NEWSLETTERS (AND BLOGS!) 101 #28: Share Who You Are

It's good when your artist story/statement/tag line matches your body of work.
It’s good when your artist story/statement/tag line matches your body of work.

NEWSLETTERS (AND BLOGS!) 101 #28: Share Who You Are

Marketing is about sharing—and KNOWING—our own unique story!

 (3.5 minute read)
Yesterday a friend/fellow artist sent me a link to another artist’s “artist sentence/statement”.
It was slightly crushing, on so many levels.

The first is, they are highly-visible in their field, selling for famous mail-order art catalogs, featured on several platforms, etc. So, a little envy popped up. (Note to self: “Money/fame are not the only measure of our success.”) (See? I have to remind myself, too!)

Second, their “art sentences” was dismaying. Very, very similar to my own tag, which is “Ancient stories retold in modern artifacts.” (Let’s just say the identical word ratio was about 50%-75%.)

But what was really weird is, their work did not reflect this aesthetic.

I fumed, briefly. What should I do? Complain? To whom? Do I “own” these words? No. Do I know for sure they copied mine? No. Do I know who’s been using them longer? No.

I even subscribed to their newsletter, thinking I’d get a feel for who they really are, at heart.

And then it hit me:

Why should I care???

I can make assumptions. I can do research. I can fume all I want.

In the end, I have no control over this situation. Zip.

Even if I did, here’s what I finally realized:

Do I want to waste my precious time and energy taking this on? Do I really want to die on this hill?

 

The answer is, “Nope.”

Focusing on the negative leads to dark places, loss of energy, and distraction.

 

That artist can do “them”. I will do me.

My work has been, um, imitated, from time to time. I’m sure even more than I know! Because the ones I know about are often because the, um, imitator, actually shared that information with me. Polymer clay is a relatively new art medium, and techniques/palettes/projects get shared/copied/reposted constantly. (Oddly, the polymer people who are most protective of their “copyrights” are NOT the people who originally created those techniques/palettes/projects. Go figure.) For more insights on copying and the polymer/any art medium world, check out this article and this one by Ginger Davis Allman of The Blue Bottle Tree.)

I was going to say this is the first time my words have been borrowed. Except that’s not true, either. For a long time, some people would repost my blog posts and articles on their own platforms. Not good. Because invariably, their readers assume they wrote them! (FWIW, it’s more respectful to share a synopsis, or a personal take on how the article affected you, and share a link back the writer’s platform.)

I finally stopped that, too, unless it goes too far.

I am not saying you or anyone else has my permission to copy any of my work.

What I will say is this: People who do this? They yearn for what we have, but either haven’t developed their own skills, story, and personal vision, or have chosen not to.

There we have it. The power of our choices.

 

Today, I will unsubscribe from their newsletter. I will work on my stuff today, and let go of envy. I will scratch my head about an artist story that doesn’t really relate to that artist’s work, and didn’t encourage me to want to learn more.

And I will move on.

I will go to my studio and continue working on my new shrine series. (A customer followed up with me today, asking if I’d contacted the gallery they’d referred me to. Dang! They’re doing better follow-up than I am!)

I will focus on the work that brings me joy, and peace in my heart. I will find ways to share it today, in my social media marketing.

I will continue to only focus on what is under my control, and strive to let go of what isn’t.

And I hope with all my heart that today’s words will encourage you to do the same! (If you aren’t already, in which case, good on you!) (My husband asked me where this phrase came from, as opposed to “good FOR you”. I think it’s a New England thing.)

Your comments are always welcome, often insightful, and sometimes inspirational, too! Shares, the same. You can find more of my articles at Fine Art Views, and/or visit/subscribe to them through my blog.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #17: Share an “Aha!” Moment

My biggest "aha" moment was what put me on the path to becoming a "real" artist. Still powerful. Still works.
My biggest “aha” moment was what put me on the path to becoming a “real” artist. Still powerful. Still works.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #17: Share an “Aha!” Moment

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.

Was there a moment when everything changed for you? Share it!

(4 minute read)

One of the taglines in my Fine Art Views (and elsewhere) is this:

“I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

Yep, I’m hoping it made you laugh a little. But I am also here to reassure you, that when we have our own “aha!” moment, aka “the Eureka effect”, that miraculous gift of insight where we see what’s really going on, what the solution is, how to move forward from a stuck place, it’s good to share it.

It may be just what someone else needs to get out of a hole today.

Here’s one of my favorites I love to share. It’s about fear. How fear can dominate our lives, inside and out. How it can paralyze us.

And ironically, how shallow it can really be. (Yes, pun intended!)

This story is over 15 years old, and the fear I described was already almost 15 years old. If my husband hadn’t cajoled me to take a dip in the lake on that hot summer day, I might still be holding that fear in my heart.

My intention in sharing this story was to encourage others who are in the same boat. Paralyzed with fear, palpable fear. Impossible to ignore. Only “diving in” (figuratively and literally!) helped me get to the bottom of that scary lake. (Again, pun intended.)

As I linked to the Dublin Lake story, I found another related story in the sidebar, entitled “Breakthrough”. Here is where a bunch of fears, and one random comment, came together into one beautiful solution.

Now my latest insight, that came from revisiting my old blog, today:

Radio Userland was an early blog hosting site (now-defunc) site. I wrote on it from 2002 to mid-2007. (I couldn’t even access it for ages after I left, until my techie husband recoded all the urls into something I could get to easily.) (Thank you, sweetie/love of my life!)

In five years, I got maybe three comments. THREE.

Was it because I was a terrible writer? Or an uninteresting writer? I’ll leave that for you to decide! But I do know the platform had its drawbacks, for me.

It was hard to comment. I don’t even know if I could have responded to those comments. I had no way of knowing how many people visited my blog. I never thought to ask the ones that did, to share it with others.

So: No comments. No likes. No way to measure “hits”. No way to know if anyone ever even read anything. No way to know if what I wrote, helped someone else.

And yet, I wrote. I process hard places in my life, through writing. So I wrote for myself, first. I love having had all those ‘lessons learned’, insights, and free advice.

I love it when I come across them again.

Because I still need them.

As a good friend said a few years ago, “I love all my life lessons! I love them so much, I learn them again, and again, and again.”

And when I share them with the world? Priceless. As in, “free” because you get to read them here at no cost to you.

And “priceless” as in “powerful”, as in “if it helped me, and when I shared it, it helped you, then that has incredible, endless value.”

Is it coincidence that I had this realization so soon after last week’s article, on how the numbers ultimately don’t matter?

I don’t think so.

So consider sharing an insight that helped you move forward in life. An insight that helped you find your way in the dark, towards the light, and a mug of hot milk.

If it helps even one of your subscribers do the same, well, that’s pretty cool.

One suggestion: Stick with the positive, or at least end on a positive note. Not all life experiences are good ones. But when we learn something fundamental, something beautiful because of them, that inspires hope.

Of course it okay to share something we’re struggling with right now, too: Health issues, difficult life events, etc. Believe me, if you’re going through something really hard, someone else out there is, too.

And it’s okay to just gritch now and then. (That’s a word from an old high school friend, a blend of “gripe” and “bitch”, and I love it almost as much as “blort”.) In fact, it might be an opportunity for readers to make suggestions or express sympathy, which may or may not help.

But just knowing they care can mean a lot to us, too.

But don’t be too much of a Debbie/Danny Downer, either. Yeah, we all have our moments, but we also all have enough on our plates.

What is one of YOUR favorite “aha!” moments? Try it out on us, in the comments!

If you enjoyed this article, if you enjoyed this article, share it! Link back to it here on Fine Art Views, or my blog at luannudell.wordpress.com.

If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com.

NEWSLETTERS 101: #5 What Is the Story Only YOU Can Tell?

Yep, I'm a little obsessed with my horses. Because they represent the start--and heart--of everything I am today.
Yep, I’m a little obsessed with my horses. Because they represent the start–and heart–of everything I am today.

NEWSLETTERS 101: #5 What Is the Story Only YOU Can Tell?

Apologies, I just realized I forgot to republish this article here on my blog! This is part of my series “NEWSLETTERS 101” and this one is a biggie!

We may not be ‘used to’ digging so deep. But the gold you find there is worth it!

(5 minute read)

Last week’s article about knowing our creation story sounded simple. But I’m guessing from some of the questions I received privately that most of us don’t find it that easy.

When I work in person with someone, it’s easier. There are questions I can ask, hints in people’s responses I can follow, and body language that tell me I’m getting close. And when people get to their truth, it’s powerful to hear, and see. Their stance gets ‘brave’: They stand/sit taller, their voice deepens, their words are simple, straightforward, and powerful. And often, there are tears. From both of us!

Unfortunately, before people get there, it can be very hard. For me, and for them.

Some people get annoyed. Or angry. Or they shut down, or push back: “I dunno. I dunno. I DON’T KNOW!!! Why do you keep asking me that??!!” (“That” is usually the word “why”, and I’ve written about it for years on my blog and on Fine Art Views (along with other authors.)

I’ve written about five drafts of this article in the last few weeks, and get overwhelmed with everything I want to say. So instead, for those of you who truly want to find your story, today I am assigning you homework. THREE homework assignments, actually:

Check out this article on what makes each one of us special: 10 Things That Make A Person Unique And Different

Read carefully, and think of how you would respond to each of the aspects given.

Next, invest $5 on a copy of Kaleel Jamison’s book, The Nibble Theory and The Kernel of Power. The link actually goes to the best bookfinding tool on the internet called (surprise!) Bookfinder.com.

This book will take you less than an hour to read, but it can be a life-changer. It was for me. The first section is understanding why some people always try to take us down by ‘nibbling’ away at us until we are not a threat to them anymore.

The second section, finding our Kernel of Power, can help you dig deeper into what makes you YOU. Take your time in reading this part, and think carefully about the questions. (Also note that Jamison says how our tears come with our truth.)

Third, this homework assignment is more creative. Remember that meme that went around on Facebook, 25 Random Things About Me, where we were asked to create a list of ‘things’ most people would not otherwise know about us? (Yes, I did it, and it led to another blog post. Of course!) (And also ‘of course’, I did an entire series of articles on how 25 Random Things can help us write a stronger artist statement.)

Last, there is an unspoken element in all these assignments:

The power of our choices.

Mine came when I realized I didn’t have to be “good enough”. I simply had to make the work of my heart. It was the beginning of everything with my art.

Many people say there was no ‘turning point’ or creation story with their art. They never ‘chose’ their art career. They always knew they were creative, and simply followed that path.

If that’s the case for you, then those three exercises may give you clarity. Because ‘just following a path’ still entails many, many tiny choices along the way.

I’ve written about this process—finding our central truth, our creation story–many times. I wish I could do it in person with each of you who are still searching. I also realize, I’m a writer. I constantly write my way to my truth. (To all of you who have signed up for my newsletter or subscribe to my blog, that’s why you get emails every week instead of once a month! Can’t apologize anymore, it’s part of who I am!)

I shut myself in my studio that day I wrote my artist statement. I was frustrated many times, but would not let myself leave until it was done. And I knew when it was done.

I know there’s still nuance in it. Most people call it a poem, and I agree. I elaborate on it once people, visitors, collectors, let me know they want to talk about it with me.

But it still resonates, and it still speaks my truth: I am here, now. I am only here for a short time on this planet. I want to have my voice in this world. Writing and making little plastic horses is part of that voice.

Yep, I’m a little obsessed with my horses. Because they represent the start–and heart–of everything I am today.

I found that looking for humanity’s roots in ancient times gave me hope that we can all do better at being a good, compassionate, generous, creative human being. Including me. Again: The power of our choices.

There are many other ways I am unique. Like loving melted ice cream. Like not liking watermelon. Like taking up martial arts and my art in my ‘40’s, dyeing my hair for the first time in my ‘50’s and sitting with the dying in my ‘60’s.

All of these are choices.

You’ve made choices all along the way, too.

Think about them. Do the homework. Let me know if you have questions. I’ll do my best to answer them.

On one hand, no, none of this will be on the test. (There is no test.)

On the other hand, you already have all the right answers. They’ve been there all along.

Let them out. Let them breathe. Let them shine. Just like YOU.

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.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #7: Why Your ‘WHY’ Is So Important

Do we all have a deep mystery to discover?
Do we all have a deep mystery to discover?

NEWSLETTERS 101 #7: Why Your ‘WHY’ Is So Important

NEWSLETTERS 101 #7: Why Your ‘WHY’ Is So Important

(Hint: Because it is the heart of everything you do, every decision you make, and everything you make!)

(6 minute read)

Welp, somewhere along the line, this series shifted from “how to create an email newsletter” to “how to find your creation story”. I would apologize, BUT –

In my defense, knowing our creation story is the foundation of everything else we do.

Yes, we may end up making our creative work for years before we find it. Yes, it may not be a story you are comfortable sharing with just anyone.* Yes, it can changed or modified, to align with a new series of work, or for a special exhibit, etc.

But that story is in us, even if we can’t find it – yet. It is what drives us, guides us, in a thousand small ways, every day.

Knowing our creation story is a form of self-empowerment, a direct conduit to the inner passion that drives to make the work we make.

Someone reached out to me recently about this, with really good questions we may all have:

Do we all have a deep mystery to discover?

Yes, we all do. Everyone. Everyone has a story that gives some sense, some insight, into the choices we make.

Of course, many of our choices become such a habit, we forget the reason we made them in the first place. Hey, I’ll go first!

Why do you sleep on that side of the bed? (Me: I want to be closer to the bathroom in the middle of the night!) (Which is also why that changes every time we move.)

Why do I hate tuna fish casserole? (Me: I used to really hate ‘mixed’ food, I hated strong flavors like tuna fish, and my parents gave me grief every time I tried to bow out of eating it. Almost every dinner was a fight about food. Tuna fish casserole brings up bad memories, and mentioning it is a running joke between my hubby and me.)

Why do you make your artifacts out of polymer? (Me: Because I want them to look ancient, worn and damaged by time, over thousands of years. I can recreate that look with a faux ivory technique in polymer clay. Also, there’s no need to harm animals to make them, in this day and age, so polymer is more ‘life neutral’ for me. And how cool that this material began to soar in popularity as an art medium in the world at the same time I took up my true art?!)

Why the Cave of Lascaux? (Me: I have always yearned for a horse to love, I have always dreamed of riding a galloping horse, moving freely forward, flying in the wind, at one with these marvelous creatures. They were a metaphor for my longing to be an artist from my youth. The mysterious Lascaux paintings fed this longing. Now that we know more about the makers of those paintings, the synchronicity is even more astonishing!) (Recent findings on women as shamans in prehistory; that all members of this community participated in the ceremonies; that these paintings were created during the onset of swift, debilitating climate change.**)

I think I am waiting until I am an authority on (making my art) to try to look for the why.

This is not necessary to find our ‘why’. We are just postponing asking ourselves this difficult, but ultimately empowering work. Remember: We are already ‘good enough’, there is no diploma for ‘being human’, and we are all a work-in-progress.

Where does passion for working come from?

From our heart. The desire to be seen, heard, loved in the world. To be seen as an individual, and to be part of a community. To be remembered, long after we are gone. We want to make our mark in the world. Many factors guide/hinder us along the way, from how we were raised to what we perceive is valued in our culture. That’s why finding our way to this work can take time and effort for many of us.

Although I do like the idea of being a powerful force for good in the world. Who, me?!

Yes, YOU! And me! And about 98% of the rest of the world. (I’m leaving out the sociopaths and narcissists of the world, although sometimes even they often create good work in the world in their pursuit of their passions.) (Just don’t date or marry them!)

Here’s my favorite metaphor for “do I matter?”:

When we put the work of our heart out into the world, it’s like tossing a pebble into a large lake. We may not see where all the ripples go, but they are there and they go SOMEWHERE. (Look up The Butterfly Effect.)

Our art is like that.

It may take time for it to be seen. Maybe not even in our lifetime. Van Gogh died in despair, craving to be seen in the world. If only he could see his own validation now! Or it could disappear eventually. But what is left is how it affected US, and others in their own good time.

(Again, the power of the internet, and the legacy of the art we leave behind.)

The cave paintings of Lascaux were a powerful message that was not addressed to us. But that cave deeply, deeply impacted all the people who were able to see it before it was closed, and even long after. And it changed my life.

For millennia, we have had some very strict rules about who can be an artist, and who can’t. Rules about what ‘real art’ is, and what isn’t.

Rules and laws have kept women, people of some religions, people of color (outside of their own origins and present communities), people of ‘other-than’ gender, in a box, and usually not a very pretty nor kind box.

But things change. We are not in a perfect, accepting, loving world yet. But it is even more possible to have our voice in the world. The current shelter-in-place orders may force us to stay home. We may feel paralyzed, overwhelmed, anxious about the state of the world right now. But the internet, and social media marketing***, allows us, and our art, to roam the world. Access to a smart phone, a computer, a library (eventually!) give us this perfect freedom.

We do the work we feel compelled to make, and hope someday, somewhere, somehow, someone else will feel its message.

And when WE know our message, we are empowered now, no matter what happens later.

I told this person they’d inspired this article! One person’s words, even shared with self-doubt, shared with courage, and with the hope that I might answer, lit up my heart.

I hope my words today light YOUR heart, and theirs.

*You can share the gist of your creation story, if the details are too personal or uncomfortable to share. Just knowing it is huge!

**And as a side note, everyone who says, “My art speaks for itself”, the story of the Lascaux Cave paintings for years was, men-and-boys-practicing-target-shooting. New evidence now shows that “story” is completely wrong, on so many levels. We were seeing these images through the lens of our own time, with all the cultural prejudices that can block our “view”….) (To which some will counter, “Cave art is about survival!” and I reply, “So is a cathedral.”) (The power of our choices.)

**”Social media marketing” of course, is simply using the internet to get our work in front of other people, who may love it, be inspired and uplifted by it, and hopefully, even love it enough to buy it!

NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation

NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation

How I Poke(d) People Into Telling Me Their WHY

Yet still she persisted….

(8 minute read)

I know I’ve told this story a million times. But I can’t find it to share with you, and so I’m telling it again.

Soon after I heeded the call of my art, I entered my work in a group exhibition. The group was the Women’s Caucus for Art (the New Hampshire Chapter) and this was my very first art exhibit. I was already on fire with my newfound life mission, and it showed.

The show organizer asked for volunteers to present gallery talks. I volunteered, but wasn’t chosen. Which I carried NO resentment for, and when I asked, courteously, telling them I just wanted to know for my own education, they said they picked people they knew would be up to the task. And they didn’t know me yet. (Which shows the power of gentle inquiry in finding out in a way we can LEARN from, instead of simply assuming the worst.) (TWO life lessons for you today!)

Having never heard a gallery talk, let alone actually giving one, I went with eager anticipation, hoping to hear the story behind these artists’ work.

It was a long drive, we only had one car at the time, and one of the other artists offered me a ride. We hit it off and had a lovely talk on the way up. (Keep note of this!) The exhibit was beautiful, the typical run-of-the-mill artist statements were displayed, and after an hour or so, the selected artists’ presentations began.

It was abysmal. THEY were abysmal (the talks, not the people.)

The first speaker shared a lot about their process, a much-maligned medium (digital art) at the time. Perhaps to compensate for the expected push-back (digital art was not considered “real art” at that time), the artist understandably spent a lot of time on the “how”. Their talk had a good reception, though. The work nowhere near “simple” to create. Their subject was inspired by a Greek island the artist had explored in their academic research, where a priesthood of women in ancient times had resided. Those recently-discovered images were the foundation of her work. Their presentation was quite academic in nature.

But then it was time for their question-and-answer session, and that’s where it almost fell apart.

The first questions were fairly mundane: What software had they used? Who did their framing? Etc., etc.

Then I posed my question.

WHY?

Okay, this was almost 30 years ago, and I can’t remember exactly how I phrased my question(s). It took about a dozen tries on my part. The more I persisted, the more defensive the artist became, again understandably. But my intent finally got through.

I simply wanted to know why this particular island was so important to this woman. And, to be blunt, why it should be important to us, too. (More on this at the end.)

I said, “There are thousands of islands in Greece.” (Just looked that up. There are around 6,000 Greek islands, though fewer than 300 are inhabited…) “Thousands. And people have lived on them for millennia. Why THIS ISLAND? And why THIS POINT IN TIME?”

Aha! The lightbulb visibly lit up in their head.

They unfolded their arms. They stood up, straight and proud. Their voice deepened, slowed down, became firmer:

“Because on this island, in this time all-too-brief moment in time, women were revered and respected. They could walk the streets, at night, in safety, alone and unafraid.”

Boom. Mike drop.

The entire room did that gasp thing, where everyone else suddenly gets it, too.

It was a powerful moment. Still is.

The rest of the talks went the same way. When everyone was done asking the run-of-the-mill questions, I would ask the “why”.

Now, this was hard for me. I do not welcome confrontation. I usually run from it as fast as I can. It was hard for the speakers, too. They had clearly never considered the “why”.  And no one had ever held their feet to the fire to do so.

Afterwards, every single speaker came up to me. I would start to apologize: I was new to art-making, I was on fire with my art. And I wanted to know what the fire was in my newly-found community of artists.

Every single artist said, “No. I want to THANK you!” (THAT took courage, too.)

My fellow artist/speaker/driver said the same thing. I was worried that after our intense, deep conversation on the way up, that I’d wrecked it. Their work was titled, “The Hidden Story”. And I was the only person who actually asked what the story was!

“No,” they said, “I know who you are. I’ve never told that story before today, and I’m glad you asked me about it. I looked at your face in the audience. I felt safe, and I felt SEEN. I told you my story, and I’m glad I did!”

An article about the exhibition ran in the state’s largest newspaper, and I was mentioned. Not by name. I was the “persistent person in the audience” who encouraged every speaker to tell their powerful story.

Persistent.

Yup, that’s me.

I don’t do that much anymore. I’ve done a similar process with anyone who takes me up on my offer to help them find their story. It’s easier, in some ways, to do it in person, or in a workshop. I have to show them my (persistent) intentions are honorable. Even so, there is always someone who simply can’t do this. They aren’t ready. Or the years of experience they already have keeps them from wrapping their heads around this. Obviously, this isn’t something that happens much in art school, I’m guessing, though maybe times have changed.

And even when it’s someone I know and love, it’s hard for ME. It DOES feel confrontational when I won’t let some lame response fill the bill. I keep going until I know that person is speaking their truth, because I see the same signs when it does: Posture changes, defenses come down, voices strengthen, and slows.

Truth is told.

And even when others see this, it can offend them, make them defensive. I gave an impromptu presentation when asked at a gallery exhibit a few years ago. I know my stories, and somehow I know which one will “rise to the occasion” when I talk. I’ve told them many times, there are always new ones in the work, and I rarely lack for something to say, when asked. (This from a newly self-identified introvert, remember!)

But the very next person asked said angrily, “My art isn’t verbal!” and clammed up. (Too bad, because their piece was one of my favorites in that show.)

So if you did the homework assignment from last week, with full attention and intent, and are still stuck, try this:

Is there someone in your life who you would trust with your tender, creative heart?

They don’t have to be an artist, nor a collector, nor even a fan. They simply have to be someone who you trust to act with integrity and kindness. Ideally, someone who is also willing to persist.

You keep talking, and every time you pause, if the story hasn’t appeared yet, they keep asking you that question about your artwork: Why?

Why this medium? Why this subject? Why this composition? Why these colors? Why, why, why.

They need to pay very close attention to what comes too easily from you. What feels like a no-brainer for you:

“I just love color!”

“Why? Why do you love color? Why did you choose THESE colors? What do they represent to you? What mood are you striving to create with them? Why that mood? Where does that mood come from in this piece? Why?”

I don’t have any sure-fire tricks here. Every time I do this, I worry I’m doing it wrong, if that helps. When the person gets defensive, it REALLY worry: Have I just killed our relationship???

But that defensiveness is exactly the clue that we are on the right path.

Our closely-held assumptions, our protective coloration (sorry, couldn’t resist!), our cherished (yet often superficial) beliefs about our work are being challenged. That can feel like an attack. Hence, the defensiveness.

But if you truly want to get to your creation story, which you can choose to incorporate into your artist statement or not (your choice), this will be well worth your time and momentary discomfort. (It might help to have a bottle of wine ready when you’re done…?)

You can also try this in writing, by yourself. I did. When I locked myself in my studio, determined to get to the heart of what I do, I started with, “Why this cave?” And after I’d write my answer, I would write, “Why?”

Until I got to my true answer.

Last, here is why the “why” is so hard:

I’m really asking you why I should care.

And here’s why you need to find it, even though it’s hard:

Everyone has a creation story.

Every creation story is a hero’s journey.

No matter where you are on your journey, there’s a story.

You are not alone, with your story.

Everyone is struggling with something.

Everyone is healing from something.

Everyone wants to be “seen”.

Everyone wants to have a voice in the world.

Everyone wants to know that they matter.

And when we share our story, there are people who are going through something similar, or know that it’s something they WILL go through, someday.

Your story will not only resonate with someone, it will uplift someone, encourage someone, inspire someone. It may comfort someone, it may give someone hope. It make clarify their own intentions, wants, and desires.

Your story, at the heart of your art, your creative, is a powerful force for good in the world.

That alone is a pretty good reason to dig deep for it, don’t you think?

NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation

Your story, at the heart of your art, your creative, is a powerful force for good in the world.
Your story, at the heart of your art, your creative, is a powerful force for good in the world.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation

How I Poke(d) People Into Telling Me Their WHY 

Yet still she persisted….

How I Poke(d) People Into Telling Me Their WHY 

Yet still she persisted….

(8 minute read)

I know I’ve told this story a million times. But I can’t find it to share with you, and so I’m telling it again.

Soon after I heeded the call of my art, I entered my work in a group exhibition. The group was the Women’s Caucus for Art (the New Hampshire Chapter) and this was my very first art exhibit. I was already on fire with my newfound life mission, and it showed.

The show organizer asked for volunteers to present gallery talks. I volunteered, but wasn’t chosen. Which I carried NO resentment for, and when I asked, courteously, telling them I just wanted to know for my own education, they said they picked people they knew would be up to the task. And they didn’t know me yet. (Which shows the power of gentle inquiry in finding out in a way we can LEARN from, instead of simply assuming the worst.) (TWO life lessons for you today!)

Having never heard a gallery talk, let alone actually giving one, I went with eager anticipation, hoping to hear the story behind these artists’ work.

It was a long drive, we only had one car at the time, and one of the other artists offered me a ride. We hit it off and had a lovely talk on the way up. (Keep note of this!) The exhibit was beautiful, the typical run-of-the-mill artist statements were displayed, and after an hour or so, the selected artists’ presentations began.

It was abysmal. THEY were abysmal (the talks, not the people.)

The first speaker shared a lot about their process, a much-maligned medium (digital art) at the time. Perhaps to compensate for the expected push-back (digital art was not considered “real art” at that time), the artist understandably spent a lot of time on the “how”. Their talk had a good reception, though. The work was nowhere near “simple” to create. Their subject was inspired by a Greek island the artist had explored in their academic research, where a priesthood of women in ancient times had resided. Those recently-discovered images were the foundation of her work. Their presentation was quite academic in nature.

But then it was time for their question-and-answer session, and that’s where it almost fell apart.

The first questions were fairly mundane: What software had they used? Who did their framing? Etc., etc.

Then I posed my question.

WHY?

Okay, this was almost 30 years ago, and I can’t remember exactly how I phrased my question(s). It took about a dozen tries on my part. The more I persisted, the more defensive the artist became, again understandably. But my intent finally got through.

I simply wanted to know why this particular island was so important to this woman. And, to be blunt, why it should be important to us, too. (More on this at the end.)

I said, “There are thousands of islands in Greece.” (Just looked that up. There are around 6,000 Greek islands, though fewer than 300 are inhabited.) “Thousands. And people have lived on them for millennia. Why THIS ISLAND? And why THIS POINT IN TIME?”

Aha! The lightbulb visibly lit up in their head.

They unfolded their arms. They stood up, straight and proud. Their voice deepened, slowed down, became firmer:

“Because on this island, in this all-too-brief moment in time, women were revered and respected. They could walk the streets, at night, in safety, alone and unafraid.”

Boom. Mike drop.

The entire room did that gasp thing, where everyone else suddenly gets it, too.

It was a powerful moment. Still is.

The rest of the talks went the same way. When everyone was done asking the run-of-the-mill questions, I would ask the “why”.

Now, this was hard for me. I do not welcome confrontation. I usually run from it as fast as I can. It was hard for the speakers, too. They had clearly never considered the “why”.  And no one had ever held their feet to the fire to do so.

Afterwards, every single speaker came up to me. I would start to apologize: I was new to art-making, I was on fire with my art. And I wanted to know what the fire was in my newly-found community of artists.

Every single artist said, “No. I want to THANK you!” (THAT took courage, too.)

My fellow artist/speaker/driver said the same thing. I was worried that after our intense, deep conversation on the way up, that I’d wrecked it. Their work was titled, “The Hidden Story”. And I was the only person who actually asked what the story was!

“No,” they said, “I know who you are. I’ve never told that story before today, and I’m glad you asked me about it. I looked at your face in the audience. I felt safe, and I felt SEEN. I told you my story, and I’m glad I did!”

An article about the exhibition ran in the state’s largest newspaper, and I was mentioned. Not by name. I was the “persistent woman in the audience” who encouraged every speaker to tell their powerful story.

Persistent.

Yup, that’s me.

I don’t do that much anymore. I’ve done a similar process with anyone who takes me up on my offer to help them find their story. It’s easier, in some ways, to do it in person, or in a workshop. I have to show them my (persistent) intentions are honorable. Even so, there is always someone who simply can’t do this. They aren’t ready. Or the years of experience they already have keeps them from wrapping their heads around this. Obviously, this isn’t something that happens much in art school, I’m guessing, though maybe times have changed.

And even when it’s someone I know and love, it’s hard for ME. It DOES feel confrontational when I won’t let some lame response fill the bill. I keep going until I know that person is speaking their truth, because I see the same signs when it does: Posture changes, defenses come down, voices strengthen, and slows.

Truth is told.

And even when others see this, it can offend them, make them defensive. I gave an impromptu presentation when asked at a gallery exhibit a few years ago. I know my stories, and somehow I know which one will “rise to the occasion” when I talk. I’ve told them many times, there are always new ones in the work, and I rarely lack for something to say, when asked. (This from a newly self-identified introvert, remember!)

But the very next person who was asked, said angrily, “My art isn’t verbal!” and clammed up. (Too bad, because their piece was one of my favorites in that show.)

So if you did the homework assignment from last week, with full attention and intent, and are still stuck, try this:

Is there someone in your life who you would trust with your tender, creative heart?

They don’t have to be an artist, nor a collector, nor even a fan. They simply have to be someone who you trust to act with integrity and kindness. Ideally, someone who is also willing to persist.

You keep talking, and every time you pause, if the story hasn’t appeared yet, they keep asking you that question about your artwork: Why?

Why this medium? Why this subject? Why this composition? Why these colors? Why, why, why.

They need to pay very close attention to what comes too easily from you. What feels like a no-brainer for you:

“I just love color!”

“Why? Why do you love color? Why did you choose THESE colors? What do they represent to you? What mood are you striving to create with them? Why that mood? Where does that mood come from in this piece? Why?”

I don’t have any sure-fire tricks here. Every time I do this, I worry I’m doing it wrong, if that helps. When the person gets defensive, REALLY worry: Have I just killed our relationship???

But that defensiveness is exactly the clue, the proof, that we are on the right path.

Our closely-held assumptions, our protective coloration (sorry, couldn’t resist!), our cherished (yet often superficial) beliefs about our work are being challenged. That can feel like an attack. Hence, the defensiveness.

But if you truly want to get to your creation story, which you can choose to incorporate into your artist statement or not (your choice), this will be well worth your time and momentary discomfort. (It might help to have a bottle of wine ready when you’re done?)

You can also try this in writing, by yourself. I did. When I locked myself in my studio, determined to get to the heart of what I do, I started with, “Why this cave?” And after I’d write my answer, I would write, “Why?”

Until I got to my true answer.

Last, here is why the “why” is so hard:

I’m really asking you why I should care.

And here’s why you need to find it, even though it’s hard:

Everyone has a creation story.

Every creation story is a hero’s journey.

No matter where you are on your journey, there’s a story.

You are not alone, with your story.

Everyone is struggling with something.

Everyone is healing from something.

Everyone wants to be “seen”.

Everyone wants to have a voice in the world.

Everyone wants to know that they matter.

And when we share our story, there are people who are going through something similar, or know that it’s something they WILL go through, someday.

Your story will not only resonate with someone, it will uplift someone, encourage someone, inspire someone. It may comfort someone, it may give someone hope. It make clarify their own intentions, wants, and desires.

Your story, at the heart of your art, your creative, is a powerful force for good in the world.

That alone is a pretty good reason to dig deep for it, don’t you think?

YOUR ARTIST STATEMENT: It’s About Y*O*U!!

Warning: Snark zone ahead!!!!

I’m offering a service for artists and craftspeople…heck, for anyone who needs a ‘mission statement’. I’ll rewrite your current artist statement for a small fee $100.

I’m not putting the dollar amount in stone yet. That’s because I charged my first paying customer $25. And then spent five hours arguing back and forth in dozens of emails, until I finally called them and snarled for 15 minutes, (which I hardly ever, ever do) laying out all the reasons why mine might work better than theirs, that they could add whatever they wanted to it, just don’t tell me to do it, and if they didn’t like what I’d written, then throw it away and write their own.

So I made $4/hour AND had to listen to a lot of complaining and what I’d ‘left out’. So, setting boundaries. Lesson learned.

In my defense, I contacted a friend of mine who works in the same medium, and read them what I’d written. “Holy crap!!” they yelled, “If THEY don’t use it, I want it!!! That’s terrific!” (Thank you, thank you.)

I actually learned two things from this experience. I need to be charging more than $25 I need to make it clear I am not a work-for-hire. I am a consultant. I will rewrite or suggest a different way to present yourself as an artist. You are then free to use this information–or not.

I also learned I must be crystal-clear on what I’m offering. Or rather, what I’m not offering.

What I write will have very little to do with how long/how many years you’ve been doing….whatever it is you do.

I do not particularly care who you studied with, nor where you went to art school. (That’s for your bio/resume/cv, though why we brag about who we’ve paid to teach us something counts as a credential is beyond me.)

I’m not interested in the galleries you’re in, the awards you’ve won, or the shows you’ve been in. (See above.)

I don’t want to read your single-spaced two-page artist statement in a 10 point font. (Come on!)

I don’t especially care how you do what you do. (And this is where I ran into conflict with my first paying client. For them, it was all about process–the how. Yeah, I might want to know down the road, but honestly, I can probably Google it just as quickly.)

I want to know the WHY.

I want to know why you chose this medium.
I want to know why you use it the way you do.
I want to know why it gives you joy.

Why it resonates with you, why it ‘fits’ you, why it provides you your voice in the world.

I don’t want to hear that you ” just love color”. Or texture. Or anything else that literally everyone in the world likes.

I don’t want to hear that your prefered medium is “alive”. It sounds like you might segue to other living things as your medium of choice down the road. Like…people. After all, that wood is not “alive” after you cut it, slice it, carve it, paint it, is it? (Wood people–please take note.)

And if I hear, “Because I want to make people happy” one more time, I am kicking you to the curb. (Just kidding.) (NO I’M NOT.) People will be happy if you drive around in a car and throw money at them as they’re walking down the sidewalk. That is not an artist statement.

If you’ve read anything I’ve written for the past twenty years, if you’ve ever taken a class from me, if you’ve ever seen my artwork/visited my booth/talked to me in person, you will understand.

And even though I break some of my own rules in my own artist statement, I still believe it has power and it says enough.

How do I know?

Because after people read it, they do exactly what I want them to do.

They go back and look at my art, again. They look deeply and reverently. And then they turn to me and ask a question.

Former art marketing and display consultant Bruce Baker taught me the wisdom of this first question from our exhibition/booth/gallery/studio visitors. It is a sign from your visitor that it’s okay to talk to them about your work. The question may seem silly, or mundane. It may be profound and thoughtful. Whatever.

They have connected with your work, and they want to know more about it–and you.

You have said something in your writing that speaks to them, that resonates with them. And they look at your work again, seeing something deeper, something powerful, something they might otherwise have missed.

Believe me, please….. If your artist statement is all about your credentials, about your schooling, about your techniques, then you will have to start at the bottom to connect this person with you and your work.

Come on, folks. Thousands and thousands of artists have graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Tens of thousands have taken workshops with a well-known painter or ceramist. Tens of thousands have worked in the same medium you do. Hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent by people perfecting their craft. Millions of people wanted to be an artist when they were little. And billions of people (aka “everybody on planet Earth”) “just love color.”

But there is only one ‘you’ in the entire universe.

And yet, that is the one credential most people are afraid to talk about in their artist statement.

Oh, most people talk about themselves in some way, shape, or form. (See above.)

But in my humble experience, most of us are truly hesitant about sharing what really matters to us, in our art, in our lives, in our hearts.

What happened to that person’s artist statement? About a year later, a magazine ran an article about them.

And what I’d written for them was center stage. I think it was the best part!

P.S. And if you’re still not convinced, if you are a true fan of art-speak, fancy-schmancy words, and something vaguely art-acadamese-sounding, help yourself to this amazing website: ArtyBollocks, the best artist statement generator. Check it out! Or this “art-speak generator“.  I haven’t tried it yet, but it sure looks promising!

P.P.S Apologies, I’ve just finished my volunteer assignment for a local art event that entailed reading about 140 artist statements, and I am totally fried.

NEWSLETTERS 101 #4: Know Your Creation Story

 The moment you chose to live your life and make your art with intention is the heart of everything you do, write, say.

(4 minute read)    

Last week, I shared how introverts can shine in the world, thanks to email art marketing newsletters.

Today, I had a long article planned. But, lucky you! I realized it was about two different topics I had squished into one:

Your Most Important Story of All

Before we get to suggestions about this, let’s talk about the most important topic of all of this:

The Story of YOU.

Here’s the biggest obstacle when it comes to every aspect of marketing and selling our art:

Sooooo many people don’t know their own story!

Let’s back up a little. There are two powerful stories in every creative person.

The first is what I call the ‘creation story’.

The second is our artist statement, which I’ll tackle next week. Because it helps to know your creation story first.

What’s the difference?

Your creation story marks your first step, the moment you knew you were meant to be an artist. It’s that aha moment when we realized we had to be an artist. The moment where we completely embrace what we want, regardless of whether we even know how, or why. It’s the point in your life where your deepest intention occurred.

Dave Geada, FASO’s marketing guru, talks about this story in almost every webinar I’ve watched so far. He phrased it perfectly: After a near-death experience, he vowed to live his life with intent. With INTENTION. I’ve called it our “hero’s journey story” for years, and Dave calls it that, too. (Whew! I love it when the experts and I are on the same page!)

That’s what your first step was: Your intention to make your art. Here’s mine. It’s what made me take the leap, and it still resonates with me today.

Unlike your artist statement, it doesn’t have to be public (though there are ways to modify it so it can, so don’t rule that out.)

You DO have to know it. Because once you realize it, it will provide the foundation of everything you do, write, make, talk about, going forward with your artwork. It will ground you when you are lost. It will reassure you when you are discouraged. It will lift you up when life gets hard.

Knowing it will help you lift others, too. Because when we speak our truth, it not only resonates with others, it can inspire them to see theirs.

Years ago, I created a workshop designed to help people write their artist statement. It was powerful, and eye-opening. I got to hear how several dozen people got their start, and why. My favorite was the artist who started with, “I had a baby. I nearly died. Everything changed…” I exclaimed, “THAT’s your artist statement!” What I meant was, this was the foundation of her artist statement.

To frame this better: That may or may not be what she decides to use, publicly. But it was that point in time where “everything changed.” It would inspire her artist statement, however she chose to frame it. It was her creation story, it was powerful, and she knew it.

Another great creation story was one I’ve written about before, which illustrates that our creation story will evolve. It’s about long-time artist who lost their sight late in life—and everything changed. Did they stop making? Nope. But it’s different, now. Because everything changed. But it was compelling enough for me to go back to that ‘weird crappy’ piece of “art” hanging on the gallery wall, and find something beautiful in it. Courage. Perseverance. Letting go of what was, and embracing the new ‘what is’.

Your homework: What is your creation story? Write it out, if only for your private use.

If you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

 

 

NEWSLETTERS 101 Tip #3: Introverts, This Is Your Moment!

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.

You get to ‘use your words’ in a way that’s socially-calming.

There’s a pandemic going on. It’s changed everything.

Some of the changes are harsh, some are strange, some will be permanent. And frankly, some work for me.

I’ve always described myself as half-introvert/half-extrovert. I’m comfortable talking with people, but after intense socializing, I have to go lie down in a dark room for a while.

But when I realized how comfortable I was with NO socializing, I looked up the signs of introversion. Aha! THAT’s why I hate making phone calls, and even answering the phone. I am an introvert! (With good camouflage skills) Good to know. No wonder I love to write!

A lot of artists tell me they’re not comfortable talking about their art. They don’t like artist receptions. They don’t know what to say to the jillions of questions people ask about us, our work, our medium, etc. They’ll say, “My art speaks for itself!” (It doesn’t, just so you know.)

There are work-arounds for this.

Years ago, Bruce Baker was a traveling workshop/presenter on marketing skills for artists, sharing tips and insights he’d gathered from other artists, and his own experience with selling at shows, running a gallery, and booth display. One stuck in my head. “If you get a lot of people asking the same question, and it’s getting boring answering it over and over, to the point where you feel a little grumpy about it, MAKE A SIGN.”

I never tire of answering questions, because it’s a way of meeting people where they are and connecting them to my work from their particular point-of-view.

But I did notice some people preferred to browse quietly, looking, listening to me talk to other people. They took their time to speak up. I made signs for THEM, and it’s worked really well over the years. So signs work well for introvert visitors AND introvert artists.

So consider this thought:

Your email art newsletter is like that ‘sign’ in your studio.

That’s a great way to ‘reframe’ your newsletter.

Last week’s suggestion was to write a newsletter as if you were talking to a good friend, simply catching them up on what’s new/different/exciting/ in your life.

This week, realize that “talking” by writing a newsletter is a lot easier for an introvert than talking in person.

For the next year, until it’s safe to go back in the water, we can skip those preview exhibits (unless they ‘ZOOM’). We won’t have any studio visitors for a while (or far fewer, at least.) (I actually thought I wouldn’t have to clean my studio for the rest of the year. But then I realized I need to create some video studio tours. Ack! Bring in the vacuum cleaner!!)

As you sigh in relief of how much less TALKING you’ll have to do, put that energy, extra time, and effort into writing a newsletter.

My gift to you this week is a short column. But your homework is to use this extra time to jot down ideas you can write about for your next email art newsletter.

Because next week, we’ll talk more about just that. I’d love to hear all the thoughts you come up with. I’ll have my own, but I want to hear yours, too! Remember, even ‘bad’ ideas can be edited/transformed into good ones, so don’t hesitate to share.

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

Oops! Forgot to publish this last Tuesday. So now you’ll get TWO articles on writing email newsletters this week! Because tomorrow is my NEXT Fine Art Views post…..

NEWLETTERS 101: #1 Tips and Tricks to Help You Connect

(6 minute read)

Someone wrote back to me today, telling me how much they enjoyed my email newsletter. They said it gave them hope that they could make theirs better. Yippee! I love it when I can encourage people to take one step forward. I know it will lead to many more.

I’m not the perfect newsletter writer. But I’m happy to share more insights on what might work for YOU.

What’s my secret sauce?

  1. Be authentic. I write like I’m talking to a good friend. (You can now skip this entire article if you’re out of time, because that’s the heart of my advice.)

 

  1. Be positive. So, not the friend where I cuss and swear about something frustrating that happened to me at the supermarket. I stick with positive news. No politics. No complaining.

 

  1. Don’t be boring. And not like the letters we had to write for elementary school English class. (As in, “Hello, how are you? I am fine! Today I had a sandwich for lunch. What did YOU have for lunch?”) I share something I’m excited about, something interesting I’m working on.

 

  1. Don’t be pompous. If making people feel smaller works for you, okay, I guess. But I prefer reading about the people who make me feel like I have a voice in the world, too. (Again with the ‘friend’ thing…)

 

  1. Act like you care. I write as if I’m talking with someone I care about. Someone who hasn’t heard from me in a few weeks, someone who really likes me, and who loves my work.

 

  1. Share your news. Then I tell them what’s up. What I’ve done, what I’ll be doing, and oh, you might be interested in this thing I made/wrote. And I ask them to let me know what they think. (More on this in the weeks to come.)

 

  1. Think about what YOU like to hear in emails. I think about what I like when I get other people’s emails. So in the next few weeks, take note of what newsletters YOU get. What do you like about them? Which ones do you stop and read right away? Why?? What’s in them that makes you happy? Inspired? Thoughtful?

 

  1. Don’t make it all about the money. I consider the things I DON’T like to see in other people’s emails. Repetition. Always about sales. Acting like a TV commercial. Creating false urgency. (Even a call to action does not always have to be about buying something.)

 

  1. Remember that when people sign up for our newsletter, it means they WANT to know more. They want to know what makes us tick. How (and why) we do what we do. How we found our way forward, and how they can, too.

 

Otoh, I think about the people who put me on their email list without checking with me first. DON’T DO THIS!

 

  1. Be casual. Perhaps this advice is not ‘professional’. Perhaps people who are famous artists do it differently. After all, they may have a prestigious clientele, people who would willingly pay $25,000-$100,000 or more for their artwork.

 

But that’s not me. So I do it differently.

 

  1. We’re visual artists. Include pictures! This would be so much harder if we were musicians….

 

  1. Remember, all customers are fans, but not all fans are customers. I’m writing to people who may not be able to afford my work. And people who have collected my work for decades. And everyone in between. In my newsletter, everyone is worthy.

 

  1. Let people know who you are. The people I’m writing for are people I saw regularly back in New Hampshire, and people who may have never met me. People who come to every open studio, and people who have never been to my studio. Some of them are on the East Coast, some are on the West Coast, and some are in the middle. So we can’t even talk about the weather! But what they all have in common is wanting to know more about us, about our work, about our journey.

 

  1. There’s too often, and not enough. Too long, and too short. Etc. (You get to choose.)* Because I don’t want to inundate people with my writing, I used to limit my email newsletter to ‘events’, just like I did with my snail mail mailing list. Here’s my booth number at that fair, here are the dates of my open studio, etc.

I subscribe to quite a few blogs and artist newsletters myself. Some write every day. Some write once a week, and some write once a year. Some are so long, I never stop to read them. Some are so interesting, I drop whatever I’m doing to read them.

When I unsubscribe from a newsletter, it’s because a) I’m no longer interested in what they’re sharing with me; b) I’m not buying what they’re selling; c) I never signed up for their newsletter in the first place.

My point here is, there is no single right-or-wrong way to write a newsletter. Except, too boring, too repetitive, and waaaaaay too long. (I’m lookin’ at MYELF here…)

You might be disciplined enough to send one every week, or every month. Or you might be like me, skipping a month or two, then sending three in a week.

If people like what you’re saying, they won’t care. If they don’t, they’ll find any excuse to unsubscribe. And like people that say mean things to us, it’s more about them than it is about us.

  1. Email newsletters are soooo much easier/quicker/cheaper than snail mail mailings to stay in touch with our followers. Back then, it was expensive to mail thousands of people, even just a postcard. So I never sent a newsletter for any other reason.

Now, all I have to do is type, and add some good pictures, and hit ‘send’. Yay! I just saved $600!!

Last, here’s something I’ve learned this year:

  1. Newsletters level the playing field between extroverts and introverts. More on this to come!

 

*Now my caveat: There are people who offer different advice about newsletters. They have more expertise than I do, and perhaps even statistics to back them up. Please, feel free to skip my advice if/when it conflicts with theirs.

But if this appeals to you, stay tuned for more columns ahead, where I’ll share some ideas about things we can write about, and why newsletters can be a powerful tool for introverts.

Share your own stories in the comments! What newsletter did you create that got the best response from your audience, and what do you think was the reason why? Where do you get stuck when creating a newsletter? What’s your greatest fear? (Hint: Getting our work out into the world is a hero’s journey. Newsletters are much less strenuous!)

If you enjoyed this article, please feel free to pass it on to someone else. And if someone sent you this article, and you liked it, too, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

LEARNING TO SEE #10 (and LESSONS FROM THE GYM): Hidden Places are Powerful Spaces

It’s been months since I’ve been to the gym, and I miss it terribly. Not the workouts! I’m pretty lazy at heart. But I do miss the friendships made there, and the wisdom I’ve gained from overhearing conversations between those professionals and their clients.

Today I’ve been thinking about what to encourage people to write about in their email newsletters and other online media.

We know what we’re ‘supposed to’ talk about: Our awards, the honors we’ve accrued, the famous people we’ve studied under, the prestigious shows we’ve done and the respected galleries that represent our work. The medium we prefer, the subjects that inspire us, the schools we’ve attended, etc. All fine and good.

For a lot of people, it’s harder to share what people really want to know about us, and our work: Who we are, and why we do what we do.

Then I brushed my teeth. (Bear with me here!)

Something clicked. (Not my toothbrush. My brain.)

I once overheard a therapist at that facility tell a client (and me!) that all humans have a quirk that unites us all:

We tend to focus on our ‘fronts’. That is, we unconsciously focus on what we can see in the mirror: Our face. Our (outer) teeth. The front of our body.

For example, when we brush our teeth, we spend more time on their outer surfaces. (My dentist confirmed this!) We spend less time on the insides of our teeth, because…well, nobody (except our dentist or dental hygienist) sees that.

The therapist said something similar. We tend to focus on strengthening the body parts we see in the mirror easily. Our biceps (but not our triceps.) Our pecs (but not our lats, or delts.) Our stomach (but not our calves.)

Yet the ‘front view’ is only 50% of who we are. And what goes on inside our bodies—breathing, digestion, blood circulation, etc.—is immensely more complicated that what we see on the outside.

We artists often focus on the outer things people “see”: Those diplomas, those awards, those events and galleries listed on our resume. We know our chosen medium is important. There’s a hierarchy in 2D art, and those who work with the most respected ‘naturally’ get more respect themselves. When we host an open studio, our first instinct is to clear the mess, arrange everything beautifully, and fill every surface with work people can actually buy.

And yet, the most powerful human connections are those that connect our ‘insides’ to each other: The “rear views” and inside workings of our (figurative!) heart that reveal who we really are in the world.

Social media suffers from this anomaly. The ‘influencers’ show their perfect lives, filled with constructions of perfection, showcasing their perfect environment, their perfect wardrobe, their perfect bodies, messages about their perfect lifestyle.

Even when we know this is a structured, highly-curated persona, we can’t help but compare our own imperfect, messy, ‘unattractive’ lives to theirs. We hesitate to post anything that might come off as ‘less-than’ to our online audience.

This can be a death knell for our art.

Because all of the choices we make about our art—what we make, how we make the way we do, why we use the materials we use, even the stories we tell—are our unique, imperfect, very human story.

When we have the courage to share our personal ‘why’ behind those choices, we reveal something deeper, something with integrity, something imbued with our own unique human preferences. We show who we are, and who we want to be in the world.

Some folks treasure presenting the illusion that they are perfect, that they have it all figured out, that they have a talent and skillset that no one else has, that no one else will ever have.

In a sense, that’s true. We are all unique, from our background, upbringing, personalities, likes and dislikes, innate characteristics, and those we’ve acquired: education, skills, etc.

Striving to appear perfect, though, only appeals to some. Because learning who we are, what we are here for, what the work of our heart is, making our art, means making mistakes. No one is born knowing how to play the piano. What got us to where we are today is making mistakes, lots of mistakes—and persevering because we wanted to learn. We wanted to get better. We wanted to be the best we can, and we want to continue to improve. We want to make the work that is important to us, the only ‘me’ in the world.

The WHY of who we are is what makes us human.

Sharing those vulnerabilities, our mistakes, our twisty life path, and the insights and ‘aha moments’ we’ve learned along the way, can actually make it easier for others to connect with us, and with our work.

Now, I’m not saying we should point out all the mistakes in our current work! Most people would never even see them unless we point them out.

But it’s okay to share the struggle of fixing the composition of a still life. It’s okay to share that we don’t have a prestigious degree because we took up our art late in life, or that we’re self-taught. You might encourage someone else who can’t go to art school, who doesn’t have access to those prestigious workshops, who wants to make work that is like no other.

It’s okay that our story is personal, filled with sidetracked interests, twists and turns. It’s okay that we share our own stumbling blocks. Someone else may get the support they need to get through theirs. It’s okay that we sometimes share our own doubts and feelings of ‘less-than’. Others may realize we’re all in this together (and my favorite rejoinder, “…and no one gets out alive.”)

Showing others how we solved our roadblocks, and the insights we gained, may encourage others to hold their ground with their own work.

Because all of these things we go through are what makes us human. And it’s our common humanity that creates a need for our art in the world. If it uplifts us, it can uplift others. So might our own experiences.

Our art may not be for everyone. Mine certainly isn’t. That knowledge early on gave me the courage to persevere in the face of every roadblock, obstacle, rejection, and self-doubt. That knowledge is what drives me to encourage everyone in the world to find their own creative work, without giving in to the very-narrow definition others live by.

Social media can be a gift to creative people. It gives us free, easy access to the world’s attention.

But if everyone focuses on presenting the “outsides” only, it can distort our perspective, erode our own self-confidence, and cause us to doubt the value of our own life, and art.

As Anne Lamott said in her amazing TED Talk, “Never compare your insides to someone else’s outsides.”

Be a little willing to share your “insides” on your favorite platform today! (Except, please, not what you ate for lunch!)*

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

 

*Okay, you can post a pic of your lunch. But you could share who you were with, why you choose that eatery, and what you loved about that dish. Share the experience!

 

BLOG YOUR BOOK

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.

BLOG YOUR BOOK

Blogs can help you reach an even bigger goal: Your book!*

(6 minute read)

In last week’s column, I shared how looking past the usual marks of modern success (money and fame) could encourage us to share our work more on social media.

One reader left a comment, admitting that one of their big goals with their art was to write a book, to share their sources of inspiration, their thoughts, a peek behind the curtain of what their art is all about.

Of course, writing a book is a huge project. (Ask me how I know! Ask me how a dear friend is struggling to write a book!)

I understood that the artist probably doesn’t expect to make a mint. They just want to get their story out there, to share their insights and experiences with others.

Here’s the thing:

A blog is like a mini-book. Or a mini-chapter in a big book.

And our email newsletters can be the same.

Even when a publisher pays us (as an advance) to write a book, and we devote all our efforts to it, it takes time. A lot of time. Time, effort, and work. Editing. Rewrites. It can take at least a year, even with the theme/set-up/expertise of an editor already in place. I know, because I actually wrote a book, the first mass market how-to book on carving rubber stamps. (Sooooooo much easier than carving linoleum block.) (Ask me how I know!) (Because I have the scars to prove it…..)

My next two books were self-published as ebooks on Amazon’s Kindle, here and here. I’ve got more in the ‘back room’, more topics that I hope to publish as on-demand paperbacks.

The first book was a book the publisher asked me to write. It covers one aspect of my artwork. And because of the strict format, there wasn’t much opportunity to express anything about my philosophy, and no opportunity to talk about the rest of my work.

I had complete creative control over my ebooks. There’s more ‘me’ in them, more insights into understanding the mechanics and dynamics of doing shows, and interacting with potential customers. I love that I have the privilege of being a ‘published author.’ But I love even more the books I published myself, that allowed me to have a bigger say in the world.

Here’s the astonishing thing:

My blog subscribers asked me to write those books. Some of them begged me to write them.

And they were comprised me of blog posts I’d already published.

I kept asking them, “But why do you want to buy my articles when you can read them for free?” They had their reasons, good ones, too!

It was still a lot of work putting them together. (I wish people designing templates for books and blogs were more user-friendly.)

I have not made a ton of money from those sales.

But when I get my sales report, and see that people from Canada, Europe, Australia, etc. bought one, I am gob-smacked, in a good way.

Blogs and email newsletters serve a similar purpose: They help our followers, our customers, our potential customers, up to date on where we are in life. Maybe we do that by focusing on our process and techniques. Maybe we alert them to new products (cards, calendars, prints, etc.) or new work. Maybe we share when and where our next event is.

In fact, I used to reserve my email newsletter for the latter, until I had an epiphany: People signing up for my newsletter wanted to know more about my world. Not just events (or why would people across the country sign up??) But also me, my art, my philosophy, my personal conundrums I worked through, and then shared.

My blog used to be bigger than my mailing list, and much less expensive. Now my email newsletter list is growing, slowly but steadily, and my blog subscription rate has stalled.

I decided to combine the two, to a certain extent. So far, my email list is still growing!

My point is, if you already have a blog, or want one, what you write there is sort of a book-in-progress. And if your email newsletters are about more than just what show you’ll be at next, those are articles. And they, too, can become a book-in-progress.

The artist who shared that dream did so in such a way that I am curious about her book, too! They wrote with passion, insight, and a big vision.

Sharing our passion, insights, and big vision is what art marketing is all about.

When we can’t connect personally with our audience, because of a pandemic, or because they live on the other side of the country, or the other side of the world from us, our newsletters/blog posts are what connects us.

And a book is a connection they may be willing to pay for. A way to have our presence in their life even when they aren’t connected to the internet. A way for our words to be gifted to someone else.

A way for even more people to find our artwork, and work of our heart.

I’m betting that someday, Instagram will recognize that, like Amazon, there might be self-publishing opportunities to offer its platform-users. How cool would that be, to have all our art pics available so easily?! This is ringing a bell for me, about a platform where this was possible, but I’m drawing a blank. If YOU know, please let me know?

If it’s easier for you to talk about your art/process/inspiration/etc., then consider recording those thoughts, perhaps with the microphone/dictation function on a smartphone’s keyboard, then editing and organizing them. (Because, you know, autocorrect is hilarious at times.)

So put those dreams of writing a book into micro-action. Copy-and-paste your newsletters into whatever document apps you use. You can organize them by topic (like I did for “Good Booths Gone Bad”) or experience (my work-in-progress is about lessons I learned as a hospice volunteer.) Visual artists have a leg-up. Images of our work can fill the pages!

If you go for email newsletters, know that FASO websites come with an excellent email newsletter system. I’m not techy, so it took some finagling. But again, excellent customer service helped me figure out what worked best for me.

Share not just your artwork, but who you are in the world, with the world.

*I started with the concept of blogging a book, but soon realized a) not everyone is comfortable blogging, especially starting out when low readership can be discouraging. (Ask me how I know!) And b) most people would be more inclined to write an email newsletter—which can fulfill a similar function. See? I’m still learning!

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!

Updates, musings, and muddling….

I’ve been busy! Making, making, making. Organizing, sorting, cleaning. (In my studio. It’s much more fun than cleaning my house!)

I’ve also added new stuff to my Etsy shop and my website.

 

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 AREN’T PEOPLE BUYING OUR ARTWORK?

It may not be what you think…

(3 minute read)

I spent most of the holidays visiting my daughter and her spouse on the east coast. We always have interesting conversations (in a good way) and this time was no exception.

One topic that came up was, why don’t millennials buy art? The list of reasons she gave was astonishing, and all of them made perfect sense. (Spoiler alert: Millennials DO buy art. Maybe just not OUR art.)

And there are lots of reasons why.

One of my New Year’s Intention (I’m giving up on “resolutions”) is to write shorter more articles in series, breaking up a topic into a series of points. We’ll see how long that lasts, because my style is my own, and I’m not ashamed of that. You either have five or six minutes to enjoy my journey to clarity, or you don’t.

Still, this topic is worth expanding upon, and I’d like you to participate.

In the comments below, please list your opinion about why people—but especially millennials, defined as younger adults from who were born between 1981-1996 (age 23 to 38 in 2019) are not buying our work. I’ll answer as many as I can, and share the reasons I’ve discovered, in columns to come.

Do you believe they don’t appreciate “real art” over something found at Target? Share it in the comments!

And a small request: Ask with an open heart, and a willingness to expand your understanding. That way, we can all move forward with insights that could help us all.

Also, keep your heart protected, because some of the insights will be hard to hear. None of them are directed to any of us personally. My intention is not to make anyone feel bad, but to increase our understanding of the reality of a lot of millennials today, and having compassion for the straits many of them are in. (#NotAllMillennials  etc.)

So as not to keep your hanging (too much), I share one reason (out of many) why the market for my own more expensive work has fallen off:

Most of people who originally collected my bigger, more expensive work were older than I, and several have already died. Or they’re still here, but they’ve downsized their home, and have no more room for more art.

We’ve experienced this ourselves. Moving from New Hampshire to California did this to us. We’ve already had to move to a new rental in the five years we’ve been here, and each new home has been smaller than the one we had before it. We’ve gone from a 2,500+sf home to 980sf. (We’re not retired, as one reader inquired, that’s all we can afford here in California. Plus we’re renting, AND we own three cats and a dog, so we’re lucky we even found a place to rent. Ouch!)

I simply have no more wall space for new art. There isn’t room for half the art I already own!

Hold this in your heart: The deepest, most powerful reason for making our art is that it gets us to our highest, best place in the world. It heals us.

Everything else is gravy.

Another spoiler alert: Your homework, should you choose to accept it, is to check out this book preview titled KIDS THESE DAYS by Malcom Harris. If nothing else, it will help explain “OK Boomer”.

My favorite? People my age constantly complain that “young people today” are on their phones all the time. Do you know what they’re doing?

They are reading. Articles. Columns. News. Letters, long (blog posts or Facebook posts) and short (texts and other instant messaging from friends and family.) Listening to music. Watching videos and movies. Doing research.

You know what tech innovations older people have complained about for the last three thousand years? Claiming that these “new inventions” are destroying human society?

Books. Newspapers. Radio. Hi-fi. Equality for women, people of color, people of “questionable” or “unacceptable” gender. Resentment against Italian and Irish immigrants. Celebrating Christmas with gift-giving and festive trees. Dancing. Moving pictures (aka “movies”.) Umbrellas and chess.

Enough! Post your “reasons why millennials don’t buy art” below, and check in next week.

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 me at my blog LuannUdell.wordpress.com.

 

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!

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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?

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