THE FOUR QUESTIONS: #10 Make It Your Own!

Luann Udell shares tips & highlights on how to make these "meetings" your own.
Luann Udell shares tips & highlights on how to make these “meetings” your own.

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.

Take advantage of new options for your meet-ups.

 (5 minute read) 

We’ve covered all the how-to’s and the why’s in this series. Now let’s loop back and pick up the tips, suggestions, and fine-tuning to make these meetings your own.

It’s a support group.

I’ve outlined the basics for maintaining privacy and safety. If you have even more privacy concerns, or need them met, research the tenets of other such groups. (Hint: The internet!) If you know something with experience about such groups, review what we’ve covered in this series, and ask them for suggestions specific to your concerns.

You get to add stuff to the mix.

We talked about affirmations. You can take a few minutes helping each other create an “action affirmation” after each person speaks.

Writing instead of speaking??

I love adding writing exercises to the mix!

A few timed minutes of free writing is a great way to warm up the brain. You simply blurt—pouring onto the page your stream of consciousness. No editing, no focusing on grammar, etc. Just let your inner lizard brain go to town.

It’s fun to add a more directed writing exercise from time to time, too. This one crossed my path today: “What have you told yourself you couldn’t do, because of a childhood story? What benefits have you received because of it? How has it served you?”

Perhaps take this opportunity to do your page of affirmations for the day, too.

But there’s a powerful psychological element in speaking/signing your truth. There are responses to the process you can witness, in real time, that show the power of telling what is in your heart. The more you practice the speaking/telling, the better you get at it!

Don’t give that up unless it simply won’t work with this group.

If this group fills other needs, great. But keep trying to create another!

Can it be a book group?

Some commenters shared their good experiences with art-related books to discuss. It sounds great! And it may be all the support you need, or gently evolve that way.

But after reading the outline, and the intended outcome with The Four Questions, I hope you see the differences in what can be achieved.

Why not do both??

Document your journey.

Susan Delphine Delaney https://www.facebook.com/susandelphinedelaney, a highly-trained professional therapist and speaker, wrote, “Love this post. The only thing that I would add is “document the journey.” Write down the goal, then write down every step you take to get there. This will encourage you about your progress during down moments, provide accountability and lift you up as you see how much you have done to get to your goal.

Luann does this through her blog, but the rest of us can do it in a spiral notebook or a beautiful blank book. You decide.”

And Susan again!

“My friend, Pamela Wible MD, was the commencement speaker at a medical school in Chicago (Loyola). She encouraged the nascent doctors, in their lunch celebrations with their families, to stand and make a video of their dreams for their lives as physicians, a video that they could come back to in down times.

I could see this stupendous idea happening two ways in the artist support groups Luann is showing us:

1.  The video could be made with the speaker’s own phone while she spoke of her vision for her art by a third group member, not the questioner, not the scribe. The questioner would still question. The scribe would still scribe.

2.  Alternatively, the video could be made, the scribe could scribe and the speaker could create a script for what she came up with after watching the first video and reading the scribe’s notes. Maybe the “video member” would come ten minutes early and video that polished statement on the speakers own phone. Maybe the speaker would make that video at home. The polished video would be a joy for the artist to come back to, since it contained her distilled thoughts.”

Add accountability.

One commenter said, “I have been talking to a couple of friends about just what you have posted… starting a group that will be a support group, upholding each person in the group. In some ways we want it to also be an accountability group. We know sometimes it is just telling someone your plan will help you follow through with that plan… and that person can help with positive reinforcement… being a cheerleader and help in motivation, too.”

Can we socialize, too?

Of course! You can meet up at a friend’s house for a (potluck? Take-out??) dinner, or a private place in a favorite restaurant, and take up your business afterwards.

 How do we end?

Many groups create a simple ceremony at the end, to wrap up all that good energy, and leave everyone in a happy place.

You can agree on a group blessing or prayer.

Or gather for a group hug.

Hold hands in a circle, and take turns saying something lovely to the person on your left. (Or right.)

You can sing a little song.

Share your faves in the comment section!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #2 Why This Group?

Don't miss Luann Udell's continued discussion on the importance of an art group.
Don’t miss Luann Udell’s continued discussion on the importance of an art group.

 

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.

Socializing is good, it’s good to be social! But not all social, all the time.

(7 minute read) 

Last week, I introduced you to an artist support group blueprint I learned from Deborah Kruger decades ago, which I call The Four Questions.

A reader commented they’d recently created their own artist group. They’ve worked their way through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and will now move on to other art book projects and discussions.

Any opportunity to meet up with fellow artists and creatives is good. Especially if you respect/like/enjoy/adore them! And they make a good apple pie, too… Well, then! (Otherwise, I just hide out and save my energy.)

The Artist’s Way workbook is an excellent way to explore your hidden fears, your own obstacles, the “faux thinking” that keeps you from moving forward with your art, especially if you don’t have an artist support group. It’s fun. It’s all about YOU. You can do it on your own, too.

Over the years, I’ve seen a few major drawbacks, though, with TAW and with purely social groups:

*Doing the Artist’s Way work can be a great excuse not to do your OWN work. One artist used it for a year. They loved it! Yet they didn’t do one thing to move forward with their own art. The exercises became an excuse not to go to the studio.

*It’s based on writing. Me? I thrive on writing through many of my issues. For others, not so much.

*The Four Questions is based on saying your truth, finding what works for you, and the power of being listened to. Everyone takes turns, everyone gets a chance to speak.

But don’t let that take away from the social aspects of group activities! Socializing is a powerful force for good in the universe. There’s nothing like hearing someone else express their doubts and fears, and thinking, “Wow! I thought I was the only one who felt that way!”

In fact, the first part of a Four Questions meet-up is social. It’s called “checking in”.

You take turns catching up with what’s going on with all of you, in all the worlds you’re in. Art. Family. Day job/income work/whatever. Health. (Deborah’s original group would have dinner together first, and do their check-in while dining.)

There’s no set way to do this, except make sure everyone has a chance to share what’s going on, and what’s coming up. When I was home with my two wee ones in a new house in a new state, sometimes this would be the very first time anyone would ask me how things were going—and listened!—in days.

I also noticed when I was given this time to update everyone, it got the “buzz” out of my brain and on the table. (Er… figuratively, of course!) As I listened to myself, I could see where I had needless worries, and where I had trouble moving forward.

I’ve come to believe that a “check-in” process is a healthy addition to ANY artist group meeting, depending on the size of the group.

It will help to understand why someone seems a wee bit snarky or distracted.

It will help the speaker, and the rest of the group, clarify what they want to talk about during the “working” part of the meet-up.

And when things get hard in life, it will help fulfill another important facet of this group’s support system:

Your artist self will be held and remembered for you during difficult times, until you can return to it.

 

Betty Friedan, noted advocate for women’s rights, said it all: “You can have it all, just not all at the same time.” Whenever life steps in and deals us a major blow, it can be extremely difficult to find the time and space to make our art.

We may become ill, or injured. We may be called to be a care-giver for someone else who becomes ill or injured. We may have young children to care for: Our own children, our grandchildren, maybe even someone else’s children. We may be dealing with disaster: Divorce. Loss of job. Loss of home, or safety, or car.

A good network and support group holds the memory of who you are, until you are ready to take it up again. And if you should choose a different path back, they will honor that, too.

There’s another reason that other meet-ups, such as The Artist’s Way format, art discussion groups, art road trips, etc. have their place:

Over time, you will find who your true peeps are: Seeing who might be a good fit for your support group, and who would fit better into purely socializing.

Sometimes you find your peeps at a group show. ​

As I’ve always said, I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way. Friendships that worked fine…until I realized the other person always…ALWAYS…had to have their own way.

I realized there are people who need more support, perhaps even professional therapy, than untrained friends can offer.

There are people who are so out of touch with what they want, they will fight and push back every single step of the way. It’s normal to “push back” with some of the Four Questions. But for an ongoing support project, I like the people who eventually push through to their place of power and creative growth.

There are a few people who are charming and charismatic, but also manipulative and destructive. To place yourself in a position of vulnerability with them is not only unproductive, it can be dangerous.

There are people who are just not ready, nor willing, to move forward with their art. And you just can’t make them do it. Nor should you. It’s their choice, their journey, not ours. But that also means they may not be a good fit for your support group.

So your homework for next week, if you haven’t already done so:

Get out there and meet up with other artists!

Go to open studios, opening receptions for art shows, gallery talks. If there’s an art organization in your area, volunteer for events from time to time. It’s amazing what you can learn about people working on the kitchen crew for potluck dinners! I used to volunteer for fundraiser events for a hospice organization. Some people show their true colors when they think you’re just a nobody working on the sidelines.

Some people show you who they are—believe them! If someone treats you badly, pay attention to that. It might just be envy or insecurity, but that doesn’t excuse bad behavior. We ALL have a lizard brain. Grown-ups work on it. Btw, “ grown-up behavior” isn’t necessarily related to age. I know many wise younger people, and many idiot, know-it-all oldsters who simply don’t. Know it all, I mean.

On the other hand (OTOH), it pays to triangulate. Check in with others who know more about that person. If someone’s behavior is awkward or off-putting, find out if there’s a humane reason behind it. People with Asperger’s Syndrome, or reading disabilities, or who are just ‘nerdy’, can be “different”, but they can be just as sensitive, and even more insightful human beings, because of it. Me? Sometimes it takes me awhile to “play well with others”, especially if I feel I’m not in a group that’s good for me.

Gather together as prospective small groups. See who’s respectful, who’s helpful, whose words resonate. Note who’s whiny and full of self-pity. See who’s open to new ideas and new opportunities. See who wants to be more empowered by making better choices. THEIR choices.

This will be the family you CHOOSE. Make it a good one!

(N.B. If you are truly physically isolated, it’s possible to reach out to others you’ve come across online, on the internet. Group emails, a discussion forum, even conference telephone calls, can help you connect. And of course, TAW is amazing for a solo adventure, provided you USE the work to do YOUR work. Let me know what issues separate you from this process. Maybe together we can figure out a unique way to make this work for YOU.)

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #4: The Roles

Continuing the series about how to create an artist support group, my column today for Fine Art Views:  The Four Questions #4: The Roles

The greatest gift you can give a woman is to LISTEN to her!

(7 minute read)

You’ve picked some peeps, you’ve set a time and date for your first meeting. You introduce yourselves. You’ve checked in: What’s been going on, what’s working with your art biz, what’s not. Everybody has brought a notebook that is for them and them only. (More on that in The Scribe section below.) Oooh! Pens!

Let’s talk about the roles each of you will take on during this process.

THE SPEAKER: We used to jokingly call this “the hot seat.” It’s the person who will be “interviewed”, the person who will answer the questions given.

It can feel uncomfortable, if you’re not used to being listened to, if you’re not used to talking uninterrupted until you’ve said all you want to say.

For some people who are quieter, or shy, or not sure of the company, it may never get “easy”. But in time, you may eagerly look forward to this role!

It’s a chance to really let your heart speak, a chance to think things through for YOURSELF. Without anyone offering well-meant but badly-placed advice, or anyone telling you your own reality.

Just speak your truth until you are finished. (Although sometimes it’s necessary to put a time limit on this, say 10-12 minutes. But you’ll be surprised how long that is to talk without interruption!)

It’s not necessary to do your homework first. But for these first few sessions, it can help to have some idea of what you want to “envision”. Once we hit the actual Questions in the weeks ahead, you’ll see what I mean.

In later sessions, you can take advantage of what you’ve already covered, and what you already know, and start from there.

For now, just give yourself permission to “go big” with your answer, even if it feels too big. It may be hard to even imagine right now that you have a choice about what’s in your (artistic) life. Maybe it’s not physically possible to achieve, them, but it’s important to know what they are. And it’s important to know it’s okay to want them!

And what’s really wonderful! You can not only learn to “think big”, you can get used to it!

THE LISTENER(S): Anyone who isn’t asking the questions, responding to the questions, or taking notes, you have one job…

Listen.

Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (This is really important! More on the rules next week….

Don’t tell the speaker their reality. Don’t tell them what you think they should do. Don’t tell them what YOU would do. Don’t tell them what someone else did.

Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that.

You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.

But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay? Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)

THE SCRIBE: Your job is to record as much as possible: The actual questions asked, and the response from the speaker. If the questioner asks for elaboration or clarity, make note of that, too.

Simply capture as much as you can, as fast as you can, as accurately as you can.

Most important, try not to put your “riff” on anything. No comments, no judgments, no opinions.

You will write in the Speaker’s notebook. This notebook is for their eyes only.

They may not have time to take in what you’ve recorded. Maybe at the next meeting, when you all check in again, questions may arise and be discussed.

The Speaker may become overwhelmed with what bubbles up for them. They may become angry during the questions that pushes them (a little.) They may cry when they realize the lizard brain voice that’s hounded them all these years, can be ignored, set aside, or gently tolerated. They may become overwhelmed with joy at what they learn about themselves, and how well they are supported. 

This means it may be extremely difficult for them to recall what they actually said. They may not remember their own truth, or the truths others will share with them. It can happen with all of us. And it’s more common than you’d think.

Your notes may be the only record they have about all that transpires. 

It’s important to get it right.

THE QUESTIONER: Start with the person who is the most familiar with how this works. Hint: This first time, it will be YOU, since you’ve gotten a head start with all these articles!

You will set the tone and establish the rules. You will maintain the rules. (The rules are pretty straightforward (next week’s article!) and I’m guessing you can already guess some of them now.

You can ask more questions, outside of the Four Questions, to help frame the question itself. Because we are often unfamiliar with the idea of talking, with no interruption, until we’re done, the responder may stop speaking very soon into the process. You may have to “break it down” into smaller “bites” for them. You may have to ask them for clarification: “Can you give me an example of what that looks like?” “Can you describe that for me?” “What else do you see?” etc.

When someone gets distracted by the unlikelihood of getting what they want (“I know there’s no way that could happen…”), you will get them back on track. “Just give your biggest vision for what you want. Don’t try to figure out HOW it’s going to happen, just imagine it for now.”

When someone gets negative or self-judgmental “I know I’ll never be good enough…”, gently lead them back. “In a perfect world, what would that look like?” “If you knew you could not fail, what would you strive for?”

And when it gets hard, you will hold their feet to the fire, until you know they are speaking their truth. (More on how you’ll know, later.)

Don’t worry about doing it perfectly! I’ve done it many times, and I always feel like I suck at it. And just when I think I’m doing it wrong (I get a lot of push-back, even anger), that’s when the breakthrough happens.

Sometimes, just knowing someone is listening, someone cares what we want, knowing others want us to have what we want, is all we need to keep moving forward.

Also, these aren’t permanent “roles”. In fact, in a perfect-sized group, you will all have a turn at them, at every meeting!

Everyone should have the opportunity to speak, at every meeting. (You can get a “bye” occasionally, for certain reasons. More later.)

Everyone should have the opportunity to question, and to scribe. Even if you feel you aren’t great at asking the questions, you can learn. Practice, right?

If the group feels you have skills as a questioner or scribe, and you’re up for it, it’s okay to do it more often. I LOVE taking notes for people, so if nobody else is keen on it, I volunteer.

But I also recognize that someone else may hear something differently than I do. That’s important!

Next week, we’ll go over the rules that ensure the safety and privacy of what is shared during these group sessions.

Until then, your home is to practice listening. At your next conversational opportunity, focus on really listening to what the other person is saying. I can be really bad at that. I’m all there with the, “Me, too!” and the “That happened to me once!” Sit on the impulse to “fix it”.

In fact, simply focus on sitting. And listening. Maybe asking for more information or clarity. Or simply nodding, and saying, “And then what happened?” and “How did you feel about that?” and “What are you going to do about that?”

You may be surprised at what you’ll hear. (I accidentally typed “heart” instead of “hear”! Hmmmm……!!

Your homework today:

Have you ever been listened to, deeply? 

What was it like?