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Exercise for the Artist’s Mind, Body and Soul

Guest writer Kate Marillat shares some great tips to tune up your body and mind and keep creativity flowing…

We know that when we are in the flow, our creativity streams out, it’s easy, it’s joyful. We love it. But if we are feeling stuck, blocked or it’s simply not coming naturally, here are some great techniques to get your mind, body and soul back into flow.

Tune up the Body

If you are sitting in front of the computer writing magnificent prose or sketching out a future project, you may be cramping your spine which needs to be stretched out.

So STRRRRREEEETTTCCCCHHHHH. Set an alarm on your desk for every hour (or two if that seems impossible to start with) and stand up. Reach up for the ceiling and roll down to the floor. Do the same on tiptoes. Tune into your breathing and count in for six, out for six. Do this for three rounds of breath.

You can find lots of quick videos on You Tube to inspire you like this simple 3 minute neck stretch.

If stretching appeals to you, hunt down a local yoga class that you could slot into your day. Do you always take a lunch break? Most artists don’t, but can you negotiate with your inner critic that a yoga class IS a lunch break and exercise all in one.

Cycling is also another way to clear out the cobwebs. A twenty minute cycle around the park will pump the endorphins around your body. It also gets you out the house, connect with nature and give your body a work out. If cycling feels like too big a stretch or you live in a hilly area, think about an electric bike. They take the effort out of cycling, are cheaper to run than a car and good for the environment as well as your body.

Mind-full-ness

We are full of ideas, bursting with them and constantly downloading into our cognitive hard-drives. Twin this creativity with the pressures of modern life and our mind are buzzing most of the time. When your mind is full, it’s harder to focus on the project in hand. Two therapies which are brilliant at helping artists clear their minds are Meditation and Emotional Freedom Technique.

Practising mind-full-ness or meditation is easy. You don’t need to be a Tibetan monk sitting for hours on mountainside – simply take a minute to relax, quiet the mind and find the stillness inside.

Take just a minute www.just-a-minute.org is a great website with over 40 minute guided mediations to help you simply stop and breathe. There are hundreds of meditation resources available on You Tube, or www.freebuddhistaudio.com and www.jetcityorange.com.  Try them out and see what makes you relax and feel good.

Emotional Freedom Technique is a simple way you can move the energy in your body. Essentially you tap on acupressure points whilst verbally stating how you feel. The kinetic energy sends a signal to your amagdyla (the part of your brain that controls the flight or fight response) which relaxes you and enables you get back into flow, that joyful creative place. If you’d like to know more then download the free “getting started” guide from EFT Universe.

Getting Soulful

Artists more than any other group understand the concept of the soul. That inner essence that drives us to create, that our purpose is to nourish the world with our words, music and art. Our souls need to be fed delicious morsels and as Julia Cameron suggests in her brilliant book “The Artist’s Way” we must make time to have artist dates with ourselves.

This month go to something completely out of your usual social repertoire. Find a debating club, a magic show, a modern Buddhist temple, or a tourist attraction that you loved as a kid. Taking ourselves out of the familiar surroundings just for art’s sake will challenging your senses, feed your soul a banquet and seep into your personal well of inspiration.

Our mind, body and soul work together in a beautiful eco-system that creates your uniqueness and in turn your art. Don’t neglect any of these components…Is it time you tuned up? What could you do differently this month?

Kate Marillat is a freelance writer passionate about ethical communication. Connect with her on twitter at @ethicalbizkate

http://bethewriteryoudreamofbeing.com

Image credit – Stretch by Les Howard

 

 

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The Circle of Life – Mandala Wisdom For Artists

I have recently discovered the beauty and mystery of Mandalas and become just a little bit obsessed with them {as is my way}.

A mandala is a concentric pattern which has spiritual and ritual significance in Buddhism and Hinduism. These beautiful images are meditative and restful to contemplate and are used as a way to enter deeper levels of the unconscious. They can appear in a dazzlingly wide array of forms and you may find them painted on silk, created out of sand by Buddhist monks with infinite patience and even tattooed on skin in delicate dotwork.

Tibetan monks making a temporary “Sand-Mandala”

The circle of the seasons

Maṇḍala (मण्डल) is a Sanskrit word meaning “circle.” and mandalas symbolize the circle of life.

As winter draws in and the nights become darker I find this a particularly relevant and comforting thing to contemplate. Everything is cyclical in life. Winter will come with it’s cold and darkness but we know that somewhere along the line, Spring will come around with it’s new shoots of growth and warmth and light. In fact, when I dashed through the garden yesterday in a rush to get indoors out of the freezing rain, I noticed the green tips of bulbs starting to poke through the soil already with their promise of warmer lighter days ahead. There are always signs that a change is coming if you look hard enough.

Thomas Hooper - Decalomania

Thomas Hooper – Decalomania Mandala Study 2

The circle of being

This is heartening to realise if you are going through a period of difficulty, albeit financial, personal or in your work. When things are difficult in life I like to remind myself of the ancient Eastern proverb “This too shall pass” meaning that all life is cyclical and all material conditions, positive or negative are transitory. It may be bad now but as with the seasons, change is coming if you look for it.

The circle of creativity

As with all things, creativity has it’s cycles too. In her book  The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron talks about working with the cycles of creative energy that ebb and flow through your life.

You may go through a period when your creative energy is low and blocked. When nothing much gets created and you aren’t happy with the things you do do. However, if you keep the faith that creativity is cyclical you can ride these rough patches with confidence, safe in the knowledge that your creative life force will gain strength again and you will enter another period of energy.

You just need to keep the faith that it WILL come around again and not panic when you are in a low period.

Or to put it in a much less spiritual and much more bluff way – in the down to earth words of Winston Churchill.

“If you are going through hell – keep going.”

Are you aware of the cycles in your life and creativity? How do you ride out the storms and troughs? Share with us in the comments.
Images - Buddhist Monks by HenryArt Mandala Image by Kosigrim

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Artists and Energy Vampires {How To Protect Yourself and Your Art} Halloween Special

Appropriately for Halloween I have started thinking about Vampires…

Bizarre as it may sound, Vampires are not necessarily the mythical creatures from films and stories. There ARE real life Vampires operating all around us feeding on our life energy and nowhere do these predators operate more successfully than in the art world.

Do Vampires really exist?

Sounds like a bunch of daft mumbo jumbo right? Have I been drinking too much Halloween punch?

Think about it. Most of us know people who we dread being around. After being on the phone to them for ten minutes we feel exhausted and in need of a lie down. If they pop round to visit we feel depressed, knackered and possibly even ill after they leave. We try and make excuses to avoid them but they always seem to know when we feel low and call just at the time we least feel we have the energy to deal with them.

These people are what I would class as Energy Vampires. They emit negativity and suck all the joy and happiness from a room. They leave greyness in their wake. They feed on the life energy of others in order to make themselves feel better or more powerful. They are draining, exhausting and damaging to be around.

How to spot an Energy Vampire
Energy Vampires are easily recognisable from some common characteristics.

  • They like to criticise and complain and bring down positive people by destroying their confidence with subtle undermining comments.
  • They are jealous of people who achieve things in their life and consequently do all they can to sabotage them in order to make themselves feel more powerful.
  • They suck the lifeforce out of everyone around them.
  • They are the passive aggressive killers of dreams and generally never have much positive comment to make.
  • Life is never good for them, something is always wrong, be it the weather, their job or their spouse.

You come across them every day in all areas of life. They might be a friend, an aquaintance or someone you meet through your artistic practice. In defense of the Energy Vampire they often don’t realise what they are doing and have unhappy and damaged backgrounds so a little understanding is called for.

Artists are easy prey for the Energy Vampire

Unfortunately, artists and creative people are particularly easy prey for an Energy Vampire. The very act of creating some kind of Art – Sculpture, Painting, Photograph, Music or Print is a baring of your soul.

Standing in my first exhibition after all the work had gone up, I was shocked at how vulnerable I felt. My inner thoughts were out there for everyone to see. This act of translating your soul out through your art makes the Artist sensitive and open to negative people who seek to drain their power for their own ends. Its easy to trash someone’s confidence when they have put their entire being, thoughts and energy into a piece of work. There are also people who are jealous that you are doing something you enjoy, or are good at a particular artistic skill, as its something they feel they can’t do well themselves. Consequently they might rubbish your output in order to feel better about their own work.

How do Energy Vampires attack?

The attack generally comes in two equally damaging forms: Destructive criticism and the Destruction of Dreams. Lets just look a little closer at these two.

Negative or destructive criticism of your work: 
Constructive criticism of your work can help you flourish and develop as an artist but destructive criticism destroys, undermines, damages confidence and is one of the biggest reasons Artists stop creating. The tragedy is that some Artists will just stop creating work for the rest of their lives, believing that their Art has no value. No one appreciated the work of Van Gogh during his lifetime  but what a tragedy if he had just given up because someone told him his work sucked and he listened!

Destroying your dreams:
Being told “no one ever makes a living as an Artist” “You need to live in the real world” “You’ll never make it” and variations on the above can make working and living as an artist seem like an impossible dream. Energy Vampires are often very unhappy in their own lives and like to make sure everyone else is similarly unhappy by dashing their hopes and dreams.

How to defend against Energy Vampires

So, what can you do to thwart the energy vampires from draining you of your creative lifeforce?

  • Recognition
    The Best defence against energy vampires is wonderfully simple – recognition. Once you can spot a Vampire at work it’s easier to stay strong in the face of their negativity and realise that it’s their issues at work, not yours. Recognising what they say or do for what it is, invalid and undermining, will allow you to avoid being dragged down and to shake off any criticism.
  • Nourish your protective confidence
    Build confidence in your work. A healthy confidence in your own work will give you great protection. Develop your work and skills in positive ways and become involved with positive organisations for mutual support. Some people will love your art. Some won’t and won’t understand it. That’s OK. The main thing is that YOU love your work and are happy that it’s the best you can produce.
  • Avoidance.
    Simply stop hanging around with people you know bring you down and are bad for your psyche. Make sure you surround yourself with people who create positive energy and support your dreams.

So keep strong. Keep Painting, Sculpting, Photographing, Printing, Designing, Drawing, Playing and Making. Keep your dreams alive and hang onto your creative energy.

 

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that but the really great make you feel that you too can become great. When you are seeking to bring big plans to fruition it is important with whom you regularly associate. Hang out with friends who are like-minded and who are also designing purpose-filled lives. Similarly be that kind of a friend for your friends.” ― Mark Twain

Do you have experience with Energy Vampires? How did you deal with them? Share with us and have a spooky Halloween…

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Artists. Are you a hunter in a farmers world? | Can we survive in a non creative system?

I can still vividly remember the cold dread of it. The shiny white plastic desks. The curled corner laminated yellowing posters on the walls. The vague smell of wee coming from the boys toilets next door. The icy squeeze of fear around my heart. The sinking feeling at the beginning of each lesson, knowing I would never be able to follow what was going on. Gazing out of the window across the playing fields to the trees beyond and wishing I was anywhere but here. .. This was C Block. My school maths classroom…

But there is another school room I remember. Full of light and interest. A calm place, with bunches of strange dried flowers in pots. Shelves of ceramics. Bright colour on the walls. Palettes stacked in the sink for washing and a smell not unlike baking eminating from the warm kiln. The school art room. My spiritual home…

Did you get into trouble at school for…

  • Day dreaming
  • Not concentrating
  • Fidgeting

Did you feel like an outsider.?

Another brick in the wall

Many artists have a very difficult time in the schools system. The education system is primarily there to create a compliant workforce for offices, factories and the industrial system. We often don’t fit in but we are made to feel that it is us who are wrong..

  • We emerge with our ego battered and the confidence knocked out of us. Our self belief is damaged
  • We are often told we are wrong/stupid/slow/unacademic/unintelligent/disordered.
  • We are often pushed into jobs that we are highly unsuited for because we are told “art isnt a real job. You will never get a job doing that. You can do art as a hobby”
  • Once trapped in these unsuitable jobs we can struggle mentally to stay afloat.
  • Our creativity becomes subsumed under the weight of everyday life and our creative light dims and flickers weakly.

A hunter in a farmers world

If, like me, you have always felt that your thought processes worked differently from the norm, especially when at school, I have found some interesting research recently.

Creativity may have a genetic component which has helped man evolve through creativity and language development. Research by Richard Klein, professor of anthropological sciences at Stanford University in California has pointed to the fact that…

A single mutation in a “creativity” gene less than 100,000 years ago led to the rapid development of art and culture and the ascent of Man, according to a controversial view of our early evolutionary history.

The mutation in a gene called “foxp2” – identified by British scientists in 2001 – caused an explosion in the complexity of language which underpinned the social and cultural revolution leading to the spread of Homo sapiens.

A fascinating book I am reading at the moment The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child by Thom Hartmann, posits that creativity is a component of a highly adaptive skill set traceable to our hunter gatherer ancestors. When our creative life force becomes too big for society, a creative mind can be mislabelled “disordered” or “disfunctional”, symptomatic of ADHD and drugged into compliance, but Hartmann’s book argues that these skills are in fact a positive which result in innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs…

IF we can just survive the school system and society in one piece…

Thomas Edison, the great inventor and creative mind, was expelled from school for behaviour which would probably have him labelled as having Attention Deficit Disorder. He went on to become probably the worlds greatest inventor, creating the electric light bulb, phonograph and motion picture camera amongst a plethora of innovations.

Leonardo Da Vinci was described as eccentric and impulsive and easily distracted, rarely finishing any of the paintings he started. Today he would very probably be labelled disordered and have a hard time at school… Back then he was recognised as a genius…

Hartmann describes having this creative skillset as being like “A hunter in a farmers world”, a very apt description of being an artist in society today.

Don’t be afraid to think differently…

Skills which aided our hunter gatherer ancestors, such as the ability to constantly scan the environment for danger, allow us to assimilate large amounts of information quickly and visually. We notice the details in life and can then combine them in non linear ways to make new and creative thoughts.

Our ancestors would have needed the ability to concentrate long and hard on finding food and hunting. We can discover this ability for extreme focus ourselves when we find something that truly engages us. Have you ever lost yourself for hours or even days in a painting and lost track of the passage of time, forgetting even to eat?

Conversely, the things that dont click with us are extremely hard to engage with {see my comment on maths lessons at the beginning of this post ;-)] and our creative visual mind will begin looking for other opportunities and brainstorming. {Cue getting shouted at by the teacher for daydreaming}

So why am I telling you this.

There are several heartfelt reasons for writing this post…

  • Because I have found it extremely interesting {and reassuring} to find research which describes in detail the way my mind works and explains a little of the possible historic background to creative thought and why we may be wired as we are. We are not the “weird arty kids”. We are the hunters who think differently. This is a GOOD THING.
  • Because it is an explanation as to why school may be tricky for those with creative brains.
  • Because too many creative people are told that their thinking is faulty when in fact it is society that is messed up…
  • Because too many artists are the square peg battered into the round hole in the education system and never manage to recover the initial joy they found in creativity as a child.
  • Because too many artists are forced into “proper jobs” which destroy their souls and make them ill, day after day, year after year…
  • Because it is never too late to nurture that creative flame and get it flickering brightly again, whatever your age.
  • And especially because we need to nurture the creativity of our children and help them find better opportunities and understanding than we were given when we were at school…

It’s not you… It’s the system…

The things that you have consistently been told are wrong with you, are actually YOUR GREATEST SKILLS.

The system is frightened of the kind of skills you possess and will try to supress them but you need to keep strong. They are the creative skills that are of VITAL IMPORTANCE in the emerging economy of the world. The education system hasn’t caught up with this yet.

Because the world desperately needs hunters, outsiders, and visionaries right now.

The people who have an unquenshable creative life force.The people who think differently. The people who have the vision of the way things could be. The people who don’t just toe the line and follow the status quo but who innovate and find a new and better way…

The creators. The thought leaders. The inventors, The entrepreneurs. The misfits. The shamens…

We have enough sheep. Lets go out and hunt…


Please share your thoughts and how you fared at school in the comments below…

NOW. PLEASE watch this wonderful, funny,  profound talk about creativity in the education system by the wonderful Sir Ken Robinson.

 

Image courtesy of tackorama.net

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Ignite Your Inner Flame and Learn To Fly

The Olympics and Paralympics have dominated the TV for the last couple of weeks. As an self-confessed “non-sporty” person who can’t stand watching televised sport {or sport of any kind} I was truly dreading the start of the Olympic media onslaught and had become very Scrooge-like about it, complaining that the Olympics had taken money away from the arts.  However, when the games started I was surprised to find myself moved and deeply inspired by the athletes taking part.

What I have enjoyed most are the stories behind the victories (or losses). The mental strength and the ability the athletes possess to keep going when the odds are stacked against them. The strength of mind, as opposed to physical strength that keeps them moving forward towards their goal.

The Paralympics has been especially inspirational for me. Competitors have had to deal mentally with life changing injuries, many caused by war or other acts of violence or other issues that make competing harder.

Paralympic athlete Martine Wiltshire competed at Sitting Volleyball at the London Olympics. She lost her legs in the July 7th terrorist attacks on the London Tube which happened the day after the Olympic committee announced that London would be the venue for the next games.  Martine was faced with rebuilding her life in a different form. She said of her Team GB selection “It’s a dream, and something that I never, ever thought I’d be doing, and a journey that I never thought I’d be on.” Read more on Martine’s story here.

It was magical to see the Paralympics opening ceremony dominated by art. One of the key moments was the centrepiece of Marc Quinns sculpture “Alison Lapper pregnant”

Alison Lapper Pregnant - Paralympics

This beautiful and dignified sculpture amazingly sparked a storm of controversy when it was displayed in Trafalgar Square in London.

Alison Lapper is an artist I have a lot of respect for and her story is one of determination. Born with the congenital disorder, phocomelia, which caused her to have no arms and truncated legs, Alison was rejected by her mother at birth and raised in children’s homes where she was treated cruelly by staff.

She taught herself to paint using her mouth and is a member of the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists group. Alison went on to  study Fine Art at the University of Brighton and graduated with a first class honours degree. Her work uses uses photography, digital imaging and painting to question ideals of beauty.

When she became pregnant, Alison was again told that she would never be able to cope as a single mother and should not have the baby, but again she rose to the challenge and has a beautiful son, Parys.

Alison and the Paralympians are a reminder that we all need to model this kind of self belief when the task of achieving our goals and dreams looks beyond our reach. Taking it one step at a time and believing in ourselves and that we can do it takes us a step nearer our goal every day

There are a few key things to remember when you are struggling to keep on track…

  • Surround yourself with positive people who support your plans
  • Conversely do your best to avoid contact with those who tell you it’s impossible
  • Find a possible role model who has achieved what you want to do. Study their methods and learn as much as you can from them. Look at how they got there and the struggles they had along the way and take inspiration and heart from the fact they got there in the end.
  • Set yourself goals – if you have a goal you know where you are going…
  • BELIEVE IN YOURSELF…
  • Have an open mind – you can find inspiration in new, wonderful and unexpected places…

Who is your inspiration? Share with us in the comments…

Image by Alison Lapper

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How To Keep Your Creative Flame Burning – 10 Top Tips

With everyday life bearing down on you it’s difficult to keep your creative flame burning.

Work, kids and general reality all conspire to eat up every last second of your time and cloud your thought processes, reducing your creative brain to mush.

It can seem impossible to find time to let your brain wander in the way that often leads to the best ideas. When you do get time to create you can find yourself with “white paper syndrome” leaving you in a state of panic as to what to do with your precious few minutes.

In this post I’ve gathered together a few ideas to help kick-start creativity.

One drawing an hour

Set a timer on your mobile and whatever else you are doing create a 1 minute drawing on the hour every hour. At the launderette? – draw your socks… at the pub? draw your pint… You get the picture. This really helps to force you to get creating. Even if the drawings aren’t great it’s the creative process that counts.

Photograph the small detail

Try and have a small digital camera with you at all times {mobile phone cameras are great for this} and be on the lookout for shapes, textures, silhouettes and details to photograph. Looking for these elements will make you more aware of the world around you and you will find beauty and inspiration in the most unusual places. The patch of amazingly textured rust on a car parked outside school when you drop the kids off. The spiders web on the bus stop shining and sparkling with frost. The flaking paint on a boarded up building you walk past every day on your way to work. Beauty and inspiration are everywhere. You just need to look.

Unplug & awaken your senses

Try and get away from the distractions of work/general life and awaken all your senses. This may mean walking away from the computer and doing something else. If you are stuck in an office, try and escape for a lunchtime foray into the park. Go for a walk and enjoy nature. Look at textures, notice smells {good and bad} listen to sounds. Pick up an instrument and play some music. Read a book, Awakening your senses can be really inspirational and lead to your creative thought processes flowing again.

Turn off the TV and go out and do something less boring instead.

Do you remeber the kids TV programme from the 70’s that advocated this? They were so right!. It’s so easy to slump in front of something mindless at the end of a hard day when the kids have gone to bed, but you often find if you don’t put it on, maybe listen to music instead you are in a much better place to get the creative part of your brain working.

It’s no secret that the TV is an absolute killer to creativity. Ignore its siren call. Put some music on and paint.

Learn a new creative skill

Learning a new skill which hopefully complements your existing skills will often re-energise your creativity. For example, as a Printmaker who specialises in Screen-printing, learning skills in Etching or Lithography would bring some new creative input to my process and possibly give my work a new dimension. Must get those courses booked.

Enrol on a course

Leading on from the point above – it’s a great idea to book yourself onto an organised course to learn a new skill. The fact that you have paid for the course will encourage you to keep going. I also find thatthe fact that you have “ringfenced” say 2 hours on a Tuesday night persuades you to go and do something and it’s not as easy to just get sidetracked by other things. Enrolling on a Life Drawing course or a learning a skill related to your work can be really inspirational.

Be inspired by Google

The internet is the perfect way to keep inspired by seeing new art. Set aside a few minutes to check out a new and exciting artist or reaquaint yourself with old favourites.

The Google Art Project gives you access to collections in galleries around the world and is an amazing way to visit a new gallery every day from the comfort of your desk. Why not make it a lunchtime break ritual?

Keep your sketchbook with you at all times

Maybe get yourself a smaller one that fits in your handbag – and keep writing things down. The funny conversation you heard in the dentists waiting room. The idea for a drawing that popped into your head as you were bored in a meeting. Make sure you record it all. There will be a point in the future when things are calmer and you have more time. Then you can go over what you have recorded and there will be some sparks of inspiration to work from. It will help prevent “White Paper Syndrome”

Get up early

This isn’t for everyone and the thought of getting up even earlier may be just too much… but I find I can have a nice half hour of peaceful time to think with a coffee before everyone else in the house is up. Well worth the effort of dragging myself awake. It works for me.

Just keep creating

It’s easy to stop being creative. Other stuff gets in the way and before you know it 5 years have gone by and you haven’t produced any work {believe me, I know}. The most important thing is to just keep going. Even if you only produce work very slowly it’s important to still keep making stuff and seeing yourself as an artist, printmaker or whatever you do rather than someone who “used to do a bit of painting”.

If you ever find yourself using that phrase to describe yourself at a party it’s definitely time to implement the tactics I have outlined above.

Please share with us in the comments what works for you to keep your creative flame burning.

Thanks to Tack-O-Rama for the fabulous retro image

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The Road To Success – Are You On It?

A little while back I wrote about the difficulty of learning a new skill and how you would have to navigate what Seth Godin calls “The Dip”. The bit of your journey where the initial optimism and excitement of what you are trying to learn wears off and you are faced with the steep and harsh climb up the cliff face of learning towards mastery. This is the bit thats unforgiving and just not that much fun. You have to dig deep and pull through it to get to the other side.

At the moment I am struggling to learn THE most difficult art related skill I have ever faced. Therefore I wanted to share with you the following WONDERFUL image which beautifully illustrates the struggle we all face when trying to learn new skills or improve our current ones.

I don’t know the artist of this image or when it dates from. I found it on the wall of a tattooists in Louisiana. Thats all I know, but a picture speaks a thousand words.

If you are struggling with your own journey, take a look and share it. Hopefully it will help you find your own path…

 Please click the blurry image below to see it in all it’s full size glory…

The Road To Success Selling Art Online

The Road To Success

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The one in which I confess I LIKE Thomas Kinkade…

Thomas Kinkade, one of the most prolific and successful artist in modern history is dead and right now I would like to stand up and confess that I like his work…

I think somehow it reminds me of the Christmas cards of my childhood featuring cosily lit victorian coaching inns generously sprinkled with silver glitter, a prancing coach and four pulling up outside bringing laughing travellers home for the holidays. The light eminating from inside the Inn beckoning you in to curl up by the fireside with a large dog and a hearty Pickwickian Christmas dinner. A glimpse of a warm friendly interior. A safely comforting feel.

No doubt millions of others got the same sense of cosy safety in an increasingly insane world. An idealised and beautiful landscape where nothing went wrong. Kinkade managed to hit the perfect emotional spot with millions of people, an estimated 1 in 20 American homes owning one of his images. If Kinkade’s work makes people feel a spot of calm or happiness where is the harm in that? He knew his audience perfectly and knew what made them feel good.

But I shouldnt need to “confess” to this should I ?. What is so terrible about liking the work of a popular artist? Why do I neel nervous about typing this?

Who says which art I should like ?

Art dictatorship and the taste police.

I also confess I have a softspot for artists who get up the nose of the art establishment… Despite his immense popularity in the eyes of his millions of fans Kinkade attracted an enormous amount of vitriol from the “taste police” in the art world.

The sheer hatred unleashed on him {and other “not-proper-artists”} by art critics is shocking to read. It reminds me of school kids bitching about and bullying the unpopular kid behind the bike sheds. Many of those same critics are now writing articles praising Kinkades understanding of art marketing and subtly reversing away from their previous nastiness in the light of his death.

Kincade appeared to be able to laugh off the criticisms but it seems sad that his brother believes his losing battle with alcohol was probably precipitated by the constant attacks by the art establishment on him and his work which he took more to heart than he showed.

Scottish artist Jack Vettriano attracts similar criticism. Here he is described in The Guardian newspaper.

“Vettriano is not even an artist. He just happens to be popular, with “ordinary people” who buy reproductions of his pseudo-1930s scenes of high-heeled women and monkey-suited men, and celebrities who fork out for the originals of these toneless, textureless, brainless slick corpses of paintings. “

I don’t personally love Vettrianos work enough to want to own it. However, I will defend to the death the right of anyone to be able to buy it without being made to feel like a brain dead idiot with the style and taste of a wombat.

Can the internet democratise art?

The art establishment has had everything it’s own way for a long long time. This has created a dictatorship where people are afraid to be seen to like the “wrong” art. Fledgling interest in collecting art can be paralyzed by the fear of making a “mistake”. Art galleries become intimidating “no-go” areas for fear of being made to look ignorant.

This increases the perception of art as being something “not for us” by many people and this can’t be a good thing for the majority of artists when more people need to be encouraged to buy art. The massive majority of potential new art buyers are outside the New York art scene and even the gallery system itself.

However, the good news is that with the increasing prevelance of art on the internet, collectors can find the kind of art that they like and the falsely dictated notions of “good” or “bad” taste in art are becoming fast outmoded.

There is a movement towards a democratisation of the art world. People can look online and find the kind of art that appeals to them rather than what they are told they CAN like by a sneering critic. They can then safely buy the art online without being judged or made to feel uncomfortable.

Viva la Revolución!

So it is time to be proud of the art you like… no matter if it is “critic approved” or not. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t like…

So… Just for the record I LOVE LOVE LOVE the work of Vladimir Tretchikoff, famous for his popular prints of exotic beauties which graced every UK front room in the 1960s and 70’s. – dismissed with scorn in his time and now viewed as modern classics.

Wayne Hemingway, in his book Just Above The Mantelpiece says of Tretchikoff  “He achieved everything that Andy Warhol stated he wanted to do but could never achieve because of his coolness.” The line between the two artists is very fine.

I also have a soft spot for Bob Ross and his fabulous “happy little clouds” and Norman Rockwell – once described as Kitsch – now viewed as classic American art.

The Last Word

The last word should go to art critic Louis Leroy describing a painting of a sunrise over water…

“A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more highly finished than this seascape,”

The artist he was pouring scorn on was one Claude Monet

Hmmm…

 

Which artists do you like that you “aren’t supposed to” ? Stand proud and share with us in the comments.

 

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Art School Lessons – How To Navigate The Dip

The art college foundation course I attended was run by a crazy & wonderful sculptor called Keith.

Keith had the looks and scariness factor of an old tattooed biker. He didn’t give two hoots for authority or “the rules” and did things his way.

On our first day (all wet behind the ears, nervous 17 and 18 year olds) he announced that for the first month of our course we would do absolutely nothing but life drawing. Cold fear struck our hearts. None of us could draw very well, having only just barely negotiated A level art.

For the next month we continuously drew models clothed, unclothed, walking, running, dancing to The Firebird and on one memorable occasion, suspended naked from the ceiling by clingfilm whilst some discombobulated and blushing men with clipboards from the local council attempted to measure the wall.

There were frustrations, dramas and tears but by the end of the month everyone had got a great grasp of drawing.

What Keith had done, with his rough hewn wisdom, was forced us all kicking and screaming through “The Dip”

Navigating The Dip

Learning a new form of art or a new technique starts out as exciting  fun. Then it gets harder and more serious until it hits a low point where it is no fun at all and you wonder if you will ever master it or manage to make it work. It’s frustrating and depressing. You cant see yourself ever getting better at it.

This is what Seth Godin calls The Dip.

Recognising you are in The Dip is half the battle.

Godin says that there are only three ways to deal with The Dip.

  • Get stuck in it
  • Quit it
  • Cross it

Harsh but true…

Masters of their craft struggled across to the other side

How do the people who are masters of their art get to be there? Did they wake up one morning with the knowledge of how to sculpt a perfect body in marble or paint a stunning portait in oils?

No, they struggled through the mental and spiritual wilderness that is The Dip, always keeping the goal in the forefront of their focus. The Dip is there to weed out the uncommitted. When you cross to the other side you are joining the masters of their craft who REALLY wanted to master it.

The Dip is powerful. The bigger the barrier the greater the reward for crossing it.

And maybe sometimes, quitting is the right option. If you realise something really isn’t for you then maybe it is time to stop struggling and find something you do REALLY want to commit to. The Dip can make you realise where you truly want to focus your energy.

Your Navigational Map

There are some tools that will be useful as you struggle across your own personal Dip

  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses. If one way over just doesn’t work for you, take a step back and see if there is another way you can achieve it more suited to your ways of working.
  • Cross with friends. It may be easier to cross in a team if you can find alllies who are attempting to learn the same thing and who can help you when you fall. Joining a group or class to learn may really help.
  • Study failure. Look at the people who didnt make it. Why did they fail? Study what stopped them and then you can attempt to avoid making the same mistakes.
  • Just RECOGNISE that The Dip is there and focus on getting through it. It’s not forever and you will emerge on the far side with your newly fought for skills.

So, next time you are expanding your creative repertoire, recognise The Dip and use these strategies to help yourself across it.

I’m truly grateful that Keith & my old art school helped me to recognise that The Dip was there to struggle across and the bold would make it to the far side….

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The Japanese Secret That Will Help You Achieve Your Creative Goals.

Do you ever feel just OVERWHELMED by what you are trying to achieve?

I’m currently trying to learn a new and complex creative skill which will take my art in a radically different direction over the next few years. At the moment I am in “depressing beginners phase” where each piece of work is “wrong” in some way, knowledge is guarded and hard to find and it feels like I will never be able to climb the precipitous learning curve to achieve the sweet upper slopes of mastery before retirement age. Great!

However, one thought keeps me going. The Japanese concept of KAIZEN or “continuous improvement”.

Kaizen – 改善

Kaizen – Japanese for “improvement”, or “change for the better” refers to philosophy or manufacturing practices that focus upon a continuous, never ending commitment to consistently increase the quality of products in every aspect of the business – every single day.
 

Sounds pretty dry and business oriented eh? But basically it means “getting better at stuff every day and not stopping getting better at stuff every day”

Well, that’s my take on it and Kaizen is not just for business. It is important in all aspects of life…

If you have heard of Kaizen before, like me you may have thought that it was originally an age old Japanese concept. Well interestingly, I just discovered that Kaizen was actually introduced to the Japanese by an American quality-control expert called Dr W Edwards Deming. He was brought to Japan after the second world war to try and help rebuild the war ravaged industry of the country. After the war, inflation, shortages and unemployment in all areas of Japan seemed overwhelming but by introducting the concept of Kaizen and continuous improvement every day, the Japanese people were able to overcome seemingly insurmountable problems to pull themselves out of the mire and become economically prosperous in a relatively short space of time.

Kaizen, creativity and your big plan…

When creating, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the scale of a task.

  • Perhaps you want to create monumental sculptures.
  • Maybe you want to create art works with collaboration on a global scale.
  • Possibly you want to learn a new and difficult creative skill.
  • Maybe you want to earn a living from your art in the next few years.

Whatever your big plan, utilizing Kaizen in your beliefs will help you achieve it.

In order to succeed you must have a long term focus. The beliefs you hold control your decisions and therefore your future. If you can hold on to the belief that you can constantly improve every day, each step forward takes you nearer your goal.

Persistance, trial and error and the zillions of tiny improvements you make along the way are what success is built on in the end.

Monitor your progress

At the end of each day, in order to monitor progress, ask yourself three questions…

  • What did I learn today?
  • What did I enjoy?
  • What/where/how did I improve?

The answers will allow you to take charge of your progress and to enjoy the fact that you are constantly moving forward, even when it seems little progress is being made. You will get there in the end.

I will leave the final word to my hero Thomas Edison

“I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward”

 

Have you used Kaizen to improve your work or achieve a goal? Do you think it will work for you? Let us know in the comments.

Post image by Nimbu under creative commons licence

 

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