My art. My words. My voice.
My art. My words. My voice.

Post Hoc Fallacy

There are a lot of reasons we tell ourselves why our work doesn’t sell.

But not all of them are true! 

 (9 minute read)

 Where do I get my ideas? All over the place!

Today, I read Clint Watson’s post about why we should always work to improve our creative skills. (True dat!) An artist who assumed their work was excellent was so obviously not, and so did not gain representation in Clint’s gallery.

I also read Car Talk in our daily newspaper. (Yes, I’m old. I still read newspapers!) It’s a radio show and weekly article that answers car questions. It was a great radio show with Tom and Ray Magliozzi, two amazingly wise, funny, and sarcastic brothers who own(ed) an auto repair shop in Cambridge, MA. (My husband actually saw them once on Charles Street in Boston one day, while I was inside a shop looking at antique jewelry.) They offer advice and entertainment while answering people’s questions about car problems. (Tom has passed, but Ray carries on the tradition.)

Today’s Car Talk article is “Post Hoc Fallacy”. It’s based on a Latin quote, Post hoc ergo propter hoc: “after this, therefore because of this”. That is, “Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X.”

This is sometimes true, but not necessarily true.  (From Wikipedia): A simple example is “the rooster crows immediately before sunrise; therefore the rooster causes the sun to rise.”

How did I get here from these two articles?

Because on one hand, what Clint said is true: The artist did not get into that gallery because their work was not very good.

On the other hand, there might be a hundred reasons why a gallery may not take our work on. Earlier this year, I covered just some of the hundreds of reasons a gallery may not want our work in “Let Me Count the Ways”.

This, for me, is the artist’s Post Hoc Fallacy:

We don’t think our work is good (or someone tells us that.)

Then, we don’t find our audience. No sales, no gallery representation, not getting juried into shows, etc.

That must prove that our work really isn’t any good.

And that may not be true at all.

Now, I whole-heartedly agree with Clint’s article: If our skills aren’t great, that will wreak havoc on our ability to show, market, and sell our work.  It can be a blessing, if we are able to listen, when someone gently points this out to us. Constructive criticism can be a powerful force for improving our work and improving our sales, no doubt about it.

It’s always hard, as an artist, to hear that truth. Some of us refuse to hear it. Clint did not tell the artist that, but as he described the artist, it’s pretty likely they would not have listened anyway, based on their behavior.

It’s also impossible for us to be perfect. Even extremely talented artists, the ones who are honest with themselves, and us, concede that while achieving perfection is a worthy goal, it may be impossible to get there, and stay there. All of us can do better. Hopefully we all try. We may have to accept we may never actually get there.

But there is power in the trying, and it’s admirable to never give up.

My on-the-other-hand-point is, it does not serve anyone if we believe we will never be good enough—and walk away. The Post Hoc Fallacy has wreaked its destruction on our soul….if we let it.

In fact, I also wrote about how sometimes even really really bad art can have its own power, in my June column on Regretsy. Being authentically “bad” can have a place in the world.

We’ve all seen vendors at art-and-craft shows, on websites, in shows, even in galleries, that are….well, “meh”. Not awful, but not that great, either. We’ve seen people win awards for work we don’t think is that much better than ours. We’ve seen people whose work is twice as expensive as ours, while ours languishes.

The worlds of making art, buying art, exhibiting art, selling art, and honors awarded for art are as wide and varied as the people who actually make art, and certainly as varied as the people who judge it.

I believe that making our work as good as we can, and then striving to do better, is indeed an excellent way of increasing our chances of being “successful”, however we choose to measure our success.

And yet, I’ve seen amazing artists being rejected from shows, from events, etc. Many talented artists whose work doesn’t sell.

In fact, artists have been long judged for their gender, their race, their nationality, their success/sales, their subject matter, their technique of choice, their name recognition, you name it, it’s been done. We’re getting better, I hope!

Many artists get discouraged, sure they are doing something wrong. And many artists believe they simply aren’t good enough, so why bother even trying?

I’ve been there. I’ve been at every stage of this in my art career.

I’ve been told my artistic aesthetic is immature, by the very same person who, a couple years later, demanded to represent my work. (I guess they forgot what they said the first time. It was the same body of work!)

I’ve been told my work is not “real art”.

I’ve been told I make the same “tired old work” with the same “tired old techniques”.

I’ve been rejected from shows, galleries, etc. since the very beginning. I’ve been told my prices are too high since I first started selling my artifacts, even when they were priced at $18 for a horse pin. I’ve gotten into galleries and then pulled out because my work “just wasn’t selling”. I’ve been told I need to focus because my work takes “too many media categories” (fiber, jewelry, sculpture, assemblage, etc.)

But here’s the thing: I don’t care.*

Even as people where making these judgments (and statements) about my work, there were even more people who said amazing things. Like, “I’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s beautiful.” Like, “I can recognize your work anywhere!” I have won a few awards, and I treasure them. I have been juried into some of the top fine craft shows in the country. I found my story about my work, and that made it a cohesive body of work.

In fact, I fully believe that when I finally said, “I have to do this work, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m a good artist anymore, I just have to do it.”, THAT is where my power came from.

The short story? If you can do better, do better.

But if you can’t, or won’t, and yet you love what you make, then make it anyway.

Something that is innovative may be so different, we don’t even know what to think of it. It may be before it’s time. Success can depend on where we live, who we know, the opinions of others who have very narrow definitions surrounding creative work.

At the end of days, there will be no sure-fire, solid, indisputable list of who the “best” artists are, and no permanent place where we fall on that list.

And at the end of our days, we may have regrets. Regrets that we didn’t achieve the recognition we craved, the sales that would have proven we were doing it right. We may regret we didn’t try harder, or do better with our talents.

But I hope and pray you never regret that you didn’t try at all.

It’s true, we might be able to improve our success, and have more sales, if we work in the favored medium, or with the most respected subject matter, if our techniques are really, really good, if we find the right galleries.

But it all boils down to finding the right audience, doesn’t it? Even a gallery must focus on what they think they can sell. And if their audience is not the right one for your work, even if they give us a chance, in the end, we’re taking up precious wall space that they depend upon for their own success.

So even if we really aren’t good enough, it’s still our choice. Do we want to bring this work into the world? Or do we walk away?

We can believe that there truly is an audience for the work of our heart, and it’s on us to make it, get it out there, and find that audience.

We can believe that knowing the “why”, the story that got us to this place, is a powerful factor in our success.

We can acknowledge we can do better, and then make it better. Or accept that it may not be as good as everyone else’s but it makes us happy, and that can be enough. If we need more, we can look at other ways for our audience to find us.

At our own end-of-days, we will look back at our choices. What will we regret?

I have a vision. Even when I am discouraged, even when it feels the world doesn’t want or need my work, I know I want it. I need it. I want it to be in the world somehow. Because my art is one way for me to be in the world.

My art. My words. My voice.

I would mostly regret walking away, especially if it’s because a) I don’t believe I’m good enough, and b) I allowed success, here and now, to be the only measure of its value.

There will be regrets, for sure.

But not that one.

If you enjoyed this today, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it, too!

If someone sent you this, and you’d like more of the same, subscribe to Fine Art Views for more insights from different artists.  And if you want to read more of my writing, subscribe to my blog at at LuannUdell.wordpress/com.

* If I’m being totally honest, I do care! I wish people didn’t think that about me, or my work. But I also know I shouldn’t care, and that’s how I choose to act.


Luann Udell discusses the benefits of doing art from the heart
Luann Udell discusses the benefits of doing art from the heart,

by Luann Udell

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.

When we do the work of our heart, it’s easier to get to the studio!

Second in a new series of exercise tips you can apply to your art biz. I’m not working from an article this time. This all comes from personal experience:

Find what you love to do, and do it.

When it comes to exercise, you either have to do what you enjoy or find the joy in what you do. And believe me, it’s a heckuva lot easier to start with the former.

It was the secret behind my commitment to martial arts—Tae Kwon Do and kickboxing—which I took up in middle-age.

Disclosure: I still love love love martial arts. But due to many injuries resulting from same, I cannot practice it anymore. So. Gym, and maybe more tai chi instead!

But it was perfect when I could practice! It’s intensely physical, with a good mix-up of strength work, coordination, and aerobic components.

Kickboxing especially felt “light”. There’s a bit of mental workout, but not nearly as much as other martial art disciplines. Eventually, though, I found I missed the katas–those longer, choreographed movements that look like fast tai chi. And eventually I went back to Tae Kwon Do.

There were things I was good enough at to be proud of, and plenty of things for me to work on.

Martial arts taught me a lot about myself, too. I learned my biggest enemy was ME. Yup, I’m my own worst enemy. I had to learn to focus on my own performance and improving it a little bit at a time, rather than compare my performance to anyone else’s.

It was hard, as an older woman, to get comfortable with punching, kicking and striking, even yelling. The mindset was extremely foreign to me. I could feel brain cells and ingrained social conditioning fighting me every inch of the way–“Don’t hit!” “Don’t raise your voice!” “Be nice!” I remember raising my hand to hit in a martial arts class years ago and being almost physically, psychologically unable to do so.

I got over it.

The whole thing was challenging but rewarding. I was exhausted when class ended–but also exhilarated.

And the fact that I enjoyed it so much is more important than all of the other reasons I just gave.

Because the enjoyment is where I found the discipline and the courage to keep going. I rarely missed a class, even when I “didn’t feel like it”. And even though I wasn’t that good at it. (That is, I’m not a ‘natural’. It didn’t come easily to me.)

But I’m glad I started with something I love. Especially when even today, I can say with pride, I studied martial arts for more than 12 years, I attended almost every single class, without fail, except for major injuries, major illness or being out of town. (And as I said, eventually the major injuries took over completely.)

I still have hope for the next work-out routine that brings such passion and commitment.

Do the same with your artwork.

The thrill of doing what you love will carry you over many hard times, and boring times, and frustrating times.

In fact, whenever I do a mentor session with client, that’s the first question out of my mouth–especially when someone shows up with a hodge-podge of projects, all different in media, theme and colors:

Start with, “What do you love doing?”

“Where does your heart lie?”

“Which of these is calling to you?”

Don’t focus with “what sells” Don’t even start with, “What’s easy?” This is the hardest, but don’t even start with, “What will make me the most money?” That’s important, but that will come later. It can wait.

Because that powerful connection will help you through all the hard stuff later.

Success in making and selling art, like a productive exercise program, begins with finding what you love so much, you can’t imagine NOT doing it.

Yes, once it’s made and out in the world, there’s the question of marketing and selling, growing an audience, connecting your story with your work, and encouraging others to connect, too. It may not be as much “fun” or as rewarding, or as easy to fall into. (Though I’m amazed how much I love that part of the process, too!)

But loving what you do means when you talk about your work, your authentic connection to it will show through. When you talk about it, you will be speaking your truth.

And that is the most powerful place an artist can be: Telling your story. Speaking your truth.

Consequently, if you are not crazy about where you art is right now, that can make it harder to get to the studio. It’s okay. We all go through periods of enthusiasm and not-so-much enthusiasm. We get enormous energy from a great new project, and then may fall into a period of stasis, recovering from all that activity. We hit walls, roadblocks, and setbacks. That’s life. We get sick, we need a vacation, life whaps us, and we need to recover.

But if you really can’t muster any enthusiasm for long, long periods, consider a change. Maybe your focus has shifted, and your joy has been slowly leaking away.

Take a class in a new technique. Create a (kind and gracious, but firm) critique session with fellow artists, to see if there are gaps in your style or process. Are you ready for a bigger change? Explore a new subject matter, or perhaps even a new medium. Heavens—maybe even another form of creative work! (It happens!)

Constantly explore, and focus, on what brings you joy, and go from there. It’s your measuring stick and compass needle in life.

I still love carving stamps, and when I need a break, I pick up my carving stamps and hit the rubber! (Literally)

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