There are people in the world who want to take you down. Don’t let them.
As the holiday season swirls around us, I find myself in alternating waves of joy and despair, lifted by appreciative hosts and customers, and devastated by the casual cruelty of my fellow makers.
Two incidents to illustrate:
I did a small maker show for a prestigious organization that unfortunately was not well attended. That was fine, it happens.
Another maker circled my set-up, someone I’ve encountered before. The pattern goes like this: They let me know they know my work and my writing, and are somewhat flattering. They approach with accolades, which soon turn into “Can you help me with x?” (which I am a sucker for, because I love helping people move forward with their dreams). This quickly declines into push-back (“Let me show you how I am more successful than you!”) on their part.
I see this from time to time, and I know it’s time to simply retreat with no engagement. But then there was the sucker punch.
The person approached me again at the very end of the event, and said, “Do you own a dog?”
I laughed and replied, “Why, yes, I do! How could you tell? Do I have dog hair on my clothes?”
They said, “You smell like dog pee.”
Uh. Oh. Stunned silence on my part.
They continued, “I have a very sensitive nose.”
I stammered a reply, noting that one visitor had brought anxious dogs to the event, and perhaps that is what they smelled. But I know exactly what was going on. (Put a pin here. Next incident!)
Second incident: Someone on social media found a series of articles my blog about display and marketing advice for artists, and shared it with a group. There were many responses from people who appreciated what I’d written, and how helpful they’d found it. I thanked everyone for their kind comments. Until I got the last one:
“Too bad she doesn’t have any photos on her blog.”
Let’s set aside the obvious: When I wrote that series over a decade ago, digital photos were a lot harder to take, almost impossible to edit, and tricky to upload. In fact, the original host site didn’t even have the ability to host images.
A book I quoted in the series, WHY WE BUY by Paco Underhill, featuring the best research on what physically/mentally keeps people from buying had no illustrations.
And most of the issues involved in “turning people off” while shopping are not easily discernible in photos. They are deeply-rooted, near-instinctive reactions, common to all humans. They were only discovered by actively observing customer behaviors in situ, and then going back to examine the environment.
But my biggest irk?
Why would you complain or criticize a resource that’s valuable–and FREE?
My favorite quip when someone argues with my articles is, “I will happily refund every penny you paid for it.”
So what’s going on here? It’s the nibblers again.
It is a short, simple, compassionate account of why some people seek to tear us down by “nibbling” away at our self-esteem. It is a powerful, restorative work that helped me heal from the tiny slashes and gashes some people inflict on others. I urge you to find a copy. It will take you no more than an hour or two to read. And then share it with someone else who needs its wisdom!
Even though these small yet thoughtless attacks hurt, once you understand where they come from, it’s easier to let go.
It also helps to find the good, the funny, the helpful. I told one person about the dog pee remark. She picked up a rolling pin and said, “I would have told her she had a 5-second headstart before I responded in kind.” (“Kind” being ironic.) I would never even try that, but it made me last.
Another person suggested, “Let me tell you where you can put your ‘sensitive nose’!”
What I wish I’d said? “I wish you had a sensitive heart.”
Another person, a store owner highly respected in our city, a staunch supporter of artists and their work, who has amazing employees who work hard to connect my work with collectors, shared their own slightly toxic encounter that week. Which also helped, because….
It made me recall the blessings of that show.
I told the store owner how their name had come up multiple times in my conversations with the other makers. (The fun part of a slow show: You get to yak!) Everyone….everyone…sang his praises, and I told him that. “You are highly-respected and loved in our art community, your store is beautiful, our work is well-represented, and your employees are amazing! You are doing it right!”
I recalled the vendor who shared a simple yet effective display idea that would work well for these small, intimate events. I remembered I thought up a way to engage a larger, younger audience for these events by coordinating an integrated social media campaign with other artists, other venues/galleries/stores, and other art organizations. I pitched another art garage sale proposal, which the other vendors loved. I chatted with employees with the organization that sponsored the event, and learned more about their own creative work, and their own hopes and dreams for their art. We had a delightful conversation about our favorite foods from Trader Joe’s, and I bought some fun holiday gifts from the other vendors.
So, laughter, support, comraderie, and future projects. All good stuff!
And I remembered that the one slightly-disgruntled comment on my lack of blog images was preceded by a chorus of gratitude and appreciation from other makers.
So when you encounter nibblers, go for the light. As Michele Obama said, “When they go low, we go high.” Turn the negative into something positive, and shiny. Be a force for good in the universe.
And my final chuckle?
That evening, I went to bed and woke up one of our dogs who was deeply, deeply asleep on our bed. So deeply asleep that when I roused him and asked him if he had to go outside to pee, he obliged by urinating on our bed.
So there I was at 11p.m., stripping and remaking the bed, spraying odor-eater on bedding, and doing laundry.
And chortling to Jon along the way, “So that remark wasn’t a slam, it was a prophecy!”
P.S. You can find the forementioned series on booth design here (free!), and you can also purchase the eBook here (a paltry $5, and no, I will not refund your money if you don’t like it. Be forewarned!
P.P.S. In creating links to resources here, I discovered there is a new, updated version of Why We Buy, to include internet sales and such. I just book a copy! That’s the version I linked to above, too.
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.
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.
The deliberately rude ARE different than you and I. We must understand that to protect ourselves.
Yesterday I wrote a post, responding to another artist’s frustration on being treated rudely by a gallery she approached.
Shortly after I published it, I received a comment that baffled me. It was condescending and pretentious, and completely missed my point.
I almost replied to it. Instead, I’ll be deleting it soon.
Why? Because any comment that includes the phrase “Sorry to offend your sensibilities, but….” is not a serious contribution to discussion. (The writer’s contention was, I don’t understand that galleries are a business, and rank hobbyists need to know that.)
I almost leapt to my defense. The original article expressed dismay at how the gallery treated them, not the fact that they didn’t like the work. After all, if a business is rude to its potential vendors, is that good business sense?
I decided to delete the crabby response. But I still wondered why someone would be deliberately provacative. When I visited the person’s website, I could see no evidence of a working artist, or even a viable online presence. Nothing. Wha…..??
Finally it dawned on me. Whether I responded, or left the comment as is, people visiting my blog would do just what I did: Click on the crab’s site to see what they’re about.
The crab was using his comment as click bait. Diminishing what I offer, in order to build traffic to their own site.
We hear it all the time: Don’t feed the trolls! Don’t let them bait you, engage you, feed off your anger.
Unfortunately, the trolls are getting bigger, and hungrier.
A memorable illustration is high tech blogger Kathy Sierra, whose inspirational, highly-readable blog changed the face of her industry–until hostile comments and death threats chased her off the scene. (Temporarily, fortunately. She’s back, and she’s awesome.
Another is Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones, who was brutally trashed on Twitter by a someone who’s name I won’t even print.
And of course, the biggest troll of all, the Republican nominee for President of the United States.
What do these trolls gain from their behavior?
Unfortunately, a lot.
They get attention. Publicity. Lots of it. And though we detest and protest their behavior, we end up talking about it–and them–even more. The Google hits skyrocket. The person who cruelly baited Leslie Jones actually celebrated when he was banned from Twitter. Why? Because the media talked about him and his antics even more, nonstop. The interviews continued, the outrage continued, and there he was, sitting in the middle of a media frenzy, enjoying every minute, crowing about his successful grab of the world’s attention.
The more we learn about people like this, we realize they are not motivated by the same things that motivate most of us. I want to be known for my work, of course. But I want it to come from a place of inspiration, compassion, support, and contribution. I want to use my gifts to make the world a better, happier, more joyful place.
These others crave attention. Power. Control. And they will do anything to get it. The world is a playground to them. The media is a system to be gamed. The rest of us are simply fodder for their egos.
In my own tiny world, where I make little horses and bears, where I share what I’ve learned on my journey so that others can be inspired to walk their own path, there is no room for these people. Oh, sure, some will make their way here from time to time.
But I’m learning to recognize them faster.
And I hope you do, too.
Sometimes, when praise is due, we nibble instead. DON’T!!!
Years ago, a tiny little book, full of cartoons, written by a woman most of us have never heard of, changed my life.
The book is called The Nibble Theory and the Kernel of Power: A Book About Leadership, Self-Empowerment, and Personal Growth and you can read my first blog post about it, THE NIBBLE THEORY, A Big Little Book. (Actually, I’ll post links to ALL my blog posts about this amazing little book.)
Short version is (yeah, let’s see if Luann can do a short version….ha ha!), we are all circles, big and little. But ‘little’ doesn’t mean ‘less’, and ‘big’ doesn’t always mean ‘better’. Sometimes little circles are in the middle of astonishing growth. And sometimes circles, big and little, when intimidated by another circle whose potential is astonishing, will ‘nibble’ that other circle down to size. Take little bites out of it, so that circle will be smaller and less intimidating.
If you’ve ever received a back-handed compliment, a small put-down (or a major slap-down), anything that makes you feel embarrassed, diminished, less-than….you, my friend, have been nibbled.
We’ve experienced it, and it’s awful.
What’s even worse? When we find ourselves doing it.
A year or so ago, I discovered an Etsy shop called Loveroot. I fell in love with Nikki Zehler’s work, her wonderful designs, the extremely competent use of color, the eclectic nature of her materials. I bought several items from her shop. They were just as wonderful in person.
At some point, she messaged me, saying something to the effect of, “OMG, you’re THE Luann Udell, I’m so honored you like my work!”
And I took my first nibble.
I told her one reason I felt so connected to her work was that it looked like what I might have made, if I hadn’t taken the path of making my own artifacts.
I felt uneasy, even as I wrote that. I wasn’t sure why. (I do now.) But worse, I did it again.
A few months ago, polymer artist/writer/teacher/curator Cynthia Tinapple featured Nikki’s work on her site.
And in the comment section, I thanked Cynthia for ‘helping’ Nikki get her work out there.
Do you see them? My nibbles?
First I implied, “I could do what you do, if I wanted to.” (For the record–I COULD NOT.)
I implied I was ‘better’, because I make my own artifacts. (For the record–SO DOES SHE. And when she does use components made by other very talented artists, she fully acknowledges them. She mixes it up, and makes what she needs when she can’t find it–like me.)
Then I implied that this talented artist needs the help of others to be successful with her art. (The only help a talented artist needs, is for people to buy the work and spread the word.)
Yes, I meant well. (But let’s be honest here–I envy this woman her talent.)
Yes, it’s human nature to be envious. (But we can choose not to act on it. And I did.)
Yes, we are all inspired by the beautiful work of others. (But we can simply acknowledge it, too. Not measure ourselves against it.)
Yes, we are all influenced by the work of others, the ones that are here now and the ones that have gone before us. (Prehistoric cave art. Can’t get much further away from our modern times, right?)
Bottom line: Sometimes when I am confronted by raw, wild, beautiful talent, I’m afraid. I’m afraid the world really is a finite pie, and if someone else gets a bigger piece, mine will be smaller.
And I myself have been badly nibbled by jealous professionals to understand how hurtful even the smallest bite can be.
And so, this Very Humble Apology, for what may be very tiny transgressions, but are still me not being the person I’d like to believe I am.
I want to be better. That means doing better.
So this is for Nikki. I am sorry I nibbled you. I will not do it again. And if I do, I’ll apologize, again.
Check out her beautiful work. Tell her I said hello.
She is a one-of-a-kind artist, and she has nowhere to go but up.
And she will get there on her own talent and story.
Links to my posts about THE NIBBLE THEORY:
I’ve had a lot of response to my post on shadow artists in my “GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH” series. People keep saying they thought they were the only artists who, as they became successful, found they were losing friends.
I wrote an essay about this phenomenon awhile back, called MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: Professional Jealousy Part Deux.
I haven’t figured out a solution yet–there probably isn’t one, since this is more about them than it is about you–but I hope it will at least help you feel better.
Tatjana – Submitted Aug 31, 2007
I have lost more friends to jealousy than to any other disease.
(quote from Robert Genn’s “Painter’s Keys” website Painter’s Keys archives “Evaluating Art” clickbacks.)
I came across the quote above while browsing through Robert Genn’s newsletter archives. It was so true, it made me almost cry.
There’s something no one will tell you, when you start your journey pursuing your art.
It can get lonely out there.
I don’t believe in the “perfect relationship” anymore. I don’t believe in perfect marriages, perfect families, or perfect friendships. I think we do the best we can, until we learn to do better.
In a perfect world, relationships stretch and grow, accommodating all kinds of stress and obstacles. In reality, I believe sometimes a relationship is “good enough”, until it reaches a crisis that cannot be dealt with.
Jealousy is a big one in friendships.
As you grow in your art and begin to achieve success–whether it’s financial rewards, or professional recognition, whatever–you will lose friends along the way. I am not saying you will lose all your friends. But you may lose some, including some that will surprise and dismay you.
The mentor relationship is especially delicate. I’ve found incredibly generous people who helped me tremendously along the way. Until, that is, I began to surge ahead. I didn’t get ahead by stepping on them–far from it! My greatest sin has been encouraging them to come further on their own journey than they were ready to go.
But the damage is still there.
Outshine your teacher, and it’s the rare person who won’t resent you for it. (Remember, it’s okay to feel resentment–it’s how you act on it that can preserve or wreck that relationship!) It’s astounding how badly some people will choose to act….
I think this tendency is why I get almost obsessive about remembering to thank people. I try to always give credit to people who have shared techniques, insights, support. It’s my way of trying to divert any jealousy they might accrue.
But it only helps to a certain extent. What I’ve found is, you cannot control how another person thinks, feels, acts. They truly have their own journey.
If jealousy raises its ugly green-eyed head in their life, you cannot stop that. If they choose NOT to use that to further their own work, you cannot control that. If they began to engage in passive-aggressive behaviors that undermine your friendship, you will find it difficult to turn that dynamic around.
You will know your gut feeling is right when these friends start saying things like, “Oh, you’re just too sensitive.” Which is another way of saying, “I totally deny your right to HAVE feelings.”
If you are a truly independent artist/person who can operate fully without a rich support system of family, friends and peers, you will not need this book.
But for the rest of us, who feel real physical pain at how wrong a friendship can go, you need to read this book. It will help. It will explain.
And in the end, it will help you with your art. Because you will be able to recognize the ways a good friendship can–and SHOULD–support you in making your art. (Hint: It doesn’t have to be the big stuff, either!)
One of the most powerful things anyone ever said about my art was from my sister, who says she knows nothing about art and not much about my world. But when I was having a total lack of confidence in my work, and hesitant to enter it in a exhibition where its chances of acceptance were slim, Susan said something I’ve never forgotten.
“Your job is not to judge what you make. Your job is to make it, and get it out into the world. Others can judge it once it’s out there, but you can’t hold it back by judging it beforehand.”
Talk about channeling Martha Graham! It was an astounding thing for a self-confirmed non-artist to say.
Because Martha Graham said:
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening
That is translated through you into action,
And because there is only one of you in all of time
This expression is unique.
And if you block it,
It will never exist through any other medium,
And be lost.
The world will not have it.
It is not your business to determine how good it is,
Nor how valuable, or how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly,
to stay open and aware to the urges that motivate you.”
I know for some people there will always be conflict: How much art to give up for the sake of friendship. How much friendship to give up for the sake of art.
I still struggle with this.
In the end, I realize I am the only person responsible for my art–I am the only one who can bring it into the world, just as I am the only mother my children will ever have.
My children come first. My art comes first. Friendships have to align themselves somewhere around these non-negotiables.
But I still try to be aware of the different loads my various friendships can handle–and which loads they can’t.
It’s worth a try. It’s part of me to try! But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t make me feel like a failed human being anymore.
Just a human being who tried–and failed.