USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL! Another Life Metaphor for Drivers and Artists

My “New England Autumn” art wall.

USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL!

Keep your audience and collectors in touch with your art/life changes!

 On my kitchen wall, the wall that shows up in my Zoom meetings, is a bright red maple leaf. Not a real leaf. It’s hand-carved and painted, in wood. It joins a collection of fall landscape paintings, and like them, holds many memories of living in the Northeast/New England.  (A friend in New Hampshire told me that only three countries in the world host these amazing, colorful trees: The United States, Canada, and Japan.)

There’s a story behind this leaf. (Of course!)

It took place many, many years ago, at a huge 9-day show in New Hampshire, The League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Fair.

I was still pretty new to the show. Across the aisle from me was a longtime craftsman, who worked in glass. In between the previous year’s show and this one, he switched medium. He now made marvelous nature objects, carved from wood, and painted.

I loved his work, he loved mine, and we had several lovely chats during the show. He had a huge audience, having participated in the show for a long time, and always did well with sales.

Not this year!

His collectors and followers came to his booth. They were stunned to find a completely new body of work. And most of them left fairly quickly, without purchasing anything.

He was stunned to the point of having a panic attack near the end of the first day. (We were told at first he’d had a heart attack, which can mimic the same symptoms, but fortunately a panic attack is non-lethal!) A friend came to cover his booth, (he’s the one who filled me in on the backstory) and a few days later, the artist returned.

He was devastated, of course, and we had a lovely talk.

I told him his new work was beautiful, and in time, he would either regain his audience, or grow a new one. It wasn’t the quality of his work that was failing him. It was catching his long-time audience off-guard. He needed to give them time to adjust.

I know this phenomenon all too well! My work has never fit into anyone else’s “box”, and new work takes time to sell. (Okay, ALL my work takes time. That can get discouraging in hard times, but it has never stopped me.)

He was grateful for my encouragement and insight. The next day, he brought me my maple leaf! And sure enough, even by the end of the fair, his sales were inching up. (Many were new people who were unfamiliar with his former body of work.)

How does this relate to a turn signal while driving? (You know I’ll find a way!)

One of my biggest pet peeves while driving is, when people don’t signal a turn, or a lane change, until they’re actually acting on it. Which isn’t helpful or useful for those of us passing, or approaching an intersection.

Turn signals are for letting others know our intentions. We need to activate that turn signal to let others know we’re going to get into their lane, or slow down to turn soon. (Yes, some people leave them on, which is also confusing. But it’s better to slow down when we don’t have to, rather than maintain our speed, not knowing what they plan to do.)

If this artist had prepared his audience, alerted them of his intentions…

If he had send out a postcard, or an email newsletter, letting them know he was switching gears/directions/media…

They would not have been so surprised when he showed up with a totally new body of work.

Instead, he caught them off-guard, unsure what to say, being disappointed the work they’d grown to love was no longer available.

In fact, he could have even staged a sell-off of his other work from his studio. (This was before the days of online shopping and artist websites!) It would have given his faithful collectors a last chance to purchase his work, and generated some excitement and interest in his new work.

Of course, in these days of social media and our intense use of email newsletters, more people can be aware of our own life lane-changes. We can use these powerful tools to keep our audience informed: New work. New media. New techniques. New studio location.

That little red wood leaf is a powerful reminder for me:

Stay in touch!