Today’s column from my lastest series on creating your own artist support group.
Enjoy! (Click here if you’d like to see this at the Fine Art Views website and read the comments: THE FOUR QUESTIONS #3: The Power of Affirmations )
Need to just cry for a few moments?
Mary Gauthier’s heart-achingly simple and beautiful song “Mercy Now”. That violin! Tania Elizabeth nails it with sweetness and restraint.
It’s been a hard month so far. Family matters, hard and sad stuff with our kids, impossible to solve. “Nobody died”, has been our way of framing things for Jon and I over the past 30 years. Still hard. Health issues (I now have not one, but TWO inhalers). A runaway pet. (Of course, the one who panics once she gets outside, and figuratively goes crazy.) Listening to people blame those dealing with hardship on…guess what? The people going through those hardships.
Where is the kindness?
Many people confuse “nice” with “kind”. I’ve learned to tell the difference.
So I pulled up that video on YouTube and played it loud, three times in a row, this morning.
For the first time, I noticed its date: 09/09/10.
Nine years after 9/11. Two days before my birthday.
And yet, the lyrics could have been written today.
Today, I’m going to donate to three causes. One will be for immigrant children separated from their children at the border. (Of course, there should be mercy, too, for the immigrant woman who was denied entrance because even though her husband KILLED HER TWO CHILDREN, it’s been determined spousal abuse is not a valid reason for entrance.) And btw, I often sign up for very small monthly amounts. Even $5/month adds up.
Today, I’m going to mail presents to my kids. One will love them, one will resent my “pity”.
Today, I’m going to do some journaling, something I tend to forget now that I have a regular writing gig.
Today, I’m going to schedule horse therapy time. I thought the horse needed love and acceptance, & I’d being doing HIM a favor. Doesn’t work that way.
Today, I will look for every opportunity to be kind.
Today, I’m going to take exquisite care of myself. Because like so many others even less fortunate and privileged as I, I need some mercy now.
Take a tiny moment to say ‘thank you’, and count your blessings!
I’m an artist. And as an artist, my first responsibility is to make my art. It’s what restores me to my better self, makes me whole and centered. I make it for myself, first.
I know this first-hand, and many good friends remind me of this constantly. For example, the one who sent me a card with this quote:
People like you must create.
If you don’t create, Luann, you will become a menace to society.
(the note also says, “With apologies to Maria Semple, author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette”. See last paragraph in Part 3.”) (Thanks and a hat tip to Amy Helen Johnson!) (Yes, I bought the book.)
Our second responsibility is to put it out in the world. We mostly interpret this as selling our art, and making a living with our art. Some fortunate, hardworking few can do this. But walking away from the work of our heart, simply because we can’t sell it, is hurtful. (See “first responsibility”, above.)
There are lots of ways to get our work out into the world. If you make art, you can make it, share it, give it away, sell it, exhibit it, teach it, collaborate with it, write about it, donate it, etc. etc. The same with writing. The internet makes this almost effortless.
Yes, selling is wonderful–unless you get caught up in the selling, to the exclusion of everything else. Vincent Van Gogh’s work was only sold to his brother. (Do you have 3 minutes? Watch this heartbreakingly powerful snippet of a video about this.) (I dare you not to tear up.) And ironically, the most commercially successful artist of our time seems to have lost everything of value in a life dedicated to fame and fortune.
Somerwhere in the middle is where I’d like to end up.
So I recently stepped up my game in regard to selling. This came after realizing I was struggling to sell a $24 pair of earrings to a casual visitor in my studio. Realizing that one gallery hadn’t sold one single piece of my work in a year. Reflecting that most of my out-of-state galleries were struggling to sell my work. A local gallery that reached out to represent me, finally said they love love love my work (another line that’s fun, but not my “heart” work) just wasn’t selling, and they needed to set me free.
I felt like a failure. (Hey! 2017 was a weird year!)
Then I realized, why should I focus on making $24 earrings??? Why should I base my definition of success on income alone? Why was I falling for the same emotional/spiritual/inaccurate measuring stick I constantly counsel and warn artists against????
So…I upped my game.
I cleared my studio of the fun-but-inexpensive work, focused on the work of my heart.
I realized that just because I’m now writing weekly for an art marketing newsletter doesn’t mean I’m off the hook with my blog.
I reevaluated, recentered, and refocused on my biggest vision for my art. And I cleaned house on my Etsy site, and focused on the work I have on hand, my best work, and moved forward.
I decided to make the work that makes me happy, and not the work I think I can sell.
Another gallery in the same town as the one that cut me loose, took on my work two weeks. And they’ve already made a sale.
The gallery in Santa Rosa has been selling steadily, and it just keeps getting better and better.
A gallery that hadn’t sold any of my work in a year, sold a MAJOR PIECE. And another big (for me) piece the same day.
And I’ve had five sales in my Etsy shop this month. (A lot for me!)
But that’s not all. Every single sale has resulted in a message from the buyer, telling me how much they love love love what I do, how it speaks to them, and how even more amazing it is in person.
Today I got home to a beautiful email from a delighted buyer. I always respond, with gratitude and joy.
But because I’m human, because I’m afraid to be too happy, afraid to be too hopeful, I tend to respond well outside. But inside, I hold back. Thinking, “Well, that’s great, but…..” “Don’t get a swelled head, because…..” “Don’t get your hopes up because…..”
But this time, I read that email. And something told me….
Be in this moment.
Embrace this moment. Stop and celebrate it.
This moment is the blessing, the extra gift, that comes for making my work and getting it out into the world.
Take note of this moment.
I remembered, decades ago, a wise woman I crossed paths with, who shared a powerful insight with me.
When we really want something, she said, there is a centering, empowering way to ask.
Stand up, head bowed, humbly. Think of what your heart desires. Breathe in, breathe out. Then stand tall. Expand.
Raise your head, open your arms, and hands. Look to the heavens above.
And simply ask, with all your heart, what it is you desire.
The very first time I did this, I was in an antique store. I’d been looking for years for a wonderful book that was long out of print. (This was years before I finally discovered Bookfinder.com, the absolute best tool for finding any book in the world.)
I thought, what the heck? I did the mantra.
And when I was done, I look up. I saw a bookcase in the booth across the room. I walked to it.
And I found the book.*
So today, before I could diminish my joy, before I could “be logical” about my delight in this sale, and this email note from my buyer, I decided to take a moment to celebrate.
I did my little ceremony.
But instead of asking for anything, I simply said….
In these days of “Be careful what you wish for”, in these days of “Yeah, but….”, in these days of, as Anne Lamott succinctly put it, “…compar(ing) our insides to other people’s outsides”, in these days of internet fame and viral prodigies, in these days of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), in these days of wondering, “Will I ever be a successful artist?”, without ever stopping to think of what “success” means to YOU….
Take a minute to give thanks.
To count your blessings.
To feel the full joy of having a voice in the world.
And the unexpected delight of having someone else hearing your song.
Now…go to your studio and make stuff.
*David and the Phoenix (Illustrated) by Edward Ormondroyd, if you want to know, and it’s been reprinted since then.
(OH, and you can see my Etsy shop here.)
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.
Journaling serves this purpose for me, especially when I’m in a hard place. It’s a way to get the buzzy voice out of my head, and down on paper, where it’s easier to test my assumptions. Are things really that bad? Is the situation permanent? Is it something I can fix, or something I can simply let go for now? Is there someone who can offer me another point of view? Or someone I can ‘triangulate’ with, someone who will confirm my perception, yet (or ‘and so’) offer me guidance?
There are a million reasons why you can’t/shouldn’t/won’t make your art visible in the world. There’s one reason worth your life, why you have to.
I’ve have many dreams for my art over the years. Some involved artistic vision. Some involved recognition, respect, and kudos. Some involved financial rewards. Some were only for me and my sanity, my vanity, and my little rabbit heart’s yearning.
Some have been achieved. Many probably never will be. Some are still in progress.
Some I never even imagined, until they came appeared, on their own, exclaiming, “Hey, you forgot ME!!”
We all hold dreams for our the creative work we do, whether we work with words, music, paint, stone, polymer clay, gold, clay, or glass.
It’s when we try to make them present in the world that we run into trouble.
I’ve encountered so many creative people lately, strong, intelligent, gifted people, who, quite frankly, have their head up their respective asses. (In all fairness, I can add myself to that list.) Filled with self-doubt, physical/emotional/mental/spiritual/temporary and permanent setbacks, they struggle to have even an iota of their creative potential in their life.
“When I have the perfect training/situation/schedule/studio/work place/support group/guaranteed income/show/companion/gallery/social media skills/presentation/experience/audience/community/website/skills/whatever-in-god’s- name-you-think-you-need-to-create in my life, then I’ll exercise my creative talent!”
This is beginning to sound like the SCOTUS nomination and Congress situation. There is just no work-around when you have so many conditions on how–and when–your creative self will engage with the world.
It’s easy to buy into these situations: When can I call myself an artist? How will I make a living with my creative gifts? Who will buy it?? What is a successful artist? Am I good enough to be an artist? These are just a handful of the mind-numbing and soul-petrifying doubts and questions that block so many of us from doing what we love to do.
I’ve been writing about this since my very very first blog post in 2002. I’ve felt all of these ‘conditions’ and ‘restrictions’ personally, too. Examining my own caustic beliefs, working through them, and sharing that process with you, is a huge part of my own creative process. Sometimes I wonder if the only reason I was born with an artistic gift, is so I could write and share this with you.
It’s so incredibly hard, for so many people, to hear my message over the little nagging voices in their own heads, I often can’t break through. (I’m learning that people can’t hear me until they are ready to hear me. Which helps me keep trying when I feel discouraged.)
So here’s one of my all-time favorite comic strips that explains, as only humor can, why the world needs your art. And why YOU need your art in the world… And why it doesn’t matter how much of it you put in the world, or how much money you make with it, why it doesn’t matter if it’s your vocation, your avocation, or your career, why it doesn’t matter how many people ‘like’ it (literally and figurative, thank you Facebook!), nor why it even matters if I like it or not….
In this Sally Forth cartoon panel from February 5, 2015, Ted is talking to his daughter Hilary, ten years in the future, about the real importance of her creative endeavors:
Hil, do you know why people play music? Or draw or sing or do stand-up or create?
Becauxe it’s through their art they can interpret the world. And it’s through their art they can add their ideas to the world. It’s not about having an audience, it’s about having a voice.
And if you don’t pursue your art, you may lose that great opportunity to have your say.
(And for a small reality check that every parent will recognize, Hilary replies, “Is this the very level of understanding why you never flinch when I ask for money?”)
Ponder that for a bit today.
Remember: I’m not telling you to give up your day job. I’m not telling you to sign up for American Idol. I’m not telling you what “real” art is, I’m not telling you how often or when you should make it, I’m not telling how you should do it, I’m not saying you should run off to Tahiti, abandoning your family, and lie on a beach somewhere with a umbrella drink in your hand. (Although, that sounds pretty cool, and Tahiti IS a magical place.)
And I’m not telling you it’s easy, or simple, or that there’s a right way to do it.
I’m saying you have a voice. You have just this one life to use it. And it’s NEVER TOO LATE to use it.
Okay, you have a job, a real job or role, one that you like, or even love, or a care-taking role, or anything else you simply do or have to do.
I say, you need the restoration, the sanity, the healing power you get by putting your own power out into the world, to support this other, vitally important work you do. (Think of your creative spirit as the gas you put in your car.) (Okay, the electricity you recharge you car with.)
Make room for it, even just a tiny bit of a room, in your life.
If not for yourself (although I firmly believe that’s the best reason in the world to do it), then do it for someone you love, someone else in the same boat, who holds the same fears and second-guessing and shame and despair that you do.*
Show them the real healing power of art.
Show them what it looks like.
*Yep, this is my super-sneaky strategy to encourage certain selfless folks to be a wee bit more self-ish. Did it work?
I spent three wonderful days last week, ‘helping’ on the lastest public art installation by mural artist Bud Snow (formerly of Santa Rosa, CA.)
I didn’t mean to. I just stopped by to say hello to this talented, amazing person, whose early work appears on a concrete ledge right outside my studio door. I was captivated the very first time I saw their images, on a grainary tower along Rte. 12, on storefronts and buildings, and this humble little ledge (which we saw the very first time we stopped in Santa Rosa at Atlas Coffee Company.)
We met, we fell in love with each other, and a wonderful friendship was born. And now Bud was back in town, painting a giant mandala about 100 feet from my front door (again!) in Santa Rosa’s beautiful, art-filled Julliard Park. My quick hello on Monday was met with, “Would you like to paint a bit?” “Would I?! Would I?!! Hell, yah!” I
shrieked said politely. And I painted for several hours. And again Tuesday (“I really can’t stay oh okay just for a few minutes”) for 6 hours. (I called Jon down to join me, and he said it was exhilarating, peaceful, therapeutic, and a million other good things.) And I was there for hours more on Wednesday, too.
This project was a little different for Bud. Usually the work is done high up, in otherwise inaccessible locations. Not much face time with the public, and they certainly can’t be a part of the process fifty feet off the ground. This was at ground level, in a popular park, near an elementary school, a small community of stores and shops and fancy restaurants, in the heart of Santa Rosa’s SOFA Arts District.
This meant people actually walked by the work-in-progress. It lay right at their feet! The responses were delightful to behold. Everybody–everybody— loved it. High school and college kids, longtime friends of Bud who stopped by to say hello, fellow artists, parents picking up their kids at the elementary school, people eating lunch, people walking home from work, people walking their dogs, people who hang out in the park who have no homes to go to, bicyclists, people using the bocce courts nearby, neighbors, passers-by, all ages, all genders, all races, all affiliations, all greeting the work with smiles and laughter.
And Bud met all of them with grace, and generosity, and an open heart. And asking them if they’d like to paint a bit. (Almost everyone said yes.)
It was magic.
And as people painted and chatted, the magic continued. Stories, musings, and wisdom were shared, unknown connections were revealed (some going back two or three generations, and across the country, and into Canada and Mexico.) Synchronicity abounded, resulting in gasps of breath and regular rounds of laughter.
Synchronicity involves authenticity, and Bud Snow has that in abundance. Pure creative spirit creates powerful connections, and the resulting art creates powerful connection, something we’ve practiced as a species even before the powerful and mysterious cave paintings were made tens of thousands of years ago.
This, to me, was the ultimate public art project. Because not only did the art beautify the space, and enriched those who see it, it brought together a mini-community of people to participate in the process. All of us who contributed even a brushstroke, or shared a story, or brought a gift (coffee, snacks, and other goodies) will feel part of this mandala for years to come. And because it’s a functional piece as well (you can actually walk this meditative piece), it will enrich others for decades to come.
Actually, this is even more incredible when you figure in the problematic consequences of this. Engaging constantly with the public, encouraging people to participate (very few said no!), setting them up to paint, and adding to the touch-up work needed to cover errant footprints (people, dogs), drips, and scuffs (because the design was complex, and mistakes were made) was also monumentally time-consuming. What was supposed to be a two-day project stretched to double, almost triple the time. Bud agonized about being over-budget and over-time. And yet Bud never let that show, not once. Bud was just as gracious and engaging to the people who showed up as we were trying to clean up, as the sun set, as the first visitors of the day. (A homeless man held a flashlight for us as we cleaned up the work station, and used his pocket knife to scrape away some of the more stubborn paint drips. SO EFFIN’ SWEET.)
I’m sharing one such gift today, courtesy of Tara Thompson, arts coordinator for the City of Santa Rosa, who showed up with many gifts (including painting!)
Tara showed up with items from a previous outreach/marketing project in Santa Rosa, called Out There in the Middle of Everything (Santa Rosa), a collaborative project with Santa Rosa residents to promote the overt and hidden wonders of Santa Rosa. She brought t-shirts and small booklets designed by Bud, and gave them to Bud.
My favorite was this t-shirt, a sort of treasure hunt for Santa Rosa:
Now, at first glance, I couldn’t read the ‘code’. And then…I could.
Oh! There’s SOFA! That’s the art district! And tool library–I knew what that was, too.
I knew two of the ‘secrets’ of Santa Rosa!
My friend Cory explained a few more that I actually knew, too. “Goat mornings” was having coffee at another popular coffee shop, The Flying Goat. “Snoopy E’rywhere”? The sculptures of characters from the comic strip PEANUTS, by Santa Rosa resident Charles Schulz, which you’ll find all over town.
Jon looked and said, “Hey, the Pen Guy! Is that the guy who’s glued Sharpie markers all over his car? I took a picture of that!” It was.
And here’s the biggest wonderful aspect of Bud Snow’s work:
I instantly felt a part of, a citizen of, Santa Rosa.
Jon and I moved a lot before we settled down in Keene, New Hampshire 28 years ago. I’m extremely aware of how much time can pass before you feel “at home” in a new place, before you feel yourself to be a real citizen of that place.
This t-shirt created that feeling, that connection in me immediately, after 18 months. (Keene took three years.)
I want Bud Snow to do this for other towns and communities. (I know, anyone could do it. But Bud created this, help an artist out here. There will be the distinctive flair of Bud Snow’s art and talent.)
Bud didn’t see the deep magic in this at first. “They asked me to make something that showed how special this city is,” Bud said. “I just listed a bunch of my favorite places in town. It’s no big deal!”
But it is.
In twenty minutes, half a dozen people connected, with their long (or brief) history in this city, with each other, with Bud. Another intimate, powerful, connective work of art, doing its job, doing it right.
Thank you, Tara Thompson, for the perfect gift, for Bud Snow, for all of us there that day. I’ve already bought two t-shirts from the city site’s online store. I’ll be buying a lot more in the years to come.
Thank you, Bud Snow, for being you. You are more than you know.
And thank you, Santa Rosa, our new home.