LESSONS FROM THE GYM: Those Who Teach, DO.

by Luann Udell on 12/23/2017 5:24:55 AM 

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 are now surrounded with working artists! Continuing with the insights I find at the independent gym program at my favorite physical therapy facility….

Today’s insight comes from a delightful young person who is in the final stages of their degree program in physical therapy. On their last day, I asked them the same question I ask every intern, observer, and student:


What is it you learned here, in the actual workplace, that surprised you? Something you couldn’t/didn’t experience in your classes?
 

D thought for a moment and replied with this surprising answer: “Actually, not much. In a good way!”

When I asked why that was so, they replied, “Because now almost all my professors and instructors are still working in the field. That wasn’t always the case. People would teach after, or instead of, actually being in the field. And so I learn first-hand what most people didn’t learn until they were in, or observing, the actual practice of physical therapy.”

Things like realizing different clients with the same physical issues might require different therapies, to meet their unique needs. Things like realizing simple treatments often work as well, or even more effectively, than new, complicated treatments. In fact, almost all the “Gym Lessons” I’ve shared to date were already presented, experienced, and explained in the classroom. 

(They also said they’ve learned that, if you listen more than you talk, people will think you’re smarter. (Talk too much, and you might prove them wrong!) But that’s a lesson for another day, and not only because it hits so close to home!)

How does that relate to our art world?

When I was a young hopeful artist, I knew of exactly zippo artists in our small agriculture community. Oh, there was ONE person who made pots, but I never, ever saw their work, or even met them. There were no art shows, no art fairs, and no community education classes, in arts or crafts. It was a barren land, as far as working examples of my dream life. The only art classes my high school offered were rudimentary. My first clay sculptures were ruined when the kiln blew out, and was not replaced. Art supplies were minimal, and the program was fragmentary, right down to being eliminated one year.

I waited eagerly for college, knowing I would finally be among others who wanted to pursue art as a career. But for many reasons I needn’t go into, that was not to be, either. The lack of a portfolio from high school was a factor, but so was encouragement. I majored in art history instead, but my textbook featured three women artists over 15,000 years of history, and thousands of male artists, mostly what I called impudently “dead white European guys.”

What would it be like to be an artist today?

In Sonoma County alone, I am surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of artists. Young students participating in public art projects, young people fiercely pursuing their creative life in many shapes and forms. Art shows, art tours, art exhibits, art galleries abound. Yes, many people wait until retirement from their day jobs before pursuing art full-time. But many, many more now find a way to make room for it right here, right now.

It’s possible many art teachers devote most of their time to teaching, and not to making their own art. This used to be par for the course, and I encountered many art teachers along the way, people who had gone from “artist” to “shadow artists”.  A shadow artist can be a supporter and admirer of others who pursue their art full-time. But some are full of envy and resentment, and find subtle ways of getting back at those they see as more fortunate in their field.

But though teaching can take away a lot of time, I see people who are also dedicated to making time for their art. Because supplies, classes, shows, exhibits, information, and community are more prevalent, they find encouragement and support from others who love their art. A good friend works full-time as an art teacher. But she still finds ways to make room for her art, and she has found a few venues that work for her. (And for all you folks whose media choices are sneered at, check out the amazing colored pencil work of Nicole Caulfield!)   http://www.nicolecaulfieldfineart.com/about-the-artist

A work from Nicole’s Zen series, and one of my personal favorites!

Thanks to a growing population who understand the importance of making, creating, showing, and even selling (yay!), we are now surrounded with the “do”. Everywhere we look, we see artists, creative makers, at work. Thanks to the internet, it is easier than ever to take a peek into someone else’s creative world. It’s easier than ever to find supplies, classes, ideas, venues, opportunities, support, and community.

We truly live in an age where the old “Those who can’t do, teach” maxim has been flipped on its head. Now we can truly say, “Those who teach, DO.”

Today, more than ever, we are surrounded by those who DO. I am so grateful for that, and you should be, too!

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At The Balsams

I’m halfway through my week-long artist-in-residency at The Balsams. It’s an absolutely beautiful place, one of the last of the “grand hotels” so popular in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This is the second year I’ve been invited to stay and teach little workshops for the guests.

It’s always a big sea change for me. Most of the year I’m usually bopping around my studio, listening to techno music, happily making my little horses and great bears and crafting the most beautiful jewelry and wall hangings I can imagine.

Then I go through utter panic preparing for the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s annual fair at Mount Sunapee Resort–digging through the barn attic for my halogen lights, my ProPanel walls, my necklace and earring stands, getting postcards printed and mailed, wailing, “Where did I stash all my extension cords??” and worrying how many trips I will need to make to carry everything up there. My booth does NOT fit into my little Subaru Forester, not by a long shot.

Then nine days at the Fair, with my long-time customers and new collectors stopping by my booth constantly, sharing their stories of the pieces they bought last year, and adding new ones to their collection. Stories of love and hope and laughter and gratitude abound. There are many tears shed, and hugs and good wishes shared. And with luck, enough sales to keep me in business another year.

Then it’s over. We break down the booth in a rush, and I immediately begin to plan and pack for my “Balsams gig”.

It’s a totally different place here. Meals are served in a beautiful ballroom, with glorious views of Dixville Notch and the surrounding forests. Countless staff members make sure every need is met, often before you are aware you even HAVE a need.

Every effort is made to keep the “real world” at bay, and provide as wonderful an experience as possible, with as little visible effort as possible. And many, many people work here to make that happen, from the incredibly talented team of chefs to the guy who found me table lamps for my class table, from the doormen who greet each arriving guest and carry their baggage to their rooms to the musicians who play during dinner and also double as sales clerks in their off-stage hours.

It’s a little daunting to be in the midst of so much luxury and service, especially when my own breakfast the last few weeks has been a box of cinnamon Pop Tarts; it seems unreal to be dressed up every day in my “artist” clothes when normally I live in cut-offs and t-shirts. It’s different to be teaching kids how to make polymer beads and buttons in between tee times and riding lessons instead of making my own art and hoping I sell enough necklaces to pay for my own riding lessons back home. My husband came up with me this year to bike and hike in the White Mountains. But he stays with friends or at local motels–because even with a reduced room rate for him, we can’t afford for him to stay here with me.

But finally, I get it.

I hear the stories behind some of the people I’ve met here and there; I hear about this one whose beloved aunt nearly died last week during surgery; a grandchild born with unbearable health issues; the person who has just finished chemo, and another recovering from debilitating injuries. Life doesn’t care who you are or how much money you make, it just happens–good and bad, wonderful and sad.

Then I remember the words of Roseanne Cash, daughter of Johnny Cash and his first wife, Vivian, whose book of memoirs, “Composed”, was published earlier this year. She writes with dignity and respect, in words so graceful and elegant and so full of compassion, that I am moved to tears:

You begin to realize that everyone has a tragedy, and that if he doesn’t, he will. You realize how much is hidden beneath the small courtesies and civilities of everyday existence. Deep sorrows and traces of great loss run through everyone’s lives, and yet they let others step into the elevators first, wave them ahead in a line of traffic, smile and greet their children and inquire about their lives, and never let on for a second that they, too, have lain awake at night in longing and regret, that they, too, have cried until it seemed impossible that one person could hold so many tears, that they, too, keep a picture of someone locked in their heart and bring it out in quiet, solitary moments to caress and remember…

Little courtesies and small kindnesses….. They abound all around me this week.

And suddenly, I realize it isn’t about who has what and who doesn’t have enough. Suddenly, I realize that we’re all in this together, and nobody gets out alive or unshaken.

And that all we really need and crave is love, and acceptance. We all yearn for the recognition that inside each of us is something unique and wonderful that just needs a little opportunity to shine in the world.

That we all have a story to tell.

And somehow, though I don’t always understand how or why I can make that happen, that’s my job today–to help someone make something that brings a little joy, to give something that lets someone else know “I hear your story, and I care”.

It’s my job today to provide a little experience a family can treasure for years to come, and to be a small part of those memories. To share the joy that comes from making something with your own hands.

And it’s my job today to keep making art–my little horses, my great bears, my sweet birds and happy dogs–that causes someone else’s heart to leap up and want to sing, just a little, just for today.

And that’s when I know I really am at home and at peace, here at The Balsams.