Category Archives: What is the story only you can tell?

CUTE SHIRT!: What to Say When You Don’t Like the Work

My latest column at Fine Art Views–enjoy!

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.

Kindness—and the benefit of the doubt—goes a long way with your peers and in your career.

In my last article, I wrote about respecting other people’s artwork, even if it’s not my thing. What if the person asks for your opinion? What do you say??

Let’s go back a few years… okay, a few decades. I’m a new mom, and my only friends are other new moms. (Most people run the other way when confronted with a frantic new mother and a crying baby. Hence, most of your friends will be other frantic new mothers and their crying babies.) I was in such a group.
Every new parent believes they’re baby is beautiful. No, not just beautiful—the most beautiful baby in the world.  And we know the right thing to say to other parents: “What a beautiful baby!”

That day, we were discussing what to say when presented with an absolutely ugly baby.

The responses ranged from, “Now that’s a baby!!” with a big smile, to “Cute shirt!” What we all agreed on was, you never say what you’re really thinking. That would be hurtful, and serves no one.
After all, we hope every baby is a wanted child, that every child is loved, and that every child, no matter what they look like, is a new human being in the world, with all that entails.  Besides, people come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and abilities—why on earth would we judge a baby by those criteria? No. We simply know that babies have a place in the world, to be their own person.
When it comes to the things people make (er…that aren’t babies, that is), it’s a whole nother kettle of fish.
Entire websites and books (regretfully, Regretsy.com, the truly wonderful curated collection of truly awful stuff on Etsy, is no longer active) generate plenty of caustic reactions to really bad art. Read a review of any movie in The New Yorker magazine that was made after 1956, and you wonder why anyone even bothers to make movies at all, so much so seriously wrong with them. Walk any art fair, flea market, online site, and marvel at the amount of bad art in the world.  It will instantly make you feel so much better about your own.
We can behave like old ffff…folks, and complain how young people ‘just don’t appreciate good art anymore’, or how kids today ‘aren’t taught anything about fine craft anymore’ (as if we ever were!)
And critiques are a long-standing practice of traditional art education. How can we know how to improve our art, if no one points out our weakness in our composition, the flaws in our technique, the naivete of our color palette?
That’s our lizard brain talking—our need to judge, our need to discover where we fit in, in the overall range of art from very, very good to oh-my-god-what-were-they-thinking?? And though critiques can be hugely powerful in improving an artist’s skills, we’ll never know how many ‘good-enough’ artists—or simply artists with more sensitive natures—have been devastated by unnecessarily-brutal art bashing in out-of-control critique sessions, to the point where they really were convinced they were not, and could never be, ‘real artists’.
Yes, good art stands the test of time. We all know it when we see it, right?  But so often, what we consider ‘great art’ was considered gauche, disturbing, or otherwise unpopular when they were originally created, and it could take centuries before opinion changed.
‘Outsider’ art, so-called ‘primitive’ art, ‘intuitive’ and ‘visionary’ art, folk art, Art Brut, naïve art, all were considered simply ‘really bad art’, until somewhere along the line, someone saw something deeper, more powerful, more engaging.
As for the teaching power of critiques, I believe there’s a difference between an opinion that’s offered (or forced on someone), and an opinion that’s asked for. There’s a difference between constructive criticism, and scathing sarcasm. There’s a difference between being wishy-washy, vs. offering good insights into how the artist can increase their appeal, and generating a stronger audience for their work.
Here’s my current situation: I’m newly exposed to artists who are self-trained, young artists who are fearless in the work they produce, artists who are inspired by very different memes and themes than the traditional landscapes and still lifes of my art history training. Video game characters, graphic novel illustrations, comic book heroes, internet memes, steampunk, Goth, the ‘maker’ movement, all contribute to a vibrant, design-driven, eclectic stream of work that simply boggles the mind that usually considers ‘traditional art’ the only ‘real art’. It’s tempting to reject it out-of-hand as immature, Day-Glo bright, or just plain weird.
But when I look at the people who make it, I see something else.  I see the same intense desire for self-expression, the same need to make something, the same dedication to practice, to growth, to connection with an audience, as I do.
So what’s the equivalent of “Cute shirt!” in our modern world today?
One suggestion: Find three things you like. And go from there. I got this idea years ago, from an article about home décor. It said, when looking at magazine spreads of beautiful homes, it’s easy to focus only on the decorating styles you love. But even styles you’re not fond of, can help you train your eye, and increase your design repertoire. Look for three elements you like: a color combination, a texture, a window treatment, a backsplash, or light fixture. Consider why they appeal to you, even in a layout that doesn’t.
It’s good advice. It helps me expand my sources of inspiration, and have new appreciation for different experiences, even in appreciating someone else’s artwork.
If I’m watching someone work, I notice how deft they are with their materials and tools. If I’ve been watching their work over time, I notice how their techniques become more sure, more polished. I note their use of color, textures, design, composition.
I ask about their motivation, their inspiration. I ask who their audience is. I ask what venues they use to show and promote their work. I ask what their professional goals are.
When they go through a rough patch—lots of likes on Facebook, but few sales—I ask how they’re attracting people to their website, their studio, their shows.
If I’m talking to someone working in more traditional media, working with more traditional subjects, I ask similar questions. Why do they focus on this subject over those? How did they end up choosing their particular medium? How did they get started? Where are they headed, and where would they like to be?
All of these focus on the intention, the dreams, the goals of the artist. If these align with the manifestation of their art, well, then, they are successful artists!
A last suggestion: If you sense that your feedback would be appreciated, frame it for easy listening. “I love this, and I’m intrigued by that. You have skills with x, y, and z. What you could do better is…” and then offer your suggestions.
There you have it. It’s not hard to be kind, and people might actually absorb more of your excellent advice if you are.

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Filed under advice on giving advice, Fine Art Views, What is the story only you can tell?

MY THREE CATS and the Real Artist

I may not like your art, but I celebrate the fact that it means so much to you, that you have a voice, a vision, and that you chose to share it with the world.

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for Fine Art Views. 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.

I have three cats. One I’ve had for over a decade, the other two are very new. (And coincidentally, both are black and roughly the same age.)

Old Kitty is affable, gets along with the dogs, moves like a raccoon, and does not adjust well to other cats. If I laugh out loud at something she does, she does it again. She hates to be held, but loves to be petted. She prefers floor toys to “air” toys.

Middle Kitty is also affable, and also gets along with the dogs. She gets along well with other cats. She will tolerate being held, but hates to be petted. She loves air toys, and is extremely athletic. She, too, is very funny to watch, but doesn’t seem to repeat when she hears me laughing.

New Kitty is anxious. She’s afraid of the dogs, she’s afraid of the other cats, she’s afraid of sudden moves and loud noises. But she is fearless about moving from her ‘safe’ place in our basement up into the living areas of our home. She’s determined to become a part of our household. She loves being held, and loves to be petted. We took her in off the streets, and she is only just now learning to play. She’s not very funny to watch.

Which one is the best cat?

Huh?

Why on earth would I rate my cats? After all, animal lovers know that our pets are as unique as people are. They have their good points and their annoying habits. They vary in the degree of affection they demand and give. And the value they add to our lives is impossible to quantify. Yes, we can live without pets in our lives, but if you love animals, you know life is richer for their presence.

(If you don’t care for animals, substitute ‘children’. Or ‘friends’. I was going to say ‘or spouses’ but I’m not going there.)

Why, then, do we so easily discuss artists in terms of who’s good, better, best?

I do it. You do it. We all do it. We’re competitive by nature, and our human culture stresses that competition.

Who’s the best student in the class? Who draws the best horses? Who won that race? Which baseball team won the World Series last year? Who makes the most money, and who’s the smartest person in the room? (Notice I am deliberately not including politics.) (Oops!)

And yet, it’s also human nature to embrace individuality, and inclusiveness. We strive to help those who have less than we do. We try to create a level playing field for people who live with disabilities so they can thrive. We applaud those who fight for the underdog, the underserved, the overlooked, those who are ignored ridiculed, or even attacked for being different in any way.

And yet we are so quick to judge the work of other artists, and even our own.

We argue about the difference between what is art and what is craft. Some people believe any work of 2D art is worth more than the finest example of handcraft. We talk endlessly about what a ‘real artist’ is. We even create levels of respect for the medium we work with: Oil is ‘better’ than acrylic, acrylic is ‘more respected’ than watercolor, anything is better than colored pencil or sketching, and this is often reflected in the price people are willing to pay for these categories. Consider a clay sculpture that is then used to create a mold for a bronze sculpture. Which will call for the higher value—the original clay piece? Or the cast item that can be made into multiples?

Who’s the most skilled? That’s a can of worms. Next!

Who’s the most famous? Who sells the most? Shaky ground. You may be a ‘successful’ artist (and we’ve had many discussions on exactly what that really means, you may be in all the fine galleries and in all the art books and magazines. But put ten people in a room, ask them who is the best artist out there right now, and I can almost guarantee there will be at least one person who disagrees).

Years ago, I participated in a workshop called “The Picasso Principle”. The instructor examined Picasso’s undisputed fame, yet listed many artists who are historically considered ‘better’ than Picasso at drawing, composition, color, painting, etc. But no one was better than him at marketing. And so today you can ask any person on the street to name an artist in history, and most will say “Picasso!”—even if they cannot name a single work by him.

Yes, there are standards and measures of technique. There are competitions, there are honors awarded, there are noted ‘masters’ throughout art history. (Though again, I will also point out that entire genders, race, and countries were systematically left out of the so-called definitive textbooks of art history.)

And yet all of this is based on opinion, personal, professional, and historical.

I bring this up because of several conversations I had recently with other artists. In one, someone mentioned a gallery run by two artists. “Now, Joe Blow is a good artist!” they said. And pointedly did not mention the other.

In another group conversation, a fellow artist walking by, and I jokingly said to the others, “Now there’s a real artist!” A person took it personally, and reacted badly. Lesson learned. (My jokes are bad.)

The last was a discussion about artists who have been in a guild a long, long, long time. “Their work is stale, and some haven’t even created new work in years!” one person exclaimed. “They shouldn’t be included anymore!” I disagreed. It costs us nothing to include them, they contribute to the demographics and our finances, they have their following, and their body of work. Who knows why they aren’t making new work? Health issues? Financial problems? I would hate to have anyone judge me based on my occasional fallow periods. “If they were good enough to get in, they should be allowed to stay until they decide to leave. If and when they try to re-jury back in, then we can judge.” And the others agreed.

It all boils down to this:

I may not like you, and/or I may not like your art. I may not like your medium, or your process. You may not meet the standards of whatever group you’re trying to join; they may be wrong, or they may be right. You may be ‘successful’, or you may feel like you’re not doing it right.

But if you are doing your best to make your art
If you have something to say with your art, even if it’s only ‘look what I made!”
If you have a vision of the world, and you share that
If your work connects emotionally, spiritually, metaphysically with others, even one person (notice I did not say ‘physically’ unless your medium is glue.)
If you strive, as you can, to make it better, to improve your skills, your marketing, your relationships with your audience
If all you do is make the world a better place for even one person

Then you, and your art, have a place in the world.

And you are a ‘good enough’ artist for me.

chai mouse

Old kitty, aka Chai

noddy and nick

Middle kitty, aka Noddy, Naughty, and Nutty

bean 2

New kitty, aka Bean. Yes, I can tell them apart, but our dogs can’t.

 

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Filed under Fine Art Views, What is the story only you can tell?

BEHIND THE BIGGEST QUESTION OF THEM ALL

This post by Luann Udell was first published on Fine Art Views, a blog about making, marketing, and selling art.

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

You, too, can deeply connect people to your art.

In my last Fine Art Views article from April 7, 2016, THE BIGGEST QUESTION OF THEM ALL“The Biggest Question of Them All”, I talked about how to uncover what the true ‘objection’ is to a prospective customer who wants your work. In response, one reader said:

“As I read the article I was struck by how your questions to people (and trying to figure out what their objections may be) really reflect a deeply sensitive way of viewing things. Particularly the bit about how we feel about our bodies and why we choose to wear certain things. My working theory so far has to do with the work that you make. It’s so personal to begin with and carries quite a bit of meaning with it already. I suspect you are automatically set up from the get go with a deeper (and different) way of needing to connect to buyers. (And I am not suggesting that a different media such as a beautiful and traditional painting isn’t deep but only that it perhaps needs another type of connection.) Hope this makes a little sense!”

YES, the comment makes perfect sense! BUT –

Recognize that this push-back (“Great idea, but it won’t work for me!”) is a natural reaction to being introduced to a different way of doing things.

We immediately believe the strategy is unique to the presenter, that it can’t be transferred to our situation. (I’ve done it, we’ve all done it, you may be doing it right now!)

BUT though not all of my solutions and thoughts will relate to your unique situation, there are always interesting parallels you can explore, experiment with, and eventually apply to yours.

And so YES, jewelry can be an ‘easier’ sell – BUT not always. Let’s explore some the pushback claiming my work is ‘too different’ to mine for ideas:

  • Pricing/Affordability: YES, I may have a wider range of price points than most 2D artists, and a lower ‘entry’ price.

BUT 2D artists have these options, too. Cards and prints (lower price points), smaller work, unframed work, older work.

Conversely, jewelers who work with gold and precious gems certainly have a higher overhead than most 2D artists (not just materials, but overhead and insurance.) And yet many have built a thriving audience for their work.

  • Demand: YES, much of my work can indeed feel like a more personal product (they intend to wear it, after all!) and therefore easier to sell.

BUT If you think YOUR chosen medium has lots of competition, let me tell you: In my world, jewelry is the single most competitive category, in stores, at fairs, and online. My aesthetic, and my work, actually appeal to a much smaller audience than most other jewelers. (I’m not even gonna go there with my 2D work and 3D work! Its audience is EVEN SMALLER.)

  • Comfort level: YES, People may feel more at ease buying home décor, decorative objects, and jewelry rather than art.

BUT 2D artists can create a comfort level, too. Painting/drawing, throughout history and our culture, is a readily-accepted and popular way to decorate and personalize our spaces, both personal and professional, public and private. When you say “art”, 2D work is the near-automatic response. It’s what we all think of as ‘real art’. Your reputation precedes you!

AND, one of our roles, as artists, is to advocate for the power that art has in our lives, over mass-produced tchotchkes and mass-produced reproductions. To stress why real art is important, especially with new collectors. To share how timeless it is, not only through our history, but is long-lasting appeal. Much more cost effective than that popular little whatzit that will be off-trend in a few years. How it speaks to us on a deeper level, how integral it is to our human nature, because it speaks to us in a way that actually bypasses our ‘thinking brain’, going directly to the ‘feeling brain’—just like music, like dance, like stories and books and movies, and other creative acts.

  • Connection: YES, how I make my work, how I display my work, how I interact with potential customers, etc. is very personal.

BUT 2D artists also have that potential for connection. Your potential customer will pre-select themselves for connection to YOUR work, too. It starts with initial attraction: They see something they like and come into your booth. If you are at an opening reception, or your work is in a gallery, they gazed at YOUR work longer than anyone else’s. That’s an opening, a place for you to start that conversation.

AND though I’ve worked hard to create powerful emotional connections between my work and my audience, it wasn’t always that way, it wasn’t easy, and it took time.

I have almost two more articles included here, on how to connect, and how not to DISCONNECT. (I see it all the time.) But I’ll save those for now.

In the meantime, let’s assume the world is a big place, and there’s a big enough audience for ALL of us:

Will you share some of the connecting strategies that have worked for YOU?

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Filed under selling, What is the story only you can tell?

THE BIGGEST QUESTION OF THEM ALL

The scariest question to ask a potential customer is also one of the most powerful.

Today’s column at Fine Art Views may help you close that big sale.

I was talking with several people who worked for decades in fine art galleries. We talked about the process, describing the entire process as a dance—an excellent metaphor!

We “start the music” when someone first encounters our work—our body of work, our display and presentation of our work. We “ask the customer to dance” by briefly (BRIEFLY, people!) introducing our work. We wait for them to say yes, when, after looking at your work, they give you permission to talk to them more about it. Last, there’s the actual dancing part, the give and take of sharing your story, engaging their response, and responding to their story in ways that form a powerful connection between you, them, and your work.

I don’t know what to call the last part, when we’re supposed to “ask for the sale.” That’s the most important—yet hardest part–of the sales process for many of us (including myself!)

That’s also where the dance metaphor stumbles a bit. However, it may help to understand that the dance isn’t actually over yet.

Usually, I don’t have to ask for the sale. People either love a piece, and buy it. Or they hesitate.

That hesitation is a powerful moment. Something is holding them back.

I’ve learned that trying to guess what it, is usually doesn’t work. I tend to instinctively think it’s about the price, even after I’ve explained my process (**time consuming**).

I’m surprised how often that’s not true. How do I know?

I ask them.

So simple. Yet it took me a few years to actually have the courage for this simple little question: What’s holding you back?

I ask quietly, gently. Often, the things that ‘hold people back’ are things they are hesitant to say out loud. It could be personal. It could be something they feel is ‘silly’ or ‘unsophisticated’ (though it’s still powerful.) It could be something they’ve never had to say out loud before. Whatever it is, many people—most people!—will usually keep it to themselves, rather than volunteer it.

And they won’t make that purchase unless you can address their concerns.

Over the years, I’ve heard surprising reasons why people are hesitating about purchasing my work. And what’s really surprising is, how easy it is to address those concerns.

Some are worried that the work won’t “go” with their color scheme.

Some are worried the jewelry won’t look good on them. (We human beings often have so many issues about our bodies, we often say no to something we absolutely love because we’re afraid we’ll ‘look stupid’ in it.)

Some people are nervous, because they aren’t usually attracted to things like I make.

Some people worry about my fiber work ‘getting dusty’ and being ‘too hard to keep clean’.

Of course, sometimes price is indeed an issue.

The important thing here is, if you don’t really know why the person is hesitating, it is almost impossible to propose a solution or resolution. And almost every obstacle has its resolution.

To the person who worried the large wall piece would clash with their heirloom woven rug, I first I asked her about the room-sized rug’s pattern and color. Then I showed them how my color schemes actually go well with many other colors, including theirs. And then, the clincher: I let them take it home. (I asked them if it were okay if I wrote up the purchase as a credit card charge. If, after a week, they decided it wasn’t the right piece, they could return it for a full refund. If they decided to keep it, I would put the charge through, saving them a return trip to complete the transaction.) They agreed, and the sale was made. (On their way out of my booth, they whispered, “I don’t think I’m going to be bringing this back!” We both laughed. But I still waited for the agreed-upon date before I ran the charge.)

For the person who worried how my jewelry would look on them, I have two strategies:

First, I turn to the other shoppers in my booth, and ask their opinion. I have to say, I’ve never had anyone say anything negative! (After all, if the other shoppers are avidly looking at my work, I’m pretty sure they like it.) The dynamic here is powerful. The group comes together, and encourages the shopper’s choice.

If the person has an enthusiastic friend, I ask their opinion. (Silent, cranky friends can be trickier—tread carefully! Make sure they’re on board before asking them.)

Second, I tell them my favorite story about a dear friend. She loves my work, but is self-conscious about her weight and her short neck. (I’ve told her we all have the same number of bones in our necks, but no one believes me.) She fell in love with a new earring design, very long dangly earrings, and immediately put them on. “But Ruth, I exclaimed, “you hate long earrings!” To which she responded, “Shut up, I’m taking these!” It always gets a laugh, and almost always, a sale.

To the person who is anxious about why they like something they’ve never seen before, we talk about what brought them into my booth, or my studio. If it’s a memory or a yearning, we talk about that. If it’s unknown to them, I talk about some of the themes behind my work—the push-pull of what it is to be human, of wanting to belong and wanting to be an individual, of a modern material (polymer clay) evoking prehistoric artifacts. It gives them permission to simply allow a work of art to speak to them, something many people have never experienced before.

To the person who worries about “dusty fabric”, I share my struggle to keep everybody happy: I started framing my fiber pieces under glass, in shadowbox frames, and how then people complained they wouldn’t be able to touch it. It gets a laugh, and then a discussion over whether they’d be happier with a framed piece, or if they prefer a ‘touchable’ piece.

(Bonus: Didn’t make it into the FAV article…. Unspoken obstacles to selling your 2-D art might include: The frame (they don’t like it), the lack of a frame (what do they do with it??), the price (which includes expensive framing), and probably a host of other factors I’m not familiar with. Simply being aware of the possibilities, and being ready with work-arounds might help seal the deal.)

Price is the easiest to manage. I offer to show them similar, less expensive options. If they stick with their first choice, I describe my unique layaway plan. (Prewritten checks or credit card slips, to be deposited/run through on a mutually agreed-upon schedule. Which often results in them saying, “Oh, I’ll just take it, and take care of the credit payments myself!”)

Trust. Connection. Information. Choices. Integrity. Gentle humor (at my expense, never theirs!) Convenience. All of these are responses that can overcome almost every objective.

But before any of this can come together, you have to ask:

What’s holding you back?

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Filed under selling, What is the story only you can tell?

SCHOOL HORSE LESSONS

There’s a reason you may have to work so hard to be successful.

This is a blast from the past, an article I wrote…geez, nine years ago!
This is for Gary.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

I learned another great consequence that comes from having to work so hard to get your business off the ground.

You learn to overapply yourself.

I was talking to my vet a few days ago. She noticed the mat of loose hair on my lower calves and ankles and exclaimed, “You’ve been riding!” (It’s shedding season, and that’s the part of my leg that makes contact with the horse below the saddle.)

She assailed me with questions about where I was riding, how long I’d been at it. I told how I’d torn my knee about three years ago, wreaking further havoc on an old injury. Faced with another daunting year of pain, physical therapy and starting all over with martial arts, I’d promised myself I would take up riding as a reward.

I told her what I learned from the riding school’s horse that first year.

Now, “school horse” is a term any rider will recognize, even people who hardly ever ride at all. These are the older horses who get farmed out to every new rider. They are usually bored, stubborn and set in their ways. They know you have NO IDEA what you’re doing, and they take complete advantage of that.

One day, in utter frustration with my assigned horse, I expressed my feelings to my instructor.

She said, “Chance may not be the very best horse in the world, but right now he is the very best horse for YOU. You are recovering from major knee surgery, and he is SAFE.”

She thought a moment and added, “And Chance already knows everything he needs to know. YOU’RE the one who needs to learn how to tell him CLEARLY what you want.”

I knew she was right. And what she told me that day has inspired me many times since then–how, similarly, as artists, we must learn to signal our full intention in our work and in our lives to get what we truly want.

I shared that with my vet, and she said she thought that was very wise.

“I’ll tell you something else that’s good about those old school horses!” she said. “You REALLY learn to ride.”

Her family couldn’t afford a horse when she was young, but she had many opportunities to ride–and she did. She had a throroughly rounded little boat of a pony called Bubble Dancer who had a mind of her own when it came to riding.

Donna had to work really hard to get much of a ride from this old girl, but boy, did she learn to ride!

The day came when she was competing in the ring with the pony, and only she and one other girl was left.

The other girl had a beautiful little “push button” horse–beautifully trained and cooperative. All this girl had to do was lightly signal what she wanted and the horse quickly obliged.

The two girls went back and forth, putting their ponies through all their paces. The judges could not decide.

Finally they said, “Switch horses!”

Donna burst out laughing. “And there I was on the beautiful little push-button horse, putting her through all her paces and marveling at the feeling, and there was Susie, flailing and yanking and kicking on my stubborn little Bubble Dancer!”

Donna won.

I think of the people that success has come too easily to, or too quickly. When hard times came, many didn’t know how to work that new, stubborn pony. They’ve gotten used to the “push button” horse, the one that works no matter how many mistakes they make.

If you’ve had to work hard at your art or your business for awhile, then you’re learning something more valuable. You’ve learned to do the work. You’ve learned to be consistent with your efforts. You’ve learned how much you can accomplish if you really set your mind to it.

You’ve learned to make the hard phone calls. You’ve learned to persevere even when it gets really, really hard. You’ve learned to make your intentions so clear, so strong, there is no mistaking what you want and where you’re going.

The next time you’re envying the artist who’s achieved what seems like easy, instant success, remember the school horse lesson.

And remember, maybe they HAVE ridden the school horse. And now they’re just making it LOOK like an easy ride.

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GO FORTH AND MAKE STUFF

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.

IMG_20160309_141517

I felt pretty uninspired yesterday. Then I made this.

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!”

Oh dear.

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?

20160311_130738

The well-worn and much-loved comic strip that inspired today’s post.

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LOST WALLET

What if your ‘horrbile, no-good, very bad day’ is simply protecting you from something much, much worse?

lost wallet (720x1280)

Happy Holidays postmar, careful writing, and the contents of my lost wallet, less the chunk of cash. What do YOU think?

A week ago today, I had one of the most frustrating days I’ve had in ages.

I drove down to Oakland, California, in the East Bay, to meet a friend for lunch and see street- and mural-artist Bud Snow’s show in a local gallery there.

I stress out driving in the Bay area–so much traffic, many expressways and interchanges, I usually realize I’m a little low on gas on the way down (which was true this trip, too), and I obsess about finding a place to park. (Worse than Boston, if you can believe it.) In fact, there’s a funky gas station right off Hwy. 101 on the way down. But traffic was heavy, the line was long, and I didn’t want to be late. “I’ll fill up on the way back,” I thought to myself.

But I made the trip in good time, and found a parking space right in front of the restaurant. I met my friend, we found two seats in the crowded restaurant, and had a terrific meal. I thought, “Wow! It’s my lucky day!” I paid the tab, and we left.

My luck soon turned.

We were going to walk to the show, but I decided to drive us there instead. We found another good parking space, and I pulled out my wallet to get the parking. (My friend beat me to the punch, though.)

That’s when I realized my wallet was missing.

The next couple hours were spent calling the restaurant, retracing our steps, looking under the car that had taken my former parking space, searching my car (always an adventure), and then calling credit card companies and banks. (Jon said, “Why don’t you just put a hold on them? Maybe you’ll find the wallet!” My friend said tersely, “It’s Oakland. Cancel the cards.) Flustered, overwhelmed, unable to rally my good cheer, I decided to skip the show and head home, hoping to get a jump on rush hour traffic. Halfway home, I wish I hadn’t refused my friend’s offer of gas money.

The whole way home, I fretted about gas and the loss of a sizeable chunk of cash in my wallet. And the traffic was UNBELIEVABLE. Almost the entire way home, I rarely drove more than 20 mph for over 60 miles. The one-hour trip without traffic had taken me over three hours. And I still had to deal with more phone calls when I got home. (Jon didn’t realize we could ask for expedited service. Especially with the holiday weekend, we’re still waiting for our main household credit card to arrive.)

And then, on Monday, after I’d spent several hours getting my driver’s licence replaced, a little package appeared in the mail, postdated the Saturday right after New Year’s Day.

I knew instantly what it was. Sure enough, it held my credit cards, my driver’s license, and my health insurance ID.

I was instantly awash with a multitude of emotions.

Anger–did the person really think I would not cancel those credit cards immediately? What was the point? Why couldn’t they have sent the driver’s licence back sooner?

Then curiosity: Did they try to use the cards, and they were already cancelled. So they felt bad and returned them. A thief with a conscience?

Then, humility. How did I know it was the person who helped themselves to my wallet? Maybe someone stripped the contents, took the money, and dumped the cards? Perhaps someone had simply found the cards, and decided to send them back to me.

The handwriting was extremely careful–did the person deliberately disguise their handwriting, so it could never be traced back to them? Or was it someone young, who didn’t learn cursive? Or…was it an elderly person, or a person whose first language is not English? (You can see the wavering strokes…) No return address, of course. No note, my husband remarked. Did they simply not want me to think they were the one who’d taken the money? (As Jon always says, no good deed goes unpunished. He also liked the ‘Happy Holidays!’ postmark, while I noticed the ‘Forever’ postage stamps from 2012. Two of them, too, to make sure it would make it through the mail.)

Jon posted about this on Facebook. The comments were varied. “Mediocre Samaritan” was our favorite. (Update at bottom.)

On Tuesday, I took my car in for a maintenance check. And the report came back with disturbing news. My car needed new tires. How soon? I asked. As soon as possible, he said. Why?? A 2006 Scion we bought just before we moved here, they were probably the original tires. There were severe cracks in the sidewalls.  We’d forgotten to check our tire pressure, and the tires were underinflated until a few days before. That could have affected very old tires badly. “You’ll be okay for a few days on surface roads,” the guy said. “But stay off the expressways. If those tires were to overheat, one could explode, and you’d lose control of the car.”

Stay off the expressways….

What if my day in Oakland had passed without incident? What if I had filled my tanks on the way down? What if there hadn’t been rush-hour traffic clogging the expressway for hours?  What if I hadn’t been forced to drive slowly, and carefully, all the way home?

My friend Mary Ellen (who was the friend involved) put it best in her Facebook comment:

All our comments are our own lens on the world. I choose to believe there is good in most people and someone found it and returned it. There is no way to test that. Another might see some nefarious plot. It’s like a rorschach.

I have the resources to restore my life back to normal (such as that is!) I thought back about the money in my wallet. On impulse, the day before my trip, I’d  stuffed a $20 into the collection pot for a charity outside a supermarket. It seemed excessive, but it felt like the right thing to do. I’m glad that was my last ‘purchase’.

Maybe, maybe, maybe, the rest of my money was a blessing in someone else’s life. I hope so.

What might have happened if I’d driven home at top speed, on uncrowded roads?

I heard the phrase, “Protection through rejection…” a few months ago. I instantly recognized the sentiment: Sometimes, the times we didn’t get what we wanted–the gig we didn’t get, the relationship that didn’t work out, the opportunity that fizzled–those “rejections” are actually protecting us, directly or indirectly, from something else.

There is simply no way to know the true story, nor the whole story. But the point is, it doesn’t matter.

And it doesn’t matter whether we believe we are under special consideration from a superior being, or fate, or whether we make our way through utter randomness in the universe. It doesn’t matter.

What matters is the lens we choose. What matters is the story we choose to tell ourselves. The story that marks our view of the world, our view of this life, and our place in it.

Me? I’m happy to be safely at home, my life approaching normal again. Happy with the story I chose to tell today.

Update When I posted this article on Facebook, several people shared their own experiences, including a friend who routinely used to find lost wallets and cards, and always returned the contents to their rightful owner. This is what I wanted to believe, and now I have the proof. Thank you, Barbe SaintJohn for sharing your story. Faith is knowing what to believe, hope is wanting to believe. You have solidified my faith.

Second update I was telling this story to two friends in Atlas Coffee recently, and they both told me they’d been driving on a freeway when their tire blew up. “It was like an explosion!” Ray said. “I was doin’ 70. Thought I was gonna die.” ” Closest I’ve ever come to dying,” said Mike. Thank you, lost wallet. Thank you.

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