A reader left a comment on a recent blog post, and raised a good point about whether our art is affordable, (including mine), and offered their conjecture on why it might not be realistically priced.
I started to reply, but four paragraphs in, I realized it was another post!
Re: Your question about whether the price of our art reflects the artist’s personal desire to be of worth at the expense of getting their work out into the world, and into the hands of a admiring owner.
Welp, yes, both of your points are valid.
ANYTHING we buy reflects the time, the materials, and the quality of the object, whether it’s a BMW, or a pair of pearl earrings from Tiffany’s, or a head of organic lettuce.
ANYTHING we make will appeal to many who can’t afford it.
And yes, sometimes a maker’s price may seem based on nothing but their own thoughts, though my experience is that’s more true of “brand” name products. (See luxury items above.) (Okay, organic lettuce isn’t really a luxury brand. But some folks are willing to pay more for it, and some aren’t.)
As for your thoughts about artists over- valuing their own self-worth, some creatives get to the point where they have to raise their prices. Which is a good thing!
Say we price a painting at $2,000, which is pretty reasonable. If it’s framed, that’s included in the price.
If we sell it through a gallery, the gallery will take up to 50% of that income. (In NYC, just before 9/11, some elite galleries took 60% commissions, with less than half going to the person who made the item.) And we pay income tax on that sale, too.
If I sell online, it takes time to take good-enough images, time to edit and upload them, time to create a listing, and time to prepare the item for shipping. An unbelieveable amount of time. I can’t tell you how much time it took to calculate shipping for various-sized packages to potential customers half a dozen countries around the world. (Thank heavens for Etsy’s new automated shipping calculator!!)
We may rent studio space (I have to, in California, and studio rent is not cheap). If we participate in art tours, I have to cover the fees for that, and I need a business license, and often liability insurance.
If we do shows, we pay those fees, and expenses for traveling to shows. I did that for years. Some of those major shows cost upwards of $2,000 or more to enter. And that doesn’t include the time to get there and back, our hotel stay, our on-the-road meals, in my case, the cost of shipping my inventory and booth since I never had the right vehicle to transport them.) In 2008, I spent over $15,000 on three major shows across the country, and sold about $2000 worth of work. That’s when I stopped doing those shows.
We do our own marketing (photography, ads, design work for postcards, business cards, ads, etc,) or pay someone to do it. We often pay for workshops to get better at our work, and/or better at our marketing.
Now let’s say we have good sales, and eventually the demand exceeds the supply. We can only produce a finite amount of work in a year (unless we hire help, which is a whole nother can of worms.) That means we can increase our income gradually over time, doing the same amount of work and time, only by gradually raising our prices.
It’s not our own sense of self worth. It’s our audience’s sense of our worth.
I’ve been told my prices are too high since I started my art biz almost 30 years ago. I charged $18 for a one-of-a-kind handmade horse artifact pin. And some people complained it was too expensive. As I raised my prices over the years, the comments continued. And yet my sales stayed relatively the same. Which tells me I have an audience, a small one, who will see its worth, and there will always be people who won’t pay my prices. I have to be okay with that.
Here’s the thing: I believe we simply can’t afford everything we like, and when we find something we like, we either recognize how unique it is–if we don’t buy that one piece, there will never be another exactly like it–and jump. (Which is why I offer layaway.)
Or we unconsciously look for reasons why we shouldn’t get it, such as price. This helps assuage our conscious about saying no. (I’ve done it myself.) There have been things I’ve jumped on, though I didn’t need another one, and the price was high. There have been lower-priced things that weren’t quite enough….and walked away.
I’ve had people with little income who find ways to collect my work, through trades, layaway, or buying a smaller piece.
I’ve had people who live in grand homes and drive pricey cars who say they can’t afford my work. (A lot of my work is still well below $100.) Of course, maybe that’s why they’re so rich! 😀
Frankly, my work isn’t that expensive relative to the “real art world”. Very few of my major pieces barely even compete with the lowest prices of local painters.
The day a good friend sold a $10,000 piece the first day of an open studio tour but complained sales were flat the rest of the weekend, I had to clutch my coffee mug. I was so envious! And yet, it only took a few seconds to get my heart in the right place to congratulate them. They have skills, they have a terrific reputation for great work, and I love their work. They have found their audience, an audience that truly values their work, and I’m still building mine here in California. That’s all.
Knowing our worth is not a bad thing. And though some artists will over-charge for their work, it’s still up to each of us to determine if it’s worth it for ourselves.
Now, as for getting our work out into the world:
I do that every day.
My art is hosted at my website, my Etsy shop, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linked in, and sometimes Tumblr. Also in galleries in New Hampshire and here in California. I have open studios, and guests are always welcome in my studio. My work is often purchased and given as gifts, which I love, because someone sees something in my work they know someone they care about will truly appreciate.
And every single time I’ve felt desperate for sales, every single time I’ve broken my own rules and offered “a deal”, it’s felt awful. Like I’m selling myself short. And almost every time, the purchaser admits they could actually afford it, they just thought they’d try to dicker to see what happened. And I fell for it.
And every single time I’ve stuck to my guns, politely and with integrity, I’ve been rewarded with a sale, maybe down the road a ways, maybe with another buyer, but still worth it.
And yes, I’ve already had my work found at estate sales and yard sales for a very low price. At first that was a little daunting. But again, every time that happens, the person has loved it so much, they’ve tracked me down to find out more about me, written to tell me how much they love it, and sometimes even purchased another piece.
Some people do literally give away their work, to support causes they believe in, or to simply bring joy to others. I’ve given away work, though never to people who dicker or complain about the price, but to those who I know have been through hell and back, who need the gift of my work to help heal.
I give back in the ways I’ve mentioned, and also through my writing. Through this blog, and I’m a columnist for Fine Art Views. I share what I’ve learned as an artist with others for free. Here’s an interesting fact: When I first started writing a column for a fine craft magazine and other platforms, I made $350-$500 an article. Today I get $45 an article, if anything, and a free website (valued at $35/month. You do the math.
But I still write, because I have to. I have to get my art-and-life lessons out, to get clarity in my head and love in my heart. Also because every single time I publish, I get at least one person who said it was just what they needed to hear that day. So my writing is my (free or almost-free) labor of love.
The last way I get my art out into the world is also powerful.
When I have visitors, especially younger people and millennials (whose buying habits inspired this series of articles), I don’t twist arms to make sales. I let them explore my space, examine my work, hold my work, and read my signs about my inspiration, my insights, my hopes and dreams.
Most can’t afford my work. But for them, the conversation turns into something else.
I ask them about their own creative work. They share what makes them happy, and I encourage them to make room in their life for it, whether they can earn a living with it or not.
It can be painting, cooking, gardening, teaching, construction, singing, any activity that, when shared with the world, makes other people happy, and makes the world a better place. (I tell them my advice is worth every penny they paid for it.)
So it’s okay with me if someone can’t afford my work (in a nice way, I mean.) I get it. It’s okay if they believe my work is overpriced, too. It just may not be worth it to them. It’s okay if they believe I’ve inflated my prices because I have no idea of its real (less-expensive) value. (Well….kind of okay….!)
In the end, I do what I can, I do what I have to, and I do what I love. That’s the best we can do, and that has to be okay.
WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART? Their Definition of “Real Art” May Be Bigger Than Ours
WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: They Don’t Appreciate the Value of Real Art!
But other comments built a case that very few people understand a) the importance of “real art”, nor b) appreciate what goes into “real art.”
WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: Now There Are Artists That Look Like Me!
If you liked this article, you can find more at https://luannudell.wordpress.com/
If money is the ONLY measure of your success, don’t read any further, please!
In my latest article for Fine Art Views, I shared how taking a risk (what seemed to me a very small risk), brought me many benefits (tangible and intangible) for years.
My intention was to share how even small steps outside our comfort zone can have big results. I wanted to share that what most people see is “luck” ignores what underlies “luck”: Preparation, persistence, and recognizing opportunity. If you don’t recognize the opportunity when it appears, you won’t reap the potential rewards.
What started out as a very small thing (submitting an image of my work for the gallery section of a craft book) resulted in an opportunity to write and publish a book.
Most people applauded that concept. But to my surprise, some people focused only on the money.
Exactly how much work did I do for “free”, and how much did I get paid? (In today’s dollars, it would seem modest, but not ridiculously so.)
Am I telling people to work for free for the “exposure”?? (NO.) I did not “donate” to the gallery sections of the book I was in, like charity auctions so many artists are asked to do. I just submitted a photograph for each.
Exactly what did I gain from that decsion? It’s alllll in the article.
Paid projects. Paid to write a book. Foundation for teaching classes. New product lines down the road, even fifteen years later. A reputation for unique work, and for being a reliable writer.
After my work appeared in several books, people started calling me “famous”. (I’m not, of course, but many, many more people were made aware of my work. And many more people recognized my name.)
During open studios, I always have the two dozen or so books I’m in available to new visitors. It always impresses them. (“Hey, working with half a dozen editors across two dozen books? She must be doing something right!”)
I got paid for each project I created. And as I said in the article, they all turned into new lines of work for me. They also became the basis of classes I offer (and I charge for the classes I offer.) So the project books, and my books, offer validation of my skills.
I received a good advance on the book, enough to make it worth my while.
Did I get rich? No. (Although my advance from that book was more than 10x than I’ve made selling my ebooks.)
Did my reputation benefit? Yes, both as an artist and a writer.
Did I get more opportunities to write for pay? Yes.
Did I enjoy it? Very much!
Did other opportunities follow? Yes! My resume was awesome!
Again, if it’s all about the money, and money is THE ONLY CRITERION for whether this risk was “successful” or not….
I have no idea.
My income has gone up and down over the years, as I constantly sorted out what was working and what wasn’t. So any additional income that was still within my skills and interests range was very welcome. One year, making products for a mail order catalog account kept me afloat during a recession.
If I would do it again? In a heartbeat! I listed the benefits in the article. I believe the most important one is how these “risks” broadened my horizons, and widened my world.
Should everybody do this? Of course not! The stamp carver who produced the little booklet on stamp carving would have loved the money. They just didn’t want to commit to a year-long schedule, the amount of writing, etc. They’d written their booklet, and they were done. She gave me her blessing. (Thank you, Julie Hagan Bloch!) My schedule was more flexible, and I love to write!
Do I work for free all the time? Nope. A couple years ago someone reached out to me to write an article for their online publication. They refused to pay me, though they sort of promised I would get paid when their site went viral. (Uh huh…) They used the usual “but you’ll get such great exposure!” But they also kept increasing their demands on what was expected, so I knew it wouldn’t end well. (I started the article but soon walked away. There are warning signs for projects that won’t work to our advantage.)
Do I get paid for everything I do? Nope. There are times where I do stuff for free. I have my own criteria for assessing that. But I never do it when someone demands I do it for the “exposure”, when I sense those warning signs, or when there is absolutely nothing in for me at all, AND I don’t want to do it, period. Give a presentation or talk to art students? Sure! Donate to a charity auction? Only if I get my wholesale price from the sale. And so on.
We all have our unique boundaries, our individual take on where we draw the line between work-for-hire, work-for-free, and the gray areas in-between.
If we insist on being paid for everything, every time, and that is our ONLY criterion for success, we may overlook opportunities that will work in our favor. That is YOUR choice.
But it’s not mine.
This has been one of the most controversial posts I’ve ever written, which surprises me. I have been asked to defend the premise of this story over and over. I have had my integrity, my life experience, and my veracity challenged. (Usually people complained vigorously about how long my articles are.) (So I’m gonna wrap this up!)
Now….Did you know I don’t get paid to blog? :^D
Yes, I do get paid to write for Fine Art Views weekly. (I have permission to replublish those articles here.) But it’s not nearly what I used to get for ONE article when I wrote for magazines.
So, if I ONLY did things I love when I’m paid for them, you wouldn’t be reading this today. :^)
IF my writing has meant something to you…
If you ever felt like what I wrote has inspired you, enlightened you, educated you, shored you up when you felt the world does not want the work of your heart…
If you love the fact that I’ve openly shared for almost 16 years, what I’ve learned by being an artist, writer, martial artist, dog owner, wall climber, hospice volunteer, teacher, mother, etc….and shared it with you, not only because I have to write…
Because I hope someone, anyone, will find joy, learn, heal, be brave, be heard….at no cost to you….
How would you feel if I’d never started a blog?
Er…You can send me a check in any amount anytime. It will most be appreciated!
A reader left a comment on a post I wrote years ago, refuting my belief that artists come in all shapes and sizes, and that innate talent alone does not determine who is and who isn’t an artist. ( They pointed to an interesting study showing that artist brains are indeed different than normal brains. (Aha! We ARE crazy!)
I liked the article. The findings did not change my mind, especially since the study focused solely on drawing. I drew a lot as a child, so many people called me an artist. But I never really progressed past drawing horses, mice and rabbits. I took a few figure drawing classes in college. I enjoyed them–I like drawing bodies!–but didn’t pursue drawing after that. I still don’t really care for it.
I have no idea if I have that “innate” talent for drawing or not. I don’t know if I have the “artist’s brain” the study described, or not. And I don’t care. I rarely draw out my designs before making them. I work them until they feel “right”.
But I can see the headlines now: “Luann Udell Finally Unmasked! NOT A REAL ARTIST after all!!!”
Drawing is an admirable skill. But what about a beautiful singing voice? What about a honed sense of rhythm, timing and hand coordination that’s so critical to drumming? What about making a beautiful pot? Or weaving/quilting/wood working and other fine crafts?
Why do we value one form of art-making above all others, and make that the definition of an artist?
And why do we value one kind of intelligence–I.Q.–above all others?
So here’s my meandering thought trail….
1) When I was in middle school, there was a bright, well-liked young man. He didn’t get good grades, so I assumed he wasn’t a good student. After getting a particularly bad grade for a project he’d poured his heart into, he ran out of the classroom. I hate to admit this, but we laughed.
And the teacher–Mrs. Nancy Nash, one of my favorite teachers–scolded us. She said, “You think he’s not smart. But he is! He’s just not good at reading. Haven’t you ever realized how well he does in class discussions?! You should be ashamed!” She went out after him, and eventually they both returned to class.
And we sat, chastened. And thinking.
This was in the early ’60’s. No one knew about dyslexia, or learning disabilities. If you didn’t get good grades, you weren’t smart. Period.
But now there was a new thought in my head….. Different kinds of smart.
2) Fast forward to freshmen year in college. No, I wasn’t in art school. I couldn’t get in! But another woman across the hall from me was. Curious what a “real” artist looked like, I asked her about her major.
She was taking the prerequisite drawing classes, the ones every art student had to take. She hated them. She sucked big-time at drawing. (I know–I saw her work!) So why was she in art school?
“I don’t want to draw! I want to make stuff! Things that do things!” she exclaimed. Like what?, I asked. She pulled out some of the items she’d made in her high school art classes. We sat on the floor while she showed me all her little mechanical contraptions.
And one of them was a traveling salt cellar.
I don’t know why it stuck with me lo these many years. It was a silver salt holder, with a tiny handmade silver spoon, mounted on a sort of cart-like contraption with little wheels. You pushed it across the table.
It was adorable. Badly made, but adorable. The wheels were uneven and not mounted properly on their axles, so the salt shaker sort of lurched across the floor.
“I need to know how to make good wheels that really work. I need to know mechanics or something. I don’t know! But I can’t do anything else til I take all my prerequisites!” Which at the time was about two to four semesters of…..drawing.
I know there is discipline to drawing. I know it is a deep way of really “seeing”. I know for many people, drawing is a way of working out design elements, structural elements, etc.
But this woman had taught herself casting and soldering and metal working. Figure drawing didn’t figure into her game plan. (Sorry for the pun.) Her “smarts” were in a different area, one that, at the time, was not acknowledged or respected in regular “art school”.
3) Now let’s really fast forward to the mid-90’s. I’m a Tae Kwon Do student with a wonderful teacher who later became a good friend. He was patient, accepting, emotionally-evolved and funny. As I got to know him better, I learned about his school days.
Allyn never graduated from high school (though he did complete his GED). He had severe dyslexia. Like my fellow student in the ’60’s, his not-understood and not-diagnosed condition meant he didn’t do well in school. He did so poorly, in fact, that when he was in middle school, he was given a “permanent hall pass.” What does that mean, I asked him one day. It meant that he was considered stupid. He was so “uneducable” that he was allowed to roam the halls during regular classes, as long as he stayed out of trouble. Everyone pretty much assumed (and some still assume) he’s just not very bright.
Allyn also happens to be one of the most perceptive, insightful, emotionally-evolved, and intelligent people I know. He listens deeply, and observes carefully.
Whenever I encounter a puzzling social situation (and I encounter many, because that’s who I am), I call Allyn. And within a few minutes, he can tell me exactly what’s going on. In one sentence. I kid you not, he understands the motivation, the behavior and the dynamics and can summarize it quickly and easily.
I mentioned this to a friend who was taking graduate coursework in stuff like organizational dynamics. What she told me knocked my socks off.
Turns out that many people with so-called “learning disabilities”, especially dyslexia, cannot easily process information through reading. But their brain, like anyone else’s brain, is still trying really, really hard to learn, to make sense of their physical, social and emotional environment.
So these non-readers pay very close attention to everything that’s going on. They learn to see, to observe, and assess. They become highly skilled in areas that don’t involve reading and writing.
Unfortunately, since so much of our educational system is based on reading and writing, they rarely make it to college. They aren’t considered “smart” by most of the markers we consider for intelligence.
A different kind of smart……
I think it’s getting better. We “normal people” are learning.
We’re learning that there are indeed many kinds of “smart”. There are many kinds of “talented”. There are all kinds of “artistic”. There are a jillion kinds of “beautiful”. There are a cajillion ways of being kind, and accepting, and tolerant. (Cajillion is a whole lot more than a jillion.)
I like to think that if we spent less time drawing lines around who is and who isn’t an artist, who is and who isn’t talented, who is and who isn’t creative, who is and who isn’t smart/pretty/famous/whatever…..maybe we could simply be astonished by the incredible diversity around us, the remarkable creative range and emotional depth and loving heights the human spirit is capable of.
Maybe we could just let people enjoy the making of whatever makes their heart sing, and give them permission to do so.
And in the end, it’s not so much what’s in our brain, as what we do with it.
We are creative because that’s part of being human. I believe the greatest harm, the greatest loss, is when we deny the world–and ourselves–the beauty and power of our individual creativity.
I got a comment on a blog post I wrote awhile back. You can read the original article here: TEN MYTHS ABOUT ARTISTS (That Will Prevent You From Becoming a SUCCESSFUL Artist…”
The reader wrote a scathing argument against my assertion, noting the usual suspects (Mozart, et al.) “Artists ARE born! Talent IS innate!”, the writer stated.
I thought long and hard about my decision. I love to hear your thoughts, your insights, your experiences, and I especially love to hear that what I’ve said has resonated with you or helped your on your own artistic journey. And I don’t mind being corrected from time to time (unless I suspect your motives.)
But finally I deleted the comment.
Let me tell you why.
First, I don’t write this blog to argue with people.
This isn’t a forum. This isn’t a venue for debate.
These are my opinions, my thoughts. My blog is a vehicle to get those thoughts out of my head and share them with others.
This blog is part of my creative process.
I totally get that you may violently disagree with me. If that’s the case, go start your own blog. Seriously. I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Just not here in my living room.
Second, the reader totally missed the point of my article.
Of course talent is innate. Of course Mozart had tons of talent. Of course most of us aren’t Mozart, and no amount of practice will ever make it so. Heck, I can barely carry a tune anymore, let alone play an instrument.
My point was, that many, many people don’t recognize the talent they have.
They believe they’re not “good enough” to use their talent.
They believe that because they’re not good enough, there’s no use putting their work out into the world.
Look, creativity IS innate. Everybody is good at something. Even a sociopath is very, very good at lying.
Creativity is a human trait. It’s just that throughout the ages, the definition of creativity–the lines we draw around it, the forms we deem acceptable–have narrowed, and broadened, and narrowed again.
We don’t just use our hands, or our voices, to grub for food, or to yell when a predator appears on the horizon. And we don’t just use our hands to draw things. We use our hands to make things, build things, grow things, cook things (yummy chocolate things!). We fix things, heal living things, comfort living creatures. We sing, we write stories, and poetry (and blogs!) We work for peace, or freedom, or equality. We work for understanding, and acceptance, and recognition.
Even destruction can create a space for something new to appear. (I am not advocating destruction, I’m just sayin’ that Shiva’s dance does both.)
When we create, we are all that, and more.
I believe the greatest harm, the greatest loss, is when we deny the world–and ourselves–the beauty and power of our creativity.
We get way too judgy about creativity. (I made that word up. See how creative I am?)
We care waaay too much what the world will think of our efforts. We care way too much about what WE think of our efforts.
Quick story: My husband’s mother was a talented pianist as a young woman, with dreams of performing in public. But at some point, she realized she would never be a world-class pianist.
She never played the piano again.
Another quick story: My husband has been “noodling” on a guitar for as long as I’ve known him, thirty-five years. The last few years, he’s gotten more dedicated about it. He’s reaching out to play with others. He’s found new online methods of learning. He’s taking lessons. He’s considered performing in public venues, on a very modest scale. He reads books about music, about musicians, about the effect of music on the brain. He watches documentaries about music. Lord love him, he tries to drag me to every live music performance in the area.
Will he ever be famous for his guitar playing? Probably not.
Will he ever make money doing it? Nah.
Is he good? I think so, especially when he actually plays instead of practices. (I’m one of those people who winces at every sour note.)
So why does he do it?
Because he likes it. Actually…he loves.
And it makes him happy.
When I look at him, deep in his practice, struggling to master a new tune or a new technique, I know he is also deep within himself. Truly himself. In the best way possible.
And that, my argumentative friend, is all that truly matters.
I subscribe to a great newsletter by Canadian artist Robert Genn called Painters Keys. Sometimes it’s about technique, sometimes it’s about marketing, sometimes it’s about the journey of making art. It’s always an interesting read.
Today’s letter about artist credentials reminded me about an article in my series, specifically, the one asking DO YOU HAVE TO GO TO ART SCHOOL TO BE A REAL ARTIST?
It came at a good time. I’m feeling self-judge-y and unfocused today. (That’s what happens when I clean my studio.)
But I know when a surface is cleared and I sit down to work, the muse will return.
No license needed to practice art.
Sometimes we could–should–listen to our hearts instead of our bodies.
It’s been a long, wonderful week at this year’s League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair up at Mt. Sunapee Resort in Newbury, NH. Busy! So busy the time seems to fly by. Lots of new faces, and familiar ones, tales of happiness and sorrow.
My heart is full when I come home, but my body is racked with pain.
Last night, I had a session with a chiropractor, who, like me, has a martial arts background. I mentioned I was thinking of returning to my practice. The hurdle is this: Usually I return to classes to get in shape. As I age, I should really be in better shape before I attempt to do that.
He said it was a wise choice. I’ve had a lot of injuries and another surgery in the last year, and things–alignment, balance–are out of whack. “If you return now, without letting your body heal, your muscle memory will kick in. Your body will try to do the things you used to do. But you can’t do them right now, and you’ll injure yourself trying.”
Aha! That’s why some of my ‘returns’ have been so short-lived!
That phrase–muscle memory–stuck in my mind, and helped me understand where some of my discomfort at the Fair comes from.
Most people think we artists and craftspeople are like a big family. Well, that’s more true than you know. When I first joined the ranks, I felt like I’d found my tribe, my true heart’s home. It was a shock to realize it really is like a big family. (I have personal experience–I’m the oldest of seven children.)
Some of us don’t speak to each other. Others come to us for support and comfort and inspiration constantly. Professional jealousy rears its ugly head constantly. And there are others who cheer us on with every step.
Set-up is the hardest. One minute you’re offering someone your precious stool, and the next you’re snarling at them to move their junk out of your booth space.
Sometimes too much has passed between you. Then there is no opportunity missed for a caustic remark to be made, even as you win an award. Some cannot even bring themselves to greet you as you pass on your many trips to the bathroom or Fair office (or the bar at the top of the hill.)
For these times, there is muscle memory: Your body, remembering the acts of unkindness, shrinks when you see them, and you cannot bring yourself to even pretend to be polite anymore.
But there is a way out.
Over the years, I’ve learned that, 99% of the time, someone who is causing you anguish, is carrying their own tight anguish inside their heart. In short–it’s not about you. It’s about THEM. You happen to be a convenient target.
And sometimes it’s us. We’ve done somebody wrong, and it’s time to admit that. Take responsibility for it, and say, “I’m sorry. I was wrong. Please forgive me. And if you can’t, I understand.”
Then try to live with the fact that we, too, are imperfect people.
I have done things I’ve had to ask forgiveness for. And sweet Jesus, I received it. I have others who have asked forgiveness from me, and I am overwhelmed by their humility–and courage. It takes real courage to apologize. I know. I’ve been there.
In the end, we have to trust the work of our hands, and the work of our hearts. We live in this tribe, in many tribes, actually. We live in this world.
I like to think if we could trust the muscle memory of of hearts and spirits, a little more than the muscle memory of our bodies, just a little….
Then maybe someday we could even have peace in the Middle East.
Okay, that last line is a family joke, and perhaps not even a very good one. (“I hat you” is also a long-standing family joke.)
But that’s what families are for–a place where we can work out our little dramas and big heartaches, and ultimately find a place where we can stand and say, “You’re a poop, but I love you, and yes, I forgive you. Seventy times seven.”
And cross our hearts and hope for the best.
May you be able to forgive, seventy times seven. And may you also be forgiven, at least ten times as much.
Learn to look twice to get at the ‘better lesson’ from life’s setbacks.
My nephew Michael was a tiny hellion when he was young. He wasn’t mean, or malicious, or difficult. He was just….busy. We have many family stories about his escapades. One of my favorites is when my sister left him in the car briefly while dropping something off at my parents’ house. When she came out, he was in the driver’s seat with his hands on the wheel. Before she could say a word, he jerked his head and thumb to indicate the back seat and said firmly, “Get in back. I’m driving!” (He was four.)
Here’s another favorite story about Michael. He visited my folks, and all day he got into all kinds of mischief, including getting into my mother’s purse, looking for gum. Instead, he found a medicine bottle and ate some of her high blood pressure pills.
He was rushed to the emergency room, where his stomach was pumped and he was forced to drink lots of water to induce him to vomit. We were so relieved when he was declared out of danger. As he lay bleary-eyed in his little hospital bed, my sister asked him sternly, “And what did you learn from today’s little adventure?” Whereupon Michael snuffled quietly and croaked sadly, “Not to touch Gramma’s new refrigerator.”
Earlier that day, Michael had been fooling around with the features on my folks’ brand new refrigerator, and Grandma had told him to stop. Not to touch her new fridge anymore. (Gotta admit, that ice-and-water dispenser is pretty appealing.)
Years later, we still laugh at that story. But it’s sad, too.
Michael connected his emergency room ordeal as punishment for not listening to Grandma. He thought that was the lesson he had to learn.
(It’s sad that a loved and cherished child would think a stomach pumping was an appropriate punishment for touching a kitchen appliance, of course, too…. Such is the trustful nature of children. Makes you think.)
I refer to many of my life setbacks as ‘life learning experiences.’ Sometimes finding the knowledge and experienced gained helps offset the pain of falling, failing and flailing. This looking for something good and useful out of the bad things that happen…. It’s a useful skill. It’s part of being a human being and learning how to make our way in the world.
But sometimes, like a child, like Michael, we look at the easy lesson, the most obvious lesson. Not necessarily the deeper, more important lesson.
Sometimes the obvious lesson is not the best lesson.
Learning to choose your better lesson is a way to unchain yourself from your sad old story. Your sad old story about not being good enough, worthy enough, talented enough to achieve your heart’s desire.
Years ago I was part of a small artist group. We met monthly, to support each others’ efforts to fulfill our dreams as artists.
One person, a budding book illustrator, had singled out one lone book publisher as her ‘dream work place.” She submitted her portfolio to them and waited anxiously for their reply.
When she received a rejection letter, she tried to put a good face on it. “I’ll never get hired by that company. I guess I need to learn how to accept failure,” she said dejectedly. “I’d like help from the group on how to do that.”
We managed to convince her that piling all her dream eggs in one tiny basket was too limiting. We encouraged her to explore other possibilities, too. One person offered to put her in touch with a working illustrator who could offer her feedback on her portfolio. Another suggested other small publishing houses she could approach, to gain more work experience. But the last person, reading the letter carefully, opened an even bigger door.
She had experience in the corporate world, and read the letter differently. “I don’t think your portfolio was even seen by the appropriate person,” she said firmly. “I suggest you call the company and ask where to send it. Get a name, not a department. Make an appointment to follow up. You haven’t ‘failed’—you sent it to the wrong place. This line here actually sounds like they’d like you to resubmit it with more support materials, and more examples that match their current needs.”
Our friend, despondent and self-defeating, had looked no further than her own limited vision. Seeing the window barred, she failed to see the door standing wide, wide open.
When I trust a person, and they end up shafting me, it would be easy to say, “Well, that’s what I get for putting my trust in such a person.” But what I prefer to say is, “I like to expect the best of people, and I’m open to all kinds of friendships with many different people. That means some of them will disappoint me or take advantage of my openness. I accept this as an occasional side effect of trust. Bbut I’m not going to let that change the way I am .” (However, I am more careful about who I lend money to.)
Don’t assume life is giving you a smack-down because you touched the fridge door.
Look for the deeper knowledge, the more powerful challenge, the more meaningful message. Because YOU….are worth it.
Wanna here something funny? Michael ended up working as a receptionist at a nursing station in a hospital. He loved it. He’s now working as an emergency medical technician, driving an ambulance.
A much higher calling, for him, for us, than selling refrigerators at Sears, don’t you think?
P.S. I know young people who are proud to work at Sears selling refrigerators. I my intention is not to malign their efforts to be productive people earning their own way in life. But you know that about me already, right?
I write for several venues now. Fortunately, my humorous column at The Crafts Report rarely draws complaints. (Or maybe it does and Jones Publishing is just shielding me from them….??)
There’s another blog I write for every two weeks, usually about getting your art out there. And it seems like every time I write, someone complains I’m not writing about “art”, just about “selling art”. And the monstrous idea of making art “for filthy lucre” raises its ugly head once again.
The idea of “art for art’s sake” is a very common one among many modern artists. I don’t really disagree. I do hold my art passionately, and with integrity, in my heart. Anyone whose read my blog for the last eight years, or heard me talk, or teach, or met me in my booth, knows that. I will always make my art and I will always write, whether I’m paid to or not. (For example, I’m not paid to write this blog and I’ve been doing it for eight years now.)
We all already create our art with passion, with joy and with zest. I often write about my art processes here. At this other site, I figured a bunch of artists might be less interested in my prattling about MY art, and more interested in how to get to get people excited when they prattle about THEIRS.
And most of them appreciate that. I’ve gotten many thoughtful comments and words of thanks for giving people another point of view, for sharing an insight that helps us be more successful artists, or simply more compassionate people.
But art does NOT exist in a vacuum. If our work only sells “if it’s good enough”, and nothing else should matter, that would limit much of the stuff we normally call “art.” And oh, if only it were that easy….
Exhibiting, publishing, marketing, selling are simply venues for getting one’s work out into the world.
I don’t know why our modern times puts such a judgment on that process. When did getting paid to make art get such a bad rap??? Many of the great masters had wealthy patrons or commissions to do their work. The Sistine Chapel was painted on commission, after all. Picasso was not only a famous artist, he is famous BECAUSE he was a master at self-promotion and marketing. Remember the picture he drew to pay his tailor bill? Or the check he wrote and told the recipient if he waited, the signature would be worth more than the amount of the check? Marketing. (See more “myths about artists” here. (I don’t know why all fourteen don’t show up, but if you do a little digging while you go through these, you should be able to find them all.)
Yes, it would be nice if artists only had to sit and paint/carve/sculpt/write/sing all day, and not worry about anything else. I would be terrific if we could all have someone else to promote, market and sell our work. In fact, it would be wonderful! But it doesn’t happen very often. In fact, that’s what that website for artists I write for is for–to help artists exhibit, show, market AND SELL their work.
Saying we shouldn’t care about exhibiting or selling our art is easy. But most of us DO care, very very much. IMHO, many people who say they don’t care of the world sees their work are actually afraid of the world seeing their work. It is so precious to them, they fear and avoid rejection, ridicule, humiliation. Those fears (very human, and very common to us all) are so powerful, the person would rather embrace obscurity than risk it.
And even if we don’t fear these and truly believe our art is ONLY for ourselves, then we inadvertently disconnect art from its very purpose–to enrich the world emotionally and spiritually. The cave paintings of Lascaux weren’t hidden because they were personal. They were protected because they were so powerful. The welfare of the entire community was wrapped up in their creation. Maybe it was hard to get to see them, but they WERE seen. Evidence of torches, evidence of men, women and children (foot prints, hand prints), even doggy foot prints prove that.
A piece of art that is never exhibited, that is not shared, or sold, is a loss to the world, like a song that is never sung, a poem that is never read. Emily Dickinson is often given as an example of a powerful writer whose work was never published and someone who never sought recognition. But she desperately WANTED to be recognized, and she worked hard trying to get her work published. She wanted her art to be visible in the world. And though it didn’t happen til after her death, the world is richer for her words. Her work was certainly “good enough” to make her successful. But for different reasons, that didn’t happen in her lifetime.
My articles serve many purposes. Sometimes I just need to write about an issue to find my way through it. Sometimes I find a deeper truth than what I originally planned. Sometimes I find myself in a hard place; I’ve learned that being honest about that, and sharing that, will sometimes help someone else through the same rough spot.
I ALWAYS try to encourage everyone who makes art, or who wants to make art, to just do it. The world is full of despair and sadness and hardship. Art serves many purposes, but the one I celebrate is its role in healing some of that. Every work that comes from the joy of our creating is an act of love and healing on our part.
Art is a constant reminder that we are all alike, and that we are all very, very different. I like to believe each of us brings something to the world that can be–should be–celebrated.
Some people feel art has a much narrower role, and a sharper definition. They will not be happy with my writing. And being so open about my thoughts will leave me vulnerable to people who are very comfortable with their own rigid guidelines. So be it. I’d rather be open than limited.
Normally, too, I sit on my hands awhile before responding to people. Right now, I’m in between two major gigs–I just finished a nine-day outdoor show (yes, 9 days!!) and I’m packing to leave for a week-long artist-in-residency (7 days). The mind boggles. Perhaps I am not at my most resilient today.
So for the next few weeks, I am totally immersed in the process of showing/talking about/selling my work. The joy of creating has segued into the power of people connecting with and reacting to my work.
It is a different energy, but part and parcel of the entire process.
A quick segue today, before the amazing artist statement I promised you yesterday.
I’ve had to eat my words re: what I said about going to art school.
Here’s what I said in a reply to a comment on that post:
Actually, Aza, I recently had an experience that made me see the value of a good art school education. And that is the connections and opportunities that are made possible. I attended a workshop presented by a young woman who just finished post-graduate degree studies at a prestigious art school. In the course of her studies, she visited the studios of many well-known artists; gained access to facilities (museums, galleries) beyond the reach of most people, even allowed access to their “backstage”, so to speak.
It was enough to make me wish I’d gone to art school, too! :^D
I think everyone has their own needs and desires re: art school. If you feel drawn to it, go. Explore. Take what you need and leave the rest. Take advantage of every opportunity to connect, network, and experiment.
And then, be sure to come back and tell us what you learned.
I’ve never said you shouldn’t go to art school. I say you shouldn’t rule yourself out as an artist if you don’t go.
I remember bugging a friend who decided to go to art school late in life. She was already a productive artist–why did she need an art degree??
She replied that no one in her family had ever gone to college before her, and certainly no one had ever achieved a master’s degree.
She wanted to be the first.
I realized that mattered very, very much to her. And that was a good enough reason to do it.
Sometimes you need a college degree for credentialing. Sometimes you need it to prove something to yourself. And now I know the connections, networking and opportunities you get can be worth every penny.
Just know your reasons.
And don’t use not going as an excuse to not make art. Because I know better.
MYTH: Real artists have the courage of their convictions. They don’t care what other people think.
REALITY: Oh, it’s sad, but we care very very much what you think!
This is a myth that started out as “Real artists are loners”. Well, some are, and some aren’t. It’s that simple.
But it quickly got tangled into another myth we hold about artists, one that gets pretty jumbled. So bear with me as I untangle some of the threads.
Yes, some artists do need solitude to create. We need time to explore an idea, to follow it through to all its possibilities. Some people can’t listen to conversation or even music lyrics while they write. Me, for one.
Sometimes talking too much about what we’re doing, or our next project, feels like actually working on it. And our creative energy dissipates.
Other artists, however, work well in partnership and collaboration. They find the give-and-take of brainstorming invigorating, forcing them to go further and higher than they ever imagined.
Our own creative processes are so individual to us, it would be impossible to determine any one way any given work of art gets made.
It’s who we hang with, and why, after the work is created, that gets a little dicey.
Artists may act like we don’t care what other people think about our work. You’ve probably met some (or you are one.) You ask them about the work and you get a snotty reply or a cold shoulder. Or you talk with them at a party and they can only talk about how talented and creative they are.
But it is almost pathetic how much we care what others think.
It would be wonderful if we didn’t. A lot less pain in the world, and I probably wouldn’t have to write this series of myths.
But we do care very very much what you think.
And we are terrified you’re going to tell us.
We hope you love it. We hope it knocks your socks off. We hope you think it’s the most marvelous thing you’ve ever experienced.
And it’s so very, very hard to hear, if you don’t.
This need to have our work loved is so powerful, I hate to share it with you.
Because this knowledge is a terrible weapon in the wrong hands.
I don’t mean we’ll necessarily change it if you don’t love it. We have our artistic integrity, after all.
Wait for it…….
Again, some people will stand firm, and others don’t mind using a little less blue or a few more dots, if that will win approval. It’s your choice.
Even my fiery artist friend Lee, who fiercely created his art at all hours when the muse struck, sometimes going days without sleep, would call me up to come and see the new work. And he waited anxiously, child-like, yearning for my approval. Not my judgment–he was extremely proud of his artist title–but he wanted others to see what he saw, and appreciate what he created.
But the world is not kind to artists, especially those of us who wear our hearts on our sleeves.
After all, human beings are creatures of opinions. We all got ’em, and we have one on everything. Even the things we don’t know much about.
And of course, we all have a little mean streak in us. It is so easy to criticize what someone has made.
But some people cultivate their mean streak. It is very important to recognize and avoid those people.
Caveat: I know the role of the art critique is a hallowed tradition, especially in art schools. I’ve been to literary gatherings where writers submitted their latest piece and subjected it to a group review.
I know that not all art is beautiful, wonderful, powerful or narrative. There’s a lot of stuff out there I don’t care for.
I myself have served as a mini-consultant for artists and craftspeople, evaluating their current work and assessing whether it is appropriate for their perceived goals and venues.
But I see that function as a way of gently aligning what people say they want, and what they do.
All too often, that critical process is used as a chance to savage the work of someone whose talent threatens our own little jealous lizard brain.
If someone says they are an accomplished seamstress and they want their work to sell, they sabotage their efforts by making shoddy work quickly so they can sell to a lower end market. If someone says they’re a writer, but they don’t blog or submit manuscripts or otherwise get their writing out into the world, then I encourage them to show the rest of us that they are, indeed, a writer.
I don’t try to rip them a new one and denigrate their efforts.
Am I saying we should be namby-pamby and never offer honest feedback about the work of others? Or we are so weak in spirit that we can’t handle a little criticism?
Nope, not saying that. What I’m saying is that we must be aware of our need to have approval–and not let others, whose intentions may be less than honorable, use that as a knife to cut us to the quick.
When we make art, it will be stronger if we focus on what is inside us, what we want to say and what we want it to do.
In a perfect world, we then let go. We know it’s done, that it’s out in the world. And we have to truly not care what other people think. That’s hard, but we can at least try.
In the meantime, be very particular who you show your work to, especially during the creative process. We all know people who, for who-knows-what reasons, cannot celebrate our success with us. They will sabotage your efforts in refined and subtle ways.
Instead, create your own artist community.
These workshops by Deborah Kruger, fiber artist extraordinaire, are excellent. Similar to Julia Cameron’s work and The Artist’s Way. (Just don’t do what so many artists do, and focus on all the meetings and exercises instead of making your art!)
Yes, we all need honest feedback. And sometimes criticism spurs us on to do our most truly powerful work.
But it’s a harsh diet to live on all the time. Someone who tries to destroy your spirit with criticism is not your friend, and not your supporter.
Choose your friends carefully when it comes to you and your art.
Myth: If only I could get into X Gallery/get Famous Person Y to see my work/get a website, I would be successful!
Reality: No one person, event or venue will make or break your vision.
When I first started showing and selling my art, I read these very wise words somewhere:
Every day you will find an opportunity to move your art/biz forward. Every day you will overlook an opportunity to move your art/biz forward.
I quote them now because a reader posted this comment on my blog recently, and with her permission, I reprint it here:
Hello, again! I get what you’re saying, Luann, I really do. But right now I’m really in a down space.
Filled with excitement, I opened up a space in Etsy back in September thinking that *there* I would find people who would see value in handspun hand-dyed yarn. They do, apparently–there are lots of other spinners on Etsy–but evidently they don’t see any value in mine.
Lots of looks, a few hearts, no sales.
One part of me is bugging me to get busy and make more yarn, but the other part of me is saying, “Why make MORE beautiful yarn that no one will want to buy? What’s the point of doing that, when no one wants what I’ve already made?”
I’m sorry for dumping on you my own pity-party, but I need someone who is an artist and “gets it” to vent to. ..
Maybe the Lord is trying to tell me to give up and become a boring housewife who grades papers and washes dishes and remembers when she used to make beautiful stuff. I don’t know.
Dear Reader, I give you permission to wallow for awhile. Things do get hard, and we all get discouraged. (See Myth #14 about this.) (Not yet, I haven’t written it yet!!)
But I can assure you wholeheartedly that the Lord is not telling you to stay small and regret your lost dreams. 🙂
Sometimes we take that leap and many things fall into place. Sometimes we take that leap–and things stay hard.
In fact, that is the major purpose of my blog: To chronicle my journey pursuing my art, with honestly and self-examination. And hopefully, a huge helping of inspiration.
Because, as my husband pointed out to me a short while ago, we always hear about the instant overnight successes. (What I call the Cinderella stories.) And we also hear about the not-so-overnight success stories, where the hero struggles and perseveres, and finally gets a lucky break.
The point is, we already know how those stories end. We know the goal was achieved, because the tales are always told afterwards–not while the ball is actually in play.
My blog is all about the ball being in play. And sharing that process with you.
So here are some possible scenarios regarding this handspun yarn biz, but don’t take the “you” thing personally. These are just some things to think about:
1. When we stand at the beginning of our stories, we cannot see the end.
Sometimes, we can’t even see what our ultimate goal will be. Longtime readers may remember my sad little story about wishing my handknit toy sheep idea taking off.
And when they finally did, how I discovered how much I hated knitting toy sheep.
If your handspun biz where to be an instant hit, you could be locked into a business that takes too much time away from your other pursuits right now. Or you might find spinning is fun for a few hours a day, but not so much fun doing it all day. Maybe you’ll realize you like writing about the process, or teaching the process, more than making yarn to sell. (Although that piece of it will give you the insights you need to do the other stuff–writing, teaching, demonstrating, etc.) Maybe you’ll end up developing a therapy program with your skills. Who knows what the possibilities are?
So maybe right now you think your dream is to sell handspun yarn. But maybe even bigger things are in store for you.
2. We cannot tell what strategy will work, and which ones will peter out.
Etsy looks like a “sure thing” from the outside, but having an Etsy shop does not guarantee success.
We dream of getting into “that great gallery”, sure we will be successful if they would only represent our work. We dream of finding “the perfect show” where we will find all the buying customers we need. We know if only we had a great website, we would be flooded with orders.
In reality, there is no “perfect venue” or “perfect strategy”. There is simply another opportunity to try.
Maybe e-commerce will work for you. Or maybe your yarns would sell better “in person”–at small local shows, or certain events. (We have a big “Wool Tour” here in New Hampshire on Columbus Day weekend. People come from hundreds of miles to tour small farms, see llamas and sheep and angora goats and bunnies, and buy fleece, roving and finished yarns.) Maybe people need to touch your yarn to fully appreciate it first, and then you turn those customers into online customers with reorders.
Maybe a “new product release” about your yarns to a knitting or spinning magazine would bring interested buyers to your Etsy store.
3. We may be trying to sell to the wrong people.
Etsy is the biggest and best-known venue for handcraft. But it’s also a huge venue for vintage goods and craft supplies. And it’s a big shopping venue for other artists. So you may be inadvertently trying to sell to people who can make it themselves.
At a friend’s suggestion, I used Etsy as a way to sell to my current customers. I didn’t actually think I could join an already established, close-knit online community (no pun intended) and create a strong presence there.
Even so, I didn’t have a single sale on Etsy. I’m exploring other ways to sell online, and will use Etsy to offload my old supplies.
4. It just may take more time than you think.
Another reader posted a reply to the original comment, and it’s a good one. (In fact, I just realized I’ve repeated a lot of what Kerin said!! oops…)
And see item #1 above, where things taking time can be a good thing.
5. And sometimes it’s just hard.
It’s true–it’s just hard sometimes. There are days when we just feel like the universe is saying “no”.
But what does your heart say?
Because if you give up, there is only one thing that can happen: Nothing!
If you persevere, anything can happen. Including failure, but failure is not necessarily a bad thing. (Go back to the knitted sheep thing.)
#5: What is “success”, anyway? What does it mean to Y*O*U?
Right now you haven’t had any sales. Is that your only measure of success?
Have you learned how to spin and dye beautiful yarn? You’ve successfully developed a product.
Have you learned how to photograph it? Have you successfully uploaded images to a website? You’ve successfully done something millions of people have no idea how to do. (Since I lost my photographer, I’ve had to work on developing a whole nother skill set, and that learning curve is steep!)
Have you learned how to talk about it, write about it? You’ve learned how to pitch your product.
And have you learned how to create a unique product? Which leads us to….
#6. Are you telling your real story?
Sometimes, especially when we first start out making stuff and getting it out into the world, we focus on the surface of the process. When you hear artists say, “I just love color!” or “I just love knitting!”, we are listening to someone who has either a) not bothered to dig deeper; b) doesn’t know how to dig deeper; or c) or is afraid to dig deeper.
What is it about hand-spinning and dyeing that excites you? What does it mean to you? Don’t say, “Oh, it’s fun” or “Oh, it’s relaxing.”
Tell us why.
Here’s a perfect little example that Bruce Baker tells in his seminars.
A potter makes tiny little pots with lids, very charming. But so what?
She explains that her life is so hectic, so harried, that when she takes time to make these tiny wonders, she envisions she is creating a little moment of serenity, of quiet. “And then she draws up the tops, and makes a little lid, and there is a little moment of time preserved….”
Doesn’t that make you want to own one of her little pots? And when you are harried and frazzled, you can lift the tiny lid….and there is your own little moment of quiet and peace.
She told us the “why”. And when you purchase her product, you can have a little of the “why”, too.
7. If it brings you joy, you should not–cannot–stop doing it.
It’s hard when it feels like the world does not want our beautiful work. But remember when I said, “I have to do it anyway, or I’ll die?” That’s what got me through.
Yeah, I know I wouldn’t drop dead if I never made another little horse. But I know something inside me would wither away. And the world, whether it knew about the loss or not, would simply be a sadder place for it.
I want to believe in my heart that somehow, in ways I may not see or could even possibly imagine, that the world is a better place for me making my work. For me being in the world. I have to believe that. Because to believe otherwise is to give in to self-doubt, and eventually, despair.
And whatever we believe in, whatever our religion or creed or ethics, if we are creative people, then we have to believe that creativity makes the world a better place. That anything we make–a lovely skein of yarn, a useful pot, an inspiration movie, a beautiful song, a warm and loving home for those we care about–the world is a better place for that.
Or what are we here for?
So keep making your yarn, because it makes you happy. Don’t give up, but be open to where it leads you (because it may not take you where you think you’re going!) Take the opportunities you find. Let go of the ones you miss, and move on. Think about the deep “why?”, and don’t be afraid to share it.
And know that whatever happens, it’s all good.
MYTH: Creativity never sleeps. If you hit a wall, then you aren’t a real artist.
Truth: The Muse will come and go, but give her half a chance and she will always return.
Today’s myth was inspired by a blog post from Danielle LaPorte, whose website White Hot Truth…because self realization rocks is becoming one of my favorite reads.
“Life balance” is an insidious myth. Picasso, Oprah, Steve Jobs, Einstein, Maria Callas – they weren’t aiming for balance, they were aiming to rock their genius, and they’ve all had periods of burn out.
This was a little spooky. Okay, a LOT spooky. Because I got the old synchronicity thing going again.
Because a few days ago, for the first time in like two years (or more???), I sat down and began working on a new series of fiber work.
Danielle’s post today was actually the third or fourth synchronistic thingie. The second was her post from a few days ago, about kissing up to your muse.
I woke up in the middle of the night a few days ago with a great idea for next month’s column for The Crafts Report. At first I rolled over to go back to sleep. I’d just sent in my column and had a few weeks before the next one was do. I was sure I’d remember the great idea.
But something in me said, “No. Get up NOW. Just go write it.”
I went with it. And wrote almost the entire article in one sitting.
The spooky thing about that? It was the night before her post on don’t-dis-the-Muse. (Cue Twilight Zone music…)
The synchronicity thingie piece before that happened at dinner out with friends last week. Turned out one of our dinner companions is the daughter of another good friend who’s a painter. Her dad has a new series of artwork on exhibit, after a hiatus of many years from painting.
I mentioned I’d tried to buy one of his paintings a few years ago and he wouldn’t sell me one. She said yeah, he had a “thing” about not selling any until he had a body of work produced, even though he hadn’t even started his new phase when I’d tried to buy one. “He’s funny that way,” she mused. (Pun intended.)
Funny? Hmmm….. He wouldn’t sell his old paintings…. He’d stopped painting…. Now he had a new body of work.
It hit me like a ton of bricks.
I hadn’t made any new fiber work because it had stopped selling a few years ago. I don’t care what the newspapers say, artists and craftspeople know the recession started a lot further back than last year. Oh, I sold a few, but it was tortuous.
When people stopped buying, it wasn’t exciting to make more. And as they sold (slowly), I unconsciously held on to the ones I had left.
So that, if the muse never came back, I’d have something on hand to prove I really had been an artist.
I know it’s it’s desirable to grow and change as an artist. But change for change’s sake was not desirable (for me.) I was stuck.
Awhile ago, I realized that even if my fiber work remained what it was, and I never had a new idea, well, having that one really great theme in my life would be “good enough”. That cracked the door open again.
The remark that made me realize I was hoarding my old work opened that door a little wider.
Getting up in the middle of the night to write blew it open. Danielle’s post was like putting a door stop in it, to keep it open.
And then I sat down at my sewing machine and thought, “What if I just do some simple little pieces….? Just for me.”
Her post today was the final nail in the coffin. Er, door. Should doors be nailed open?? Okay, forget that metaphor, it stinks.
So being willing to be a “not very good artist” again (making the same old work) and realizing what I was holding on to (“I was once a pretty good artist!”) was enough to get me in front of my sewing machine once again. (Which is when I also sewed through my finger, but I’m not going to let that stop me, either, though I worry that my machine has now tasted blood.)
Danielle’s observation–that the muse may come and go, but if we care enough, we will just hang in there–was powerful. Letting go when the inspiration wanes, knowing we will come back, somehow, some way, even though we have no idea what that will look like, that feels like jumping off the edge of the world.
But now I know, as long as I persevere, it will indeed come back.
Because it has to. Or I’ll die.
It may be the same stuff. If so, then I will keep making it. I will rejoice and be grateful I had at least one really good thing to offer the world.
It may start the same and change. That’s okay, too. It will be what it will be.
What’s important is–it’s back.
I don’t care what it looks like anymore. I don’t care what other people think about it anymore.
I just have to do it.
oooh, I’ve always wanted to use the word “segue” in an essay!
In my last “Myths About Artists” post, a reader said there are some people who , feeling entitled, simply want to simply “be” an artist, with all the fame and glory and controversy they think automatically comes with it.
Several themes came to me after reading his thoughtful comments.
First, as a parent, a former teacher, and even a former child (yes, and please, no comments about not having enough fingers, toes or other digits to compute how many years ago that would be), this sounded very familiar.
We all have a desire for our work to gain some attention and respect in the world. And if you’re like me, you probably wish we didn’t have to constantly work so darn hard to get there.
This is a very human trait, after all. Yes, some people work very hard at becoming excellent at their craft, whatever it is. But many of us start out dreaming of an effortless success.
When I dreamed of horses, and of riding horses, I pictured myself riding fearlessly a beautiful horse, galloping wildly across a boundless plain under an open sky.
I did NOT dream of the long and often painful process of learning how to acquire my “seat”–how to sit comfortably for hours on a horse, how to balance instead of bounce (ow, ow, ow), how to control a horse (because atop a wildly running horse can actually be a frightening place to be.)
I did NOT envision the hours of hard work involved in caring for a horse, including grooming, mucking stalls and tacking up. And of course, boarding fees, vet bills and farrier costs never entered my pleasant daydreams, either.
No, it’s all too human to see the glory, not the grit, in our dreams.
But the person who believes they deserve an easy success? This is not the person I have in mind when I write these essays.
In my mind’s eye, I always speak to the person I used to be–the person who never believed that dreams can come true.
I was lost because I was too afraid to pursue my passion, and suffering because of it. I made the lives of my loved ones miserable, because I could be difficult to be with. (Er…still am, actually.)
In the words of my favorite bumper sticker, “Those who abandon their dreams, will discourage yours.”
Eventually, the pain of NOT being an artist surpassed the fear of failure. And that’s when I took my first steps to becoming not just an artist in name only–but an artist with gumption.
When I had the courage to take those first few tentative steps–and to keep on taking them–then I was truly on the path to becoming a more whole person.
That’s what it felt like, anyway. As my pursuit of art became more habit than daydream, my ability to love more freely, to judge less harshly, to be more fearless, to be more thankful, also grew.
Am I perfect? Heck no. I am still racked often–even daily!–by self-doubt, envy, fear, jealousy and sour grapes.
But I just keep on plugging away. Because I believe trying–making a true effort to attain our goals and dreams–matters.
A good friend sometimes says I make too much of this “thing about the horses”. She makes the case that if my current art changed, if I took up another art form, even if my ability to make any art were to disappear, I would still be me. I am not my art.
I get that, I do. But I am still pathetically grateful I had the chance to make this work, and took it, even so.
And every word I write is with this intention–to encourage even just one more person on this planet to do the same.
I encourage you to take the same journey, in your very own individual, inimitable way (of course!)
To paraphrase another friend’s words, I truly believe our acts of creation, by putting positive energy out there, by becoming a more whole human being….
By believing we can all achieve something good by making something that is useful, or beautiful, or both…
…is ultimately an act of peace, and makes the world a slightly better place for all.
Okay, I know I just quoted a hobbit here, but that’s what I believe.
MYTH: Real artists paint, or draw. And they draw stuff right out of their head! They don’t even have to look at the subject.
REALITY: Art is bigger than any box you try to put it in.
If I had to choose a myth that’s done the most damage–that’s created the narrowest limitations on what we see as art, and who we call an artist–it would be this one.
We can get very picky about what is art and what is craft. I remember a friend of mine who worked in clay. “I’m considered a craftsperson for making this”, she said, showing me an object she’d made. “But if I used this same object to make a mold, and had it cast in bronze, it would be considered fine art.”
Media and technique have always been strong predictors for saying what is art and what is not.
High praise is reserved for people who draw, or paint. I think it’s because a beautiful drawing or painting has something of the “magic trick” about it. A flat rendering of something that’s recognizable as a real-life object just seems….magical.
I’ve discovered recently that there’s even prejudice among painters and pencil artists about working from a photograph of the subject, as if that were a form of “cheating”.
Oddly, among the folks who don’t draw at all, the highest praise is reserved for those who “don’t even have to look” at the thing they’re drawing.
And yet, drawing and painting are skills that almost anyone, with a practice, can acquire.
Look at the vast number of senior citizens who finally take up a long-treasured desire to paint. In past times, young ladies of certain social standing weren’t even considered “refined” unless they had acquired some artistic skill with a pencil, or needle, or musical instrument.
Drawing can be a valuable skill, of course. But it’s not the only artistic skill, nor even the most important one.
But that’s what we’ve been trained to believe.
Years ago, when I went looking for studio space outside my home, I met with the owners of a large local building being renovated for offices and studios.
They asked me what I did, and I said I was a fiber artist. I’d already won a national award for my unusual work with textiles and prehistoric themes. I was feeling pretty good about my work.
The conversation meandered and later, the same guy mentioned a local watercolor artist in town, someone with very modest talent.
“Now Bert, he’s a real artist”, he said. “He’s a painter.”
I tried not to wince.
I honestly don’t think the guy meant to be insulting, he was just expressing his admiration for someone he was in awe of. He heard “fiber artist” and thought “quilts” and he thinks that’s just squares of fabric sewn together.
But someone who can paint Mt. Monadnock….now that takes skill!
When I was a kid, I loved to draw. I was actually pretty mediocre at it, though, because I never developed that skill. And I rarely drew what I saw, only what I could imagine–running horses (of course!), puppies, cartoon mice, intricate doodles.
But that was enough to get me labeled “artist”.
When I returned to art as a middle-aged adult, it was with different media, one that many people do not recognize as “real art”.
Ironically, the first people who did recognize my body of work as “art” were….other artists. People who did shows and craft fairs, who saw a lot of art and craft, and saw something very different and very powerful in mine.
And the biggest irony of all?
Drawing is a skill set. And anyone can learn to draw.
Drawing is about seeing–really seeing–and being able to reproduce what is seen on a two-dimensional surface, without falling prey to any of the “tricks” and preconceptions our brain insists upon. Understanding perspective, observing how shadows truly fall and how they affect color… All of these are about truly seeing what is in front of us with precision and clarity.
The mind falls into almost a meditative state as we begin to process what we see in a different way. Not a “red apple”, but an apple with flecks and shadows and shine. Not a “puppy” but a living, solid form with musculature and bone, and fur that rises and falls, and those eyes….
I like to do things fast, so sitting still and simply observing was crazy-making for me. I can do it. But I don’t enjoy the process.
Not even all forms of drawing are considered “fine”. Cartoons, doodling, graffiti…. Most people would scoff at the idea that these kinds of drawing are “art.”
We are not born “knowing” how to draw, anymore than we are born “knowing” how to play the piano, or how to drive a car.
What we are born with is fearlessness and joy.
Almost every child I taught in preschool considered themselves an artist. And they were! They drew fiercely with pencils and splashed paint and molded little glops of clay with abandon. They were always very proud of their little creations.
“Look what I made!”
Slowly, that gets knocked out of us.
Some of us are better at making a dog that really looks like a dog, and they are “talented”. Some of us really love that state of mind that drawing demands, and we are “real artists”. Some make things that combined crazy colors and looked like nothing at all, or they become obsessed with one color, or one kind of object, and they are labeled weird, or goofy. (Now, of course, they are labeled “visionary”.)
We can’t even agree on what is “art”. (American version of the British TV show “Creature Comforts” so the lips don’t line up too well….)
My personal breakthrough to becoming the artist I’d always dreamed of being came with this statement:
“I have to make art, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m a good artist or not. I just have to do it.”
I’d given up putting any qualifications on what I felt compelled to do. I just had to do it.
My life changed from that moment on.
There are people who would not consider the work of artist Andy Goldsworthy, any kind of art. Throughout history, there are huge periods of time when he would not be considered an artist at all. Yet a viewing of the movie Rivers and Tides erases any doubt in my mind. How about yours?
Good art. Real art. Great art. Appallingly bad art. Tasteful art. Fart art. (Did you catch that at the end of the video?)
Who can say? Who can judge? I have my opinion, of course, but nobody pays me for it.
We can’t even judge our own. When we do, the creativity stops. We’ve put a dam across the flow, forced the river between artificial embankments.
Art will not put up with this. We cannot control, nor barely see, where it goes once it leaves our hands.
Don’t compare yours to someone else’s. They have their journey. You have yours.
Leave the labels and boxes for others to worry about. There will always be somebody eager to apply those labels and boxes, but that is not our task.
Our task is to simply get it out into the world. Share it. Express it. Show it. Perform it. Play it.
Focus on making what brings you joy. Pay attention to what makes your heart sing.
Find what is in you that nobody else but you, can bring into the world.