LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Those Who Teach, DO.

by Luann Udell on 12/23/2017 5:24:55 AM 

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.

We are now surrounded with working artists! Continuing with the insights I find at the independent gym program at my favorite physical therapy facility….

Today’s insight comes from a delightful young person who is in the final stages of their degree program in physical therapy. On their last day, I asked them the same question I ask every intern, observer, and student:


What is it you learned here, in the actual workplace, that surprised you? Something you couldn’t/didn’t experience in your classes?
 

D thought for a moment and replied with this surprising answer: “Actually, not much. In a good way!”

When I asked why that was so, they replied, “Because now almost all my professors and instructors are still working in the field. That wasn’t always the case. People would teach after, or instead of, actually being in the field. And so I learn first-hand what most people didn’t learn until they were in, or observing, the actual practice of physical therapy.”

Things like realizing different clients with the same physical issues might require different therapies, to meet their unique needs. Things like realizing simple treatments often work as well, or even more effectively, than new, complicated treatments. In fact, almost all the “Gym Lessons” I’ve shared to date were already presented, experienced, and explained in the classroom. 

(They also said they’ve learned that, if you listen more than you talk, people will think you’re smarter. (Talk too much, and you might prove them wrong!) But that’s a lesson for another day, and not only because it hits so close to home!)

How does that relate to our art world?

When I was a young hopeful artist, I knew of exactly zippo artists in our small agriculture community. Oh, there was ONE person who made pots, but I never, ever saw their work, or even met them. There were no art shows, no art fairs, and no community education classes, in arts or crafts. It was a barren land, as far as working examples of my dream life. The only art classes my high school offered were rudimentary. My first clay sculptures were ruined when the kiln blew out, and was not replaced. Art supplies were minimal, and the program was fragmentary, right down to being eliminated one year.

I waited eagerly for college, knowing I would finally be among others who wanted to pursue art as a career. But for many reasons I needn’t go into, that was not to be, either. The lack of a portfolio from high school was a factor, but so was encouragement. I majored in art history instead, but my textbook featured three women artists over 15,000 years of history, and thousands of male artists, mostly what I called impudently “dead white European guys.”

What would it be like to be an artist today?

In Sonoma County alone, I am surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of artists. Young students participating in public art projects, young people fiercely pursuing their creative life in many shapes and forms. Art shows, art tours, art exhibits, art galleries abound. Yes, many people wait until retirement from their day jobs before pursuing art full-time. But many, many more now find a way to make room for it right here, right now.

It’s possible many art teachers devote most of their time to teaching, and not to making their own art. This used to be par for the course, and I encountered many art teachers along the way, people who had gone from “artist” to “shadow artists”.  A shadow artist can be a supporter and admirer of others who pursue their art full-time. But some are full of envy and resentment, and find subtle ways of getting back at those they see as more fortunate in their field.

But though teaching can take away a lot of time, I see people who are also dedicated to making time for their art. Because supplies, classes, shows, exhibits, information, and community are more prevalent, they find encouragement and support from others who love their art. A good friend works full-time as an art teacher. But she still finds ways to make room for her art, and she has found a few venues that work for her. (And for all you folks whose media choices are sneered at, check out the amazing colored pencil work of Nicole Caulfield!)   http://www.nicolecaulfieldfineart.com/about-the-artist

A work from Nicole’s Zen series, and one of my personal favorites!

Thanks to a growing population who understand the importance of making, creating, showing, and even selling (yay!), we are now surrounded with the “do”. Everywhere we look, we see artists, creative makers, at work. Thanks to the internet, it is easier than ever to take a peek into someone else’s creative world. It’s easier than ever to find supplies, classes, ideas, venues, opportunities, support, and community.

We truly live in an age where the old “Those who can’t do, teach” maxim has been flipped on its head. Now we can truly say, “Those who teach, DO.”

Today, more than ever, we are surrounded by those who DO. I am so grateful for that, and you should be, too!

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LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The Student

Lessons From the Gym: The Student

by Luann Udell on 5/7/2015

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews.  Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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.  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….”

 The insights and ideas continue to flow at the gym, and this week is no exception. Today’s thoughts came from someone who will be leaving soon–the intern.

 There are many professions aligned with the health industry that, after meeting the educational criteria, also require an internship–a period of in-the-field training, under the supervision of a licensed professional, to gain the insights and knowledge that can’t be learned any other way, except in the field.

 There’s such a student now, in the last stages of their credentialing. They’ve been working alongside one of the physical therapists as long as I’ve been there. And in another week or so, they’ll move on.

 I asked them what were the most important things they’ve learned in their internship. Their answer might surprise you.

 “I think watching everyone here interacting with their clients has been eye-opening. Each client is different, personality-wise, and the therapists here always meet them where they’re at. Some people are more assertive, some are overwhelmed… You need to take that into consideration when you’re working with clients. I’ll have two people, back-to-back with the exact same issue–but the approach and the treatment won’t be the same, because this person needs to go slower, or needs more encouragement, and that one wants to be challenged. I know HOW to treat their issues, from my schooling. But this part of the healing–I had no idea! And it’s so powerful…”

 A thoughtful and insightful reply, on so many levels.

 And how does it connect to making and marketing our art?

 I immediately thought of how artists can use this same principle. We learn to interact with customers by meeting them where THEY’RE at.  (And by ‘customers’, I mean ANYONE who’s in a position to buy/support/market our art–buyers, gallery owners, journalists, etc.)

Over time, we may realize that some are assertive and confident, and we adopt a certain style of response with more energy. Others are more contemplative, quiet, not wanting a lot of interaction until they’ve processed what they’re looking at. They will read every sign in your display and look at every piece of work. They don’t want to be pressured, but they don’t want to be ignored, either. Others will stride in, look around, and exclaim, “Wow, this is GREAT! Tell me about it!”  You need to immediately jump on board, or they will lose interest and walk away. Overwhelming an introvert or underwhelming an extrovert can seriously hamper our efforts to connect others with our art. Knowing how to match our interactions with the situation, in the moment, is a powerful tool.

Then I considered the notion of apprenticeships in the arts and crafts. It used to be the main method of education for artists and craftspeople. Now, not so much. Oh, there are still plenty of workshops and classes. But the idea of working long-term with a master, while not rare, is certainly not the norm these days.  Even then, perhaps much of the focus is on technique–not the bigger but less-obvious insights of how to connect to our own artistic vision and purpose.

I think, though, that instinctively, we DO seek out those people who offer us something else besides technique and practical knowledge (which are valuable in their own right). Just the fact that FASO has articles like these, where we can all share insights about what makes us tick (with our art), and what rules are solid (“Do the work!”) and which aren’t (“It’s actually OK to just walk into a gallery and ask to show them your work!”) show how important this is for many of us, in all stages of our professional life.

 In fact, for me, becoming an artist really opened my eyes to the idea of being a life-long student–a student of life.  That’s what my writing (as much of my creative process as my artwork) is all about: Sharing what I’ve learned, with others who’d like to know.

 Finally, I realized that the Student also has something to teach US. Through them, we get to look at what we’re doing with new, fresh eyes. The exhilaration, the wonder, the excitement of those first few years of making our art–remember? When everything was possible, and nothing stood in our way.  This enormous body of knowledge and skill we’ve acquired over the years, something we perhaps have begun to take for granted–we get to see it from their perspective, as a massive achievement, something we can be proud of.

 Beginnings, middles, and endings. All have something to teach us, to expand our understanding and broaden our horizons–if we just take the time to listen.

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: The Whale Watcher

My column today at Fine Art Views, a marketing blog for artists and craftspeople.

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….”

We make our own luck in the world.

There are lessons to be learned everywhere, if we’re open to them. Today’s lesson from the gym is courtesy of a therapist there with an unusual hobby.

This guy loves to go whale watching. When he found out I’m a recent transplant to the west coast, he suggested I check out the whale migration scene on the coast.

We aren’t that far from Bodega Bay, where Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” is set. There ARE a lot of birds out there, but so far, none have shown signs of turning on the human race….! Still, I’m careful to be very nice to all of them.

Bodega Head is a beautiful stretch of land reaching out into the ocean to form one side of the Bay. Bodega Head, with its open vistas from towering cliffs, is a popular whale watching spot. Volunteer ‘docents’ are present on the weekends to offer advice and help with identification.Whales migrate south to feeding grounds off the coast Baja Mexico, then return north after the mating season. Mother whales travel more slowly, and closer to the coast, with their new offspring.

This guy regularly reports back every Monday with exciting ‘spots’. And so my husband and I began making a trip every week or so to watch, too.

We haven’t seen any whales yet–just seals, sea lions and pelicans. And of course, after our fourth attempt to spot a whale, my husband concluded that guy is “lucky” to have seen so many whales.

Is he? Let’s dig a little deeper….

The whale watcher goes out every week he can, and sometimes multiple times in one week.

He and his family stay for hours at a time–not an hour, or two at most, like we do.

He knows a lot about whales, from talking with the docents and his own reading. He knows when they go, where they go, and why they go along our coast. He knows the best weather for watching, and the worst weather; and he knows how to get in-time local updates about that area’s weather. He knows what to look for–blowholes, pods, fins, breaches.

He’s invested in a good camera and a great lens to capture good photos.

So….Patience. Consistent effort. A practiced eye. And a passion for whales.

Is this luck?

Yes, there’s still a wee bit of luck involved. One first-time watcher spotted an amazing pod within a few minutes of arriving. A docent jokingly told her, “Don’t even bother coming back, you will NEVER see anything like this again!”

Mostly, though, this guy makes his own luck. And he deserves every whale spot he gets.

How many times have we heard about another artist’s success, envied their ‘luck’ and lamented our lack of same?

Now think how often we trouble ourselves to find out what they did to achieve that.

I’m guessing that ‘lucky’ artist is someone who’s practiced their craft with patience and persistence. I’d bet they have great images of their work, and a powerful personal story to go with it. I’d imagine they’re serious about getting their work out there, in a consistent fashion–through websites, shows, exhibitions, social media, getting published, personal invitations to collectors, and good selling skills.

Above all, I know they’re truly focused and passionate about the work they create–enough to not only make time for it, but to make it a priority, as much as possible.

Me? I would love to see a whale pod, or a mother and baby, or an orca, someday. But I’m just as happy to spend a few hours enjoying the beautiful California coast. I’m just as delighted to find a wonderful pebble or a twisty piece of driftwood on the beach.

But when it comes to my artwork, I know the same qualities that make that guy a great whale watcher, makes me a competent artist.

And when my next ‘lucky break’ comes, I’ll be ready!

LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Trust Me (my Fine Art Views column for today)

Lessons From the Gym: Trust Me
by Luann Udell on 3/26/2015 7:37:41 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….”

I continue to eavesdrop at the physical therapy practice where I recuperated from surgery. I use their gym facilities several times a week, to get stronger in a safe, low-stress environment. And I continue to learn from my fellow patients every day.

Most of us who need physical therapy are at a scary point in our life. We’ve been injured, often during a favorite sport or physical activity. Or we’ve just had surgery. Or we’re recovering from a stroke, or a fall.

In every case, we are in pain. And we are afraid.

Afraid we’ll never be able to run/ride/bike/play soccer again. Afraid the pain will never go away. Afraid this is the beginning of the long decline that foreshadows a life ending in frailty, isolation and confinement.

The first few visits can actually be difficult not only for the client, but for the therapist! I hadn’t realized this before, nor had I recognized it in myself—until I saw many other clients acting the same way—crabby, resentful, defensive.

There is resentment when we are asked to do things that are too hard. (“I can’t do that yet!”) Conversely, there’s also resentment when we’re asked to do things that appear too easy. (“I know how to do this already! Why do I have to do it here?!”)

There is defensiveness when we realize our exercise routines are not serving our needs any longer. (“But I walk every day when I golf!”) There’s defensiveness when we have to admit we didn’t do our ‘homework’, the exercises we were supposed to do at home. One gentleman (who looked to be in his 90’s) swore he was just ‘too busy’ to spend 20 minutes a day to do his balance work. I winced when he used almost exactly the same excuse I’d used months earlier!

The conversations are terse and awkward. I feel sorry for the therapists, especially the one who had three back-to-back crabby clients one morning, all ‘dug in’ with their protests and barely cooperative.

But today, a few weeks later, I realize something has changed.

Those same crabby clients are now more relaxed, more open. They’re cooperative and good-humored, joking and laughing.

I wondered–What changed?

Their level of trust.

Over the weeks, the therapists responded calmly to each defensive, snippy remark. Each question was answered fully and appropriately. (More on this one next time!)

Information was given out freely to each client—but only as much as they could ‘handle’ at each visit. And as they made progress, as the pain began to abate, and as their balance/strength/flexibility improved, their milestones were acknowledged and celebrated.

The clients all recognized they were in good hands, with competent people, who had their well-being at heart. They could trust these people.

By consistently responding with respect, with compassion, but also with the confidence of competency and experience, each therapist won over every single crabby client in their care.

How does this apply to marketing and selling our art?

As artists, we show competency to our audience by the quality of our work and our reputation.

We gain their trust by treating them as more than just a bag o’ money.

We recognize them as individuals with unique tastes, preferences and desires.

We respond to ALL their questions—even the snippy ones, the rude ones, the ‘stupid’ ones—with patience and respect. Never taking someone else’s doubts or fears or ignorance, personally.

If they are worried your work won’t ‘go’ in their living room, we reassure them they can exchange the piece in 10 days for a different piece. If they worry about it breaking or tarnishing, we back up our product with a guarantee.

If they don’t understand what makes it unique or desirable, we share that information, too.

Once we can look into the eyes of another person and see another human being who’s every bit as complex, lovable, contradictory, and confusing as we are, even those who are as yet undecided about our work, then we can make better decisions on how to handle their complaints, their doubts, their questions.

We learn how to stay open and balanced, competent and confident.

By showing our trust in them, they learn to trust us.

I see this firsthand in my booth and studio. When I tell people they can pick something up and hold it, or open a drawer and look inside, or even simply give them a postcard, their astonishment is palpable. I’m treating them like I would a guest in my home. It’s sad how many folks just aren’t used to that!

Think about how you establish trust with first-time customers in your studio, at art shows, in your booth, at receptions. See it for the gift others will see it as.

Turn those former strangers into passionate collectors!