THE FOUR QUESTIONS #6: The First Question: “What is your greatest vision for your art?”

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.

Start with the biggest dream you can imagine!

(6 minute read)

We’ve explored the potential need for an artist support group in your life. We’ve covered the purpose, the roles, the ground rules, and the privacy thing.

And now the rubber hits the road!

The speaker and the asker (because I’m tired of typing “questioner”) are present and ready, the scribe has pen poised and notebook ready, the audience is ready to listen. Here we go!

What is your greatest vision for your art?

I’m not going to kid you. This is a big question. Bigger than most of us can even manage our first time here. No worries! Start where you are, and we’ll go from there.

Pull out all the “dream big” platitudes you’ve ever heard to get going: What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? What brings you joy? What is the measure of your success? What do you want to accomplish with your art? What is your greatest goal in life, with your art? What could your legacy be?

Sometimes these dreams are just in us, waiting for a chance to be called forth. When people are in this stage, not much encouragement is needed! It comes pouring out.

One person dreamed they were accepting an Academy Award for their groundbreaking documentary. One person envisioned creating ceremonial garments for spiritual ceremonies. One simply wanted an art space of their own. (More on this….)

Me? My first vision was to make small dolls and animals, tiny enough to fit in the palm of your hand, for children, but also for grownups, from recycled materials. (My first artifacts were about a year away.) Something that would bring joy, and happiness. (Still true!) Something that gave comfort and encouraged resilience. (True, too.) Maybe something I could share and teach. (Found a different way to do that, too!)

I thought about how this made ME happy, and how much I wanted to keep doing it. I didn’t want to sit in a garrett (I love how “garret” is a miserable space that inherently suggests its use by an artist!) alone and unknown. I wanted my work to be out in the world, making others as happy as it did me.

It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” (From The Lorax.)

So, it was easy for me to talk about that, and how big that could become.

Other people? Maybe not so much.

Some people are swollen with self-doubt. They are filled with restrictions and conditions, with self-judgment and denial. And who they are may surprise you!

So, the spirit of answering this question, when it feels difficult, is to “act as if…”

Act “as if” you are already an artist. Make up a story about it! Add all the ingredients that would make your heart sing. Dream big. Pretend. Fake it ‘til you make it.

They’re making a movie about a famous, successful artist, and it’s a movie about YOU. Tell us about it!

After all, we aren’t asking you to “fake” being a brain surgeon, and then expecting you to go out and perform a surgery—which is where “fake it ‘til etc.” might prove dangerous to others. (And where it gets its bad rep re: inspiration.)

So gentle encouragement can help these folks through the question.

Strategies:

Give them time.

If they stop talking, refrain from jumping in right away. Simply wait. We are so NOT used to saying our truth, we are trained to see what others say.

So… sit with the silence.

If after a couple of minutes or so, there’s still no more story, then tell them we will sit with that for the rest of the 10 minutes. It’s their time! DON’T cut it short—leave it open.

It’s surprising how that’s often enough to encourage them to add more.

Give them a chance to get out of their own way.

From my artist friend/shrink/reader Susan Delphine Delaney, a professional in counseling/therapy. (She says she’s also been called “The Praying Shrink!)

“If you think the speaker is stuck, please assume that “the thing that lights up the world”, however you think of that, is PRESENT. Truth is, the speaker and the “light” are the two that need to commune. So, ask a question: “You seem to be stuck at x. What ideas do you have to get unstuck?” Then shut up and let the speaker and the light shine together. They will figure it out as you wrap them in your smile and your love.”

Susan also shares this with us: “When I lived at the Pecos Benedictine Monastery for six weeks, studying Spiritual Direction, the monks told us every day that when two people (or more) are problem-solving, the Holy Spirit is there. I used to light a votive when problem solving with my then-teen-aged daughter to remind me that the Spirit was there, helping us. A group could light a votive to help remember that a benevolent Force in the Universe is present to help.”

A benevolent Force is present…. I like that!

Frame it.

“What would that look like?” “Describe an especially satisfying day in this vision.”

Eating an Elephant/One-bite-at-a-time approach.

Do they seem overwhelmed? Encourage them to take smaller bites: “Okay… What does your studio space look like in this vision?” “What body of work are you working on in this vision?” 

Are they still stuck?

A very few people can be incredibly resistant. And a very, very few, in my experience, actually seem to relish the role of “You can’t make me dream big/be an artist/admit there’s hope!!” “You’re not the boss of me!”

“How do I know what I want? I have no idea! What does my studio look like?? I dunno, I should I know?! I don’t believe I can sell my work/exhibit/connect with others/have a vision! I just want to make my stuff and be left alone!”

I am a flawed person. I don’t have the time or patience for this.

I am NOT a trained professional therapist. I’m just a friend who’s been there, lost in the proverbial woods. Someone who learned a process that can work in powerful ways to help us move forward. Someone willing to share this, so others can, too.

I can’t help people whose only mechanism for engaging others is to constantly appeal for sympathy.

We all struggle with something. We all have wounds, burdens, losses, and hardships.

In spite of that, we also have the power of our choices. And if you’re reading this, I’m gonna assume you already identify, or want to identify as an artist. A creative force for good in the universe.

Don’t waste it!!

When someone gets into this mind frame, my first instinct is to think, “Man, I really messed this up!”

But my second thought is, “I can’t waste MY power!”

After all, they CHOSE this opportunity. They SAID they wanted more clarity, more direction. They AGREED to try this process, because they SAID they wanted their art biz to grow.

And here they are, wrapped up in being difficult and obstinate, wearing it with fierce pride. OY!!

They can still heal. But I can’t help them. They need that highly-trained professional. This is not the right place for them—yet.

And so, they don’t get invited back. 

Because the corollary to this question, the whole premise of this support group is this:

Protect your creative vision, your dreams.

Protect your creative space.

USE this particular sacred, creative, protected space to grow, as an artist. 

Don’t get pulled into “helping” people, especially those with the potential to be a “black hole”. We’re learning how to help ourselves. Stick with the people who “get that”.

Next week: The Second Question!

THE FOUR QUESTIONS #4: The Roles

Continuing the series about how to create an artist support group, my column today for Fine Art Views:  The Four Questions #4: The Roles

The greatest gift you can give a woman is to LISTEN to her!

(7 minute read)

You’ve picked some peeps, you’ve set a time and date for your first meeting. You introduce yourselves. You’ve checked in: What’s been going on, what’s working with your art biz, what’s not. Everybody has brought a notebook that is for them and them only. (More on that in The Scribe section below.) Oooh! Pens!

Let’s talk about the roles each of you will take on during this process.

THE SPEAKER: We used to jokingly call this “the hot seat.” It’s the person who will be “interviewed”, the person who will answer the questions given.

It can feel uncomfortable, if you’re not used to being listened to, if you’re not used to talking uninterrupted until you’ve said all you want to say.

For some people who are quieter, or shy, or not sure of the company, it may never get “easy”. But in time, you may eagerly look forward to this role!

It’s a chance to really let your heart speak, a chance to think things through for YOURSELF. Without anyone offering well-meant but badly-placed advice, or anyone telling you your own reality.

Just speak your truth until you are finished. (Although sometimes it’s necessary to put a time limit on this, say 10-12 minutes. But you’ll be surprised how long that is to talk without interruption!)

It’s not necessary to do your homework first. But for these first few sessions, it can help to have some idea of what you want to “envision”. Once we hit the actual Questions in the weeks ahead, you’ll see what I mean.

In later sessions, you can take advantage of what you’ve already covered, and what you already know, and start from there.

For now, just give yourself permission to “go big” with your answer, even if it feels too big. It may be hard to even imagine right now that you have a choice about what’s in your (artistic) life. Maybe it’s not physically possible to achieve, them, but it’s important to know what they are. And it’s important to know it’s okay to want them!

And what’s really wonderful! You can not only learn to “think big”, you can get used to it!

THE LISTENER(S): Anyone who isn’t asking the questions, responding to the questions, or taking notes, you have one job…

Listen.

Just….listen. Listen carefully, respectfully. Don’t interrupt. Don’t jump in. Don’t offer opinion, unless asked for one, or given permission to offer one. (This is really important! More on the rules next week….

Don’t tell the speaker their reality. Don’t tell them what you think they should do. Don’t tell them what YOU would do. Don’t tell them what someone else did.

Do look for places where the speaker gets stuck. Make a mental note of that.

You may be given an opportunity to ask your own question about it. You may be asked to share a thought or experience.

But don’t assume you will. Sit with that, okay? Remember: Hopefully, this group will grow, and repeat this process. There is plenty of time to sort out the inconsistencies between what people say they want, and what they do. (Part of the human condition, actually, and it won’t be fixed in ten minutes!)

THE SCRIBE: Your job is to record as much as possible: The actual questions asked, and the response from the speaker. If the questioner asks for elaboration or clarity, make note of that, too.

Simply capture as much as you can, as fast as you can, as accurately as you can.

Most important, try not to put your “riff” on anything. No comments, no judgments, no opinions.

You will write in the Speaker’s notebook. This notebook is for their eyes only.

They may not have time to take in what you’ve recorded. Maybe at the next meeting, when you all check in again, questions may arise and be discussed.

The Speaker may become overwhelmed with what bubbles up for them. They may become angry during the questions that pushes them (a little.) They may cry when they realize the lizard brain voice that’s hounded them all these years, can be ignored, set aside, or gently tolerated. They may become overwhelmed with joy at what they learn about themselves, and how well they are supported. 

This means it may be extremely difficult for them to recall what they actually said. They may not remember their own truth, or the truths others will share with them. It can happen with all of us. And it’s more common than you’d think.

Your notes may be the only record they have about all that transpires. 

It’s important to get it right.

THE QUESTIONER: Start with the person who is the most familiar with how this works. Hint: This first time, it will be YOU, since you’ve gotten a head start with all these articles!

You will set the tone and establish the rules. You will maintain the rules. (The rules are pretty straightforward (next week’s article!) and I’m guessing you can already guess some of them now.

You can ask more questions, outside of the Four Questions, to help frame the question itself. Because we are often unfamiliar with the idea of talking, with no interruption, until we’re done, the responder may stop speaking very soon into the process. You may have to “break it down” into smaller “bites” for them. You may have to ask them for clarification: “Can you give me an example of what that looks like?” “Can you describe that for me?” “What else do you see?” etc.

When someone gets distracted by the unlikelihood of getting what they want (“I know there’s no way that could happen…”), you will get them back on track. “Just give your biggest vision for what you want. Don’t try to figure out HOW it’s going to happen, just imagine it for now.”

When someone gets negative or self-judgmental “I know I’ll never be good enough…”, gently lead them back. “In a perfect world, what would that look like?” “If you knew you could not fail, what would you strive for?”

And when it gets hard, you will hold their feet to the fire, until you know they are speaking their truth. (More on how you’ll know, later.)

Don’t worry about doing it perfectly! I’ve done it many times, and I always feel like I suck at it. And just when I think I’m doing it wrong (I get a lot of push-back, even anger), that’s when the breakthrough happens.

Sometimes, just knowing someone is listening, someone cares what we want, knowing others want us to have what we want, is all we need to keep moving forward.

Also, these aren’t permanent “roles”. In fact, in a perfect-sized group, you will all have a turn at them, at every meeting!

Everyone should have the opportunity to speak, at every meeting. (You can get a “bye” occasionally, for certain reasons. More later.)

Everyone should have the opportunity to question, and to scribe. Even if you feel you aren’t great at asking the questions, you can learn. Practice, right?

If the group feels you have skills as a questioner or scribe, and you’re up for it, it’s okay to do it more often. I LOVE taking notes for people, so if nobody else is keen on it, I volunteer.

But I also recognize that someone else may hear something differently than I do. That’s important!

Next week, we’ll go over the rules that ensure the safety and privacy of what is shared during these group sessions.

Until then, your home is to practice listening. At your next conversational opportunity, focus on really listening to what the other person is saying. I can be really bad at that. I’m all there with the, “Me, too!” and the “That happened to me once!” Sit on the impulse to “fix it”.

In fact, simply focus on sitting. And listening. Maybe asking for more information or clarity. Or simply nodding, and saying, “And then what happened?” and “How did you feel about that?” and “What are you going to do about that?”

You may be surprised at what you’ll hear. (I accidentally typed “heart” instead of “hear”! Hmmmm……!!

Your homework today:

Have you ever been listened to, deeply? 

What was it like?