HOW TO BE A HERO

Yet another creative person who works at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Ronnie Smart, who designed this signage for me when I couldn’t be in my studio for all the Art Trails hours!

 

And so many ways to be a creative!

Although I’m not able to be fully open both weekends of our county-wide open studio tour this month, I was able to fulfill my volunteer commitments at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, the organization that hosts it.

Volunteering is so rewarding! We can help fill in the gaps for non-profit organizations. We get to assist the very people who help us get our art out into the world. And my favorite? We get to peek behind the curtain, just like Wizard-of-Oz Dorothy did. (Er…in a good way.)

I got to meet a member of the staff I hadn’t even met before, due to the pandemic precautions.  One of them triggered a powerful memory for me.

When we lived in New Hampshire, I became a juried member of one of the oldest fine craft organizations in the country (some contend the oldest), the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Among other events, they hosted a highly-popular nine-day fair called the LNHC Annual Craftsmen’s Fair. I served on the Fair’s steering committee for awhile, and that deepened my relationships with the League’s staff.

And one conversation simply blew my mind. Here’s that memory:

I was talking to the woman who was in charge of accounting and finances. (I don’t remember her name, but I’ll share it if I find out!) She was always patient and kind in all our interactions, and at some point, we talked about her work history.

Her income came up, and somehow, it was clear she could have chosen to do the same work at our non-profit craft org,  at a much higher salary from a corporation or for-profit company. I was curious, and asked her why she’d chosen that.

She said, “I’m not creative, but I’m in awe of people who are! So I consider my work here a way of supporting the artists and arts I love.”

Take a minute to let that sink in.

In a culture where money is the measure of our “success”, often the only measure, and where someone who is good with managing money can make a lot of money doing that…. this person gave up fortune because of her ideals. For her love of creativity. Her respect for creative people.

I thanked her, of course, and shared that story with others whenever the opportunity came up.

But I wish I could have that conversation again, today. I would take the conversation a little deeper, and perhaps have honored her life decision even more by lifting her heart.

I know now that almost every human being is creative, in their own unique way. Creativity, innovation, the desire to be part of a tribe, and to be seen as a unique individual, are all powerful human traits. If you’ve followed my blog or my email newsletter, or my past articles on Fine Art Views, you know this is a common theme for me!

My heart has opened wide to respect many, many ways people are creative:

Whatever you love to do, (whether it’s hard or challenging or easy and relaxing, earns you a living or not), if it lifts your heart, and helps you make better decisions and be a better person…

And you share it with others, with the world (whether is selling, donating for a good cause, lending, or simply sharing it on social media, etc.)…

And it lifts the hearts of others (because they love it, or makes their life better, easier, richer, or helps them physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually)…

And makes the world a better place…

That…is creative work. 

So “art” isn’t the only form of creativity. It can be any form of making. It can be healing, teaching, creating community, mending, restoration, repair, building, care-taking, gardening, feeding, etc.

I now know this is all creative work. Even badly-done, with good intentions and a loving heart, has its place in the world. (Here’s my blog post on Regretsy and the power of awful art.)

Today, I would tell this woman this:

“The work you do for us is creative. It makes you happy that you can support our work, and it helps us soooooo much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for what you do!”

But I would also go deeper. I would ask her what her creative work is. If she protested she wasn’t creative, I would dig a little deeper: What is the hobby/pastime/activity that lifts her heart? I would gently walk her through my new “rules” of creativity.

And I hope it would give her more support, more confidence, in her own superpowers.

Unfortunately, she died far too early, even before we left New Hampshire. I’ve shared her story with her daughter, and she loved it.

But I deeply regret I could not share my deeper insights at that time.

And the person I briefly met at SebArts fills the same role as this wonderful woman at the LNHC. I hope to talk with her again, soon.

In her honor, I ask you one small favor today.

If you are a “traditional creative”, you know, a “real artist”, take a step back.

Let’s not fight anymore about whether pastels are “just chalk” ( that’s what cave art is made with), or argue about whether pottery is art or craft.

Let’s look deeper at all the organizations, the small businesses, the companies, the people, who support the work of our heart, in so many ways. By sponsoring it, displaying it, promoting it, buying it, or simply letting us know how much they enjoy it.

Let’s be grateful for all the reasons we can even do our work, and all the ways we can get it out into the world.

Let’s work hard to be a force for good in the world, and honor the work so many do, so we can do our work.

 

 

 

 

MAYBE LANGUISHING ISN’T SO BAD?

 

 

The Elk Horn Gate
I don’t know why I picked this image, I just like it, so there.

Let me tell you about my frustrations with social media marketing.

It’s a sad story. On one hand, I applaud the internet, blogs, social media sites. I think of the people throughout history, okay, even before history, people of different cultures, races, times, gender, who had the chance of a snowball in hell of having their work read, seen, shared. I’m pretty sure Emily Dickinson would have given almost anything to have her work published. Vincent Van Gogh finally had his day in the sun, but he died before he actually saw it. (This Doctor Who snip always brings tears to my eyes.)

And for awhile, it was great to be able to share my work and my words so easily. The day I started my first blog at Radio Userland, I felt a surge of freedom I’d never felt before. I didn’t need an editor, a publisher, an agent, nada. All I needed was the courage to tell my stories, share my thoughts, give insights based on my own experience selling/marketing/making and hopefully offer validation and hope to others who felt less-than-successful with their own creative work.

I love Pinterest, because I can create an online scrapbook of images that inspire me, intrigue me, give me ideas for my own projects. ) I love Instagram too. It’s a great venue for artists, I’m told, and I have a pretty big audience there, too. I can share all kinds of images of my work, inspiration, process, etc.

Then Radio Userland died. I moved to WordPress, but I did some great writing on Radio Userland. For awhile, I couldn’t even access my own articles there, until my hubby used his tech skills to create new urls for my blog there. Now I can find them, and republish them occasionally on my WordPress blog.

Then Facebook got bigger, and then it was/is immense. It also became all about the money. Facebook bought Instagram, and now it’s headed the same way.

I read a transcript of a Zoom video by Dave Geada, marketing guru at FineArtStudiosOnline (FASO.com) where I have my own website, and where I wrote a regular column for 12 years for Fine Art Views until a couple months ago. I still love the support structure of FASO for artists, and I’m glad to hold on to my website there.

Dave is as heart-centered as I am when it comes to marketing, I love almost everything he has to share on how to up our marketing skills, and many of the Zoom meetings are free to all. He loves Instagram, too, and has created many videos on how to use it effectively. I’ve gotten great tips and insights about social media markting (especially Instagram) from his Zooms, and many are free to ALL artists. Check out their Art Marketing Playbook here: AMP

But I’m beginning to feel lost in a huge dust storm that is suffocating.

Dave points out that Facebook regularly introduces new algorithms that block who can see our posts, forcing us to consider buying ads so we can grow our audience.  Suddenly, a thousand followers shrinks down to a handful in my Facebook business page. 

Instagram hashtags are a hot mess for a creative like me. I’ve tried hundreds of them over the years, tags that sound extremely descriptive of my style, my subject matter, my materials, etc. And yet, when I take the time to test them out, not very many put me in the company of other work that’s anything like mine.

In other words, it’s a blessing to be making work that’s unique, easily recognizable as mine, etc. But it’s frustrating to realize the tags I use regularly either throw me into a bottomless pit with hundreds of thousands of other people’s images, most nothing like mine, and ensuring I’ll be in someone’s feed about ten thousand posts down. (So, almost zippo visibility.) I’m lost in the shuffle. Or worse…More finely-tuned tags find me in a pond that’s way too small (although the images will hang around longer.) One example: I use #blackhorse for my faux soapstone horses. But I’m the only little handheld black horse sculpture in a sea of images of REAL black horses.

In the end, I can’t think of any way someone could even imagine my work, and look for it, unless they already know it, or they know my name. (Don’t send me suggestions unless you’ve researched them yourselves, okay?) (I mean, thank you for thinking of me, but it’s just not that simple.)

And the biggest surprise of all? I just found out that two superstars in the polymer clay world have quite modest followers on Instagram.

Ford and Forlano have been megastars for decades, two of the first polymer clay makers to hit it big with their work. It’s fabulous, beautifully made, expensive, and carried by the finest galleries in the country. Their Instagram following? 1,500 people. About the same as mine, a relatively-nobody/not nearly as famous nor successful.

Cynthia Tinapple is a polymer clay artist/teacher who has curated polymer clay work for decades with her Polymer Clay Daily newsletter, and her weekly subscription-based Studio Mojo newsletter. (WOW! I just tried to see when PCD first started. It looks like the first post was published on September 11, 2005. MY BIRTHDAY!!) She knows all the top makers in the pc world, she scours the internet for makers old and new, innovators, and whoever is making something intriguing, different, powerful, featuring around 250 makers every year. Her following? Well under a thousand. (To be fair, it looks like she’s just getting started on Instagram. But if every person she’s featured in her newsletters followed her, she’d easily be classified as an “influencer”!) (Six days of incredible posts for closing in on 16 years….) (OH, even more, because Studio Mojo usually has at least half a dozen little features on artists and resources.)

Next, my frustration with most hosting sites for artists, including FASO: Almost all of them focus on 2-D art: Painting, drawing, etc. I took a survey on mine, to get a “roadmap” for my marketing plan, and the first question was, is my work abstract or representational. (Um….jewelry?? And is anyone looking for my work going to use either of those terms to describe it? I don’t think so.)

Last, photographing my work is really, really tricky. Oh, photoing jewelry is okay, and the shrines come out well, if a professional photographer is doing the picture-taking. But decades ago, another polymer clay artist said, “Your photographer is one of the best, and yet they still can’t really capture the look and feel of how wonderful your little artifacts are in person.” That was true then, and it’s still true today. In fact, I believe the biggest factor in building my audience is when people come to my studio, and can actually pick up a little bear, or a horse, and hold it in their hand. It’s magic.

To sum up: I have a powerful creation story. I’m pretty good at telling stories. I’m good at the work I do. Good enough, anyway. I’m good at interacting with studio visitors, and engaging them with my work. I take a lot of pictures, I get professional ones when I need them (and can afford them!), I’ve gotten better at editing them, etc. I’ve done some major fine craft shows in my art career, my work’s been published in dozens of magazines and newspapers over the years, I grew a loving and loyal audience at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair, and I have some wonderful followers and collectors here in California, too.

But if I’m struggling on how to get my art to cross the path of people online,struggling to find more people who might also become fans, and maybe even collectors some day, then how is everybody else doing?

I know Cynthia occasionally feels ‘less-than’ as she comes across astounding new, young polymer clay artists. She wonders if she’s doing a good enough job, if what she posts is interesting and relevant. (YES, YOU DO AND YOU ARE, CYNTHIA!)

And in writing this, I just remembered my very first blog post at Radio Userland on December 1, 2002: What Meryl Streep and I Have In Common

Okay, this just blew my mind: I started with how, reading that Meryl Streep struggles to own her own skill and body of work, made me realize this is “normal” for creatives. We all have that little voice that says we’re not good enough, we aren’t as great as others think we are, that we are doing it wrong.

So let’s just kick that little voice outta the park today. Or at least let it out into the backyard so it can take a pee.

I believe, so far, that my art has brought many, many people a bit of joy and wonder into their lives. I love that, and I’m grateful.

I also believe that, from how people respond to my articles and blog posts, that hundreds, maybe thousands of people gain hope from something else I offer the world:

  • You matter.
  • Your creative work matters.
  • It matters because it helps you be the best person you can be. It lifts your heart.
  • And when you share it with the world, it will lift someone else’s heart, too.

I’m not the wisest, kindest, smartest, most talented cookie in the box, not by a long shot. But I know how much my creative work means to me, and I know it will call to me until I die. (Or dissolve, or lose my marbles. Whatever. It could happen.)

But I know this:

It’s not about the money.

It’s not about the likes.

It’s not about the number of followers, the number of comments, the awards, the sales, the money.

In fact, the more I learn about “influencers”, the more I don’t want to be one. And let’s face it, some dynamics rule the game. Actors are going to get more publicity/fame/likes than the people who actually help put movies together, right? We just see the actors more easily. There are plenty of people behind the curtain, people who do incredibly powerful, good work in the world, and it’s rare we ever even hear about them.

It’s not about how to game the system, because the system is too big, and makes too much money for the people/corporations who created them.

It’s simply about using the systems to share your work with others, as often as you can.

It’s about doing the work that matters to YOU.

It’s about supporting the people, the causes, the programs that help others, that heal others, that heal our planet.

It’s about doing what you can to be the best person you can be. Even if, like me, you suck at it sometimes.

So use social media to help share your work with others. If you find strategies (and hashtags!) that work for you, good on you! If you don’t, you are not alone. But you can still have a voice in the world. Your audience may be huge, or it may be small. But they love you and your work.

Sales are wonderful, but there are a thousand reasons why people don’t buy our art, probably because there are more artists/creatives in the world right now than in all the rest of human history. If you’re work isn’t selling, don’t take it as a measure of your worth. You just haven’t found your peeps yet, and they haven’t found YOU yet.

Don’t count the likes. Just hang on to that feeling when you realize something you’re working on is finished, and it turned out well, and how happy that makes you.

Works for me!

Now go make something.

(Ahem. If it’s cupcakes, I’d be honored to taste-test them for you.)

 

 

OPEN STUDIO, OPEN HEART

 

 

I miss my old studio in NH, but not the winters!

OPEN STUDIO, OPEN HEART: Open Studios Help Me Be a Better Person in the World.

People visit our studios for many different reasons, and all of it is good!

(This article originally ran in Crafts Business magazine, Feb/Mar 2005. Still holds true today, with a few minor edits!)

You know what we hope for when we open our studio to the public, especially in December. We hope everyone in town decides our work will make the perfect Christmas/holiday present. We hope hordes of shoppers will descend upon us, buying up everything in sight.

It doesn’t quite work that way, though. In fact, this was my fourth open studio of the year, and true to form, there was no form. No rhyme nor reason, either. Like life itself, it was the usual mix of the predictable and unpredictable.

There was the unexpected spat with my teenage daughter. She used to beg me to let her help with these events. Now she wants to hang out with her boyfriend this weekend, instead. Her boyfriend! Heck, I gave her life! (Just kidding.) (NOT.) I won the battle this year, but I foresee humiliating defeat in the years ahead. Time to look for a new show assistant? (n.b., this turned out not to be true, and my daughter joined me for shows until she left for college, and beyond.)

Then, moments before we opened, I got a phone call. An eager customer asking for last-minute directions? Yay! Yes, she was asking for directions, but no, she was not an eager customer. She had a box of sewing goods she thought I might be interested in buying. (This is just one of my pet peeves as an artist: People trying to sell me something during an event where I’m trying to sell something, especially an event like the major shows I did that cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars to participate in. I can attract a Mary Kay consultant from 500 miles away just by setting up my booth.)

I felt a sharp retort bubbling up, but held it back. I offered them an appointment for the day after the open studio.

Saturday morning was brisk. One shopper spent quite a bit of time browsing. First they wanted to buy a rubberstamp I’d carved. (Nope, not for sale.) Then they wanted my handmade buttons. (Nope, not for sale.) “One of those people!” I thought to myself. But again, I told myself, “Be nice, be nice.” I’m glad I held my tongue, because eventually they bought several items that made up half my sales for the weekend!

There was the art teacher who wanted me to tell them exactly how I make my artifacts, so they could use it as a school art project. (I get that all the time, too.) My response is to either give them online resources for working with polymer clay, or point them to my book shelf and the comfy chair corner, and to let them sign up for notices when I offer classes on polymer work.

There was the couple who traveled for hours to visit my studio. There was the person who happened to be walking by, saw my sign, and came in. The person who showed up to ask if I could replace their lost earrings they’d purchased a few years ago. (Yes, I will replace the first lost earring free, but not the second!) There was the person who decided they couldn’t live without purchasing another necklace from me. (I LOVE IT WHEN THIS HAPPENS!)

There was the person who couldn’t find anything of interest at all in my entire studio, except my private collection of turquoise nuggets. One person came by only to visit my guinea pig, who was part of my promotion to encourage families to visit. (They made me promise to come and visit their guinea pig someday.)Our new neighbors dropped by. The boy spent the entire time rubberstamping a card calling for a victory against a rival hockey team, while the mom and daughter oooh-ed and ahhhh-ed over every single piece of my jewelry. Something for everyone!

Finally, as the last hour of the last day of the event drew to a close, there was one woman who had stayed forever, looking at everything but buying nothing. She finally asked hesitantly if I would look at her artwork.

I was totally exhausted. Again, I could feel that sharp retort rising to the surface…

But I resisted.

The look on her face. I know that look. I remember it well. It’s on the face of the kid on the outside of the candy store window, looking in at all the wonderful sweets they can’t afford and can never have. I used to have it, too, when the idea of being a “real artist” seemed like an impossible dream. I remembered, too, all the kind and wonderful people who helped me along the way, offering encouragement, insights, and support. They were the ones who told me, “You come on in here! Step up!”

I did look at her artwork. It had promise. I told her that, what I liked, what could be better, made a few suggestions for better presentation, and told her to keep making her art. I was so tired, I don’t even remember most of what I told her. But I remember she was happy when she left, so I must have been kind.

The woman with the box of sewing goods? She showed up right on time the next day. It was a wonderful collection of vintage sewing goods, just the sort of thing I’m always on the look-out for, and the price was right, too. I bought it all, and we both were very happy.

Open studios are a miniature version of our own life. When we make what we love, we are restored to our highest, best self. When we share it with others, in any way (not just sales!), it brings joy to others. Encouraging everyone to make room to do the work they love is good for everyone.

And we always have the power of choices. We can choose to react with frustration, resentment, anger, fear, disappointment….

Or we can choose to believe we can be a force for good in the world. To believe we all have a right to be here. To believe we can all benefit in making the work that matters to us. To offer the same encouragement and recognition we needed so badly when we first started our own art journey

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.

Hearing the Call…

Homelessness is a problem not unique to California, but it can be more obvious because, obviously, the gentler weather works in their favor. There were plenty of homeless people in every placed we’ve lived over the past five decades.

My first art studio in Santa Rosa was near a park that had been a hot mess the years before I moved there. Rampant drug use and sales were an issue. But over time, this was mostly resolved, and now it’s a place where anyone can enjoy a little bit of nature.

I met quite a few homeless people, which was disquieting after the coffee shop next door closed for the day at 3 p.m., and again when it closed for good. Fortunately, I had a Dutch door, which allowed me to chat with them when they knocked on my door. I could assess them slightly, and simply close the top of the door when things got iffy. I had quite a few rich conversations with some.

My most frightening encounter was during an open studio event one evening late in the year, when night comes early. My tiny studio was filled with visitors, all happily exploring my space.

Until one older woman in a cheetah coat erupted.

She overheard me talking to someone about how I imagined myself an artist of the distant past with my artwork. It had been a long day, I was tired, and I said “pretended” instead of “imagined.”

She exploded. “Pretend” seemed like a fake façade to her, and she ranted on for several minutes about lack of integrity.

I was stunned, and tried to clarify my intentions. But she wasn’t having it. The push-back made her angrier. And everyone else fled my studio in a heartbeat.

Except for two women who stood silently by.

I am not good in these situations. When I’m scared, I run. I am not good in conflicts, and aggressive people scare the bejeezus out of me.

But something in me was paying attention. Something in me realized I was “doing it wrong”.

So instead of being defensive, I focused on connection.

I can’t remember what I said at the time. It was wasn’t about me, it was about the cave. How climate change caused those people to see their whole way of life disappearing in a handful of years. How those paintings were a prayer, calling the horses back. How the horses represent hope, and courage, for me as an artist, and for the world.

She calmed down, and listened.

And then I gave her a little horse. I put it in her hand, put mine around hers. I told her I wanted her to have it as a reminder of that. That we all matter.

Then I gently led her to the door and said goodbye.

Now, to be fair, in my mind, I figured giving her something was a good way to get her to leave. But that’s not how my two remaining visitors saw it.

Turns out both of them had experience with this. One was a psychiatric nurse, one had a similar background. Both of them said, “We knew she was going to be trouble. We knew it could go south in a heartbeat. And we weren’t going to leave until we knew you would be okay.”

Wow! Talk about angels in odd places….!!

They both said I had handled it beautifully. Met her where she was. Saw her as a fellow human. Being kind and patient.

I was flabberghasted. I felt I didn’t deserve the praise. I told them my own selfish intentions. They wouldn’t have it. (One of them still shows up to my events from time to time.)

Now, as an insight, that was pretty powerful. But it gets better.

A couple years later, I saw her picture in our local newspaper, The Press Democrat.

It was an article about people who lived on the streets who had finally been rehomed. She was on of them. An apartment had been found for her. In fact, she’d been in it for a couple months by the time she came to my studio.

What blew my mind?

She said that living on the streets was so traumatizing, it had taken her a looooong time to heal and recover. She said she was still ‘crazy’ for almost a year after, and she was just beginning to envision a normal life for herself.

It made me realize that even a home for a homeless person is not enough. They need support services, some for awhile, some for the long haul. They need to finally feel safe. And they need people who care.

That made me a teensy bit bolder in my interactions with this population. I remember a beautiful conversation I had with one person who was transitioning to female. At the end of our conversation, I asked her what she needed, expecting to hear “money”, and I would have given her some. But said, “I’m just so hungry right now.” Fortunately, I had a giant bag of granola I’d brought in for my snack stash. I asked if that would work, and she lit up with joy. I gave her the whole bag. (A year later, she appeared in a similar article. She now lives in a tiny house settlement outside Santa Rosa. Another artist in my community at the time had donated original hand-painted house signs for each unit.)

My assumptions about how to help others has gone through many transitions over the years. First it was, “Don’t give them money, they’ll just spend it on booze and cigarettes!” So I didn’t give out money. Until our same local newspaper shared that, if people on sleeping on a sidewalk, and cigarettes and booze help them cope, why should we judge that?

From then on, I would give pan-handlers $10 or even $20, after reading it could make a difference. One elderly gentleman danced for joy when I gave him a $20. “I’m gonna go over to that (fast food place) and buy breakfast!”

But later I learned that money is better spent supporting the non-profits that serve the homeless. Money gained through begging simply encourages them to “stay put”. In fact, my new studio is close to a residential facility that is the first step towards rehoming this population. It’s temporary shelter that works with people who have taken that first step.

I drive by there at least twice a day. It can be daunting at times. There’s often someone who will walk in front of my car as I drive by, on their way to the bus stop up the road, sometimes obviously intentional. During the hours they need to vacate the premises, they gather along the street. They leave trash behind. It can be annoying.

But then I think, if this is their only feeling of control in their lives right now, I can handle that.

And if you’d like to read a story about the best public art project I’ve ever witnessed personally, check out this excerpt in article about Bud Snow’s project in my Learning to See series:

Bud Snow was someone I met during my studio years at South A Street in Santa Rosa. They do large-scale public art, colorful, vibrant murals, usually up high. The featured work on that page I linked was a mandala painted on a cemented area on the ground, in a park near my studio. It took them much longer to paint than usual, because passers-by could stand and watch them as they worked, asking questions and in total awe of the work.

Soon Bud Snow offered every visitor a chance to help paint the mandala! I did, and over a period of four days, I saw them interact in a beautiful, powerful way with every single visitor: Parents picking up their kids from the elementary school across the street. Local workers and business owners. Homeless people. Every single one of them was thrilled to take part. It was one of the finest, truest examples of ‘public art’ I’ve ever seen, involving members of the very community the art was meant to serve.

Yes, Bud Snow was paid for the mural. (Though the extra time spent with the public tripled the time it took, so they took a hit.) Yes, Bud Snow’s work is now a sort of very-public advertisement for their work. Each one enhances their reputation and their asking price.

And yet cities pay for public art because it’s considered a powerful force for good for their citizens. The premise is, art really is a gift that everyone deserves, not just wealthy collectors who will pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a single painting (of a long-dead artist)….”

I still remember the homeless guy who showed up as night fell, on Julia’s last day of painting the mural. He had a flashlight and held it for us as we helped Julia pack up her stuff in the dark.

It was obvious that he was happy to be part of a group, happy to help her, happy to be ‘of use’. He smiled the entire time. I can still see his face, gently revealed by the light he held in his hand.

I’m still learning, of course. But maybe some of my experiences can be a source of hope for others.

NextDoor, an online resource for individual neighborhoods, is often a place where people can complain at length about this issue. And sometimes, the lack of compassion, anger, resentment, and general angst about this population can get out of hand.

The latest outrage about homeless people is directed at a woman who helps herself to flowers in a neighbor’s yard. When told not to pick them anymore, she got angry. She now picks them and throws them in the street.

The discussion is almost evenly divided between “please be kind” and “get rid of these creeps!” Some of the responses were downright scary, scarier than most homeless people I’ve dealt with.

Here’s what I wrote today:

“FWIW, my partner of over 42 years brought me flowers on our first meet-up. They looked freshly picked, and he told me he’d picked them from a tree lawn on the way over. (He didn’t have a car at the time.) I told him most people do not want their flowers picked, and he said, I thought that’s why they put them near the sidewalk, so people could pick them. So there are plenty of people who think “public” flowers are for the public to pick. 😀

I want to say thanks and love to all the folks here who show some compassion for the homeless population. They are not all one population, not all live with addictions, not all have mental health issues, a lot of them age out of foster care, or have young children, or injuries that affect them deeply, and MOST of them do not want to be homeless.

But all of them want the power of their choices, as do we all. Even when they step up and transition towards a home, it can take months, if not years, to heal from the trauma of living on the streets. They can be annoying, they can be problematic, they can be downright scary, and some we SHOULD be scared of.

But they are all also unique human beings who cannot afford services on their own. If we really want to consider ourselves true human beings, we have to start by seeing them as human, too, as humans who have not had our own advantages of support, income, homes, health care, good choices (that worked out for US), and people who care.”

We have to understand that part of why we see them as “other” is a way to distance ourselves from their situation. We want to believe that this could NEVER happen to us.

And yet we all know we may be one accident, one paycheck, one disaster away from being in that same situation. It could happen to a loved one. It could happen to us.

We can choose to look away.

Or we can choose to find even the tiniest way of helping. With our donations, with our taxes, with our volunteer time, with our work, with our compassion.

Part of me desperately wants to volunteer again with schools, with animals, with hospice.

But something is telling me my next service might be right in front of me. It’s scary. I’m still afraid.

But it won’t hurt to find out.

 

TESTING OUR ASSUMPTIONS: Faux Facts of the Lascaux Cave

Is it coincidental that this article was annoying for me, right before I begin this new series? Maybe. Maybe not!

 

I was noodling on the internet this morning, stopped to look something up about the Lascaux Cave in France, the inspiration for the work of my heart.

I came across this article in the Winchester Sun newspaper in northern Kentucky.

It’s actually a good article, focusing on gratitude for the things we take for granted in our lives. And Smith’s assumption is not only one that was taken seriously for years–that cave art is about hunting magic–it’s funny, and a gentle reminder to find the gifts we already have in our lives.

But….

It felt awkard to say this, but why rely on a totally disproven man-the-killer-ape philosphy in life?

I tried to write to her, but oddly, I could not find a way to contact her nor the newspaper. I also wasn’t sure if I were being too picky. Except…so much of the “facts”, aren’t.  That bothered me more than I anticipated. She got her point across, so maybe I should just shut up…?

So I decided not to send it, but to post my thoughts here, in my own space.

Here’s what I wrote:

Erin Smith’s article on Nov. 5, 2020, “What Good Things Have Brought You Here Today?
​I came across your article while looking something up.  It’s good, and I enjoyed it And yet….
I know the theory behind your thoughts (granted, they’re funny!) about the folks at Lascaux being tired of reindeer meat.
And it’s true, for generations, we’ve assumed all cave art, dating back more than 35,000 years now, was about hunting and sympathetic magic around hunting food animals. (My art history studies revealed Lascaux is now considered the “high gothic” of cave art, for its unique use of color.) It was “obviously” about men and boys practicing their target shooting. (Spear marks were found in some of the images.)
The elders were also teaching the boys how to draw, which is why there are animals with eight legs, and multiple heads. This is what was taught to us art history students in the ’70’s and for decades after.
And heck, maybe they WERE tired of eating reindeer meat.
But this ‘hunting magic assumption’ is now considered out-of-date.
Research shows that NONE of the caves depict the actual animals each community hunted. Yet nothing stopped them from hunting other animals.  So what’s that about?
Evidence from the sites of their communities reveal they did NOT hunt nor eat the animals mainly depicted in each cave, relative to evidence found in their settlements.
And this was not a male-only activitiy.
Turns out the spear marks were made at a later time, probably by another community that found the images after the original painters had moved on, and before the entrance to the cave collapsed. So, NOT made by the original artists.
Many of the shamans that created the images are women, and some suspect MOST of them were women. ​And evidence shows that men, women, even children participated in the ceremonies.
The ‘garbled images’? Inexperienced artists? Nope.
First, there is evidence of “multi-media” elements in the ceremonies (created in areas of the most intense echoes, so sound was probably a feature during their creation, or in the ceremonies that followed.)
There’s now evidence that through primitive artifacts, with the flickering light of torches, these images can appear to move, as demonstrated by this video by Marc Azema. You can watch the longer, most recent version here. Or the explanation of how these images were viewed here. But the last bit, at the end of them all, the montage of the large, running cat critter, is still the most astonishing. I can only imagine the intense observation of running lions that resulted in this highly-realistic rendition.
And last, at the begining of the 21st century, archeologists associate the Lascaux Cave’s work with the timing of great climate change. These people saw what we’re seeing, intense change in climate that affected their entire way of living, not over centuries, but within a handful of years. Cooler weather gave way to hotter weather, the vast grasslands were disappearing, the vast herds of animals that fed on them disappeared. One theory believes they were calling the horses back. (Most of the horses in Lascaux are pregnant.)
Someone who thinks I’m “making up a sappy story” about hunting magic said, “You don’t get it. Cave art is all about survival!” To which I replied, “So is a cathedral.”
My own artwork began with the inspiration of the Lascaux Cave. I get the clever wit of assuming they were tired of eating reindeer. I get that there was a great inspiration for your great article in this, and I enjoyed reading it.
And as Patricia Lauber said in her amazing children’s book, PAINTERS OF THE CAVES, we may never know the exact story of these paintings. They are a message that was not addressed to us.
Just sayin’ that the messages we can CHOOSE to see can carry an even bigger message that’s better for us all. There are now wonderful insights that can inspire even more insightful articles.
And we can choose NOT to diminish the spiritual work of a people lost to us in time, who were US–just as intelligent, just as resourceful, in short, just like us–to make our point.
Respectfully,
Luann Udell

 

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?

WAYBACK SATURDAY….er, Sunday. FEAR AND ART

This post first appeared on my now-defunct Radio Userland platform on Friday, March 21, 2003. At first, I thought “What war??” Then I realized a lot was going on since 9/11. Sound familiar? Other odd coincidences: I just finished reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker again, before I even found this article. I did finally find a copy and Art and Fear, about the fears that keep us from creating, and I still highly recommend it.
And though we now know that art shows will be on hold for a while, there are plenty of other ways we can keep our art biz going, by moving to online shopping and virtual events. Our creative work matters more than ever!
Fear and Art

A poster on a discussion forum put into words what all of us have been feeling lately, but hate to admit out loud.  The artist had a show coming up soon–should they cancel it because of the impending war? Maybe no one would show up.  Many of us chimed in with a resounding “no!”, stressing the need to live life as normally as possible until forced to do otherwise.  The discussion eventually meandered into a discussion of other things.  But the original post got me thinking about fear and anxiety in general.

Three of my favorite books about getting control of your life have the word “fear” in them.  “Feel the Fear (and Do It Anyway)” by Susan Jeffers, is a pragmatic book about recognizing and acknowledging the anxiety/discomfort that comes from taking risks and making changes–but not letting that anxiety stop you.  “Fearless Creating”, by Eric Maisel, I’ve read in chunks and bits, with some good sections about overcoming the obstacles to creativity.  (There’s a highly recommended other book called “Art and Fear”, but I haven’t tracked down a copy yet, so I can’t refer to it.)

The last is not a “creativity” book.  It’s “The Gift of Fear” by Gavin de Becker.  In a nutshell, the book is about the knowing the difference between general, free-floating anxiety vs. the genuine fear that alerts us we are truly in danger.  When we are in real danger, we sense it, whether we acknowledge the signals or not.  We know that strange guy who offered to help us made us uneasy.  We know  there’s something about that new person we’re dating that just isn’t right.  We may tamp down that feeling because of social conditioning, but we did have it.

Anxiety is more encompassing and insidious.  It’s what keeps us from booking a flight after we read about a plane crash, or makes us wonder whether we should cancel that show when war seems imminent.  It’s what makes us worry about our kid walking to school by himself for the first time, or keeps us from dangling our feet over the edge of our inner tube while floating in the ocean.  (Jaws, anyone?)

Statistics show us that we are more likely to die from a bee sting than a shark attack, yet we don’t flee at the sight of a flower-filled meadow.  If you look at cold hard facts, we are much more likely to buy the farm every day when we belt ourselves into our cars and head out to the mall.  Car accidents kill more people each year than the total number of U.S. fatalities suffered during the entire Vietnam war.  Yet I know of no one who has stopped driving their car because of the risk of an accident.

My advice to the original poster was:

I hesitate to add my two cents’ worth on this issue, since I don’t do many shows.  But I think if you start making decisions based on fear and anxiety, you are heading down a slippery slope.  Yes, it’s natural to worry about current events.  Almost impossible *not* to.  But when you start making business decisions based on “what if?”… well, “What if…?” can kill every effort you make to grow your business.

One way to think of this is: What’s the worst that could happen?  If you bombed at this show, would it bring your business to a halt?

And if so, don’t you really take that chance at *every* show you do?  Your thinking is, “We might be at war, and maybe no one will come.”  What about, “It might rain and everyone would stay home.”  Or maybe “There might be a strong wind, and my tent might blow away!”  Or “The stock market might crash, and no one will be able to afford my work.”  All those events are possibilities, too.  You plan for them as best you can, evaluate the *real*, tangible risks–and then decide.

I’d say, unless the show promoters cancel the show, it would be good business to show up as you contracted to do.  If, after doing a few shows, you decide current events are impacting your bottom line severely, then that’s the time to sit down and re-evaluate how you’re going to restructure your business to accomodate that.

It takes a certain amount of determination to turn this free-floating anxiety around, unless you’re by nature an optimist.  And I’m not.  I’m a born pessimist.  And turning this attitude around is not a one-shot deal.  I have to revisit it again, and again, and again.  And sometimes I still need someone else to point it out to me.  And sometimes, by reassuring someone else, I find I’ve reassured myself.

Some tips:

Read a book, forum or article about dealing with fear.  It sometimes helps to realize you are not the only person who’s feeling this way!

Find people whose judgment you’ve come to trust, and check in with them.  Not someone you ought to trust, someone you’ve learned you can trust.  Someone who’s earned your trust.  For decisions about my kids and their growing need for personal responsibility and freedom, I have a very small collection of parents whose opinion I value.  I know they have similar values, I know they respect my values, and I’ve learned to trust how they come to their decisions.  They don’t belittle my concerns or beliefs, they just tell me how they got to their decision.

I’ve learned not to expect everything from one person, too.  I’ve learned that I have parent-decision type friends, business/art type friends, family-dynamic expert type friends, etc.  Find those solid people in every one of your life sectors.  And when one of them goes through their own difficult times, recognize when they are not able to help you with that area (temporarily or permantly.)  In other words, constantly evaluate your support structure.

Learn from yourself.  Keep track of the times you’ve successfully battled anxiety, and remind yourself of those times.  For myself, I find it immensely helpful to write about my anxieties.  I keep a daily handwritten journal.  I would die of embarrassment if anyone read of anything I’ve written there–I complain and swear a lot!  But I also find that making my anxiety concrete by describing exactly what I’m afraid of, is the first step to working through it.

Hand in hand with this approach is a tip given to me by a good friend who is a therapist.  He uses an approach called cognitive therapy, and gave this example of its use.  A patient says, “I’m terrified I’ll lose my job.”  Well…what would the logical consequences of this event be?  An illogical conclusion might be, “I’ll become a bag lady!”  That’s possible, but is it probable?  My friend would say, “What are the immediate consequences of losing your job?”  Patient: “I wouldn’t make any money.”  Friend: “So what would happen then?” P: “I would have to find another job that maybe wouldn’t pay as much money.”  F: “So what would happen then?” P: “I couldn’t afford to make my mortgage payments.”  F:”So what would happen then?”  P: “I’d have to sell my house.”  F: “So what would happen then?” P: “I’d have to find a cheaper place to live, like an apartment.”  F:  “And what would that mean?” P: “My kid would have a smaller bedroom.”  F: “So the end result of losing your job is that your kid would have to sleep in a little bedroom.”

This is a simple version, of course.  And we all know some people do have worse consequences.  But for most of us, yes, losing our job might been living in a place with tinier rooms.  Been there, done that.  Survived.

Recognize, as de Becker points out, that anxiety drains our batteries, leaving us vulnerable and unprepared for real danger when it crosses our path.  Recognize that anxiety is our engine racing without engaging the clutch–it doesn’t take us anywhere, it’s just noisy and uses up a lot of gas.

I’m so pleased with this car metaphor! Remember, anxiety is our lizard brain trying to protect us. Say “thank you, but I got this.” Not every thought is true. 

A TALE OF TWO STICKS: The “Perfect” One vs. “What Works”

A sad story with a happy ending.

A long-time admirer contacted me earlier this month, looking for the perfect wall hanging for their home. After many emails and sent images, they decided on a framed fragment:

One of three framed fiber “fragments” in a series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But they had their heart set on a wall HANGING. Would I be willing to turn this into one?

Well, sure! The framed version would be harder to ship, I haven’t made hangings in awhile, and this would be a good opportunity to get back into the swing of things. A practice piece, if you will.

It took many, many more hours of work than I’d anticipated. Still, if I charged by the hour, all of my work  would have to sell for several thousand dollars. Which didn’t seem fair….

I added a backing to the fragment, created a hanger for the back, and searched my extensive stick collection for the perfect stick. It has to be the right length to work with, a shape that works with each fragment, etc.

Surprisingly (not!), I always find only one stick that meets my needs.

I found it! A beach-combing find from the Sonoma coast. I test all my sticks before I use them in a piece, to make sure they aren’t too brittle or fragile. This one passed the test–I thought.

The Perfect Stick.

 

 

 

 

 

It was already worn smooth by waves, it had beautiful branches, it sanded up easily. After waxing and buffing it to a soft gleam, I got to work drilling holes for the ties that would secure the fiber fragment to it, the beaded side “drapes”, and the cord to hang it all with.

For some reason, my new power drill didn’t work very well. Maybe my drill bits are dull? So I used my little hand drill (pin vise) to make the holes. Yep, more hours….

I put almost 8 hours on drilling the holes, stringing the color-coordinated glass beads for the drapes, attaching the fragment to the stick, and adding the beads that adorn the hanger. I’m pretty fussy about the beading. I use a lot of antique glass trade beads in my work, and many of them have really big holes. I have a stash of smaller beads I use to fill the holes so the beads set evenly.

After it was all put together, I picked it up to take a photo…..

And the stick broke.

It broke where I’d drilled a hole. Fortunately, it was a clean break. I was able to glue it back together (with construction adhesive!), restring that part, and wound some cord around it for support. Part of my aesthetic is creating the look of a well-worn, often mended piece of art. So it fit right in!

I clamped the repair and let it sit a full 24 hours, like the instructions said. Came back to the studio, gently tested the repair–good!

I picked it up to photo it. And it broke in my hand again.

This time, the wood shattered. So I was back to square one. (Okay, square three, but it sure felt like ‘one’.)

It took awhile, but I found another, completely different stick that I loved.

The new perfect stick!

It has a sad history. Bark beetles are highly-destructive, destroying millions of acres of forests.

 

 

 

 

And yet, the damaged wood is hauntingly beautiful.

In New Hampshire, I looked for beaver-chewed sticks. The chew-markes look like writing, strange writing to be sure. They became part of my story, echoing the mystery of the cave paintings of Lascaux in my art: A message that was not addressed to us, a message we cannot read.

The trails made by bark beetles echo that story.

I’ve collected a lot of their chewed sticks from the coast, too. The good part is, the beetles are long gone and probably long-dead, too.

I didn’t realize the stick looked like one of my carved pods until I took this picture. The pod just happened to be sitting on the counter. Fate? Kismet? Lucky chance???

I sanded the stick carefully, and wiped it clean. I painted it black to back-fill the little chewed channels, then wiped off the excess. Then waxed it with brown Brio wax, and buffed it, then drilled more holes.

 

Finally, it was done!

The finished piece. Finally!

Today I’ll find the right-sized box to pack it up and ship it to its happy new owner. It’s taken a lot longer than I thought, but I never regret a profound learning experience. Well. I regret them in the moment. But I’ll get over it.

My little journey from “the perfect stick” to one that many people would consider as a tragedy (destruction of national forests) and trash (a bug did this? WTF!!!) has me thinking again about my art process and my stories.

I obsess about getting everything exactly right, in an imperfect way. Asymmetrical yet balanced. Ordered color palettes.

One of my most powerful insights, in my life and in my art, is recognizing when something is ‘good enough’, and letting go of perfection. (As a wise woman once told me just before I began my hospice volunteer training, “When we are a perfectionist, we are ‘full of knowing’, and nothing new can come in.”) (Thank you Quinn!) (Another gift: I didn’t know she’d started a new blog until I linked to hers here.)

We all have visions of what that ‘perfect’ thing is. The perfect job. The perfect marriage. The perfect home.

Then there’s reality. There are the slog jobs, the times in a relationship when things can feel wonky, and homes? Renting here in Northern California, it’s whatever one will let you have pets….

Yet even in the worst of times and places, there is something of value.

Insights. ‘Aha!’ moments. Healing. Reconnection. Beauty. New ways to retell old stories. Seeing our loved ones for who they are, instead of the perfect person we sometimes expect them to be. Learning to see ourselves the same way….

Sometimes the ‘perfect’ needs to make way for something bigger and better, more human. Sometimes, we need to make way for something else.

And sometimes, it makes way for a tiny little beetle, with its own way of creating a powerful story.

 

 

LEARNING TO SEE #9: Do the Right Thing

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.
What is our area of expertise, as artists? Use it!
This morning I read a column in our local newspaper, “The Right Thing” by Jeffrey L. Seglin. It was titled, “What is the right kind of help?”
Seglin mentioned that he’s had many discussions over the years about the role altruism plays in our actions, pondering whether any reward–a tax deduction, publicity, something nice for our resume or college application–negates our altruism.
And now someone was asking if we simply enjoy our action, doesn’t that diminish the outcome, too?
Seglin outlined a logical and reasonable response. But there was one point that in the past has simplified this feeling for me.
Here’s what I wrote to him today:
I read your column today in the Press Democrat newspaper, about someone who felt critical of people who volunteer to do things they enjoy.
This happened to me almost a decade ago. I was a hospice volunteer for five years, before we left NH and moved to CA.
If I mentioned this to people, people who had no experience with this work, they would act like I was an amazing person. “I can’t imagine doing that!” they’d exclaim. I would feel guilty, because I got a lot out of my volunteering. I learned so much about the end of life. Every single client I worked with was a different experience, some sweet and tender, others challenging. (Fortunately, I had an AMAZING supervisor who listened to all my questions and kept me grounded.)
I told my very-wise daughter this. (She became a hospice volunteer in her teens, and went on to become a social worker specializing in elder care.) I said I felt guilty when people praised me, as I enjoyed my work so much and learned so much.
She said, “So you should volunteer to do something you hate?”
Simple answer, putting all your own points into personal perspective.
We don’t have to suffer in order to do the right thing.
And if the “reward” is simply growing as a human, and being aware of that, it’s definitely not a “wrong thing”. If more of the world valued that “reward” over money and self-righteousness, I’m guessing the world would be a better place for all of us.
Why am I sharing this on Fine Art Views today, when we’ve been encouraged to only focus on art marketing during these challenging times?
Because as a creative, I can sometimes feel guilty about my own actions.
Is it right to focus on art maketing during times like these? Is it self-serving to post my newest work on Instagram, and Facebook? Does it ring hollow to ask for advice about a piece, in a posted pic, when people are dying in our streets, in their homes, on a walk?
I’d like to address these thoughts here, hoping I can walk you through this conundrum.
I love making my art. When I can’t get to it, on any level, I get ‘art withdrawal’ symptoms. I can even feel guilty about enjoying my making so much. After all, I don’t make much money at it, which is usually a major factor in evaluating the value of any activity. Saying it helps me feels pretty selfish. (I hear this from other artists, too!)
In this pandemic time and shelter-in-place orders, it can feel selfish to be able to continue this work. Why should I actually enjoy these restrictions, when others are losing everything: Income, human connection, health, even their lives.
With the protests, marches, the courage others have to take up an extremely important cause, why should I get to go to my studio and make little plastic horses?
And even my usual message, about sharing our art in the world so it can help, heal, and inspire others, seems pretty selfish right now. Hoping that share will help sell a piece seems pretty self-oriented, too.
And yet, there are plenty of ways I can use my art to help others.  There are plenty of ways I can contribute to do that without setting my art aside.
Here’s the thing: Years ago, when my partner and I were in couples counseling (we’ve been together over 40 years, so yeah, it works!) we had a fight about how some of our joint decisions were made.
Our counselor (who was amazing!) gave us the key phrase that clarified everything:
Listen to which of you has the most expertise in that area.
This simple insight has curtailed a lot of arguments…er, negotiations… in the years since.
What the heck does this have to do with art marketing?
Let’s start here: Our art is your area of expertise.
We know how to do it. We know we love doing it. Even if it is not our sole means of financial support, we know when we can’t/won’t/don’t make it, we feel something is missing.
Through my articles, I hope many of you see that our art can do this for others, too. People buy our work because it speaks to them, whether this is landscape of their favorite view, a subject matter dear to their heart, or simply something that brightens up their whole house. (Yes, it’s okay if it goes with the sofa!)
Even if they can’t afford our work, or don’t have room, or it’s not really something they’d actually buy, sharing it with the world has the potential to give something back to those who see it.
The fact that we love making it, that it heals us, that it brings us joy, doesn’t mean sharing it is selfish. Selling work doesn’t mean we only care about the money.
Making it is our reward. Sharing it rewards others.
If we think there’s more we can do to support the causes we care about in the world, there are ways to do that, too.
We can raise money with our work, if we choose: Donate to a fund raiser. Start a Go Fund Me campaign, with small rewards to donators (cards, prints, etc.) over a certain amount, and donating the proceeds to organizations who are forces for good in the world.
We can share our gifts: Offering classes to young people of different races and religions. Give talks in schools and expand the history of art to be more inclusive. Volunteer in any way that speaks to us. For example, I taught a grief writing workshop during my hospice volunteer years. It was a way to use my skills to encourage others to process their unique grief, in their own way, in their own time. We could volunteer in so many ways by sharing our skill sets!
Bud Snow was someone I met during my studio years at South A Street in Santa Rosa. They do large-scale public art, colorful, vibrant murals, usually up high. The featured work on that page I linked was a mandala painted on a cemented area on the ground, in a park near my studio. It took them much longer to paint than usual, because passers-by could stand and watch them as they worked, asking questions and in total awe of the work.
Soon Bud Snow offered every visitor a chance to help paint the mandala! I did, and over a period of four days, I saw them interact in a beautiful, powerful way with every singler visitor: Parents picking up their kids from the elementary school across the street. Local workers and business owners. Homeless people. Every single one of them was thrilled to take part. It was one of the finest, truest examples of ‘public art’ I’ve ever seen, involving members of the very community the art was meant to serve.
Yes, Bud Snow was paid for the mural. (Though the extra time spent with the public tripled the time it took, so they took a hit.) Yes, Bud Snow’s work is now a sort of very-public advertisement for their work. Each one enhances their reputation and their asking price.
And yet cities pay for public art because it’s considered a powerful force for good for their citizens. The premise is, art really is a gift that everyone deserves, not just wealthy collectors who will pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a single painting.
Does this give you inspiration to do something similar? I hope so! Especially if, as the old Greg Brown song goes, “Time ain’t money when all you got is time.” Our time can be a powerful donation.
But there are plenty of other ways to use our art, and sharing our artto serve a higher purpose.
Maybe all we can do is donate money. In my case, I’ve made a habit of setting up small monthly donations to many of the organizations working to make this world better for everyone.  This is a good thing, because these folks know exactly what is needed, and they know how to work to get it done. 
Maybe all we can do is give others a bit of joy by sharing our work online. I have a friend who posts a work of art every day on Facebook. They are not a visual artist, they share the work of other artists, usually works I’ve never seen before. They are all beautiful, and speak to her. Then she shares them and it speaks to me. They are one of the most aware people I know when it comes to the difficulties of ‘people not like us’ I know. Yet she also knows a bit of beauty can give us the inspiration to feel better. And when we feel better, we can choose to do better.
So yeah, it can feel weird to keep up with our online marketing in times like these. It felt weird to be making plastic horses on my 49th birthday, on 9/11.
It felt privileged, and entitled. I had to work that through, in my writing, to realize my desire to make art, to make this art, the work of my heart, was indeed a worthwhile thing to offer the world.
I rarely feel ashamed, or less-than, or guilty about it anymore.
Neither should you.
Make your art. Share it. Use it service, if you can or want to. Use it to get you to a place where YOU can be of serice, if you choose.
Art is not a luxury. It is a gift we’ve been given. It’s a gift we need. It’s a gift everyone needs, us, and the people who love it. We can practice it ourselves, or with others, for ourselves, and for others.  We can share it with others. And we can encourage others to find and use their gifts with it, too.
How are you using your art today? How are you sharing it with the world? I’d love to know, and others will, too!

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!

LEARNING TO SEE #8: Finding Our Way in the Dark

Still my go-to happy place. Where’s yours? (Okay, confession time: It’s not nearly as neat and clean now!)

 

All we need is a good flashlight and the courage to trust ourselves.

(5 minute read)

Just so you know, I really don’t have everything in life all figured out.

Oh, I’m good at finding a way out of the woods, as long as the woods aren’t too dark. ) And the wolves aren’t after us.* (Actually, wolves don’t really hunt people.)

Years ago, I came across a quote by Anne Lamott, about being lost in the dark. She said she prayed, asking God to simply shine a light at her feet, so she could take ‘just one little step…”

She wasn’t asking for His advice. She wasn’t asking for directions. She wasn’t asking for a plan.

All she asked for was the ability to take one small step forward in the dark.

Of course, now I can’t find that quote, but here is a similar one:

“E.L. Doctorow said once said that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”

–Anne Lamott

I won’t get into all the dark stuff surrounding all of us right now. I’m sure by the time this article is published, there will be even more, calling for our attention, and our action.

I do want to talk about the light.

We tend to think of ‘light’ as a quality that allows 2D artists to truly capture an image, especially landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. Light gives depth, color, texture to a painting.

But light is crucial is so many forms of creative work. Plays, cinema, musical performances, dance. In healing, x-rays and CT scans, a totally different form of ‘light’, are ways to reveal sources of pain in our bodies. I could go on with my usual strings of metaphors, but we can accept that light is most definitely a good thing. (For creatives who live with blindness or sight issues, they simple “see” the light in other ways, filling in with their imagination and inner vision. Deafness didn’t stop Beethoven from composing his powerful music.)

Sometimes all we need is that little flashlight at our feet.

Sometimes, of course, we need something bigger. A strategy called “The Lighthouse Method” encourages us to follow a distant signal, far ahead, with no knowledge of what we will find along the way. Sometimes, we can be more like E.L. Doctorow’s headlights metaphor, where we can drive 65mph and simply follow the road in front of us.

As creative people, we may often be alone in our thoughts, our vision, our work. We find many ways to make our work, often experimenting with different media, different palettes, different subject matter, different styles and techniques. We’re used to walking a path that can sometimes seem lonely.

And sometimes, it feels like nothing we do is very satisfying. This can be caused by big life changes (and lots of small ones), illness, death. Broken relationships, loss of income, galleries closing. We’ve added a lot to this list in 2020 already, and there’s probably more to come.

But even as I write this, I can almost feel that flashlight in my hand.

I know if I can get to my studio, I’ll feel better.

Maybe I’ll make some new artifacts. Maybe (oh, yes, please!) another order to fill, or an idea for a new series. Maybe it will be a clay day, or a fiber day, or maybe I’ll just end up on the floor picking up that bowl of seed beads I dropped. Maybe I’ll page through my inspiration file, noting a new ways of connecting this with that, or a new color combo. Maybe I’ll just clear my work surfaces. Maybe just one surface. Okay, maybe I’ll just clean a corner of my desk.

All I know is this:

I will come out of my studio much, much happier than when I went in.

I’m not saying my art is more important than anything else going on in our world today.

I’m saying I’m in a better place to do that work, if I do a bit of MY work first.

So if today is a hard day, take exquisite care of yourself.

It’s okay to be overwhelmed. It’s okay to be confused about who or what to believe. (Although I’d start with reputable news sources, not rumors.)

It’s okay to feel small in the world today. It’s okay to feel lost. It’s part of being human.

But remember we have been given a gift, a precious gift. The gift of yearning ‘to make’, ‘to create’, to bring something into the world that is the product of our unique upbringing, our unique path in life, our skillset, our winding path, our powerful artistic vision.

Know that there are many ways to help others with our creative work. Whether we inspire others with our work or words, or whether we donate a portion of our sales to a good cause, or whether we volunteer for those causes directly, whether we stay in or march, or help those who do, or simply wear a mask, etc. it’s all a way of healing the world.

If we’ve been in the dark ourselves, that teaches us to have compassion for those who are in it now, or who live in it all the time.

Find a way to use your creativity in service of the causes you believe in. Be a force for good in the world. Share your own way of doing this in the comments. I get great ideas from readers, and I’m sure other readers will, too.

Whether it’s headlights, a lighthouse, or a little flashlight, aimed at our feet, we have been here before. And we will be here again, in this dark place.

It is always darkest just before dawn, because that is why the dark is so important. In the dark is when we realize what we really care about. In the dark is where we sleep, and dream. It can be a place of fear and immobility.

But dawn will come again.

And we cannot recognize the light if we never know the dark. The dark teaches us to trust the angels of our better nature

It’s easier for us to really see that little beam of light, in the dark.

 

 

LEARNING TO SEE #7: The Making is About More Than Just the Selling

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.

LEARNING TO SEE #7: The Making is About More Than Just the Selling

Money is GREAT, but it’s also not EVERYTHING!

(7 minute read)

Years ago, when I had a fairly-reliable audience in New England, and galleries all over the country carrying my work, it wasn’t hard to be inspired to make stuff. I knew there would be a “place” for everything I made, and eventually a permanent home for it, too.

Then the recession hit. Then silver prices skyrocketed. (OH THANK YOU PEOPLE WHO TREAT METAL MARKETS LIKE A GAME.) The high price of sterling silver made my jewelry work more expensive. The recession caused many of my galleries to shutter, or to ‘play it safe’ with their inventory. In fact, I used to have a very liberal wholesale return/exchange policy, until many gallery owners used it to constantly replace slow-moving inventory with new work. And everyone wanted my cheapest least expensive work, which was truly disheartening.

As more and more old inventory was returned, as sales fell, it was harder and harder for me to go to my studio and make new work. Old work was all around me. “Why bother?” I thought. “Nobody wants it.”

Slowly, the economy recovered, although many of those national accounts did not. I focused on more local resources, and maintained some degree of success.

Then we moved to California, leaving my biggest audience and events behind. (The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craft Fair, and my open studio events, which took about three years to really take off.)

Growing an audience here in California felt like ‘starting over’, until I realized I wasn’t starting over from scratch. I knew I had more experience, more skills, and more insights than when I first started out.

And yet it does take time to introduce our work to a new audience, and it has.

Then we had the wildfire in 2018. And 2019. My open studios tanked, as events were curtailed and postponed. And then, just as our open studio tour committees were in talks about how to work around wildfire season, the coronavirus lifted its knobby little head. All events have been postponed indefinitely. All my galleries here in Sonoma County, and New Hampshire are closed. One went out of business and returned a sh…  a lot of work.

My studio is now filled with inventory. And that old feeling of “Why do I even bother?” filled my days. (Then the kidney stone thing, but that’s resolved, thank goodness! 22 DAYS!! Sheesh…)

Soon I had more inventory in my studio than ever. And for a week, I struggled to make anything, because, “Why bother??”

Then a small miracle happened here.

The first was my husband offering me his old sound-cancelling headphones, so I could listen to music on my smartphone. I have a CD player, but playing it loud enough so I can hear it means it could impact my neighbors. Because I can hear THEIR music, and it distracts me. Plus I have to constantly hit the replay button. Ear buds hurt my ears, and don’t give me the best sound quality, either. And I can’t work efficiently to music with words. ) (I know, I’m weird!) And I hate hearing other people talking in their studios, the studios on the floor above me, and next to mine.

Second, I discovered a composer/musician, Poppy Ackroyd, whose music is a perfect fit for me. Her three-song sampler from her album, Feathers, was the perfect choice. It plays over and over, the tunes are hypnotic. Suddenly, my production was in overdrive.

Even when my health issues disrupted my new routine, it only took a week or so to find my happy place.

Happy place.

Happy Place!

My sacred creative space is now my happy place. Being ‘in the zone’ brings peace, and clarity. I work for hours, barely conscious of time passing. It feels wonderful!

This is old hat for many of you, if you follow my blog. Or articles here on Fine Art Views.

I do the work I do, make it the way I do, because it makes me happy. It brings peace in my mind, and in my heart. My space is MY space, not shared with anyone, unless I let them in for a visit or a conversation. (Not now, of course!)

My studio, and my art-making, is where I am restored to my highest, best self, every day.

When I first started my little biz, it was with the realization that NOT MAKING was killing me, emotionally, spiritually. Realizing I had to make work that lifted me first. It was the realization that if one person in a million loved my work, that was enough.

With that insight came incredible focus, a desire to be the best I could be, and the determination to learn everything I could about marketing and selling my work. Sales are good, yes. But mostly, I wanted my artwork out in the world, where anyone could see it.

With that determination came a powerful artist statement, one I still use after 25 years. The insight that the Lascaux Cave paintings weren’t created to ‘make money’ or ‘gain celebrity’ helped. One person scoffed at my story, saying, “Those paintings were about SURVIVAL, nothing more!” To which I replied, “So is a cathedral.”

That’s why getting to the “why” behind our work is so important. It’s a superpower!

Because if we focus on money, and sales, and fame, and prestige, all of which are desirable and “not evil” in their own right, it can be devastating when we don’t have them.

If we measure our success in terms of our sales, it can subtly erode the joy we get simply from “the making”.

And in times like these, where everybody is suffering, afraid, feeling alone and unconnected, having access to simply making our art and sharing it is a powerful force for good in our lives.

Here’s another gift in keeping with the making.

Sales in my Etsy shop have tripled. Custom orders appear out of nowhere.*

I’m still struggling, financially, but that’s not new. What is astonishing, is that, for now, there are people in the world more determined than ever to have my art in their homes, in their lives.

In ancient times, shamans were healers, teachers, and artists. They were charged with keeping their people whole in every way. Cave paintings were created with the entire community present: Men, women, children. And we know now that many of those shamans were women.

In these modern times, we can be shamans, too.

Making our work for the right reasons—to restore ourselves to our highest, best place—heals us. Then we share it with the world: It heals others. And by encouraging others to find their own creative work, we teach them the value of what they do.

Hard times come in all shapes and sizes, from personal health to worldwide pandemics. Hard times are always with us: Pain. Grief. Sorrow. Injustice. Anger. Resentment. Lost. Alone.

When, on top of that, we lose any measure of our financial success, it can feel like the final straw.

Yet all creative work helps us heal, from painting to singing, from RomCom movies to tap dancing, from a good book to computer games. All can help us relax, enjoy, distance, hunker down safely, make us laugh, help us connect (virtually for now), calm us down.

The world needs our art more than ever.

If you’ve found a great way to stay centered in your creative practice, share it in the comment section below.  When you share with your comments, you may help someone else who needs to hear it. (Ironically, on Fine Art Views, it’s below the ad for “Sell Your Work Like a Pro!) (Although I will say that FASO is one of the most awesome web-hosting sites I’ve ever seen, with a lot of good people working hard every day to help us earn some bucks from our creative work.*) (And “Like a Pro” means “the best way possible, with integrity.)

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!

*These sales came from a FASO feature I was unaware of. If I post new work in my Gallery section, my email subscribers get an automatic update! Check it out here!

 

ICE AND SKY

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

Ice and Sky

ICE AND SKY   

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

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

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

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

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

We are all walking on thin ice, every day.

We just don’t know it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We could fall through any second.

It’s terrifying.

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

And yet, we can’t live like that.

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

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

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

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

Should we listen to our lizard brain more?

That doesn’t work.

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

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

And yet…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It took my breath away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(11 minute read)

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

We’re on the home stretch!

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

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

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

My art is not for everyone.

And neither is my writing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1)    The don’t like your art; or

2)    They don’t like you; or

3)    Both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OTHER PEOPLE ARE LISTENING.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THEY ASK A QUESTION.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s my daughter’s.

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

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

And here is the “spoiler” from that column:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

The month before my grandfather died, I came home from college for some family function. I don’t remember what it was. It may well have been his birthday. I remember it was a special occasion, and a happy one. It was held at a farm, I don’t know whose.

I remember a sunny, beautiful day, an old and unfamiliar farmhouse, a crowd of people, many relatives, many others who were strangers to me.

My grandfather, as usual, was apart from all the others, more emotionally than physically. I always see him this way in my mind: Silent, sitting quietly, apart, gazing on the activity around him, but not of it. Somewhat interested, but not especially so. (He’d suffered a stroke many years before.)

If you sat by him long enough, he would gasp a sudden remark, gruffly, but with polite interest. How was school? What was my major? After hearing a response, he would settle back into himself until moved by convention to make another comment.

It wasn’t until many years later, after he died, that I finally learned the real reason for this sadness and apart-ness I always felt in him. I always thought he was an especially wise and profound man, lost in his deep thoughts, until overwhelmed by the chatter and chirping of the rest of us, he would rouse himself to be a good sport, and join in. Until more weighty matters pulled him back into his rich inner world.

I always thought that if I could say the right words, ask the right questions, he would suddenly open up and include me into that head world of….what?

Now I know he was an ill man, not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. He was diagnosed as manic-depressive, and the source of much pain and anguish in his family.

Time, and distance, old age, had softened many rough and bitter edges, but the sadness and solitude I sensed was a bitter one, not bitter-sweet. (Years later, my mother said she believed she was his “favorite”, and was always good to her. Not so much with my grandmother or the other four aunts and uncles.)

That day, though, he was simply my grandfather. I was feeling grown-up and socially “apt”. I remember chatting with him often, trying for and getting little smiles and a chuckle or two from him.

I remember a beautiful day, a cake, a crowd of people (some familiar and some strange.) I remember feeling part of a celebration, and part of a family.

Less than a month later, he was dead.

The call came from my mother, with the news. She told me the date of the funeral, and expected me home again.

I was a sophomore or junior at the University of Michigan, almost 3 hours away. (After they raised the speed limit, it became 2.5 hours.) I didn’t have a car. I usually snagged a ride from friends at college to travel home for holidays and break. No public transportation, of course. So getting home on my own was hard.

It was also my very first funeral, and I dreaded it.

I wasn’t very grown-up, emotionally. I think I was so self-centered that my thought was for my loss of my grandfather, rather than thinking of my mother’s loss of her father. I wasn’t grown-up enough to realize how much it would mean to my mother and to my beloved grandmother to be at the funeral.

I just wanted to remember him as I had seen him just a few weeks before: Sad, apart, yet more bouyant than usual. It seemed important to remember him that way, to remember happier times. I was afraid to see him dead, to realize I would never know what noble ideas he had, what secret thoughts he pondered. I was afraid to see my grandmother cry.

Somehow, I made it home. I remember very little except my mother’s anger.

For years, I could not remember what I did to bring this on me, I only remember I had done something thoughtless, something terribly wrong.

I remember how still my grandpa was in the coffin, like clay or soft stone.

My mother was angry, so angry she didn’t speak to me the rest of my time home. She yelled about what I’d done that had angered her, then her silence was like a stone.

Both of them seemed as far away from me as a star, cold remote, silent.

After the service, we went back to my grandma’s house. My Aunt Lou, my mother’s youngest sister, sat down on the sofa next to me. I loved my Aunt Lou. She was always kind to me. To everyone, in fact.

We talked about little things, nothing important. As we talked, she sat with her arm around my shoulder. She began to stroke my hair gently, pushing it back behind my ears, over and over. It felt wonderful. I was so miserable I thought my heart would break.

She asked if I liked my hair being stroked, and I whispered, “Yes.” “None of my girls do,” she murmured. “They tell me it bugs them. Grandma Paxton used to hold us when we were little girls and stroke our hair behind our ears. We loved it so much. I always thought I would do it for my girls, but they don’t like it.”

I remembered that when I was little, my mother stroked my hair like that. But not for years now. I wished she would do it then.

My grandfather had been dead for over 25 years when I got a phone call from my mom. (And now it’s 22 years that!) As usual, we chatted, keeping it light. Suddenly, she mentioned my grandfather’s funeral.

We had never talked about what happened. (We never did, about anything.)

She had been talking with a good friend about the funeral, and mentioned that she had been furious with me because I hadn’t worn a dress to the funeral.

I was stunned.

I didn’t even own a dress when I was in college.

“Did I wear jeans?” I asked cautiously, trying to remember what major faux pas I may have made.

“Oh, no!” she said brightly. “You wore a very nice pair of dress slacks.)

I couldn’t think of anything to say. (I did make a mental note that I should always wear a dress to any future funerals.)

I didn’t want to make the silence uncomfortable for my mother, so I said apologetically, “I guess that was kinda rude of me.”

“Oh, no!” she said again, brightly. “My friend said I should have been thrilled that you came at all, because so many kids your age wouldn’t have.”

When my fierce daughter flares up at me, I’m overwhelmed by my anger. Hers flames mine. I think harsh words which frighten me. I force my jaw closed, to hold back the bitter words which bite forever.

My anger is a chasm. We stand on opposite sides, and gaze at each other, remote, apart.

My hands yearn to stroke her hair, and touch her sweet face.

N.B. I wrote this when my daugher was nine. I was lucky. I began to realize my anger came from taking my daughter’s preadolescence angst personally. Once I set that aside, I always tried to meet her where she was. We made peace with each other. Forever, I hope. I’ve learned so much from her, in so many ways.

I am in awe of her.

And yes, that was as close to an apology as I ever got from my mom. She died early in 2018, after living with coginitive decline for about a decade, and my father died six months later.

And another N.B. Thank you (Susan D!) to those who pointed out all my typos! As I was writing this, a few family members were bugging me to let them use my computer, and I went too fast!!  :^)

 

 

THE GIFT OF RISK: Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone Has Its Own Rewards

Rewards, Insight, Setbacks, and …K…K….courage, all this can be yours!
painted medallions
Painting on glass for an out-of-my-comfort-zone book project ultimately led to this new body of work.

As I typed the title to this column, I realized I almost had an acronym! But I couldn’t think of a “k” word except “kindness”. Maybe spell “courage” with a k??? Aw, what the heck, let’s put both in there!

Last week, I shared my story about “luck”, and how we can make ourselves ‘luckier’.  I told how setting aside my expectations of being paid for everything I do opened doors I never even knew were there.

I shared the rewards of that risk, which expand even into today:

  • I had my work published and made visible before the internet made that easy.
  • I created fun projects that not only were well-paid, but upped my own skill set: Using vintage buttons to make distinctive jewelry. Painting on glass, which (I only realized after writing that article) paved the way for a new series of work. I’m painting cave art images on my handmade faux ivory medallions.
  • I wrote and illustrated the first mass-market craft book on carving soft vinyl stamps.
  • I met amazing people, who were a powerful, wonderful presence in my life for years. And I continue to do so! (It turns out our dentist here in California pulled out her stamp carving book to make her annual handmade holiday cards, saw my name on the cover, and realized I was her patient!) (Yes, I autographed her copy.)
  • I’ve bought old copies of my book (which is now out of print) to sell to students who take my stamp-carving classes.

Another big reward from taking a risk deserves its own list: Insight.

  • We cannot control everything in life. Not even close! But “nothing ventured, nothing gained” is a powerful insight. Here’s my favorite joke about that, but be forewarned, there’s a naughty word in there!
  • If you look back to my previous article, where two Mary’s had vastly different lives, then you will understand the power of ‘framing’, what we pay attention to and what we choose to let go of.
  • I found out what works and what doesn’t work, when it comes to choosing shows. I have respect for the wisdom of “never do a first-year show”….!
  • Not all rewards in life are about money.
  • It takes courage to pursue your dream, patience for it to build into something profitable, and a sense of self-worth to keep it somewhere in your life, even if it doesn’t work as your paying job.
  • There will always be people who will be uplifted by our work—professionally, emotionally, spiritually.

Now for the downside: Setbacks!

  • Not everyone is your friend. There will always be people who are deeply threatened by us, and our work. It’s taking less time for me to suss them out, thank goodness! (Thank you, The Nibble Theory!)
  • Not all shows are as well-managed as others. After all, show organizers/promoters make money on a show even if vendor sales are awful. (Of course, they can’t continue to be successful if their vendors aren’t. Still, there are always people like me who are willing to try….)
  • Hard financial times (9/11, war in the Middle East, the dot.com crash, the stock market crash of 2008, etc.) are especially hard on art and fine craft markets. Art is considered a luxury, not a need. (Debatable, of course) It can feel very personal, like ‘we are doing it wrong’. Many, many people in the industry—artists, craftspeople, show runners, galleries, etc.—suffered mightily in those years, and many never recovered. Many folks took wild chances, shifted strategies, tried desperately to hang on, where sometimes just hunkering down and waiting out the storm made more sense.

The danger of setbacks is, it’s all too easy to give them a major role in our decision-making. Once burned, twice shy, etc. Yes, it’s simply good sense not to keep sticking your hand in the fire.

Otoh (on the other hand), not all failures are useless. As good ol’ Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So here’s that word again: Courage! (I almost went off on a bunch of metaphors based on Tennyson’s poetry, but I spared you. You’re welcome!)

Courage was a relatively new concept for me, as a child. Oh, I had exercised it a few times as a young adult, but always in pursuit of a dream. Going back to school, getting a teaching degree, even traveling across the country looking for work in the 1980’s recession.

But when I took up my art in my forties, I exercised courage in a sustained manner for years, viewing each setback as a valuable lesson learned, and always, always continuing to move forward. Even moving across the country in our 60’s was a monumental act of courage. Sometimes I’m still surprised we did it, though I don’t regret it for a minute. (Well. A few minutes….)

It takes courage for me to write these articles. I get paid a nominal sum, far less than when I wrote for magazines even 15 years ago. But though it doesn’t bring in a big income, it fills my need to share what I’ve learned, and expands my audience weekly. (Thank you, faithful readers!!!)

In fact, all my writing comes from sticking with it, even when it felt like nobody cared. Because…

It mattered to me.

It’s a risk. When I put my work/words out there, I want them to serve someone else as it served me. I hope it reaches someone who needs to hear that story, today. I’m delighted when people say it did. I love it when people pass it on to someone else, who may also need to hear it.

And yet, there are setbacks, too. There is always someone who thinks we’re “doing it wrong”, and they never overlook a chance to let us know that.  There are people who are offended by my titles, fercryin’outloud.  There are those who believe there is nothing worth doing for free, and those who believe my writing is toxic.

Still, I persist.

And now, here comes kindness….

My art, and my writing, have taught me to practice kindness even…or especially… to the naysayers, the contradicters, the folks who seem to be looking for a fight.

It felt impossible at first. It’s obvious my work is not for them, and that’s okay. The kind thing to do, of course, is for them to simply stop reading, or to delete it, or move on to the next studio on the tour.

But I’m learning. Like the people who call pastels “just chalk”, or the people who claim fiber is not an art medium, etc. they are where they choose to be. Yep, maybe even doing the best they can.

By responding with as much kindness as I can muster, I can let go. I am restored to the person I want to be in the world. My risk—putting my work out there to be criticized or ridiculed, is offset by the knowledge someone else is grateful I did take that risk.

And that makes it all worthwhile.

In the end, the choice is ours. We can play it safe. We can avoid risks, ditch change, never step outside our comfort zone.

It’s up to you. I can’t even pretend to think I know better than you. As I always say, if this doesn’t work for you, don’t do it!

I can only share what’s lifted my heart, write what’s helped me move forward, what restores me to my better self.

What risk have you taken that’s moved you forward? What did you learn when it didn’t work out? Remember, both are valuable, and both are worth sharing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not everything has a happy ending.

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

The trick is in how we tell our story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whatever works for you, embrace it.

Be the hero of your own story.

Tell the story only you can tell.

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

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

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

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: You Can Be Focused, You Can Be Diverse, It’s All Good!

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: You Can Be Focused, You Can Be Diverse, It’s All Good!

Topics: advice for artists | creativity | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | originality

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.

Luann Udell shared how to be focused and diverse in your art career
Luann Udell shared how to be focused and diverse in your art career

You get to choose what you do, how you do it, how many things you do, and you can change it whenever you’re ready.

When the young art students came to my studio, most of them were still in the exploring stage of art-making. Some already felt “more comfortable” with a specific media, but most were trying this and that, and some hadn’t found what really felt right.

That’s normal! I encouraged them to keep exploring. This stage could take a few years, it could take a decade, it might take more than that. Maybe…..for the rest of their lives!

I think some of them were a little surprised by that. It seemed that some were already feeling the pressure to pick “just one thing” or “just one process” (painting, for example, or drawing, etc.) (It may have been more societal pressure than pressure from their teachers.)

I told them, “If you’ve already figured that out, good on you! But if you haven’t, that’s normal, too. These are the perfect years to explore and experiment. In fact, you might incorporate “new and different” for the rest of your life! And that’s okay.”

Focus is a good thing, of course. When we push all our efforts in one direction, into one medium or process, we can make enormous strides in our skill set.

But that’s not the only way to be a “real artist”. And when people tell us it IS the only way, and we don’t want to do it that “one right way”, it can feel soul-crushing.

Years ago, I attended a seminar with a well-known speaker who created a series of workshops about all kinds of artist/maker issues: How to market our work, how to display it at shows and in galleries, how to talk with customers, etc. All excellent information, garnered not only from their own career as a maker, but from dozens of others who shared their insights with him.

When it was my turn to ask a question, I started to frame my body of work: “So I do jewelry, fiber work, and printing, and I’d like to know…..”

They interrupted me mid-sentence: “FOCUS!!!!”

The whole room erupted into laughter, and I was humiliated. The speaker went on to explain that “certain clueless craftspeople” get into doing everything: “I raise the sheep, I shear the sheep, I spin the wool, I dye the yarn, I make the pattern, I knit the sweater….” They end up with a product that can’t be reasonably priced, and then wonder why their work doesn’t sell. The speaker moved on to the next person.

That wasn’t my problem, and I was pretty peeved. Afterwards, I went up to ask for clarification, and they apologized. “I wanted to make an example of you, because that comes up all the time! But I see now that isn’t what you were sharing, and I’m sorry.”

There’s a lesson there: Don’t make assumptions about the “stupid questions” people ask us. (As in, “How long did it take you to make that?” “It took me thirty years to make!”) (Yes, there are a dozen better ways to answer that question without making a joke at that potential customer’s expense!)

“Lack of focus” was not an issue for me. I already knew I was “doing it right”, FOR ME. I was perfectly comfortable with my multi-media choices, because I had a powerful story that united them. From the very beginning of my art career, people could recognize my distinctive style, use of color, and use of artifacts, even in the different ways I staged them.)

I wanted to know how to approach the top retail shows in the country that, typically, demanded I pick ONE medium to apply in. And usually my jewelry wouldn’t be accepted, because it’s a dense medium at high-end fine craft shows. Often half the applicants are jewelers! I wanted help figuring out how to get out of the “box” most shows and exhibits want to put us creatives in.

(I never solved that, but finally figured out ways around it.)

Nowadays, whenever I ask people about their creative work, I get a wonderful variety of answers. But the ones where I sense folks feel the most embarrassment is when they haven’t focused completely on “just one thing”.

“Oh, I’m not a real artist! I love oil painting, but I’ve also enjoy watercolor and pastels, and I’ve taken clay workshops and loved it, and I want to….” And then they sort of trail off, waiting for me to tell them to “focus”.

I refuse.

I ask them what their goals are, and listen. Unless they feel “held back” by their free choices, I almost always tell them to embrace their path.

From their reaction, I’m guessing no one has ever told them that’s okay. Which is sad.

Some of us know the medium that speaks to us. We leap into with all our heart, and pursue it, perfecting our skills, finessing our techniques, perhaps (hopefully!) even receiving recognition and acclaim for our work.

Others, like me, take longer to figure it out. We try different things, or keep up with several things, until we find our way through.

For me, I did fiber work for years: Cross-stitching (easy!), then embroidery (harder!), then quilting (so much time!!), getting smaller and freer and focusing on making something that looked aged and worn. I got to the point where I rarely bought new fabrics, and instead scrounged yard sales, thrift stores, and antique shops for unusual, vintage, and antique fabrics, and well-worn clothing. Eventually, when I couldn’t find what I wanted, I began to over-dye my own fabrics, and even carved my own stamps to print fabric.

When my kids were born, I knit them sweaters. (Hey, it’s faster to knit for a little kid than an adult, and they’re a lot less fussy about how it fits!) (But you also have to work fast, or they’ll grow out of whatever you’re making for them….)

Eventually, I was frustrated trying to find the perfect buttons for those sweaters, and so I began to make my own.

I couldn’t afford expensive jewelry, didn’t like much of it anyway. I loved the look of old pieces. I started buying broken or out-of-date bits and pieces, restringing them or salvaging the beads for other projects. One year, I was accepted into an exhibit for art quilts, and forgot to read the fine print: Beadwork was required. So I “explained” that the beads I used were too tiny to be seen in the photograph, and frantically added seed beadwork to the finished pieces. (I won a Judges’ Choice Award!)

And I also began using those sweater buttons as embellishments on my art quilts.

Are you sensing an epiphany here? It’s coming!

Until the day came where I stepped up to the plate with my “mom crafts” and found my powerful story, where I found my place in the world as an artist.

All those “little crafty things” I’d been doing for years all came together to make something different. Something unique. Something that became my signature, so that now, people who are familiar with my work, can spot it in almost any form.

If I had “found my perfect medium” all those years ago, I would not be making the work I do today.

Would I be better off? How do I know? We choose a path, and our story is changed forever. I don’t regret my “aimless wanderings” that eventually brought me the work I love with all my heart. I choose to celebrate the skills and insights I gained along the way.

Some of us will “do it right”, focusing on a specific medium and style. Some of us will explore, constantly adding, tweaking, mixing it up. And some may never “settle” into one or two things. They will explore, and experiment, and dabble for the rest of their lives.

My question for them: Are you happy with that?

Because if you are, that’s all that matters.

What matters, first and foremost, is that our work brings us joy.

Oh, not 24/7. I get that. Sometimes things just don’t click, or we get tired of the same ol’ same ol’. (Usually we get our happy back, though!) And if we want to get really, really good at something, we have to put in the time and the work.

Some people pursue one style, or medium, and then walk away from it and pursue something else. That’s okay, too.

And some of us find total joy in the new, the experimenting. Some people only make art when they take classes. Which, I tell them, is really smart! If you can’t make time for your art, then taking a class is an excellent way to set aside the time (to go to class), to experiment (with all the tools and expertise provided by the teacher that you’ll need) and come home with something you love (because you had the chance to actually finish it!)

In our modern times, art is both a necessity (for our emotional/spiritual health) and a luxury (we can all choose what, when, how, and why we “make”). We get to choose how we fit it into our lives, we get to decide whether it’s our “one thing”, our “main thing”, or our “fun thing”.

Somewhere along the line, the word “amateur” (which means doing something because you love it, whether we make money at it or not) became a hugely judge-y thing: “Oh, you’re not a professional, you’re just an amateur!”

In reality, “amateur”, “vocational”, and “avocational” are all on the same spectrum. We do it because we love it, and it supports us, financially, and we do it as if it really were our profession- doing all the steps that a “true professional” artist would do, even if we don’t actually make a lot of money at it. And a few professionals actually step back from that stance, because they find the demands of catering to a market, and having to do the same thing, the same way, for the same people, actually saps some of the joy from our process. They find other ways to earn income, something they’re good at that pays well, and that they like or even love, yet keep their artwork in their life, on their own terms.

It’s all good.

Because when we accept all the reasons that show us we’re “doing it right”, the more art, the more beauty, the more joy there will be in the world.

So keep on keeping on, I told those kids. Do what you can. Do what you want. Do what you have to do. You get to choose.

Make it work for Y-O-U, finding your unique happy place in the world with your art.

The whole world is waiting to see “what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life…”*

*From “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver (1935-2019)

WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS:

There are many ways to be a force for good in the world!

I’ve met many creative people over the years. In fact, I might meet more than most other artists, because, a) I accept many ways of being “creative” in the world, and b) because I ask.

Ask what? Well, when new folks visit my studio for the first time, especially when they are still in the exploring/browsing stage (i.e., not actively looking to buy something), I often ask them, “What creative work do YOU do?

It breaks my heart when they protest they are not creative at all. Nope, not a creative bone in their body. Other people are artists, but not them.

When I tell them my definition of “creative” is pretty broad, that’s when the conversations really get interesting.

I explain that I can be a snoot about what is “real art”, too, but I prefer not to. “Shamans were healers, teachers, and artists,” I say. “So if you get joy from any activity that puts something in the world that wasn’t there before, and it makes other people’s lives better, too, well, then that is creative work, too!”

You should try this sometimes. The results are amazing!

People go from being apologetic and humble, to expanding (figuratively and literally.) They say, “Oh! Well then….” And stories come tumbling out.

There’s art, “fine art”, fine craft, functional craft, paper arts, etc. There are people who love the music arts (singing, composing, playing an instrument, dancing), dramatic arts (acting, writing plays, set designers, cinema), even comedy, mime, etc.

But there are also people who love to cook or bake. They take great pleasure in preparing a lovely meal and sharing it with family and friends. (By the way, baking is a lot harder to get right than cooking, especially when you are creating a new recipe. There’s science involved, just as tricky as creating glazes for ceramics.)

What about people who garden, or design landscapes, or arrange flowers, or work with dried flowers? (Yep, some of these are categories in the highly-respected fine crafts organization I still belong to in NH.) These are people who create something special for memorable occasions (weddings, funerals, Mother’s Day, etc.), or who make our neighborhoods, even our homes, look charming and lovely. It’s a lot harder than it looks (ask me how I know) to consider what blooms when, and how it coordinates or contrasts with other plants, whether it needs sun or shade, a dry climate or lots of rain, high maintenance or low. A beautiful plant can brighten someone’s hospital stay, or celebrate a birthday, or provide food for our family or the neighborhood.

What about healing? Some people just have a knack for getting to the heart of our aches and pains. They listen carefully, ask the right questions, and look for the best solution for us. They help us get better, they calm our fears and anger, they help us live our lives without pain, with clarity, without self-condemnation, and with better resources.

Then there’s nurturing. Some people are simply amazing with babies and youngsters, and whose care for the infirm or elderly makes a world of difference to those clients. We may not “see” them til we need them, and realize how grateful we should/could be.

Teaching can be an art. We’ve all had a teacher or two that made us wonder why they even bothered show up, who made our lives hell. And then there are those teachers whose grace and presence still echo throughout our lives, the teacher who believed in us when no one else did, who floored us with their kindness and attention, or pushed us harder to do better.

There are people who fix things and rebuild things, so that something we need to live our lives work better, last longer, and is more efficient. This becomes even more valuable in a world struggling with climate change and plastic debris, an instance where “less than” is actually a good thing.

What about the scientist who finds something unusual in that experiment, and ultimately finds a new medicine or treatment for millions of people who would otherwise live lives full of pain, disability, or mental anguish? If they save even a few people, how meaningful is their work? For those people, and their family and community, a lot. I started a list of other scientific life-saving and planet-healing stuff, but you get the idea.

Here’s why identifying these activities as “creative” is important:

I find when the person doesn’t do this work that means so much to them, it affects them deeply.

Sometimes it’s obvious. They seem wistful as they browse my studio. They tell a story about why they set that creative work aside. They “don’t have time”, or “it didn’t pay very well”, or “it isn’t ‘real art’”, or someone said they weren’t good at it. It seems like a luxury, something to be set aside when there are more important things to take care of. They miss it, but how can they justify the time and the energy when their lives are so full?

When that happens,I encourage them to do it anyway, however they can fit it into their life. After all, as some readers remind me, not every creative work we do can also earn us a living.

But as we talk, it’s very clear to me that they miss it. It brought them joy, it gave them energy, and now life just seems a little harder, a little crazier, a little more demanding.

They need to put it back in their life so they can live more fully, with a little joy and restoration to their higest, best self.

When I “decided” I wasn’t a “real” artist, there were other things that distracted me. But as I look back, they were creative work, too! Teaching, quilting, knitting, jewelry-making, all brought me a little comfort and joy through the years. It got me through, though, of course, “everything else” always came first: Childcare, housework, etc.

How did that work out for me? Well…it kept me in the look, until I chose to take it to a higher level. The quilting evolved into fiber collage. The buttons I started making (out of polymer clay) for my sweaters became horses, and fish, and bears. The jewelry-making got richer, better, and more uniquely my own. And teaching/sharing skills creates community.

I wish someone had told me there are a thousand ways to be an artist in our modern world, especially with all the new material, new techniques, and  new resources available to us.

I wish other people weren’t so quick to stick me in a box, either judging my worthiness on whether my work was art, or craft, or simply too different to be considered anything. (Let me tell you about my very first attempt to introduce a gallery to my wall hangings, when I was told my “design aesthetic was immature….”) (Let’s just leave it at how relieved I was years later, when reliable sources confirmed that person had “issues”….)

I wish all the boxes weren’t so “square” or so narrow. I remember the relief I felt when I applied for a major fine craft show. I called the show organizers when I couldn’t figure out what medium to check on the application. The person I spoke to said firmly, “I hate that, too! We should appreciate the artists who are SO creative, there’s no single category to put them into!” (I quit pursuing many of those shows because I would be juried in for one medium, but not the others, often excluding the one that generated the most sales: Jewelry.)

I asked the art students what their creative work was. At first I got the usual: “Painting!” “Graphite!” (Ha! What a great way to frame pencil drawing!)

But when I opened that door to a broader definition, one said, “I love baking!” They said it proudly, too! I rejoiced at that and told them so. They may also pursuit the more commonly-recognized forms of art-making. But they were reassured that whatever the work of their heart is, it deserves their attention and time.

There is something for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be what everyone else agrees is “real art”.

If it makes us a better person, if it makes the world a better place, if it gives even one person in the world joy, hope, and validity, well then, I believe that’s a good thing.

And I’m delighted these young people already know they are “doing it right.” I can’t wait to see what they do with their passion, and their skills.

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