WHAT IS THE STORY ONLY YOU CAN TELL?

I’m often asked to speak about my art. I’m good at it, too. It’s been a long journey, but I’ve become extremely comfortable sharing what is in my heart.

There is one frustration I sometimes encounter, though.

That’s the people who come up afterward and ask, “Can I make horses, too?” “Can I combine fabric and polymer, too?” The woman who exclaimed, “Oh, I love that idea! I paint gourds, and I’m going to make cave pictures on my gourds, too!”

Or the people that don’t even ask. They just start making cave ponies.

It’s not that they took my idea.

It’s that they got the wrong idea.

I know we all “copy” to some extent. I consider it a spectrum, just like any other human behavior. It ranges the gamut, from being inspired by someone else’s work (“I love that shade of blue! Hmmmm…I could make a necklace…”) to outright hacks. (Like finding your design on a shelf at T.J. Maxx or Target, and yes, that has happened to artists.)

I know I don’t own the idea of horses, the Lascaux horse, or even ancient images. It would be preposterous of me to say no one else can use these images.

I DO own my story.

And if you’ve ever listened to, or read my stories, and really heard them, you know I’m not just making little plastic horses.

I recently had a visitor to my studio, a delightful person who collects my work. We talked about her work. It’s an unusual profession, and one where many people would pick up the “hero” aspect. (I haven’t gotten her permission to write about this, so I’m being very circumspect.)

Her take was different. Deeper. More sensitive. Profound.

And when she spoke, I felt that ring of truth, that recognition of passion, that little shiver that goes down your spine when you hear deep knowledge expressed by someone from their heart.

It was her story. And it was astonishing.

If you know my story, you know my little horses represent many things to me–a childhood desire to run free, to fly, to feel the wind blowing my hair as my horse and I course across a plain together. You know it’s about the beauty of horses, the thrill of watching an animal born to run, run with all their heart. Doing what they were meant to do. Being what they were meant to be.

But they also represent choices. The choice to be the person you were meant to be. The choice to overcome fear, self-doubt and the weight of adulthood, and try something you’ve always dreamed of doing. To step into yourself, to take up your dreams, and live them. To follow the call.

And the choice to create beauty and embrace hope in the face of despair.

It boggles the mind to think that someone can hear my story.

And then copy my work.

Not just because my work is so personal and so important to me.

But because they missed the whole damn point of the story!

It’s that in YOU, is a story that only YOU can tell.

Because it is YOUR story. It happened to YOU. And it changed you–how you look at life, how you look at yourself, where you fit into the world.

Your story creates a place where, when you stand there, you are powerful. And you are beautiful, and you are whole.

How…..can anyone want to ignore their own powerful, wonderful, incredible story? And try to substitute someone else’s??

Even when your story is not about something you do, or something you make, it is still a place that YOU came to, a crossroads, YOU found yourself at, a journey YOU find yourself on.

Example: Anyone can do hospice work. It doesn’t take a “special person”. It just takes someone willing to be there. Anyone could do what I do.

But only I can tell the stories that come to me by doing it.

I know a woman who translates for the rights of an indigenous people in Brazil. She has even spoken at the United Nations. She insists she does not speak FOR them–they speak THROUGH her. She is their pipeline to a world that needs to honor their cries for help.

But the stories she tells about how they found her are incredible, and powerful.

That is why envy, and jealousy, are so destructive to creative people. To ANY of us.

Because it means we cannot see the power of our own stories.

What is the story that only YOU can tell?

And how will you tell it today?

EMBRACE THE POWER OF THY AMPLE BOSOM! Part 1

Okay, obviously that title has a story behind it….

Years ago I attended a workshop for women in the arts, led by fiber artist and speaker Deborah Kruger. We learned why our art was so important, and how to make room for our art in our daily lives.

One person shared a story of taking singing lessons from an acclaimed voice teacher. She felt awkward and unsure of her abilities; he urged her to project and sing with power. Finally, in frustration, the teacher boomed with his heavy accent, “Woman! Assume the power of thy ample bosom!”

We rocked with laughter, but she said she heard the message. And she began to sing as if her life depended on it.

Because it does.

If you are not creating your art with the full force of your being, then you are robbing yourself–and your art–of vitality and authenticity.

Why is that important? (Hint: It will help your artist statement, too.) Tune in tomorrow for the second installment.

25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #4

It’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to make other people laugh. And it’s okay to write an artist statement about art-that-makes-us-laugh, too.

Many people have left comments or emailed me with concerns about my artist statement series. They say they don’t make “heavy” or “serious” art. They make art that is funny, or cute, or whimsical, or charming, or clever. So they don’t need an artist statement, right?

I’ve always said, if what you’re doing is working for you, don’t change anything.

But I still encourage you to think about why you’ve chosen–or been called–to make that kind of work.

And I encourage you to think about what would happen if you shared that reason, that realization, that insight, with your audience.

Remember when I said your art doesn’t have to be serious, but understanding why you make it is still important?

Here are the reasons:

1) It makes you step up to the plate and take what you do seriously.

2) Joy and laughter and sweetness are passions, too, just as important as more “serious” passions.

3) Your reasons for making this art, whatever they are, are still personal and powerful. People will respond to those reasons.

When I first started making stuff, I, too, made “whimsical” and “sweet” things. I made things simply because I enjoyed it. It was fun!

Then I attended a workshop for blocked or emerging artists. We had to bring examples of our work and talk about it.

I was in a tizzy. I thought of everyone else present as “real artists” and I was not. I just made stuff. There was nothing “heavy” or “serious” about it. Even if you could call what I did “art”, couldn’t art just be for fun?

But something happened when I was forced to really look at my work, to really think about why I made it, and then to talk about that to an audience.

Here is a reconstructed version of what I said about my work:

I make tiny dolls, only 2″ tall, made from recycled sweaters. I make small knitted sheep, too. I crochet small “pouches” on cords, so you can carry a doll or sheep around your neck. I also make small wall quilts based on traditional patterns and made with natural fabrics recycled from used clothing, so they really look old.

I imagined my body of work as something that would intrigue and delight at the same time, little “toys” newly made with old materials, giving them a timeless quality.

I used to think of these pieces as children’s toys, but adults are just as fascinated with them. I think it’s important to have joy and delight in our lives, so I guess in a way, I love making “toys for adults”–tiny little marvels, beautifully made, that enchant and delight.

Almost everything I make would fit in your hand. That is very important to me. I guess it’s so you can have these little gifts with you all the time, and take them out and hold them anytime you need to be happy. Because I want them to make people happy, and joyful.

I laugh when I look back and see how tentative I was about my work, even as I felt so compelled to make it. “I guess…” “I think….”

But in that first “artist statement” (because that’s exactly what it was), I can see the shape of things to come. I can see some of you who are familiar with my work, already nodding and saying, “aha!”

Small artifacts…made to be touched and held in your hand…carried with you as jewelry, as talismans…recycled fabrics and artifacts giving an aura of antiquity to the work….intriguing…connection…

….and passion. Joy.

Within a year, I was making an entirely different body of work, with the same qualities, the same aesthetic, almost the same story–but with a powerful message.

I began to make fabric wall hangings made with recycled fabrics. I made artifacts to put on these quilts; artifacts of ancient horses galloping through endless grass lands, their hearts full of joy and freedom. Artifacts that carried a message for us, that spoke to us across the ages, that told us how to live with more joy and freedom in our hearts.

I learned not to be denigrate how I felt. I learned to respect the reasons why I make what I make. I learned to really love and celebrate the artist in me.

I stepped up to the plate.

Does your whimsical art have to evolve into something more serious? Absolutely not!

In a world full of hardship and horror, pain and destruction, sorrow and sadness, there a profound need for art that makes us rejoice, and dance, and celebrate, and love. There is a time for being silly, for laughter. There is room for all our art.

Joy. Laughter. Delight. Silly. These are all part of the human condition, too. And they are just as important in creating a rich, loving and wonderful life.

There is power in joy, and laughter.

I am only asking you to think about that power, and acknowledge that power, and ultimately, to respect that power in your art, and in your heart.

Coming soon: How to get to that all-important WHY.

25 RANDOM THINGS: Action Steps for Your Artist Statement #3

Continuing with my mini-series about how to use Facebook’s “25 Random Things About Me” to write promotional materials.

The next question is from an artist who wrote:

“Hi Luann,
I was intrigued by your letter today in the FAS newsletter. I just joined Facebook to find out more about the “list” of 25 things about yourself. After you compiled the list, how did you write it into an artist statement? I really feel clueless how to start. You are a very good writer!”

(This was the question I was going to answer first because of the compliment. Always feel free to put those in, btw….!!)

Okay, so first, you can’t just use the 25 Random Things as your artist statement. That would be a loooong statement!

The list is a) a warm-up exercise for learning to write easily about yourself. And b) a source for snippets about yourself that get to the heart of what you do.

Just like musicians might play scales to warm up for performing, this list is a warm-up for more ‘serious’ writing.

It’s also a way to ‘warm up’ to putting more passion into your artist statement.

I picked “artist statement” as an end goal for this warm-up exercise. In reality, artists need all kinds of self promotional materials: artist bio, cv (curriculum vitae, sort of a ‘life resume’ with your art as a focus), artist statement, press releases, etc.

Some of your list items are going to jazz up your statement. Because unless you think people go crazy with excitement reading lists of your exhibits and educational background, you must learn to talk about your art with the same passion you use to make it.

You don’t have to go over the top–no drama major needed. But think about ways to talk about your art that shows why it really, really matters to you–and that it isn’t just “something you do” to fill in your spare time. Even if it is only that, you can talk about that in a way that is more engaging than, “Well, I was bored, so I made this stuff.”

Don’t be afraid to tell people what you care about.

Think of the 25 Random Things as a way to collect these things you care about the most. Some of them will provide you with a jumping-off place.

In my last post on this topic, we left off with the suggestion that a good artist statement should make you want to look at the artist’s work again. Some of you did that experiment with the artists I suggested, and graciously acknowledged that it worked. Yay!

The key to the 25 Random Things is, somewhere in a good list, there is something you’ve listed that might make people “look again”.

If your art is light-hearted, your approach to your 25 Random Things list, and your artist statement might be light-hearted, too. Remember–light-hearted art is not necessarily lightweight art. Laughter is powerful medicine. Humor can be a powerful weapon. Whimsy can still be serious stuff.

You might also choose different approaches (more serious, more whimsical) for different applications. For example, the “About Me” section of my blog has a more light-hearted approach. That’s because I want to entertain as well as inspire. Yes, I’m serious about my writing, but I’m willing to laugh at myself, too. (I just don’t want you to be laughing at me too hard, okay?)

The introduction to my art calls for a more serious, inspirational tone. It’s not that I don’t want you to have fun with my work. But it’s not what you’d call “whimsical”. It’s a different manifestation of what I bring to the world.

My actual “artist statement”, is no longer on my website. I realize I should make room for it again.Here’s the short version of it:

I dream of the cave of Lascaux…

Its beautiful paintings of running horses,
born by the flickering light of torches….
Never meant to see the light of day,
yet brought to light in our lifetime.
Survived ten thousand years,
yet nearly destroyed by the breath of ten thousand visitors…
Too delicate to survive the climate of our modern world,
The cave was closed, and finally, sealed.

Lost.
Found.
And lost again.

The horses now run
in the darkness of their cave
forever.

We do not understand the mystery of these paintings.
We know not what they meant to the people who created them.
Their message was not meant for us.

But their beauty and power create profound echoes
in our modern hearts.

What ancient, yearning dreams of hope and beauty
brought forth these haunting images?

Ten thousand years from now,
Who will know the makings of our hands?
And who will know the mysteries of our hearts?

If you go back to my 25 Random Things About My Biz, you will see the seeds of where that statement comes from.

I know there are other “rules” I’m breaking with this statement. I haven’t changed significantly in ten years.

But every time I think of changing it, someone who reads it for the first time tells me how powerful it it is.

And so I keep it.

Just as it’s hard to present you with a template for a statement, it’s hard to give you a step-by-step model for turning your list into a statement. I’m thinking about how to do that, and present it in more manageable form for you. It’s easier to do face-to-face, using a technique I’ll explain next time.

But for now, write up a few lists. Play around with them. Write some in a humorous vein, make others more serious. Put a star next to the entries that create a lump in your throat, or bring tears to your eyes.

Because…I’ll say it again, because it is so important:

Whatever makes you cry, that’s where your heart is.

And where your heart is, that is your truth.

Don’t be afraid to tell people what you really care about.

If it is honest, if it is heartfelt, it will be…POWERFUL. You’ll know. And your audience will know.

And when you speak the truth, it is so powerful, people will hear it and know it for the truth.