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!
You and me, we are only human. Embrace that!
Yesterday I wrote how I sabotaged my creative workday. I did dishes and laundry instead of making art.
Today, I did the same thing.
Doesn’t matter what I did. (Okay, I finished a book. It took a couple hours. But I had to do it. Why? Well, it was kinda creepy. Giving me bad dreams. But the writing is good, and I had to get to the ending.) (No, I’m not going to tell you.) (Okay, The Chalk Girl, by Carol O’Connell.)
Yes, as I was reading, I thought, “I should get to the studio.” But I chose to finish my novel instead, knowing I had other choices.
Why? Because I’m human.
This means there are days where I will have the power of my intention. And days where I will give in to temptation.
There are days where I will make time to make the work of my heart. And days where I will set it aside to do something else I love. Or like. Or fool myself into thinking I have to.
There are days where I will move heaven and earth to explore a new design, a new color palette. And there are days where I have to look up “palette” for spelling (because I always forget the which of the three options is right) and I come across a wonderful new color palette app–so cool!) and get distracted. (Color Pal–get it? Auto fill-in with Google led me right to it.)
You are human, too. Which means, if you read that last post, you may have realized how often we sabotage our creative efforts with more mundane tasks that can wait.
And, being human, you–me–all of us–will do it again. And again, and again, and again.
Here’s what I’ve learned from my decades-long observation and exploration into what makes me click as an artist, what holds me back, what holds me down, what gets in my way, what leads me astray.
It’s always me. Me making that decision, consciously or unconsciously, to leave the path.
And no matter how many times I observe it, write about it, clarify it for others, there’s also something else I’ve learned….
I’m going to do it again.
Here’s why I’m not beating myself up about it. And why you shouldn’t either:
This is what people do.
You are not a bad person because your will power is made of rubber, not steel.
Here’s an interesting fact: We’ve all read the benefits of meditation. We all know what we’re supposed to do. Sit quietly, empty our mind, and if we do it right, we will achiev a state of enlightenment.
And most of us know that finding that time, that quiet space, is something we just can’t seem to make room for. We know we start emptying the mind, and all sorts of stuff rushes in to fill the vacuum. “Did I remember to turn the oven off?” “How do my kids/cats/partner/employees know when I’m trying to sit quietly for five minutes?!” “I can’t remember my mantra….!!” We are left with yet another feeling that we’re doing it wrong. We’ll never be enlightened, unless yoga class goes on for another hour or to.
But do you know that enlightenment is not the goal?
Turns out the benefit doesn’t come from “doing it right”.
The benefit comes from trying.
Here is a two minute video of a beautiful explanation of why the trying matters.
I’m sharing this with you, today, so you don’t waste a single minute feeling bad about yourself today. I want you to know how normal, how human you really are.
People don’t exercise, lose weight, break addiction, stop drinking, meditate regularly, make their art, because they have superior will power.
They achieve that habit because they never stop trying.
My favorite quote from martial arts is, “A black belt is a white belt who didn’t quit.”
So do make room for your art today.
Do set aside time to note some ideas. Play with paint. Stitch a little. I’m experimenting with animals you can carry in your hand.
Practice your intention, daily. Observe what the
lizard brain monkey mind says.
Decide you only have to dedicate a wee bit of time for your art. (I allowed ten minutes to make these. Yep, I fooled my monkey mind, and actually finished these!)
And listen to the achingly beautiful, loving-kindness of Mary Oliver’s words today:
Go to your studio today. You won’t regret it.
And if you don’t get there today, why, try again tomorrow.
You do not have to be good.
|You do not have to walk on your knees|
|for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.|
|You only have to let the soft animal of your body|
|love what it loves.|
|Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.|
|Meanwhile the world goes on.|
|Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain|
|are moving across the landscapes,|
|over the prairies and the deep trees,|
|the mountains and the rivers.|
|Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,|
|are heading home again.|
|Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,|
|the world offers itself to your imagination,|
|calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –|
|over and over announcing your place|
|in the family of things.
I heard from a good friend this weekend. They’re doing the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair at Mt. Sunapee. It’s been a crazy week for them: Attendance up day, crashing the next. Slow sales, strong sales, then…crashing. Hot, humid weather. Friends in Keene say they’ve had heavy rain and hail. I’m praying that went south of the mountain, and didn’t hit the Fair.
Every show we do can be a test of our talent, our commitment to our work. Amidst the craziness, there’s almost always a sudden burst of light and amazement. Someone who buys a major piece. Someone who loves what we’re doing. Someone who gives us the wise words that lift our hearts, and keep us going another day. Week. Year. If we’re truly fortunate, for our lifetime.
When I got the message, I was browsing Craigslist. (No lectures. I’m housebound! Have mercy here!!)
In the arts and craft section were the usual offerings of supplies and actual works. There was a plethora of paintings, for some reason. Did a collector die?? Did a lot of collectors die??
It was hard to tell from the crappy photos, but most of the work was ho-hum (to my uneducated eye.) Even odder, the works ranged from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. I don’t know if they’d been assessed at that price, or if an eager heir was sure these were masterpieces. Who can say?
I’ve already told my kids that when I go, they shouldn’t worry about all my stuff. Just let people into my studio with a grocery bag, let them fill it, and charge them $50 a bag. They will be millionaires.
As I scrolled and scrolled through this vast wasteland of art, two thoughts came to me.
One was from the lizard brain. Who bought this stuff? Did they surround themselves with this work in their home? (Maybe it looks better in person…??)
Even sadder, who made it? Did they spend their lives painting mediocre landscapes and portraits? Did they sell any of it? Or…even worse…was the artist selling it? On Craigslist??
Does the world need more bad art????
Thankfully, the angels of my better nature chirped.
Yes. The world needs art. Even bad art.
I miss Regretsy, a hysterically funny website where April Winchell daily curated truly awful items for sale on Etsy. (Her tag line was, “Where DIY meets WTF”…) If I ever had doubts about the quality of the work I was doing, I only had to check in with Regretsy to feel enormously superior.
So one advantage of bad art is it can make us feel better about our own work, and give us our giggle of the day.
Then I thought about the artist(s) who made that work.
They must have painted their heart out over the years.
Every day (metaphorically speaking) they set up their easels, found something beautiful (in their eyes) to paint, and went to work.
Every day, they tried to do better (sometimes with mixed results) so they could be the artist they’d always dreamed of being.
Every day, they did something they loved–making their art–and hoped someone else would love it, too.
Maybe they cast a ray of light for someone else, too. Perhaps they were an artist living their dreams. And maybe someone else saw that, and was inspired to make art, too.
So what’s the takeaway today?
I cannot compare myself, my work, my success, to others. One of my art history books talked about a very popular Victorian artist, hugely successful in his time. But today, his work was considered too schmaltzy. Other artists of that period (some of them unsuccessful in their time) produced work that has stood the test of time. (I can’t find the reference now. Do I need to buy back my college texts??) The same for certain poets of that era, too.
I cannot judge the value of what I do. Only time will tell if what we make will stand the test of time. We may, like Vincent Van Gogh, become a major discovery in the years after we’re gone.
Or our work may end up on Craigslist. Or worse, the midden heap. (The dump, in days of yore.) (Where do you think most archeological finds come from, btw? Yep.)
I treasure what making art does for me. Taking up my artwork, without judging the value of what I do, healed me. If it did nothing more than that, that would be enough. But the practice teaches me, too. I began to write about these insights and lessons, to encourage others, too.
I want to be an art hero for others. We may never know who else has been healed, or helped, by the work we do. If we were once inspired by art, or another artist, then we know the value of that. Now it’s our turn.
I’ve quoted Martha Graham’s profound quote on creativity many times in my writing. The short story: There’s only one ‘you’, only you can make your work, and your work matters in the world. For yourself, for others, for the tiniest bit of beauty and meaning and healing it brings to the world.
I wasn’t put here on earth to be immortal, and neither is the work I do. Of course I hope it lasts! I hope to create a legacy in my lifetime, just like you do. We all do. But I that’s not under my control. All I can do is make the work of my heart, and put it out into the world. All I can do is to do the best I can–and then let it go.
There’s a reason you may have to work so hard to be successful.
This is a blast from the past, an article I wrote…geez, nine years ago!
This is for Gary.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
I learned another great consequence that comes from having to work so hard to get your business off the ground.
You learn to overapply yourself.
I was talking to my vet a few days ago. She noticed the mat of loose hair on my lower calves and ankles and exclaimed, “You’ve been riding!” (It’s shedding season, and that’s the part of my leg that makes contact with the horse below the saddle.)
She assailed me with questions about where I was riding, how long I’d been at it. I told how I’d torn my knee about three years ago, wreaking further havoc on an old injury. Faced with another daunting year of pain, physical therapy and starting all over with martial arts, I’d promised myself I would take up riding as a reward.
I told her what I learned from the riding school’s horse that first year.
Now, “school horse” is a term any rider will recognize, even people who hardly ever ride at all. These are the older horses who get farmed out to every new rider. They are usually bored, stubborn and set in their ways. They know you have NO IDEA what you’re doing, and they take complete advantage of that.
One day, in utter frustration with my assigned horse, I expressed my feelings to my instructor.
She said, “Chance may not be the very best horse in the world, but right now he is the very best horse for YOU. You are recovering from major knee surgery, and he is SAFE.”
She thought a moment and added, “And Chance already knows everything he needs to know. YOU’RE the one who needs to learn how to tell him CLEARLY what you want.”
I knew she was right. And what she told me that day has inspired me many times since then–how, similarly, as artists, we must learn to signal our full intention in our work and in our lives to get what we truly want.
I shared that with my vet, and she said she thought that was very wise.
“I’ll tell you something else that’s good about those old school horses!” she said. “You REALLY learn to ride.”
Her family couldn’t afford a horse when she was young, but she had many opportunities to ride–and she did. She had a throroughly rounded little boat of a pony called Bubble Dancer who had a mind of her own when it came to riding.
Donna had to work really hard to get much of a ride from this old girl, but boy, did she learn to ride!
The day came when she was competing in the ring with the pony, and only she and one other girl was left.
The other girl had a beautiful little “push button” horse–beautifully trained and cooperative. All this girl had to do was lightly signal what she wanted and the horse quickly obliged.
The two girls went back and forth, putting their ponies through all their paces. The judges could not decide.
Finally they said, “Switch horses!”
Donna burst out laughing. “And there I was on the beautiful little push-button horse, putting her through all her paces and marveling at the feeling, and there was Susie, flailing and yanking and kicking on my stubborn little Bubble Dancer!”
I think of the people that success has come too easily to, or too quickly. When hard times came, many didn’t know how to work that new, stubborn pony. They’ve gotten used to the “push button” horse, the one that works no matter how many mistakes they make.
If you’ve had to work hard at your art or your business for awhile, then you’re learning something more valuable. You’ve learned to do the work. You’ve learned to be consistent with your efforts. You’ve learned how much you can accomplish if you really set your mind to it.
You’ve learned to make the hard phone calls. You’ve learned to persevere even when it gets really, really hard. You’ve learned to make your intentions so clear, so strong, there is no mistaking what you want and where you’re going.
The next time you’re envying the artist who’s achieved what seems like easy, instant success, remember the school horse lesson.
And remember, maybe they HAVE ridden the school horse. And now they’re just making it LOOK like an easy ride.
My column today at Fine Art Views, a marketing blog for artists and craftspeople.
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”
We make our own luck in the world.
There are lessons to be learned everywhere, if we’re open to them. Today’s lesson from the gym is courtesy of a therapist there with an unusual hobby.
This guy loves to go whale watching. When he found out I’m a recent transplant to the west coast, he suggested I check out the whale migration scene on the coast.
We aren’t that far from Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” is set. There ARE a lot of birds out there, but so far, none have shown signs of turning on the human race….! Still, I’m careful to be very nice to all of them.
Bodega Head is a beautiful stretch of land reaching out into the ocean to form one side of the Bay. Bodega Head, with its open vistas from towering cliffs, is a popular whale watching spot. Volunteer ‘docents’ are present on the weekends to offer advice and help with identification.Whales migrate south to feeding grounds off the coast Baja Mexico, then return north after the mating season. Mother whales travel more slowly, and closer to the coast, with their new offspring.
This guy regularly reports back every Monday with exciting ‘spots’. And so my husband and I began making a trip every week or so to watch, too.
We haven’t seen any whales yet–just seals, sea lions and pelicans. And of course, after our fourth attempt to spot a whale, my husband concluded that guy is “lucky” to have seen so many whales.
Is he? Let’s dig a little deeper….
The whale watcher goes out every week he can, and sometimes multiple times in one week.
He and his family stay for hours at a time–not an hour, or two at most, like we do.
He knows a lot about whales, from talking with the docents and his own reading. He knows when they go, where they go, and why they go along our coast. He knows the best weather for watching, and the worst weather; and he knows how to get in-time local updates about that area’s weather. He knows what to look for–blowholes, pods, fins, breaches.
He’s invested in a good camera and a great lens to capture good photos.
So….Patience. Consistent effort. A practiced eye. And a passion for whales.
Is this luck?
Yes, there’s still a wee bit of luck involved. One first-time watcher spotted an amazing pod within a few minutes of arriving. A docent jokingly told her, “Don’t even bother coming back, you will NEVER see anything like this again!”
Mostly, though, this guy makes his own luck. And he deserves every whale spot he gets.
How many times have we heard about another artist’s success, envied their ‘luck’ and lamented our lack of same?
Now think how often we trouble ourselves to find out what they did to achieve that.
I’m guessing that ‘lucky’ artist is someone who’s practiced their craft with patience and persistence. I’d bet they have great images of their work, and a powerful personal story to go with it. I’d imagine they’re serious about getting their work out there, in a consistent fashion–through websites, shows, exhibitions, social media, getting published, personal invitations to collectors, and good selling skills.
Above all, I know they’re truly focused and passionate about the work they create–enough to not only make time for it, but to make it a priority, as much as possible.
Me? I would love to see a whale pod, or a mother and baby, or an orca, someday. But I’m just as happy to spend a few hours enjoying the beautiful California coast. I’m just as delighted to find a wonderful pebble or a twisty piece of driftwood on the beach.
But when it comes to my artwork, I know the same qualities that make that guy a great whale watcher, makes me a competent artist.
And when my next ‘lucky break’ comes, I’ll be ready!