What You and M. Night Shyamalan Have In Common

What You and M. Night Shyamalan Have In Common

(Hint: It’s what ALL artists have to ignore!)

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.

(Hint: It’s what ALL artists have to ignore!)

I’m so overwhelmed with packing up my studio, I look for any excuse to take a break.

I came across an article, an interview of M. Night Shyamalan by Sopan Deb of the New York Times, about Shyamalan’s newest movie, “Glass”. I did not realize he was only 29 when he made the extraordinary (literally!) movie “The Sixth Sense”. The reveal—that the main character was dead—was as startling as Agatha Christie’s novel, “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” in 1926. (Spoiler alert!! The narrator turns out to be the actual murderer, a twist that redefined the genre, and created quite an uproar at the time.)

For years, Shyamalan created movies ahead of his time. “Unbreakable”, about the origin of a superhero, without spandex, was made years before the massive onslaught of comic book hero movies. (It’s actually gained in popularity since.) He was typecast as the movie guy with a “twist”. He’s been criticized as always having a twist, or ironically, the twist not being “twisty” enough.

“Glass” is considered his “comeback movie”, and many critics are roaring about it being “less than”, in their eyes.

Two things:

First, we went to see it last weekend. We both loved it!

The approach is very different than current action-superhero movies. Not a lot of CGI, which makes it feel more grounded, more realistic. The camera action draws us in, making it feel like we are in the same room as the protagonists. The tension is maintained throughout the movie.

The ending was deeply moving, and the twist? Well, I love spoilers, but since most people won’t, I won’t provide them here.  Suffice to say, we are left knowing the pain and suffering of all its characters, and the flip side of the “villains”.

Once again, Shyamalan has created a complex, and deeply human film.

Second, what deeply resonated with me in the article was when the interviewer asked him about how the movie is framed makes the film seem like a “comeback” for him, making it seem like his work has been “less than” in the years between. “Was that frustrating for you?”

Here is what Shyamalan says, a response worthy of all creatives:

“No, the journey isn’t really about what others are saying about you. It just can’t be. You’re taking all of your power away from you. That’s not where your energy should be….”

Artists and all kinds of creative people get criticism all the time. Some is constructive, but much of it isn’t.

It’s our human nature to listen. We are hard-wired to want to belong, to be part of a community. Criticism can feel like we don’t belong.

It takes courage and perseverance to recognize the flip side of this innate trait:

Our desire–our NEED–to be seen as an individual.

When we recognize that our work may sometimes (or often!) be seen as “not enough”, or not worth the price, or some other “less than”, and keep making it anyway, because that is how we see ourselves in the world, it’s powerful.

Yes, we can all improve our work. Yes, we can all do better. We are all a “work in progress.” Sometimes negative feedback and setbacks take their toll, and sometimes it only spurs us on to greater heights.

But in the end, the only person we have to answer to, is ourselves. Only you can determine what, if anything, needs to change in your art.

Lots of things (recessions, war, living in a small town or an isolated area, places where there are few people who like our work, or few who like it but can’t afford it), it feels like the world doesn’t want our work.  Thanks to social media marketing, we can overcome location, in time. Recessions ease and pass. The day I learned everyone’s sales had slumped awhile back, was a lit-tul embarrassing. (It’s not always about me–doh!)

But that feeling can be hard to ignore.

In my fierce beginnings with my art, I knew that if only one in a thousand people liked my work, that meant there was still an audience of over 7,500,000 in the world.

And if only one person in a million were willing to actually buy it, that’s 7,500 customers in the world! Years ago, it might have been almost impossible to find them, but it’s a lot easier today. (And of course, there are more than one customer in a million….)

Now, almost 25 years later, I, too, often succumb to self-doubt and despair. And yet….

I still remember that day I met my husband at the door, telling him I realized, “I have to be an artist, or I’ll die. I don’t even care if I’m not a GOOD artist.  I just have to do it.” That was the day I released every emotional shackle I’d placed on myself.

I still need to remember that. Every. Single. Day.

That same weekend we went to see “Glass”, it grossed over $47,000,000 and was the top movie at the box office. (And I’m glad we were a tiny part of that validation!)

The last thing (OK, there were three things….!) is Shymalan’s answer to whether he’d ever direct a “Star Wars” film.

His answer: He believes it’s best to stick with what works for him. “There are filmmakers who don’t fit easily into a system, and probably I’m one of those.”

He could make a Star Wars movie that would gross even more, and establish his “comeback” forever.

But he will stick with what he does best, and what he loves: Making original movies, making thrillers. And he will be happy.

The next time someone disses your medium, your choice of subjects, your plein air work vs. your studio work, how much (or how little) time you take to do your work, whatever… remember these three things:

Different can be good.

The work of your heart is the work only you can bring into the world.

Respect your process.

 Be all you can be. Rejoice that you can be an artist in the world today, with few restrictions, except for the ones you take on yourself.

As the beloved poet Mary Oliver said in her beautiful poem “The Summer Day”;

Tell me, what is it you plan to do 

With your one wild and precious life?

DO I MAKE YOU PROUD?

I guess it was on my mind because I’ve been talking the last few days about the movies of M. Night Shyamalan. (And by the way, I think I am the only person in the whole world who loves all his movies. Yes, even The Village.)

So maybe it was inevitable I woke up this morning thinking of that emotional, finely wrought scene with Cole and his mother in The Sixth Sense, where he tells his mother that he’s talked to Grandma (who’s dead.)

He says, “Grandma says to tell you, the answer to your question is, ‘Every day.’ What did you ask Grandma, mama?”

And his mother answers stumblingly, with a heart full of tears, “I asked her….’Do I make you proud?'”

I’ve been struggling for so long now with doubts and fears about my artwork. Profound forces beyond my control seem to push me this way and that, and conditions under my control hold me back. (Have I really told you how cluttered and stifling my studio is lately?)

Yesterday I drove five hours to spend a day with silver jewelry artist Kerin Rose, who gave me an impromptu class on Precious Metal Clay. I’m exploring ways to transform some of my designs into sterling silver, and Kerin has graciously offered to help me explore to do that. I’ve been hugely excited about the new audience I could find for this work.

We spent the entire day talking, playing, experimenting, kvetching, day-dreaming (will Sundance Catalog ever discover us???), brainstorming (thank you, Kerin, for suggesting I contact this gallery to see if they’d be interested in carrying my work.)

Kerin and her sister Mara are delightful, witty, warm and loving people. It was a wonderful, perfect artist day. I look forward to more! I am also the proud new owner of what they lovingly refer to as this honkin’ big ring (the flying heart one in the center.)

But on the way home, exhaustion and weariness, and more self-doubt crept in.

Is this really the right thing for me to do? Should I segue sideways into silver work, when there are already so many other artists with much more talent and passion for the stuff? More time, more creative energy, more equipment, more money, to make even more disparate work for what feels like an ever-shrinking audience?

Am I off on another wild goose chase for the “thing” that will bring me what I want?

And what the heck do I want right now, anyway?

I feel like I’ve let myself become so distracted with should’s, and could’s and maybe’s, I have no idea what is in my heart anymore. Maybe I’ve let the jewelry pull me too far away from the fiber work. Maybe the fiber work is done. Maybe the writing is pushing both out.

Maybe I’ve listened too hard to the loving people who, wanting to help, have offered many other paths I could take. I know I’ve listened too much to the jealous, destructive people who really don’t have my best interests at heart.

And maybe, as several people have told me lately, maybe I’m just over-thinking all of this. Second-guessing myself to the point of self-destruction, artistically.

I woke up thinking of that line:

“Do I make you proud?”

And I’ve been crying ever since. (Yes, for an hour now!)

I don’t know who I’m speaking to.

But I know I so desperately want the answer to be, “Every day.”

I know now the first thing I need to do, before I pick up any other tasks or commissions or orders, is clean my studio.

A visitor yesterday said, “How can you even work in here??” and I realized I can’t. My perfect, beautiful, cozy studio full of interesting, clever stuff has become a rabbit warren. (No offense, Bunster!)

It’s going to be painful. I need to let go of so many things that represent new ideas, new possibilities. Every item in my attic and studio represents “potential”. But it’s also just weighing me down.

I’m sure the silver line is still a good idea. I do love silver, and I still get excited about the many ways it could enrich and expand my designs. But I know there is something else that has to happen before I pick up even one new thing.

I don’t know whether this is fear speaking today, or whether it’s simply what a dear friend used to call a “come to Jesus” moment, when the final reckoning begins. But I know it’s time to clear the decks, if only to make room for the answer to my prayers.

And to end this essay today, I’m also wondering if perhaps the “sixth sense” in the movie is not the ability to see ghosts, but the ability to love.