FINDING YOUR TRIBE

Today’s post, Finding Your Tribe, originally appeared on Fine Art Views, a daily art marketing blog for Fine Art Studios Online

 Unfortunately, artists are people, too.

 I remember the first time I did a major fine craft show.  It was amazing!

 Oh, sure there were the expected (and unexpected) obstacles to overcome. These shows are incredibly expensive to do—booth fees, meals, transportation, marketing. The realization that your track lighting issues are going to get even worse. The nerve-wracking experience of packing, set-up, break-down, and everything in between.

But then there is the wonderful side, and that’s all about the people. Gallery owners who really love your work. Show coordinators who eventually become good friends.

And finding your tribe.

At one event, a major national wholesale show, I met people I previously only knew through our conversations on a professional discussion forum. (Remember those? I miss them. Sort of. Keep reading!) I distinctly remember thinking, “I’ve found my tribe!”

 For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who were creative makers, like me. People who took their work seriously. People who were true professionals (for the most part) about getting their art into the world.  People who focused on doing excellent work, who worked at their craft daily, who sent their kids to college and paid their mortgage doing the work of their heart. People who laughed, shared information readily, supported other artists.

It was a magical year.

After a year or so, though, a few chinks appeared.

There were people who took shortcuts in their process, making it all about the money.

There were people who copied, diligently.

There were people who resented “newbies”, angry about people who “hadn’t paid their dues,” people who were envious of newcomers who won accolades and awards so “easily”.

There were people who were envious. People who were intensely annoying. People with obvious mental health issues. People with egos so big, they took all the air out of any room they enterted.

I tend to accrue a lot of information when I try something new, and I love to share it. (In fairness, tru dat.) So a few people let me know I was an upstart know-it-all with a big head.

And a very few people went out of their way to be obnoxious, to the point of bullying.

Where was my tribe?? I felt broken-hearted.

It took me years to come to terms with this unpleasant knowledge. (I still struggle, I admit that freely.) And now I know this to be true:

Artists are people, too.

In fact, some of the factors that make for a successful (however we define “successful”) artist can make for a difficult human being.

We have to make your art a priority. We have to believe in ourselves, especially when times are hard. We have to trust our process, sometimes to the exclusion of everyone else’s process. We (sometimes) have to fight work hard for our place in the world.

Sometimes this means: We believe we are always Number One. We believe no one else’s opinions matter. We believe our way is the only way. We believe when someone else gets a bigger piece of the pie, we won’t get our own piece.

One summer, after a particularly grueling interaction with someone who was making my professional (and personal) life miserable, another artist finally said, “We can’t all be the Buddha.” “Hah!” I thought resentfully. “I’m just asking her to leave me alone!”

Unfortunately, we really can’t be the Buddha. And in my case, the Buddha would probably be, “Quit trying to fix/change/out-argue those people! You can’t win!”

Because life is filled with difficult people, and creative people are no exception. If anything, we get judged harsher because we are creative people, because we’re supposed to be happier, more fulfilled, livin’ the dream.

And so, instead, I try to see them as, not a problem to be fixed, but an obstacle to get around.

It’s hard. I want to be friends with everyone. (Don’t say it, I know. I know. I KNOW!!!) I have an open heart, and I keep forgetting to put up big effin’ fences when I need to. I consider myself a student of life, and pursuing my art has enriched me on all levels—especially the learning part!

So when it feels like you’ve been voted off the island, consider the source.

Do the people I know and trust support me? Or do they gently suggest I still have some growin’ to do?

Do these people really block my path? Or are they just an inconvenient moment in my life I have to get through?

Can I learn to truly see the good in people who kinda suck are not perfect? (Note: Please do not excuse or make up a story about people with extreme malignant narcissism/sociopathy. Just get away.)

And most important, when the weight of personalities lie heavy on me, I can always go to the sacred creative space of my studio, and get back to making the work of my heart.

Do you have a good story about how you dealt with a difficult person in your art career? Enquiring minds want to know!!

 

 

 

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TRIBES #4: BEING THE PARIAH

Which is worse? Leaving a tribe behind, or being ASKED to leave the tribe??

I wrote earlier about how hard it is to leave a tribe we’ve outgrown or moved past.

A reader reminded me it’s even harder to leave when you don’t want to–but everybody else wants you to.

Is this scenario familiar? You have a special group of friends, good buddies. You’ve all been together for awhile and things are great.

Then one day a new person joins the group, usually invited in by one of the members.

It may start right away, or it may be insidious, but eventually, one of the original members of the group–YOU!!–is slowly but surely forced out.

Maybe you find out everyone else was invited to something. But not you. Or you are accused of talking about people behind their back. Maybe the new person is rude to you when no one else is around. But when you complain, everyone thinks you’re making it up.

The more frustrated and hurt you become, the more the group shuns you.

And one day, you are on the outside looking in. You are no longer part of the group.

This happened to me. I was in my forties, if you can believe it. (This is still humiliating to think about, but I was accused of stealing a tiny Rubbermaid container with Cheerios in it.) And ironically, it was me who invited the newcomer to join our group.

It seems ridiculous now, but at the time it was devastating. It was one of the most emotionally painful events of my life.

I had no idea what to do about it. It took awhile to get over it.

Then, a year later, I read an article about the same thing happening to somebody else, a kid who was in high school at the time.

A new kid joined his group of friends, who had been tight since first grade. Then the new kid spread rumors about him. Everyone turned on him. He was ousted from the group.

Fortunately, he had someone to counsel him. The wise words went something like this:

You cannot control what happened, because you cannot control what other people think. Since it’s not in your control, you must learn to let go, and move on. You may never learn why this happened, and it’s not important that you do.

This is the only thing you can know for sure: People who do this to you are simply not your friends.

The sad thing is, they may have been “good enough” friends for awhile. Maybe even for a long long time.

But when things got dicey, they cut and ran. They did not believe in you.

And so they weren’t really your friends.

Because real friends don’t do that.

Stay your course, believe in yourself, and follow your heart. You will make new friends, built on a stronger foundation. They will be better friends.”

It seems too simplistic to be helpful. But it helped.

First was the realization that this happens to others, too. I didn’t feel like such a pariah any more.

Comfort also came from realizing I had no control over what had happened. Therefore, I didn’t have to figure it out or even fix it. It was over, and it was time to let go.

The kid in the article moved on. He went to college, and made new friends. He began to value other, deeper qualities in his new friends–mutual respect, integrity, trustworthiness.

And the day came when one of his old friends contacted him to tell him that the group had finally broken up when the interloper tried the trick again. Everyone realized what had happened. He apologized and said he was sorry he had believed the rumors and lies.

It was nice of the guy to do that. But it didn’t really change anything. They resumed their friendship, but at a very casual level.

Whether you leave the tribe, or the tribe leaves you, the same thing is true…

They are not your tribe. Not any longer.

As Greg Behrendt says in his book, HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, don’t waste the pretty. Don’t lose any more precious sleep or brain cells on figuring it out. Just be grateful you are free to explore your next step forward. And imagine the lovely new people you’ll meet on your way.

P.S. Of course, there’s always the possibility it IS you. Who can say? But the same advice applies. Move on if it’s causing you pain. Find the group that embraces your unique brand of irony.

TRIBES #3: LEAVING THE TRIBE

Your needs and goals as an artist will change and grow throughout your life. You will constantly gather the people you need to you.

And you will also periodically leave people behind.

I started this mini-series with a sort of Ugly Duckling story, as one reader noted. I told how my dog tries to be a cat, and why it’s a good thing he isn’t very good at it. When we find out we aren’t really “bad bankers” but are actually “really excellent artists”, it’s an amazing epiphany.

The second article talks about how to find your own tribe.

Interestingly, some people took that to mean searching out other artists who work in the same medium. Some took it as how some artists learn techniques from a master, then never really develop their own style.

Some even found their new “family”, but grieved when it, too, became contentious, confining and restrictive.

While some of us will be fortunate to find a wonderful, cohesive, supportive group of like-minded folks, others will struggle to maintain that in their lives.

Sad to say, but it happens.

The day may come when you have to leave your bright new tribe, and find another.

There are lots of reasons why this happens.

Sometimes the group is just too big. There’s no time for each person to have a turn to be listened to. You can feel lost in the shuffle.

Sometimes there aren’t enough “rules”. A few folks will take on the role of gadfly (aka “jerk”). Or there are too many rules, too much “business”. The lively group dynamic is strangled with too many procedural stops and starts. (I left one craft guild when the business reports began to take up almost half the meetings.)

Sometimes the group narrows its own dynamic. It can be subtle but powerful. You’ll start to feel constricted. Here’s a true story:

Years ago, a quilting guild I belonged to brought in a nationally-known color expert for a workshop.

During it, she commented that there were definite regional color palettes, patterns and technique preferences across the country.

I asked her how that happened. She said when members brought in their projects for sharing, some would generate a huge positive response from the membership. Others, more eclectic or “out there”, would receive a lukewarm reception. “We all crave that positive response”, she said. “It’s human nature. So slowly but surely, we begin to tailor our work to generate the bigger response.”

It hit me like a brick. Another quilter and I did more unusual fabric work. The response to our “shares” was decidedly in the “lukewarm” category.

And I had begun to do more work in the “accepted style” of the group.

I left after the workshop, and never went back. My fellow fiber artists were a great bunch of people. But I was not willing to “tamp down” my vision in order to garner their praise.

Sometimes, our course changes. We find ourselves in pursuit of different goals. Or we find our own needs sublimated to the needs of the group.

Or we simply grow faster than the rest of the group. You may even outgrow your mentor. If our work fosters jealousy–if our work becomes more successful, attracts more notice–then professional jealousy might raise its ugly head.

It can feel even harder to leave this new tribe that gave us so much joy at first. In fact, it’s brutal.

But it has to be done, if you want your art to move forward.

You cannot control the feelings of others. You can make yourself, and your work, as small and mundane as you can. But if someone is determined to nibble you, nothing can stop them.

Take heart in this knowledge:

This group served your needs for awhile. Enough for you to gain confidence, and to take a step forward.

And you will find another tribe. It may take awhile. But your peers are out there.

Consider that they may not even be working in the same medium. They may not even be visual artists. They may not be “artists” at all.

As long as they share the same values, or can support and challenge you in constructive ways, you can benefit from their company.

It may even be time for you to walk alone. Just for awhile.

Just long enough to really hear what your own heart is saying.