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!

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.

WHY ARE PEOPLE RUDE??

The deliberately rude ARE different than you and I. We must understand that to protect ourselves.

20160730_130411 (633x800).jpg
Still making little bears….

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.

 

 

NERVOUS NIBBLES and a Very Humble Apology

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.

I'm including this image from Nikki's site because I BOUGHT THESE!! Aren't they beautiful?
I’m including this image from Nikki’s site because I BOUGHT THESE!! Aren’t they beautiful?

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:

THE NIBBLE THEORY: A Big Little Book

WATER BALANCE

AMOK

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: Professional Jealousy Part Deux

MAYBE IT’S YOU: Staying Creatively Centered When Creativity Changes Things

P.S. More on the Shadow Artist Thing

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.

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2a: Professional Jealousy Part Deux

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.”

I have frequently referred to a little book called THE NIBBLE THEORY by Kaleel Jamison. Here is an entry from my old blog about this delightful little book: THE NIBBLE THEORY: A Big Little Book

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.