WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD TOLD ME ABOUT ARTISTS: Make Room for Art in Your Life!
4/27/2019 by Luann Udell
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 can’t control everything in life, but we can choose how we face it.
Years ago, one of my favorite writers, Martha Beck, wrote an article thathas stuck with me for decades.
Beck’s insights and advice come from her years as a therapist, observing how people get stuck and how to help them get unstuck. In this article, she describes two of her clients, two women named Mary.
Mary One has a sad life story: A parent dying young, obstacles, setbacks, health issues, etc. Just reading the list makes you wonder how anyone could survive what she has been through.
Mary Two has a wonderful life story. She inherited wealth, and was able to attend top-notch colleges. She is highly educated, and her career issatisfying. She is very close to her grandmother, who showers her with love and kindness. She loves to travel and has been all over the world. One cannot help but envy her good fortune.
The two clients are actually the same person.
This article was a game-changer for me. The lessons are obvious.
We have all had sadness, and joy in our lives. We have all experienced cruelty, and kindness. We all have victories, and setbacks. We’ve all had people who love us, and people who are toxic. We all wish we had more money, even though we know in our hearts that if a billion dollars is “not enough” for the wealthiest people in the world, how will we ever have enough?
The lesson for me was simple: We get to create our own story.
For years, my saddest story was that I couldn’t get into art school. My school, one of two in the entire county, in an agricultural area, didn’t have much money to spend on art programs. This meant my portfolio was pretty pathetic. And so, when I did go to college, I majored in art history instead, the traditional “shadow artist”, hovering on the outskirts of my passion and filled with envy for those who thrived with their art.
I actually was accepted into not one, not two, but three colleges thatoffered art programs. Instead, I chose the one that was the most prestigious, where my best friend, my high school boyfriend, and my secret crush had been accepted. It was the only school that rejected my portfolio. I took a few art classes, but they were like bananas offered to amonkey in a cage, a prize I could never reach.
So “not being good enough” wasn’t really a thing, though it took me years to see that. It was just a “sad story” I held onto for a long time.
Although that boyfriend turned out to be fairly toxic, and much of my love life was pretty pathetic, it was in this same city that I met my husband, my life partner, and a pretty great one. We’ve been together over 40 years.
So with the power of hindsight/reframing, going to that college was actually a lucky fortunate choice. (Next week, I’ll share another storyabout “luck”!) Taking all those art history classes, starting with theLascaux Cave (the oldest human art in the world in the 1970’s) was apowerful, inspirational resource when I finally owned the power of my choices, and became the artist I was always meant to be.
And if I had actually been accepted into that college’s art program, I am certain I would not be making the work I make today. I don’t think my tender heart would have survived the toxic critiques many students had to endure (I hear schools do it differently now, but I take that with a grain of salt, as this intriguing memoir reveals.
In short, there may be one set of facts, circumstances, etc…
But there are a slew of stories I can tell myself because of them.
When I’m feeling “less than”, I feel embarrassed that I actually hate drawing. I resent that my medium of choice took years to gain respect in the art world. I know that some people still would not consider me a “real artist”. I remember every cruel or thoughtless remarks from ignorant, pompous, or deeply-troubled people.
But when I choose to see my power, I know I make art for myself, first. Making my art has made me a better person. I know that I use thatpower, the power of my choices, to not only make work that‘s so personal, my collectors can easily recognize my style and aesthetics, I’ve used that power to reach out and connect with others, always with the hope that doing so may elevate the hearts of others, as well.
Try this exercise today: Jot down all the hardships and crappy things thathave crossed your path this week, everything that made you suffer and seethe. (I didn’t say “in your lifetime” because that could take weeks! But sure, put in anything that‘s still hounding you.) List the deadlines you’re stressing over, the to-do list that never seems to end, the lack of respect for your style/subject/medium, the dearth of sales. Make note of how you feel when you’re done.
Now write down all the blessings and gifts that happened in the same time period: The car that let you merge safely into traffic, the person who stopped to let you cross the street, the new opportunity to show your work that‘s got you fired up about your new series. Consider the thank-you notes you got from the grateful customer who bought your work because they loved it. Think of all the things you did accomplish, and all the steps forward you’ve taken with your art, your personal growth, your relationships.
How do you feel now?
I always-always-feel better.
This is why I write. It helps me sort out the distractions from the real deal, the true life mission I carry in my heart from the road bumps. I get clarity on what I can change, and what I can’t change. I can feel my anger melt as I frame the difficult stuff differently.
All the naysayers, the critics, the trolls, the digs, the snark we encounter daily, suddenly feel more like annoyances than anything. I feel free to simply do what I love to do. I give myself permission to live my life theway I want.
A recent example: A dear friend and supporter shared with excitement the realization that their work is “on trend”. My lizard brain immediately buckled. The same trend was in force when I started making this particular aspect of my art, and I struggled mightily to overcome it. For afew moments, I was envious that this person, who has had my back for years, might surf that wave farther than I ever will.
And then I had to laugh. My work has never been “on trend”, and I’m glad! The courage it took to simply make the work of my heart has created my own wave I can ride as far as I desire.
I know now that the world is big enough for both us. If they aresuccessful with their work, if they get a “bigger piece of the pie”, thatdoesn’t mean my slice is smaller. There is an infinite amount of “pie” in the world, enough for both of us. Actually, it’s big enough for all of us.
I will simply not let that first story be the story I tell. I choose the second story, the one filled with mutual respect, joy, and kindness.
What is the story YOU can choose to tell, today?
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Sometimes a “major change” is simply many tiny changes in outlook.
For everyone who wrote me asking why I’m walking away from my art and writing, let me reassure you, I’m not!!!!!
I am at what my dear hubby calls “an inflection point”. I’d never heard of that before, except as a math term. But one dictionary describes it as
- 1.MATHEMATICSa point of a curve at which a change in the direction of curvature occurs.
- 2.US(in business) a time of significant change in a situation; a turning point.
That’s what it feels like. A “change” is coming, but I don’t know what it is.
What I do know is, my story hasn’t changed. I’m not done telling that story! And so my art itself, and my propensity for writing about my art (and what I’ve learned from making it), will not change.
I got lost in trying to pinpoint what was going to change. Stuck in trying to figure that out, because sitting with that has been hard.
Because when we choose not to move forward until we’re sure what that looks like, we lock ourselves into the present while fearing the future. (Perfectionism, thy name is “Luann”….!!)
I had fallen so low in my self-esteem in this flux state that I broke my own rule about giving away my work.
I don’t give my work away to people who expect it to be free, or those who demand I give it to them.
Such a simple rule, and I broke it. To the tune of agreeing to do free work worth thousands of dollars. And to be grateful to the person who said I should do it.
No worries, I walked it back! I’m only out $200, and I consider that a lesson I will never have to learn again. I hope!
I was in the middle of a health crisis (not life-threatening, but life-style threatening), a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, a state of living with uncertainty so long, I couldn’t see the gifts I already have: A home, a family, a loving partner, my health in general, the beauty of the California landscape and seascape, my studio, etc. I’ve been focusing on how close we are to losing many of these gifts, obsessed with security, and my struggle to control our future. (Ha!! Good luck with that, human!)
So I made a few more bad decisions.
But I also made some very, very good decisions.
Like reaching out to family, good friends, old friends, new friends, readers, supporters.
I reached out, and found people who listened, deeply.
I overcame my main worry, that I only reach out when I need help, others will judge me on my own selfishness (“She only calls when she’s stuck!”)–and found they were genuinely happy to help. Not only that, I found everyone was going through similar stuff, themselves. And they welcomed my help/feedback/support! (“Reciprocity” is a word that’s been resonating with me lately, and I was delighted to engage in it.)
They walked me back from the next bad decisions I’d made. And although I’ve been in a deep funk about who I am, they’ve been holding the memory of who I am, when I’m at my best.
And even better, they shared how much they love and respect me even when I’m at my worst.
Which gets me to where I am today: Tiny steps forward, and for the first time in months (many months!), holding a tiny bit of hope.
How I got there in a few hours yesterday is what I want to share with you today.
There’s an online class offered by Yale University, and anyone can take it if you can cough up $40. (And if you can’t, there are grants available!)
It’s called The Science of Well-Being, a class based on brain science and scientific evidence, developed and taught by Laurie Santos. It’s been in the news since the course wen’t online in March. It’s quickly become Yale’s most popular course.
The short story is, we don’t really know what we want. We don’t really know what will make us happy. And if we don’t understand what really will, or won’t, make us happy, then our pursuits in life won’t result in happiness.
The first video talked about “A ‘Good’ Job”. When you ask people what they want from a job, it’s often things like “a big salary” and “opportunities to advance”, and “prestige”, etc.
But it turns out those can be misleading goals that don’t necessarily make us happy in the long run. Yes, a livable income is important. But not at the expense of other goals that will actually improve how we feel about life. Like work that appeals to our strengths and values, work that challenges us in a good way, work that provides us opportunities to be “in the zone” or what is now called a “flow” state.
So how do we do that? How do we identify those unique strengths, our important values? How do we learn to nurture them those strengths and values? Because doing so will nurture us, will increase our sense of well-being and happiness.
This isn’t the old 90’s thing about “follow your bliss and the money will follow.” It’s more evidence-based, and doable. This class shows what works, and how to do it right.
After a few hours of work yesterday, I read something that gave me a glimmer of hope that I, too, can figure this out.
One evaluation survey showed that after taking the course, and implementing the (very simple) exercises, almost every student showed an average 30% increase in their sense of happiness. That’s nice.
But what blew my socks off was this statistic:
On average, every single student also reported a 70% DECREASE in depression.
Think about that.
We all know there’s no such thing as “happy all the time”, or a life filled with constant joy. I think we all shy away from anything that promises that. After all, I’m following my passion in life, and I still struggle with insecurity, a sense of not-doing-it-right, not being able to even pay for my studio rent with my art, and not being able to pay for much of anything from my writing. (A friend was gob-smacked when I told her how little I am paid for my one paid writing gig. And that’s just “the new normal” for free-lance writers.)
So “being happier” was something I’m always a little suspicious of.
And I already know some of the more obvious, popluar goals, like “make more money”, won’t fix everything–especially if I sacrifice integrity and what makes my work powerful. I know fame and celebrity can be a shadow goal, and potentially a self-destructive pursuit.
But the promise I could be less unhappy? Significantly less unhappy?? Bring it on!
That tiny ray of hope, the realization that things really could be better, inside, with a shift in perspective, was enough to raise my spirits.
And the way that happens–aligning key character traits and values with my life mission–is already giving me a wee bit of clarity of what that “inflection point” might be.
As always, I’ll keep you posted on my progress.
And in the meantime, I hope you check out the course, especially if you are also struggling with what would really make you happy!
Today’s column from my lastest series on creating your own artist support group.
Enjoy! (Click here if you’d like to see this at the Fine Art Views website and read the comments: THE FOUR QUESTIONS #3: The Power of Affirmations )