NEWSLETTERS 101: #20 Share the BIGGEST Gift of All!

Otter's story is a good one for 2021!
Otter’s story is a good one for 2021!

NEWSLETTERS 101: #20 Share the BIGGEST Gift of All!

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.

What a Disney movie did to lift my heart!

(8 minute read) (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen Soul yet, wait to read this til after you do!)

 In last week’s column, I shared why sharing a family tradition (or one we’ve modified) can show our audience our human side.

For today’s column, I thought about discussing New Year’s Resolutions (which I rarely make, and keep even less.)

But instead, I’m sharing what I realize is the greatest gift of all:

We’re here, right now. Alive!

 Enjoy every moment, and look for the tiny little miracles that are EVERYWHERE!

Sorry/Not sorry for yelling. I’ll back up a bit. This came from a lot of ‘little thoughts’ that piled up into a massive mound this past week.

A few days ago, I was thinking about how desperate we all could be about sales.

Like it or not, “sales” is a powerful desire and goal for almost all creatives. I’ve always advised against pursuing sales as the only measure of our success. (I could create an entire series with the articles where I’ve mentioned Thomas Kinkade!) But we can’t help wishing and hoping to be successful with our creative work, and strong sales are hard evidence our work is popular.

Unfortunately, as you know from how many times I’ve mentioned Vincent Van Gogh’s work, we may never truly know how others will value our work. And being famous after we’re dead is…well, a nice thing to hope for, but we’ll never know.

Exactly how did “famous artists” in the past become famous? They had collectors with the money and the means (and the beautiful spaces) to purchase and display their art. And eventually, those works made it into museums around the world, “proof positive” that these were, indeed, great works of art.

But what about the artists who didn’t have that kind of audience? At first I thought of the work that wouldn’t even make it to any market: Artists of different cultures, different races, etc., especially those deemed “primitive” in nature. Then I thought of women artists, who were—and still are—under-represented in museums, art history, and even galleries today. Soon I was a little embarrassed for wanting fame and fortune, when so many people may have never had the chance to make their work, let alone show it, let alone sell it.

Even those artists who did make the cut, what about those works of art that never survived into our times? Entire cities, cultures, etc. were destroyed by fire, war, famine, pestilence, volcanoes. Cave art wasn’t a thing until Alta Mira, a prehistoric cave full of beautiful images of animals, was discovered in 1868. Even then, it aroused no curiosity for another decade, and it was actually Maria, the 8-year-old daughter of the caves owner, nobleman Marcelino Sanz de Sautola, who discovered the beautiful artwork within. (And even then, the work was often dismissed as modern forgeries by gypsies, until more caves were discovered in the early 20th century.)

Even then, such artwork was again dismissed as “hunting magic” by modern “experts”, whose unconscious bias limited their understanding of what was right in front of them. This bias continued. Mary Cassatt was a “real artist” whose work took a long time to be classified as such. In this article, the author says she had three strikes against her, “…her gender, her foreignness (she was an American living in France), and her reputation as a painter of motherhood.”

Even if we do achieve a decent reputation, a strong audience, some good sales, does that seal our fate? Nope. I can’t find this artist for the life of me, but one session in my art history classes in college focused on an extremely successful Victorian artist, the Thomas Kinkaid of his times, whose popularity tanked soon after he died. Too sentimental, too trite, did not stand up over time. (Could it be this guy?)

In our modern times, with a changing-for-the-better consciousness that all people matter, that all people have creative talents of some kind, that we all yearn to be “seen” in the world, and especially in this year of pandemic and unrest, how do we pursue our goal of being a successful artist?

I went to bed too tired, too sad, on a dark Christmas Eve, without an answer.

Until Disney+ tossed its newest Pixar animated movie, Soul, into our lap on Christmas Day.

I’d read a review that considered it “meh”, but for some reason, it still called to me. It’s about a musician, a music teacher, who’s always dreamed of making it to the big time, who finally gets his chance…

And falls down a manhole and dies. His soul is desperate to find a way to ‘go back’, to get the opportunity to realize his dream-of-a-lifetime.

In his efforts, he crosses the path of Soul 22, who has refused all efforts to get her to live a life on earth. Her cynicism is impressive! Even the souls of Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and many others can’t encourage her to even try.

After many failed attempts to not only recapture his own life, but to encourage hers, a tiny miracle happens.

Let me repeat: A tiny miracle.

I found this beautiful quote in an article about Soul today:  “Instead, Soul was left to be about the little moments that make up our lives rather than where we end up, and that’s ultimately what makes the movie resonate so well.”

My own greatest joy comes in persevering until I find a solution to whatever is blocking my way. I keep track of my progress in my notebooks and journals, capturing the tiny moments of joy and wonder I encounter in my day.

When I write my way through episodes of despair, when I find myself at the mercy of destructive, negative people, when I begin to doubt my own worth in the world, my gratitude list lifts me up again.

Those tiny moments add up!

When I make my work, I feel my purpose. It’s to share what I find beautiful in the world. To share where I’ve found meaning, solace, peace in my heart, if only for a moment. And it’s so easy to do that today! A quick photo, a caption, a few tags on Instagram, and my insights go straight to my artist-and-writer page.

I find as many ways as I can (writing for Fine Art Viewsmy blogTwitterFacebookmy email newsletter, etc.) to share what I’ve learned, what has lifted me, with others, quickly and easily. (The gifts of social media, when used as a force for good in the world!)

And you can too! Include your audience in those moments of inspiration as part of your marketing process. Sharing those moments of light, beauty, awe or sorrow will also help to connect your art with others.

Including these shares in our newsletters — whether it’s posting an image of our latest work, or writing about a flock of snowy egrets catching a random ray of sunshine, silhouetted against dark and stormy clouds, or including these moments on social media –is not only a gift to others, but a great marketing tool too.

When we make the work of our heart, we are lifted, even if just for a little bit. When we share it with others, maybe their hearts will be lifted, too. Whether they buy it, or share it with others, the ripples in the pond of life continue.

More than this, we can’t expect, nor count on.

In closing, a dear friend and I talked together on Zoom recently, soon after watching SOUL. She was struggling with her own “next steps”, what would get her to her goals, and I felt so helpless regarding advice. Fortunately, it turns out she didn’t really need advice. And she is already so many steps ahead of me!

One little (hah!) story she shared with me: She has a school history and a longtime interest in ecology, and she loves going for long walks, being immersed in nature and all its wonders.

Over time, she realized that on every walk, at some point, a tree would “wave” at her.

It could be a branch, a twig, sometimes just a single leaf. But it was independent of any noticeable wind or animal action. And she began to wave back.

Just a tiny wave, so if she weren’t walking alone, her companion wouldn’t notice.

Because who waves back at trees, right?

It hit me. There’s a powerful moment in SOUL that involves a tree. An insignificant, perfectly ordinary moment, actually less than a minute, that changes everyone. And everything. Something I’m betting every single one of us has experienced at some time in our walks and travels.

I told my friend about this moment, without giving away what it was, and encouraged her to watch the movie. She did. She cried. And she was happy again.

This year, make your art, especially if it makes you happy.

This year, share your art, because it will make others happy.

This year, pursue your goals, but don’t let them define you, or limit you in any way. Don’t worry about being “good enough”.

We are enough.

This year, live your life. Live it fully. Live it deeply. As my little animal artifact Otter told me many years ago…

“Oh, be joyful! Play! Enjoy every moment of this amazing life.”

 Oh, and this morning, I looked to see if a tree were waving at me. One did, but it was because it was full of two different flocks of birds, finches and Brewers Blackbirds. So maybe it was waving, but maybe it wasn’t.

But I waved back anyway. And somehow, I felt a little happier.

Your shares and comments are always welcomed!

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If someone shared this article with you, and you’d like to read more in this series, visit my articles at FineArtViews.com.

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Building Strength

There are no “instant cures”, just building good, daily habits.
There are no “instant cures”, just building good, daily habits.

There are no “instant cures”, just building good, daily habits.

 (6 minute read)

 Another insight gained at the independent gym program at my favorite physical therapy facility.

On Monday, I overheard a conversation between a physical therapist and a client. I immediately thought, “Ooooh, that would make a good column!”

Yesterday, I couldn’t remember an important part of the “lesson”. I didn’t intend to go to the gym today. But then a) I found an article that related to a something the PT had said on Facebook, and b) I realized if I followed my own advice, I would go to the gym, deliver that newspaper article, and ask them for that lost component.

So here I am, with my exercise in for the day and a clear conscience, sharing the wisdom I overheard, get the “missing piece”, and share how it relates to our art biz.

The client in question felt 100% better after a few therapy sessions, and wanted to know why they had to come back in several months for a follow-up evaluation. The therapist replied, “Because during the actual therapy sessions, we work to a) alleviate your pain, and b) restore your range of motion. Then we provide you with follow-up exercises to help you strengthen the muscles involved. That can only take place with sustained healthy practices, i.e., actually doing those exercises!”

“But”, they added, “In 99% of our follow-ups, we find people don’t do those exercises. They don’t make time, or they forget, or feel fine and think they don’t have to do them anymore. And the problem comes back all too soon.”

That’s why they recommend clients who have finished therapy either fully commit to their exercise program, or sign up for the facility’s independent gym program. There, the PTs can monitor our progress, offer corrections if we’re “doing it wrong”, and adjust our plan as we improve. This is why I’ve maintained my gym program for over 5 years now, and made many new friends with the staff, and with other clients as well.

And if you’re a writer, like me, you can also gain incredible insights in our own “work of the heart”.

Here’s what occurred to me in that moment:

If we love what we do, and we’ve found our audience, and our work is selling like hotcakes, then clearly we’re doing it right. We can just keep doing the same thing, because it’s working.

But if we haven’t found our happy work/life/art/income balance, we may need to seek help to put that together.

When we either don’t love what we do (because we’ve focused purely on what sells vs. what makes it worthwhile emotionally/spiritually… when we haven’t found our audience… when our work isn’t selling….

Then it feels like we’re doing it wrong, or we’re simply not good enough. THAT is painful indeed!

If we improve our range-of-motion, if we reach out, step outside our comfort zone, then the pain begins to ease. We take classes to improve our skills. We explore ways to share our work in the world, so our audience can find us. We learn how to price our work, how to find the venues—shows, galleries, sales from our website, etc.—that will work for us.

But if we don’t strengthen our commitment to those strategies, if we don’t make that a daily practice, if we don’t regularly commit to marketing, practicing, connecting through our powerful story….

Then we’ll be back in the same place before long, wondering what the heck we’re doing wrong. Fretting about why it never seems to get better.

Just like our work techniques can’t get better unless we practice, practice, practice, we can’t keep our momentum going without commitment to our long-term goals: Finding our venues, finding our audience, and telling our story in ways that deepen our connection to potential and current customers. And to keep our commitment strong, we need to create daily practices (or at least weekly practices!)

It can be hard to create that momentum. We never know what “practice” will gain us the best results, or how long it will take. I’m here to tell you that just when it feels like our routine is ‘perfect’, life will intervene with another crisis, obstacle, challenge, or inconvenience. That’s life.

And yet…even without these distractions and setbacks, most of us (being human) “forget” to make time for even those simple things that will build our strength. We tell ourselves we don’t have time… (I finally realized that telling myself I “don’t have a minute” to floss was ridiculous. Once I had that insight, my new daily habit was solidly in place.) We say we did it for a while, but nothing changed. (We didn’t do it long enough, or perhaps we were doing it wrong.)

Our personal challenge, every day, is to just keep trying. To get back on the horse when we fall off. To persevere. To become resilient. To keep hope in our hearts. To keep moving forward.

What is something you can do regularly? Going to your studio and making your work, yes! But what else?

I have an “obligation” to write at least one column a week. I missed my deadline several years ago, with a bad habit of waiting until “the last minute” to turn in my column. My column didn’t run at all. I was so embarrassed, I’ve never missed one since. Knock on wood! Yes, I have an hour a week to write, and edit, and sometimes even to “illustrate”. I’m better at being early, or letting my editor know ahead of time if there’s a good reason I can’t hit my deadline. I don’t want to be a “problem” for my editor, nor my audience, ever again.

I sign up for the open studio tours and other local events that help build my biz. Recently, I did a small local, indoor show that only drew around five people last year. This year, I decided not to do it. But the host had featured my artwork in their marketing, so I felt I had to. And guess what? It was hugely successful! Tons of shoppers, and great sales for me. One customer said, “I saw your work last year at (some event) and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all year!” (Yes, they bought something for themselves, and two gifts for friends. Proving that art events aren’t always about making money TODAY.) So you can bet I’ll be doing that show, and others, in the years to come.

I strive to post something about my work regularly on social. I fail miserably, but I do enjoy it, and I just have to commit to doing it regularly. When I do, it’s so gratifying to hear the responses.

And I am committed to finding new galleries, soon, that might do well with my work, for me and for them.

What is a daily/weekly practice you can focus on with YOUR work? Don’t wait for New Year’s resolutions! Most of them are way too big in the first place, impossible to put into motion. Start by what you can accomplish in a few minutes, today. And tomorrow. And the “tomorrow” after that.

Share your own daily practice that helps your heart, your art, your story become stronger! I’d love to hear it, and I bet others will, too!

As always, if you enjoyed this article, please feel free to share it. And if someone sent you this article and you liked it, you can sign up for more at Fine Art Views or my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com .