THE NEW NORMAL And the Power of Our Choices

When things change, we get a chance to consider what's really important.
When things change, we get a chance to consider what’s really important.

THE NEW NORMAL And the Power of Our Choices

When things change, we get a chance to consider what’s really important.

Part of me doesn’t want to write about our “new normal”.

My email inbox has about three items that aren’t about COVID-19, and not much is useful or helpful. Part of me doesn’t even want to use that new word in a sentence.

Part of me wishes we could go back a month and start over. Part of me wishes the next six months were over, and we get back to the “old normal”.

Part of me also thinks I’m the only one who’s thinking this. Ha!

And yet, so much of my daily life is pretty much the same. My partner and I have worked out of our home for decades. Video conferences are a staple for him. Friendships have grown by phone calls. We’ve always been “loners” out of necessity, partly because we moved so much when we were younger, and partly because of our last major move across the country five years ago.

So what’s hard about that now?

Because someone said we had to.

It feels childish, and that’s because it is. On one hand, it can feel positive because now we know what the right thing to do is. OTOH, not many of us are comfortable feeling we have no choice.

And that can make us feel powerless.

What is the source of “power” for me?

Changing a mental attitude. Embracing a new “normal”. Choosing. Acceptance.

Finding new ways to do things.

Here are some choices that I’ve found helpful:

Stepping away from the “news” firehose.

From the remark, “trying to sip from a firehose”, where there is so much water coming out, sipping = drowning. There’s a healthy balance between getting important updates and facts, and immersing ourselves in “knowledge” that sucks up valuable time. We need to know newest developments, of course. But do we need to check those every half hour? Nope. I wasn’t even aware I was doing this until a friend emailed me yesterday. They are busier more than ever with work, since the format shifted to online consultations with clients (which they already know how to do.) But it’s even harder to make room for their creative work because they’re constantly checking their news feed. Their admitting it shined a little light on my own behavior.

Why do we do this? Because a) it feels like we’re doing something productive, and b) it’s a way to manage our fear and uncertainty. OH, and c) it helps us feel less alone. All of these things are good things in moderation. As a “new normal”, not so much.

Making a conscious decision to only read reliable news sources for useful updates can help. (Won’t fix it, of course, THANK YOU LIZARD BRAIN, but it helps.)

Actively thinking about what works for us, and what doesn’t. I can’t do production work at home, because my own workspace here is half the kitchen table (since a family member moved out here with us last year, I lost/gave up my home studio. See how I reframed that?!) I have an elderly cat who insists I focus on her by methodically knocking every thing off the table. Every minute. All day. (Yes, I’ve tried all kinds of work-arounds, but a spray bottle of water works best.) Fortunately, my off-site studio is structured so I can shelter in place there, too. Another artist friend’s studio doesn’t work that way, but they’ve carved out a creative space at home. We can all explore ways to carve out a tiny creative space if our studios are off-limits and our schedules are upended.

Realizing I can still go to my studio, with the proper precautions, has helped stabilize my routine.

Instead of looking for people to blame, look for the helpers. “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”  – Fred Rogers

Reading about bad behavior and selfishness feels good, because it helps us feel “better than” those folks who don’t “get it”. We forget that we are all hard-wired to behave badly at times, and that other people may have fewer choices to deal with the crazy. My own shortcoming?

Hating people who cry about having to “shelter in place” in their multi-million dollar mansions. Until I realize if they are that unhappy, then I am truly blessed to be completely happy in our less-than-900 s.f. home that shelters three people, 3 cats and a dog. (Even if my writing desk is half the kitchen table!)//////  (And those dashes are where my cat just tried to walk across my keyboard again.)

Instead, I love reading about the helpers, the people who realize they have something other people don’t: The ability to sew face masks for the rest of us. Time to run errands for others. The person who tipped a delivery driver with money, and a roll of toilet paper. (My cat is trying to knock over the squirt bottle.)

Because these people embody my last suggestion:

Focus on what we CAN do, instead of what we CAN’T. A few major art events (open studios, opening receptions, etc.) have already been cancelled, and I’m surprised at my feelings – relief! I added an extra one this year, a big one. I was beginning to feel a little pressured.

And now I have plenty of time to update my Etsy shop, order supplies for that new jewelry line I’ve been working on (Ooooooh!! Online shopping!!! YES!!!). When I’m at the studio, I focus on making over cleaning and organizing.

My husband and I were complaining about having to be home so much, until we both realized it was only because we have to. Remove that thinking, replace it with “want to”, and there’s our “old normal” back. Simply reframing how we think about it took some pressure off. (Not useful if your kids are young enough to be home from school, too, but again, another tiny blessing I hadn’t thought of before!)

My partner and I made some stupid choices before we “knew better”. (I didn’t think the situation was that serious, until I had more facts.)

Now we know better – and we do better.

And the side effects! Air pollution has dramatically shrunk since the pandemic. People have new appreciation for open spaces and parks (although we also blew those outlets when too many people thronged to the coast and state/national parks last weekend.) Maybe we’ll care more about protecting them, going forward. Realizing what we do have, that others don’t, gives us a chance to be more compassionate, and caring. Health care workers, first responders, teachers, delivery people, all have gained even more respect.

In the end, it all boils down to the power of our choices. Not just our physical ones, but our emotional/spiritual/mental ones, too.

As artists, our role is a powerful one, and will continue to be, sales or no sales. We have always dealt with uncertainty, our markets plummet at the first sign of “danger”, and when society is darkest, art is a tremendous solace to many. Not just our art, but the creative work of all. It’s what restores us to our highest, best self, and it’s what gives moments of beauty and joy to others.

What is one positive change or insight you’ve had recently? What has lifted your heart in these scary times? What gives you hope?

And how can you share it with others? Start here, and pay it forward, today!

ICE AND SKY

We are all walking on thin ice, every day.
We are all walking on thin ice, every day.

Ice and Sky

ICE AND SKY   

Hard times are always closer than we think, but we can’t live like that.

As our everyday life morphs and evaporates in front of our eyes, it can be hard to have hope in our heart.

We wake up one morning and everything is different. It even looks different. Empty streets. Empty restaurants and bars. A bathroom nearly empty of toilet paper. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) (And I get to joke about it, because I decided not to do my usual stock-up-on-two-months’-worth-of-toilet-paper last week, and now I’m sorry I didn’t.)

Was it only a week ago that the steering committee for a major county-wide open studio tour get into a passionate debate about whether to shift the dates for our event to avoid fire season in California? Now we can wonder how many of us will even be able to participate at all.

But as we left the meeting room, a friend said something, and I responded with a phrase that was one of my late father’s favorites:

We are all walking on thin ice, every day.

We just don’t know it.

My dad wasn’t really a philosopher. When he was angry with me, he’d warn me with, “You’re treadin’ on thin ice!” I knew I had to either stop or hunker down, or there would be consequences.

He meant, of course, that if I kept it up (whatever “it” was), I’d get smacked. Looking back, I’m grateful he let me know! It allowed me to make the changes that would avoid that.

But as we go through life, it turns out we are treading on thin ice every day. We are almost always only a step or two, one crack, away from catastrophe. We are always only one step away from the event that could change our lives, forever.

We’ve all experienced the panic of a car that suddenly veers into our lane, or the driver that runs a red light as we enter the intersection.

We’ve probably all been through the medical test result that suddenly takes away our notion that we’re in “good health”.

We’ve had that dreaded phone call from the police, or the hospital, in the middle of the night.

We can be cautious, we can be prudent, we can try to avoid all risk and potential danger. But it won’t protect us from the random acts of other people, our own occasional idiocy, and the forces of nature.

Suddenly, we look down, and realize we are walking on thin ice.

We could fall through any second.

It’s terrifying.

It’s the bottom of our world falling out from under us.

And yet, we can’t live like that.

If we were aware of this potential danger every second of our lives, our lives would be miserable.

Our lizard brain, of course, is happy to help us see danger everywhere. After all, its job is to protect us, and it works very hard at that.

Yet another part of our brain sees life as “normal”. Our loved ones will be there when we wake up in the morning. There will be food in the fridge. There will be no incidents as we drive to work. Everybody will stop at the red lights. There will be toilet paper at the grocery store.

That’s why we are so shocked when the ice breaks. We’ve been lulled into believing the ordinary will stay ordinary.

Should we listen to our lizard brain more?

That doesn’t work.

It seems the more I worry, the more I find to worry about. This is when we obsessively worry, all the time. When we try to control and manage every aspect of our modern lives. It’s a toxic, never-ending cycle that never gives us what we crave: Peace in our hearts.

Life is uncertain, yes. There will always be things that are beyond our control. There is danger lurking everywhere.

And yet…

There is also beauty, and goodness, and tiny moments of insight and clarity, even in the darkest hours.

They can be so tiny, we can’t see them until after the worst is over. They may seem so insignificant, we can’t image their utility, until later.

There is almost always a gift there, albeit one we would probably never choose deliberately.

We can see this in action, especially through the internet, even now. There are people who are angry, freaked out. People looking for someone to blame.

People whose fears overcome their consideration for others in the same boat. (The images of people with a year’s worth of toilet paper in their shopping carts.)

Yet a friend shared a post on Facebook recently that moved me to tears. The original post shares the beauty, wonder, and solace to be found in these frightening times.

As artists, we are fortunate. Making our art can restore us to our highest, best selves. (Except when I drop that box of seed beads on the floor and spend the next hour patiently picking up and sorting each one…) (Which, okay, I start out yelling and end up in a Zen state. For real!)

We may be afraid, but we have a place in the world.

Yesterday, our county set a “shelter in place” protocol for all residents. I raced to the studio to bring home enough supplies to work at home.

A storm system was passing through, and a rain cloud was just leaving. It held the sky, dark and dismal, with tiny patches where the sun shone through.

As I looked up, a large flock of snowy egrets burst into the sky, and flew away.

Great white birds, flying as one, as flocks do, their snowy feathers catching a random ray of sunshine, silhouetted against dark, stormy clouds.

It took my breath away.

Take a few minutes today to find your happy place. Find a little time to do your creative work. If you can’t get there right now, make notes for your next project. Imagine the steps. Write them down. Savor the anticipation.

Find a favorite book to reread, relishing the bits you might have skipped over in your racing through to find out what happened.

Share something that lifts your heart. In the comments, share a tiny blessing you’ve found in the last few weeks.

Post a link to something you’ve found comforting, uplifting. It could be a beloved poem, or a thought you’ve had, something you’ve read or experienced that lifted your heart. It will lift the hearts of others.

Think of small ways you can help, right now, with the causes dear to your heart. Donate online to agencies that are forces for good in the world. Even a couple of dollars can make a difference.

Set aside your greatest fear for now, not because it’s “unlikely”, but because it doesn’t serve you right now.

I mean, yeah, follow the “shelter at home” protocol if your state has set them. Do what is recommended and required, and take exquisite care of yourself and your loved ones.

But also find ways to let your lizard brain know you’ve got this. Thank your lizard brain for trying so hard to keep you safe. Then let it rest for a while.

You can still be the best “you” in the world, today, if you try. The internet can be a curse, or a blessing.

Today, use it as a blessing to share your own moment of Zen.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, let me or my editor know! If you’d like to read more, you can either read more of my articles on Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com. You can visit my older articles in the wayback machine at Radio Userland. (They are harder to search for, but they are also shorter!)

If you think someone else would like it, please forward it to them. And if someone sent you this, and you liked it, ditto!

WHAT WE LOST: Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks
Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

What We Lost

Lessons Learned from the Fires, My Aging Brain, and My Notebooks

(8 minute read) 

I had a great idea for this week’s column. “Had”, not have. Because….where do I start??

Six months ago, I tried to clear my computer of old emails, because Google said I was “out of storage space.” My husband said it’s mostly photos that take up most of the space, so at first I only deleted emails with images already stored on my computer.

But the numbers didn’t go down much, so I began to delete more and more. At one point, my actions were moving so slowly, I thought I was doing it wrong, so I would hit “delete” several times before I’d see messages disappear. Which resulted in me accidentally deleting EVERY SINGLE EMAIL before 2018.

I didn’t think it would matter, until I realized a) that meant every single article I’ve sent to various magazines and online venues by email was also deleted; b) important conversations I wanted to refer back to were deleted; c) orders to companies for critical goods and services I only use every few years, were deleted.

Every week, there’s something I think of, and go, “Oh, I’ll search my email for that!” And then realize it’s gone, gone, gone.

Six weeks ago, I also got clarity on how to move forward with a project I’ve long carried in my heart. I needed to create my own “mounts” for displaying artifacts. I actually took an online class on mount-making for museum mounts just before we moved to California. I still have the book, I’m sure I saw it around that time, and went to look for it last week.

I can’t find it anywhere. I looked at home. Nope. I thought maybe I took it to the studio, but can’t find it there, either. I searched all my storage space at home. Nada. So I looked for it online, but it’s out of print. And Bookfinder.com, which usually comes to the rescue, only showed the folks that sell out-of-print books for thousands of dollars. I thought, “Oooh, I could search my emails for the rich conversations I had with my online teacher!” Then remembered….Oh, poo.

About that great idea for this column. I wrote it down, as is my habit, in my notebook, where I write down everything I need to remember: chores, appointments, commitments, insights, and yes, ideas for columns. I typically get 2-4 months of entries in each one, so that’s how much time is represented in each one.

Last Friday, I lost that notebook. I’ve searched high and low for it, even home, studio, storage. I’ve looked under furniture, car seats, inside backpacks packed for the fire evacuation, etc. I even called places I visited that day, asking if anyone has seen it or turned it in.

I feel like my brain is breaking!

And my biggest fear: This is a metaphor for the biggest fear for many of us, as we age, the loss of our memory. Scary stuff!

But is that the best metaphor?

Are we living computers, with memory that prevails for ages until injuries or conditions take them away? Is everything we “remember” even true? Are all our judgments and decisions that important over time?

Even as I wrote that, I looked once more on Bookfinder.com for the book, and found a copy that was affordable.

I visited a great hardware store that sold the brass rods I need to make those mounts, bringing samples and images of what I needed them for. A customer service rep assured me that making my own L hooks would be time-consuming, and there was an easier way to make those mounts with glue.

Yes, I miss the emails, still. But the articles aren’t actually “gone”, because they are somewhere in my documents file, even though it’s increasingly hard to find them. I will always regret some of the wonderful email conversations I’ve enjoyed over the years, but the healing, wisdom, and care I received from those are still with me.

And of course our most recent experience with our California wildfires helps put this all into perspective…..

The Kinkade fire was similar to the Tubbs fire in 2017 that destroyed 5% of the homes in Santa Rosa, except it wasn’t. Winds were less sustained, fire crews had more support, and they learned from the Tubbs fire. Almost 3,000 homes (over 5,000 buildings) burned in the Tubbs fire. Only 150 homes were lost in the Kinkade fire. There was more information available, because the lessons learned from 2017. Still not perfect, but a lot better. And most important? 22 people died in the Tubbs fire. The Kinkade fire? Zero.

This time, we had more time to think about what to take and what to leave behind, should we have to evacuate. I found it harder to leave my studio than our home!

These losses, real and imagined, concrete and anticipated, all sit in my heart today. Here are the gifts I’ve found there:

It’s hard for us to think about our unsold work, especially if it tends to outnumber our SOLD work. But at least it will go somewhere. It might sell after we pass, it may be gifted, it may be found in antique galleries and thrift shops, or heck, a yard sale! But that’s still better than having it all destroyed, for all time.

I’m frustrated at all the information I lost in that notebook. But I can find some of the more vital information (for taxes, etc.) I usually have a separate notebook for my more emotional/spiritual/blorting writing, and I still have all those! In fact, as I came across them while searching for my last journal, I’ve been pulling them out of storage and rereading them. My favorite so far is the year I recorded every funny thing my kids said. So many things I did not remember, until I read them again! So many setbacks and recoveries. So many problematic people for me to complain about, and so much insight gained on some, from good people.

The self-doubt I thought was new? Turns out I’ve had it since I took up my art! Yes, I was fearless in practice. But I still had to write my way to that place of power, over and over and over.

It was poignant to reread all my “biggest visions” and dreams I had for my art, that seem pretty small compared to the ones I’ve made in the last few months. Maybe I’ll surprise myself again, with even bigger ones!

It was empowering to read of the “dream galleries” I yearned to be accepted by, and so I get to contemplate the ones that worked out, and the ones that didn’t –and why.

We tend to think our lives, and our art career, as constantly moving forward, building and growing, or, if we’ve lost hope, stalled and pointless, when in reality there are peaks and valleys, profits and loss, insights and changes-of-heart, every step of the way.

Some of the things that felt like enormous roadblocks at the time, I usually referred to as “that incident”, or initials (if a person), and I can’t even remember who or what those were! They felt monumental at the time (and were!) And that stuff still happens, and will continue to happen. Hopefully, I will continue to move past them, and maybe even forget these, too.

And in the last year, several dear friends from my artistic path have popped up on my radar. No need to have those email conversations from decades ago! We now have new ones to savor and cherish.

That great idea I had for a column? It will either pop again, or it will be lost forever. No matter. Losing it inspired me to write this one instead.

I have a lot of unsold work in my studio. No matter! If it’s still around after I die, somebody will enjoy it, somehow. (I tell my kids how to manage my art and supplies when I’m gone: Give everybody a big bag to fill and charge them $250. They’ll make a mint!)

Even trying to jot down every idea, inspiration, question, isn’t proof against forgetting something, even something important.

Every day we will overlook an opportunity to get better, do better, find better, help better.

 And every day, we will find a new one.

As you make the work of your art, know that we can never be completely in control of our hopes, our thoughts, our intentions, our efforts.

We can only do our best. Because we are only human. Imperfect, inefficient, bad memories, displaced anger, trying to see our path in a firestorm of life events. 

It’s our greatest flaw, and our greatest super power.  Especially because we are artists, makers, creatives, constantly striving to use our work to have our say in the world, to tell our story, in ways that are good for the world. 

Embrace it! Go to the studio today, and make something that brings you joy.

And hold on to your dreams. Even one small step today will bring you closer to their fruition. You won’t know until you try.

If you enjoyed this today, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it, too!

If someone sent you this, and you’d like more of the same, subscribe to Fine Art Views for more insights from different artists.  And if you want to read more of my writing, subscribe to my blog at at LuannUdell.wordpress/com.

POST HOC FALLACY

My art. My words. My voice.
My art. My words. My voice.

Post Hoc Fallacy

There are a lot of reasons we tell ourselves why our work doesn’t sell.

But not all of them are true! 

 (9 minute read)

 Where do I get my ideas? All over the place!

Today, I read Clint Watson’s post about why we should always work to improve our creative skills. (True dat!) An artist who assumed their work was excellent was so obviously not, and so did not gain representation in Clint’s gallery.

I also read Car Talk in our daily newspaper. (Yes, I’m old. I still read newspapers!) It’s a radio show and weekly article that answers car questions. It was a great radio show with Tom and Ray Magliozzi, two amazingly wise, funny, and sarcastic brothers who own(ed) an auto repair shop in Cambridge, MA. (My husband actually saw them once on Charles Street in Boston one day, while I was inside a shop looking at antique jewelry.) They offer advice and entertainment while answering people’s questions about car problems. (Tom has passed, but Ray carries on the tradition.)

Today’s Car Talk article is “Post Hoc Fallacy”. It’s based on a Latin quote, Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this”. That is, “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.”

This is sometimes true, but not necessarily true.  (From Wikipedia): A simple example is “the rooster crows immediately before sunrise; therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.”

How did I get here from these two articles?

Because on one hand, what Clint said is true: The artist did not get into that gallery because their work was not very good.

On the other hand, there might be a hundred reasons why a gallery may not take our work on. Earlier this year, I covered just some of the hundreds of reasons a gallery may not want our work in “Let Me Count the Ways”.

This, for me, is the artist’s Post Hoc Fallacy:

We don’t think our work is good (or someone tells us that.)

Then, we don’t find our audience. No sales, no gallery representation, not getting juried into shows, etc.

That must prove that our work really isn’t any good.

And that may not be true at all.

Now, I whole-heartedly agree with Clint’s article: If our skills aren’t great, that will wreak havoc on our ability to show, market, and sell our work.  It can be a blessing, if we are able to listen, when someone gently points this out to us. Constructive criticism can be a powerful force for improving our work and improving our sales, no doubt about it.

It’s always hard, as an artist, to hear that truth. Some of us refuse to hear it. Clint did not tell the artist that, but as he described the artist, it’s pretty likely they would not have listened anyway, based on their behavior.

It’s also impossible for us to be perfect. Even extremely talented artists, the ones who are honest with themselves, and us, concede that while achieving perfection is a worthy goal, it may be impossible to get there, and stay there. All of us can do better. Hopefully we all try. We may have to accept we may never actually get there.

But there is power in the trying, and it’s admirable to never give up.

My on-the-other-hand-point is, it does not serve anyone if we believe we will never be good enough—and walk away. The Post Hoc Fallacy has wreaked its destruction on our soul….if we let it.

In fact, I also wrote about how sometimes even really really bad art can have its own power, in my June column on Regretsy. Being authentically “bad” can have a place in the world.

We’ve all seen vendors at art-and-craft shows, on websites, in shows, even in galleries, that are….well, “meh”. Not awful, but not that great, either. We’ve seen people win awards for work we don’t think is that much better than ours. We’ve seen people whose work is twice as expensive as ours, while ours languishes.

The worlds of making art, buying art, exhibiting art, selling art, and honors awarded for art are as wide and varied as the people who actually make art, and certainly as varied as the people who judge it.

I believe that making our work as good as we can, and then striving to do better, is indeed an excellent way of increasing our chances of being “successful”, however we choose to measure our success.

And yet, I’ve seen amazing artists being rejected from shows, from events, etc. Many talented artists whose work doesn’t sell.

In fact, artists have been long judged for their gender, their race, their nationality, their success/sales, their subject matter, their technique of choice, their name recognition, you name it, it’s been done. We’re getting better, I hope!

Many artists get discouraged, sure they are doing something wrong. And many artists believe they simply aren’t good enough, so why bother even trying?

I’ve been there. I’ve been at every stage of this in my art career.

I’ve been told my artistic aesthetic is immature, by the very same person who, a couple years later, demanded to represent my work. (I guess they forgot what they said the first time. It was the same body of work!)

I’ve been told my work is not “real art”.

I’ve been told I make the same “tired old work” with the same “tired old techniques”.

I’ve been rejected from shows, galleries, etc. since the very beginning. I’ve been told my prices are too high since I first started selling my artifacts, even when they were priced at $18 for a horse pin. I’ve gotten into galleries and then pulled out because my work “just wasn’t selling”. I’ve been told I need to focus because my work takes “too many media categories” (fiber, jewelry, sculpture, assemblage, etc.)

But here’s the thing: I don’t care.*

Even as people where making these judgments (and statements) about my work, there were even more people who said amazing things. Like, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s beautiful.” Like, “I can recognize your work anywhere!” I have won a few awards, and I treasure them. I have been juried into some of the top fine craft shows in the country. I found my story about my work, and that made it a cohesive body of work.

In fact, I fully believe that when I finally said, “I have to do this work, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m a good artist anymore, I just have to do it.”, THAT is where my power came from.

The short story? If you can do better, do better.

But if you can’t, or won’t, and yet you love what you make, then make it anyway.

Something that is innovative may be so different, we don’t even know what to think of it. It may be before it’s time. Success can depend on where we live, who we know, the opinions of others who have very narrow definitions surrounding creative work.

At the end of days, there will be no sure-fire, solid, indisputable list of who the “best” artists are, and no permanent place where we fall on that list.

And at the end of our days, we may have regrets. Regrets that we didn’t achieve the recognition we craved, the sales that would have proven we were doing it right. We may regret we didn’t try harder, or do better with our talents.

But I hope and pray you never regret that you didn’t try at all.

It’s true, we might be able to improve our success, and have more sales, if we work in the favored medium, or with the most respected subject matter, if our techniques are really, really good, if we find the right galleries.

But it all boils down to finding the right audience, doesn’t it? Even a gallery must focus on what they think they can sell. And if their audience is not the right one for your work, even if they give us a chance, in the end, we’re taking up precious wall space that they depend upon for their own success.

So even if we really aren’t good enough, it’s still our choice. Do we want to bring this work into the world? Or do we walk away?

We can believe that there truly is an audience for the work of our heart, and it’s on us to make it, get it out there, and find that audience.

We can believe that knowing the “why”, the story that got us to this place, is a powerful factor in our success.

We can acknowledge we can do better, and then make it better. Or accept that it may not be as good as everyone else’s but it makes us happy, and that can be enough. If we need more, we can look at other ways for our audience to find us.

At our own end-of-days, we will look back at our choices. What will we regret?

I have a vision. Even when I am discouraged, even when it feels the world doesn’t want or need my work, I know I want it. I need it. I want it to be in the world somehow. Because my art is one way for me to be in the world.

My art. My words. My voice.

I would mostly regret walking away, especially if it’s because a) I don’t believe I’m good enough, and b) I allowed success, here and now, to be the only measure of its value.

There will be regrets, for sure.

But not that one.

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* If I’m being totally honest, I do care! I wish people didn’t think that about me, or my work. But I also know I shouldn’t care, and that’s how I choose to act.

ONE IN A MILLION

We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!
We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!

One In A Million

We can get lost in the crowd, OR honor our own voice in the world. You choose!

(6 minute read)

A week ago, I read the latest newsletter from Robert Genn, who created the powerful series of articles called “The Painter’s Keys”.

Genn died in 2014, and he is sadly missed. His articles range from “how to paint” to “how to be”, and all are well-written and illustrated. Fortunately, his artist daughter Sara has continued the tradition, and carries it well.

This article was originally published in 2011, but still has relevance today. Perhaps even more so! You can see the article here: https://painterskeys.com/plight-undiscovered-artist/

He opens with this sentence:  “Last night I met with five of the 17 million artists who currently need to sell more of their art.

His take focused on the need to “get better” at our work, rather than “feeling good” about our work.  Obviously, although this little group were working very, very hard to sell their work, his advice suggests he considered the work slightly “less than.”

Remember, this is a guy who, when he realized he would not live out the year, sorted through all his paintings, pulled the ones he thought were “less than”…..and burned them. He did not want a shred of evidence of any low quality left behind.

Part of me understands this.

Part of me balks.

I have older works, older artifacts, etc. that make me squirm a little when I see them. I mentioned this to a dear friend in Keene many years ago. I said maybe I should destroy them.

She said, “Did you love making them?” I said yes.

She said, “Did people love them, and buy them?” Again, I said yes.

She said, “Then there will be people today who will love them, too.”

Bonk. Head slap.

In fact, this very insight came into full force during the two weekends of my open studios. People went through my artifacts drawers (a printer’s type tray chest) where all my older pieces and overstock pieces are stored. (If I have the perfect piece of real turquoise in hand for a necklace, I’ll use it. If not, I’ll make it. And while I make it, I make extras so I’ll have them on hand.)

I have just started selling a few of the older ones, the ones I don’t care for that much, and the ones I’ll never actually use. (Oddly, the ones I don’t like aren’t my first pieces, but my “middle period. Go figure!)

So there may actually be buyers for every stage of our creative work: Our earliest efforts, the period where we expand our skillset, and now, when we are making our best work ever.

And yet, why is it so hard to sell today? (Genn wrote his original article during the recession, when many galleries actually closed, sales were so poor.)

I think it’s in his very first sentence.

17 million artists in the world today.

Now I spent some time trying to verify this (although, I dunno, maybe he just threw it in there for effect. It worked!) And of course, “artist” usually only refers to 2D painting. It may or may not include people who work in other 2D media, or people who work in 3D media. It may include stone sculpture but not clay work. It may not include people who do fine craft, or even not-so-fine craft. It may not include singers, actors, dancers, writers, poets, etc., etc. For sure it doesn’t include my broader definition of creative work.

Although one of my favorite responses I found simply stated, “That would be the number of people in the world. Because everybody has some creativity in them.” YES!

So between the estimate of 2.1 million artists I found for the U.S. (a city the size of Chicago or Houston) and everybody on the planet, perhaps 17 million is a pretty good guess.

So every day, we are trying to make our work visible, accessible, and sales-worthy in competition with enough other people to populate a city smaller than Beijing (22 million) and slightly greater than Istanbul (15 million).

Wait for it…..

DO NOT LOSE HOPE.

I know our first reaction might be, “Why bother?!! I’m just gonna throw away my brush/pencil/clay/etc. and become a doctor/lawyer/CEO/pilot (or whatever your other, more lucrative dream career might be).”

And if you’re in art for the money, maybe that’s a good idea.

But that’s not why we took up art, is it?

I’ve heard every possible “creation” story” of how we came to making art. Many of us felt that urge to make something, even before we were old enough to know what it was called. (When I was four, I was given a pad of typewriter paper and a pencil. I drew something on every single sheet, including a spider wearing a little shoe with shoelaces on each foot, and affixed them to the walls of my bedroom with scotch tape onto my newly-painted walls.) (My parents were not happy.)

Some had no idea they had this in them until they were much older. Some walked away, thinking they weren’t good enough, only to return to it when they realized how fulfilling it is to make something wonderful. (Ahem. That would also be me.)

Some of us constantly judge ourselves, our process, and our work. Remember the commenter on one article who was mocked by family for working in “chalk”?

And yet they persisted, because pastels speak to them in a way that cannot be ignored.

We may feel less-than, we may feel we’re “doing it wrong”, we may feel we aren’t “good enough”, and maybe that’s true. Lord knows, there’s always someone who feels free to tell us that, even when we haven’t asked.

But the power of embracing where we are right now, the power of telling our story with the work of our heart, the power of starting where we are and stay focused on doing better, is heady stuff.

Genn went on to conclude his thoughts from that meeting:

Everyone left with more questions than they brought. Maybe you can answer some of them. Which is better — feeling good or getting good? What is good? Has everything already been done? Does it matter? What courses should monetarily artists take? How much of the current art-poverty is due to the current recession — or does the current poverty have something to do with sliced cows?

That last remark refers to some of those folks thinking if you’re selling skills are good enough, you can still sell poopy work.

Here’s my take-way:

Do it because you love it.

It’s not selling yet, because your audience hasn’t found you. YET.

Keep getting better. But don’t let the judgment of others keep you from the work of your heart. (There’s constructive criticism, and there’s vicious criticism. You get to choose which to listen to.)

 We may be just another “one” in a million.

But there is nobody else on earth who can tell our story. There is no one else in the world who can speak with our voice.

 We are, each of us, truly “one in a million.” Or maybe even several billion.

Do the work of your heart. Get better. Keep trying. Persevere.

Do it because you love it. And because it’s good for you!

If you enjoyed reading this, you can sign up for more articles by a variety of artists at Fine Art Views or subscribe to my blog for more of my articles.

If you know someone who would like this, send it on to them with my blessing!

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NO POWER: Lessons From the Fires

NO POWER: Lessons From the Fires

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines, and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Sometimes we have to lose our power before we realize we've had it all along.

Sometimes we have to lose our power before we realize we’ve had it all along.
Today’s been a fun day. No electricity. Maybe none for another five days….OY!!
Two years ago, our city was hit by an out-of-control wildfire that destroyed over 5,000 homes and killed a dozen people. It turned out our regional power company was at fault. High winds, blowing east-to-west in the fall, had downed several power lines. These set trees on fire, and the high winds blew the destruction over miles and miles.
Unfortunately, our fire crews were overwhelmed, because of a similar situation in another part of the the state. So rather than an influx of support, our teams were quickly overwhelmed. Buildings couldn’t be saved, only saving lives mattered. The last line of defense was taken outside of two area hospitals, which, incredibly, were saved with little damage.
Of course, this is no longer an anomaly.  Other cities and towns in California experienced even worse fires in the years following. PG&E has struggled to develop a plan-of-action during these high-risk weather situations. The current plan? Shut down power before the winds hit. Like, a day before the winds hit. Like, today.
So, unfortunately, this plan was put into effect 24 hours BEFORE the high winds are predicted. We are among the 240,000 people affected.
We woke up to no power.
The weird part? Everyone two blocks to the west of us, and a few miles north of us, has power. (Why electricity in our town was shut down at all, when the fires were generated many, many miles EAST of us, is a mystery.)
Fortunately, my studio has power. And here I am today, thinking about “power”.
Yesterday, the price of gasoline jumped at least 50 cents a gallon. My husband shook his head at the price-gouging, til I reminded him that gas stations have a very narrow profit margin. And when the power goes out, they won’t be able to sell gas, perhaps up to five days. Yes, they were taking advantage of a freaky situation, but otherwise, they could go out of business. Not good.
Supermarkets were swarmed by people stocking up on supplies. Oddly, our favorite store had already run out of water. (Our water was not turned off, but when you hear the words “emergency”, you don’t want to take anything for granted. Also, most of of these stores may have to close when the electricity gets cut. They stand to lose millions in refrigerated and frozen food.
It got me thinking: What is the power source of an artist? And what happens when we lose that source, even temporarily?
One power is ingenuity. We are very good at solving all kinds of problems and issues, from figuring out which medium works best for us, to sussing out shows, galleries, and events that garner us the most in sales and exposure to new audiences. If we were to lose that “power”, we would probably curl up into a ball like a hedgehog, waiting (uselessly) for the world to “change” to our advantage. But artists are very good at “keep on keeping on.”
So our next power could be perseverance. Knowing when, and how, to keep moving forward, to hold hope in our hearts, even when the world is full of uncertainty. This can be tough. I’ve seen artists’ sales rise and fall, surge and ebb over the years. (I’m currently in that sales fall-and-ebb state. It’s not fun.) I can’t imagine what it would feel like to believe this would never change.
And yet most of us do. Many artists lose hope, and some actually walk away from the work of their heart, believing they will never earn a living from it, or even help pay a bill or two. (Some just want to pay their expenses.)
I’ve always known I can’t walk away from my work (until I’m physically forced to!) But I know it’s a thing, to believe we can never make it work. It breaks my heart. It’s hard enough to deal with hard times. Taking away my ability to make art would break me. That’s why, when I found that wonderful “Sally Forth” cartoon, with it’s powerful statement, “It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice”, I realized I had “permission” to continue this work, no matter if I have to eventually find other ways to earn $$$. It’s what keeps me sane, and whole, it a dark and weary world.
Stockpiling is another power. I’m really good at buying in bulk to save money on materials, even if it sometimes mean I have to sell some of it off as my work takes another direction.The trick is to stockpile the right stuff. And also, to be able to repurpose those supplies into other uses. (Ask me about S-clasps that can also be used as connectors!)
Last night, my husband bought a ton of his favorite foods. Unfortunately, this morning he realized that if we don’t get power back soon, it’s all going to go bad in the refrigerator. (I did buy some cheese, but it will last a day or so without refrigeration. I also bought crackers, too. No cooking!) So knowing how and when to stockpile, and how to find a new use for what we have, is a good skill set.
Another good power to have is flexibility. During the fire in 2017, our neighbors not only lost power, but also their internet. (It depended on who the carrier was. Ours still worked, theirs didn’t.) We were able to use our phones as hotspots, and they were able to “coast” on our internet. Today, I was able to use my studio laptop to write this. I’ll be taking it home with me tonight. My husband also mentioned we’ll be able to power our cellphones with laptops. I did not know that!
Me? I’m gifted with this power! When I first started out making my art, a lot of people gave me grief because I worked in so many different media: Fiber. Polymer. Jewelry. Monoprints. Assemblage. But my superpower was my story. People can now recognize my work in almost every medium I work in, because of that. Some even recognize my non-polymer jewelry, because of my palette and my designs. That’s a good thing! Also, I can sell my work through different galleries that specialize in different media. And jewelry always sells, even when my higher priced 2D work doesn’t.
What thrives in a power outage is community. Just as we helped our neighbors in 2017, there are times when friends, family, and neighbors, can leap to our aid.
Artists often work in isolation, and some of us have lived in areas and times where artists are few and far between. And yet, our attempts to form an artist community can be powerful. My own current artist support group lagged when it came to trying the exercises I told them would be powerful. We coasted on updating, kvetching, and advice-giving, until finally, a few months ago, one person was willing to try the process of “active listening”, and the Four Questions.
It worked! It was so powerful, they want to do it again, and again. I even got a chance, and it was powerful for me. I’d forgotten what it was like to simply talk, with very few interruptions, to be able to grieve without other people trying to soothe me out of it. It was amazing, to work through my own issue with my own insight I couldn’t get solely by being in my head. And I am grateful.
In a way. I strive to use my column as that opportunity for YOU, too. I want to hear your stories, your struggles, your successes, and I want you to reach out and support others who are going through the same thing. Nobody knows better than an artist what it feels like, when it seems the world does not want nor value our work. And yet, we need to do it, if only for ourselves. (Because making the work of my heart heals me, and I know it can for you, too.)
The last power (because I know you have other things to do this morning!) is courage. It takes courage to take up brush, or pen, or clay, or our guitar, to express the truth that must come out. It takes courage to accept that what is in us, must be shared. If not for ourselves, then for someone else who is also sitting in a dark place, who also worries the world does not want their work. Someone else who needs to hear “you are not alone” (though yes, you are unique), someone else who is doing all the right things, but still isn’t having the success they dream of. Someone else who is afraid they are “doing it wrong”, when they simply have not found the right audience for what they’re doing right.
Sometimes it takes a power outage to realize the real source of power is hiding in plain sight:
In our hearts.
In our art.
In our community, family, faith.
In our own experience, and generosity.
Do you have story about how you got through a power outage (real or metaphorical?) How did you find your source of inner power? Share it so someone else will be inspired!
If you enjoyed this article, pass it on to someone else who might like it, too.
And if someone sent you this article, sign up for more advice for artists at Fine Art Views and/or sign up for more of my writing at my blog at https://luannudell.wordpress.com/

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Editor’s Note:

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LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Challenge vs. Injury

There’s a big difference between perseverance and suffering.

I overheard another intriguing comment at the physical therapy practice I go to. Out of nowhere, one of the therapists told a client, “We want to see perseverance, not suffering.”

Oh, the memories…..

Years ago, (seems like an eternity) I was really into martial arts. (No, I never got a black belt, though all my instructors along the way said I was well on my way.)

I never got there because…..injuries.

I pursued martial arts over a spread of 15-20 years in my middle age, sometimes with massive breaks in between practices and schools (Tae Kwon Do, Thai Kickboxing, then back to Thai Kwon Do.)

Typically, I was the oldest person in the class. I always did my best, but I’ve always been “heavy” on my feet as opposed to “light”. Ironically, this quality is not due to weight. Jackie Gleason was always heavy, but he was also “light on his feet”. I’ve talked with my husband (a former gymnast), physical therapists and athletes about this quality. They recognize what I’m saying, but can’t identify what it “is”, whether it is innate or can be learned, and why some people have it and some don’t. It is not an indication of ability, but is a recognizable style.

And so, encouraged by my instructors to push myself, I always, eventually, ended up injuring myself pretty badly. (Although, come to think of it, my most major injuries were inflicted by a) an instructor who should have known better, according to other instructors in the class, and b) another student who was even more inept than I was, tried to kick me below the belt, and when I blocked him, his shoe broke my finger. (He had to wear shoes as he was diabetic.)

The story typically goes like this:

One evening, I went to Tae Kwo Do. We did a kicking work-out. The instructor yelled, “Faster!” and I didn’t want to be the one everyone was waiting on.

So I picked up the pace a wee bit, landed wrong on my foot, and injured my Achilles tendon.

I instantly had a cap on almost all my other activities for many months.

I felt pretty stupid. The instructor wasn’t urging me to go past my limits–he was yelling at the green belts. I was the one who felt I had to prove something–that I may be older, but I was still a competent student.

Well, I went over that delicate balance between challenge and injury, and landed hard on the injury side.

It wasn’t even my own challenge. I was worried what other people would think if I didn’t try harder. Even though I should know by now that is NOT the way to get what I need. The only thing I get with that attitude is more injuries.

I told myself I would not give in to self-pity, nor get angry with myself.

I went swimming instead. And with each stroke, I chanted to myself, “I…..can…..handle…..this.”

I realize I walk a delicate balance in everything I do. Working out. Friendships. Relationships. In my business. And with my art.

I need to push myself enough to challenge myself, to make myself grow stronger, physically, emotionally, artistically.

And yet hold just enough back so as not to injure myself, or others.

As in martial arts, so in my art. There’s that same balance between taking the professional risks that challenge me, without injuring my bottom line (and my ego) irreparably.

That particular injury (and there were many along that path) happened just before my (very full) fine craft wholesale/retail show was scheduled. I realized I was in the same place with my art biz. Although I had no idea what to expect, I knew I had to try.

Sometimes I get freaked out thinking it out–“What am I doing??!!” Other times, I feel it is a reasonable venture.

Hopefully, I would find buyers who were looking for work that had a more western/southwestern/northwestern feel.

If not, I knew I would come home feeling like I need to crawl into a barrel and mosey on over Niagra Falls…..

But not for long. I knew if this show proved not a good fit for my work, I would just have to get over it and try a whole ‘nother strategy.

Like my tendon, my ego eventually healed. And like my injury didn’t keep me away from martial arts very long, guessing wrong will not discourage me from making my art. Not for very long, at least.

In the end, the injuries accumulated to the point where I did have to walk away from that passion. And those shows? Well, that was just before the recession in 2007-2008. They turned out to be a gamble, one I finally decided was not worth it.

After creating new strategies over the years, I finally found what worked for me: One major show with a deep history and very loyal following, open studios, and online sales.

Moving to California meant rebooting in may ways. I’m still working out my best plan to persevere in my art-making.

What worked for me then doesn’t work for me now. What works for me now is still in process. There continue to be obstacles and injuries along the way.

But here are two big truths I hope inspire you on your own journey in making the work that lifts your heart:

As I said, I was not a “natural” when it came to Tae Kwon Do. But every instructor always reminded me: We are competing with ourselves. (One class was “Olympic” but there were plenty of folks who obviously weren’t going down that path.)

Because I was “bad” at it, I had to practice more than others did. I showed up, every class. My last instructor said, after the last big injury that meant I could never practice again, that my perseverance had gained me excellent technique, and indomitable spirit. He said he felt guilty they had started me at the beginning all over again (they doubted my credential from an instructor who had moved away.)

He said I deserved a black belt.

So, wait, four big truths:

I did what I loved.

Perseverance almost got me there. 

Practice makes perfect.

I’ve gotten very good at not giving up.

Whatever you need to do to make your place in the world, never give up what you love until it takes away from you. Even then, there are ways to keep moving forward. (T’ai Chi!)

Find the balance (life/work/art) that works for you.

And keep doing it ’til you get better.

BE THE HERO IN YOUR OWN STORY: Framing Is Everything!

It takes time, but somewhere down the road, there’s a powerful story in our darkest hours.

 We attended a gathering this weekend. Good food, great people, and beautiful scenery. That’s where the idea for this week’s article comes from.

I was talking with a younger person there, who’s right smack in the middle of a difficult life stage. I listened to their woes, which, to be fair, they put a good spin on. In other words, they weren’t whining, but they were definitely struggling, in a situation all too familiar to me.

Without loading them with too much advice, I mostly told them they were doing it right. They had the right attitude, they were seeking the help they needed, and they knew they were fortunate in so many ways, they hated to complain about the exhausting situation they found themselves in.

I gave them two pieces of advice. Or rather, insights.

One, I told them that people who have been through the same thing, will understand. And those who haven’t, won’t. I said, “Seek out the first group, and just ignore the second.”

Two, I told her this, too, will pass. It’s hard, and it’s hard to make it easier. But in the end, they will be okay. And when they get through it, they will be able to see the gifts and blessings along the way.

I get that when we’re in the middle of a big muddle, it can feel like there’s no way out. No solution, no quick fix, no “magic mushrooms” to make it right. It can be hard to have hope.

And yet…

When I look back at some of the hardest times in my life, I can see something of value there.

I can see the goods things that came out of it. I can appreciate the people I met along the way, people who often had exactly what I needed to get through one day.

I can see the hard-won lessons that proved so valuable later in life. I can see the blessings, the gifts, the jaw-dropping miracles that not only helped me get through, but formed me into the person I am today.

“You can’t see it when you’re in the middle of it, and that’s okay,” I told them. “Because right now, it just sucks. So take exquisite care of yourself every chance you get.”

“But years from now, there will be something beautiful here, something that will encourage you, inspire you, help you find your way. This will change you, and some of those changes will be powerful. You will find yourself in a place you never even dreamed of, yet.”

“It will always be part of your story, and YOU will get to decide how to tell it.”

No one would ever choose to be in that hard place. It will simply find us, no matter who we are, no matter what we do. We are going to have very, very hard times in our lives.

And not everything has a happy ending.

But there will be gifts, if we chose to look for them.

The trick is in how we tell our story.

In a slump with our artwork? Uninspired? Tired of the same ol’ same ol’? Someday, we’ll look back and see the wall we hit—and how it led us to an exciting new body of work.

Didn’t get into art school? Maybe the wild and crazy path you DID take, is what makes your art so powerful today.

Didn’t get into that gallery? Or exhibition? Or that top-notch show? Rejection feels like failure. But failures have a way of making us dig deep for our art. We can crumple up and walk away, leaving our creative work behind. Or maybe we realize someone else’s “no” can be our next “maybe”. Maybe I’ll try another gallery in the next town over. Maybe I can simply apply for more exhibitions, hoping I’ll get into just one.

Or maybe I realize that no one can keep me from my studio, and it’s time for me to get back to work.

It can be hard to be Pollyanna in the middle of despair. And yet…

What if we actively thought of ourselves as the hero of our own story?

What if the challenges we face, force us to rise to meet them?

What if that difficult person in our workplace finally inspires us to find another job, a better one, too?

What if our loneliness when things get hard, creates compassion in our hearts for others in the same boat?

What if physical setbacks force us to choose another path, one that has its own rewards? (I’ve met TWO potters this month who had to find another form of creating when their bodies couldn’t take the “weight” any longer.)

What if lack of sales, fame, and stardom as an artist, actually encourages us to focus more on the “why” of our creative work? Helps us pay attention to the joy we get from making our art?

What if all we really need to get through this day, today, is a six-minute film to bring us nearly to tears, filled with awe of the beauty of this perfect day?

Last week, I read an old journal from our last two months in Keene, NH, just before we sold our house and 80% of our possessions to move across the country.

I’d made note of some difficult times, people, and situations. But I was surprised at how little of them I actually remembered! I would read, “I hate Doris!” and think, “Who the heck is Doris?!”

When we were in the middle of that move, all I could see was total chaos.

But as I look back, I see what a powerful experience it really was, on many fronts.

The things I loved so much, it felt impossible to leave them behind—only to find out they were in much worse shape than I’d realized, and couldn’t go anywhere except the dump. (My cheetah-patterned sofa!)

The person who gave me a hard time, and now I can’t even remember who it was, nor what it was about. (As I deal with difficult people here in CA, I’m reminded there are difficult people EVERYWHERE.)

The people who didn’t show up to help (“I’m not going to do one thing to help you leave, because I want you to stay!”) and the amazing gift of the people who DID show up, every day, for weeks.

The fear that I would lose my audience in NH (which DID fall off for awhile), and yet realizing how quickly I could start growing a new audience here.

The people who were upset by our choice to move, until I shared with them our own “hero’s journey” that led us to that decision. (Hallelujah, they came around!)

Now, sometimes we just need to gritch. I get it. I love to gritch, too. It feels good to get a good whine in (with a glass of wine, too!) And it can be cathartic to blow off steam with a good friend who’s willing to listen.

But in the end, I choose to see the miracles, the gifts large and small, the Angels In Odd Places I find in almost every step along the way.

So the next time you get slapped in the face with a big ol’ whipping cream pie of rejection, or lack of sales, or whatever, take note. My bears’ story: “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

Bear tells me, “Be strong when things get hard. Listen more. Think slow. Love deep.”

I process things by writing, but you may have another process. Maybe painting your heart out, or creating a song, or poem, or prayer. Maybe do something kind for someone even worse off than you. Perhaps a chance to simply blort with a loving partner, or a really good friend who is truly there for you.

Whatever works for you, embrace it.

Be the hero of your own story.

Tell the story only you can tell.

Because your story might  just inspire someone else to be a hero.

Do you have an example of a setback that proved to be a power booster for you? Share it here! It may be just what someone else needs to hear today!

And if someone shared this with YOU, and you like what you see, sign up for more articles at my blog here.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE MONEY Except When It’s Not

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!

BE KIND (to yourself), REWIND

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.

True dat.

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.

2016-08-24 10.55.14 (733x800)
I didn’t do as much as I’d planned, but I did SOMETHING!

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.

WILD GEESE

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.

Mary Oliver 

BAD SHOWS, BAD ART, AND WHY WE HAVE TO PERSEVERE

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.

 

 

 

 

 

SCHOOL HORSE LESSONS

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!”

Donna won.

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.

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The Whale Watcher

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!

PERSPECTIVE, and ADVICE FOR NEW BLOGGERS

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!

KICKBOXING AND ART–What Do They Have in Common?

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…..!

CLEANING THE STUDIO Redux

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!

CLIMBING OVER ROAD BLOCKS

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!

WHAT MERYL STREEP AND I HAVE IN COMMON

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…..?

THE BEST ADVICE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

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!

TRIBES #3: LEAVING THE TRIBE

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.