SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?

How much do I share without destroying the mystery of my finished work?
How much do I share without destroying the mystery of my finished work?

SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?

SHOW YOUR WORK #2: What Is Your Process?

Share what you want, not what you think you “have to”

Some thoughts on what to write about, photo, and share on social media.

I’m a double-juried (in two media) craftsman member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, a well-established, well-respected organization that supports and markets the work of members in many ways: galleries, events, exhibitions, and its prestigious Annual Craftsmen’s Fair held in August every year. (I achieved tenure, so even though I now live a few thousand miles away, I still retain my membership.) I eventually volunteered to become a member of the Fair Committee, because I was so curious about what went on “behind the curtain” to produce these incredible 9-day long event.

One feature of our annual outdoor fair was demo booths. For a reduced rate, a juried craftsman got a super-sized booth (about 20’x30’, if I remember correctly) to not only display their wares, but to do demonstrations of their craft for the public. When I started, there were three such booths at each year’s fair.

And every year we had to beg people to sign up for them.

The reason was, sales at these booths were horrible. Even with the savings and prominent placement on the grounds (an off-season ski resort), people knew they would struggle to make any money that year. It just wasn’t worth it to them.

I can’t remember why I decided it might be something to try, but boy, did I do my research. I checked in with past demonstrators, and asked if it were worthwhile. Almost everyone said, “Not that year, but my sales afterwards steadily climbed!” So, okay, consider it a loss-leader in the short-term, and investment in a bigger audience down the road. I could handle that.

But my superpower is gathering as much information as I can from every conceivable source. And so I also checked in with Bruce Baker, a jewelry-maker and gallery/gift shop owner who traveled across the country for years giving workshops on all things craft/art business related: Display, sales techniques, pricing, etc. (Bruce has retired this part of his biz and returned to jewelry-making full-time, but his CDs live on.) He lived relatively close, so I was able to attend many of his workshops, and even served with him on panel discussions and with traveling craft biz-building workshops for a year.

I called Bruce, and he graciously gave me the insights and advice I was looking for.

My first question was, why do sales tank at demos? He replied that demos tend to be “edu-tainment”: Free, educational and entertaining. And when it’s over, there goes the crowd, on to the next fun thing (music, raffles, food, etc.) So demo booths are unconsciously filed away under “fun to watch” and not “fun to shop”.

Add to that another unconscious element: When the “edu-tainer” artist sees people actively shopping, of course they stand up and move over to assist them. And the “magic” of demonstrating turns into, “Uh-oh, here comes the car salesman pitch!” and people scurry away. “There’s a disconnect,” he explained. “And once that ball is dropped, it’s hard to get back.” Hence, maybe crowds, but no sales.

He shared insights and gave suggestions. Like setting up my demo booth on the outer border of the big tent, so people didn’t have to “commit” to coming inside. “Don’t put it in the back of the booth, because then people have to make a conscious decision to enter a big, dark tent. Put it right there on the fairway!” I did, and it worked.

Second, he said I should NOT do sales. What??

“Not “no sales”. I mean you yourself should not do sales. Hire people to do that,” he said. “Keep that divide between the creative maker and the “car salesman”.” So I hired/bribed/cajoled a team of friends to help. (I lent them all CDs of Bruce’s selling techniques. But instead of telling them what I say about my work, I encouraged them to share what they love about my work. I felt it would come across as heart-felt and more authentic, and I was right.)

The proof of Bruce’s insights? At one point in the week, all my volunteers were at lunch at the same time. (Slow day.) Some people came in, I demo’ed, they watched. And when they started shopping, I walked over to them – and they nearly ran out of the booth! Lesson learned. (No, I’m not that scary in person, the dynamic had changed just as Bruce had described.)

I made my highest sales ever that year, and the next (as I got to choose to demo again, if I wanted to, and I did.) In fact, from that year on, there was actually competition for those sales demo booths, and their number increased to five! Because every other artisan saw what was happening, and wanted in on that, too.

But one of the biggest hurdles yet remained. And it took a friend’s insight to solve that problem:

How much do I share without destroying the mystery of my finished work?

This has been a “hurt place” for decades for me. My work has been copied (although badly, I’m ashamed to admit I’m happy to say). Showing exactly what I do, and how I do it, felt too risky. Also, think of how explaining a magic trick takes away the magic. The last thing I wanted to do was to unconsciously give others permission to copy. (Most of my techniques are well-known and not original to me, but the way I put them together and the stories I tell are.)

Again, just the right person showed up.

I met Alisha Vincent when she was the show manager for the Buyers Market of American Craft (informally called “The Rosen Show” for the company’s owner, Wendy Rosen) and now known as the American Made Show.) She was/still is one of my super heroes in life, for her intelligence, her powers of observation, her wide range of experience in the world, her courage, and her sense of humor. She actually came to NH that year to work in my demo booth, and I am forever grateful she did, for countless reasons. But especially for today, this one: When I expressed my fears, she was quick to find the solution. “Look at your neighbor,” she said, gesturing toward the guy who made beautiful Shaker boxes in the tent next to me. “He says his process has 29 steps.”

“He’s demonstrated nine of those steps.”

Oh. OH. OH!!!!!! Got it!

Next week, I’ll share the other learning points from this experience we can apply to social media. For today, just this:  When I say “show your process”, know that it means you can choose how much to share.

Take pictures (or ask someone to help with that) that show your work (and you, if you like) at various stages of your process. Share, with comments. (I did this with my email newsletter recently, and the response was the best I’d ever gotten.)

Some people do share every single step. Hats off to them! They are secure in the knowledge that their skills have taken time and effort, and are not easily mastered. And that their own aesthetic and color choice are unique to them.

Me, not so much. I totally know this comes from my own insecurities and past experiences.

And so Alisha’s insight helped me pick interesting aspects to demo, but not a start-to-finish process. She helped me find my comfort level, so I could start there and go forward.

That’s the big idea for you, today. There will tons of insights, advice, statistics, and information about art marketing in the weeks ahead on Fine Art Views.

Keep note of the ones that interest you.

Note what feels like “too much” vs. what feels like a challenge you can handle.

And as you get comfortable with it, take on the next challenge.

Remember, there are oodles of steps to help us move forward in our art biz.

The gift is, we get to choose what ones, how, how much, how often.

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!

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Maybe They Will, Someday?

Instead, let’s all find new ways of getting our work out into the world
Instead, let’s all find new ways of getting our work out into the world

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Maybe They Will, Someday?

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Maybe They Will, Someday?

And if they don’t, don’t worry, just keep doing what you love!

(6 minute read)

I’m sure last week’s post about why millennials don’t buy our art may have landed harshly for some. It can be hard to hear all the reasons why, especially if it’s our own attitude that gets in the way.

I’ll repeat what I’ve said, over and over: There’s rarely any art that is loved by everybody. Trying to please everyone, or even someone else, is not why we do what we do, nor why we make what we make.

We do it for ourselves first. There’s something in us that has to be in the world. Our job is to make it happen, and get it out there so others can experience it, too.

Most of the reasons we covered are physical: Younger generations haven’t achieved their peak earning level – yet. When they do, when they have discretionary income, they will be back.

Their houses may be smaller, too, if they even have a house. If, like my daughter, they’ve been collecting the work of other creatives for years (and have begun to pursue their own creative work), then there may not be room for grand-sized art.

And of course, the subject matter, matters. My own art collection (other than my own work!) ranges from a few still lifes to landscapes, abstracts to wildlife, and everything in between. What matters to me is if it speaks to me. And as I pointed out last week, if later learn the artist is a pretty nasty person, then that aura eventually overshadows the work, and I move it on. Hence, last week’s subject. (That doesn’t bother everyone, of course, but it’s actually one reason Vincent Van Gogh struggled to sell his work. His mental health issues sometimes made him a difficult person to deal with.)

So what does work for us moving forward?

Fortunately, many people generously offered insights into what works for them.

Prints and smaller works brought the price down, making art more affordable to younger people.

Some artists don’t frame their work. This can lower the price, and have the benefit of avoiding the hassle of a customer who loves the work but doesn’t like the frame. If you try this, make sure to finish the edges, though. A one-inch thick (or more) will look more finished if the edges are painted, either to match the painting itself or in a coordinating solid color.

Offering classes has always been a way to expand our income streams. If people are enchanted by our work, there are ways to teach that don’t encourage people to try to recreate our own unique body of work.

Teach and/or exhibit in unusual environments. In a recent blog postLearning to See, I shared my own experience in a one-evening painting workshop offered by a friend at a winery in New Hampshire. It was fun, we drank a lot of wine, and a good time was had by all.

Explore local attractions and events that often attracts crowds of all ages. Brainstorm with others about what linked connections could provide art-making and art-selling opportunities there.

Subject matter: One young artist I met painted children’s toys as still lifes. They were well done, and whimsical and playful in nature. I suggested they approach galleries near the high-tech areas in California, where young people with money and young families might snap them up.

On another note, as the manager of our local open studio tours in Sonoma County said a few months ago, “Art events aren’t about making money today!” Although great sales are wonderful, not every event will be successful, for us, for everyone, every time.

Art events are about making connections.

Open studios, exhibitions, art fairs, gallery presence, social media marketing, etc. All these are sharing what we love and why we love it. Even if people don’t buy, because of all the reasons people don’t buy our art, they may indeed “be back” down the road. I’ve had people watch my work for years before decided to take the leap. People who weren’t sure I was who I say I was, who finally came on board. People who couldn’t afford my work, but came back with friends who could. People who don’t necessarily go for what I make, but have purchased for loved ones who do.

When I meet younger people in my studio, they are allowed to get comfortable. They love that they can pick things up, ask “dumb” questions, and be met and treated with respect and courtesy.

I share what is unique about my work. I share how I got there. I share what I’ve written about it. I share the “why”.

The conversation doesn’t just center on me, either. At some point, especially when I can tell they just aren’t ready to buy, I turn the tables on them. I ask what their creative work is, and listen deeply.

If I can’t share my art with them by selling it to them, I can share parts of my journey that may make their own easier. I can validate their own individual interests, skills, sense of purpose, and their own unique journey.

By encouraging them to do the work of their heart, to make room for it in their lives even if they do something else for a living, it shows I see them as not just potential buyers, but as people. Real people, with their own life goals, their own journey, their own dreams and desires, fears and setbacks.

One of our responsibilities as artists is to “pay it forward”. I want everyone who leaves my studio to go with a renewed sense of joy and “what if?” I encourage them to come back if they need advice or just someone to listen to. When they share setbacks they’ve encountered in their own work, I try to share a name, or a book, or a solution that could help. After all, there were plenty of people who encouraged me to stay on my path. I want to do the same!

And even as I finish this series, I realize there are real opportunities for me to take my own advice. People are begging me for classes, and though they are a lot of work (and take away precious time from my own work), I know it will benefit me and them alike if I make that happen!

I hope if you’ve find an approach that helps you attract a younger audience, you’ll share in the comments below. Don’t worry about the “pie getting smaller” if everyone has a slice. When it comes to the work of our heart, the universe is pretty big, and the pie is infinite.

Oh, and please, no more negative comments on millennials! This entire series was to expand our thinking, and our hearts. To be open to kinder ways of being in the world. If I didn’t change your mind, that’s okay. We are all entitled to our opinions! But trash talk and negative thinking doesn’t help anyone, and shuts down the conversation.

Instead, let’s all find new ways of getting our work out into the world, so that the world can be a happier, more beautiful, more loving place, for ourselves, and for others.

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

And your bonus for today, a comment left by a reader on Fine Art Views:

There was a panel discussion a week or so ago on this very topic at the Booth Western Art Museum’s Gala. Brad Richard, the owner of Legacy Gallery, and Tim Newton of Western Art and Architecture were among the panel members, and the discussion was led by Seth Hopkins the executive Director of the Booth Museum. I didn’t ask Seth about it, but I suspect the question might have been prompted by your blog. Anyway, the conclusion was “Don’t worry about it!”. if we think back to when we were the age of the Millennials, we weren’t buying much art either. Most people don’t begin to have much disposable income until their 50’s. The Millennials are busy finishing off their massive college loans, building careers, and growing families. Few are in a position to buy art! They will come around and we will see the market for quality art surge! Of course, the panel members admitted to trying to find ways to attract the Millennials now. The consensus was to keep educating and to keep on producing quality art. One very encouraging development is the resurgence of an appreciation for fine representational art. Art designed to lift the spirit rather than to match the sofa! Don’t sell the Millennials short! They will soon become very discerning buyers!

Posted by Michael Strickland · via fineartviews.com

 I’m so grateful Michael shared this, it reinforces everything I said in this series! Thank you, Michael!

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else's story, someone else's world, and someone else's journey.
There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s world, and someone else’s journey.

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: The Hardest, Harshest Reason(s) of All

(11 minute read)

The next-to-last article in this series about why millennials etc.

We’re on the home stretch!

In my articles, and in the comments section, we’ve shared many fact-based, data-driven evidence about the different world millennials grew up in. It is simply different than the one we grew up in. EVERY generation faces the same challenge: New conditions, new “rules”, new obstacles, new solutions. The bad parts aren’t necessarily our fault, and it’s usually not their fault.

I also shared these setbacks and obstacles with one hope: To soften, and encourage us to change our assumptions and opinions. Only when we open up to seeing life from the other’s person’s point of view can we connect, with compassion and respect.

I knew there could be tremendous pushback against these thoughts, and there was. That’s okay. I will say it again and I will keep on saying it:

My art is not for everyone.

And neither is my writing.

Which means your work is probably not for everyone, either.

I’ll be honest. It’s hard to hear the anger and criticism these articles have generated. Just as it for all of us when someone walks into our booth, and then declares in a loud voice that they don’t like our art, and then proceeds to list the reasons why.

We may be angry, threatened, threatening, sad, resentful. These are human responses, normal responses, when we encounter something that seems harsh, insulting, frightening, upsetting, or baffling. It’s called a flight-or-fight response. It’s almost impossible not to feel these reactions when we experience something that seems to upend everything we thought was true.

But one of my superpowers in life, a hard one to use, but one that’s served me well is this:

We can’t change how we FEEL. But we can choose how we ACT.

This has helped me change my opinion about quite a few big issues in my life. It’s expanded my world view, opened new territories, and inspired me to write so I can share these insights with others who are ready and/or willing to consider them.

Not everyone will. But again, it’s their choice.

So take a deep breath, because today we’ll talk about the most important reason millennials don’t buy our art:

1)    The don’t like your art; or

2)    They don’t like you; or

3)    Both.

Harsh, I know. But take a deep breath, settle your heart, and read on.

Because these are also the reasons why all our non-buyers don’t buy our art, too.

This is the harsh reality of all the endeavors we take up in the world.

There will always be someone who couldn’t care less. There will always be someone who is lukewarm about our work. There will always be someone who doesn’t like it, for all kinds of reasons, reasonable and unreasonable.

But there will also always be someone who loves it. Even if they can’t afford it, or have no room for it, or they aren’t at the point in their life when they can act on their love for it. It won’t matter how good you are, nor how bad we are.

So if someone tells you/lets you know they don’t care for your art, what is your reaction?

Some people get cold and huffy. Some act out on their feelings. There are groups on Facebook for creatives to vent their anger at ignorant, insulting, clueless, gross visitors at fairs and shows. It can be fun to read these stories, because it helps us see this is a pretty common phenomenon. We are NOT THE ONLY ONES who experience rejection, not just from galleries, or juried shows, or guilds/leagues, awards, etc.

But when the stories get toxic, it gets harder to read. Because artists also share their sharp retorts, their indignation, their snarky thoughts about those visitors.

It’s okay. I get it. I love to blort with the best of them.

But what happens is, this turns a potentially powerful human connection into a battleground.

It’s not necessary to get into that fight. In my blog series and eBook “How to Get People OUT of your booth”, I discuss how difficult people can be challenging. But there are diplomatic ways to circumvent their behaviors, ways that help get us to our happy place, so we can deal more effectively with the people who DO enjoy our work.

Because the worst thing that can happen when we “let loose” with anger and bile is this:

OTHER PEOPLE ARE LISTENING.

In encounters where someone has said something rude, mean, whatever, and I meet them with serenity (YES, the serenity is a facade, I’m seething underneath. I’M HUMAN, just like you) other people in my space come up to me after, and say something like, “I can’t believe how kind/patient/powerful you were with that person!”

They now know that even if THEIR question is “dumb” or unintentionally rude, they will still be treated with respect and kindness.

In other words, it is SAFE to interact with me.

When we eagerly jump on others who we believe are behaving badly, there’s a side effect: We contribute to the toxic environment ourselves.

I was lucky. Early on, I held back from “confronting” and “challenging” visitors who were less-than-enthused about my work, (and my writing.) I had the good fortune to live in the same region as Bruce Baker, a former nationally-acclaimed speaker about how to strengthen and improve our creative work on many levels: Booth display, jury slides, signage and customer relations. He drew from his own wisdom gained from doing shows and fairs, but also benefited from other like-mined, experienced artists who shared what had worked for them.

The trick is to anticipate the questions and comments that might trigger us (the flight-or-fight thing), and practice our best response to them.

Because if someone asks us what we consider a “dumb question”, or says something insulting (whether deliberate or unintentional), and we respond with our “fight” reflex, other people who DO like what they see, will think twice before asking their own questions.

Because once people have entered our booth, once they’ve had a chance to look at our work and decide they kinda like it, once they’re ready to talk, they do the thing that will determine where we both go from here:

THEY ASK A QUESTION.

Maybe they can’t afford it – yet. Maybe it won’t fit in their living room – yet. Maybe it creates yearning whispers of what it might be like to pursue their own work of the heart.

Yes, maybe they’re so clueless about “good booth behavior” that they bungle the question. We can get really good with that, if we are willing to change our own attitude, and meet them halfway. (Or 3/4 of the way!)

If we can do that, a door opens. There is an opportunity for a rich exchange of questions and insights, a chance to either a) inspire a sale, if they’re ready, or b) lay the groundwork for future sales. At the last show I did, the second one after a total flop the year before (5 attendees for the entire day, no sales), a customer approached me and declared, “I saw your work last year, and I COULD NOT STOP THINKING ABOUT IT.” They bought a special item and companion piece for themselves, and pricey gifts for two friends. I could hardly operate my Square, I was so excited!

If I’d harbored resentment about the lack of attendance, if I’d sat around complaining within hearing of guests about the lack of sales, I could have squished that connection forever.

Instead I have a new collector who has already shared their love of my work with their friends, who may also consider buying my work. And share it with THEIR friends.

It all starts with staying calm. Leaning in. Curbing toxic assumptions and impulses. Staying focused on our work, the work we love, the work we make room for every day (if we can) in our lives.

If millennials are not your audience, let it go. We’ve shown that they have perfectly good reasons, just like ANY OTHER people who aren’t.

But if you are committed to blame them (especially for the reasons that are beyond their control, and NOT THEIR FAULT), believe me, they will know.

To all the people who commented with compassion and empathy, to those artists who (mostly) contacted me privately (I’m guessing because they didn’t want to expose themselves to criticism) who ARE MILLENNIALS, THANK YOU! Your experience either confirmed my research, experience, and thoughts, OR you were willing to reconsider what is going on. I’m grateful.

To all the people who disagree, please, as always, do what works for YOU. My advice and words are free, and therefore worth every penny you paid for it. :^)

Next week, I’m going to ask people whose work DOES sell for millennials, what has worked for them. Is it their style? Their subject matter? Their price points? Their willingness to engage and connect? I’ll do my best to collect the people who have already shared, and put that in the article for your convenience (and theirs.)

But I do want to leave you with this last story, which isn’t mine.

It’s my daughter’s.

First, both my kids were the inspiration for me to step up to the plate with my art. When my daughter asked if she could work booth with me at fairs, I agreed. It was a powerful shift in our relationship as she entered one of the most difficult part of her life.

She began her art collection with purchases from my fellow exhibitors, and continues to this day. You may find some valuable insights into millennials and their buying habits this Fine Art Views column from last March.

And here is the “spoiler” from that column:

“My daughter still wants something of beauty that came from another person’s hands, and heart, especially when she started to make and sell her own work.

As she browsed for an urn for the ashes of her stillborn child (Sam died 8 months into her pregnancy), she became frustrated with the same ol’ same ol’ look of them. Nothing felt personal enough, or fit the emotion of the event. When I suggested that a good friend who works with wood might make something especially for her, she lit up. (She found a maker on Etsy who resonated with her.)

This box will be in their home forever, and every time they see it, it will bring a bit of solace amid the sorrow. They may not know, or care to know, the story of the maker. But it holds their own story of this time, and that’s what matters.

I just spoke with my daughter again, and she added more about her purchase.

She wanted something unique, related to cherry blossoms, because that’s around the time of his birthday, when the cherry trees bloom here in Washington, D.C. She wanted wood because it’s warmer. She wanted something personalized and not mass-produced.

She wanted “something that fit us”, her and her partner.

There is appreciation for the maker, as it fits her needs as the collector.

The maker may have no idea of what my daughter and her husband were (and still are) going through.

When I hear people my age disparaging this age group, it breaks my heart.

And when I hear people with their own thoughtful, kind, compassionate, positive, uplifting experiences, my heart is healed.

So when you go to your studio today, when you make that time to do the work that is important to you, know that someone, somewhere, someone will be lifted up.

When you are discouraged because you can’t figure out why your art doesn’t sell, focus first on the fact that it uplifts YOU.

When you put it out into the world, know that someone, somewhere, needed to see it, for reasons we cannot even imagine.

And when you are healed, and share it, someone else will be healed too.

Next week, I’ll compile and curate the ways some of us have found a way to gain millennial collectors. There are some strategies that will work for some of us, but maybe not all.

My only goal was to encourage your heart to open up to new understanding, and new possibilities. To expand our rock-hard definitions and assumptions that not might only hurt others, but might also hurt ourselves.

And to echo the last words of that column I wrote, “So let’s open our hearts, and our minds, to these changes which time will bring.

There are many ways for our work to become a part of someone else’s story, someone else’s world, and someone else’s journey.

Keep hope in your heart, and be open to new possibilities. And be patient with yourself, as we all navigate these new waters.

Art is part of us, no matter what it is, no matter where, or how, or when we find it. Online markets can be just as powerful as in-person encounters, if not more. (Many in this age group never even think about going to traditional art galleries. Yet.)

And I will hope ALL of our art, mine, and yours, will be “found”, someday, by the people who will love it and enjoy it for the rest of their lives.”

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or more from from my blog by subscribing (upper right hand corner of this page.)

Reasons Why Millennials Don’t Buy Our Art

Reasons Why Millennials Don’t Buy Our Art: Examine Our Assumptions

REASONS WHY MILLENNIALS DON’T BUY OUR ART: Examine Our Assumptions

We can tell a different story that just might open doors

(7 minute read)

At last, we’re ready to dig into the many reasons millennials don’t buy our art.

As you guessed, there are many, many reasons. And there are many, many wrong assumptions. If we are willing to have our assumptions challenged, this series might be helpful. Read on!

In hindsight, I wish I’d co-authored this series with fellow/former FAV author Lori Woodward. As you know from the wealth of insights she’s shared over the years, one of her superpowers is digging into the actual numbers and data to verify if an assumption, or a marketing strategy, is truly useful or not.

I can’t do that. Or rather, I won’t. I tend to read a lot about whatever it is I’m writing about, note what resonates with me, and share a narrative. If the information is solid enough, useful, makes sense, it can change my narrative for the better.

That’s why I swapped “useful” for “true” above. You may have your own version of what’s “true”, but if it holds you back from finding your voice, and an audience, then consider framing, and embracing, what’s useful instead.

So if this series doesn’t work for you, I get it.

My first insight is that being annoyed/frustrated/less-than-impressed/derogatory about younger people is not new. I shared that in the original article and yet it didn’t seem to affect the tone of the comments. About a third to half of the comments were “negative” in tone, or started out positive/sympathetic, but ended up negative.

New technology, online media, discussion groups, video/computer games, were blamed for everything from “lack of attention span” to “shallow world views”. Lack of exposure to “real art”. A fixation on “likes”, popularity, expensive clothes, etc. Perceived lack of appreciation for the values we have, and yet this same argument has been used for many millennia.  (No put intended!)

People in 1816 bemoaned the disgusting erotica of new dance called the “waltz”.

In 1859, an article in Scientific American complained about the inferior amusement gained from a popular new game called “chess”, You can read more funny, crabby moments in history here and here.

After I was done laughing, I realized that complaining about “kids today” is nothing new. We’ve been doing it since Bork made a lumpy hammered iron knife to kill a wildebeest, and the elders complained about “young people today!”, asking “why do that when a simple rock will do the trick??”

Short story, this is a story, an attitude that always has been, and always will be, with us. If it’s been going for untold generations, I doubt there’s anything I can say that will change everyone’s mind! (I’m hoping to encourage a few.)

In fact, I read a review of a book I recommended last time, KIDS THESE DAYS by Malcom Harris. Halfway through, the columnist berates Harris for not coming up with solutions to enable future generations to work together (he does) and then admits their “quibbles” are just that—pretty minor—and also acknowledges they might seem to be a “grumpy Gen Xer” themselves. (This is the generation following us Boomers, people born between 1965 and 1980.)

An even more poignant take on generational differences is, we tend to judge quality by what we loved, what caught our hearts, when we were that age, too. Amidst all the angst and drama surrounding the prequels and sequels to the original Star Wars series, a long-time, avid Star Trek fan explained why the latest TV series is not respected by the earlier generations:

 “…So this isn’t your grandfather’s Star Trek. As someone pointed out about the new Star Wars trilogy “It’s not for you, it’s for people who are your age when you started liking Star Trek”.”

In fact, we, the Baby Boomers, were judged pretty harshly by the previous generation, too.

Your homework for today, should you choose to accept it (I’m guessing by now you realize I’m also a Mission Impossible fan), is to make a list of all the awful things said about our generation, all those ago. What did The Greatest Generation say about us?

For me, art was a frivolous pursuit. Growing up, my family found my interest in art “interesting” but baffling. I was encouraged to find a “real” job that paid well, never mind whether it was emotionally or spiritually fulfilling, get married, and quit complaining. Every grade I got in school that was less than an A came with anger and a scolding. Many of us, especially those who had young kids to care for, turned to art later in life, either through yearning, a sideline, a hobby, or after we retired.

TGG experienced some major world calamities: Two world wars, the worldwide influenza epidemic in 1918, the Great Depression in the ‘30’s. Harsh realities of an older time.

Yet they came home from WWII to GI bills, affordable college educations, a housing construction boom, vaccines to fight polio, and a booming national economy. They worked hard for their progress, too.

They considered boomers to be frivolous and privileged, focused on getting high and zoning out. No morals, no discipline, spoiled, lazy, and lightweight.

We are not evil people—no one generation is–but we had our moments, too. We were ridiculed for “Make Love, Not War”, and were considered rebellious idiots for protesting the Vietnam War. Some of us marched with King, risking life and limb, but most of us didn’t. And once the Civil Rights movement created legal protections for people of color, we thought we were done.

And now? The complaints, the ridicule, the slams we face, and give. How we found ourselves in a pivotal moment in history, and took all the credit for it.

We were lucky. We found our wave and rode it out. Most of us were able to buy homes, find careers, create families, and retire in comfort, too. Workers at auto factories in Michigan were well-paid, and often owned second homes (lake homes, at that!). Many companies offered pensions, too, and matched retirement investments.

We cannot conceive the realities and disappointments “young people today” face: Robotics and automated assembly lines; the gig economy (where no benefits nor health insurance are offered, let alone pensions); recessions just when they would have reached higher income levels, etc. I had an apartment and a car while making not much above minimum wage in the early ‘70’s. Today, minimum wage is a little over $7/hour, though many states are higher. Yet, one estimate is that if that had been adjusted over the years for inflation/purchase power, it would be closer to $11-$22/hour. The official federal poverty level income is just over $25,000 for a family of four. A family would need 3-4 jobs to jump that financial strata.

Gah! I’ve actually overwhelmed myself researching these facets of the generation gap. Thank you for bearing with me!

My sole point today is to show how even a few major insights can help us change our attitude towards millennials:

Every generation tends criticizes the newer ones. Every generation is told “they are doing it wrong”. And that creates assumptions, grudges, resentment and lack of connection among us all. How will younger people even connect with our art when they know we already feel they are “less than”?

Every generation faces unique societal, financial, moral issues that are not simple to resolve, and difficult to understand once we’ve gotten passed them. The Spanish influenza epidemic killed more people world-wide than WWI, and killed almost as many soldiers as combat did. That is unimaginable today. Oh wait: Millennials are facing the possible death of our entire civilization due to climate change. Yep, that’s pretty scary, too.

So…if we can sit with the discomfort, we can shift our thinking just a little, we can exchange judgment for insight. We can turn resentment into compassion. We can trade disappointment and the fear that no one wants our art, into creating a bridge between our experiences, and the younger generations coming up.

Stay tuned for more myth-busting next week!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you found it helpful, you can sign up for more articles at Fine Art Views or read more from me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com. 

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: People Are Listening!

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.

 

img_20160905_170647
I have very good reasons for choosing polymer. Simply put, I could NOT do the work I do without it!

I recently wrote an article called SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”. In it, I shared how we can positively frame our choice of media, especially ones that are considered “less than.”. (I was going to say “justify” in that sentence, but it sounded like an apology. Let’s just stick with “frame”.)

There is a hierarchy in art media, just like there are hierarchies in any creative human activity. For example, even the worse presentation of ballet may be seen as more “sophisticated” than tap dancing, or break dancing.

In art, oil painting may be considered more “real art” than acrylics, which is “better” than watercolor, which is “better” than colored pencil, etc. Many even consider pottery and fiber art to be craft rather than “real art”. (It used to be, if you wanted to start a flame war on the internet, you would just ask what the difference is between “art” vs. “craft”. Actually, that argument’s probably still raging!)

My friend Nicole Caulfield is an extremely talented colored pencil artist. She chose this medium for a variety of reasons. To my eye, they are as beautiful and compelling as any oil painting I’ve ever seen. Yet her work commands far lower prices than even a mediocre oil painting. Does it weigh her down? Nope. This is the work she loves, and excels at. In my mind, she is an art hero! (I’ve linked to one of her website pages, but her portraits are jaw-droppingly beautiful, too!

Over time, new media (especially polymer clay) do gain respect and followers. And yet, there will always be those people who will find fault with them. In the article, I shared how I got to the heart of my “why”—why I chose to work with this material, and its advantages over others, to make my art.

Today I share another insight into why it’s important for us to find these reasons:

When we are challenged by these people who imply (or outright tell us!) our materials are “less than”, we need to be prepared with a great answer….

Because other people are listening!

I did an entire series of articles on awkward, obnoxious, aggressive/dismissive, simply ignorant, or even innocent questions or comments that may startle or stun us.

As artists and makers, whatever our choice of medium, we need to be prepared for an answer that modifies and redirects the conversation on our own terms.  We need to do it with patience, and dignity, and without anger, defensiveness, or apologies.

For one, we gain nothing by responding with anger or snark. We’ve simply lowered ourselves to our detractor’s level. We help create a hostile environment that works against us. (In fact, that’s why some obnoxious visitors do this, consciously or unconsciously. Why else would someone go out of their way to be rude, when all they have to do is walk away??)

But more importantly, when we address our detractors, other people around us. Whether it’s at an art opening, in our booth, in our studio, or even in our family and circle of friends, other people are paying attention to how we handle it.

If we learn to handle these difficult situations with respect, and reframe it to our advantage, we will really impress the people who are listening, who are/could be our real customers.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had someone say something awful to me, sometimes out of ignorance, sometimes because they are simply an awkward person, and sometimes, because my work has triggered something in them. (I’m guessing envy, and perhaps insecurity about their own creative efforts.)

I realized those questions and comments fall into several categories: My choice of media (not just polymer clay, but fiber, and jewelry.) My source of inspiration. My color palette.  How I talk about it.

I sat down and thought hard about how to respond in a positive way, without being defensive. This actually gives me the power to reframe the conversation in a way that serves me well.

And every time there has been an “audience”—other people browsing, for example—it’s obvious they’ve been listening to how I responded. Because they do one or more things:

They look even deeper at my work.

Often they come up to me afterwards and compliment me on my restraint. (Fortunately, no one can read my mind yet, where less pleasant responses are swarming.) (Yes, I have a lizard brain, too!)

They often buy something, too.

That “difficult person” gave me the opportunity to share my outlook on life, my art, and my medium, in wonderful, positive, life-affirming ways that resonate deeply with my audience.

Again, this took time. I was fortunate to find Bruce Baker’s seminars early on in my art career. For almost two decades, Bruce gave seminars and sold CDs offering great advice on marketing and display skills for artists and makers of all sorts. (He has now returned to his original work of jewelry-making.) [1]

I used his advice (and words!) when two women entered my booth at my very first major show. One looked at a large wall hanging, featuring my own handmade polymer faux bone artifacts. She said, “You’d have to live in a very different house to hang this. A VERY different house!” (It was obvious her “very different house” was not a desirable house…..)

I’d practiced Bruce’s suggested response to detractors, memorized it (so I wouldn’t be caught off-guard) and went into full reframing mode:

“Yes”, I replied cheerfully, “My work IS unusual, and unique. I’m inspired by the Lascaux Cave in France, which for decades was considered the birthplace of human art. I work with recycled fabrics to make each quilt, layered and stitched to look like it’s passed through many generations of family. I make my own faux prehistoric artifacts, one at a time, to embellish them.”

And the kicker line: “My work isn’t for everyone. But the people who do appreciate my work, love it passionately.”

Why is this so appealing?

I established my cred as an artist. I shared a bit of the process behind my work. I emphasized the time involved, and where the aesthetic comes from. I showed I’m not looking for mass appeal, but the story in my heart.

And I issued a small “challenge”: Maybe it’s not for you…or is it???

This is the power of discovering our “why”: Why we use this material. Why we make this work.

And why someone else’s negativity won’t stop us from moving forward with all our heart.

But the biggest gain was the people who came up to me after that person left, and congratulated me on my response!

They saw someone who hoped to get a rise out of me, sent on their way with courtesy, patience, and respect. They heard a response that answered some of their own questions, questions they may have hesitated to ask. (Because some artists can get pretty snarky about what they perceive as “stupid questions!)

It started a whole nother conversation about my work, where I could share how I came to be an artist, why I chose this cave, and why polymer is the perfect medium to tell my story.

So think about why you chose your particular medium. Think about why you choose to make what you make. Think about the questions that have stopped you in your tracks, making you wish you had a snappy response in return.

Then take out the “snappy” bits, and reframe it to your advantage.

Be careful about making a joke, because usually those jokes are at our customers’ expense! I myself have been the butt of such remarks, and even though they make me laugh, I’m also slightly ticked. (See that same “questions” series for ideas!)

And practice your response(s) until you don’t even have to think about it.

If you, too, have found a way to frame your response to detractors (it could be medium, subject matter, color palette, in a positive, respectful way that benefits you, share! Someone else is hoping you’ve found a beautiful way to not only deflect, but perhaps even engage, a difficult person.

Footnote: [1]  Bruce’s old website is long gone, but his excellent and informative CDs on selling and display for makers are still available! You can contact him by phone (802-989-1138) or email him at dunnbaker@aol.com  I assure you they are worth every penny!

SUPPORT YOUR MEDIUM: Consider the “Why”

Don’t focus on the “what”. Focus on the “how” and the “why”.
What’s it made of?
This used to be my most dreaded question to answer. Until it wasn’t.
Recently, Cynthia Tinapple, a long-time polymer clay artist/teacher/writer/curator, told about a recent visitor who said she “loved polymer clay.”
Cynthia was caught off-guard. Usually, we polymer clay users jump “defend” our choice of medium. This visitor acknowledged it, respected it, and praised it, all without prompting.
Polymer clay is an amazingly versatile, adaptable, and accessible art medium. And like any other medium, you can use it to make crap, or to make something astonishingly beautiful.
It was originally used in Germany as an art doll medium, and well-respected.
But when it was originally marketed in the U.S., it was framed as a simple clay for children and amateurs to use, especially Sculpey: Supersoft, easy to work, quick to fire in an ordinary toaster oven.
Those of us who worked with it soon found ourselves constantly judged as “less than”…. Less than “earth clay” artists. We worked in “plastic”. It was cheap, and it broke easily. I remember my first little craft fair, featuring pens I’d covered in patterned mosaic polymer, selling for a few bucks. A couple stopped by, and the guy picked one up. “What is it?” his partner asked, and he responded in disgust, “A cheap pen covered in plastic.” He put the pen down and walked away.
I felt flatter than a pancake.
Innovators like the late Tory Hughes (who inspired my faux ivory work), City Zen Cane, Kathleen Dustin, and many others, soon showed us what could be done with this material.
Still, the stigma remained.
Years ago, I noticed a disheartening phenomenon: Whenever a booth/studio visitor picked up my work and asked what it was, I’d reply brightly, “It’s polymer clay!”
And they would put it down again and move away.
I realized I had to reframe what this material meant to me, and why I chose to work with it.
First, I created a few small “sample” card of things I’ve made with the clay. There are faux bones and pebbles, mosaics and buttons, pieces of turquoise, coral, and amber, tiny fish and other wonders, all arranged attractively and attached to a piece of poster board.
Then there is my “Welcome to my world!” sign next to it.
I’m much wordier when I talk about it. I show them the little sign-with-samples that’s now an instant attention-getter in my studio and at shows.
I remark on what a miracle it is to have this material in the world at the same time in history that I’m in the world.
I put a little horse, or bear, into their hands, and tell them the story of a customer who chose her horse necklace based on how it felt in their hand.
I show them the grain, and tell them about the guy I met at the Boston Gift Show years ago, who owned a company that makes artifact reproductions for museum gift stores, who said they can’t make a scrimshaw reproduction that so beautifully mimics ivory like I do.
I share how important it is to make “bones” and “ivory” without harming animals, a choice that better reflects our modern times.
And I always add, “It’s not what the material isit’s what you do with it.
So once again, I am grateful to all the innovators and early-adaptors of polymer clay, for curators like Cynthia and others, new teachers who share their expertise and knowledge about this amazing medium, and the amazing, talented, unique artists who have chosen it to work with.  Thank you!!!
I would show you the sample card, but I’m not sure where it is right now. I’m moving to a new studio in a few weeks, and my space is filled with boxes, packing tape, and boxes marked like this:
moving studio box
Yes, I have a small collection of puppets in my studio. I LOVE THEM!!!
Which reminds me of when we packed for our move to California four years ago, and Jon labeled THIS box:
moving
I love this man. He always makes me laugh!

It is the fourth time I’ve moved my studio in four years, and we also moved our home twice times in four years.  I’m a lit-tul bit exhausted. But I think I see some light at the end of the tunnel!

STAY IN TOUCH: Newsletter Tips for Artists

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

Keep it real, keep it human, and be yourself.

In my last column, It’s the Little Things That Count a reader asked what we should write about in our email newsletters.

Short story: Our email newsletter is how our audience gets to know us.

And long story (which follows): There is no single “right way” to do that.

I have seen beautiful, heartwarming, informative newsletters that I eagerly read as soon as they show up in my inbox.  I have seen pompous, bragging newsletters that make me stop reading after the second paragraph.

I have seen brief notices of an event, and I have seen long, meandering missives that wander here and there and everywhere.

All of the writers have an audience, so just because I like them or don’t like them doesn’t mean they are necessarily “doing it wrong”.

I do see (and you are all going to laugh knowing this comes from ME) that keeping it short and to-the-point makes it more likely people will actually read it!

Here’s the thing to remember: If someone signs up for your newsletter, they already believe you have something of value to share with them.  So really, all you have to do is be the best “you” you can be.

Of course, usually I create a newsletter to inform my audience of an event, whether it’s a show, a meet-the-artist event, or an open studio, or even a sale.

But many artists share tips on how they actually make their work. Or they share WIPs (works in progress), providing a little behind-the-scenes peek into their creative process. Or they share a little life lesson or funny story. (I tend to share this kind of stuff on other social media, but that’s me.)

In short, every single newsletter is a reflection of who that person is. Their newsletter tells us what they want us to know about them, and their work, what they’re up to, where they’re heading.

So think about who you are: Confident? Humble? Cheerful? Grounded? Funny? Very serious? Quiet? Talkative? A sharer/teacher? An eternal student of life?

Show that in your writing!

Be authentic. Write about what matters to you.

Write simply, and get to the point.  Some of the newsletters I get go on and on, as if I’m listening to a stream of consciousness in the author’s head. Not fun on a busy day…

Be funny (if that’s your style.) If not, be serious.

It’s also okay to experiment with different styles and approaches until you find the one you’re the most comfortable with.

Now, for the concrete: I’ve written many blog posts over the years, about what I’ve learned about writing effective press releases to magazines, newspapers, etc. and I consider an email newsletter a personal, mini-press release.

So when you’re setting one up, think about the 5 (or 6) W’s: Who, what, when, where, why, and how (okay that’s not a W, but you get it) if you are including something educational.

  • The “who” is you, of course.
  • The “what” is what you want your audience to know: An event? A class? An honor/award/prestigious show you’ve been accepted into? A new gallery? A new body of work? A sale?
  • The “when” is obvious. Nobody will show up to your event if you don’t let people know what date and time it is.

What is not obvious (and what I struggle with) is, email newsletter experts say you need to let your audience know multiple times about the “when”. That is, if you have an open studio event, you need to not only let people know in multiple arenas (email, Facebook, etc.) but multiple times. Give people plenty of time to plan ahead. But then remind them over and over that it’s coming up.

The “where” is obvious, too. But you’d be surprised how many emailers assume their audience KNOW where the where is. I finally replied to one gallery newsletter last week, asking them what CITY AND STATE they are in. (In fact, I just realized I did not do that in my most recent newsletter. OOPS)

  • The “why” is trickier. But untangle it a bit, and it becomes obvious. For events, the “why” is, “Because I’m hoping you show up and buy something!” For notices of awards and honors, it’s “Because now you can see other people/organizations think my work is pretty cool, too!” For a new body of work, it’s “Because you love my previous work, you might REALLY love my latest body of work!”

The “why” could also include your call-to-action. That is, what do you want people to do with this information? Do you want them to come by? Share/tell their friends, so they can help you grow your audience? Order something online? Be happy for you? How about just to say “thank you”? That works, too!

  • The “how” can be an interesting tip, suggestion, insight into what you do. Some people want to know as much as possible about our process. Others want to take a class, and this can encourage them to do that. Sometimes, they just appreciate the fact that you care enough to share!

The only caveat (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned) is to tread carefully about the hard parts of your life you’re dealing with. It’s okay to share a setback, or to explain why you’ve been out of touch, or why you had to take time off from your art this year. I would advise you not to overdo it. Here in Santa Rosa, the fires last year devastated a lot of lives, immediately and peripherally. It will take most people years to process their loss, and heal.

But to make every single newsletter/conversation/announcement about that is overwhelming to our audience. After all, we are all struggling with something. We are all broken, someplace in our heart. We are all healing from something.

Asking for a little sympathy and understanding is human nature, and support from others can be a healing factor. But asking someone to listen over and over and over to our sad story is exhausting.

It also doesn’t serve us, in the long run. I’ve had a rotten year myself. I would say “nobody died”, but actually quite a few people died, and quite a few involved let me down horribly. It was hard, and trust me, I’m happy to tell everyone about it.

In the end, though, where the most powerful healing came from was, getting back to my studio and making the work of my heart. It helped restore me to my better self, the person I chose to be.

And that message, a message of healing, and restoration, and solace, and hope, a message of what our art does for us and for other people, is the message we really want our audience to hear.  

As artists, we want our art to inspire, to bring joy, to lift hearts. We want to bring messages of hope, and love, to others. We want to provoke thought about difficult issues, and to share our own personal view of the world and our experiences.

This is our job, as artists. And the people who are attracted to our work, who want to see more, learn more, hear more, are just waiting to get more of that from us.

I hope this encourages you to reach out to your audience, and let them know what’s going on in your world! Clint Watson, founder of FASO, has written great articles about the more practical points of producing an effective email newsletter, and I encourage you to go back and read them.

But I assure you, if you approach this with as much integrity and openness as you approach your art, you really can’t go wrong.