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Muddying the Waters: Let the River Flow

by Luann Udell on 7/2/2015 7:07:02 AM

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...."



Be inspired. But protect your inner vision.


No, I haven't run out of Lessons from the Gym--far from it! But my new found interest in Pinterest (no pun intended) brought back a powerful memory from my past. I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Time to share it with you!


Soon after I took my first steps on my art journey, another artist took an interest in my work. She saw what was unique about it, and what was compelling.


Her own work was very personal, highly original, combining many interests, skills, and techniques, and always beautifully executed.


This was the early '90's, long before surfing the 'net was easy and prevalent, when simply attaching a large image to an email could crash the recipient's email program. Most of our knowledge of other artists, trends, etc. came from books, magazines and newspapers.


I mentioned a great book on art I was reading, and asked her if she'd read it. Her answer surprised me.


"No," she said. "I don't look around too much about what other people are doing with their art."


"Why not?" I asked.


"Because it distracts me from my work and my aesthetic," she said.  "If I get caught up in what others are making, it's harder for me to focus on what I'm making. So I just don't do it. Not very often, anyway."


Her words made a lasting impression on me.


I think about her comments often. Especially in these days with the Intergalactic Encyclopedia (Google) ready to answer any question we might have, and providing us with videos, maps, images, and yes, even shopping opportunities regarding same.


The Internet and all its manifestations is a ginormous source of beautiful work, compelling images, fabulous uses of color/design/composition/art materials. I've always kept a clip file of images that catch my interest, whether that was a manilla folder full of pictures cut from magazines, or an 'inspiration file' on my computer.


Lately, I've realized that Pinterest can operate the same way, with more efficiency. With a click or two of the mouse, I can scoop up a delicious color combination, a new idea for finishing off a necklace, new materials and techniques to consider incorporate into my work. These clippings are much easier to access, too. And as others 'like' and re-Pin my Pins, I get a chance to check out their boards to find similar items I enjoy.  It felt like I was flying around the world with a virtual pair of scissors and a pot of glue for my online scrapbook.


But soon I felt like I was 'sipping from the proverbial fire hose'.  I quickly got past 'quenching my thirst' for ideas, and nearly drowned under the flood of distractions. It was time to slow down. And think.


Are sites like Instagram, Pinterest, and yes, our beloved Facebook, truly the bane of true originality and creative vision?


Like any new technology, the best results come from thoughtful and deliberate usage.


It's human nature to love the novel, to explore the new. It's artistic nature to be inspired by the creativity of other artists.


But constantly seeking the new-and-different distracts us from the value of the old-and-solid.  Too many creative threads can leave us lost in a net of possibilities and 'what-ifs'.


I enjoy playing with new materials, new techniques, new ideas. But I've also learned to recognize the signs that I've followed the new trail(s) a little too far.


There's a difference between rejuvenating our work, and losing track of our inner vision. There's a fine line between being inspired by new designs, and incorporating them willy-nilly into our repertoire of techniques, until our work looks like an inferior knock-off of someone else's work. There's a balance between keeping our work fresh, and becoming disillusioned with the very strengths that got us where we are today.


What grounds me, over and over, is my story. The most profound growth in my artwork comes from my story moving on to new threads, new stages in my life. Respecting my core story, my core vision, my core aesthetics, keeps me focused, and grounded.


I was reminded of this by three messages I received very recently. One was an old friend remarking on the 'sacred spaces' nature of my old studio. "I'm sure your new one is just as blessed," she said. A new customer remarked on the piece of jewelry she ordered, after working her way through my entire blog series:"... I was blown away by the pieces. I'd READ on your blog that they were touchable. I'd READ on your blog how long you'd been doing this. I had no idea how utterly touchable and how just like an ancient artifact they would be. In shrink land, where I live, we call that a preverbal experience. An experience going back to the preverbal year. An experience that does not lend itself to words...." Her remarks still send shivers down my spine. (In a good way!) I ordered some tools from a talented polymer clay artist to try a new technique, and the vendor enclosed a note with my order: "...Just wanted to say how delighted I was to see your name pop up in the 'sold' box! Your work and writings were among my most admired when I first started (my art)...six years ago. Thank you so much for everything!"


All of these communications were unexpected, totally out of the blue. They remind me that there's still a lot of good work in me that I need to get out into the world. Work that only I can make, words that only I can write. Judging myself in the context of what others do is pointless. Doing the work I was put here to do is always my most powerful place to be.


So play with this brave new internet world. Take those classes in new techniques and materials. From time to time, simply play with your routine and set practices. Enjoy these small vacations from your vocation.


But only compare yourself to others in the context of making your work even better. Admire the beauty others have brought into the world. But never set aside your avocation--the distinctive inner eye, your unique artistic vision--that makes you,




(In the interest of full disclosure, I totally copied those last five words from a Martha Beck column she published years ago.)




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Topics: advice for artists | art and culture | art and psychology | art and society | Art Business | creativity | Facebook | FineArtViews | inspiration | Luann Udell | originality | Pinterest | social networking | Twitter 

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Walter Paul Bebirian
what a wonderful post Luann!

thank you! :-)

Anne Spencer
Hi Luann...I loved your message...from "let the river flow" to "deliberate usage". Keep the brush and the pen flowing from your inner spirit!, Anne

Michele keating
Thank you for this blog, Luann. You really helped put into perspective what has been in the back of my mind.

Wonderful post, I couldn't agree more!

David Randall
I came to much the same conclusion years ago while living the NYC loft arts scene. I realized that going to endless openings, seeing more and more new ideas was a distraction for the most part from developing myself not some other idea better suited for them than me.

Marian Fortunati
Your stories and insights always resonate with me. I was recently recounting your last "lesson from the gym" to my husband in the hopes that he would take some of your well-learned lessons to heart. Although I use the "art part" of the lessons as my anchor, I was hoping he'd take the "gym part" for his own.... He's having knee replacement surgery next week.

This one was just what I needed to read at just the right time. Although the things you right are not things most of us don't know in our hearts, they are so well written and so essentially true and probably universal we all can use them as guides. -- THANK YOU.

Stan Sween ey
Very well said. Some artists think the grass is greener on the other side of their canvas. Know who you are and create with confidence.

Aleta Pippin
This is such an important message. I am one to explore what others are doing and it is overwhelming. Oftentimes, I go off on tangents and though I always learn from it, I lose valuable time more fully exploring my vision. It also stops our momentum and maintaining that is important to our success as artists.

Lisa Gibson
LOVE this post, it was a great reminder to help me focus on MY story and vision instead of getting sucked in to everyone else's. You're so right about how easy it is to drown in other's inspirations these days!

John P. Weiss
Luann- I appreciate your message here. There's nothing like authenticity. Fidelity to your own personal vision. There's nothing wrong with enjoying the work of others or finding inspiration from different artists, but then we must remain true to the artist within. Thanks for your post.

Carl E. Boxler
I remember when I "discovered" the Internet and spent HOUR of following branches and branches of branches and,... and came to a similar conclusion: I will NEVER know it all. ANd it distracted me from my work for HOURS and days where I did nothing else.

So, like you, I do it hI need to or if I feel like looking around for 10 minutes or so.

Great article, Really useful too.
Keep on telling YOUR story and we all will benefit.

Debbie Goodrow
I don't think I've ever read something you've written without it resonating within me, making me more thoughtful. Thank you SO much for sharing your thoughts!

THANK YOU! As I returned from another "One to One" session at the Apple Store, feeling a little smarter but a bit more "saturated", your words resonate. Balance always seems to be the key, and it's a different point for everyone. I can love and loathe our computerized world at the same time, and know that I need to "unplug" frequently to recharge my spirit. That's how saturation turns into creativity for me.

Appreciate you sharing your thoughts.

Donald Fox
We begin to take in visual information from the time we open our eyes. There's always something interesting and exciting to see (or feel or sense in other ways). As we learn, we grow. All of that sensory input, information, experience is filtered through our evolving consciousness that is our unique perspective and expanding who we are as expressive beings. We can't help but assimilate - it's largely how we learn. That we also have choice about what we do with all that input is one of the great gifts of existence.

Marsha Hamby Savage
You really put me in mind of "this was me" while reading your post. I love seeing what others are doing, reading newsletters on marketing, on technique, and trying everything out. I also know what I love for myself... but all of this stuff has put me in quite a "funk" for the last several years. I really do think I lost myself. I have told friends, I need to find out who Marsha Savage is. They look incredulous... maybe they really don't understand until it hits them the same way.

This is such an important piece of information for all artists, heck anyone that pursues their own passion in whatever way.

Thank you... I also needed this today! I will be sharing your post on my Facebook page for my multitude of artist friends to see and read!


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