Ice and Sky
What We Lost
Post Hoc Fallacy
One In A Million
NO POWER: Lessons From the Fires
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!
Two pieces of advice you
should might want to practice regularly. (I’m trying to cut back on telling people what to do….)
A few weeks ago, I was talking with an artist who had just started blogging. Or rather, blogging regularly and with intent. (As opposed to, “Open Studio Today!” stuff.)
She was complaining that she still hadn’t acquired much of an audience. I’m afraid I laughed out loud.
I hastened to assure her I was laughing AT her. I was just thinking of the early days of my own blog.
It was very much like the day I set out my very first bird feeder.
My husband and I had our very first apartment with a backyard–what a luxury! We’re low-level bird nuts, so I decided I would immediately set up a feeding station for the neighborhood birds.
I found a spot where we could sit on the back porch and watch the activity. I bought a bag of generic bird seed from, oh, I can’t remember, KMart? High quality stuff, I’m sure. (NOT.)
I didn’t have a bird feeder, so I took the lid from an extra garbage can and set it on the lawn. I filled it with the bird seed, put out a bowl of water, and took my seat on the porch.
Half an hour later, I wandered into the living room where Jon was reading. “It’s not working,” I said glumly.
“What isn’t working?” he asked cautiously. (Because when your girlfriend says something like this, the ensuing conversation could go anywhere.
“The bird feeder!” I said. “I’ve been watching for thirty minutes, and not a single bird has tried it out!”
After making a funny noise that sounded suspiciously like a smothered guffaw, he patiently explained to me that birds don’t just smell food and come running. They discover feeding stations, slowly and cautiously, building a routine that takes them through a circuit of opportunity. “It could take weeks, even months for them to realize you’ve provided them a new source,” he explained.
Weeks? Months?? Wow. This bird feeding thing was more complicated than I thought.
Eventually a few crows and house sparrows found our lode. Then the raccoons found it, too, and that was the end of our bird feeding ventures. (Until Jon took it up again a few years ago, with much more forethought and dedication.)
My point, I explained to my friend, is this: Be patient.
A website, or a blog, is just a billboard on the information highway. Actually, it’s more like a sign on a back road in a rural area. For awhile, the only people who will really see it are the people who happen to live there. Or people who drive by when they’re looking for something else.
Eventually, your customers and collectors will realize it’s useful for them to check in regularly. And as you find your voice, other people willing–even hungry–to listen to what you’re saying will drop in, too.
Write what is in your heart, write about the things you really care about. The people who also care about those things will find you.
Some will stay, some will move on. But your numbers will grow.
In short, these things take time. That means being patience. Sometimes, perspective helps grow patience.
I told her that, almost ten years later, my total “regular” readership is probably somewhere around a thousand. But my first few years, I was lucky if a hundred people even knew I had a blog. (Okay, I confess. I think seven people have read my very first blog post. (You can read my very first blog article from November 29, 2002 here: Holding Onto “Facts” That Hold You Back
Now for the perspective.
Re: the numbers…..I try not to check my stats. It’s like constantly asking people what they think of your work. It’s tempting, but ultimately not healthy for your creative spirit. I write because I have to write. I have something to say, that I have to put out there.
My art, the same. I have to make it. I can’t stop and worry about who else will like it, I have to simply do the work. You know, the Martha Graham thing….
“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
As spoken to Agnes De Mille
The two pieces of excellent advice?
1. Read that Martha Graham quote at least once a day.
2. The next time you’re tempted to read your blog stats, if you absolutely can’t resist, then try this: In the “At A Glance” bar graph, switch from the “daily” total to the “monthly” total.
Oh, gosh, the numbers are so much more satisfying!
Who knew exercise could be so educational!?
(This article was originally published on Wednesday, January 07, 2004)
What do kickboxing and pursuing a career in art have in common?
My kickboxing instructor had a handout for us recently. Entitled : “Cycle of Performance/Formula for Success”, it was a brief description of the learning process for, in this case, martial arts. It had four little phrases on it:
INCEPTION: Unconsciously incompetent
DECEPTION: Consciously incompetent
TRANSFORMATION: Consciously competent
IDENTITY: Unconsciously competent
We talked about it during class. It provided “aha!” moments for many of us. Turns out this little handout explains more than how to learn martial arts; It’s an insightful road map into any life endeavor we pursue. It goes something like this:
Inception, the first stage, is that wonderful, giddy stage of learning a new skill, the excitement of potential. I remember the first time I sat down to a wheel with a lump of clay. I was fearless! I plopped down the clay, centered it, made a cylinder and pulled out my first pot. It was great! It was easy! I thought so, anyway. ” I must be a natural!” I remember thinking.
I was “unconsciously incompetent“. I was gloriously unaware of what I didn’t know yet, and how hard it would be to recreate my initial success. I was so thrilled with with my “innate” abilities that I smashed that first pot down, confident I could throw another just as easily the next time.
You know what comes next. The next class, I sat down confidently to throw my next ball of clay.
And nothing happened. I mean, nothing right happened. I couldn’t center the clay for the life of me. I kept trying until I had a sloppy plop of drooly clay. I threw it aside and tried another ball. Same thing. Slightly daunted, but still game, I tried to raise a cylinder from the wobbly mass. What a disaster! I went home discouraged.
My next class was just as discouraging and I turned to slab work, making a few simple tiles and such. But I was overwhelmed with failure. I had entered the dreaded second Deception stage, “consciously incompetent“. I recognized how much I didn’t know, and how much I still had to learn. The ration looked something like 1:1,000,000, if you what I mean.
If you’ve ever taught, you know how difficult it is to even observe this stage in others, let alone go through it yourself. Frustration bubbles to the surface, masking everything else. You are totally aware of how bad you really are at this. No matter how many times you practice, you don’t seem to get any better. You can’t seem to do anything right. Pots plop, your kicks flick harmlessly, the souffle falls, the watercolors don’t blend right. It seems like everyone else is “getting it” except you.
Most people quit at this stage. They become convinced they are never going to get it, they aren’t cut out for this, they just aren’t good at that. They get angry–at their instructor, at the other people in the class who seem to be doing just fine, but most of all at themselves. (That’s me, anyway.) They may complain, or clam up. They quit trying, or even quit coming to class, convinced that this just isn’t for them. I believe most people who are afraid of making change in their life have let this stage totally defeat them, incorporating it into their very image of themselves. “I’m just not good at math.” “I’m just not very graceful.” “I’ll never be able to (insert your dream activity here.)”
But if you persevere, you will come to the next stage, well-named Transformation: consciously competent. This is what happens after thousands of hours of practice and drills. It may take a long time, but you will get there. You eventually begin to find yourself able to perform that skill. You can do it, but you have to think about it. You begin to see what needs improving and what needs strengthening. You may begin experimenting with minor changes, trying what works best for you and what doesn’t. You become more willing to plug away at it, perhaps even enjoying the process of learning for its own sake. (Think of the perpetual graduate student….)
Finally, as anyone who has ever mastered a skill, knows, eventually you reach the fourth stage, Identity: Unconsciously competent. The skill or knowledge has become a part of you.
You don’t even think about what you’re doing anymore, it’s just….YOU. You are a pianist, or a painter, or a doctor, or a black belt.
You may not even remember NOT knowing that skill. Do you really remember how hard it was to learn to ride a bike? Or does it feel like you’ve always known? Do you really remember looking at a page in a book, and having no idea what those mysterious squiggles meant? Surely we thought at one point, “I’ll never be able to ride a bike!” (I believe getting past this stage is what makes a good teacher: Someone who remembers ‘not knowing.’)
I’ve been thinking about this little handout a lot for the last few weeks, especially that deadly little second stage. It occurs to me that as adults, we’ve mostly forgotten the process of learning, and how truly awful it can feel. In fact, it’s so awful, most people probably quit when they hit that stage, feeling they are really “meant” to learn how to paint, how to knit, how to learn a new language, or whatever.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what people need to see them through that second stage, and safely into that third stage…because this is what life changes and pursuing your dreams is all about.
Sometimes, of course, we are forced to make changes. That becomes our determination. But what about when we choose to make those changes? It’s so important to either have a wonderful support system (a terrific teacher, encouraging friends or family, a great book that serves as a guide), or a tremendous sense of purpose, drive and determination. Or both.
How many of us have started out to change something in our lives, to pursue a new interest or tread a new path, hit that second stage and bagged out? What if we simply made a conscious decision to believe in our selves one more day, one more hour, maybe another five minutes–what could we achieve? How far could we really go?
When I started back in martial arts last spring (after sustaining a devastating injury by one of my previous instructors seven years ago) all I hoped for was to gain back some strength and stamina. I could barely do one push-up anymore. But I’m determined to stick with it, and now I can do thirty. (well….on a good day.)
When I started back with a dream of pursing art seven years ago, I was determined to stick with it, even if I didn’t turn out to be a particularly good artist. “Good” didn’t matter anymore. I knew that being an artist was so important to me, I simply had to try. And keep trying. When I look back at what I accomplished in seven years, I am amazed.
Type out this little handout, and post it somewhere where you can see it every day. The next time you feel discouraged about achieving your goals, look and see where you are in the process. Realize it isn’t something about YOU, but about the process. And stick with it, if just for a little bit longer. You may surprise yourself…..!
Lord, I hope “redux” means “revisited”…. Just checked Wiki–yes!!
It all started when we cleaned out our daughter’s old room. She came home to help. I had visions of the two of us cutting a swatch through the piles o’ stuff, filling bag after bag of stuff to be tossed, given, moved or….or….what else do you do with a 1942 manual on identifying enemy planes?
Instead, we spent a leisurely afternoon of Robin browsing through old journals, school notebooks and yearbooks. We tried on the hats we bought on family trips to Boston. (We once defused a family spat by stopping in a little shop on Newbury Street called TOPPERS. We all bought hats. Now it’s a family tradition.) Finally, after hours of delicate sorting, Robin announced she’d salvaged everything she wanted. I was free to take care of the rest. (My professional writer voice is calm and dignified. My mother voice is about to scream.)
From there, I’ve managed to keep up with my goal of removing one bag o’ stuff a day from her room, the attic and my studio. It feels like truly sisyphean task. I comfort myself by doing the math. If I keep it up, in a year I will have removed 365 bags. Not too shabby, hey?
This has all happened before. It will all happen again. (Who says you can’t learn something important from Battlestar Galactica reruns?
Sometimes it helps to know how you did it before. Other times, knowing what’s in store can add to the overwhelming nature of the task. (The first words out of my mouth when I tore my ACL the send time were, “Oh, NO, NO, NO, NOT AGAIN!!!” I knew I was in for another surgery, I knew I was in for at least six months of recovery, I knew it would be at least a year before I felt back to normal.
I couldn’t face it. But….
I did it anyway.
So today as I dig in once again, I share with you three thoughts and resources that are helping:
1) “Leave it for someone else.” Too many of my clutter–er, collecting–impulses are fueled by the thought that I’ve discovered something wonderful, and I need to save it from oblivion in the thrift shop.
But now I ask if I truly love it or have a use for it. If not, I know it will be found and cherished by someone else. So….I leave it for someone else.
2) “Would I buy this again today?” I can’t believe how much this helps me decide what will stay and what should go.
3) This website, Clutter Buster, by Brooks Palmer.
I can’t remember where the first two questions came from, but will credit them when I track the source down.
In the meantime, I need to go fill another bag.
What strategies help YOU clean out?
Happy spring cleaning!
One person’s ‘roadblock’ is another person’s mountain pass.
(This article was originally published January 18, 2003. In the eight years since then, many of the “insurmountable problems” mentioned here are now a snap with the Internet–online catalogs, online printing services, less expensive options for websites, etc. But there’s still good information in here, and a lot of good thoughts about overcoming obstacles.)
Marketing and selling one-of-a-kind artwork can be problematic.
If you’re dealing with local stores, you could bring an assortment to each store. Store owners simply make their selections. No problem!
But store visits mean time away from your studio. There’s a limit to how many stores you can drive to in a day–stores don’t like it when you saturate the area with your work. What if you live in New Hampshire, and a store in California would be a terrific venue for your work? And what do you do about about re-orders??
Catalogs? It can be hard even with production work. Some stores don’t mind if an item varies from one to the next. But some do. And catalogs are expensive. They work best for featuring production work. They’re most cost-effective when ordered in large quantities. Not for one-of-a-kind work, nor work that changes constantly.
Advertising? That gets expensive, too. I obviously can’t run an ad for $500 to sell one individual item that retails for $250. If a store likes the object in the ad, then that’s the one they want.
Wholesale trade shows can be a way to present your one-of-a-kind items to many stores. But these shows are expensive to do–booth fees often start at $1,400 and up, plus hidden costs like travel, hotel and electricity. Not a good choice for many artists just starting out.
Well…why not go right to the source? Call stores directly. Ask them if they sell one-of-a-kind work. If so, how do they buy it from the artisan? Do they go to shows? Which ones? Do they browse an artist’s website? You can get good information this way. But this is time-consuming. And introverts hate it. (I do!)
The best way is to ask other artists how they handle this.
Online discussion forums are great places to find out what works for others. You’ll find a wide range of artists from all over the country who can share their process or make suggestions. There’s just one caveat.
What works for one person and their product, may not work for you and yours.
Even worse….If no one in the group has figured it out, it can be an exercise in frustration and commiseration. Instead of a brain-storming session, it turns into a …… Well, everyone starts agreeing just how impossible the whole scenario is. And that’s bad. Because….
You don’t want to give yourself an excuse to just give up.
Declaring a situation impossible to deal with lets us off the hook. It’s not our fault, we tell ourselves. We are not responsible for our lack of success–it’s obviously impossible to succeed!
I used to get overwhelmed by roadblocks, too. I thought there had to be a “right way” to do this. And I just had to figure out what that “right way” was.
If I couldn’t figure it out–I’m off the hook! If others succeed where I can’t, then it’s because they’re lucky–right? And I’m just not lucky.
Nope. No more. I can’t let myself off that easily. In my heart, I know it can take years to be an ‘overnight success’.
And no one succeeds by giving up.
Mistakes and dead ends don’t prove you’re wrong. They’re merely evidence there’s still more to be learned.
There is no single “right way”. There’s simply the way that will work for YOU.
I’ve learned that the first thing I need is an attitude adjustment. Trial-and-error sucks. So let’s call it… “running an experiment”. That’s much more appealing! Cold-calling stores for information is hard. I’ll call it “market research”. That sounds quite professional.
Second, I watch for other people doing one-of-a-kind work. If they’ve been doing it awhile, they’ve found something that works for them. So
maybe it would work for me.
I came across an artist, a graphic artist who makes one-of-a-kind books. For years she struggled with marketing her work, until she finally came up with a solution. She tweaked her business model to accommodate both retail and wholesale venues.
She makes limited edition books to wholesale. She only sells her one-of-a-kind journals at retail shows.
This is my favorite way to find solutions. Because if someone else has figured out how to do it, so can I. If she can grow her business by tweaking her business model just a bit–from all one-of-a-kind work to some one-of-a-kind and a lot of limited editions, so can I.
If she can follow her passion and find a way to support herself doing it, so can I.
Luck is wonderful. But as someone once said, “Luck is opportunity plus preparedness.”
Do your research, keep your eyes open for opportunity, and you will fly over those roadblocks.
Update: In the eight years since I first wrote this article, everything has changed. Now we can offer wholesale customers password-protected online catalogs. We can take our own digital images and upload them quickly and easily to our website, or our online store. We can find stores and galleries more easily, and contact them by email (if the phone is too stressful.)
It’s a miracle! :^)
Also, for jewelry or other small, easily shipped items, a “pick box” works beautifully for some stores. A store can secure their order with a credit card number. You ship an assortment of items to them. They select the items they want, and ship the box back to you. You bill them for the items they’ve taken. Works great with one-of-a-kind items!
Originally published on December 2, 2002
What Meryl Streep and I Have In Common
(Hint: It’s not blond hair.)
I was going to write about a discussion with a friend about his dirty house. But when I picked up the Sunday magazine that comes with our local paper, I came across some amazing statements by Meryl Streep that caused me to bump the dump story.
In the talk with my friend, he told me how immobilized with anxiety and self-doubt he felt each day. I’m a natural born people fixer-upper (much to the annoyance of my friends), so I jumped right in with suggestions that have worked for me.
He kept saying, “You don’t understand, you don’t understand” until finally, in frustration, I told him my deepest, darkest secret….
I wake up every morning with a sense of dread about how hopelessly inadequate I am to achieve my goals, and I go to bed every night ever mindful of….how does the Lord’s Prayer go? “We have done those things which we ought not to have done, and left undone the things we ought to have done.” Well, that sums up the beginning and end of my day quite well.
My friend was astounded. He said, “But you’re always so upbeat and you’re always busy with your artwork and always doing stuff….” He paused and said, “And I know you’re telling the truth, because you know the old saying, ‘You can’t bullshit a bullshitter?’ I’m in the pits, and I can tell you’ve been there, too. So how did you turn it around?”
It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, spiritually. I simply stopped listening to the little voices that told me how how futile it all was.
Note that I said I didn’t stop hearing the voices. I said I stopped listening to them.
It came about through a long, slow process. It wasn’t any one thing.
It was a series of books, a smattering of important people, teachers, who showed up in my life at just the right time. It was the birth of my oldest child. It was a workshop I took. It was trying to spiritually accommodate the violent murder of an elderly neighbor 20 years ago. It was a physical injury that tied up my body for almost a year. It was a brush with cancer (a very light brush, but frightening at the time.)
We often dream that when we figure everything out, when we realize our perfect vision for ourselves, everything else will fall into place, too. When we get the right job, when we meet the right life partner, when we get our dream home, when we find the perfect little black dress, (when we reach the perfect size for that little black dress!) the perfect lipstick, whatever, that we will finally silence those little voices that always tell us what is wrong.
Please note I’m not talking about the little voice telling you about real danger. I’m talking about that little voice that tells you you will never be good enough, fortunate enough, strong enough, talented enough, blah blah blah. The inner critic. When we still hear that little voice, we may panic. Dang! It’s still there! Where did I go wrong??
One of my most precious insights, almost miraculous in my eyes, is that it is possible to act in a powerful way even if your little voice says you have no power. You hear that familiar little rant in the morning–“You didn’t fill that order, you didn’t win that award, you didn’t get into that show and you never will!”
Then I get up and do it anyway.
Everything I have accomplished in the last five years–and it’s a lot!–I’ve done in spite of that little voice. I don’t pretend to say that I have deeper resources than other people, and I would never even pretend to say that all mental health can be achieved by just saying no to those voices. I am saying it is an act of will to act in spite of my voices, and I feel blessed to have found that out. I now realize there is no place I can get to where I will not hear them. But now I don’t let them stop me from getting where I want to go. They can whine all they want, I’m going there anyway.
So what do Meryl Streep and I have in common? In an interview with Ken Burns that appeared in USA WEEKEND today, KB asks Meryl if she will always act. And she answers
“Oh, I always think I’m going to give up. You get the cold feet. You think, ‘Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this? I don’t have to do this.’ It is something I confront at the beginning of everything. I have to start out with nothing each time.”
KB: And reinvent the wheel.
MS: “And reinvent the wheel. It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard….”
There you have it. The article notes that Streep has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards, tying Katherine Hepburn’s record. She’s actually won two Oscars. Her work ethic is legendary.
And every time she takes on a new challenge, she hears the same little voices I do!
I wonder what she says to her little voices…..?
I found this essay by Paul Graham today–advice for young people in high school, leaving high school, getting ready (or not) for college, and actually, for anyone else, too.
And it is exactly what I wish I’d known in high school. And college. And the first 30 or 40 years of my life. (I finally figured it out when I was 42, I think….)
I came across this by way of the Fine Art Views blog. Fine Art Views is a great resource for artists. It’s kind of geared towards 2D artists, but the advice is general enough for all creative folks.
I’m printing it out for my latest high school graduate. Pass it on to someone you know could benefit–it’s good stuff!
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.