ART AND FILTHY LUCRE: Does Making Art for Money Muddy the Artistic Waters?

My art’s bigger/better/purer than your art. So there!

Hierarchies come easily to many living creatures.

It can be a brutal process. For birds, hierarchy can mean life or death. That phrase ‘pecking order’? It’s real. I’ve lost chickens and cockatiels to the process. The bird on the lowest rung of the ladder may not get enough to eat. An even slightly injured chicken will be attacked, killed, even eaten by the rest of the flock.

We humans have hierarchies, too. Our fascination for English royalty, our obsession with celebrities, our own yearning for fame and fortune, all are social constructs based on hierarchy.

Artists and craftspeople are no exception.

People who make their own jewelry components sniff at ‘bead stringers’–people who use only purchased components in their designs. The people who do some wire work or only make their own beads, are sniffed at by silver- and goldsmiths.

Glass artists have been the top of the heap in the collecting world for several decades now. Before that, it was something else. Maybe clay. I dunno–I wasn’t in the biz then.

Fine artists look down on all crafts. Once I introduced myself to a small group as a fiber artist. “Hunh! That’s nice…” was the general response. Ten minutes later, a local oil painter’s name came up. “Now he’s a real artist!” someone in the group exclaimed.

But fine artists have their own internal order, too. Pastels are better than colored pencils, watercolors better than pastel work, acrylic paint is better than watercolor, and oils are better than acrylic.

And of course, across all media is the hierarchy of purity. Who makes money from their art, and who makes art purely for art’s sake? Who sullies their ethos for filthy lucre? Is teaching the purest form of sharing our art with the world?

It gets kinda confusing–and funny–after awhile.

If you are in a group of artists who sell their work, the mark of a ‘professional artist’ is your ability to make a living from your work. How much money you make is your achievement award. It’s proof that you are a serious, full-time artist.

Or people place you on the ladder by the prestige factor of the shows you do. Small local shows don’t count, of course. Why, they let just anybody in!

Being vetted by an organization helps, too. I’ve had people express polite interest in my work until I mention that I’m a doubly-juried member of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Suddenly, I’m treated with respect and deference.

But there’s nothing like the disdain amateurs–those who can’t-won’t-don’t sell their work–hold for an artist who actually, actively seeks sale–those artists who want to make their work and get paid for making it. The disdain the amateur holds for ‘professionals’ is huge.

They have history behind them. The word ‘amateur’ originally meant someone who pursued an activity purely for the love it of it. Now it ranks right up there with ‘dilettante’–someone who pursues an activity superficially. (ouch!) Amateurs, by definition, make their art without the requirement of making money from it. Art for Art’s sake. The purest state of making art.

The reality? Not for me to judge. It’s all good.

I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum in my career.

I began by making jewelry entirely from purchased components, and making traditional quilts. I did a very few small local shows, but mostly I gave my work away.

Then I dedicated myself to finding my own personal vision. It was a powerful step. I was grateful to even be making my art. The thought of being accepted into a show, or of someone even buying a piece, seemed too much to ask for.

As my skills and self-confidence grew, the next step was entering exhibitions across the country. Someone had told me they thought the phrase ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ sounded so wonderful, they made that their goal. I made it my goal, too. And I achieved it within a few years by methodically applying to as many opportunities as I could.

When ‘nationally-exhibited artist’ lost its luster, I turned to money as a measure of my success. It was important to me to make sales. The more money I made, the more successful I felt.

After years of making money, I wanted to be in the ‘good’ shows, the prestigious shows that look on a resume. With time and effort, I managed that, too.

And then I went back to square one.

I transitioned from focusing on these external goals, to thinking about the place in the world I occupy. I’m still selling–better than ever, in fact. But that transition came from a powerful place in my heart, and that is more important to me than ever.

Now, according to many people, I can be placed at every step in the art hierarchy. I’ve been ‘pure’, I’ve been ‘mercenary’, I’ve been ‘published/exhibited’, I’ve been hunkered down.

And yet, it’s the same work. And I am the same person.

Hierarchies evolved as a way for a species to survive. The weak, the sickly, were left to die, so that the flock/herd/group could survive.

We humans can–and do–choose differently.

We try to heal our sick. We care for the weak. We are present with the dying, to comfort them.

We’ve learned that even someone who is sick, or weak, or slow, or awkward, or fearful, or (gasp!) untalented, still has a place in the world.

And given that chance, and that place in the world, the gifts they offer can be profound and huge. At the vary least, they are happier for doing what they do.

So make your art.

Sell it, if that’s important to you. Don’t resent others if they sell theirs, and you can’t seem to sell yours.

Don’t excuse yourself by judging others. They are either on a different path, or (like me) simply in a different part of the cycle.

Recognize the hierarchy of who’s making ‘real art’ for what it is–a way to hide our jealousy of people who seem to have something we want for ourselves. A survival strategy we can choose to ignore.

Decide what you want, right here, right now.

And know that you can change your mind, any time. And do something different.

I HATE WORDS (and Zen)

Sometimes I can be in the moment for like….60 seconds? If that. But today is one of those times where I just can’t fit the wisdom of zen into my life.

It’s one of those days where I made the mistake of comparing my words to someone else’s words, and theirs were better. A day where I realize how really, really, really jealous I am that someone else’s words have more recognition than mine–and MINE are better.

A day where my son and I, and my husband and I, exchanged all these words, sharp and angry and cutting…and I have never felt so far apart from understanding either of them, nor they me.

A day where someone’s careless words, admonishing me to “hurry up, people are waiting on you” erased my happy little moment. A day of my words, spilled in anger at a telemarketer–why didn’t I simply take a few seconds to be kind rather than righteously indignant and pompous? A day of words I used to try to curry favor from someone, hating myself the instant they were out of my mouth.

Even my shipment of custom mats for my new work turned out to be the wrong size. Because–yep, you guessed it–I used the wrong words to describe what I wanted.

I’m ready to spill over, frustrated with my lack of patience, my lack of self-respect, my lack of insight and tact and balance. I found myself actually crying in the shower. That time of month? Hah. That train has left the station, baby, and good-bye.

Today, I wish I’d had no words. Bah! Who needs ’em?? They just get in the way of everything.

In the moment? I HATE this moment!!

But then I remember the sweet words I gave my horse today. She met me halfway when I asked her to do something. “Good girl!” I trilled. I know she heard me, too.

I remember I tried to make it up to my son. I reached out, let him know I’m just trying to figure out how to be a good mom to him. “I love you,” I said, as his door closed in my face. I could almost here him mutter “Whatever…” behind it.

Soon I will have to say, “I’m sorry” to my husband. Even though I still think I was right. I’m trying to remember that new mantra we’re working on: “Who’s right?? Who cares?!!” It’s the “us” that matters.

Hospice is teaching me that I can’t count on words, not all the time. Sometimes, someday, they won’t be there, and sometimes they just are not enough anyway.

But for now, I realize I just want to look up again at that beautiful New Hampshire sky, so blue today, so swept through with lacy sheets of clouds fanned by unseen winds above, and in the silence so deep I could hear the wings of a wren a dozen yards away, I, too, yearn to hear a sweet, small voice trill…

Good girl!

MY FAVORITE BUMPER STICKER

I had the same bumper sticker on my car for years, right next to my “BRAKE FOR MOOSE, IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE!” sticker from the NH Fish and Game Department. (I love the looks I get from it when I drive around in Philadelphia….)

It says:

Those who abandon their dreams will discourage yours.

Some people take this to mean you should only hang out with happy people. Well, yeah, there’s that.

For me, it was a constant reminder that people who nay-say your dreams, your ideas, your business, your art…

They are not necessarily telling you that “for your own good”.

They have their own motivation, their own agenda. And their motive is to not further yours.

I was especially reminded of this a few years ago. I’d hit a roadblock with my work. Wasn’t sure where to go with it, or what to do next. Heck, did the world even want my art? It sure didn’t feel like it….

That was a rough time, a scary time.

What was even scarier was, I became hyper-critical and hyper-jealous of those who did appear to have their act together.

And I also took some big hits from other artists I suspect were in the same scary boat/place.

In fact, some of the biggest crap I’ve gotten from people are people who are shadow artists. Or nibblers.

So my take on this little homily is this:

If you love the work you do, if you are making the best art you can, if making it makes you a better person….

Then it’s good enough to be in the world.

Maybe I don’t like it. But that’s my problem, not yours. It probably serves somebody’s purpose, even if it isn’t mine.

And when other people are giving you crap, don’t take it personally.

In fact, don’t take it at all.

Because chances are, it’s somebody who’s in a really bad place with their own work.

You can sympathize, if you are a big person. (I’m not.) But don’t give in to them.

Because….

Those who abandon their dreams,

will discourage yours.

THE DEVIL AT WORK IN THE WORLD

The Devil’s two most powerful tools in this world are vanity and envy.

I’ve written so much about jealousy and envy, I thought I had nothing left to say. But I do.

I know that technically speaking, the terms are not identical. Envy is wanting what someone else has. Jealousy is fear of losing what you have.

But the premise is the same: Your perception is, you fear you have something to lose, and somebody else is responsible for that fear.

Envy has been a powerful thread in my life. No matter how “enlightened” I get, I struggle with it. Either I’m preoccupied with someone else having more skill/good fortune/attention, or someone is giving me crap because they envy me.

Seems like much of the trouble in the world is based on envy, from my own small woes to those of great nations.

If someone copies your work, part of that is because they see you have skill/success/attention/money/whatever. They think if they simply make the same work, they will have that, too.

If someone is envious of your artwork, and they are in a position of power over you (a juror for a show, a standards committee member), they can make life miserable for you in countless small and subtle ways.

If they are a peer or a friend, it’s even worse. Suddenly, everything you say or do draws a sarcastic remark, a biting comment, a moment of ridicule. A once-promising friendship warps into something sad and rueful.

When I allow myself to envy, it’s just as bad. Trust me.

But the real sin in envy is not in the behavior itself, or the misery it causes.

It’s because by giving in to it, we give away our power.

We give away everything beautiful, unique and wonderful that’s in us. We destroy the gifts that are given us–our talent, our perseverance, our joy–and turn them into dust.

Earlier this month, I almost left my dojo for another that seemed more compatible. I thought I would join a school that was less physically demanding, more sympathetic to my aging body.

I talked with my head instructor; he reluctantly agreed my reasons were sound. But he said I had to let the head of my school know.

I have one thing I do well that I’m proud of. I make the hard phone calls. I arranged to meet with Mr. R in person.

What happened then was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.

I will make a long story short–this was a complex situation, with a long history, involving many talented, good people. Much of it is personal and not tangent to the story, so I won’t go into it.

But the heart of this story is, Mr. R quoted that opening line to me. He told me when he’d heard it, and why.

Envy was at the root of the long, sad story that had left so many people deeply unhappy, and not at peace with themselves.

That’s when I realized that another, deeper reason for me leaving was not simply the tough work-out. The real reason was, I was envious of others in the class. I felt stupid having to step out when things got hard. Others were moving ahead, and I was not.

That was bad. Because I had lost track of my true reasons for practicing Tae Kwon Do.

I’d forgotten that my practice is always, for myself.

Not to be better than so-and-so, or to get to my next belt, or have my teacher praise me.

I must practice because I love what Tae Kwon Do can teach me.

I must practice because I love the discipline of trying to be my best.

I must practice for the joy of mastering something–sometimes in a horribly pathetic long drawn-out process, to be sure–to get good at something simply because I keep doing it, no matter what.

I, and I alone, am responsible for pacing myself within the class. If I can’t do sets of fifty push-ups anymore, then I must break it down into sets of 25, or 20. Or seven, if that’s all I can squeeze out.

If I can’t run fast laps on the hard floor, then I can run slow laps on the mat. Or walk, if that’s all my body can handle that day.

And there is no need to feel embarrassed when I need to step up or slow down. Because 1) it’s not anyone else’s place to judge me, and 2) I must stop judging myself.

Can you see the implications for our art?

I have quoted Martha Graham’s quote many times, but I’ll do it again. And I see I’ve lost the copy I used to hang prominently on my bulletin board, so I’ll print it out again for me, too:

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.

It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. …

No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

from The Life and Work of Martha Graham[

Everyone always has there own reasons for their behavior. If they are envious of you, it has nothing to do with you. There is nothing you can do to deflect it, or control it, either. Sometimes we have the luxury of removing ourselves from the situation, sometimes we can’t.

Understand that envy is based on fear. Fear that there is not enough love, or not enough attention, or not enough money, or not enough opportunity for all of us. Fear creates a little death. It takes the joy of living away from us.

We can only manage ourselves. The only thing we can change is how we respond. The only thing to do is to keep doing what we’re supposed to do, on the very highest level.

We can only try to make our decisions out of love, and hope, instead of fear.

We can only keep making the unique work, the art, that is in our hearts.

I have had the support of amazing people in my life, who have helped me internalize that. I may need a refresher course from time to time, but I always get back to the same place, the place of inner strength and conviction.

This is my gift to the world, the work of my hands, the work of my words, the work of my heart.

It is all we really have, but it is astonishingly powerful.

And when we truly understand and embrace that, we are astonishing, too.

GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF YOUR BOOTH #7: The Hardest Cut of All

Seventh in a series of getting difficult people out of your booth at a craft show or art fair.

I can almost guarantee you this “difficult person” will be the hardest one of all to deal with. If this happens to you, my only consolation is, you are not alone.

It will happen after you’ve asked a friend to help you in your booth at a show.

Because there may come a time when you will have to ask that friend to leave your booth.

I have a few friends who not only work with me on my booth at some shows, they volunteer to help, calling me months ahead of time to offer their services.

And they are simply amazing at it. I secretly think they are better at this than I am. They are a miracle made manifest in the world, and I am the luckiest artist alive because of them.

And even if someone isn’t stellar at selling, they are such good company, I’m delighted to have them on board. Their companionship is all that is necessary.

I also had a few friends, perfectly good friends…. Friendships of many years duration that have gone screaming down in flames from working with me in my booth.

A day into the show–sometimes an hour into the show, you realize with a terrible sinking feeling that it’s all gone wrong. They are not doing well in your booth. It is so not working out.

They show up dressed inappropriately–either under-dressed (“I want to be comfy!”) or over-dressed–or barely dressed at all. (“Oh gosh, I can’t get this top to stay up!”)

They’re so busy telling you about their hot date last night, they ignore customers in the booth. Or get mad when you interrupt their hot date story to deal with those customers. Or can’t understand why you don’t even want to hear their story when the customers are just looking, for cryin’ out loud.

They don’t know how to talk with customers, saying, “Can I help you?” even when you’ve told them a dozen times that’s the worst possible thing you can say to a potential buyer.

The friend loves to share funny stories about you with your customers. Stories you kinda wish she would not share.

It can get even worse.

One artist told me her assistant used her high-end booth display to do his ballet warm-up exercises. In front of customers. All. Day. Long.

Another told me her friend came back from lunch–two hours late. She’d decided to go shop around the fair. The artist, having sent her to eat first, was starving.

Another said a friend got plastered at a dinner out with important clients–buyers for a chain of stores–and behaved inappropriately. (Still waiting to here the juicy details on that one.)

Two different artists with compatible work share a booth to save on expenses. Only one is constantly trying to steal the customers of the other.

Whatever the attitude or behavior, it’s detrimental to your business and to your mental health.

And you are going to have to ask them to leave. Either at the end of the show (if it’s just mildly annoying), the end of the day (if it’s hugely annoying) or within the hour (if it’s such a disaster you are going to kill them any minute.)

And before you say, “Oh, Luann, we know what a pistol you are! That would never happen to me!”, let me assure you–it happens a lot. It has happened to people who have been in business for many, many years.

It happens so much, I know people in the biz who now have an iron-clad rule: They never–ever–hire friends to work for them anymore.

How can this happen? Why does a normal person who is nice enough to be your friend suddenly turn into the booth assistant from hell?

Reasons:

STRESS Shows are hard. No. Shows are really, really hard. It’s the work of getting enough product made to stock your booth. The weeks of preparation, making sure all your booth components are in place and in good working order. Making travel arrangements (and maybe family arrangements for your absence), and dealing the expense and stress of packing and loading and simply getting to the show. Set-up (ye gods, we could all write a book about the things that go wrong during set-up) and break-down. The weary drive home, the unpacking and trying to get back into your normal life–so you can do it all again for the next show.

In between is the part that is both wonderful and dismal, fun and agonizing–doing the show. Talking to enthralled customers about your work, and watching people walk by who couldn’t care less about your work. Making big sales and wondering if you are going to make booth expenses. Meeting other cool and interesting artists, and dealing with weird, psychotic fellow artists. It’s all there, it’s all happening at the show.

In short, S*H*O*W*S = S*T*R*E*S*S

And there’s your friend, a show virgin who just doesn’t get it. Who just doesn’t get any of it, at all. She doesn’t understand what you’ve already been through, or how critical the show’s success is to you, or how frantic you are underneath your smiling exterior. It all looks fun and glamorous to to her, and that’s what she’s expecting.

Or she’s under stress, too (see “their stuff” below). Or they worry they’re not going to do things right. Or they worry you’re going to do the crazy artist thing and yell at them.

So maybe you’re both stressed. whoo hoo.

UNCLEAR EXPECTATIONS Some people, despite your telling them the way it works, do not understand that being in a show is WORK. They don’t really understand it is a business situation, and that you have to generate sales to stay in business.

They arrive with a vague idea that it’s going to be a fun-filled day, full of chatter and fun food and wonderful sights to see.

They won’t understand why you interrupted their moving reenactment of the last awful days of their collapsed marriage just because a customer came into the booth.

They won’t understand why it wasn’t okay to just disappear for two hours at lunchtime because they felt like taking a walk.

They won’t understand why it’s really, really important to get ALL the numbers imprinted on a charge slip, including the card’s expiration date and the customer’s telephone number.

And because operating the credit card machine is just “too confusing”, they won’t understand why you can’t just do it, while they schmooze your customers.

And they won’t understand why you will have to tell them to shape up or ship out.

SHADOW ARTISTS We’ve covered this in previous chapters in this series, but it bears repeating. At a show, these SA’s are in your booth–a booth that is actually a tiny monument to your ambition and achievement.

They will be surrounded by your work. They will see and hear your fan base–your customers. They will have to listen to people rave about you with excitement and admiration. They will have to listen to you talk about your work with pride and confidence.

It will be too much for them.

It will simply be too painful, the cognitive dissonance too great, and they will resent it. For some people, seeing your success in pursuing your art, up close and personal, will be the final straw.

EGO Some people cannot handle being in a subordinate position in the friendship, even a temporary one as you booth assistant. They will refuse to follow your suggestions for selling. Or they will continue to push their craft over yours. They may resent having their time managed.

CHANGING ROLES We start a friendship with everyone’s roles firmly in place. And then the roles change.

Many relationships struggle with this transitions, not just friendships. Business partnerships. Mentor and student. Parent and child. Even marriages often topple under the stress of two people growing and changing apart.

Somehow, we don’t ever expect our friendships to fail from our changing roles. But they do.

One explanation: If you scratch the surface of the friendship, my humble experience has been it may have actually been based on one of these prototypes.

And like them, subject to the same sad conclusion when the roles change and the pressure to adapt rises.

THEIR STUFF Other people have their stuff–my catch-all term for emotional baggage, hard times, psychological upheaval, whatever.

They may have recently lost someone they loved, or even someone they hated. (The stress from either is great.) They are in a hard place for reasons that have nothing to do with you.

It’s going to spill over at some point. If you are near them when it happens, you are going to get scalded.

So what are the clues this beautiful friendship-cum-sales team is heading south?

They are resistant to your suggestions and training. I give out Bruce Baker’s sales training CD to new assistants before a show. One person said they were too experienced with sales to listen to it. I believed them. The first hour in the booth, it was painfully obvious their experience was not as good as they thought it was.

They forget who’s boss. They will show resentment when you ask them to do something they see as trivial or mundane or demeaning–running an errand, etc.

They will rearrange your display when you step out of the booth, and their feelings will be hurt if you are not happy with their efforts.

They may even decide not to show up at all, telling you that you don’t really need them–leaving you in the lurch and too late to make arrangements for other assistance.

They forget whose booth it is, and whose work they’re selling. I actually had one friend refuse to wear my jewelry in my booth. She wanted to wear her fashion accessories instead. Not wanting to push it, I let her–until the first customer noticed her work and asked her about it, and she happily started to tell them about her business.

They see the time with you in your booth as a social thing, a chance to catch up on all their life changes. This is so hard. Of course you want to hear all this stuff. But the show has to come first.

At a show you are working. The focus has to be on selling your work. And you can’t afford to deal with downer stuff. You must stay upbeat and positive.

Worse, your efforts to remind them of this will sound heartless and uncaring. It’s an impossible situation.

Now for the sad part.

In all my years of dealing with this, I have never found a good way to “fire” a friend.

I have yet to salvage one friendship from a “firing”.

And I have never felt good about what I had to do.

I’ve tried many different approaches.

I’ve tried heart-to-heart talks over dinner and drinks after the first day.

I’ve tried taking in all the responsibility for the misunderstanding (for which I was accused by the friend as “You’re treating me like a damn teenager!” I had to bite my tongue in order not to respond, “That is exactly how you’ve been acting the last 24 hours!!”)

I’ve tried to fudge it by saying I overestimated my needs, and don’t really need to tie up their time for the entire show, or even the entire day.

I’ve tried to be upfront and honest and calm. “Look, I know your life is your life–it’s not my place to expect you to put my needs above yours. I know if you are sick, you shouldn’t be expected to work. But you offered to help, and I told you my expectations, and you accepted them. And when you wait til five minutes before the show opens to call and say you won’t be coming in, that puts me in difficult position. I simply need more time than that to line up someone else to help.”

Nothing worked. Anger, resentment, recriminations follow, all falling on my head and making me feel even worse. The only thing left to do is say nothing more so as not to make it even worse.

When I asked my fellow artists how they handled it successfully, they confirmed a sad fact. No matter how you couch it, it’s going to suck big-time. And the only friendships that survived were the ones where the friend took it in stride and let it go. The friend has to decide it is not going to ruin the friendship.

One consolation for me was, I felt like I was choosing business over friendship. It is only with time and some emotional distance that I can see the storm clouds were often already on the horizons. The show only acting like a giant magnifying glass, focusing little heat rays on the issue and setting it on fire.

It’s also a part of doing business. Sometimes you have to fire someone, and they just aren’t going to like that or deal with it well. If it happens to be a friend, it’s just more gasoline on the fire. But there’s never a good way to fire someone. And there will never be a good way to fire a friend.

If it were a small show, where I only hoped to gross a few hundred bucks, I might feel that it’s not worth it to risk the friendship. You might choose to simply let it go, get through the day, and do things differently next time.

But at a big retail or wholesale show, where thousands of dollars and your professional reputation are at stake, you may have to act–unless you are independently wealthy, or just don’t need the money.

The only thing I can think of that might be worse is if this happens with a family member. And at least there is huge incentive for a family member to eventually come around. Although, come to think of it, there are a lot of divorced people who used to be in business with their ex-spouse…..

Think long and hard before asking–or allowing–a friend to work with you in your booth. And hope for the best. But be prepared for the worst.

MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #2: Professional Jealousy

Years ago, I was going through a rough patch with my art career. Other artists were behaving badly. I was dazed and unsure of what was going on. I confided in a friend, who mentioned the matter to her husband, a lawyer. “Be nice to Luann at dinner tonight, dear”, she told him. “She’s had some bites taken out of her lately.” She told him the back story.

Her husband, a person usually brusque and heavy-handed when it came to the tender feelings of artistic types, responded quickly and with passion.

“You tell Luann that lawyers do this to each other all the time!” he told her. “It’s called professional jealousy. It means she’s doing good work.”

I’ve always kept those words in my heart when things get rough with my fellow craftspeople.

Today I was killing a little time and came across Christine Kane’s wonderful blog again. Christine is an artist in the music world. She writes great essays that transfer across all creative endeavors. You can see her writings here:
Christine Kane’s “Be Creative” blog

I read her essay on Jealousy and Envy. In it, a certain paragraph leaped out at me, the one entitled “Mastery”.

Christine wrote, “Whatever career path you’re on, you have the choice to become a master. Not necessarily of the career or the craft or the art. But of you. That’s what keeps me going. If you want to reach, inspire, help, encourage, heal in any way, most likely it’s going to require that you face your own demons in that process. If jealousy comes up, then it’s a teacher for you. That’s all. Let it be. That’s where your biggest treasures will be.”

I’ve never denied being jealous myself of people more talented and creative than I am. I affectionately call that first rush of pure green bile “the lizard brain”. I chalk it up to my inner nature, that ancient instinctive heritage I will always have with me.

But as Christine says, we have choices, too. And this is one aspect of my life with which I think I’ve made good choices.

I used to be consumed with jealousy. Years ago, though, I realized what being jealous did for me.

I realized it let me off the hook.

If someone else was “better than me”, or “doing better than me”, then I didn’t have to try to be the best anymore. I could give up, quit doing what I was doing, and just say, “Oh, well, I wasn’t very good at it anyway…” Or, “Oh, they’ve got it all wrapped up, there’s no room for ME.” I could pick up my toys and go home.

There’s always the temptation, too, of letting jealousy shift your focus. You now have an “enemy” to hate. How delicious! You can now seethe and plot on how to take them down.

What a tremendous waste of our precious creative energy.

Once I realized that, I quite letting jealousy rule my life. I couldn’t banish it completely, of course. But I could make different choices on how I acted on it.

And that’s when I really started making progress in my career as an artist.

I began to focus on doing what I liked just because I liked it, regardless of how “good” I was. It helped me keep starting over, and helped me persevere when things got tough.

And because I kept going and kept starting over, I began to get kinda good at some of those things.

Now that I think about it, that attitude has helped me in all kinds of situations. Another case where learning how to be a better artist has also helped me be a better person.

And now when the green monster raises its ugly head, I savor it. I know it’s going to spur me on to greater heights.

I know somewhere in that mess, that demon still has something to teach me.

Try it yourself! The next time the lizard brain kicks in. Go on, be jealous. Enjoy it.

But only for a minute.

Then get down to work. And figure out how to make that jealousy work for you. Instead of fuming about your object of envy, put that lizard brain to work.

Think how to make it make YOU a better artist.

If only more of us focused on making jealousy work FOR us, instead of focusing on how to take that other person down…..

We might get along better. Or at least have a lot more wonderful art in the world.

p.s. I’m thinking that, after I wrap up the “GOOD BOOTHS GONE BAD” series, this might be a good essay in a new “MEAN PEOPLE SUCK” series. In fact, I’ve gone ahead and numbered this one accordingly. There isn’t a MEAN PEOPLE SUCK #1 yet, don’t panic.