What Is The Story Only You Can Tell? Make It A Good One!

What Is The Story Only You Can Tell? Make It A Good One!

By Luann Udell

Image 3100480

4/27/2019 by Luann Udell

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 can’t control everything in life, but we can choose how we face it.

Years ago, one of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, wrote an article thathas stuck with me for decades.

Beck’s insights and advice come from her years as a therapist, observing how people get stuck and how to help them get unstuck. In this article, she describes two of her clients, two women named Mary.

Mary One has a sad life storyA parent dying young, obstacles, setbacks, health issues, etc. Just reading the list makes you wonder how anyone could survive what she has been through.

Mary Two has a wonderful life story. She inherited wealth, and was able to attend top-notch colleges. She is highly educated, and her career issatisfying. She is very close to her grandmother, who showers her with love and kindness. She loves to travel and has been all over the world. One cannot help but envy her good fortune.

The kicker?

The two clients are actually the same person.

This article was a game-changer for me. The lessons are obvious.

We have all had sadness, and joy in our lives. We have all experienced cruelty, and kindness. We all have victories, and setbacks. We’ve all had people who love us, and people who are toxic. We all wish we had more money, even though we know in our hearts that if a billion dollars is “not enough” for the wealthiest people in the world, how will we ever have enough?

The lesson for me was simple: We get to create our own story.

For years, my saddest story was that I couldn’t get into art school. My school, one of two in the entire county, in an agricultural area, didn’t have much money to spend on art programs. This meant my portfolio was pretty pathetic. And so, when I did go to college, I majored in art history instead, the traditional “shadow artist”, hovering on the outskirts of my passion and filled with envy for those who thrived with their art.

And yet….

I actually was accepted into not one, not two, but three colleges thatoffered art programs. Instead, I chose the one that was the most prestigious, where my best friend, my high school boyfriend, and my secret crush had been accepted. It was the only school that rejected my portfolio. I took a few art classes, but they were like bananas offered to amonkey in a cage, a prize I could never reach.

So “not being good enough” wasn’t really a thing, though it took me years to see that. It was just a “sad story” I held onto for a long time.

Although that boyfriend turned out to be fairly toxic, and much of my love life was pretty pathetic, it was in this same city that I met my husband, my life partner, and a pretty great one. We’ve been together over 40 years.

So with the power of hindsight/reframing, going to that college was actually a lucky fortunate choice. (Next week, I’ll share another storyabout “luck”!) Taking all those art history classes, starting with theLascaux Cave (the oldest human art in the world in the 1970’s) was apowerful, inspirational resource when I finally owned the power of my choices, and became the artist I was always meant to be.

And if I had actually been accepted into that college’s art program, I am certain I would not be making the work I make today. I don’t think my tender heart would have survived the toxic critiques many students had to endure (I hear schools do it differently now, but I take that with a grain of salt, as this intriguing memoir reveals.

In short, there may be one set of facts, circumstances, etc…

But there are a slew of stories I can tell myself because of them.

When I’m feeling “less than”, I feel embarrassed that I actually hate drawing. I resent that my medium of choice took years to gain respect in the art world. I know that some people still would not consider me a “real artist”. I remember every cruel or thoughtless remarks from ignorant, pompous, or deeply-troubled people.

But when I choose to see my power, I know I make art for myself, first. Making my art has made me a better person. I know that I use thatpower, the power of my choices, to not only make work that‘s so personal, my collectors can easily recognize my style and aesthetics, I’ve used that power to reach out and connect with others, always with the hope that doing so may elevate the hearts of others, as well.

Try this exercise today: Jot down all the hardships and crappy things thathave crossed your path this week, everything that made you suffer and seethe. (I didn’t say “in your lifetime” because that could take weeks! But sure, put in anything that‘s still hounding you.) List the deadlines you’re stressing over, the to-do list that never seems to end, the lack of respect for your style/subject/medium, the dearth of sales. Make note of how you feel when you’re done.

Now write down all the blessings and gifts that happened in the same time period: The car that let you merge safely into traffic, the person who stopped to let you cross the street, the new opportunity to show your work that‘s got you fired up about your new series. Consider the thank-you notes you got from the grateful customer who bought your work because they loved it. Think of all the things you did accomplish, and all the steps forward you’ve taken with your art, your personal growth, your relationships.

How do you feel now?

I always-always-feel better.

This is why I write. It helps me sort out the distractions from the real deal, the true life mission I carry in my heart from the road bumps. I get clarity on what I can change, and what I can’t change. I can feel my anger melt as I frame the difficult stuff differently.

All the naysayers, the critics, the trolls, the digs, the snark we encounter daily, suddenly feel more like annoyances than anything. I feel free to simply do what I love to do. I give myself permission to live my life theway I want.

A recent example: A dear friend and supporter shared with excitement the realization that their work is “on trend”. My lizard brain immediately buckled. The same trend was in force when I started making this particular aspect of my art, and I struggled mightily to overcome it. For afew moments, I was envious that this person, who has had my back for years, might surf that wave farther than I ever will.

And then I had to laugh. My work has never been “on trend”, and I’m glad! The courage it took to simply make the work of my heart has created my own wave I can ride as far as I desire.

I know now that the world is big enough for both us. If they aresuccessful with their work, if they get a “bigger piece of the pie”, thatdoesn’t mean my slice is smaller. There is an infinite amount of “pie” in the world, enough for both of us. Actually, it’s big enough for all of us.

I will simply not let that first story be the story I tell. I choose the second storythe one filled with mutual respect, joy, and kindness.

What is the story YOU can choose to tell, today?

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MARTHA BECK TELLS US WHY LIFE’S NOT FAIR

Let’s talk about success for a minute.

When I first stood up for my artistic self, it was a powerful moment in my life. I set aside self-judgment, feelings of inadequacy, needing success, ALL the baggage that being a creative person in our culture carries.

The questions I asked myself were:

I see my young children, vital and grounded, full of potential to do anything they turn their mind to. Was I like that as a child??

How can I want my children to live a life filled with passion and fearless commitment to their highest self, and not want that for myself?

How will they know what that looks like, if I don’t show them?

My mantras were:

I have to be an artist, or I’ll die.

I don’t even care anymore if I’m a GOOD artist. I just have to do it.

If one person in a thousand likes my work, I’ll be happy.

In addition to taking my art seriously, I took the business of art seriously, too. I created a business plan, a strong artist statement, hired a professional photography (great images are EVERYTHING), taught myself how to write good press releases, and promoted the heck out of myself.

So, a few years later, I was juried into major high end fine craft shows. My work was juried into art and fine craft exhibits across the country, and my work was carried in 63 shops and galleries in several dozen states. My work was featured in dozens of books, magazines, and newspapers. I wrote regular columns for two craft magazines. I wrote a book for Lark Books.

And I still didn’t feel successful.

I wasn’t, compared to really famous artists and craftspeople. But I was already learning that many of the markers of ‘success’ in our culture can feel empty and hollow. And money–or at least LOTS of money–doesn’t necessarily follow, either.

I had done everything right. But it wasn’t working for me. I quit the fine craft show circuit. I cut way way back on my wholesale market (with help from the 2008 recession.)  I stopped applying to juried exhibits. (Oddly, I made just as much money doing one big craft show and holding two open studios a year.)

I’m not saying my good business sense muddied the waters. I believe you can be committed to creating good work, and committed to getting that work out into the world. I’m saying that I need to periodically examine my personal definition of ‘success’. What would success look like to me? And how will that change along the way?

I’ve also learned that we cannot possibly measure the effect of our art, work, our deeds, our words, in the world. For me, ‘faith’ means we do the right thing, the good thing, the kind thing, not because we’ll be rewarded, but because that’s what the world needs from us, whether we ever know it or not. We have to believe that we throw our little stone into the water, and the ripples travel to places we cannot see, may never see.  Some days it may seem that the world does not want my art. Coincidentally (or not), I’m usually feeling like a sulky four-year-old on those days. But I also know I still have to make it.

I’ve written over the past few years about this, doing many course-corrections along my way. And recently, one of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, put it succinctly in an article (Life’s Not Fair) published in the September 2015 issue of Oprah Magazine. (Here’s the link, but it’s not a direct link. Scroll down to the second article on this page, to What Redefining Virtue Can Teach You About Happiness.)

In a nutshell, Martha says, “Life’s not fair. It’s possible to face that fact with grace. You just have to stop expecting fate to dispense satisfying little packets of justice.”

It’s an astonishingly good article. I think you’ll be glad you read it.

And whenever I get jealous about how wise and wonderful and well-known Martha Beck is, I just go read one of her articles about that, too.