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.
Don’t trust your senses, because humans weren’t meant to fly!
Today’s column is a continuation of a series I wrote for Fine Art Views a few years ago: Learning to Fly Part 1: The Checklist (the steps you take to check your progress, process, and and presentation); Learning to Fly Part 2: Who Is Your Co-Pilot? (identifying your support peeps); and Learning to Fly Part 3: What Rudyard Kipling Said (keep your head when things go horribly wrong.)
I was talking with my pilot friend again this week. His knowledge and insight inspired the articles above. His enthusiasm is contagious, and every time there is an “air incident” in the news, I ask him about the “inside story.”
He said, “You can’t trust your senses when you fly.”
Huh?? This concept is a little harder for me to wrap my head around. Don’t trust your gut?! We are constantly told to trust our instincts! Why not when flying? After all, we’re above the earth, we have a clear view, we can see for miles. Why shouldn’t we trust that?!
But it turns out I misheard my friend. “Instincts and gut/experience are good!” he said. “But our senses? That’s different! We’re taught not to trust our senses when we fly.
Turns out most air accidents are pilot error. Pilots aren’t any worse than anyone else when it comes to making a mistake. It’s just that when you’re miles in the air, with the lives of hundreds at stake, one small error can have huge implications.
Our human nature is to trust our senses, he explained. We rely on our senses for balance, for example. Visual orientation. Fear of falling. How to counterbalance a fast turn. That should translate to flying, too, right?
Not at all. Because humans aren’t made to fly.
Birds are made to fly. (Okay, class card in the back row, we’ll exclude the dodo, emu, ostrich, etc. Although technically, they lost their ability to fly along the way, though they still have wings.)
Birds can fly in a flock of thousands (called a murmuration, as demonstrated by this hypnotic video of starlings) and not a single collision or fall occurs. A peregrine falcon can dive-bomb a bird out of the sky at speeds of up to 180mph. They know exactly how far, and how fast, to plunge. They know exactly when to pull out. They can trust their senses, because birds have been flying a long, long time, at least over 135 million years.
Humans fly because they saw birds do it, and thought, “Why not?!” It took centuries to perfect a way to do it.
And what gets in our way is simply our lack of evolution. We’ve only been flying just over a hundred years.
We’re so used to trusting our eyes, we may not recognize when we’re looking at a false horizon. We’re so used to adjusting our balance according to our vision, we can’t really interpret when we’re flying sideways in the dark. We may take a dive, but we may not realize when we are dangerously close to not being able to pull out of it.
So when a pilot flies, and can’t see the horizon due to fog, or night, they have to trust their instruments. Assuming we can trust our senses, but not our instruments, is a sure way to cut our flying career short!
How does this relate to making and marketing our art?
Well, for one thing, it’s only in relatively modern times that so many people have taken up art-making as a profession, an avocation, or hobby. (We probably all had “roles” in our tribes and communities, and each role benefited all.) It’s only very recently that people of certain genders and race/color could even be recognized as artists. (It’s only in the last decade or so that women have been recognized as prehistoric cave painters and shamans.) It’s only relatively recently that so many people expect to sell their art (as opposed to barter/trade, or simply being another contributing member of a community) and expect to make a living at it. And the more “creatives” there are in the world, the harder it is to be seen as offering something unique.
I know people who believe they are successful, and yet their work is woefully underpriced. Or their skills aren’t quite up to snuff, and they don’t understand why they can’t get into those great galleries. Or they think a show is not a good show, but they haven’t mastered their marketing yet, and forgot to “invite” their loyal customers.
What is even worse, in my book, is when we “measure” our success by assumptions that may or may not be true, and judge ourselves lacking.
Those other artists on social media are so successful! They tell us they are! They live in grand houses, drive fancy cars, and get into all the prestigious shows. They are doing it right, we are doing it wrong, and we are miserable failures.
Visible wealth is not always a measure of success. Fancy cars and houses may mean they’ve inherited wealth, or have a financially successful partner. It doesn’t mean they make tons of money from their art. In fact, some “famous and successful” artists still die dead broke. Or worse, broken by their pursuit of “success”.
Celebrity is the same. Statistics show that artists of certain gender and race are often more famous throughout history, and today, and not necessarily better artists than those others. Every time someone points to Van Gogh or Emily Dickenson as a “famous artist”, I cringe. They both craved recognition in their lifetimes, and didn’t get it until after they died. And yet, even they are a very few of the fortunate ones who were eventually recognized for their talent and artistry.
So countless artists “trust their senses” and believe they are failures. Some of them walk away from their art altogether, believing they simply aren’t good enough.
And everyone who sets aside the creative work means there is that much less light in the world. Less light, less joy, for them, for their audience, and perhaps for the future world.
So even as it’s easy to feel successful with our art-making (materials are easily available to all, and affordable, instruction is easier to find, even online, information about selling/marketing is everywhere, it’s even easier to feel like a failure.
So let’s set aside our less-evolved senses when it comes to success. Instead, let’s consider this: What are our artistic “instruments”, and how can we use them to better measure our success?
Well, first, what is your definition of success?
If it’s more sales, you can keep track of what venues and events bring in the most money. What product lines result in the most sales. What galleries do best with your work, and how to find similar ones.
If it’s more recognition, you can enter more shows and competitions. It takes an investment, though entry fees are usually modest. But when I was building my artist resume, I realized I couldn’t get my work into prestigious exhibitions unless I entered them! Duh, I know. I committed to applying to five to ten such events a year, and always got into at least one or two. That helped beef up on my resume. (That’s not as important for me anymore, as one-time viewings rarely result in sales for me. But it was a mood-booster when I needed that early on!)
If you want a bigger audience, then you can explore the metrics of your email newsletter, and see how many people actually opened, and read, your email newsletter. (FASO sites have this!) You can actually do the experiment and see what factors create more response. What posts on Facebook and Instagram garner the most shares and likes?
If you blog, you can watch your audience grow by the number of visitors and subscribers. And you can make sure it’s really easy for people to subscribe! For sure you will discover that when you find your audience, and post regularly, your numbers will grow. It took years for my blog to grow from zero followers, to over 2,500, and I know that’s not big numbers even now. But there was a time in my life when I wondered if ANYONE cared to hear what I had to say, and now I now there are plenty!
There are plenty of other artists/writers here at FASO who have excellent suggestions on how to be better at “successful”. After this year, for right now, I bow to their greater expertise. There are lots of people who will share their secret strategies, their experience, their expertise.
My question for you is, what is the most personal instrument to measure success?
Simple. Your most important “instrument” is your heart.
How do YOU feel when you are in your studio? Do you feel excited and enthused? Calm and “in the zone”? Happy and fulfilled? Challenged, and growing? All of these are signs of a good life for us humans. If your work brings you joy, comfort, solace, and fulfillment, then you are doing it right.
If money is critical, then you can explore those other “instruments” offered by said experts. But don’t forget to check in with your heart! If it feels like their advice takes you off-course, if it becomes all about the income stream and not your personal satisfaction, if you can’t find a balance between the two…. Well, you know where I stand on that.
No matter your instruments, or the measure of your success, the trick is another pilot term: Scanning. It’s important to constantly scan our instrument readings, to verify what’s really happening, to assess our progress, and to make sure we are on course.
Next week, I’ll share the second half of this article: Trust…and Verify. Stay tuned!