My column on February 17 on Fine Art Views.
(5 minute read)
There’s the family you’re born into, and then there’s the family you choose.
Thin people have thin parents.
The original series on weight loss included a discussion of the genetic components of good health. But what about those of us who aren’t fortunate to have healthy parents? Er…Successful parents? How is this useful for our discussion today??
Obviously, it would be difficult to claim that artistically successful people have artistically successful parents. It’s much more likely we are the only artistic person in our family history. So are we totally without hope for artistic success??
Let’s start here: What do we mean by “artistic success? Or even “success” in general?
“Successful” parents might mean people who have achieved “financial” success. But it could also mean parent who balance work with family life. Parents who make decisions to create a stable home for their family. Parents who love their work and do it well and with pride. Or it could mean parents who encourage their child to pursue the work of their heart, no matter what that is.
There were no artists (that I know of) in my family. My parents didn’t even have hobbies (except for my dad, late in life, after retirement.)
But they did provide me with a powerful meme that has stood me well in life:
Both of my parents made major life changes in mid-life:
My mother, a stay-at-home mom with six kids and a seventh on the way, went back to college in her 40’s to get a teaching degree.
My father sold the family restaurant around the same time. He was unemployed, and under-employed for a few years. But after a lengthy and varied job search (including working in a factory and running for public office) he found a new career, one he loved.
Those were scary times for our family. But as kids, we hardly knew it. Looking back, I see now how courageous (and contained!) my parents were.
I believe their example gave me courage to do the same.
Yet whatever successes our parents have, I would still revise this “secret” for artists. Especially because sometimes our parents and families don’t support our decision to make art. It’s weird, it’s scary, or it seems frivolous to them.
Let’s talk instead about the family we create for ourselves. Let’s say this instead:
Successful artists create networks and social circles for support.
Successful artists surround themselves with a “family” of people who believe in what they do.
Successful artists take note of what successful artists do.
And successful artists decide what “success” means to them.
When I teach professional development workshops for artists and craftspeople, I always end the final session by saying this:
“Okay, long after we’re (the ABI team) are gone, you’re still going to need the support, the inspiration, and the sharing of resources you found here today.
Look around the room. These are your peers. They are artists who have SELF-SELECTED to come here this weekend. They came to learn, to get resources to grow their business, to learn how to be successful.”
“Look around. Who did you talk to? Who did you bond with? Share your contact info. Call them up when you get home, email them, and meet them for coffee! Meet up with a small group once every few weeks, or once a month. Research and share ideas and resources. Inspire and support each other!”
“If they don’t live close to you, friend them on Facebook, or e-mail them! Some of my closest professional friends live across the country from me.”
What do you look for in your new professional “family”?
You can do this right now. Right now, as you read this, you are (or can be) a part of the FASO community, full of artists who have self-selected to grow their art biz: creating their own websites, creating an online presence in the world, creating email newsletters. Artists who are reading this email newsletter! Artists who write here, or comment on what others have written, artists willing to share their own experiences of what works for them.
Look for people who support your vision for success.
Remember that success can be different things to different people. Some people need to a little extra make money. Some need to make a lot of money, fast. (When you figure this one out, please let me know!) Others seek prestige, respect, and recognition. Some are looking for a better balance between home, life, art, and work. Some are looking to simply better their craft or product, or their business skills, so they are working smarter. Some are looking for their big Oprah break. (Good luck with that.) (No, really!)
Understand that you can support someone else’s vision even if it is not your own. This gets hard for me, when people dream small. But it’s okay–as long as they respect MY dream, which is not small.
Look for positive-thinking people. We all have enough nay-sayers in our life to last…well, a lifetime. Let the naysayers babble on, but don’t let them wear you down. We all carry one in our head, too. No matter.
Look for people that believe success is possible–because that belief helps make it possible.
Look for people who understand that life may intervene, that our dreams may go to go the back burner temporarily (or longer!)
But look for people who will always remember that you are an artist. They will let you turn down the back burner so your artistic “pot” can simmer, but they will not let you turn it off. (Oh, I knew a cooking metaphor was in there somewhere!)
Not everything is possible. Not everything is going to come up roses.
But making your art, and sharing it with the world, is a good start. Finding people who encourage you to keep doing that?
My first open studio is done, and my next (last) one is on November 3 & 4. We had gorgeous weather, lots and lots of people, and strong sales. (Yay! I can buy more beads!)
In between I got a call from a bead trader. He’s one of a large group of people who are originally from Gambia in Africa. They all seem to be related. (Mention one to another and they always reply, “Oh, he’s my cousin!”
Several times a year, they travel back to Africa, to Gambia and Ghana, to buy “African trade beads.” (To learn more about trade beads, try this British source, or Picard Beads and Bead Museum, and this amazing online resource and discussion group. (Briefly, trade beads mostly refer to either a) glass beads made in Venice and Bohemia in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, made for trade throughout Asia, Africa and the American West, or b) handmade glass or metal beads made in Africa.
Anyhoo, a couple times a year I get a phone call from one of them. They are usually passing through my area, and would like to stop in to show me their wares.
Imagine a large white van filled with about a hundred large Rubbermade totes full of hanks of….beads. They are carried into your living room and spread out on your coffee tables, chairs and dining room table. They are all colors of the rainbow, with some colors in between. They range in value from a few dollars a strand to a few thousand dollars a strand.
Given enough time, I try to email and Facebook people to come by and share the joy. One visitor fell into a chair and gasped, “It’s like I’ve died and gone to bead heaven!”
I feed everybody (but usually everyone but Baba or Kabba or Abdul is too busy buying beads, and Baba and Kabba and Abdul are too busy selling beads.) Everyone leaves a little poorer (except for the trader) and a lot happier.
So what’s with Nepal?
This year, a fellow craftsman appeared at the door with her mom and a friend. They were the first to arrive and dived right in. When the buying frenzy had eased a bit, I asked her how she found out about the event.
“I got an email,” she said.
“But you’re not on my email list!” I exclaimed.
“I got the email from Victoria E.”, she replied.
“But she’s not on my list, either!”
“Right, but she got an email from Lisa G.” she said.
“I forgot Lisa G. is on my email list!” I laughed.
“Not only that……Lisa G. is in Nepal!”, said my friend.
So, Lisa, wherever you are today….
Thank you so much for passing on my invitation, and thanks to your friends for passing on my invitation, and so on and so on.
And the next time you’re in MY neighborhood, come on by and I’ll give you some beads!
And for my readers: Never, ever underestimate the power of social media in getting the word out about your events.
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.
Why it’s okay to say no sometimes. Maybe a lot of times.
Years ago, an older gentlemen came to my booth at a big show. His visit changed my life.
He was so excited by my work. He was an artist himself, and he had incredibly rich things to say about my art. And about me.
“You’re a shaman!” he exclaimed over and over again. “You’re a shaman!”
I felt uncomfortable with that. Who am I to say I’m a spiritual healer?? I can hardly figure out what MY life should look like. Where would I get the gall to tell someone else how to run theirs?!
He went on to explain. And I’ve never forgotten his words.
All shamans are artists. But not all artists are shamans.
All shamans are teachers. But not all teachers are shamans.
All shamans are healers. But not all healers are shamans.
He went on to say much, much more. And some of it I still work through. (For example, I wondered why I still feel uncomfortable telling people this story, until a new friend told me that “shaman” is never something a true shaman calls herself; it’s what other people call them.)
What do these shamanistic traits–creativity; healing; teaching–have in common?
They are all about seeing ahead to what cannot be seen right now.
They see possibility.
A healer sees a person with has discord, imbalance, pain. They also see the person person could have balance, comfort and peace of mind. (Like hospice, not necessarily curing, but healing.)
A teacher sees a person does not know, and cannot do. They also see the person could learn, and grow, and achieve.
An artist knows something is inside her that needs to come out into the world to be seen, heard, experienced. It is not there until she makes it.
Personally, I think we all have our moments of shaman-hood. A parent, a good friend, a stranger, all have the ability, perhaps for a moment to lift us out of ourselves and help us see our true potential.
But I digress. Because I think sometimes, these things that make us a good parent, or a good friend, or a good artist, or a good healer, also makes us a very bad “good person”…..
In hospice, “fixing” is akin to “curing”. It’s simply not what we’re here for.
But the healing/teaching/creative arts tend to call to fixers. (It has to be trained out of us.) One of my trainers calls herself a recovering fixer. I LOVE that phrase! Another name for it is “Helpful Hannah”.
I hate that tendency. If I’m not careful, I let myself get sucked into someone else’s little life drama. Or I’m soon handing out advice they didn’t ask for, or don’t even want.
Some people don’t really want to be “fixed”. They get something out of being the way they are, or being in the situation they’re in. (I love Dr. Phil’s line, “Is that working for you?”)
Because everyone knows (especially us who had to learn it the hard way)….
You can’t fix other people. You can only fix yourself. (And let me return to that statement, because even that can be a trouble-maker….)
Just so I don’t sound heartless and unsupportive, what does help someone in dire straits is to simply….listen to them. Listen deep. Someone once said, the best gift you can give someone is to listen–really listen–to them. (I tried to Google the quote but came up with really naughty links…) Good docs listen to the stories their patients tell about themselves. Likewise, shrinks, social workers, priests, good friends, parents. This will also help you sort out the people who are really trying to work through something, and the time-suckers. Because the time-suckers just keep telling the same story over and over and over, as often as you’ll listen.
But I digress again.
So….Sometimes the things that make us a good artist–being open, trying to know what is inside us, being sensitive to what our work needs–makes us even more vulnerable to the influences of the outside world and other people. Because we can also be vulnerable, sensitive and open to the needs of others.
Especially situations and people who look like they need fixing.
If your art comes from a deep, healing place in your heart, this is especially true. You will be sensitive to people and situations that need healing. Your impulse to fix, if left unchecked, will pull you off track.
It’s a constant struggle. Hospice is teaching me not to be a fixer.
So why did I say “you can only fix yourself” is trouble-making?
Because sometimes it’s not about fixing yourself (which is linked to trying to be perfect.)
It’s about forgiving yourself for being human.
So don’t beat yourself up when it happens. When you drop everything to help someone. When you volunteer for every good cause. When you say “yes” to every question, to every phone call, to every excuse not to make your art.
Just ask yourself where the impulse comes from. To make that person feel better? Or to make yourself feel better?
Make a good choice. Know what you’re setting aside, what you’re giving up.
Sometimes, it’s the right thing to help someone. Sometimes, it’s you that needs to be the healing heart.
And sometimes, it’s your creativity, your art, that is needed to bring healing to the world.
Congratulate yourself when you make a good decision.
And forgive yourself when you don’t.
For more articles along this line, check out:
Oh, gosh, apparently this is a prominent theme in my life! So folks, do what I say, not what I do, okay?
Which is worse? Leaving a tribe behind, or being ASKED to leave the tribe??
I wrote earlier about how hard it is to leave a tribe we’ve outgrown or moved past.
A reader reminded me it’s even harder to leave when you don’t want to–but everybody else wants you to.
Is this scenario familiar? You have a special group of friends, good buddies. You’ve all been together for awhile and things are great.
Then one day a new person joins the group, usually invited in by one of the members.
It may start right away, or it may be insidious, but eventually, one of the original members of the group–YOU!!–is slowly but surely forced out.
Maybe you find out everyone else was invited to something. But not you. Or you are accused of talking about people behind their back. Maybe the new person is rude to you when no one else is around. But when you complain, everyone thinks you’re making it up.
The more frustrated and hurt you become, the more the group shuns you.
And one day, you are on the outside looking in. You are no longer part of the group.
This happened to me. I was in my forties, if you can believe it. (This is still humiliating to think about, but I was accused of stealing a tiny Rubbermaid container with Cheerios in it.) And ironically, it was me who invited the newcomer to join our group.
It seems ridiculous now, but at the time it was devastating. It was one of the most emotionally painful events of my life.
I had no idea what to do about it. It took awhile to get over it.
Then, a year later, I read an article about the same thing happening to somebody else, a kid who was in high school at the time.
A new kid joined his group of friends, who had been tight since first grade. Then the new kid spread rumors about him. Everyone turned on him. He was ousted from the group.
Fortunately, he had someone to counsel him. The wise words went something like this:
You cannot control what happened, because you cannot control what other people think. Since it’s not in your control, you must learn to let go, and move on. You may never learn why this happened, and it’s not important that you do.
This is the only thing you can know for sure: People who do this to you are simply not your friends.
The sad thing is, they may have been “good enough” friends for awhile. Maybe even for a long long time.
But when things got dicey, they cut and ran. They did not believe in you.
And so they weren’t really your friends.
Because real friends don’t do that.
Stay your course, believe in yourself, and follow your heart. You will make new friends, built on a stronger foundation. They will be better friends.”
It seems too simplistic to be helpful. But it helped.
First was the realization that this happens to others, too. I didn’t feel like such a pariah any more.
Comfort also came from realizing I had no control over what had happened. Therefore, I didn’t have to figure it out or even fix it. It was over, and it was time to let go.
The kid in the article moved on. He went to college, and made new friends. He began to value other, deeper qualities in his new friends–mutual respect, integrity, trustworthiness.
And the day came when one of his old friends contacted him to tell him that the group had finally broken up when the interloper tried the trick again. Everyone realized what had happened. He apologized and said he was sorry he had believed the rumors and lies.
It was nice of the guy to do that. But it didn’t really change anything. They resumed their friendship, but at a very casual level.
Whether you leave the tribe, or the tribe leaves you, the same thing is true…
They are not your tribe. Not any longer.
As Greg Behrendt says in his book, HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, don’t waste the pretty. Don’t lose any more precious sleep or brain cells on figuring it out. Just be grateful you are free to explore your next step forward. And imagine the lovely new people you’ll meet on your way.
P.S. Of course, there’s always the possibility it IS you. Who can say? But the same advice applies. Move on if it’s causing you pain. Find the group that embraces your unique brand of irony.
Your needs and goals as an artist will change and grow throughout your life. You will constantly gather the people you need to you.
And you will also periodically leave people behind.
I started this mini-series with a sort of Ugly Duckling story, as one reader noted. I told how my dog tries to be a cat, and why it’s a good thing he isn’t very good at it. When we find out we aren’t really “bad bankers” but are actually “really excellent artists”, it’s an amazing epiphany.
The second article talks about how to find your own tribe.
Interestingly, some people took that to mean searching out other artists who work in the same medium. Some took it as how some artists learn techniques from a master, then never really develop their own style.
Some even found their new “family”, but grieved when it, too, became contentious, confining and restrictive.
While some of us will be fortunate to find a wonderful, cohesive, supportive group of like-minded folks, others will struggle to maintain that in their lives.
Sad to say, but it happens.
The day may come when you have to leave your bright new tribe, and find another.
There are lots of reasons why this happens.
Sometimes the group is just too big. There’s no time for each person to have a turn to be listened to. You can feel lost in the shuffle.
Sometimes there aren’t enough “rules”. A few folks will take on the role of gadfly (aka “jerk”). Or there are too many rules, too much “business”. The lively group dynamic is strangled with too many procedural stops and starts. (I left one craft guild when the business reports began to take up almost half the meetings.)
Sometimes the group narrows its own dynamic. It can be subtle but powerful. You’ll start to feel constricted. Here’s a true story:
Years ago, a quilting guild I belonged to brought in a nationally-known color expert for a workshop.
During it, she commented that there were definite regional color palettes, patterns and technique preferences across the country.
I asked her how that happened. She said when members brought in their projects for sharing, some would generate a huge positive response from the membership. Others, more eclectic or “out there”, would receive a lukewarm reception. “We all crave that positive response”, she said. “It’s human nature. So slowly but surely, we begin to tailor our work to generate the bigger response.”
It hit me like a brick. Another quilter and I did more unusual fabric work. The response to our “shares” was decidedly in the “lukewarm” category.
And I had begun to do more work in the “accepted style” of the group.
I left after the workshop, and never went back. My fellow fiber artists were a great bunch of people. But I was not willing to “tamp down” my vision in order to garner their praise.
Sometimes, our course changes. We find ourselves in pursuit of different goals. Or we find our own needs sublimated to the needs of the group.
Or we simply grow faster than the rest of the group. You may even outgrow your mentor. If our work fosters jealousy–if our work becomes more successful, attracts more notice–then professional jealousy might raise its ugly head.
It can feel even harder to leave this new tribe that gave us so much joy at first. In fact, it’s brutal.
But it has to be done, if you want your art to move forward.
You cannot control the feelings of others. You can make yourself, and your work, as small and mundane as you can. But if someone is determined to nibble you, nothing can stop them.
Take heart in this knowledge:
This group served your needs for awhile. Enough for you to gain confidence, and to take a step forward.
And you will find another tribe. It may take awhile. But your peers are out there.
Consider that they may not even be working in the same medium. They may not even be visual artists. They may not be “artists” at all.
As long as they share the same values, or can support and challenge you in constructive ways, you can benefit from their company.
It may even be time for you to walk alone. Just for awhile.
Just long enough to really hear what your own heart is saying.
Someone commented on my recent post, “RUNNING WITH THE PACK”. She said she hadn’t found her “peeps” yet, which inspired this post today.
I love the word “peeps”. For me, they still conjure up visions of yellow marshmallow chicks at Easter time. I guess both “peeps” have things in common: Stickiness!
Here’s a good tip for finding your tribe. The next time you find yourself preparing a a major step forward, look to see who’s right there with you.
I give this advice every time I teach on workshop on professional development skills. I end every presentation with this suggestion….
“Look around you. You came today because you wanted to take the next step in your own growth as an artist.
You’re in a group that self-selected for the same thing! You’re all in the same tribe.
Did you feel a connection with someone today? Did you like what someone had to say? Exchange contact info, and get together. Maybe even form your own support group!”
In fact, whenever you take any big step in a new direction, take note of the company you’re in.
I took hospice training earlier this year. Some of you may remember the essay I wrote early on describing that incredible sensation of connection I felt with this group.
It was no coincidence–people taking that training have come to a certain point in their lives. We were ready to be a part of something different and new. We formed a nexus, and felt a sort of recognition in each other. We’d never met before, but we traveled this same road together in search of something powerful and compelling.
We were not strangers to each other. “I know you!” we each thought.
We had become members of a strange new tribe.
You, too, may find your tribe in this way. Or in other strange places. When you are open, truly open, to the work that is in your heart, you are also open to new opportunities. New adventures. New people.
Not all will stick. But some will.
Your tribe. Your peeps!
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: You need an MFA to be a real artist!
REALITY: The real proof is in the work.
I couldn’t get into the art school at the university of my choice (The University of Michigan.) So maybe my attitude about art school is pure sour grapes.
On the other hand, the reasons I chose U of M seem pretty silly in 40 years in hindsight. My best friend, my first boy friend and my first crush all went there, and they said it was the best school in the world.
So I wanted to go there, too. I gave up going to other schools with art programs that had accepted me, just to be with the boy who dumped me four months later.
I hope I’m a little more sophisticated about my choices now. (But I’m probably not.)
I’ve come to believe it’s a good thing I didn’t go to art school there (or anywhere.) I may have been an artist sooner.
But I would not be the artist I am today.
Getting a degree from an art school has its advantages.
Credentials, for one. A degree says you completed a course of study. It says somebody deemed you good enough to complete it successfully.
Art school gives you other precious gifts: Time, tools and resources to actually make art. You have many opportunities to experiment with different media and different techniques. Many students develop important relationships with teachers who become mentors, and with other talented students.
Art school also allows you to immerse yourself in a community that supports art. If you come from a family or environment that’s baffled (or even threatened) by your artistic attempts, this immersion can be powerful stuff. You may feel like you’ve finally found “your people”.
And of course, there is the confidence and validation you gain from holding a degree that proclaims you an artist.
But there is a downside to art school.
You spend a huge amount of time making work that fits someone else’s agenda and criteria, not your own.
You may find it hard to develop your own style. You are surrounded by the vision of other teachers and other students, and it can be hard to figure out what your particular vision is.
Or conversely, it’s all too easy to be influenced by the vision of others.
Or your vision doesn’t get the “strokes” from the group you desire, so you unconsciously begin to modify it so it does.
Or you don’t modify your style, and suffer the consequences We’ve all heard the appalling stories of vicious group “critiques” and the lasting emotional damage they can cause. We’ve all heard of the nasty teacher who never missed an opportunity to denigrate someone’s work.
You may fall for the tendency to make high-falutin’, theoretical, worldly/academic “statements” with your art. Read almost any art statement, preferably one you barely understand, and you’ll know what I mean. The actual approach to your art may be taught as a purely intellectual or academic exercise. There is value to understanding and practicing art this way, of course. But I personally feel something is lost when art is made only to provoke, or satirize, or insult, with no real emotional connection, personal experience, or “heart” in the effort. IMHO, of course.
And the biggest drawback–you may not ever actually encounter any working artists.
I once spent a day giving five high-school art classes a presentation of the business of art. I opened the first class with this question: “How many of you believe it is impossible to make a living by selling your art?”
The teacher raised her hand.
Some people who teach art do so because they don’t believe they can be successful selling it. (Though many teach so they can have the freedom to create the art they want, without worrying about having selling it.)
You can often tell which teachers are working artists and which ones aren’t. The working ones are making their art, at some level–entering exhibitions with new work, selling, taking commissions, whatever. The ones who gave up are telling you why it’s impossible to sell your work. These are the ones who make terrible role models.
Almost as bad are the teachers who convince their students that the art world is out there just waiting for them to graduate. Instant success is within their grasp. Famous galleries in New York City are eager for their work, and the party starts as soon as you walk out the door. Then, when it doesn’t happen in six months, or a year, or three, the new grad begins to think she doesn’t have what it takes–and gives up.
Some art schools now incorporate business skills for artists in their curriculum. Yay!
Either way, the art school experience can make the issue black-and-white. There are “artists” and there are “non-artists”. There are “rich/famous/successful” artists, and there are “failed artists”. No gray. No spectrum. No range.
Know that there are many “levels” of keeping art in our lives.
There are as many ways of making that work as there are artists.
Some will make good money with their pursuits. Others will cobble together different ventures and venues that makes them happy. Some will go into fine art. Some will go into design, or graphic arts. Some may teach. Some may do the show circuit. Some may find gallery representation. Others may find ways of using the internet to market directly to customers.
Some may find other work that is rewarding and makes them happy, and keep their art practice solely for their own enjoyment. And some will run up against life’s hard walls all too soon, and have to carve out tiny chunks of time to keep their vision alive.
Maybe we can’t all be rich and famous. But there are many ways to create a life that includes art as a daily practice. And there many ways of sharing our vision with others.
So go to art school, if that is your dream. Squeeze every drop of experience and knowledge you can from it. Revel in your freedom to immerse yourself in an art community. Learn to protect yourself against the nay-sayers.
But if you didn’t go to art school, know that you simply found your life’s work by another path. It may have wound around in the woods for awhile, it may have taken you longer to get here….
But you simply had a different experience. That’s all.
And those unique experiences are what made you the artist you are today.
UPDATE: See what Canadian painter Robert Genn says about artist credentials in his well-known Painters Keys newsletter.
ANOTHER UPDATE: So embarrassed that I missed this for YEARS, but I just found a powerful video/poem by Beth Murch, who says she was inspired by this article! So, proof positive that when we share the work of our heart, our unique vision, with the world, it will cross the path of someone who needs/wants to see it. It’s like tossing a pebble into a great lake. We may not see where the ripples go, but they are there. Thank you, Beth!
A shout-out for the guy who gave me my first writing gig–and a link to his latest big project.
Today I’d like to introduce my good friend, Larry Hornung, who has been in the crafts business industry for years. He’s been hard at work on a new online project to benefit all us craftspeople and artists.
It’s called CRAFT SHOW NEWS.
I’ve just started poking around the site, and found this thoughtful (and provocative) suggestion for guaranteeing a good crowd at a craft show. Here’s a link to Pam Corwin’s Business of Craft blog and another link to Quinn MacDonald’s always thoughtful, insightful blog Quinn Creative. Please tell Larry he needs to include a link back to CSN from there…
AND….you can add your own news, gallery, show review.
But WAIT, there’s MORE!!
It’s F*R*E*E*, too.
I first met Larry when he headed advertising sales and managed the fledgling online discussion forum for The Crafts Report magazine. We had many thoughtful and hilarious discussions about the industry. We’d run into each other at various shows, and I loved hearing his insights and experiences in the biz.
Larry went on to start his own magazine, CraftsBusiness. He hired me to write my first regular column, An Artist’s Journal.
It was a great magazine, and it was a good ride for three years. Then he sold it to another company (who decided not to publish it after all) and set off on another venture. (That’s when I started writing a similar column, CRAFT Matters for The Crafts Report.)
So what’s Larry up to now? Here, in his own words:
I started craftshownews because I believe there needed to be a place where craft artists — and others – could communicate with others in the industry, promote their businesses and their work, and feel free to make their opinions known. Plus, I wanted it to be a place with resources and information that could help grow their business. It would also be free.
As for me, I am hoping to just manage the site, adding my own content (along with artist supplied content) , and hopefully make the website pay for itself.
I’ve always admired Larry’s intelligence and wit, his integrity, his work ethic, his genuine desire to support and encourage fine American handcraft, and did I say he was funny?
Check out his new site. Let him know what you think–he welcomes suggestions! Participate by adding your own show feedback (if you do shows), or volunteer to add an article or link you think would be a good fit.
Oh, and tell him I said hi!
I’m exploring a new social networking site, LinkedIn, this one for professionals. Professional what?, you ask. Well, there are a lot of professional artists, writers and bloggers there already. You can be, too!
So IF you are already LinkedIn, and IF you read my blog/know my art/read my article in The Crafts Report magazine, or if you’ve enjoyed my guest articles that were published in Clint Watson’sFine Art Views daily email newsletter….
… I’m humbly asking you to recommend me in my LinkedIn Profile.
And if you figure out how to use this new resource, let me know, because everyone is asking me!
If you are NOT already LinkedIn, consider it. I know, I know…. As my friend and fellow TCR writer Nancy Lefever always says, it can feel like we are Plurked, Twittered, Facebooked, emailed and blogged to death and distraction these days.
I agree. Yet I still participate.
It takes time to figure out a comfortable level to work these venues at, and I tend to avoid following anyone who states that they Twitter 152 times a day….
But it’s about visibility, it’s about connections, and it’s about exploring new ways to get our work out there.
Some of these venues will fail miserably, some will peter out quickly. The life span of these new ventures runs about 2-3 years. It’s impossible to try them all, and it’s hard to foresee which ones will amount to anything.
And yet, one of them may forge that one connection that gets your to your next step.
Is it worth it? I dunno. But I’m willing to try.
I actually find it interesting and challenging. A creative act. Just another aspect of my artistic self, connection. My art is all about connecting, so this feels like a natural extension. In a way, building an online presence is another “body of work”, similar to the one we build with our art: Who am I? Who am I to other people? What is my public image, and how much does it align with my private self, and the work I want to do? How does this online presence contribute to the knowledge of others, and to the greater good in the world?
My body of work–my artwork and my writing–tells you who I am as a person, and shows you the better person I strive to be.
Ultimately, this social networking stuff, it’s just another way to tell my story.
And on a lighter note, it can be fun to Twitter, my friends. If it sucks your time, confine it to your coffee break(s).
One bright note….LinkedIn might be a good one to join because it’s easy to search for the contacts you already have. I was surprised to create almost 150 contacts the first day, more than I have in several months of Facebook presence. And the connections are one I already treasure, I just hadn’t thought of them as my network. That person who I met on Freecycle? They work for our city government. That artist who commented on my blog? They work in academia, too.
Suddenly, my world seems bigger than I ever imagined.
Live and learn. And if you are truly a lifelong learner, as I strive to be, we’ll will be learning for many years to come.
p.s. A big shout-out and thank you to Gerri Newfry, who “recommended” my blog before I could even post this! Thank you, Gerri!
And geez, I went back to see how you can recommend me, and I can’t figure it out, either! If someone knows, please let me know, okay? I’m not sure if you have to be signed up on the site, but here are the instructions from LinkedIn:
To recommend a person from their profile:
1. Click ‘Recommend this person’ found in the upper right hand corner of the profile. You will also find a recommendation link in the Experience section under the position for which you want to recommend them.
2. Choose a category: service provider, business partner, student, or colleague.
3. Follow the instructions provided based on the category you selected.
My article about using Facebook’s “25 Random Things About Me” exercise to create an artist statement appeared in the FineArtViews newsletter this week.
People are asking me exactly how to do that–turn that list into their statement. Should they just make 25 Random Things into their artist statement??
Well, you could, but I didn’t mean for you to actually do that. For one thing, that’s one looooong artist statement.
Rather, think of the 25 Random Things as a jumping-off exercise to do an actual statement.
I’ll respond to some of these queries today and in upcoming articles. Maybe some examples will help make this more concrete.
I was going to first address the question from someone who told me I was a very good writer. Flattery gets you everywhere!
But a comment from another writer should come first. Because this artist can’t even get started on the 25 Random Things.
The artist left this comment on my blog:
I have been confronted with the list a number of times – but find that I am either too shy or just simply unable to list anything because I am changing too often to want to simply put anything down that would be so permanent that I could not go back and add another two millions or so things on a constant basis
Let’s look at the beliefs behind this block, and address them one at a time. (And I don’t mean to pick on this one reader, because a LOT of artists feel this way…including, from time to time, ME.)
Shy I can’t help you with. Except…
Nobody will care more than YOU do, about what you do.
Corollary: If you can’t articulate why what you do is amazing, or explain why we should care about it, you won’t even be able to communicate that to someone you HIRE to do it FOR you.
Here’s an article I wrote awhile back about why it’s important to step up to the plate with your artist statement, your promotional materials, and yes, your 25 Random Things.
It’s not about writing “two million things”, it’s about selecting 25 things.
What would you think if an artist said, “I can’t paint, there are just too many things in the world I could paint. I can’t make up my mind which one to paint, so I just won’t paint at all.”
That’s not a painter with too much to do. That’s a great excuse for not being a painter at all.
We know this person is an artist. We’re going to apply the same principles to getting out and making art, to getting out there and doing the list, and getting out there and writing an artist statement.
You’re selective when you make your art. Be selective when you make your list.
This will help when you do your artist statement, too. Most artist statements are far too long. I saw one once at a show that was a full typewritten page, with miniscule margins in an even minisculer font. (Yes, I know minisculer is not a real word–I made it up!) I tried and tried to read it, and kept losing my place.
Plus it was just plain boring, which is sad because the work was exciting. Plainly, the artist had trouble putting the same passion that drove him to make that work, into his artist statement…. Which brings me to my next point:
It’s 25 interesting things, okay?
More on this in the articles ahead. And why most artist statements sound alike, and how to make your stand out.
Anything you write has to stay that way…forever! (NOT)
Now, I know I’ve stated in other articles that what you say online is there a long time. But the truth is, it will take some digging to find. Your little list of 25 Random Things is not the Gutenberg Bible. It’s not written in stone, either.
When you do those million other things, you can simply go back and change it. Or heck, write a new one. It’s okay–nobody cares how many times you do it!
It’s just for fun.
Nobody is keeping track of how many times you do it. Nobody is keeping score. Nobody is hanging out on Facebook with a judge’s hat on, saying, “Well, he had a good rhythm, you could dance to it, but the lyrics…!! I give it a 5.”
What’s matter-of-fact for you might be HOLY COW!! I DIDN’T KNOW THAT ABOUT YOU! for someone else.
I always think the oddest thing about my martial arts practice(s) is how old I am. In reality, most people are amazed I do it at all. I guess “artist” never seems to go hand-in-hand with kung fu.
Just as the things you’ve done so long or so long ago, they are something you hardly think about, could be a hook for your audience. I never knew my friend Mark was a yoga nut. Or that my friend Judy knows more about football than anyone else I know. It enriches my relationship with them.
Last, I recognize one of the blocks, this because I suffer from this one myself:
Here’s a tip: Perfectionism=Stultifying
Perfectionism keeps us from doing anything until we can do it perfectly. When, in reality, practice makes perfect.
The only cure for perfectionism is….
Start where you are. When you know better, do better.
If you don’t want to publish your list on Facebook, then don’t. But write it in a notebook or a journal. Set it aside for now. Pull it out when I write the next article on what to do with those 25 Random Things.
Extra credit homework: A list of some good articles I wrote on self promotion for artists.
Why it’s okay if you aren’t Twittering/Facebooking/meta tagging/Stumbling/LinkedIn or otherwise filling your social media dance card this week.
A quick sidestep from social media (Facebook 25 Random Things topic) to social media in general.
Sometimes I beat myself up that I’ve been slow to use social media to promote my art.
Other times I’m glad I didn’t get sucked into the whole thing with “meta tags” and “SEO” and that other crap.
I’m blessed to have a net-savvy husband. (When asked what he does, I just reply, “He’s an internet visionary.”)
He’s not only responsible for my lovely web site, he’s also guided me
on my entire online journey the last ten years.
By that I mean he told me from the start that whatever I said or did online would stick around for a long, long, long, long, LONG time.
From my very first email correspondence, my earliest postings to usergroups, then email lists, forums, blogs and now Twitter and Facebook, I have always been hyper aware of what I say, how I say it, and who I’m saying it to. (Or as Lily Tomlin would say, ‘the party to whom I am speaking….”
I’ve taken advantage the internet gives me to stop and think before I post; to reread what I’ve written before I hit the send button; to consider my flow of thought before I publish an article. I sort through my words to make them more clear. I wait til anger has passed before I react to a snotty remark. I ask myself what my intentions are before I jump into a discussion.
Saying what I care about. Sharing what I’m trying to do. Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.
Telling you what tribe I belong to.
So I’m always amazed at people who flame others on discussion boards; people who spam their entire email list with warnings about AIDS-infected needles stuck in gas station pump hoses; people who try to leave spam on my blog comments; people who think they can boost their web presence over bajillions of other web sites by using clever tags and search terms; people whose only correspondence with me is to get me to buy stuff from them.
Naomi Dunford states that broad, untargeted, shotgun-style marketing has destroyed a lot of what used to work with social media.
In a recent telephone seminar, Naomi said, “Integrity is the coin of the internet.” (And we know Naomi’s cool because, hey! she and I wear the same glasses…)
This is what my husband hammered into me from the very beginning, and it’s still true:
People will respond to my authentic self.
And that’s why a boring everyday I-had-eggs-for-breakfast style blog won’t work, too. Nobody cares if I have chickens…
…unless I share with you a valuable story about what I learned when I twisted my knee chasing my chicken.
I don’t care if I have 10,000 hits to my website, or 10,000 blog readers. I don’t care if I have the world’s attention.
I just want to find my tribe.
I want my tribe to find me.
As people come by your online presence, they will either be attracted and intrigued by who you are and what you offer–or they won’t.
People who agonize about manipulating content and tagging to get mega hits are fishing with the biggest net they can find. It’s purely a numbers game.
Maybe with certain kinds of product, that will work for you. But what I what to accomplish is not about a numbers game.
So don’t stress about what the latest social media hotspot is, or how to stand out among 20,000 other Etsy artists. Quit talking about how to drive traffic to your website.
Instead, treat each venue as a way to connect with an audience that would care about you and your work.
Use each venue as a way for the people that care, to stay connected to you.
Do what you can, in a way that is authentic for you and your business. Be who you are. Make the work you are proud of.
And dance like nobody is watching you.
Because then you don’t have to wait for somebody to ask you.
Use a silly little Facebook game to put more passion in your artist statement.
An article in our local newspaper discussed the current Facebook phenomenon, “25 Random Things About Me”. Apparently, it’s the most popular Facebook “Notes” feature of all time.
The article suggests it proves that we all love to talk about ourselves, especially the younger generation usually found on Facebook. (Although it turns out every age group on Facebook, including mine, is hopping on the “25 Random Things” list. I’m always amused at how we talk about other generations’ differences as if they were a different species…)
Emily Nussbaum, editor-at-large for New York magazine, says the most decisive difference is that the Facebook generation “assumes they have an audience”: They have a mental image of a large group of people interested in postings such as “25 Random Things.” Part of their identity rests on an invisible entourage that accompanies them everywhere.
It’s also an exercise to creatively select “facts” about ourselves that puts us in the best possible light. A little humor, and voila! A captivating mini-bio that reveals us as a delightful individual.
Is that so awful?
“Random Things” lister (Joe) Diorio has his own theory about why the lists and commentaries have become so popular. It has a piquant irony: “We spend so much of our lives online with Facebook, LinkedIn, and we spend so much time connected that we feel disconnected. So we tell people these little things, to feel more connected. We put a piece of ourselves out there, to give it a try.”
Isn’t this what art is all about? To connect what is in our heart to a larger audience?
Look, it IS hard to “stand out” in a world of a bajillion people. I’m a fairly outgoing person with a variety of ways to connect to my environment–parent, artist, assorted pastimes, social networks. In my own smallish town of Keene, NH, there are 25,000 people. What percentage of those people actually know who I am? Or care?
And yet to effectively market my art, to create an audience for the work I feel compelled to make, I may need to forge connections across a whole region, a country, perhaps over several continents.
So how do I make my work, and myself, stand out? How do I connect meaningfully with a larger audience?
We always assume it’s only about the quality of the work. Is it?
Good work helps. Great photography (so people can see our good work) helps. Publicity, self-promotion, advertising, exposure/exhibiting all help.
But what always grabs me is a good artist statement–an exquisite example of creative non-fiction. The ultimate “25 Random Things” list.
It should be true. But specific enough tell us something. “I just love color” or “I just love music” doesn’t tell me a single damn thing about your work.
It can be about your education or training. But that can’t be the whole thing. Typical artist statements often list the other, more famous artists someone studied under. To me that reads as, “I’m ALMOST as good as they are, but my work is a lot cheaper!”
It should be so well written as to be elegant. More often, it’s full of jargon and buzzwords (aka “artspeak”) that simply hides who you really are and what you’re really doing.
Here’s what I think it should be:
It should be aspects of the world at large that you experience through the lens of your unique perspective, your individual experience–in a way that explores, reveals and creates wonder in your audience.
It’s your honest, thoughtful explanation of why you create the work you do.
And why we should care.
Because that’s part of our human nature–to be interesting to other people. And to be interested in other people. We are social animals, after all, from the exuberant “look at me!” to the thoughtful “I never thought of it that way before….”
But if really connect with an audience, you have to dig a little deeper. Reveal a little more. Be a little more honest. Be more real.
Show us something human.
To quote the article again:
That communal aspect is what so much commentary misses about “25 Random Things.” It’s not just a list; it’s a communal exercise. Posters post, and friends comment.
What’s that commentary like? An unscientific survey of more than 30 such lists has yet to uncover anything vicious or unkind. Mostly, the virtual community is, in Nussbaum’s words, “surprisingly supportive, sweet, even encouraging.” It is nurturing, a thing friends do.
And that’s what I love about the 25 Things.
Every time someone I “know” writes one, I’m amazed at what I read. New facets of their personality, their history, their hopes, fears and dreams are revealed. They seem deeper and richer to me. I’m in awe of what has been shared.
I feel more connected.
Don’t be afraid to do this with your audience, your customers. Give them something real about you to connect with.
Your homework for today, should you choose to accept it, is to compile your own 25 Random Things list about you as an artist. I compiled such a list for my biz awhile back. In it are some of the stories that compel me to make my art.
I think I’ll be revisiting this list from time to time. I think it will continue to change as I get closer to discovering what makes me tick. As I get more clear about what it is I want to say. As I get closer to figuring out what it is I want to contribute to the world.
As I begin to understand how truly and completely fallible, lovable, annoying, loving, inspirational, wicked, kind, forgiving….how human…I really am.
Before I continue with my mini-series on jewelry display, I make this min-announcement:
I’ve been cyber-tagged!
I’m new at this, so bear with me.
My blog was recently “tagged” by Kerin Rose, who makes wonderful hand-carved sterling silver jewelry. I have to keep the tag going.
Here are the rules:
-link to your tagger and list these rules
-share 7 facts about yourself ( random or unusual are ok!)
-tag 7 folks at the end of your post by leaving their names and links to their blogs
-let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog
Hmmmm….seven facts about myself:
1. I worry a lot & tend to over-think things. (Everyone who knows me is slapping their foreheads right about now and exclaiming, “Ya think??!!”)
2. I took up riding at the age of 52, after tearing my ACL (important tendon in your knee) for the second time while sparring in martial arts. (I now have….ahem….someone else’s ACL.)
3. I love techno/electronica/alternative rock.
4. I’m a sucker for good apology, and will forgive anyone almost anything if I get one.
5. I love chipotle chili powder in my hot chocolate.
6. If I could, I would have a lot more pets. One of the sweetest pets I ever had was a little black rat named Mavra.
Okay, seven blogs I read and enjoy:
1. MeggieCat, not only the first blog I ever read, but one of the best. She finds wonderful things on the web for artists and craftspeople and shares them freely.
2. MeggieCat’s dad’s blog, Paulz Blog, aka “The Old Professor”… His posts are always good for a laugh, and they also make you think a little more.
3. Christine Kane’s blog, whose tagline, “Be Creative. Be Conscious. Be Courageous.” says it all….
4. Kathy Sierra doesn’t maintain her blog anymore (though you can follow her on Twitter), but you can still read her her old blog posts called “Creating Passionate Users.” It was high-tech stuff with amazing crossover for all creative people.
5. I’m probably the last person in the world who found Indexed, but maybe there’s someone who hasn’t discovered this gem yet.
6. The Crafted Webmaster is always a favorite, because Nicolette Tallmadge is someone who’s helped me into the 21st century re: using the internet to not only market my art, but to communicate with my audience and sell my work.
7. And because he is my constant and best companion, and has helped me every stop along the way, with good grace (usually) and heartfelt support, my darlin’ husband Jon Udell. It’s a hard blog for me to read–beyond my ken–but I know his vision for the internet, and his depth at understanding how it can help us work together to build great things, is astonishing.
Okay, on to the next thing!
It’s sort of like instant messaging for larger groups of people. Or micro-blogging. Posts have to be super-short–I think it’s 140 characters. But you can post as often as you like, or need. You can follow other people, and other people can elect to follow you.
It’s simple, it’s fun, and it’s like a tiny window into other people’s world. Crafted Webmaster Nicolette Tallmadge has interesting things to say about the Twitter phenomenon. (I always find interesting things at Nicolette’s website, and I hope you’ll check her out.
I’ve already found that people who constantly self-promote themselves are kinda boring. That could be an easy trap to fall into! On the other hand, it could be a great way to create instant news or announcements to your customers and blog followers. And it’s really fun to see the smaller details in a friend or family member’s life in real time….
If Twitter is just one more thing on your plate, don’t do it! But if you have a minute to sign up and try it out, let me know how it works for you.
I’ve been cleaning and purging not one, not two, but three attic spaces for the last two weeks. And nibbling away at my studio stuff. I would clean my studio first, except I have to make room in my barn attic for the stuff I want to store in my studio.
My studio is just too full. Partly from months of being unable to even unpack fully from last year’s shows (my Year of Surgeries and Injuries), partly from a kid moving into her own place (and leaving behind almost as much stuff as she took), partly because we realized we still have unpacked boxes from when we moved to Keene 20 years ago. (Oh, my….) When we moved into this house 8 years ago, it was lightening-fast, and I never got to really purge our stuff. I think we even packed and moved dirty laundry, it was that fast.
I’ve read a lot of books on the market about how to clear stuff out, and they are marginally helpful at best.
“If you haven’t used it in a year…” doesn’t take into account the stuff that can happen in a year. Just because I was too injured to decorate our Christmas tree last year doesn’t mean I should get rid of all my tree ornaments.
“Make four piles to keep, give away, to the garbage” blah blah doesn’t help, because if I could decide that easily, I wouldn’t have three attics full of stuff.
The most inspirational one I ever read was CLUTTER’S LAST STAND by Don Aslett. He gives you compelling reasons why you should move that stuff on.
I was going to say, you can’t go in the same river twice and that rereading such a book never works for me. But then I read all the reviews and I’ve decided I will read it again NOW.
Caveat: As I read the reviews at Amazon. I realized what I loved–and hated–about this book. I love that he shows how destructive clutter can be physically and emotionally. I HATED his derogatory comments about “people of size”, and cats! He is opinionated, thoughtless and ruthless. But what he says about C*L*U*T*T*E*R is gold. So read it with a thick skin and a grain of salt, and take what works for you.
Before I do, let me share another strategy with you.
I’ve got something I want to move on, but for whatever reason I don’t want to just throw it in the trash. Maybe it’s not worth the time and effort to sell it. (Honey, remember the dresser we kept taking to consignment shops and bringing it back home when it didn’t sell?) I don’t want to drive around with it trying to find which thrift shop will take it this week. (Sometimes they’re full, sometimes they won’t take out-of-season items, and sometimes they’re just really picky about what they accept.)
Renting a dumpster is expensive though it’s great for getting rid of a lot of stuff fast. But unless you’re sure everything is pure de junk, it makes it worse when you have to throw away perfectly useful items you spent good money on. Or maybe you don’t have a bunch of people with a full day or two free to go through this process. (In my case, I have to triage the process.)
Even if you throw the item away, you may get charged extra by your garbage company if you leave out too much stuff at a time, or ask them to take big items like furniture and appliances.
What’s the solution?
Let me introduce you to FREECYCLE. Freecyle can be a nice intermediary step between driving around town with bags o’ stuff in your car, and simply throwing everything out to the curb on garbage day.
My local chapter of Freecycle is Monadnock Freecycle. Here’s how it works:
I go to my Freecycle group online and post an “offer”. This is a post with the word “OFFER” in the subject line with a short description of the item. (“OFFER: 12 back issues of Bead & Button magazine”)
I can add more details in the actual message: “This is a mixed lot of back issues, in good shape, no torn articles, etc.” I can add any other information, too, such as my general location (“In Keene”) and any conditions for pick-up (“These need to be out of here within a day.”) I’ve been adding, “Please let me know when you could pick these up, as this will help determine who gets these…”
I post the offer to the group. Depending on whether people have opted to receive offers as they come in, or in the form of a daily digest, the takers start to email me.
We arrange for a pick-up time, I give them directions to my house, and voila! Soon the item is gone to a new home where it may finally be put to good use.
Advantages: I don’t have to clean or repair the item before it finds a new home, as long as I accurately describe its condition.
I don’t have to load it up on my car and then drive around for days because I forgot the Salvation Army isn’t open on Sundays, or before 10 a.m., or after 5 p.m.
In fact, sometimes I post, someone answers–and picks it up within the hour.
And sometimes I find out my item has gone to a really good cause, or to a person or family who desperately needed it.
Best of all, a still-usable item has not gone into the landfill.
Disadvantages: The no-shows: The people who swear they are coming by at 9 a.m. Tuesday–and you never hear from them again.
Or someone says they want it, and then they let you know they can’t pick it up for a week. Well, half the fun of clearing stuff out is having it GONE. So when you have to stash it in your mudroom or garage for another week, it can be disappointing.
You need a computer, though you can always use one at a library if you don’t have your own.
You also may not like strange people coming to your house, in which case you can always make different arrangements–leaving it somewhere more public, or delivering it to them, or arrange for times when you are not alone in your house.
Not everything flies out the door. I’m always amazed at what gets taken and what gets ignored. Sometimes you post the stupidest thing and you get six people begging to take it off your hands. Other times a perfectly nice item languishes. You just have to hope the right person sees it at the right time. Some days, the group doesn’t seem too active–your offer gets no response. Other times, it’s really hoppin’, and your items get dibs on them almost as fast as you can post. I’ve learned to simply wait a few days and repost with an item that didn’t go. More than that, it goes to a thrift shop–or the dump.
Oh, and another great feature of Freecycle–you can ask for things, too. I actually asked for–and got–a number of nice baby items for a friend who was expecting: A baby backpack carrier, a bouncy chair, etc. People were happy to pass these on to a new family. A couple years ago, I asked for a used bike for my son, and got two nice ones. Some people get carried away and ask for stuff like cars and houses. Good luck with that!
Anyway, it’s fun, it’s easy, and you don’t even have to get out of your pajamas. Give it a whirl! If your area doesn’t have a Freecycle chapter, maybe you can start one.
Please feel free to share your strategies for moving stuff on to other people, too.
Networking was the buzz word in the 80’s and maybe you hate the word as much as I do. But it works, so just do it.
By networking, I don’t mean badgering everyone you meet at parties, the grocery store and your exercise classes to buy your work or give you ideas for stores. (That was the bad 80’s networking thing.) That gets hugely annoying fast.
I mean taking advantage of the natural rapport and eagerness-to-help you get from people who already like your work and want you to succeed.
Who can you network with?
Well, one resource we often overlook is our own customers.
They already really love what you do. Hopefully, you have a good relationship with them, and they probably want you to succeed (so they can say they “knew you when.”)
Even if you’ve only done a few small shows, you might easily have several dozen good customers. (Do a few major shows, and you probably have a few hundred, or even a couple thousand customers…. It adds up over the years!) Have you ever asked them if they’ve come across a store where your work would be a good fit? It could be in their home town, or a store they’ve visited in their travels.
Most people are simply happy to help, but if you’d like, you can offer an incentive. If they suggest a store, or introduce your work to a buyer, and you end up with an account, you could offer to send them a little something. This could be a piece of your work, or a discount coupon if your work is too pricey to just give away.
This next suggestion takes a little courage, but what the heck. Try asking your non-customers for referrals.
Sometimes retail shoppers may love your work, but for whatever reason, they cannot/will not actually buy it. Perhaps it’s out of their price range, or they can’t wear metal jewelry anymore (mid-life allergies, dammit) or your work isn’t really their style. They may still be so enthusiastic about your work that they’ll share a store or venue that might work for you.
If you’ve done or are doing a wholesale show, you will have people who are highly interested in your work, but don’t feel your work is a good fit for their store. If you’ve established a rapport, and they seem genuinely disappointed the match won’t work, ask them if there’s another store in their area that would be a good fit. You’ll be surprised how many buyers will help you out here. I’ve even had these buyers take my materials back home with them to show the other store owner. (I think it speaks highly of our industry that we’re all so willing to help each other like this…)
Another good resource is other artists who wholesale. You can do something as generic as ask on a forum you frequent if people have suggestions for you. (This is an excellent way of getting referrals across the country, too.) Or you can offer to swap good store contacts–one of your good customers for one of theirs. This works best if your work and theirs has a similar aesthetic or audience, but is not directly competitive. (Although some artists are so generous, they’ll even help others who might seem to make similar stuff.)
You can even get suggestions from artists you don’t know and have never met. When you’re surfing the net and come across an artist whose work seems compatible with yours, check to see if they sell to stores and galleries. Then check out those stores and galleries and see if they might be candidates for your work, too.
Big caveat here: Just lifting someone else’s store list is a little rude and lazy in my book. They went through all the work of finding those customers, and they offer the listings to help their retail customers. Here are ways to keep this practice balanced and fair:
1) Do the work, and just use the list to do your own store research. Go to each store’s website, and see if they actually are a good candidate to approach. Check out their other artists and price ranges to ensure it really is a good fit.
2) Find a way to give back to the artist. Buy a piece of their work! If that’s too expensive, recommend their work to a store, or send them the info for a potential new venue.
3) Post your own store list, so other artists can do the same. What goes ’round, comes ’round.
Last, if you blog, ask your readers for good leads. It can be a way for them to “give back” for all the good stuff you share with them.
Okay, now let’s brainstorm: Who else could you ask for good store leads?