HOW TO GET TO THE “HEART” BEHIND YOUR ART

HOW TO GET TO THE “HEART” BEHIND YOUR ART

Get into the habit of thinking why we make the choices we do.

(9 minute read)

In last week’s column, I shared how thinking about the “why” helps us write a more powerful artist statement.

Some people got it right away. Others, who are just as good at making their art, were baffled. Believe me, I understand! When I first considered writing an artist statement, I looked to see how others were doing it. Which, I believe, is why most of us continue to use the Artsy Bollocks method of creating an artist statement. (I see they now even offer an “artist certification” generator for those of us who didn’t go to art school or who didn’t study with famous artists.)

What inspired me to dig a little deeper came from a speaker, Bruce Baker, who shared why a good story was so important.

Baker has retired from the lecture/workshop circuit, but you can see more about him here.

When a potential customer or collector first sees our work, it does have to “speak” to them first (although they may not know why it attracts them.) That is our “product”, the work that grabs their attention. “Oh my goodness, I just LOVE this piece!”

The second stage is the price. “How much is it?” To which we might reply, “That is a hand-formed, pit-fired clay vessel and it is $350!”

Bruce always added a slug of humor to his presentations, and went on, “So if they don’t faint, or walk away, here’s the next critical part of making that connection, especially if they don’t just buy it on the spot….”

The story.

And if we don’t nail down our story, we run the risk of the energy ebbing away: “Well, I’ll have to think about it, thank you! I’ll be back!”

My story is critically important for selling my work. Oh, like you, I’ve had the occasional customer who simply bought something, and as I was wrapping it up, they would ask, “So what’s it made out of?” But that’s pretty rare.

From the very beginning of my art-making, most first encounters were more like this: A person enters my space (my booth, or my studio). I greet them and give them a very brief intro to my work. I end with, “It’s okay to touch and pick things up, and if you have a questions, just let me know.” And then I do my best to leave them alone until they signal that it’s okay for me to talk to them.

Early on, people would walk by my booth, do a double-take, and come inside. They would look and suddenly find a piece that intrigued them. They do a head-tilt. (A more experienced friend said that’s what people do when someone is trying to “figure something out”, unconsciously accessing a different part of the brain.) (I have no idea if this is true or not, but I DO see it happen a lot.)

When I would ask, “What are you thinking?” (I was new to this, so though it’s not the best “opening line”, I was hoping to decipher how people viewed my work.)

They would almost always say, slowly, thoughtfully, “It’s absolutely beautiful, and I’ve never seen anything like it.” Sometimes even, “What am I looking at??” (in a nice way.)

Not all people, of course. I learned early on that my art wasn’t for everyone, but I did find an audience for it, which is all I care about.

I now have many stories to begin the conversation. I explain why I chose the medium I work with. I explain its benefits, to me, to my collectors, and to the planet. I share where my inspiration comes from, and why it is a story that speaks to us all.

But I rarely, if ever, saw that same deep dive in other artist’s statements.

What changed for me, when I heard that presentation, was my willingness to be vulnerable, to be honest, and to share what was in my heart. I was an “outsider” in the art world, I always felt like an outsider. But telling my story felt like recognizing I had a place in the world, regardless.

Years ago, I ran through the exercise for a friend, helping them untangle their own story. After reading her story, I bombarded her with “why” questions. It helped them focus on every single decision they make while creating their work. I wrote down her last comments: “ I don’t want to get too analytical in what I say about myself in this statement but I am also trying to look a little deeper and try to answer your questions.  I often don’t think about these things so much when I choose a subject to paint but not thinking about this doesn’t mean that there is not a thread to it all.  Thanks for making me think!”

And that’s the trick of it, the trick to writing a good artist statement.

My favorite strategy: When people say, I like to paint this, this way, etc. I ask them why? Over, and over, and over again.

Think about it. We make hundreds–no, thousands of tiny choices every day. Everything from the time we choose to get up in the morning, the breakfast cereal we prefer, the route we take to work, to the grocery store we shop at, going in the car we bought, filled with the gas station we go to,  shop with the cart (or basket) we pick (As in do you bring one in from the parking lot? Or prefer to get one in the store? Or avoid the one that still has paper trash in it?), and fill it with the brands we select in the aisles.

We choose the names of our children and our pets, and the doctors and vets that see them. We choose whether to take on a married name or not, our dishes, the color of our bath towels. We choose our way of exercising (or not to exercise), the people we befriend, the restaurant we go to, the entrees we order (or never order!) etc., etc, etc..

Our days are filled with tiny choices, most of which become habits. When they become habits, we eventually forget that first they were choices we’ve made.

All based on a myriad of conditions: Our taste. Our preference. Our budget. What works for us, what works for our partner/family/social circle, our life.

We do the same thing when we make our art.

Especially with our artwork! We choose the color palette, the medium, the glaze, the composition. We eventually acquire our own distinctive style. We have artists who inspire us, teachers who educate us, mentors who encourage us, spouses/partners/friends who cheer us on (or not). We make our own decisions about which shows, galleries, and events work for us, and which one’s don’t. We market our work in dozens of different ways, from postcards and signage to social media (or not!)

There are not only hundreds of choices of WHAT we make, but hundreds more after that. The kind of paint we use, the substrate, time we paint, what we paint. I could go on, but surely by now, you get the picture!

To move efficiently in the world, we make these choices–and are usually totally unaware of them. Soon we take them for granted. And we assume that everybody else has made the same choices, for the same reasons.

But that’s not really true, is it?

I know “special snowflake” is a popular meme these days, mostly because we’ve come to see it as derogatory. Yes, we are all special, but does that mean each of us should be treated uniquely?

Well…..yeah!

 Because knowing we all, as human beings, have so much in common, always, always has to be balanced with how distinct and unique we are, too.

And that has been a “thing” since those ancient, prehistoric times, too.

Even those ancient caves that inspire all have much in common. But each one is distinctive, too. There’s no single way to paint a bull, a horse, even a handprint. (And handprints on cave walls are a subtle, powerful way of realizing how many people participated in the ceremonies associated with those paintings, even down to a good guess about their age and gender, based on size and finger length ratios.)

Maybe a clueless potential customer (and I can be one!) can’t tell the difference between your work and someone else’s.

But you do.

You may focus on why yours is better, or worse. Whether yours sells, or why it doesn’t, and theirs does. Why their work got into that gallery or show, and yours didn’t, or vice versa. So will your true collectors.

But it all boils down to the hundreds of small choices you made along the way. Because that other artist made slightly different choices.

So your homework today, should you choose to accept it, is to think about as many choices as you can:

Why do you focus on that particular medium? (Or why do you choose to work in several?) Why do you use that tool, that process, that style?

Why did you chose those objects for your still life? Why did you arrange them the way you did? Why do you even like to paint still lifes? Or why do you not?

Why do you paint/draw/collage/sculpt/sing/dance/insert-your-creative-work-here the way you do? I know artists who are capable of using any medium but CHOOSE colored pencil work. Not because they can’t do anything else, but because it feels right to them. (Which is why I hate it when people automatically believe that some media are “better” than others.) (In cave art, the techniques varied from brushing, daubing, and spitting ground-up pigmented rocks to incising and carving.)

It can help to have a friend, a good friend who you trust with your help, fire these questions at you. It can help to have someone else (same qualifications) to take notes.

It helps to notice when you become exasperated, too, or even angry.

Why?

Because all that prodding gets you closer and closer to the why of everything you do. Are. Want. Create.

 It gets to the heart of Y*O*U*.

And that’s a pretty powerful place to be.

Try it. Let me know how it works. Let me know where you get stuck.

Remember, if it feels too personal, you get to control how much of your story to share.

But knowing your story is a major game-changer in understanding your own work of your heart.

It’s worth it. For you, and your audience.

Because we all have a story to tell.

What’s yours?

If you enjoyed this article and know someone who might enjoy it, please feel free to forward this to them.
If you received this from someone, and liked it, you can subscribe to more artists’ views at the Fine Art Views blog.
And if you’d like to read more of my stuff, you can subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

THE MOST IMPORTANT W: Chose Your Humanity Over Your Credentials

Let the world see who you are and why you matter!
Let the world see who you are and why you matter!

THE MOST IMPORTANT W: Chose Your Humanity Over Your Credentials

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.

Let the world see who you are and why you matter!

Awhile back, I attended a seminar on professional development skills for artists. I love to hear from other people on what has proven important for them to get their art into the world. And I almost always learn something, too.

This seminar focused on creating a cohesive body of work; approaching galleries; the pros and cons of framing, and more.

This presenter was articulate and organized, the presentation covered a lot of ground, but the time passed quickly. They mostly focused on 2D artwork, so much of it didn’t apply to me at all. But I appreciated their expertise in their medium, and how clear their presentation was.
When I got home, I visited their website.
And here is where I was totally baffled and frustrated:

There was absolutely nothing there about the “why”.

There was plenty of information, especially around credentials. In fact, the bio/about-the-artist section was nothing but credentials. Degrees, prestigious galleries that represent them, the famous collections their work is in, the other roles they play in their art community, etc.
Their work was varied, across several different media (but almost all 2D, hence the blind spot in the presentation).

But I couldn’t find anything about what the artist wanted to say in the world. I couldn’t find an artist statement. There was nothing about that that said anything about what they wanted to say, nor who they wanted to be in the world, nor why I should even care.

Now, to be fair, maybe it’s on the website somewhere. But I only spent about 15 minutes poking around until I gave up. Since the work wasn’t personally appealing to me, I wasn’t determined to do any more deep digging.

The website may prove this person is WHAT they say they are: An accomplished and successful artists.

It said nothing about WHO they are.

No, I am not a wealthy art collector.
I am not an art expert, concerned about where this person’s place in history will be.
I am not a prestigious client, an art critic, or anyone else who will matter to this person.
I am, however, another human being, who is curious about why their work is appealing to their audience. I am curious about why they create the art they do. I am curious about how they relate to potential collectors. I am puzzled about why the “why” is so unimportant to them.

Now, it’s possible that they create a new “artist statement” for each exhibit proposal, or that their audience and the gallery they co-manage is so well-known, anyone who needs to ask is NOT their ideal client.

But for the rest of us, that might be exactly what a potential buyer needs to know before they invest their hard-earned money in our heart-born work.
Sometimes, WHO an artist is doesn’t matter to me, nor WHY they make the work they do. I have bought work that simply spoke to me (if I can afford it!). And maybe this dynamic is working for you.
But I also know that if our work is unique, if it’s not something people see every day, if our choice of materials is odd or unusual, if our work is outside the box….
Then telling your story is the best, most powerful way to connect your work to potential collectors.
Even as I write this today, I’m realizing this is the gift of being that ‘outside the box” artist. When people saw my earliest work, it took time for them to understand what they were looking at, and why it attracted them. My story helped bridge that gap between “It’s beautiful and I’ve never seen anything like it” to “Oh, WOW, that’s even better!”

There was power in hearing, “I’ve loved your work for years, and wanted to own a piece, and THIS piece just leaped out at me today! I have to have it.”

There was gratitude in me hearing, “I love absolutely love your work, but I can’t afford it” and turning that into, “Your layaway plan is too wonderful to pass up!”
There is humility in learning someone found a piece of my work at a yard sale, fell in love with it, and went to the trouble of tracking me down, through online research, galleries, etc. until they found me so they can let me know how much they enjoy it–and bought another piece. (VERY different than those people who bragged about how nobody else wanted my work, so they got it for a song.) (Phrasing, people! Phrasing.)
When we create our artist statement, or “about the artist”, or even our bios, we naturally look to how other artists (especially hugely successful artists) write theirs. And if yours works for you, don’t change it.

But here’s the thing for me:

I don’t care what school(s) you attended.
I don’t care how many awards you’ve won. (Well. I’ll be a little envious, but I’ll get over it!)
I don’t care about the artists you admire. Especially if you list a dozen. Especially if you only list famous 19th century European men.
I don’t care what your medium is.
I want to know, what did you learn at that school that changed your life.
I want to know why you choose to make the work you do.
I want to know why your medium is the perfect medium for you.
I want to know who you are, and what you want to say to the world.

I’d also love to know if you’re a good person, with good energy, but sometimes that doesn’t matter to me. Unless it’s a situation where I have to deal with you a lot (like an artist in my own community), because if you’re a jerk, eventually every time I look at that piece I bought from you, I’ll be reminded of that. In which case, I will give it away or give it to a charity auction. (Ha! Another solution for last week’s topic!)

You are an artist. You are brimming with creativity, full of passion for how and what you make, with strong preferences for a medium that matches what you want to make.
You are a human being, with a powerful story about how you ended up where you are today, and with a yearning about where you want to go.
You are a person who is like no other person on this planet.

Don’t hide behind your artwork, your website, your credentials.

Tell me your story. I’m listening.
If you enjoyed this article and know someone who might enjoy it, please feel free to forward this to them.
If you received this from someone, and liked it, you can subscribe to more artists’ views at the Fine Art Views blog.
And if you’d like to read more of my stuff, you can subscribe to my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

DOES STORYTELLING WORK??

This article by Luann Udell originally appeared on Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog hosted by Fine Art Studios Online.

DOES STORYTELLING WORK?

 Yes. Yes, it does.

 For years now, I’ve advocated for creative people telling their stories. I believe the “why” of what we do is far more powerful than just the “how”.

I also know that some artists have fought long and hard for their credentials—their education, the shows they’ve been juried into, the awards they’ve won. Anything else seems, well, unprofessional. Perhaps even fluffy.

I get it. I do. When I first started my art career, I methodically entered all kinds of juried exhibits. I’m proud of the awards I’ve won. I’m especially delighted when my professional peers—other artists, galleries, etc.—sing my praises. After all, they see a lot of work. When they choose mine for their own homes, it’s a major thumbs-up for me.

I also know how extremely uncomfortable some people feel about sharing what’s in their heart and soul. They feel safe sticking to the tried-and-true. What they do is working for them, so I won’t ask them to change that.

And yet…..

I spent a weekend at a state-wide storytelling workshop, a collaboration between our Sonoma County Library, Creative Sonoma (of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board), the California State Library and StoryCenter.org. The project’s goal was to gather 100 stories that represent the ‘voices’ of California.

You can read more at http://www.storycenter.org/.

Ten people from Sonoma County were selected to share their stories, which would be transformed into ‘digital stories’—recorded in our own voices, with images, and music—no more than two or three minutes in length.

As a matter of full disclosure, I was NOT one of the original ten people selected. Someone else dropped out, and I was offered their place.

Also, when we first told our stories to the group, I said I had no trouble telling stories. Keeping it to 300 words? Almost impossible.

Two huge things happened during the class.

First, I was overwhelmed with technical difficulties. My laptop crashed, my internet connection wouldn’t take, I had trouble working with the video production software (WeVideo.com). I was the absolute last person to create a video, and it’s really not even finished yet. (I’ll be putting the last details on it in the upcoming week—I hope!) That was hard. There’s a steep learning curve to any video editing process, my husband reassures me, and at least I’ve discovered SoundCloud and CreativeCommons.com, social sharing sites for images and music. A challenge, but it’s good to challenge ourselves.

The second thing is wonderful. I was astonished and amazed by the stories people brought to share.

Every single person had a story. Each was very different from the other (although most people were involved in the creative arts.) Some were funny, some were hard. Some weren’t resolved yet. Some had no ‘answer’. But each one was intriguing.

And these are only our first stories. I realized there will be many more to come.

Here was another powerful aspect of these stories:

I remembered everyone’s name in the class, something that’s usually problematic for me.

I remembered everyone’s story.

And everyone’s story was powerful beyond words.

Not all the stories sounded like winners during our first ‘sharing’. This was probably due to the fact that some folks hadn’t actually shared them before. They rambled, they had trouble finding the ‘point’. Some stories were so new, people were was still working through them.

But in the composition and editing process (and our teachers’ experience guiding us), we learned to find the ‘hooks’. We were strongly encouraged to not tell several stories at once, something I struggle with. (Hence, my 1,000-word articles!) We found our strong beginnings, and our thoughtful endings.

Images were powerful. Music helped connect.

And our voices?  Oh, our voices…..

We each created a ‘script’ of our stories, and read and recorded them.

And every single one of us nailed it on the first reading.

One instructor marveled at this. “Even the people who insisted on a second take? Their first version was better!” she said.  “And everyone read it with such power…it’s astonishing!”

At the end of the class, we watched the (mostly) finished videos. Each one was a winner.

You don’t have to rush out and create a video (although I’m definitely going to explore this further.) You don’t have to have a full-media story telling experience to connect with an audience. Although I hope it’s not lost on you that, as artists, we already have our visuals. In fact, I used images of my artwork, as my story was about how I became an artist in mid-life.)

I do hope you’ll consider telling your story to your audience.

A thousand people here in Northern California paint the ocean, the vineyards, the rolling hills. Every artist captures the light, a moment in time, or a glimpse of something hidden. Many are beautiful, and most are at least competent.

And yes, there are people who, unsure of their decision, will be reassured you are as good as you say you are, by reading your list of accomplishments and awards, or checking the well-known galleries that carry your work..

But a good story, a story that connects your experience to those of your customers, will make you stand out from the crowd.

Create that powerful connection. Make your mark.

Be unforgettable.

 

TELL ME A STORY: Eminence

If someone else thinks you’re special, it must be true!

Another article I wrote for Fine Art Views, on using story hooks in your press releases and promotional literature….

Tell Me a Story: Eminence
by Luann Udell

Prominence and eminence as news values baffled me when I first read about them. Think of ‘prominence’ as people who are celebrated for whatever reason, and how they are connected to you. And think of ‘eminence’ as honors/celebrity bestowed on YOU. […]

Read the rest of this article at:

Tell Me A Story: Eminence

———————————————-
This excerpt appears courtesy of FineArtViews Art Marketing Newsletter by FASO,
a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists,
collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).

For a complimentary subscription, visit: http://www.fineartviews.com

WHAT I LEARNED FROM CHARIOTS OF FIRE

I’m reprinting this article I wrote on June 2, 2005, because it bears repeating. (And because it’s so hard to find on my old blog at RadioUserland…)

I’m doing a series of articles at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog I write for. I realized this post is still timely when talking about marketing our art.


CHARIOTS OF FIRE and the World Batik Conference

In a few weeks I’ll be presenting a speech at the World Batik Conference at Boston College of Art.

I’m speaking on self-promotion for artists, specifically the art of press kits and press releases.

The time is limited, and the message must be succinct. I asked one of the organizers what she felt I had to say would be the most value to their audience.

She didn’t even have to think about it. She said, “In other countries, there is a huge cultural bias against putting your art forward, of appearing too proud of your work. It’s seen as bragging or being boastful. People have a difficult time thinking about promoting their art and themselves. Can you address that?”

I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It’s not just artists in some other countries who have that bias.

It can be very hard to convince most people—especially women, especially artists—that it is not only desirable, it is essential we put our art out into the world at every opportunity. That it is not a selfish act, but an act of generosity.

In fact it is the greatest gift–the ultimate gift–we can make to the world.

My favorite line from the movie “Chariots of Fire” is when the missionary/runner Eric Liddell explains to his sister why he will indeed compete in the 1924 Olympics, though it seems to conflict with their religious goals and plans:

I believe God made me for a purpose; but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt; to win is to honor Him.

When we are given a gift, we must remember that the pleasure the giver gets is anticipating and enjoying the pleasure the gift will give us.

To renounce the gift, to deny its potential, is to ultimately negate the spirit in which it was given. No good comes of that. Love, real love, is not served by that.

I truly believe it is the same with the gifts we are born with. Whoever/whatever you feel is the source of that gift—God (by any name or names), nature, DNA, random chance, the Force. It appeared in Y*O*U. It’s part of what makes you…you know…YOU.

And note that the gift may not simply be what we are good at, but what gives us joy. Don’t confuse talent with passion. They may both be involved in the gift. But what really drives our watch is not the precise movement of the second hand but the spring inside. (Or the battery. Or the electricity coming through the cord. Oh, never mind….)

Find what you are put here on earth to do. Find what gives you joy. Do it, and share it whenever possible with others. Tell it to the world. Show us. Don’t even pretend you know what ripples it will make, or how it will all play out—we can’t know that.

But know that whatever creative force in the universe you celebrate, will be pleased.

TELL ME A STORY: Proximity

Continuing my series for Fine Art Views on using story hooks in your publicity and self-promotion…

I just figured out how to republish my Fine Art Views articles here! Duh…..

Tell Me a Story: Proximity

by Luann Udell

In short, the world is a pretty big place. But it’s still made up of countless communities. These days, our communities are far more than just the people who live near us. Take another look at yours. See if there’s a group who’d love to hear more about what you’re up to. […]

Read the rest of this article at:
Tell Me A Story: Proximity

———————————————-
This excerpt appears courtesy of FineArtViews Art Marketing Newsletter by FASO,
a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists,
collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).

For a complimentary subscription, visit: Fine Art Views