WayBack Whenever: That Small Voice Inside

Oh, dear. My intentions to republish some of my old RadioUserland blog posts seem to have fallen by the wayside….

No matter. When I run across one that still speaks to/for me, I’ll reprint ’em here. (And most of them do!) (Also, thanks to Karyl Shields, who alerted me that the links don’t go to the right content any longer. Fixed! Darn you, Internet!)

Still following that “little idea” and I’m finally making some progress!
Monday, March 28, 2005

THAT SMALL VOICE INSIDE

Amy Peters, silver jeweler to the stars and Queen of self-promotion, posted a fascinating link on a forum today called “Marketing for Introverts.” I can’t find the article but her book can be found here: Self-Promotion for Introverts. Nancy Ancowitz’s insights provided very manageable steps we can take to promote ourselves and our work, and I highly recommend her article.

While poking around her site, I found an article she was interviewed for that also caught my attention. It’s called “To Find A Path, Just Follow That Little Hint” by Patricia Kitchen:

Why did this article appeal to me so much? Because a journey begins with having a place to go. And if you don’t know where to go, how do you take that first step?

Kitchen’s premise is, most people wait for a “bolt from the blue” to indicate where our true heart’s desire lies. But it usually doesn’t happen that way. Instead, she says, we have to pay attention to that tiny little hint of something that captures our interest. And follow it.

As adults, we often find we’ve lost or muffled the instinct to follow our hearts. We don’t have the time or energy to try new things, or pursue a glimmer of an interest. We lose faith in our abilities and strengths, we forget our gifts.

Last week I invited a friend to a free self-defense workshop at the martial arts studio where I study kick-boxing. I asked her on a whim, thinking it would be fun for both of us. “Oh no,” she said, “I wouldn’t be any good at that!”

I was baffled. Why would you have to be good at something to try it out? Heaven knows I have no “knack” for marial arts. And who would expect you to be good at self-defense without learning or practicing it??

But I understood the mindset. It’s that fear of NOT being good at something, the fear of embarrassing yourself in front of others, the fear of making a mistake. It’s the fear of being caught doing something foolish, or the fear looking stupid. It can be the fear of not getting your money’s worth or the fear of wasting time. It can be as awful as the fear of finding out you are NOT talented, or special, or capable of being better.

That’s why it’s so important to “follow that hint” of something interesting, new and fun. Why it’s so important to allow yourself the teensiest little opportunity to try something different. Why it’s so important to simply be open to something that piques your interest.

And why it’s so important to listen to that quiet voice within yourself that says “why not?”

Because who knows where that could lead you?

Kitchen ends by stressing that you must take active steps to pursue that hint. Otherwise, it stays a dream and never becomes your reality.

Tiny hints…small voice…and daily little steps. All adding up to a big dream come true.

STORMY WEATHER (A Wayback Friday)

This is one of my all-time favorite blog posts, originally published on March 8, 2005. So many powerful memories! Bunster (who we found the perfect re-home for when we left New Hampshire, figuring a 12-year-old bunny would not travel well in a car with two dogs.) My daughter Robin, who wrote a poem for Lee.  Lee Filamonov, who died a few years later after I wrote this, a talented artist who lived with extreme mental health issues most of his life. Blizzards! And of course, the lessons learned along the way.

Enjoy!

My adorable Bunster, who was as feisty and bold as a cat!
STORMY WEATHER
I just found out another huge snowstorm is on its way. Tension is in the air. Snowstorms are “the New Hampshire way” here, more nuisance than anything. Schedules upended, plans unmade, no milk in the fridge. But secretly, I love it–the way you are forced to abandon the world’s demands, the way you have to hunker down with family and a good book and simply be at home.

Today my friend Lee visited me in my studio and we talked about art. I told him some of the fierce upheaval I’ve been feeling in my life lately. “I feel like I’m suddenly surrounded by people who want me to believe they are who they SAY they are. But I see what they DO, and I cannot believe them anymore.” I struggled on for a bit and finally, for lack of words, exclaimed, “I’m surrounded by liars!”

“Hell!” he said, “I have to LIVE with them!”

Point taken. At least I do not have to live with liars, and that’s a blessing.

I printed out a lovely poem my daughter has written about him, and gave it to him:

The Artist

I came to this country

in a year with no real numbers.

I wore my fur hat with pride.

I may have lost my teeth,

but never my dignity.

I have visitors here sometimes,

but they don’t come by

as often as they used to.

So I sit here, sketching

kaleidoscopic Russian princesses

with noble features and

holy backgrounds.

I paint red, for the Revolution.

And I use dead glass

to represent my own mind.

I walk in the cemetery,

feeding to squirrels the nuts

I can’t chew.

I write on the walls, and

they have threatened to paint over them,

but I know they won’t.

Everything I am, and ever have been

is on those walls.

Especially the shards of

glass.

By Robin Udell

Lee is so moved that he gives me a beautiful painting of his sister to give to Robin.

As we talk, I show him the book I’ve been rereading, “Art and Fear”. He grew impatient. “There are a million books written about art, and I’ve read them all. They will lose you in the woods. They are like a box of chocolates with one poisoned truffle. You eat them and eat them and they taste so good—but that poisoned one—watch out! It will get you! Quit reading them!”

But this one is different, I protest. It’s reassuring me about my fear.

“Quit reading about the fear!” he exclaimed. “Be ordinary! You are creative—make your art!” He bent over to stroke Bunster, and his voice became gentle again. “Be like your bunny. She’s fearful—but she has a place in this world…”

His words stunned me, weaving (as they always seem to) together a myriad loose strands in my life.

Months before in kickboxing, I was struggling with the moves. Too many injuries, too much weight. I’d jokingly suggested that my “animal hero” was the guinea pig—nervous and fearful, easily drop-kicked, chubby body with short legs and not able to jump very high—but I could NIBBLE my enemies to death. It got the laugh I was seeking and the tension relief I needed. My work-out partner and I have been mouthing “Be the guinea pig!” to each other when things get tough….

But I’ve been frustrated, too. I’ve now studied martial arts for over five years and constantly feel the limitations of my studies—both physical, and spiritual. I’m more afraid than ever in both arenas of my life. I’ve wondered if I’ve reached the limits of what this discipline can offer me.

Am I quitting if I give up? Will I find anything to replace it—the excitement, the challenge, the workout, the mental benefits?

And yet, in other ways, it’s not enough, and I’m through being patient, waiting for this ancient art to catch up to MY needs, as a woman and an artist in this dangerous world. I’m tired of learning how to square off for a fight in a bar. That’s not the scenerio where harm will come from.

So, if it’s too much and yet not nearly enough….What else could there be?

In the space of a few hours, I HAVE found other options. Suffice to say, small miracles have occurred. Other teachers, other opportunities have come forward. Permission. Acceptance. And perseverance.

Above all, indomitable spirit.

I am astonished at what has appeared in my life, so suddenly, so quietly, like the first few snowflakes of a winter storm.

WayBack Saturday! ARTISTIC LICENSE: Credentials, Degrees, Awards….and Passion

I had plenty of college, but that’s not where I learned how to be an artist.
This post was originally published on March 7, 2003. Still relevant, IMHO!

Artistic License

Recently, someone on a discussion forum I participate in posted a plea for help.  A show the artist had been accepted into was requesting the usual artist credentials: resume, artist bio, degrees, etc.  After “wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes”, the artist began to panic.  Her work is something she’s picked up late in life, she didn’t attend art school, she hasn’t exhibited before, and though her work is solid, she just doesn’t have the credentials.  What should she do?

Here was my advice:

It would be tempting to puff up the slim credentials you *do* have (remember the domestic engineers of the 1970’s?)  It’s wicked easy to get caught up in the credentialing thing, and to overlook what’s really important.  Our society seems to demand credentialing for everything.  But what are credentials *for*, anyway?

A resume, bio, list of exhibits and a stack of art degrees amount to paper affidavits, “proof” to the world that you have been educated in your art, you’ve paid your educational dues, and made the effort to get your work out there through exhibiting and shows.  There are some situations in life where this kind of proof is important and necessary.  We don’t want to have surgery by someone who “feels in touch with his inner surgeon” but hasn’t gone to med school.  Fortunately, being an artist does not require a license.  :^)

If you haven’t gone the “traditional” route of artist credentialing (sounds like a contradiction of terms to me), then you have to think of another way to present a cohesive, narrative story about the “who/what/when/where/why and how” of “you, the artist.”  Who you are, what you make, why do you make it, and how did you get to where you are now?  And the chance to add, where do you plan to go next?  And how serious are you about this whole thing, anyway??  That’s really all that the bio/degree/award/exhibit thing is trying to say, in a more “official” format.  In a way, starting from “nothing” gives you an open door to talk about this in a more down to earth and direct way.

An art degree shows you’ve taken classes to master your techniques.  So how did you learn yours?  Did you take workshops?  Read a book?  Stay up late after work and on weekends, painting/knitting/carving into the wee hours?  Teach yourself?  Swap sculpting lessons for babysitting?  Apprenticed yourself to a potter?  Talk about the passion you discovered in yourself for this art stuff, and what lengths you went to acquire the skills to do it.

An art degree shows you had a vision or goal to make art part of your life, then you studied it, and put in the time and effort to get a degree.  You can show that you, too, have a vision for your work, and that you have steadily pursued it.  What are your processes & techniques?  Did you experiment, develop them yourself?  Research antique processes and recreate them?  How did you come up with that particular approach or outlook?  Have certain artists, cultures, whatever, influenced your style?

Use the education you have.  I have college degrees (also not in art!) and I mention them in relation to how they’ve influenced my work–coursework for an education degree taught me the importance of storytelling, coursework in art history provided me the original inspiration for my Lascaux cave-themed imagery, etc.  But don’t just stick in stuff hoping to “fill up” the page.  Whatever you put in, make sure it relates in some way to your artistic self.

Exhibits show that you’ve made a serious attempt to get your work out in front of a variety of audiences, and that your work was good enough to be selected.  You can present enough “credentials” for most purposes by providing a brief summary of what you’ve done to get your art out there.  How can you show you’ve been making the same kind of effort?  Through shows?  Through steady sales? How has the audience for your work grown since you started this?

Awards show that someone thought your work was pretty darn good, or unusual.  Are there other ways for you to show that?  Anybody famous buy one of your pieces?  Or did your work appear in a magazine or on TV?  Did you get into a terrific, exclusive show the first time you applied, just because your work was so drop-dead terrific?

I like to keep in mind that ultimately, the person who purchases my work isn’t *really* buying it because of a list of shows or exhibits I’ve been in.  That list may help them feel more confident about their initial desire to buy, but that isn’t *why* they buy.  They buy it because it moves them emotionally, and because it says something special to them.  Something powerful is going on in my work, and they respond to that.  Everything else is just icing on the cake.

In fact, last month I revised my retail customer brochure.  I used to have a list of exhibits and books my work has appeared in, in an attempt to establish myself as a serious player.   I took it out, replacing it with a little blurb about why I make the art I make.   I’m learning that people only have to talk with me a few minutes to realize I’m a “serious player.”  Ultimately, it’s all about my work, not the hoops I’ve made it jump through.

Try to avoid the ordinary when putting this piece together.  Don’t go on about how much you love color–*all* visual artist love color!  Don’t make too big a fuss about how much you wanted to be an artist when you were little.  Someone once addressed this one–we *all* wanted to be artists when we were little.  Avoid cliches.

Think about the special stuff in your life.  Is your studio on a mountain top, or do you build it yourself out of hand-hewn lumber?  Are your materials unusual?  Do you go dumpster-diving to find your stuff, or hound recycling centers for their glass bottles?  What do you do that no one else does?  What is your inimitable style?  What is your personal story?

On the other hand, don’t get obtuse and try to bury your lack of credentialing paper with high-falutin’ phrases and five-dollar words.  As Bruce Baker, a consultant and speaker for craft and art world issues always says, “People have a built-in bullshit meter.  If you rock that meter, then they will never believe whatever else you have to say.  Make sure what you say is *true*.”   Stick to the essence of who you are and what your art is.  Make it interesting, and make it unique.  Stick to the truth.  Keep it simple and powerful.

 

 

 

WayBack Saturday! LET’S NOT DO WHAT WE OUGHT, BUT WHAT WE WANT

I love that my husband, an amateur musician, makes time to play his music every day. It restores his soul.

(This article was originally published on March 6, 2003, on my now-defunct Radio Userland blog. But it still holds wisdom for me today!)  (I realized a Wayback Wednesday, though alliterative, was not a good idea, as it follows the day after my Fine Art Views column is published. So…WayBack Saturday instead!)

Let’s NOT do what we ought, but what we want

A cry for help appeared on a list serve I subscribe to.  An artist who gave up painting for years is determined to take it up again.  Unfortunately, all her paints are so hardened in their tubes, they are almost unusuable.  Can anyone tell her how to salvage them??

I’m not sure how welcome my advice would be, but it’s clear to me the universe is sending a message here, loud and clear.

BUY NEW PAINTS.

What a huge obstacle she has already overcome!  The urge to paint again is wonderful, and I would wholeheartedly tell this artist to go for it.  But the artist is stuck again, already.  “I can’t paint until I fix my paint.”

Where have we heard that before?  Well, I used to hear it every day.  And sometimes, when I’m down or overwhelmed with the simple problems that ‘simply living’ entails, I still hear it:

“I should do the laundry first.”

“I really need to run a few errands first.”

“I’ve got to get this mailing out this week–I’ll work on some new jewelry ideas later.”

Sometimes it feels like my passion for my art is the last thing I take care of.

Maybe those paints are ruined for a reason.

Maybe the universe is sending a message here. 

You can paint again, it says, but maybe it’s time to start anew.  To start fresh, with new ideas, new inspiration, maybe an entirely new direction.

Maybe it’s time to play with colors again, to regain the same sense of wonder and excitement when you first began to paint.  And then to move ahead in a different way.  Forge a new path.

But to do this, you need to get rid of everything that held you back the last time.  

Maybe you don’t have to do penance by fixing those paints.  Maybe the message is, “Go out and buy wonderful new paint.  Buy some of your favorite old colors, but try something different, too.”

You have found your inspiration to paint again, and you’re determined to really set aside the time and energy it deserves.  And that means not wasting time and energy working to revive dead paint.

What a lesson for me today!  I’ve been sitting in the middle of an overwhelmingly messy studio, bemoaning the fact that I “should” clean up before I get back to work.

Then I get the note about dried up paint.

Maybe it’s really okay to just jump right into making something today, messy space notwithstanding.  Maybe it’s okay to do a little cleaning up after I have fun.  Hmmmmm….*

*New note: As I edited this post, it came to me…. Many people, including me, have been unconsciously trained/conditioned to take care of everything and everybody else before we take care of our own needs and desires.

And yet, we have all been given gifts, creative gifts, that are just that: Something special, something extra, something that can make the world a better place.

Our desire to make something beautiful, no matter what form it is, is a gift.

And whoever/whatever gave it to us, will be honored when we make room–and time–for it in our lives.

So put on your oxygen mask (or Covid-19 mask!) and make something beautiful today. Whether it’s your art, your music, your story-telling, your care, whatever your superpower is, put it in the world. Today.

Because the world will be better for it, because of you.

 

MAKING A DECISION and HUNGRY ART

WAYBACK WEDNESDAY A Few Days Late…
I published this post on 10/26/04. Still true!
Making a Decision

I have to make a hard decision today. I have an opportunity to do a teaching gig that would pay fairly well, a week’s work. Something I would have jumped at a few years ago.Trouble is, I’m an atypical artist. I don’t want to teach other people how to do what I do. I never really wanted to in the first place. As time goes on, and my art is more important to me, I find I’m even less interested in teaching it. I want to do it.

Running a business based on making your art sucks up a lot of time. I spend lots more time on the business side than the making art side. So setting aside time to allow other people to make art while I watch is particularly painful sometimes.

Nevertheless, it is an opportunity. And I can’t make up my mind whether to do it or not.

A friend once said, “When you have a situation you just can’t make up your mind about, make a list of the pros and cons. Otherwise, it’s like doing long division in your head.” (I originally typed “long decision in your head.” Quite Freudian!) The trick then is not how many pro’s vs. con’s. It’s to pay attention to which ones make you cringe.

Here’s what my decision list looks like.

Pros:

1) It’s a thousand dollars.

2) It’s a week’s work. 3)

It’s teaching, and I’ve always liked teaching.

4) I could really use the money.

5) The guy who asked me is really nice and excited about my work. His enthusiasm is infectious.

6) It’s hard for me to say no.

Cons:

1) It’s much, much more than a week’s work. It’s actually 8 classes, 6 per day, for 5 days. That’s 30 different teaching sessions.

2) It also means a lot of preparation time. Probably several weeks’ of preparation time, for presentations, projects, etc.

3) It’s a long drive, too.

4) The last time I did something similar to this proposal, it turned into something awful. It was the most miserable day I’ve had in my entire professional career.

5) For a variety of professional reasons I won’t get into, I don’t want to teach how I make my own artwork. I’ve made a point of not teaching how to make it, and I don’t want to start now. Even in modified form.

6) If I’m going to teach, I want to either introductory skills (with jewelry, polymer clay, stamp-carving, etc.) or professional skills (writing an artist statement, etc.)

7) It’s a month before my major wholesale fine craft show, which takes a huge amount of time and energy to prepare for. Including the two to three weeks I’d sink into this teaching opportunity if I were to take it on.

8) Other than financial, it doesn’t fulfill a single other professional, business, personal or artistic goal I have.

9) As hard as it is to say “no”, I have to say “no” sometimes in order to make room for other things that are more important to me.

As I look over my reasons, I can see that some of the cons are fear-based, As in, “The last time I did this, it turned out badly.” And there is some good to be gained—some money to put back into my business, and the opportunity to hone my teaching skills.

I can also see, though, that what I could learn from taking this opportunity is something I’ve already learned. And don’t need to do this same thing again to learn the same lesson again.

The teaching skills I want to hone are as a presenter of professional skills. Teaching my methods will not help me with this teaching goal.

I was talking with the same friend about something completely different, and she said something that’s now stuck in my mind.

I’d said I was really excited about teaching the workshops on my schedule now—self-promotion for artists,  wholesaling, writing a powerful artist statement, etc. It could be something that might conflict with my artistic/professional goals. But it didn’t feel that way right now.

I found as I prepared for this seminar, my thoughts clarified. I began to gain more insights into my own processes. While researching press releases, I learned how to make mine even better. I’m actually working out my own roadblocks and obstacles by sharing what I’ve learned along the way with others. I’ve learned more as I prepare to teach.

She said, “I’ve found that I often teach what I want to know.”

Such a simple phrase, but very useful today.

I’m going to have to call that very nice gentleman and refuse his generous offer. I hope I can think of someone else who might be able to fill the slot, someone who would be grateful for such an opportunity, who finds it a better match for where they are in life. As nice as I’d like to be, I need to be kind to myself, the artist, first.

HUNGRY ART (follow-up to the above post.)

A few people e-mailed me after yesterday’s blog entry, to ask how the decision had gone. This is how:

I thanked the person for the opportunity, said no, and offered to pass on the name of another person if possible. And this morning I did just that. I thought of another artist who might work well, and contacted both parties with information about the other. I really hope this works for both of them.

Another e-mail from a former student commented that she was spending a lot of time buying art materials and playing with them, but wasn’t actually making much art. She sounded like she has the right attitude, though—“All in good time, all in good time,” she said.

It’s natural to hit fallow periods where the art doesn’t come easily. Julia Cameron, in her book “The Artist’s Way” calls these periods “filling the well.” They are necessary and can be very productive, healing times. Playing with new materials and new ideas often leads to exciting new developments in our art.

And some people don’t feel the need to go any further than this. Their art is truly a pastime, something pleasant and enjoyable.

If you begin to feel a nagging sensation, though, a “could” rather than a “should”, maybe it’s time to impose a little more structure.

I started to do something this morning, and realized some of our pets hadn’t been fed or given fresh water. I thought, “I’ll get to it after I eat breakfast.” And then stopped. No. They are dependent on me for their physical needs. I need to take care of THEM first. And I did.

Our art has the same dependency on us. The unique vision we have as a unique person, a unique artist, cannot come into the world except through us. It sits and waits, sometimes patiently, sometimes anxiously. If you ignore its need to exist too long, however, it will come crashing through. “FEED ME!!”

Don’t let your art get too hungry today.

WAYBACK WEDNESDAY: ART vs. CRAFT: I’m Losing

I’ve decided to publish a blog post on Wednesdays, republishing posts from my now-defunct and hard-to-find blog at Radio Userland.

Hence, Wayback Wednesday!

Yes, it’s just by chance that this blog post first appeared on a Wednesday. 🙂

If you’d like to see the original post (and others!), click on the title below.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I’m feeling bipolar lately. My mood has been up and down, sometimes all at once. SAYING I need to rethink how to get my artwork out into the world sounds very brave and confident. In reality, I just want to hunker down and run away.Today, in between making horse sculptures for some stores, I followed a link to an interesting blog called “Redefining Craft” which you can see here: http://www.redefiningcraft.com/

I really don’t speak academese, so I skipped through some of his entries until I hit the one for February 8 entitled, “Art vs. Craft: Who’s Winning?” In this entry, Dennis Stevens posts two images, one of a Nike shoe on a stick, and one of a mask by glass artist William Morris.

Or rather, according to Mr. Stevens, “non-artist” William Morris. It turns out the Nike shoe is the image that provokes and enlightens, while Morris’s work is merely a hijack of another culture’s imagery for his own gain.

Wonder what Mr. Stevens would say about my Lascaux imagery?

Oh, well, at least it’s possible that Lascaux IS my cultural heritage. It’s possible some of my ancestors were French.

But I have to admit, I felt a certain dismay that as a craftsperson, I’m in danger of being left on the side of the high-culture highway for lack of having anything potent or portent or important to say.

Doesn’t help that I also recently watched the movie “Art School Confidential” which you can read about here: http://imdb.com/title/tt0364955/

It’s a movie about a young art student at college. He finds his beautiful work is totally ignored by his teachers, his peers and the art world while pretentious, self-aggrandizing crap is revered as “true art”. The kid eventually passes himself off as a serial killer so he can attain his ultimate goal of being a famous artist. (Because as soon as he’s arrested, his paintings sell like hotcakes.)

There’s one thought, and one thought only that moves my heart gently back to its rightful place.

I didn’t deliberately choose any of this (except for one thing.)

I didn’t deliberately manufacturer the message of my art.

Call me lazy, call me shallow, call me a clueless craftsperson or a non-artist. All I know is, ten years ago I felt like I was dying inside. And when I hit the lowest point in my life, I make one of the most important decisions of my life.

I decided to make the stuff that made me feel human again.

I tried a lot of different things and a lot of different techniques until I found the ones that felt…that resonated…the most with what was in my heart.

It just FELT right.

Of course I have great hopes for my artwork. And of course I want people to buy it. And of course I hope to be recognized for making beautiful things.

But I didn’t choose what I do to attain that. It chose me.

All the discussions about art vs. craft, about what makes great art, and who is a “real artist” make my head hurt. They always have.

In the end, I’m left at the end of the day with one question.

Did I make something I’m proud of?

And did I put enough of myself into it that it calls to other people?

And did I do at least one thing to get it out into the world for others to experience?

Okay, more than one question at the end of the day.

But these are the questions I CAN answer.

I’ll leave the more academic questions for wiser people than me to answer.