LEARNING TO SEE #4: Be Like Steak-umm

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.

How a frozen food company is taking the internet by storm

(5 minute read)

I wish I could let people know how these artifacts FEEL in hand!

 

We all wish we knew the exact marketing techniques that would create a perfect storm of new collectors, admirers, and galleries clamoring for our work.

And there are a whole lotta people out there selling their expertise on how to do that, from SEO (search engine optimization) to the best hashtags to use. Some of these are free, but most want your money first.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: “Branding” and “driving people to your website” are terms from the cattle industry.

And people know when they’re being treated like cattle.

If you’re like me, right now almost everything in your email in-box has ‘Covid-19’ or ‘coronavirus’ in there somewhere. It’s still important, it’s still with us, and will be for a long time in one way or another.

And everyone is desperate for people to buy what they’re selling, from future airline trips, magazine subscriptions, masks and sanitizing supplies to the foresaid ‘perfect’ marketing plans and expensive business coaching advice.

And yet, guess who’s taking the internet by storm this week?

A Steak-umm Twitter account.

Yup. That Steak-umm.

Created by the company owner’s son, the strategy is an unusual one in the biz world. Because it is totally honest about its end goal (it freely admits that it’s “…a frozen meat brand posting ads inevitably made to misdirect people and generate sales, so this is peak irony.”) And honest about its intent: “gonna keep preaching from the frozen meat pulpit until this account runs into the ground because that’s marketing baby.” (Which is another important aspect of marketing: Perseverance!)

And yet their tweet series created a Twitter storm the internet, with thoughtful insights that amount to a coronavirus PSA, on how to trust science; how to research the sources of questionable information;  and even why we should have compassion for those who spread ridiculous faux “facts” instead of ridicule. (My personal favorite? The shout-out to creatives tweet.)

Why does this strategy work? (One commenter said, “Because you rock on Twitter, this will be the first purchase in about 40 years!”)

And my last quote from a commenter, “Guarantee you at least 300 intense Zoom meetings with marketing managers brainstorming how to fake @steak_umm ’s intellectual sincerity.”

What are the insights we can harvest here?

Focusing on integrity vs. sales.

Practicing vulnerability vs. “perfection”.

Telling our story vs. how many awards, prizes, and prestigious galleries as credentials.

Recognizing, and sharing what is unique in our work vs. SEO and other “tricks” to play the system.

Creating real connection with our audience vs. focusing on how much money we’re making today.

The slow, not-so-shiny-or-glamorous human way of connecting with other humans vs. big budgets, “sure-fire” marketing strategies, and glitz.

I had inadvertently mimicked this approach this week, before my husband mentioned how Steak-umms was blowing up the internet.

I realized I was under-utilizing certain aspects of my FASO website. I got more serious about uploading new art (which is then sent as a brief email to my email subscribers.) I tried to post on Instagram daily (which reposts to my artist-and-writer page on Facebook). When I realized this looked like “sell, sell, sell” in overdrive, I added, “I know this looks like it’s all about hoping you’ll buy. But I also get a lot of joy out of making. I figure if I share that with you, maybe it will give you a little joy today, too.”

And of course, all my marketing shares not just my artwork, but the stories, inspiration, and my own personal ethos that goes into it.

In fact, this part may be even harder for many creatives to adopt. We may instinctively (and wisely) shy away from the big, bad-ass, brag-ish strategies that we’ve come to consider “marketing”. It may feel even weirder to simply be who we are in the world, to share what we yearn for in the world, and to show what we care about, in our art, our techniques, our style, and our voice.

But if a mega-frozen food company can gain a huge and appreciative audience in these wild and weird times, for a steak sandwich, fer-cryin’-out-loud, by showing integrity, humor, and a human heart and soul behind the screen, just imagine what we artists can do!

Today, make a little space to share your work with others. Post a work of art on social media (including your email newsletter!) Tell the story behind it: Think about what was going on in your mind, your heart, your life when you made it. Muse about what you think of now, when you see it.

Shine a little light on why you do the work you do, so others can see, too.

Remember this bit of wisdom from Willy Wonka himself:

We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

LEARNING TO SEE #3 Shift Your Viewpoint

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.

Sometimes changing our perspective helps us see better.

I’ve been making little animal artifacts for more than two decades. I make them one at a time, shaping each lump of layered clay by hand.

I use various tools, repurposed, handmade, found in situ, to add details and designs. But I only use my hands for the actual forming.

They’ve changed a lot over the years. The bears got less “formidable” and a little sweeter. They have ears now, and a tail, too. The birds now have real eyes instead of dots. They look more alive.

All my animals are more three-dimensional. When I first made them, they were button-like adornments on my 2-D fiber collage work. Now they are thicker, rounder.

Even my horses have changed. Sometimes they reflected real changes in my life, like the year or two when I had several big surgeries: They lost their signature ‘handprint’! It took awhile for me to figure out why. I finally realized I was in so much discomfort, I didn’t want to be “touched”, and neither did they! (Bears started out with handprints, but then they “told” me they were not domesticate animals, so ix-nay on the handprint thing.)

At some point, there was another shift in my horses. For some reason I still can’t figure out, they became shorter. Not as in “less tall”, but as in “less long”. In a way, they couldn’t be ridden.

It took a long time to see that. The turning point came when I made a necklace for a wise woman in my life. She’d picked a horse from my stash, one that spoke to her. But when I tried to turn it into a pendant, I couldn’t get it to “hang” right. It was “front heavy”, and I could not fix that.

That insight, when shared with her, ended up giving her tremendous insight into her own turning point in life. As in, a big decision she’d made had thrown her life out of balance. (Which was a tiny miracle in its own right! Once she “saw” that, she changed her mind, with amazingly powerful results.)

It also made me look at that batch of horses and see the imbalance.

I’d used a large black, faux soapstone horse to make a large Shaman necklace. (I try to make one every year or two, to remind myself to “go big” in my work, even though I only sell one ocassionally.) It was on display in my studio. I decided to photo it to list in my Etsy shop.

When I saw the photo, it was easy to see the difference in how much my horses have changed in four years!

It took awhile for me to really SEE the difference!

I still love those “stubby” horses, and so do a lot of people. But I can’t keep making them that way.

So I made a new big horse, in a green shade of faux soapstone. I love how it looks!

Of course, there are lots of tricks to “seeing” our work in a different way, one that can help us more easily see the errors in composition, lighting, color choices, etc. We can not only take a quick photo, we can hold it up to a mirror, or view it upside down. I once asked former Fine Art Views author-and-artist Lori Woodward to look at a large wall hanging I’d made.  Something was ‘off’ but I couldn’t see it. She saw it instantly! (Fortunately it was an easy fix!) Thank you, Lori!

And just like we can improve how we really “see” our art, we can improve how we see ourselves. And not just ourselves, but how we view our art, how we can encourage others to “see” it, and how we “see” ourselves in the world.

This is crucial to extending our online marketing, too.

I remember the first workshop I ever took on marketing and self-promotion, at a polymer clay guild in Keene, NH. A member’s spouse was in marketing, and his presentation was mind-blowing!

The first question he asked was, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about selling?”

Most of the responses were eye-opening. “It’s like a used car salesman’s pitch!” “You gotta twist people’s arms to get them to buy something!” “First you bait the hook and then they bite and you reel them in!”

I couldn’t stand it any longer. I said, “First I make something, with all my skills, and time. Then I show it to someone else, and tell my story. Then they take their hard-earned money that they earned with their skills, and time, and we trade.”

Needless to say, I got an A! (Figuratively speaking.)

Many people today still hesitate to self-promote, especially if we weren’t raised to put ourselves out there. Posting on social media can feel like “bragging”. Asking a good price for our work can feel “pretentious”. Even calling ourselves a “real artist” can feel presumptuous.

But we are simply people who are just like everybody else. We have things we really care about, we choose a creative path we really love, we make stuff that makes us happy, and we do our best work.

The next step is simply sharing our work with the world. Sharing with images (if our work is visual), or words (if our work is a poem, or story), or recordings (if our work is musical, or verbal), or videos (if our work involves movement, such as dance, or acting, etc.)

If nothing happens, that doesn’t mean our work is no good. It can simply mean we haven’t found our audience–yet!

And getting it out into the world is a huge part of that process. From email newsletters, to tiny short films on Instagram, to sharing our latest artwork (or column!) on Facebook, and Twitter, etc. is how people get to see it.

The beauty of social media is, you don’t have to wait for a publisher to choose your work, or a gallery to represent you, or a record producer to record your music, or a studio to hire you as an actor. In fact, the chances of any of these typical ‘markers of success’ may improve simply from our own efforts to show the world what we do.

So maybe we can learn to see ourselves better, too.

We can choose to see ourselves as a human who has chosen visual work as their favorite format. A human who has chosen oils, or acrylics, or colored pencil, or clay, or bronze, or fiber, or any of the thousands of “media” that are creative paths.

We can choose to see ourselves, and our art, as worthy. As ‘good enough’, right now, and ‘even better’ down the road.

As a dear friend said years ago, when I said how embarrassed I was by my earlier work, “Did people love what you made then?” (Um…yes.) “Did they buy it?” (Yeah….?) “Then there will be people who will still love them, too.” (Thank you, Ruth P.!)

We get to choose. We can accept, and respect, every step of our creative journey. Or, like I did this week, we can update, rotate, recreate, refresh, or even set aside the work that doesn’t reflect our best.

There’s no right-or-wrong there. Just what we want to do.

That’s the insight I gained today, by looking at my life’s work from a different perspective. Looking backwards (like a mirror) at where I started, where I’ve been, where I am.

And forward, to where I’m going next.

Do you have artwork you still love, even decades later? Can you still feel the fierce joy it brought you then? Are there pieces you’ve reworked for the better? Are you open to finding out what you can do better in the months ahead?

And can you find yourself worthy of respect for what you do? So you can share it with the world with pride, and joy? Let me know in the comments!

If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.

I love this necklace even more. And the “old” horse has been returned to my stash for a future project, perhaps.

 

 

LESSONS FROM THE FIRE: “Safe” Is Relative

This weekend’s post for Fine Art Views, a free art marketing newsletter from Fine Art Studios Online

We are never truly safe. And that’s OK. 

It’s been exactly one week since Jon woke me, telling me we might have to evacuate from the now-infamous Santa Rosa Fire.

More manpower and resources, and less wind, have helped to contain the fires. Last night, we finally left our home, together, for a drive to the coast, taking the dogs but leaving the cats (they do not enjoy car rides) for the first time since that horrifying day.

It was restorative, in so many ways: Watching the waves peacefully roll in (unusual for the Pacific Ocean!) Poking around for pretty pebbles. (I find foraging extremely soothing. Hence the thrift shopping skills…) Stopping for a beer at a local pub in Bodega on the way home. (The Casino is an unpretentious, funky little bar and grill that serves some of the best food in the county. Check them out, here! ) To our astonishment, our dinners were free. A gift to our community, the waitperson said. We were only asked to consider donating money to the fire victims aid fund, which we did with gratitude.

Then, just before we got home, we saw it: More flames atop the ridge east of town.

Although this new fire is somewhat managed, with the aforesaid manpower and resources now available, it was a sobering thought: This isn’t over. And for thousands of people, who are now homeless, or out of work, for businesses destroyed, this won’t be over for a long time. That’s when it hit us….

We are never truly “safe”. 

Home again, we toyed with the idea of where we might relocate to that’s perfectly safe. Someplace without wildfires? That would eliminate the entire west coast. Someplace with no earthquakes? Hmmmm…. Someplace with no hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, floods, ice storms, blizzards??

We soon realized the futility of focusing on being “safe”.

There is actually a house in our neighborhood in Keene, NH that was a strange anomaly. It was totally made with concrete, slightly reminiscent of Brutalist architecture. A couple had built it and lived there, the story was, who were extremely paranoid about fire. So they build a house that was completely fire-proof, and felt completely safe.

They died in the Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston, in 1942.

This sobering story is not meant to inflate your fears and misgivings. The thing is, we all walk on thin ice, every single day.  We just don’t know it! Every day, we may get that phone call, that evacuation notice, we may hear the shrill wail of dozens of sirens, or see the very flames that will drive us from our shelter.

But we can’t live like that.

In the middle of all this, I sent an email to someone at the wrong address. Three other people saw it, as they passed it on and on to the next person, before it got to the recipient. I was pretty embarrassed, and wished I’d been more careful….

Until I saw these words in one person’s signature line:

“If only this, then music. If only now, forever takes wing.” * 

In the middle of this conflagration, in the middle of our anxious days, this destruction, a stupid mistake on my part let something heartbreakingly beautiful cross my path.

For me, I hear, “This moment is enough. This experience will stay with me forever, if I chose to see its beauty, and if I hold it in my heart. All we ever have is “now”. Be here for it!”

(You, of course, may hear something different. That’s poetry.)

I’m not to saying, “Don’t worry so much” because that’s not helpful, or even possible. When I wrote last week about finding a tiny space of peace in the midst of chaos, I didn’t mean to imply I wouldn’t be devastated if we actually had lost our home, or my studio. (I keep telling people, I am not the Buddha.)

I just realized that worrying about it was useless, draining, unproductive. It’s just my buzzy lizard brain screaming, “DO SOMETHING! FIX THIS! FIGURE IT OUT!!!”

Our brains are hard-wired to solve problems. We instinctively try to find perfect, permanent solutions to whatever we face in life. Our brain spins and buzzes, trying to do the impossible.

When we recognize that, perhaps we can make different choices. My choice? I went to my studio, and found some peace.

Art and creativity, in all its forms, restores us to our higher selves. 

20171018_154052
I felt restored to my higher self in my studio.

 

If we are granted even a few moments of peace, a sparkle of joy, a ray of hope, it can inspire quiet grace. If we breathe deep, let go of the notion we can control every aspect of our lives, we can be open to those precious moments, those tiny gifts that help us go on.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in his book, The Gulag Archipelago, shown a light on people who refused to give up their humanity under horrible conditions, thus giving us all a ray of hope. Solzhenitsyn chose survival. Did that make him less-than? No! Because his choice gave him the chance to share these acts with us. Through his creative work, his voice helped us hear those other voices, which otherwise would have been lost.

Moments of courage and kindnesses, great and small, are found in the ashes of concentration camps. Stories of crucial forgiveness (not excusing, but letting go) allowed for the restoration of Rwanda. In the middle of a firestorm, someone gave a ride to others fleeing the fire. Someone opened their home to those who had lost theirs. In the aftermath, a local pub fed its guests, and even the waiters put their tips into the donation bucket.

Tiny, magnificent acts of grace, and compassion, and courage.

I don’t know if I would have the courage to enter a burning building, or the compassion to give up my bit of food to another, or to let go of anger when someone else deliberately harms me.

But I am grateful for those who do, for those who give me the knowledge that our human history is full of moments like these.

They give me hope. They make me want to be better.

Making my art, and sharing my words, is a tiny way for me to restore me to myself. And in the process, maybe I can give hope and encouragement to others.

The message is loud and clear: Our creative work, the work of our heart, matters. Our art heals ourselves, gets us to our best place in the world. In our ART, we are safe.

And when we share that with the world, it can save and heal others, too.

If you can, go to your studio/kitchen/garden/shop/dance floor today. If not today, then soon. Be fearless with your art. Then share it with the world. Give a little courage, and hope, and solace, today. We need it, desperately.

*Thanks to Cynthi Stefenoni, she graciously gave permission for me to share her words, part of a poem she’s written. (Yes, I’ve been twisting her arm to publish the entire work!)

20171022_111036
More horses, please. And bears!