NEWSLETTERS 101 #6: My Creation Story’s Creation
How I Poke(d) People Into Telling Me Their WHY
Yet still she persisted….
How I Poke(d) People Into Telling Me Their WHY
Yet still she persisted….
The moment you chose to live your life and make your art with intention is the heart of everything you do, write, say.
(4 minute read)
Last week, I shared how introverts can shine in the world, thanks to email art marketing newsletters.
Today, I had a long article planned. But, lucky you! I realized it was about two different topics I had squished into one:
Your Most Important Story of All
Before we get to suggestions about this, let’s talk about the most important topic of all of this:
The Story of YOU.
Here’s the biggest obstacle when it comes to every aspect of marketing and selling our art:
Sooooo many people don’t know their own story!
Let’s back up a little. There are two powerful stories in every creative person.
The first is what I call the ‘creation story’.
The second is our artist statement, which I’ll tackle next week. Because it helps to know your creation story first.
What’s the difference?
Your creation story marks your first step, the moment you knew you were meant to be an artist. It’s that aha moment when we realized we had to be an artist. The moment where we completely embrace what we want, regardless of whether we even know how, or why. It’s the point in your life where your deepest intention occurred.
Dave Geada, FASO’s marketing guru, talks about this story in almost every webinar I’ve watched so far. He phrased it perfectly: After a near-death experience, he vowed to live his life with intent. With INTENTION. I’ve called it our “hero’s journey story” for years, and Dave calls it that, too. (Whew! I love it when the experts and I are on the same page!)
That’s what your first step was: Your intention to make your art. Here’s mine. It’s what made me take the leap, and it still resonates with me today.
Unlike your artist statement, it doesn’t have to be public (though there are ways to modify it so it can, so don’t rule that out.)
You DO have to know it. Because once you realize it, it will provide the foundation of everything you do, write, make, talk about, going forward with your artwork. It will ground you when you are lost. It will reassure you when you are discouraged. It will lift you up when life gets hard.
Knowing it will help you lift others, too. Because when we speak our truth, it not only resonates with others, it can inspire them to see theirs.
Years ago, I created a workshop designed to help people write their artist statement. It was powerful, and eye-opening. I got to hear how several dozen people got their start, and why. My favorite was the artist who started with, “I had a baby. I nearly died. Everything changed…” I exclaimed, “THAT’s your artist statement!” What I meant was, this was the foundation of her artist statement.
To frame this better: That may or may not be what she decides to use, publicly. But it was that point in time where “everything changed.” It would inspire her artist statement, however she chose to frame it. It was her creation story, it was powerful, and she knew it.
Another great creation story was one I’ve written about before, which illustrates that our creation story will evolve. It’s about long-time artist who lost their sight late in life—and everything changed. Did they stop making? Nope. But it’s different, now. Because everything changed. But it was compelling enough for me to go back to that ‘weird crappy’ piece of “art” hanging on the gallery wall, and find something beautiful in it. Courage. Perseverance. Letting go of what was, and embracing the new ‘what is’.
Your homework: What is your creation story? Write it out, if only for your private use.
If you enjoyed this article, and know someone else who might like it, too, feel free to pass it on. And if someone sent you this and you did like it, see more of my articles at FineArtViews.com, other art marketing topics at Fine Art Views art marketing newsletter, and my blog at LuannUdell.wordpress.com.
After reading all my articles about artist statements, are you going to tell me you still don’t like to talk about your art?
Then tell me about YOU.
Yes, I’m going to rag on you about your artist statement again. (I’m never too busy for that!)
I’m getting ready for the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, and I should be doing a bajillion other things right now. But I got up early. I’ve got half a cuppa coffee in me.
And as always, I found a little artist life lesson in today’s email inbox.
It’s an e-newsletter from Michael’s. They asked six of their employees how they use picture frame to express themselves in their own homes.
I think they’ve taken a online peek at Oprah Magazine, but I took a look.
And here’s your takeaway:
Everyone said what they needed to say in two sentences.
Yes, in two sentences, you learn what these folks’ passions are. What’s important to them. What they chose to display in their homes, and why.
Melissa, like me, loves to shop for vintage eclectic stuff. Jenny has an artist’s eye for the tiny, beautiful details around her. Susan uses her photographer’s eye to capture unforgettable moments in her family’s life.
Yes, it’s a Michael’s ad.
But it’s also an intimate peek into the minds–and hearts–of six creative people.
And they did it in 25 words or less.
Now, it’s not easy to crystallize who you are into that short a sentence. Yes, I struggle with that, too.
But it’s worth it.
People have made art for over 50,000 years. It’s part of who we are. I explore what it means to be human and an artist, in the world today, through ancient stories retold with my modern artifacts.
(I know, it could be better. It’s always a work in progress!) Editor!!
HEY! I know…..
Tell me what you think MY 25-words-or-less could be!
Last year, a fellow artist and I put on Keene’s very first open studio tour, the Keene Art Tour.
Few things in life are harder than getting a couple dozen artists together (figuratively), collecting checks (Paypal button next year!), gathering images and artist statements for the brochure (“Just take it from my website!”) and everything else entailed in creating a city-wide event. Fortunately, it was hugely successful, for visitors and artists alike.
The only thing harder?
Doing it again.
Artists forget how good the crowds were, how much they sold and how much fun they had. That’s normal. Artists, being human beings, are sort of hard-wired to only remember the hard work, the studio cleaning, and how much we hassled them for said images, statements and money.
I’m learning that as a show organizer, “getting an early start” this year really means, “Let’s spend longer trying to get the same components together as last year.” That’s a good lesson to learn.
Some of the cold feet-itis is understandable, too. The last few years have been hard for creative folks. Some have hunkered down, some have moved on, some have diversified, and others are in that awful stage known as “transition”–moving on from what we’ve done while not quite knowing what’s next. Change is hard, and rarely fun.
“I don’t have anything to sell!” says one artist. Another says, “The kind of work I do, I don’t have ‘things’ to sell. So why would I want to have an open studio??” “I don’t have any new work!” says another. “I might be busy that weekend. When do I have to let you know?” (The answer to this question, by the way, is “Two months ago.”)
So here’s my response to all these questions:
An Open Studio isn’t just about selling your work. It’s about telling your story.
It’s the strongest way to form a powerful connection not only with new customers, but also with current customers, your community, and with future artists. And it’s a way to revitalize your own connection with your art.
There’s one artist who does murals for public places. No ‘things’ to sell in their studio, so they don’t want to participate.
What a lost opportunity! Now, I have no desire to buy a mural. But I’ve always wondered what’s entailed. How did they get started doing this? How do they find out about proposals for public art, especially internationally? What is the design process like? Do they hire other people to help? How long does it take to paint a mural? What kind of paint do they use? How long does a mural last? Where is their work displayed? Do you get to travel a lot? What are the fun parts? What are the downsides? What the heck does their life LOOK like???
There’s a couple who are working on a graphic novel. No ‘art’ to show in their studio. People would be bored.
Really? I can think of a few dozen young artists who would give anything to know that that process looks like. How do you get started? Are you self-published or are you working with a publisher? What does that look like? Do you do the writing and the drawing, or do you collaborate? Is it possible to make a living doing this? Do you teach classes?
There’s an artist in transition who needs to sell their old work before they can can make new work. And they’re not very far along in the new work.
Artists go through transitions? Just like other people?? Is it hard? What made you stop making your old work? What would you like to do next? What do you think will stay the same, and what will change? What inspires you and sustains you through this difficult time?
There’s someone who has new galleries, and may not have any work available for sale.
Actually, this is one of the best problems to have. Do you have earlier work that you’ve kept? Do you have works in progress? And the finished pieces you’re ready to ship–can we just LOOK at them? If I want one, can I commission you to make one? There’s a waiting list?? Oh my gosh, I better get my order in NOW!
Meanwhile, in your horde of visitors (and everyone had hordes of visitors), there are people who wish they could do what you do. They want to meet the people who ran away to join the circus. You are actually in your studio, making incredible stuff every day–how fabulous! Be their art hero.
There are people in transition who need to know there’s a ‘there’ after ‘here right now.’ That perseverance and vision and hard work will get us through. Be their art hero.
There are people who hope someday to be in your shoes. There are artists-in-waiting who need to know that it’s possible to have that life, to make their own work, to carve out a place in the world for themselves. You are living proof that it can happen. Be their life hero.
There are all kinds of creative folks in a community, artists of all sorts who make this town a better, richer, more beautiful place to live. We do more than just fill art galleries or people’s homes with our work. We teach, inspire, enrich, model our values to our community. Be that community hero.
Open your work space, that incredible place where the magic happens, where your vision for your art becomes a reality. Let people see what your life looks like, for two precious days in November. Be that art hero.
Give yourself the gift of seeing yourself through other people’s eyes–the people who see you as creative, gifted, exciting, interesting, fortunate, blessed. Because we are. It’s easy to forget that in the slog of making our way in the world. Let our community help you remember.
Be your own hero.
Today I saw an update in my inbox from Cynthia Tinapple’s delightful blog, It was titled Polymer Artifacts so of course I had to take a peek.
Even more delightful, it turns out it’s about MY polymer artifacts!!
It’s an honor to be featured in PCD, as Cynthia scopes out the best work in polymer clay around the world. Thank you, Cynthia!
There’s a nice balance between focusing your work and being inspired by others’ work. The last few years, I’ve been hunkered down, focusing on keeping my vision clear, and trying not to envy the incredible work being made by other artists. Lately, I realized I’ve hunkered down too much. Cynthia’s blog helps me see a bigger picture of the world. It’s time to explore and see what else is out there.
I also see it’s time to update my images on my website. My beloved photographer, Jeff Baird, died of lung cancer three years ago. I owe a big chunk of my success to his beautiful images of my work. It’s been hard to admit that he’s gone, and I’ve been reluctant to switch out the pics. But Jeff would be the first one to tell me it’s time to do that. Wherever you are, Jeff, know that you are deeply missed.
I have a good series going on at Fine Art Views, an online marketing newsletter. The series is called “Questions You Don’t Have to Answer” (when selling your artwork.) Check it out!
I’ll try to post a series of links to all the articles later today. Six months later…..
1. How Long Did It Take You To Make That?
2. Do You Have a Website?
3. Why Is Your Work So Expensive?
4. Where Is This Place?
5. How Did You Do That?
6. A Question From An Art Teacher (You Don’t Have to Answer)
7. Where Do You Get Your Supplies?
8. Are You As Good As….?
9. Can You Do Better On The Price?
10. How Long Have You Been Doing This?
11. Why Does This One Cost More Than That One?
12. Do You Teach Classes?
Trust me, your artistic self is just as powerful as a postage stamp. Maybe more.
Fresh off my first Open Studio tour of the year, and boy is my studio CLEAN! I love open studio events for many reasons, but more on that later this week. I have something else on my mind that has to come out today.
As you may know, my soapbox speech is about finding out what makes you, and your work, unique.
We hear all about how no two snowflakes are identical, and how our fingerprints and DNA are unique to us.
You’d think, with all this unique-ness pouring out of us, we could a unique way to talk about our work.
I’ve been in a lot of group shows this year, seen a lot of lovely work and talked to a lot of passionate artists. What strikes me is how everyone says the same things about their art.
We talk about our compositions. We talk about why we love pastel, or oil, or clay. We talk about light and shapes.
If I hear “I just love color!” one more time….. Well, it won’t be pretty.
So let me share an ‘aha!’ moment I had years ago.
I was doing a mail art project, and wanted old postage that would reflect the theme of my piece. I found an older couple who ran a stamp collecting business out of their home.
As I scrabbled through the trays and books of postage, we talked about stamp and the stamp collecting biz. They shared stories about stamp collectors. I asked her what kinds of stamps people collected.
The woman said, “You know, in fifty years of selling stamps and doing shows and talking to collectors, I’ve never seen two people collect exactly the same thing.”
Now think about that a minute.
There is no creativity per se in collecting stamps. Collectors don’t make the stamps, nor are they handmade by other people. Stamps are produced en masse, and have been in production for years.
But how they collect is so strongly individual and personal, each collection–each act of collecting–is as unique as….well, the human being who put it together.
Some collect by country, or region or language. Some collect by subject matter. Politics, places, people, animals, plants, themes, designs, plate designer…. There is simply no end to the possible combinations of appeal.
If we could get away from the mundane–what our materials are, the fact that we love certain colors or lines or compositions…..
If we could dig a little deeper and think about why we make the art we do….
If we could tell a richer, more personal story about our art…..
If we were willing to go the scary, deep place of who we are, and who we yearn to be in the world…
…People would see our work as the miracle in the world it truly is.
Sharing ‘unique’ processes, ‘unique’ inspiration, ‘unique’ love of color/shape/style, separates us from our audience.
Discovering what makes us tick as a human being, sharing what is truly in our hearts, connects us with our audience.
Be brave. Be YOU.
I’m reprinting this article I wrote on June 2, 2005, because it bears repeating. (And because it’s so hard to find on my old blog at RadioUserland…)
I’m doing a series of articles at Fine Art Views, an art marketing blog I write for. I realized this post is still timely when talking about marketing our art.
CHARIOTS OF FIRE and the World Batik Conference
In a few weeks I’ll be presenting a speech at the World Batik Conference at Boston College of Art.
I’m speaking on self-promotion for artists, specifically the art of press kits and press releases.
The time is limited, and the message must be succinct. I asked one of the organizers what she felt I had to say would be the most value to their audience.
She didn’t even have to think about it. She said, “In other countries, there is a huge cultural bias against putting your art forward, of appearing too proud of your work. It’s seen as bragging or being boastful. People have a difficult time thinking about promoting their art and themselves. Can you address that?”
I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It’s not just artists in some other countries who have that bias.
It can be very hard to convince most people—especially women, especially artists—that it is not only desirable, it is essential we put our art out into the world at every opportunity. That it is not a selfish act, but an act of generosity.
In fact it is the greatest gift–the ultimate gift–we can make to the world.
My favorite line from the movie “Chariots of Fire” is when the missionary/runner Eric Liddell explains to his sister why he will indeed compete in the 1924 Olympics, though it seems to conflict with their religious goals and plans:
I believe God made me for a purpose; but He also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure. To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt; to win is to honor Him.
When we are given a gift, we must remember that the pleasure the giver gets is anticipating and enjoying the pleasure the gift will give us.
To renounce the gift, to deny its potential, is to ultimately negate the spirit in which it was given. No good comes of that. Love, real love, is not served by that.
I truly believe it is the same with the gifts we are born with. Whoever/whatever you feel is the source of that gift—God (by any name or names), nature, DNA, random chance, the Force. It appeared in Y*O*U. It’s part of what makes you…you know…YOU.
And note that the gift may not simply be what we are good at, but what gives us joy. Don’t confuse talent with passion. They may both be involved in the gift. But what really drives our watch is not the precise movement of the second hand but the spring inside. (Or the battery. Or the electricity coming through the cord. Oh, never mind….)
Find what you are put here on earth to do. Find what gives you joy. Do it, and share it whenever possible with others. Tell it to the world. Show us. Don’t even pretend you know what ripples it will make, or how it will all play out—we can’t know that.
But know that whatever creative force in the universe you celebrate, will be pleased.
Continuing my series for Fine Art Views on using story hooks in your publicity and self-promotion…
I just figured out how to republish my Fine Art Views articles here! Duh…..
Tell Me a Story: Proximity
by Luann Udell
In short, the world is a pretty big place. But it’s still made up of countless communities. These days, our communities are far more than just the people who live near us. Take another look at yours. See if there’s a group who’d love to hear more about what you’re up to. […]
This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores 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. 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….” You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.
A quick look back… Some people protested the validity of using ‘sex and romance’ as a story hook. As I said, it’s not for everyone. But here’s an example of how powerful this story hook can be: Andrew Wyeth and the ‘Helga’ Chronicles
As Mr. Knight points out, this story was so huge, it went ‘viral’ in pre-Internet days!
Let’s take the conversation back to safer ground, and talk about proximity as a story hook.
We use the proximity hook for a story that’s physically close to home. It’s why I run a press release in my local newspaper when I’m having an open studio. I want local people to know about it—my customers who live nearby and potential new customers. My customers who live four, five or ten hours away aren’t likely to attend, even if they want to.
And local people are the most likely to be interested because it’s…well….local! We’re always interested in things that take place in ‘our own back yard’.
That’s why most newspapers and radio stations will readily run a press release about a local event. They know it will be of interest to their readers.
Some artists don’t send press releases to their local paper. “People around here don’t buy art,” they claim, or “My customers don’t live here” or other reasons. I contend that people know other people and people pass on items to other friends who might be interested.
True story: I emailed an open studio notice to all my customers, even those who lived out-of-state. One out-of-state customer immediately called her friend—who lived in my town—to tell her friend to attend. That local woman is now a friend and a valued customer.
Another, more subtle reason to publicize yourself locally—it establishes your credibility and credentials as an artist.
And another true story: I was an at-home mother with no job when I started my art. I was known as ‘Jon’s wife’ or “Robin’s mother.’ After achieving some success with my work, I felt comfortable telling people, when asked for my profession, that I was an artist. But since anyone could say that, I sensed some folks took that with a grain of salt.
I began to send announcements to our local newspaper whenever a piece was selected for an exhibition or for publication. I announced when an article was published or when I received an award. Within a couple of years, I noticed I was now being introduced as a ‘famous artist’.
I still treasure the other titles, but I like the new addition.
Now, a proximity story hook is low-hanging fruit—it’s easy to get publicity just because you live ‘here’. The question is, just how far afield can we take proximity?
Consider: Where else do you ‘live’?
Consider other communities and homes we are part of.
‘Local’ is relative.
For our region, Keene is ‘local’. But for our state, the Monadnock region is local, so I can target regional newspapers for certain stories. My state is local for New England. And so on. I wouldn’t submit a release for an open studio to a national media. But I would if they were focusing on stories from New Hampshire or New England.
Former communities count.
My home town is a community. People in Gladwin, Michigan are always happy to see a local girl made good! I’ve sent press releases newspapers in my home town paper and others where I used to live.
My college is a community. As an alumni, I sometimes send press releases to my university’s art history and education departments.
People are communities.
My friends and family are a community, though they live all over the country—and world. Email and Facebook are good ways to let them know my news. Friends lead to friends-of-friends and the wave continues.
My customers, galleries and reps are a community. They all have a vested interest in my success. They’re delighted to hear about each honor and achievement. They want to hear about my new work, exhibitions, shows and good press I’ve received.
Peers are communities.
I subscribe to many professional and trade publications. Some of my news releases would be appropriate for them.
I belong to certain professional organizations, for craftspeople, polymer artists, jewelry artists. Ditto art and craft forums and other online communities. If I achieve some honor or win an award, these are also communities who would be interested.
My special interests are communities.
I volunteer for several organizations. My volunteer community and the organizations we work for are other potential audiences.
I’ve had articles and artwork images picked up by horse riding publications; boat magazines (my fish wall hangings!); archeology publications, etc. I sometimes post news to a group that collects antique trade beads.
In short, the world is a pretty big place. But it’s still made up of countless communities. These days, our communities are far more than just the people who live near us. Take another look at yours. See if there’s a group who’d love to hear more about what you’re up to.
And as always, be sure to share your unique communities here, too!
You can also read this at:
Tell Me A Story: Proximity
This excerpt appears courtesy of FineArtViews Art Marketing Newsletter by FASO,
a free email newsletter about art, marketing, inspiration and fine living for artists,
collectors and galleries (and anyone else who loves art).
For a complimentary subscription, visit: Fine Art Views
Artist statement resources for the folks who are smarter/better/more educated/more sophisticated/more talented than me.
It’s our choice. We can make the commitment to say something meaningful and compelling about our work.
Or we can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.
I’ve been writing a series of articles for Fine Art Views newsletter about how to punch up your stories–Your artist statement, your artist bio/cv, your press releases. This series, TELL ME A STORY, starts here. The second article is here:, and the next two will appear June 23 and July 7, 2011. Mark your calendars! (Or just subscribe to Fine Art Views newsletter–it’s free!)
Some people are ready to hear this stuff. Others, not so much. When I get resistance, I hear one of two things:
“Can’t you just give me a template, and let me fill in the blanks?”
“I really think art critics, galleries and art-collecting audiences want something more….sophisticated than a ‘story’.”
Well, say no more! If this is what you want, I’ve found just the tools for you.
This tongue-in-cheek artist statement template-driven generator by 10Gallon.com is perfect for those who just want to fill in the blanks. My first attempt resulted in this distinctively different artist statement:
Through my work I attempt to examine the phenomenon of Quick Draw McGraw as a methaphorical interpretation of both Georgia O’Keefe and fixing people.
What began as a personal journey of frackism has translated into images of cookies and arms that resonate with Caucasian people to question their own aquamarineness.
My mixed media dog images embody an idiosyncratic view of Billy Graham, yet the familiar imagery allows for a connection between Janis Joplin, cats and french fries.
My work is in the private collection of Darrin McGavin who said ‘Yeow!! That’s some real shapely Art.’
I am a recipient of a grant from Folsom Prison where I served time for stealing mugs and tie clips from the gift shop of The Peabody Museum. I have exhibited in group shows at McDonald’s and the Pucker Gallery in Boston, MA, though not at the same time. I currently spend my time between my den and Berlin.
I’m sure with a little practice, you could get something a little less silly.
For the academically-minded crowd, this artist statement writing tool site from Gurney Journey will surely appeal. It’s actually easier to use than the previous one. No need to even fill in the blanks! Try it. It’s a handy little exercise to create a bang-up, very academic-sounding artist statement in no time flat. All you have to do is combine any items from three different lists, and voila! An artist statement that is sure to start a spirited discussion about your work among the (g)literati.
But for those who don’t even have time to read through the lists, there’s more! This totally
mindless automatic artist statement generator it sooooo easy, you don’t have to do anything except click on a tab.
My first result using the Arty Bollocks Generator was promising:
My work explores the relationship between the body and skateboard ethics.
With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new combinations are crafted from both simple and complex layers.
Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as triumph soon becomes corroded into a tragedy of power, leaving only a sense of decadence and the possibility of a new reality.
As shifting phenomena become frozen through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an insight into the limits of our era.
Hmmmmm. Not…quite. So I tried again. I got a message that said I was a little hard to please, and this new statement:
My work explores the relationship between new class identities and midlife subcultures.
With influences as diverse as Wittgenstein and John Lennon, new synergies are generated from both simple and complex textures.
Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the ephemeral nature of meaning. What starts out as vision soon becomes corrupted into a dialectic of greed, leaving only a sense of what could have been and the prospect of a new beginning.
As temporal impressions become clarified through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the inaccuracies of our era.
I still wasn’t satisfied (and the ABG got a little crabby), but I persisted. I clicked the tab again and came up with this one:
My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and urban spaces.
With influences as diverse as Nietzsche and Andy Warhol, new synergies are crafted from both simple and complex textures.
Ever since I was a child I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of relationships. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a tragedy of temptation, leaving only a sense of chaos and the inevitability of a new beginning.
As shifting forms become clarified through boundaried and diverse practice, the viewer is left with a statement of the edges of our condition.
Wow! Pretty good! But why settle for pretty good when I can have the best? My next try resulted in this one:
My work explores the relationship between emerging sexualities and urban spaces.
With influences as diverse as Kierkegaard and Francis Bacon, new combinations are created from both explicit and implicit layers.
Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of relationships. What starts out as triumph soon becomes debased into a tragedy of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the inevitability of a new synthesis.
As spatial impressions become frozen through diligent and personal practice, the viewer is left with a glimpse of the inaccuracies of our world.
The ABG grumbled that I was a bit of a perfectionist, but I just couldn’t resist one more try:
My work explores the relationship between postmodern discourse and recycling culture.
With influences as diverse as Blake and Roy Lichtenstein, new tensions are created from both traditional and modern textures.
Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the theoretical limits of meaning. What starts out as hope soon becomes debased into a cacophony of lust, leaving only a sense of decadence and the prospect of a new reality.
As temporal phenomena become transformed through emergent and diverse practice, the viewer is left with an impression of the edges of our future.
I decided to quit while I was ahead, and told the Arty Bollocks Generator, “Enough already.”
Yep, I had a good laugh. But the scary thing about these very tongue-in-cheek exercises?
These actually sound like real artist statements..
I’m not highly educated, but I do have an MA. And half the time, when I read these ‘sophisticated statements’, I have no idea what the person is talking about. Are these really the things they lie awake nights thinking about? ( Me? I tend to lie awake trying to remember if I let the cats in.)
Remember–It’s our choice.
We can stick with the attitude that people need to educate themselves in order to really appreciate our work.
(Let us know how that works for ya, okay?)
We can try to sound like every other artist who wants to sound intellectual, academic, and obtuse.
Or we can do some work. Get real. Get sincere.
Say what is in our hearts.
We can strive to say something meaningful and compelling about our art that anyone can understand.
Learn to look twice to get at the ‘better lesson’ from life’s setbacks.
My nephew Michael was a tiny hellion when he was young. He wasn’t mean, or malicious, or difficult. He was just….busy. We have many family stories about his escapades. One of my favorites is when my sister left him in the car briefly while dropping something off at my parents’ house. When she came out, he was in the driver’s seat with his hands on the wheel. Before she could say a word, he jerked his head and thumb to indicate the back seat and said firmly, “Get in back. I’m driving!” (He was four.)
Here’s another favorite story about Michael. He visited my folks, and all day he got into all kinds of mischief, including getting into my mother’s purse, looking for gum. Instead, he found a medicine bottle and ate some of her high blood pressure pills.
He was rushed to the emergency room, where his stomach was pumped and he was forced to drink lots of water to induce him to vomit. We were so relieved when he was declared out of danger. As he lay bleary-eyed in his little hospital bed, my sister asked him sternly, “And what did you learn from today’s little adventure?” Whereupon Michael snuffled quietly and croaked sadly, “Not to touch Gramma’s new refrigerator.”
Earlier that day, Michael had been fooling around with the features on my folks’ brand new refrigerator, and Grandma had told him to stop. Not to touch her new fridge anymore. (Gotta admit, that ice-and-water dispenser is pretty appealing.)
Years later, we still laugh at that story. But it’s sad, too.
Michael connected his emergency room ordeal as punishment for not listening to Grandma. He thought that was the lesson he had to learn.
(It’s sad that a loved and cherished child would think a stomach pumping was an appropriate punishment for touching a kitchen appliance, of course, too…. Such is the trustful nature of children. Makes you think.)
I refer to many of my life setbacks as ‘life learning experiences.’ Sometimes finding the knowledge and experienced gained helps offset the pain of falling, failing and flailing. This looking for something good and useful out of the bad things that happen…. It’s a useful skill. It’s part of being a human being and learning how to make our way in the world.
But sometimes, like a child, like Michael, we look at the easy lesson, the most obvious lesson. Not necessarily the deeper, more important lesson.
Sometimes the obvious lesson is not the best lesson.
Learning to choose your better lesson is a way to unchain yourself from your sad old story. Your sad old story about not being good enough, worthy enough, talented enough to achieve your heart’s desire.
Years ago I was part of a small artist group. We met monthly, to support each others’ efforts to fulfill our dreams as artists.
One person, a budding book illustrator, had singled out one lone book publisher as her ‘dream work place.” She submitted her portfolio to them and waited anxiously for their reply.
When she received a rejection letter, she tried to put a good face on it. “I’ll never get hired by that company. I guess I need to learn how to accept failure,” she said dejectedly. “I’d like help from the group on how to do that.”
We managed to convince her that piling all her dream eggs in one tiny basket was too limiting. We encouraged her to explore other possibilities, too. One person offered to put her in touch with a working illustrator who could offer her feedback on her portfolio. Another suggested other small publishing houses she could approach, to gain more work experience. But the last person, reading the letter carefully, opened an even bigger door.
She had experience in the corporate world, and read the letter differently. “I don’t think your portfolio was even seen by the appropriate person,” she said firmly. “I suggest you call the company and ask where to send it. Get a name, not a department. Make an appointment to follow up. You haven’t ‘failed’—you sent it to the wrong place. This line here actually sounds like they’d like you to resubmit it with more support materials, and more examples that match their current needs.”
Our friend, despondent and self-defeating, had looked no further than her own limited vision. Seeing the window barred, she failed to see the door standing wide, wide open.
When I trust a person, and they end up shafting me, it would be easy to say, “Well, that’s what I get for putting my trust in such a person.” But what I prefer to say is, “I like to expect the best of people, and I’m open to all kinds of friendships with many different people. That means some of them will disappoint me or take advantage of my openness. I accept this as an occasional side effect of trust. Bbut I’m not going to let that change the way I am .” (However, I am more careful about who I lend money to.)
Don’t assume life is giving you a smack-down because you touched the fridge door.
Look for the deeper knowledge, the more powerful challenge, the more meaningful message. Because YOU….are worth it.
Wanna here something funny? Michael ended up working as a receptionist at a nursing station in a hospital. He loved it. He’s now working as an emergency medical technician, driving an ambulance.
A much higher calling, for him, for us, than selling refrigerators at Sears, don’t you think?
P.S. I know young people who are proud to work at Sears selling refrigerators. I my intention is not to malign their efforts to be productive people earning their own way in life. But you know that about me already, right?
(For the sake of clarity, I republished this article a day after “WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again”. I didn’t move it very well, and I may have lost some comments. I apologize, they were GREAT!!)
A Response to Kerrie Venner’s article, “Copying vs. Stealing”
I just discovered an article on the International Polymer Clay Association’s website, written by Kerrie Venner, IPCA Vice President for Education and Outreach. Kerrie’s article is here.
The article talked about my artwork and a blog article I wrote about my work being copied. Kerrie refers to me as an example of an artist who has published directions for making my artwork who then gets “antsy” when people copy it. She states that she doesn’t understand what’s wrong with coveting my little totem animals, then making her own versions for her own use, and even to sell, since her customers probably aren’t familiar with my work anyway.
At first I was delighted to read Kerrie’s wonderful comments about my blog and my artwork. But that delight quickly turned to dismay.
Her article is an interesting take on a very complex and emotional issue.
Just to correct a few errors:
1. Kerrie’s article simply linked to the home page of my blog. My article Kerrie that refers to in her article is WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL? and the correct url is https://luannudell.wordpress.com/2010/05/30/what-is-the-story-only-you-can-tell/ I discuss why someone who copies another artist’s work is actually short-changing their own creative journey.
2. Contrary to Kerrie’s assertions, I’ve actually only published directions featuring my faux ivory technique (a modification of the technique originally developed by Victoria Hughes.) I provided directions for very simple beads, buttons and bones. Photographs of my animal artifacts and jewelry were for illustration and inspiration only.
3. I have never published projects or taught how to make my artifacts and animal totems, for the very reasons Kerrie mentions in support of her viewpoint: It might imply permission for others to copy my work.
I could address each of Kerrie’s statements and questions separately, and will do so in a future blog article. But here’s the short story:
I’ve done the hard work creating this body of work. I spent years perfecting my craft. Inspired by imagery available to everyone, it is nonetheless a highly original and individual interpretation and presentation. As Kerrie points out, it has a powerful, personal narrative, describing my journey from a place of pain (at not practicing my art), to a place of healing (embracing my unique vision, and sharing with others how that happened.)
I’ve done the hard work to get my work out there. And I’ve spent a lot of money doing that. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to do the high-end shows to sell it. I go to great lengths to find galleries to carry it. I’ve spent thousands of hours marketing, writing, speaking, entering exhibits and juried shows, and submitting work for publication to support and grow my reputation. I’ve paid thousands of dollars to have my work professionally photographed, to construct a booth and create beautiful displays for it.
I’ve spent years developing a loyal following of customers, collectors and supporters. I am deeply moved by the role my art has played in their lives. I love the stories they share with me on how much my work has meant to them, how much it has inspired them, how it has healed them.
I’ve earned my stars and paid my dues. My work-and my prices–reflect that.
We artists may make our art for love or money, or both. But it’s hard to make art without some kind of support from our community, be it emotional, spiritual, or financial.
Kerrie says she admires and desires my artwork. I am truly grateful for that. There are many ways a true supporter can help me get my art out into the world:
1) Tell me how much it means to you, and respect the unique place in my heart it comes from. Tell your friends, too, and point them to my blog, my website or my store.
2) Spread the word about my work by writing great reviews and articles.
3) Buy it for yourself, or for a special gift.
4) If you really can’t afford my work (prices start at $42, and I have a great layaway plan), encourage potential collectors to buy it instead. Or ask friends and family to buy it for you. Christmas is coming!
5) Ask your favorite gallery or museum store to carry my work. Or suggest they include me in an invitational show. Or even a solo show
Actually, the list is endless: Invite me to speak to your local or regional art guild. Ask your public library to purchase the books that feature my work. Hire me for a private consult on your artist statement. Alert me to publishing opportunities. Etc., etc., etc.
Unfortunately, copying my work doesn’t support me.
Copying my work, then selling it as your original work, deprives me of potential customers who might buy my work. This does not support me.
Telling others I am wrong to care about my work being copied does not support me.
In fact, someone copying my artwork short-circuits everything I’m trying to achieve. That is where the pain and the resentment comes from. And that is what I have to get over, and get through, every time it happens.
In the end, although my work is copyrighted, it’s almost impossible for me to protect those rights. I don’t have the deep pockets of Disney, and I don’t have the time or emotional energy to spare. I have to save that energy and focus for my art.
Some amount of copying has its place in the learning process. That’s why a teacher provides a project for a class.
But a body of work based solely on some “variation” of someone else’s work is not the work of your own heart, your own unique vision.
Kerrie’s article was written without my knowledge and did not link to what I actually said. I cannot adequately convey how disheartening it is to see these views-justifying the right to copying my work simply because I have made it visible in the world–expressed by someone who is Vice President of the International Polymer Clay Association’s Education and Outreach Committee.
Kerrie is entitled to her viewpoint, and I appreciate the opportunity to present mine. As she and I both said, this is a complex issue, involving human nature, the creative process and ethics.
Whether or not Kerrie’s reflects the views of the IPCA organization, it was published on their site and incorrectly referred to me as an example of a disgruntled artist who sets herself up for being copied by offering her artwork as projects and classes. Since I’m not one of “those artists”–who are also entitled to their own opinions about others copying their work–and especially because I have consciously chosen not to…that allegation was neither true nor fair.
I’m thrilled Kerrie loves my work. I hope someday she decides my artwork is worthy of collecting for herself. I would be truly honored.
And…I would feel truly supported.
2 P.S.’s (What the heck is the plural of “P.S.”???)
It’s been brought to my attention that Kerrie didn’t mean she would actually copy my work–she was speaking aloud the thought process that many have expressed. So in a sense, she was speaking as “Everyman/Everywoman”. And she never intended these remarks to represent her, or the IPCA’s actual point-of-view.
Again, I’m glad she voiced these thoughts so we can talk about it.
And please, please don’t bash Kerrie! :^)
P.S. For the latest take on this, see WAITING FOR THE COOL: That Copying Thing Again
CONCRETE ADVICE FOR HOW TO SUPPORT ARTISTS….
Sometimes–no wait, always–it’s a good idea to cool down before you speak your mind.
A few weeks ago, not one, but TWO small drama played out in my studio.
At the very same time I was dealing with someone using my identity to post disparaging and rude remarks about another person…
…It felt like someone else was publicly scolding me on a professional polymer website for me getting upset about people copying my work.
Their article was written in response to MY article, What is the Story Only You Can Tell?
If this is confusing, the chain of events were 1) I write the “What is the Story Only You Can Tell” article; 2) I get an emotional phone call from the victim of the identity theft issue; 3) I wrote an article about the experience; 4) Kerrie read my WITSOYCT article and publishes her response on the IPCA website; 5) I found the article and wrote my response to Kerrie’s article; 6) and now I’m publishing this article. Got it? Whew!
My first emotional response was the lizard brain talkin’. Anger. Resentment. Fear. Even humiliation. And my first article draft in response showed that clearly. With brutal sarcasm and my debate team finesse, I quickly tore apart every argument offered in the article that defended copying.
Fortunately, I WAS embroiled in that identity-borrowing thing. It kept me from immediately publishing my response to Kerrie’s article. The identity thing was a very prickly situation, involving a group of rowdy local activists a sane person just wants to avoid at all costs. In the end, as upset as I was, I resigned myself to damage control–and moved on.
But I was delayed in writing that original response to Kerrie. And I’m soooooo glad.
I realized the identity issue all started because a person had written in anger, fear, resentment, and perhaps a haze of alcohol. (Not Kerrie! The anonymous poster identity-blurring person.)
They may not have even deliberately chosen to “look like me”–as Katherine Tyrrell (whose Making a Mark blog is an astonishing artist resource) posted in my blog comments, it looked like a clumsy effort to use one of my blog articles to bolster their argument, and that came off as appearing like “me”.
So I sat on my hands for a day or two. The anger dissipated. Cooler heads (not Bobohead Lizardbrain) prevailed.
Instead of the wrathful diatribe I’d prepared, I wrote a nicer article in response to Kerrie’s article. I hope it’s nicer. I meant it to be. You can read the discussion in full here. And you can be the judge.
I wanted to write a better response, because I realized, after much deep thinking about where my anger, fear and pain came from, the real issue is our current culture’s LACK OF SUPPORT for artists.
DIY (Do-It-Yourself) and “I can do that!” prevail. “That’s so cool, I want to make that, too!” The internet makes it soooooo easy to do that, too.
I’ve actually had visitors to my booth pressure me to tell them exactly how I make my horses, because they want to make them, too. Their attitude is I actually owe it to others to share.
Aside from the fact that I choose other ways to share, this attitude is the extreme end of this condition:
This a very natural, very HUMAN response to the new, the beautiful, the powerful. We want it for ourselves. We want to touch it, do it, have it. We want it to be a part of us, in any way we can. We all feel this. And throughout time, all humans have. It’s part of being human.
After all, didn’t I respond to the cave of Lascaux with my own desire to make work that would resonate in the hearts of others long after I am gone?
It’s what we do, and where we go with that natural, human response that’s important.
My request is simple:
Rather than give in to the notion the artist owes us something…(beyond what they’ve already done by bringing their work into the world…)
Instead of “using up” the artists whose work inspires this in us….
Instead of only seeing these artists as a source of great ideas for our own amusement and use….
Instead of just viewing the work of these artists as a sort of “cosmic clip art”….
Why don’t we REWARD them for their efforts?
Why not give back to them, for the joy they’ve given us?
Why don’t we figure out some way to support them, whether that be financial, emotional or spiritual support?
We should consider supporting them….If only so they’ll keep making the beautiful work that inspires us. (It’s okay to be a little self-serving in our altruism.)
So in the end, I’m glad I waited to respond. (And, after reading my eventual response, maybe I could have even waited a few more days. I still sound exasperated. (But hopefully, not as angry.)
I truly appreciate the support and the good wishes of all involved.
Copying is a spectrum of behaviors and decisions–some useful, some unavoidable, and some outright hurtful. I know everyone’s intentions were good, and I hope this all brings about the desired result–a CONSTRUCTIVE dialog about copying, and one that helps people make thoughtful decisions.
So, taking my own words of advice, and being open to the gifts in front of us, I thank Kerrie for her honesty, for putting into words what many of us think when we justify our actions.
I thank her for loving my work.
And I thank her, and the International Polymer Clay Association for giving me the chance to publicly respond.
I am grateful I had the chance to work through this issue, and get to the other side. The place where I should be….
…In a place where I can leave this behind, and go make my art…
…And tell the story only I can tell.
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.
Cliches are boring. Your art deserve better.
In yesterday’s article, I shared my first story about my artwork. It was “good enough” to get me going and to sustain my first artistic efforts.
Many, many people are content with this “first story” or their “little story”. Trust me, I’m not here to judge anyone. If what you are doing is working for you, don’t change it.
But if you are wondering if your work can forget a more powerful connection with your audience, if you hunger for something deeper, read on.
When I talk to people about their art, I often get pat answers.
“I just love color!”
“I’m happiest when working at the wheel with clay. There’s just something about it that centers me.”
“I love making other people happy.”
I’ve learned that if you dig a little deeper, you will find true treasure. I learned this by being totally clueless about gallery talks.
So what’s wrong with pat answers?
Good writers avoid clichés wherever they might lurk. Novelist and essayist Martin Amis said, “All writing is a campaign against cliché. Not just clichés of the pen but clichés of the mind and clichés of the heart.”
…..cliches of the mind and cliches of the heart…..
A cliche has low energy. When you settle for a cliche, you sell yourself short. You short-circuit your power. By trying to protect your inner life, you actually create a wall between your and a potential audience.
A pat answer is a way of putting people off the trail of understanding who you really art.
The “I just love color” thing. Look–everybody loves color. That’s not why you’re doing the work you do.
“I’m so happy…” Okay, first of all, we know you must be happy working with clay, or fiber, or glass, or words, or music, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Have you ever heard an artist say, “I absolutely hate what I do, but it sells”? (Well. Okay. Yes, I know some artist are burned out and DO hate what they do, but they’re usually so crabby we don’t want talk to them anyway.)
Second, what does that do for me? I asked a very well-known artist about her new work. She kept saying, “I’m having so much fun!” I had to bite my tongue to refrain from saying, “I’m supposed to pay $1,500 for this piece because you’re having fun??!” Sweetie, I’m sure you’re a wonderful person. But I need a better reason than that to spend that kinda money on you.
So what’s wrong with the “I-want-to-make-people-happy” reason-I’m-an-artist? (Or the equally lame “I want to help people.”) Think about it–What would really make people happy is if you walked down the street handing out $100 bills. (Most guys would be even happier if you did it in the nude, but I like to keep things family-friendly here.)
So let’s say what we mean to say.
What you’re really saying is that what you do is a way of engaging with the world that is fulfilling and deeply satisfying, and puts you in a state of grace, and joy. And there are real and personal reasons why it does.
There’s that word again…..
Here’s one example of working through cliche to cachet. During a mentoring session, I talked with an artist about her work. She talked avidly about her craft, but it just seemed like something was missing. Sure enough, she mentioned in passing that her other avocation was gardening.
And she really perked up when she talked about gardening.
When I asked her why she loved gardening so much, she gave the usually pat answers about pretty flowers and being outside. When pressed, she grew exasperated–didn’t everybody love being outdoors? (Believe me, not all of us are wild about hot weather, mosquitoes and black flies.)
I pushed harder: How did she feel when she when she was in the garden?
She felt safe.
It started when she was very young and home was not safe. I didn’t pry for details, let’s just say there was just a lot of tension and anger and harsh words).
And being outdoors is where she felt safe.
Now, she doesn’t have to share that story with her audience, if it’s too personal.
If she wants to share it but doesn’t want to tell it over and over, it can be her artist statement.
She doesn’t have to ditch her craft, which was also satisfying, and become a full-time gardener.
She doesn’t have to “to” anything.
But recognizing her real story, a poignant story about a child who didn’t, who couldn’t understand the unhappiness and discord in her home, who found comfort and haven in the garden, will bring emotional and spiritual power to her art.
Understanding what yearning was filled, what hurt was healed, will create a bridge between her artwork (and her) and the people who are drawn to her work.
Because these themes–moving past fear, finding solace, being healed–are richer, deeper, more evocative human, more honest emotions than simply loving color or fabric or flowers or clay.
Some of you will come to this moment of self-awareness naturally. Some will need to have your feet held to the fire. Some of you simply won’t care. That is your choice.
But know that if I
buy your stuff collect your work, it won’t be because you just love color.
It will be because something about it that is lovely and poignant and human is calling to me.
A little story can pack a big punch–or pave the way for an even bigger story.
I’ve told my story many times about how I got serious about my art.
It’s a powerful story, and it’s true. But I’ve left out the years I spent beforehand making making toys for children and grown-ups, and the story I told about that.
When my kids were very young, I took a workshop from Deborah Kruger. The focus was about creating support systems for making your art.
We were asked to share our work with the group.
I remember waiting for my turn, embarrassed because everyone was a singer, or a dancer, or a writer, or a painter. And I was sitting there with a lap full of tiny dolls, knitted sheep and doll quilts.
And I was panicking because I (thought I) didn’t have a story.
I was proud of my work, though. And when it was my turn, I simply said what was in my heart.
I said I loved making tiny things, things you could cup in your hand. Things that a child would love, but would also bring joy to an adult.
I even said a thing that makes me cringe now, when others say it: “I want to make people happy.”*
Everyone ooh’ed and ah’ed, because even then, my attention to detail, my color and fabric, my technical skills, were pleasing to others.
And until I wrote that bit just now, I didn’t see the connection between that first story and my big story that came later.
There stories are connected because when I was a child, these were precious things I would have cherished.
And when I was a child, I was fierce in my knowledge that I was an artist.
I can see now that my love of the things that would make a child happy, was part of a deeper yearning. A yearning to be in that place again in my life, when I knew what it was I was here to do.
I knew it without questioning it. I just did it. I drew horses. I painted. I collecting stuff (rocks, shells, leaves, ribbon, pretty papers). I made stuff with whatever I could get my hands on. (There is a particularly embarrassing story about that I will NOT share….) (NO!!!) :^D
I could happily spend hours looking for pebbles and shells on a beach. I loved watching animals. I couldn’t wait to grow up so I could ride horses and have lots of cats, and yes, even keep pet mice. I loved things that were “too tiny”–doll house furniture, miniatures, charm bracelets.
Now I can look back and see the seeds that have grown into my art. But I couldn’t see it then.
As I grew up, things got more complicated.
I believed too many myths about artists.
I didn’t know how to pursue something I was passionate about. Because academic stuff came so easily to me, I didn’t have good work habits.
I didn’t understand the stages of competency. So I always quit when I got to Stage 2, and things got hard.
I see now that making little dolls, buttons and small quilts was a safe way of “backing up into” my art.
And that was okay.
That “first story” worked, because it got me making stuff on a regular basis.
It got me thinking about me, and what I wanted to do, instead of what other people wanted me to do.
It got me to a place where I was thinking less about “doing what I was good at” and more about “doing what I liked.”
Eventually I got to the place where I got turned around completely. (Warning: This video is about 16 minutes long. But folks who have watched it say they like it, so maybe you’ll find it worth your time.)
So today I’ve shared with you where a little story can take you. Tomorrow I’ll share an example of a “little” story that hides a big story.
P.S. As I wrote this, I realized the teensy tiny doll was actually inspired by a Waldorf school teacher who made and sold these at a craft fair. I was so enchanted with them, I called and asked her if I could make them without stepping on her toes.
She gave me the green light because she was tired of making them and didn’t want to make anymore.
*And the asterisk thingie? Because I wonder what I would have said if someone had held my feet to the fire and said, “WHY…do you want to make other people happy??”
We all have a story that tells us how to live, and who we are.
There were so many beautiful, thoughtful, passionate responses to the last post, I have to write more on the topic.
There were so many threads to follow, too! Copying hit a nerve, on both sides. Some echoed the plaints of many, that they don’t have a story. Some had a story, but didn’t think it was “big enough”. And others were afraid to share theirs.
I don’t have all the answers. I can offer insights I’ve gained, insights gleaned sometimes easily, sometimes painfully, on my own journey as an artist. And I will continue to share those with you as this series continues.
Today, let’s start with how I know you already have a story:
You are a human being.
Over the centuries, there have been many definitions of what it means to be human. From “Man is the animal who uses tools” to “Man is the only animal that blushes–or needs to” (Mark Twain) and “Man is the only animal that uses Mastercard”, we strive to understand what sets us apart from other living things.
I believe we are the animals who tell stories.
We tell stories about everything. Why we don’t think we are pretty. Why our life sucks. Why we were late to that appointment. Why we deserve a raise, or a vacation, or that outrageously expensive pair of boots.
We have stories about why our mom loved our brothers more, why it’s a good thing to believe in God, why someone else is successful and we’re not, and why we’re successful and other people aren’t.
Whether you tell a funny story about your childhood or the sad story of how your first big relationship ended, you are telling a story.
And if you get to a point in life where you are able to dig deeper, when you feel brave enough, or desperate enough, or simply tired of all the b/s you give yourself…
…You will find a story about why you make the art you do.
My gripe is, sometimes we settle for the easy story and don’t go any deeper. That’s why when a creative person says “I just love color!” I cringe. Who doesn’t love color??
But we all gotta start somewhere.
Here’s your incentive to go deeper:
When you start to know your story well enough to share it with others, you will strengthen the connections they form with your work.
Because no matter how unique your story is, and no matter how ordinary your story is, there are people who will relate to it. It will resonate with something in them. It will inspire them. It will make them laugh–or gasp–in recognition.
So let’s get started.
Your homework for today, if you don’t think you have a story about your art, is to write down what you do have. We’ll start there, and we’ll poke at it, and see what happens next.
Get out your pointy sticks!