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.
Good, constructive criticism is always a good thing. But we should also consider the source, and seek out our best people for triangulation.
I opened my journal today, and found an entry from a week ago.
It started, “I feel so….dead today…” I went on to list all the things that were not going well, and how powerless I felt to change that. I had ‘failed’ at a workshop. I recalled cruel words about my work from a ‘friend’ years ago. My foot hurt. (I can really pile it on when I’m low!)
What did I write today? “And a week later, I am on fire with new ideas and designs!”
What happened in between??
To be truthful, not much. A change in the weather. A change of scenery. Meeting up with a good friend here and there. A good night’s sleep. Time. A glass of wine (or three!)
In short, everything that felt daunting and dreary a handful of days ago, has melted away, leaving new energy and enthusiasm in its wake.
We artists and creative people can easily fall prey to these passing mindsets. In order to create something new, we have to be open to the beauty in front of us, open and receptive to everything life throws at us.
Of course, that also means we sometimes forget to shut that door. We may leave ourselves open to a hostile remark, or the destructive narcissism of another person. The toxicity of the news can drain us. We may be heavily influenced by a powerful book or movie. We may care too much when someone is critical of our work, or our efforts, or our actions. Even something as simple as an idea that didn’t pan out, a painting that didn’t quite work the way we wanted, a design that wasn’t as exciting as we’d hope, can cause us to temporarily doubt our abilities and talents.
This was doubly proven to me today. A friend back East reached out to me recently. I held off getting back to them until I had ‘more time’ later today.
Then something caught my attention, something that made me realize I should call themnow. I followed that impulse, and remembered something powerful:
There are people in our lives who, when we stumble, will remember who we are. When we forget, they will hold us up until we can remember for ourselves again.
After we talked, my friend exclaimed, “I feel so much better now! I’m so glad we talked!” I had to remind them I merely was repeating insights she had shared with me three years ago!
She held me up then. It was my turn to hold her up, now.
Journaling serves this purpose for me, especially when I’m in a hard place. It’s a way to get the buzzy voice out of my head, and down on paper, where it’s easier to test my assumptions. Are things really that bad? Is the situation permanent? Is it something I can fix, or something I can simply let go for now? Is there someone who can offer me another point of view? Or someone I can ‘triangulate’ with, someone who will confirm my perception, yet (or ‘and so’) offer me guidance?
Of course, some art, great art, is created because of the very hard places we find ourselves in. Picasso’s Guernica is an obvious example.
Yet a more subtle example is Lawrence Weschler’s essay, “Vermeer in Bosnia” (in his book by the same name).
During the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal years ago, Weschler spoke with a jurist who had to listen to horrific testimony for weeks on end. The jurist mentioned that he found peace and comfort in the Mauritshuis museum, with its collection of Vermeer paintings.
So I started clearing a surface so I could get busy with my next project. That lasted two minutes.
Got lost in sorting and reorganizing. Oops! I’m out of this widget. Order it now while I’m thinking about it.
An hour later. Surface still not cleared. Great art put on hold. Again.
I try again.
This time I found a metal box full of special orders and repairs from my really big show last August. Uh oh.
Now, there are a few things you need to know about how I do business, and how I treat my collectors.
When something breaks, I fix it.
When someone wants something different, I make it.
When something gets lost, I replace it. Free. Well. I’ll replace an earring, but I’m not going to replace, say, a lost wall hanging.
So I always have a stack of these ‘special projects’ after the show. This year, I had almost two dozen on my plate. Er…in my box.
It’s not my nature, really. After three days of set-up, nine days of selling and standing–in August, in the heat, which I H*A*T*E–the last thing I want to do is all the things that seem to point out my failure.
The repairs say, “You didn’t make it strong enough!” Fail.
The replacements say, “I shouldn’t have fallen out!” Fail.
The custom work says, “I don’t see anything I like!” Fail.
Now add: Two customers who cancelled their layaways right after the show. And the one special order I didn’t do, which angered one customer.
On top of that, add the six-months-from-hell I wrote about recently, and my upcoming knee surgery (which will make me put my life and art on hold, yet again, for months and months) and I get a little weepy.
I am very very good at feeling guilty and useless. I excel at feeling sorry for myself.
So I looked at that box and knew I had to deal with it.
To my surprise, I had actually completed…everything.
I don’t know why I’m so hard on myself. Probably that perfectionist thing that still raises its ugly head from time to time.
But it doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t serve my art. It takes away all the joy. It makes me forget why I do this.
Time to be kind and rewind.
I thought about the two dozen projects and repairs I DID complete, and all the happy responses I’d gotten back.
The repairs say, “I wore this until it fell apart. It’s my favorite necklace.” Success.
The replacements say, “I can’t believe you can make another one, and you’re not charging me!” Success.
The custom work says, “I love what you do, and I want one, I just need it in a different size/style/color.” Success.
I thought back to the angry customer. When I apologized, she calmed down. When I told her what had been going on, she sympathized. She said no worries, she’ll be back next year to look again.
And now that I think on it…last year, a customer commented in passing that she had lost everything she owned, in a major house fire. And I gave her a new piece–a big one–on the spot.
Am I a saint? Nope. Am I perfect? HA!
What I am is 100% human, through and through.
And I’m feeling better already.
N.B., if you have similar issues with repairs and special orders, one way to eliminate a lot of hassle is this: DO NOT TAKE ANY $$$ UPFRONT. I may take a check or write out a charge slip. But I don’t cash the check, or run the charge, til the order is ready to ship. That way, if something comes up and everything falls apart (like it did for me), your customer isn’t trying to get their money back–a far more complicated, and serious proposition.
And a little something extra that says “Thank you for your patience” goes a loooong way to smoothing over your (hopefully rare) goofs, too.