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Bring Out Yer Dead*

by Luann Udell on 9/8/2016 9:33:44 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She's blogged since 2002 about the business side--and the spiritual inside--of art. She says, "I share my experiences so you won't have to make ALL the same mistakes I did...."  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column ("Craft Matters") for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She's a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

 


Don’t bury your lead. Keep it up front, in its most powerful position.

 

I love helping people write artist statements. Especially if I’ve had an opportunity to actually sit and talk with the artist. Especially if I’ve had an opportunity to pound them over the head with this one simple question:

Why should I care about your art?

I try to tread carefully. I know how deeply artists care about their work, and what they want to say about it.

OTOH, if I have to read one more artist statement about line, color, texture, about boundaries and schisms, about anything that could have come from an Artsy Bollocks, I swear I will do damage to someone.

If I have a chance to meet with someone, or at least talk with them, my job gets easier. Because everyone has a story, a reason, a turning point in their history, that’s the deeper “why” about what they do.

And coincidentally, usually this powerful reason, if they include it at all, is at the very end of their statement.

It’s called burying your lead.

This writing structure is the bane of journalism and professional writing. We run on about our background, our training, our credentials, our methods, our materials, our media, etc. etc. And there, at the very end, is the deeper reason for it all.

It’s natural. Many of us were not raised to share our deepest, richest thoughts and history. We worry we’ll embarrass ourselves, admitting to pain, or loss, or even joy. No, we must be professional. Which means not a single sentimental, fluffy, unmanly thought will pass our lips. Er…pencil.

Here’s why it’s time to change that:

I know people who have known each other a very long time. They’re all artists themselves. They’ve also spent years—decades!—actually working in art galleries.

Over the years, there’s been a marked change in the world of art marketing. “It used to be,” said one, “Artists created work for the market. They figured out what was selling, and they worked accordingly, finding their niche in that market.”

“And now it’s flipped! The trend is to make the work that is unique to you—and find your market for it!”

That’s why the old artist statement style of the past is no longer working. 

People want to know who you are. 
People want to know why you make the work you do.

A few artists are sticking their toes into the new water. It’s very hard. It goes against everything they’ve seen to date.

But what we gain when we open our hearts, and stop hiding behind our work, is huge.  It’s powerful.

This doesn’t mean your new statement has to read like a letter to Dear Abby. No need to hang all our dirty laundry in public.

But you need to understand….

Everyone has lost someone.**
Everyone wants to be loved, and respected, for who they are. 
Everyone is longing for something.
Everyone needs to be protected from something.
Everyone has obstacles to overcome.
Everyone has a dream in their heart.

Because we are all human. 

Our individual stories are as unique as we are. And yet we are all connected by common themes, similar fears, shared needs, and dreams.

It is also right on trend to be vulnerable. It’s now perfectly acceptable to wear your heart on your sleeve.  It’s been my own mantra for years. And now we have company!

Because other people want what you have—a vision, a talent, a gift, a story—for themselves.

And when you share what you’ve lost, what you’ve gained, what you’ve found, what you’ve learned, what you’ve overcome, you are actually setting an example for them.

You’re showing them it can be done. You’re showing them how to do it.

That is the power of our true narrative. It helps us connect the work of our hand, the work of our hearts, to the hearts of others. Your story can inspire. It can heal. It can encourage.

So go out on a limb today.

Get out your artist statement. Cross out every reference to education, technique, medium, credentials. 

You can only reference one or two of these, if you can share why you chose this medium, this technique. (And no, “Because I just love color” is not enough.)  For example, one reason I chose polymer clay to make my artifacts is, no animals are harmed in the making. (E.g., I don’t want to use real bone or ivory.)

 
"There's a really good reason why I use polymer clay to make my artifacts."

Look for your power sentence. The one that, if you were speaking aloud, would make you stand up straighter, would make your voice more sure.

Put it right up front where it belongs. Take that buried lead—and lead with it!

Build that bridge, from your work, to your audience. 

If you build it, they will come.***

Footnotes:

*"Bury the lead" made me think of dead bodies, which made me think of the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with its infamous plague scene and the memorable quote, “Bring out yer dead!!”

**I also got to quote Guardians of the Galaxy!!

***And Field of Dreams!!!!  Triple play!

 


 

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Related Posts:

Add The “Why” To The “How” To Make “WOW!”

Learning to Fly Part 3: What Rudyard Kipling Said

Learning to Fly Part 4: Trust Your Instruments

Learning To Fly Part 2: Who Is Your Co-Pilot?

Reasons Why You Don't Want To Live Forever

Learning to Fly Part 5: The Dolphin in the Pool

LEARNING TO FLY Part 1: The Checklist


Topics: artist resume advice | artist statement | FineArtViews | inspiration | Instruction | Luann Udell 

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 15 Comments

Karen Burnette Garner
via faso.com
Luann, this article is full of incredibly useful, insightful information. I AM one of those artists who found a market and went after it. I've done it for MANY years, and been pretty successful. I think that I will continue to be successful at it. That being said, I am about to embark on the new way of doing things...I have ideas that are outside and beyond what I am doing now with the galleries I have. I'm excited to explore those new works and see where they take me! HOWEVER, I don't intend to abandon those clients/collectors who love my lowcountry work and embrace it. My galleries will always have a need for what I have done, and I'll tweak it and enjoy exploring it further. I just don't want to be a one-trick pony (read that as encaustic abstracts I am dying to try!).


You have filled this article with lots of thoughts -- will be digesting this news for a while, and appreciate your willingness to distill and share your knowledge.
Karen

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Karen, it sounds like you resonated with 'what the market was', and that's perfectly okay. As long as it makes your heart sing, your work will have authenticity and integrity.

Those comments I made are for the people who believe they HAVE TO create work they don't really connect to, in order to sell their work. It's killing them softly to continue.

I'm advocating for artist statements that connect with our inside story, in order find an audience for our unique work.



Pat
via faso.com
Thank you for this article. The why of things always resides in the heart. The other is to satisfy the "ego" of the market or other insecurities. Thank you for putting it out there in such a grounded way.

Karen Burnette Garner
via faso.com
Thanks, Luann. You are so right...doing what you think you HAVE to do, instead of following your inner truth is slow torture. Many good points.

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Pat, you just said in a few dozen words what I tried to say in a thousand! YES!!! You got it!


Luann Udell
via faso.com
Andrea, you are sweet! I like you right back!

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Karen, you got it!

Lisa Manners
via faso.com
Luann,

I love your polymer animals. And your remarks on artist statements are spot on. I really care about both nature and art, and hopefully someday I'll feel like I've made a contribution.

John P. Weiss
via faso.com
Luann- Great post, thank you. And Pat's comment "The why of things always resides in the heart" pretty much encapsulates the message for me. Our own authenticity is usually far more interesting than trying to be something we're not.

Christopher Newell
via faso.com
Thank you for ringing my bell. I am remiss in that function. I always took great satisfaction in what my Mother told her friends...."Yes, Chris was raised by Wolves; he just sleeps here." Thank you Luann for reaffirming, what I feel, is most important in the arts....The personal invitation to Hug the Emoter. Once upon a lifeline ago I hung tightly to the adage..."Paint what they want and you will be successful...I did and I was. Then along came people like you, John and Jack White and the light FINALLY began to glow. I now paint what I love...and it's all your fault. (I love Monty Python)

Deborah Angilletta
via faso.com
Perfect message about being true to yourself and sharing that truth with others. I had to immediately check out your artist statement after reading this post and it is truly wonderful. Now I am inspired to bring more personal meaning into my artist statement as well as my paintings. Thank you.

Luann Udell
via faso.com
WOW, Christopher, you put me in the same category as John and Jack??!! Woot!! Thank you!!!

I will happily take the blame for helping you transition to your authentic self.

There is NOTHING WRONG with making money from our art. It's simply an exchange--our time and emotional energy in exchange for someone else's time and emotional energy.

The sad part is when we are duped into thinking it's all about the money. And as Caroline has pointed out, sometimes we are truly being duped, with a story that is not true.

We are here to share our OWN powerful, personal story. I rejoice if MY journey there has inspired yours. Thank you for letting me know!

Luann Udell
via faso.com
Deborah, ditto what I just said.

Sometimes I worry that my statement isn't explicit enough. But then I realize it's the perfect example of something that is honest, yet poetic. Not showing all the dirty laundry, but engaging.

The mark of its success is that people go back and LOOK AT MY ART more closely.

And the icing on the cake is when they finally give me permission to tell me story, in person, in a way that relates to what caught their attention, their heart.

It's my truth. It feels right. And it works.










 

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