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.
Continuing the discussion on how to spice up your artist statement, your artist bio and your press releases with news values….
Last time, I talked about using sex and romance (well—not sex!) in your writing. Today, let’s talk conflict.
What comes to your mind when I say ‘conflict’? War, strife, political news, even murder. These story elements may sound like a stretch for an artist statement!
But consider less lethal and more everyday variations of conflict.
Why does almost every newspaper carry a sports section? Because the team loyalty and competition are socially-acceptable forms of conflict. (Although with recent the riots in Vancouver, we can see that even ‘socially acceptable’ forms can quickly cross the line into violence.)
Conflict on a smaller scale or a more local level can be just as compelling. Local school board elections. Spelling bees. Controversial land use (draining a wetland for a new shopping mall.)
Last spring, a volunteer with a local salamander migration effort got into an argument with a motorist who didn’t want to yield the right-of-way to a salamander. (Yep, you read that right.) The story ended up on the front page of our local newspaper for days: Did a dedicated and passionate student volunteer, helping an endangered species safely cross the road, have the right to endanger himself and others by stopping a car on a dark and rainy night?
In fact, conflict is such an appealing story line, I strongly advise you to be careful what you say when you talk about any conflict, in your life and in your art, with the media. Words in print and online can hang around a very, very long time, and not always to your benefit. Unless you prefer notoriety over celebrity, consider ways to ‘tone down’ conflict and still hold onto its energy and appeal.
Years ago, I collaborated with another artist for an exhibition. The ‘collaboration’ became contentious and our friendship took a hard blow. That was bad enough. Then, I learned our names were given by the exhibition promoters to a reporter from a major regional newspaper. My heart sank. Sure enough, when the reporter visited us in my friend’s studio, my friend began to complain to her about me. It was obvious how angry she was. I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to add fuel to the fire, but I was in anguish.
My friend didn’t understand that most reporters would leap at the chance to add spice to their boring ‘art story’ by airing our disagreements to their audience—in this case, hundreds of thousands of readers. We would forever be remembered as the ‘sparring artists’.
Fortunately, the reporter was a sensitive and observant person. After listening to my friend’s tirade, she turned to me and said, “I see your work has a powerful personal narrative. It must have been hard to step back and try to blend that into another person’s work.” She gave me an out, and I took it. I agreed with her and shared the strategies I’d come up with. I took my story out of the project. I’d developed more neutral artifacts for it. Those artifacts actually allowed me to take my artwork in new and different directions. So the adversity had created opportunity and new possibilities for me, in addition to a lovely work of collaborative art.
Because the reporter focused her story on this win/win note, the finished article was a success.
I belong to a new group of artists hosting an open studio tour. We picked a great weekend, made signs, ran ads and created some publicity for ourselves. But as the tour date grew closer, we found out some members of another local art tour, running the same dates as ours, were miffed. We had taken ‘their’ dates and should cease and desist.
Most of us felt this would actually increase participation on BOTH tours. At the very least, no group ‘owns a weekend’. But though I hate to admit it, idea of conflict was exhilarating. We were determined to do a great job and we did.
And if the grumping continues, I suggested we actually build some publicity around it (in a congenial way) in the years ahead. Perhaps we’ll compete to see which group attracts the most visitors, with the winners getting a trophy. The next year, the competition starts again.
Other ways you can put conflict to good use:
Some artists specialize in painting sports motifs and sports figures. This can be well-known figures or as personal your kid’s soccer games.
Some artists paint military themes and scenes, even pictures of military airplanes and tanks. There’s a whole sub-genre of military art called nose art: Artwork that adorned the ‘noses’ of military airplanes. I kid you not. Go ahead, Google nose art airplanes. I had no idea this genre even existed til I saw a display of nose art during a sidewalk festival years ago. Consider if your favorite subjects fit into something reminiscent of a conflict.
Create a ‘paint off’ event, ‘pitting’ one group of artists against another, perhaps at a local park or social building. See which team can produce or sell the most paintings in a day, or create the best work (and let the public decide.)
Create a ‘paint in’ event. Gather like-minded artists and create an event to publicize the plight of victims of conflict. Donate a share of sales to a relief organization. Or support our soldiers who are far from home and family. Ask studio tour visitors to bring and donate a gently-used stuffed animal for SAFE (Stuffed Animals For Emergencies at http://www.stuffedanimalsforemergencies.org/Our_Story.html)
If there was conflict with you becoming an artist, or obstacles you had to overcome, and you are comfortable sharing that with your audience, use it. My story is not dramatic or horrific, but it’s mine. I overcame tremendous self-doubt and lack of training to become the artist I am today. I tell the story as a tale of empowerment. The very things that seemed to hold me back—motherhood, marriage, fear—became the very elements that encouraged me forward.
I’m surprised by how my story touches the hearts of many, who are also feeling sidetracked from their dreams. I believe the powerful element is my upbeat attitude, and my knack for turning weaknesses into strengths. This is what turns conflict into something uplifting: I try not to wallow in my setbacks, but to celebrate them for what they teach me. Be the hero in your tale of conflict!
I’d love to hear your suggestions for using conflict as a news value. It’s a tough one for artists, to be sure, but it’s simply too powerful and compelling to ignore. Shakespeare found a way to work it into every play he wrote. What would Romeo and Juliet be without their families’ feud to create strife and drama? Just another sappy teen love story. (You know he would have dumped her for another girl eventually!)
Find a way to make conflict work for you in a good way, and make your story stronger.