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.
LEARNING TO SEE #5: This Is Us
Sometimes dark times help us see the light within.
(7 minute read)
It’s a dreary day today.
Rain. (Not much light in the studio on days like this.) Chilly. (Get the wool socks out again!) Frustrating in the smallest detail (our greediest little cat successfully snagged all the food our frail senior cat, despite me sitting two feet away–again!)
I’m almost out of cream for my coffee, a promised check from a customer has yet to arrive, I just saw how much I spent “stocking up” on supplies last month (YIKES!), and there seems to be no end in sight for you-know-what-I’m-talkin’-about.
I’m down down down with a problematic health issue that literally appeared out of nowhere two weeks ago, and there’s no end in sight there, either. A family member lost their job last month, tempers are stretched, and sitting on the porch in the evening has turned into a yak-fest with complete strangers, as everyone is desperate to talk with anyone else. My studio is a mess, I’ve lost interest in going to it, and I just want to huddle under the covers all day, with a cat or two to snuggle with. (NOT YOU, GREEDY BEAN!)
And yet, as I sit here listing the downers, I’m ashamed. Ashamed of focusing on what is wrong while choosing blatantly to recognize what is good.
We are okay-for now. That’s all we can count on, all any of us can count on. No one in our family has Covid-19 (though I would argue a kidney stone is almost as scary, but at least it’s only affecting me!) Some family members are far away, but they are okay, too.
We have what we need: Food, shelter, silly pets to amuse us (EXCEPT FOR YOU, BEAN YOU BAD GIRL), plenty of TV shows and movies to catch up to, and working internet for work, connection, entertainment, information.
It’s not as cold as New Hampshire right now (NO SNOW!! YES!!) And we really need the rain, so complaining about it seems pretty petty.
As our world feels smaller and more cramped, it’s tempting to compare it to what we had, and what others have, that we do not.
And yet, this weird time has also opened my eyes to a huge truth we all “know”, but never really believed:
All those people who have more-than-us, in every sense, are still people just like us.
I’m talking about the people who live in huge mansions, bigger than every house I’ve ever lived in put all together, who still complain how bored they are.
I’m talking about the famous people we admire, whether they be saints or sinners, movie stars and music stars, the people with fame and fortune we secretly aspire to be, with our own creative work.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to have people clamoring for our work? What would it be like to name any price on our art, and get it? Being in that prestigious gallery who would do all that hateful marketing/promoting/selling for us-and we just get a check sent to us, every month?
What would it be like to walk the red carpet, to accept that award, to give that speech, to have people clamoring for our attention, to have thousands, millions of people hanging on our every word?
There are three things that bring me back to my own world this morning:
- I’m rereading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker, and reminding myself why being famous has its own dark side.
- Complaining about the rain when we desperately NEED the rain, right now, reminds me that I may be the center of my own universe, but I’m not the center of anyone else’s. There are far worse situations to be in than mine, health issues not-withstanding, and rather than complaining, maybe I should be looking at ways to help others who are much, much worse off.
- Famous, successful people are just people like us, with (usually) better haircuts, makeup, and clothes.
As we watch our ‘stars’ perform in their homes, without all the props and makeup that make them look almost inhumanly beautiful, we see them for who they are: People like us.
As we watch them deliver their routines without an audience, we see how hard it is to get that ‘lift’ that comes from an appreciative audience’s response (laughter and cheers).
As we watch them sing, we note that though most do have terrific voices, it’s also obvious who has gained by having a lot of support behind them: Great venues to perform in, back-up singers, sound mixers, amps, etc.
Famous people are just people, perhaps with nicer homes, better support, more money, more options. But they are still just people, as fragile and frustrated as we are, and sometimes dealing with more crap and actual threats to their safety, too.
As we watch how other people handle the current shelter-in-place orders (or how they DON’T handle them), we understand that every person feels put-upon in their own unique way. Everyone is suffering. As a fellow writer exclaimed years ago, “It’s like we’re all on the same lake in a different boat!” And some people don’t even have a boat….
Here’s the gift of being an artist today:
We don’t need to be famous to have an audience for our work.
We don’t need an audience in front of us to make our work.
We don’t need the approval of others to make our work.
With the internet, we don’t need the acceptance by a specific gallery to share our work with the world.
We don’t necessarily need to make a living at our art, to have it in our lives.
In the end, we are just people. People who have a knack, or talent, or skill, whether it’s an innate sense of color and design, or simply perseverance and the desire to do the best we can with what we’ve got.
We’re people who found a way to have a voice in the world, and we are allowed to use it.
We’re people who, when we make the work of our heart, find we can actually lift the hearts of others, too. IF we share it.
All this ‘marketing-speak’ boils down to this: It’s just a way to get our art-and story–in front of others, without spending very much money, with a certain amount of time and effort, with a camera/smartphone, and access to the internet. That’s all.
And in the midst of all this, though I woke up feeling physically and emotionally down-trodden, just writing this has lifted my heart a little.
Just thinking about my own superpower-the ability to make something that looks like it might be 10,000 years old, with its own mystery and yearning, with a substance that’s only three or four decades old, that only needs a little oven to ‘cure’; the ability to write down my thoughts, to consider my current state-of-mind and ask “why so sad?” and to count my blessings; the self-knowledge that if I go to my studio today, I will definitely find some small but comforting feeling of “I can do this; all of these come from my art-making, my own Throne of Iron. Er…plastic.
I just realized I’m not mad at Bean anymore, either.
We have the power of our choices, even our tiniest choices, every day, literally and figuratively.
Today, I can listen to all those little voices, the ones that want to keep me safe by keeping me small, frightened, caring too much what other people think, too worried about a future I cannot see nor control.
Or I can listen to my mighty heart, which knows what I can control and what I can’t, and to embrace the former while acknowledging and letting go of the latter.
I can listen to my mighty heart, which has always known “Not everyone will be a fan” and yet persevere, with what matters to me.
I can listen to my mighty heart, which whispers, “Be the artist you were always meant to be”, and be grateful I know how powerful this truly is. To have the ability, and the power, to choose this.
If we are quiet, if we listen to our heart today, accepting the “no”, but reaching for the “yes”, what would be possible today?
What is getting YOU through these confusing, trying times? Share your happy place in the comments! I’d love to hear them. But even more important….
There may be someone on the other side of the globe that needs to hear what you have to say, today. Right now.
If this article inspired you today, please pass it on to someone else who might like it, too. And if someone sent this to you today, and you liked it, you can see more advice on art marketing at Fine Art Views, more of my articles on FAV, and subscribe to my email newsletter at my website at LuannUdell.com.