought a piece of my work.

And the answer, I realize, is no. They have not.

They aren’t really my customers at all. Just people taking advantage of the fact that I’ve (figuratively) invited them into my space, and I can’t leave. I am their captive audience, they figure, and they are entitled to your attention, and your hope, and your dreams.

If any of you are still harboring thoughts about people/family/customers saying hurtful things, about whether there is a grain of truth in their statements, about how to defend yourself, here is the living, walking, shouting truth:

There is no way to make this person happy. And you don’t even have to try.

All you have to do is smile, apologize, walk him out, maybe even point him in another direction…(another thrift shop? Another studio/booth/gallery? An artist you personally dislike? OOPS DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD???) and count your blessings.

Because these are not the droids you’re looking for.

Because YOU made all this wonderful, wonderful work. The making of it brought you happiness. Putting it out into the world built your courage.

Your TRUE customers–the people who love it, and the people who buy it, will be happy, too.

And all it took was for you to stay in your happy place and move the unhappy baby…er…person…out of your space.  And for your real customers to cross your path today. Or maybe tomorrow. Soon!

Oh, and you have some pretty good responses and answers to their comments and questions. But we’ve got you covered there, too.

You’ve got this!

HATERS GONNA HATE: “It’s Just Chalk!”

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.

 You don’t have to defend your choice of materials.

In fact, make it a selling point!

A quick return to my series on how to answer the innocent questions, the odd questions, even the hurtful questions our visitors ask.

 During one of the discussions on a post in this series, a reader related that someone had dismissed her choice of medium with a disparaging remark”

“It’s just chalk!”  Ow!

 I remember the very first show I did, selling pens I’d covered with patterned polymer clay. I sold them for $5. Someone picked one up, sneered, “It’s just a cheesy pen covered with some kind of cheap plastic!”, tossed it back onto the table and walked away. (I remember thinking, “Was that absolutely necessary??”)

Sometimes a remark like this comes from another artist. One of the oddest things I’ve found among artists (of all kinds) is the hierarchy assigned to various media.

For example, oil paint is often considered a more “professional” medium than acrylic paints. It’s traditional, it’s harder to master, and it takes time to dry. Once cured, it’s extremely durable. It’s versatile, perfect for mixing and layering, because of that longer drying time. In the hands of a master, it creates spectacular results. Oil paints have been around for centuries, and became the “artistic medium of choice” in the 15th century.  Art made with oils usually commands the highest prices in the art world.

More modern acrylic paint, created in the 1940’s, has a slightly less lofty reputation. It dries quickly, doesn’t have such a prestigious history. The very name “acrylic” suggests ‘plastic’, synthetic. Fake.

On the other hand, acrylics are valued more than watercolors, which are valued more than drawings, colored pencil, pastels. And don’t even open the door to photography, that’s not even art. It’s a craft! So are woodblock/linocut/etchings/etc., because you can make hundreds of copies. They aren’t considered “real” art forms.

When I entered the art world, my mind reeled trying to sort out the innuendos and rationale for these hierarchies. My own choice of materials are so non-traditional, my medium is greeted with some suspicion. I don’t get much respect as an artist, until people actually see my work.  Even then, people used to pick up a piece and ask what it’s made of. “It’s polymer clay!” I’d beam, and they’d quickly put it down again.

What’s going on here???

Some of this bias is historical, based in tradition. Centuries ago, drawings were considered simply a draft for the “real” art—a painting. Colors were made with Newer art materials may contain more synthetic colors. Some media are easier to master. And some, I suspect, is turf-building: “You don’t use the medium I use, so my work is automatically better than yours!”

But there are plenty of counter-arguments, too. The first artifacts made by humans were shell beads. Yes. BEADS. Early cave art involved drawing, with charcoal or other pigments, i.e., CHALK. Yes, later on, these pigments were mixed with saliva, or oil. But their first application was probably to decorate and color bodies and hair, a practice that still continues in some cultures today.

So what do we say when someone denigrates our medium of choice?

My first response is this:

It’s not WHAT the material is, it’s what you DO with it. 

The logic of this is irrefutable. 

When precious metal clay, a metal powder in a clay base that can be modeled, formed, and fired with a micro torch, first appeared on the market, I saw this push-back immediately. Some traditional metal workers—sculptors, silversmiths, jewelers, etc.—protested that this was a ridiculous, amateur-targeting material, that cheapened their reputations. Gone were the traditional skills—soldering, casting, chasing, etc. It couldn’t possibly be considered a “real” metalworking medium….could it??

Google PMC artist “Celie Fago” and you tell me. (Spoiler alert: Whatever medium Celie works in, she creates incredibly beautiful work.)

Last week, I showed an artist friend portraits of my kids by a friend. He thought they were oils. Yeah. Colored pencil artist Nicole Caulfield hears that all the time.  (See my favorites at http://www.nicolecaulfieldfineart.com/zen-series !)

Nicole Caulfield’s colored pencil work is often mistaken for oils

And my favorite story about art vs. craft came from a potter friend. “If I make a sculpture in clay, it’s considered ‘craft’ ”, she said. “If I send that model to a foundry to be cast in bronze, it’s ‘art’.”

And we have all seen atrociously bad art done with oils, and amazingly beautiful work done in….er, on….an Etch-a-Sketch.

“The Etch-a-Sketch work is by artist George Vlosich.”

A hundred hours and one unbroken line. That’s not easy.

And me? Fiber arts is often considered a craft, or a woman’s medium. Polymer clay is considered a kid’s play material. I had a lot of explaining to do when I first started displaying, exhibiting, and selling my work.

My second, even more powerful response:

I CHOSE this material, and here are the reasons why….

I use polymer because my hands want to SHAPE things, not carve them.

I love using it to create jewelry because even larger works are lightweight, and comfortable to wear.

I can make artifacts that look truly ancient. I have a story to tell, about the roots of our own humanity, inspired by cave art going back a hundred thousand years and more. I want that power and mystery to be an integral part of my work.

Also very important to me–No animals are harmed in the process.

I use polymer clay by CHOICE. It does exactly what I need it to do.

I could not have made this work 50 years ago. Thank heavens for modern materials!

When I began to share WHY I use the materials I use, it became a selling point.

Your homework today, should you choose to accept it, is to take a few minutes to think about WHY you work in your chosen medium. Share your thoughts, and feel free to ask for help, if you need it.

Most of all, embrace your choices. Never excuse or apologize again for your choice of materials, nor your techniques. Something spoke to you the first time you used a brush, or a palette knife, a pencil, or a fistful of clay. It agreed with your inner self, your preferences, your tendencies, the way you want to work, the way you want to create.

 Their question—“What are these made out of?”—becomes a powerful point of connection with your potential audience.

Share this with your visitors, and watch your connections grow!

HATERS GONNA HATE: Your Turn to Ask the Questions!

To make a sale, you need a DIALOGUE, not a MONOLOGUE….When you’ve answered all your customers’ questions,, there’s more to say. It’s up to YOU to start this particular conversation…
By asking THEM questions!

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.

 

To make a sale, you need a dialogue, not a monologue.

To date, this series has focused on how to respond to the (usually) innocent but sometimes awkward or even tricky questions people ask us when they are intrigued by our artwork.

I still have questions I want to cover. But I also sense that many of you are “getting it”. You now realize that these moments are not an inconvenience, but an opportunity for you. A chance to have a conversation about your work, and you….and your potential customer!

Yes, them! They know who WE are. Time to find out who THEY are. 

So we’ll set aside for now about how to answer the questions about your prices, your process, your website, your galleries.

You’ve gently shifted the questions about your materials into your reasons WHY you choose those materials (in ways that benefit your customers).

You’ve used the questions about your process to share WHY you work the way you do (and how that benefits them). You’ve answered the questions about your subject matter with the reasons WHY you feel drawn to this work, these subjects, these landscapes—and how that lifts YOU, and why it might lift them, too.

You’ve used their questions to direct their attention to another work they may not have noticed, or another piece that tells a similar story.

If they’ve asked for a discount or made an offer that’s not acceptable to you, you’ve used the “No, but if…” response to challenge them gently to commit.

You’ve answered the questions about where you get your ideas, with the story of how you came to be the artist you are today, and where you want to go with that in the future—and how that’s made you a better person in the world, and how that helps OTHERS be better people in the world.

Now there’s a lull in the conversation, but the person is not looking around for a way out, moving away to look at another piece, or saying, “Thank you, I’ll be back!”

There’s more to say, and it’s up to YOU to start this particular conversation.

By asking THEM questions!

Let’s focus on some simple guidelines for the questions YOU will ask.

Every question you ask will be a gentle, light way of finding out what this visitor finds fascinating about your work.

“So I’m curious—what brought you into my booth?” or “So what is the piece in my studio that first got your attention?”  “What spoke to you about it?”

From their answer, you can expand into what’s special about that particular work, what it is that supports and justifies their attraction to it: “I’m glad you like that one, it’s one of my favorites because…..” or “You’re right, it’s an unusual piece for me because….”

You’ve explained what you’ve learned about that “first enticing piece”—that it’s not the same for every visitor, that every person has been attracted to different works, for different reasons. There’s an unspoken, non-verbal, unconscious connection between your visitor and that particular piece. And it matters, on a deep level. Let’s find out!

Use open-ended questions. Keep away from questions that can be answered “yes” or “no”. 

Instead of saying, “Is this the kind of work you usually collect?”, ask “What kind of work do you usually collect?”

“Are you attracted to a piece for yourself, or are you shopping for a gift?”

Instead of, “Is the price too high?” ask, “What price range are you working with today?” If it’s higher, or lower, show them a similar piece, accordingly. If the price is right, keep moving! 

And when it’s obvious they really, really, REALLY love that one piece, and yet they’re still hesitating….

If you’ve done your homework, anticipated their questions, replied in good faith, in an authentic way that’s kept the conversation going…

If you’ve asked YOUR questions…if you’ve determined what it is in your work that’s calling to them…

If, in spite of the connection you’ve made, and the trust you’ve established…

They are still hesitating…..take a moment.

NOW You can quietly, gently, ask:

“What’s holding you back?” 

Listen carefully to what they say.

These will be what are known in sales as “objections”. It may be one thing, or several. They may be major concerns, or simple. They may be insurmountable, or easily fixed.

It’s good for us artists to anticipate what these concerns are. Some we may have heard before, and many of us will assume it’s the price. Often, it’s not about the price, though, and “assuming” they can’t afford it can be off-putting for the client. This is why I prefer to simply ask, rather than assume, or guess.

I’ve been astonished by some of the responses I’ve received.

And most—if not all of them–are easily addressed.

Next week, I’ll share some of the objections I’ve received, and how I’ve handled them.

Take some time to make a note on the “objections” you’ve heard (“I love this one, but I hate the frame!” “It’s a little more than I usually spend.” If you don’t see your customers’ usual objections in the list, let me know.

I also know some of you have come up with some wonderful solutions, yourself, to meet these obstacles. Be sure to share them!

Be prepared to respond in a way that moves the conversation forward. (Hint: “Sorry, can’t help you, gotta go” is not a way to do that.)

And remember, even if we can’t find a way around the issue NOW….and they leave without purchasing the work…..

They’ve asked. You’ve engaged. You’ve asked, and they’ve responded.

They know who you are, and they’re intrigued to the point of allllllmost buying something.

Give them your card. Now is the time to refer them to your website. Get their address (email, snail mail), and stay in touch.

Because someday, they really, really will BE BACK!

 

HATERS GONNA HATE: You’re Not My Friend

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.

Rude, perfect strangers are one thing. What do you do when a FRIEND is rude??

So far in this series, we’ve focused on perfect strangers who sometimes say the oddest things about our work. Before I continue, let me say it again (and again, and again) that most of the time, people don’t realize they’ve said something that triggers us. They simply want to connect, even if it’s a very broad “me, too!” These are the people we need to give the benefit of the doubt, and respond with our “higher power”.

But sometimes the remarks verge on being downright rude, or tasteless. There’s the customer who makes constant sardonic remarks about your work. It’s “supposed” to be entertaining patter, all in fun–but it sure doesn’t feel that way.

And sometimes, it’s not a perfect stranger.

Sometimes it’s a friend who gets a little mean. Or another artist. Or even a family member. How do we handle them?

I’ve heard this referred to as “talking smack”–an exchange of put-downs and insults between friends. It’s all in good fun, right? Otherwise hurtful remarks are disguised as ‘jokes’: “Oh, I’m just kidding!”

I say there is a time and a place for such practice–maybe in a bar over a few beers discussing your favorite respective baseball teams. (“How about them Red Sox?!”)

But never in our place of business. Never in our studio, at a show, in our booth. Never where we are trying to earn a living. NEVER in front of our customers.

I had a “friend” who did this at a show. (Spoiler alert: This was my first real insight that this person was not really my friend.) As they looked at each piece, they had a crass, or even crude remark to offer. They had done this before, and I’d always laughed it off. “Going along” to “get along”. (Another spoiler alert: Does. Not. Work.)

This was a prestigious, juried show I’d spent well over a few thousand dollars to be in. I was on my game, and on my feet, 8 hours a day, for a week.

That day, I simply wasn’t in the mood to tolerate this anymore.

I called him out on their behavior on the spot. I was gentle, respectful, but firm.

I said, “You know, I love to goof around and say silly things. But not about my art. And not when I’m at a show. I’m as serious about what I do here as you are about (insert their profession here.) I hope you understand.” (Big smile.)

I said it quietly, without any rancor. I did not shuffle my feet or hem nor haw. I did not apologize.

I meant every word, and they knew it.

It worked. They were embarrassed. They mumbled a vague apology, made some token effort to look at my work “seriously”, and left soon after.

Years later, we realized we’d overlooked a lot of crap from this person, because of their charm and wit. It took a long time to see what was really going on. Better late than never!

In this case, they were envious of the authenticity, and the integrity, of the work I was making. The “jokes” were a way to diminish me in a socially acceptable way. “Hey, I’m just kidding! You’re pretty sensitive, aren’t you?”

I used to apologize for being sensitive. Not anymore. YES, I’m sensitive! I’m a friggin’ artist! My heart is open to the world around me, highly-tuned to nuance in design, color, story. It’s who I am, and I am never going to apologize for that again.

And neither should you.

The person in our life who acts this way, whether a friend, or a family member, is acting this way because something in us is affecting them. Intimidating them. Scaring them. We have something they don’t have, or haven’t had the courage to reach for.

We are committed. We are courageous. And our work is precious to us.

We constantly tune our technique because we are committed to doing our best work. We put it out into the world—posting it on social media, enter it into juried shows, approach galleries to represent us, etc.—because we have found the courage to do what needs to be done. We practice how to talk to people about our work because this is the work of our heart. Like a child or a puppy, it needs our love, our best intentions, our best efforts, to thrive in the world.

As life coach Danielle LaPorte puts it so succinctly, “Open, gentle heart. Big effin’ fence.

Last, when we get to the point where we have to say this to someone we love and/or care about…

When we have to set our boundaries, gently but firmly…

If they ever do this to us again….

There is the final blessing, the biggest gift of all, this beautiful, powerful insight from poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: 

If it happens again….they have shown you exactly who they are.

Believe them.

We may choose to still love them, to keep them in our circle. We just now know for sure who they are, what they do, even if we never understand why. That is their journey, not ours.

We just know to consider the source, to protect ourselves, and deflect the negative.

And we need, above all, to keep on making our art.

HATERS GONNA HATE: How Long Did It Take You To Make That?

(My column appears at the Fine Art Views art-marketing newsletter.

Hint: This is a question you DON’T have to answer!

 We continue our series on how to respond to difficult questions and comments from our visitors and potential collectors.

 Today’s queasy question (ah! Alliteration!) is, “How long did it take you to make that?”

Let me tell you what NOT to say: “Two hours!”

True story. In a video created for a new open studio tour, the videographer asked this question of an artist who was finishing a large painting in their studio. A VERY large painting, in the neighborhood of 10×8 FEET. As they finished up with freely broad paint strokes, they glibly said, “Oh, about two hours.”

The work was priced at over $5,000. You do the math.

And frankly, most of us hate this question because of just that—we assume the asker wants to find out how much we make an hour. Or even worse, whether the work is worth the hefty price we’re asking for it.

Another true story: Many, many, many artists, when asked this simple question, respond with something along the lines of, “It took me 30 years to learn how to do this!”

So between excruciating naivete’, and exquisite irony, how do we respond?

First, let’s take a step away from our first assumption—that someone wants to know how much we make an hour, and whether the piece is worth that.

Bruce Baker turned the question back onto the asker. With lightness and sincerity, he said, “So many people ask me that question! Why do you want to know?”

And here was the heartbreaking response he got: “All my life I’ve dreamed of being an artist. I’ve always wanted to make something creative like this, and I just wondered how much time it takes….”

So what we might have interpreted as a challenging question (“Is your work really worth what I’d have to pay for it??”) turns out to be the wistful yearning of someone who deeply admires what we’re doing, and wishes they had the skill, the commitment, the chops, to BE LIKE YOU.

If we respond with sarcasm, frustration, anger, pointed humor, we may actually crush the dreams of someone who is so inspired by our work, they’ve actually reached out to connect with us.

And in return, we smacked them down in our defensiveness.

You can also now see the smack of the remark, “It’s taken me 30 years to make this!”

Of course, that may not be the real reason behind EVERYONE’S inquiry. But it’s a good place to start on how to respond!

Here’s what’s worked for me:

First, I say, “That’s a really good question!”

(No matter how many times WE’VE heard it, it IS a good question. It’s new to the person asking it. And this small courtesy sets a lovely path for us to proceed down, with them eagerly joining us on our way.)

In my case, I explain the many, many, many steps it takes for me to actually make the layered block of polymer that is the foundation of the faux ivory technique—over 30 steps in all.

I start with asking, “I always ask people if they are familiar with puff pastry or samurai sword making, and usually everybody says “yes!” to one or the other.” A tiny joke that usually offends no one, and appeals to most.)

The actual process is similar—a simple one that creates hundreds of very fine layers–but time-consuming. (Simple—but not EASY.)

At the end, I say, “And THEN I start to make my animal….” There is almost always a little gasp of amazement here… (From them, not me.)

Then I explain the shaping, the marking, the texturing, (all with special little tools) the baking, the sanding, the sanding, the sanding, the scrimshaw technique, the polishing.

Then there is the story behind the marks, the handprint made with stamp I created of my own handprint, and how it “didn’t look right” so I actually use a needle to prick the clay and fill in the handprint until it looks smudged, like a real handprint….all the dozens, hundreds of tiny details that add up to the artifact looking exactly right to me.

  

Yep, even my handprints have gotten better over the years. I don’t know why, but people gasp when I tell them that each tiny dot is a needle prick I made to get it to look just right. (My special talent: Needle pricking.)

Most people are fascinated by this story, right down to the beads I use to make an artifact into a piece of jewelry (gemstones, antique trade beads, my own handmade beads); the meaning of the markings; how my customers have added to the stories behind my work; encouraging people to touch and pick up the pieces, to feel them for themselves.

Notice I never actually say how long it takes me to make them?

Because that isn’t really what people are asking.

Yes, they are asking for validation for my prices, which aren’t cheap. But in the end, what they learn from my “answer” is…

I have a vision.

I have a story.

I have a process that is time-consuming, and has evolved over time.

I have integrity, and skill, and an exquisite eye for detail.

My work does have value, though it may only be in the eye of the beholder. But that is for THEM to ultimately decide, isn’t it?

The woman who said it took her two hours to paint that canvas mural? I would have said something along the lines of, how she came to create this kind of work. How she decided her subject matter. What her aesthetic was based on. (I actually loved her work, which may seem ‘simplistic’, but is actually playful, exuberant, and intriguing.) The challenges of creating very large work, including the huge canvas, the support structure for it, how she enlarges a design (I know from experience that “going bigger” is more than just “making it bigger”….) The actual painting might only be two hours. But the planning, the design, the execution, the finished presentation, might consume many hours, even days.

After all, she doesn’t make four in one day, does she?

So between two hours, and 30 years, how would YOU frame what it takes to create the work you do?

What are ways YOU can present the time involved in making YOUR work?

What are the things you pay exquisite attention to, that add value to what you do?

What is the story only YOU can tell, to connect your audience to the work you make?

Okay, dish! Share YOUR favorite responses to this question! Or suggest one, now that you have a different lens to view it through.

Remember: Courtesy. Kindness. Furthering your values and vision. No jibes or jokes.

Just the beauty of your authentic, steadfast, creative heart.

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