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I was taking a week-long Deep Writing workshop with the extraordinary creativity coach Dr. Eric Maisel.
I've been writing for a long time now, so this wasn't a how-to class, it was more about connecting with my work on a deeper level. What I learned about myself is that I was ready to fully embrace the writer's life.
What does that mean?
It meant that I was committing to writing every day as a practice. Because that's really what being a writer is all about. Writing. It's not about being published. It's not about accolades or money. It's about sitting my behind in front of a blank screen every day and filling it with my ideas.
It's the same for all artists.
Consider your journey. It begins as an interest, a hobby. Maybe you've always made art? Maybe you've taken a break and just started again? But you suspect that this art thing is more than something you just do, it runs deeper than that. It feels like it's part of who you are.
The next phase happens when you start making good work. You've been doing it for awhile, but now something has really clicked. Your ideas start coming together, your work speaks to you and even to others. You begin to suspect that you might actually be ... good.
And then you don't.
One moment you're feeling great about your work and the next you're terrified. You struggle with confidence, with direction. And the only reason you keep going are those wonderful moments of clarity and connection. They're addictive. But life still gets in the way. You take a day off, and sometimes that day becomes a month or a year. Or more. But like a lover you can't resist, art keeps drawing you back.
And now you feel ready. You're tired of playing artist. You want to step into the role, to fully commit to becoming a Working Artist. But you don't know how.
This is where you devote your time to your practice. Maybe not every day, but a consistent schedule that you stick to. No more starting and stopping. No more allowing the fears and doubts to get between you and the work. You fully step into your Self. You become a Working Artist.
But what about money? How do I make a living? It's fine to be working every day, Crista, but artists gotta eat too.
You're right. And this is the question I get asked most frequently. How can I make a living from my art? Everyone seems to think there's a magic formula to this stuff. And they're right.
Do 3 things each day toward marketing your work.
It could be a blog post, contacting a gallery, or researching grants. It could be a social media update, writing a new Artist Statement or planning an Open Studio event. It could even be taking an online workshop like The Working Artist.
Really Crista? Three marketing tasks a day? It's that easy?
Yes, it is. They could even be teeny tiny tasks, that's what I do, but at least it's forward movement.
Great talent and wishful thinking does not equal a business strategy. And we are talking about a business. But remember, the quality of your results depends upon the quality of your actions. So writing a half-hearted Artist Statement and stopping at the first draft because you hate writing, or sending blanket e-mails to galleries because you're too shy to contact them properly, or relying on The Google for your professional information because it's easy, aren't going to give you stellar results.
To play in the big leagues, you've got to up your game.
What I know for sure is that small consistent steps will deliver the results you seek. And I'm not alone; Dr. Eric Maisel preached the same formula at my writing workshop.
Understand that it takes time. And there's no final destination. Once you achieve your professional goals, you'll set new ones. Marketing has become part of your practice.
Whether you're ready to fully embrace your role as a Working Writer, a Working Artist, or a working anything, you've got to commit yourself to the work itself. And to bring it out into the world, you've got to commit to the tasks that will take you there.
This is the magic formula to success. So now the question is, what are you going to do with it?
I'd moved to England three years earlier, living in a small town in the country. It was pretty, but also pretty lonely. Facebook was my closest friend.
And it was on Facebook that I first met her. We were both American expats, she was living in London. We each used Facebook to share our creative work, and I quickly became a fan of her poetic posts.
We also shared a mutual friend; the boy who grew up across the street from me in Arizona had met her when he went off to art college in Maine to become a painter. The art world, I find, is a small world.
She and I admired one another's work and then, on a whim, decided to meet in person.
It was like I'd known her for years, her grace and calm beauty matched her lovely poems and we giggled at all the same things. A friendship was born.
It was when she invited me to her London flat that my admiration was cemented, I drank in every detail. I'd never fallen in love with a flat before. Could she be any more cool?
Yes, Companion and I had flirted with the idea of moving to London ourselves, but the city was suffering an epic housing crisis. There was just no way.
Until I received a message from my Facebook friend. She wrote, "My job is taking us to New York for three years, maybe more. We love our home and want someone to look after it, someone who loves it too. We'll give you a great deal. Will you come to London?"
It was shortly after moving into The Most Beautiful Flat in the World, that I went home to Arizona for a visit. I was talking to our mutual friend, the boy who grew up across the street from me, and I told him that I'd moved into her flat. Her, the girl he'd known at that Maine art college all those years ago. He laughed.
"Do you remember the painting I gave you," he said, "when I came home from college?" Yes! of course! I know the one, the painting with the beautiful angel. I've proudly hung it in every house I've ever had. I love that painting.
"That's her," he said. "She was my model when I painted it."
It seems she's been my angel all along.
We've lived in this flat for three years now and not a morning goes by that I don't say "Thank you" the moment my eyes open. It's magical.
But I guess that's what happens when your landlady is an angel.
Donna Skaropoulou is a painter. Originally from the U.K., she traveled to Greece in her early twenties, and there fell in love with the sounds, scents and colors of Mykonos. She stayed: married, had children, and it wasn’t until 2005 that she opened her gallery and studio Lifeline Art Studio.
Donna became aware of The Working Artist through a circuitous bit of serendipity when she stumbled across the website of an artist who shared much of the same background as her. She was impressed with this artist’s work and her story.
That artist, Ceridwen Jane Gray, had been on of Crista’s earliest students and was enthusiastic about the impact The Working Artist had on her career. So Donna took the leap and gave The Working Artist to herself as a birthday present.
“My biggest problem was a lack of confidence,” said Donna. “I was terribly ill-prepared for the business side of things. If anything, running the studio freaked me out. But now it’s the business side that fills me with the deepest sense of satisfaction! Because now I’m free to do what I love most. And I know that I can trust my ‘safety net’…my website, my online profile, my blog.”
“I’m all set,” she continues. “My walls are covered with artist statements; my desk is covered with prints, gift postcards and my business cards. Even if I’m not in the studio they continue to work for me, to represent me and my art!”
Before taking The Working Artist, Donna admits that she was not the best ambassador for her own work. She was too shy, too self-protecting. When she started taking the steps that Crista outlines in the course, “it changed everything.”
Donna feels strongly about artists who wonder whether or not to take The Working Artist. “It’s probably a good sign you need to.”
“Once you’ve gone through all the steps,” she says, “it becomes a joy. The business side is fun, and you gain so much satisfaction.”
“At the end of the day, an artist wants to be understood. If you don’t work through these steps, you’re going to be isolated. With the guidance plan prescribed by 'The Working Artist', what began as a practice of 'escapism' has grown into a journey of discovery - a journey no longer walked alone, but in the company of many. Discovering Crista Cloutier's online workshop was pivotal for me, both as an artist and business owner. I've never looked back - except in wonder!"
I've just returned from the funeral of my dear friend Evan. Saying good-bye has got to be one of the most difficult challenges we face in life, especially when we look back and see how much that person has influenced us.
I've worked in and around the business of contemporary art throughout my career. I sold the work of artists I represented to museums and galleries and collections throughout the world. My job felt "important" and everyone agreed that I was "successful."
But I wasn't really feeling it. And couldn't understand why. I just figured something was wrong with me.
Then one year for my birthday, my friend Evan sent me a gift-wrapped package. On the card he wrote that this was a photograph by a great artist, someone who hadn't yet been discovered, but needed to be. A talent that I should pay attention to.
Inside, I found a framed photograph that I had taken.
As artists, we seem to spend an awful lot of time listening to our critics, the people who tell us our work is crap, we'll never make it, we should get a "real" job. We categorically remember every slight, every discouraging prediction, every bad review, each failure.
But it's those people who support us, who nudge us toward our light, that we should really be paying attention to. It's their words we need to follow and hold tight.
Evan's gift served to point me away from the world's opinion and back toward my true self. I'm sure that you have a friend like this too.
Don't wait until you say good-bye to say thank you.
In business school, they talk about The 6 Stages of Entrepreneurship. But in art school, they don’t even use the word entrepreneur.
Artists are entrepreneurs. That’s the truth. And it’s the difference between the old economy and the new.
But artists have always been entrepreneurs; they’ve had to be. Though instead of The 6 Stages of Entrepreneurship, I believe that working artists experience The 6 Stages of Initiation.
Stage One is that moment the spark is lit. You just know you want to do this one thing, all the time and do it really well. You want to make stuff.
The Second Stage is when you want to know everything, because you’re suddenly aware of how much you don’t know. Every time you look at your work it’s glaringly obvious to you. You’ve got nothing but questions.
So at Stage Three, you learn. You learn everything you can about your craft, about your practice, about your ideas, about your voice, about your self.
And then that spark comes back again, and suddenly you can’t be stopped. You connect with your work and it’s a pleasure like no other. Ah! Stage Four.
And then they come. Your people. You’ve been waiting impatiently since the start. But you forget; building an art career is a marathon, darling. It’s not a sprint. It takes time to get to Stage Five.
And then you find yourself one day looking into the eyes of a young artist, all lit up from that heady initial spark. She’ll be asking you questions about everything, because she wants to know it all right now. You’ve arrived at Stage Six, sharing your knowledge.
Now you understand that everything has its time. And that in the art business, sometimes lessons must be learned the old fashioned way; you’ve got to work for them.
These are the Artist’s Six Stages of Initiation.
Enjoy your journey!
Though we'd never met before, I was just as excited as if I were meeting an old friend.
She'd read my blog post about the first artist I ever met. He was a blind man, who taught me how to see.
More than art, my friendship with Andrew led me to a path of spiritual inquiry that I continue to follow today. Andrew was my first real teacher.
Andrew was her father, she said. He raised her until she was 10 years old, when her mother took her away.
She's 20 now and looking to know more of this man whose memory still burned her heart. She heard he'd had pancreatic cancer years before. We each mourned the loss.
As fate would have it, she and I would both be in Phoenix the following month. We agreed to meet.
I knew her straight away. Her face glowed with the same beautiful energy as Andrew, both inside and out. I whispered to Andrew's ghost, "If only you could see this beautiful girl! And she's an artist just like you."
She was hungry to know about her father. I was honored to tell her.
I shared all the stories I had of that man who came into the diner where I poured coffee when I was just 17 years old. In spite of his sight being largely taken away when he was a boy, he drew beautiful desert landscapes with fields of color. We became friends, and he opened my eyes to see the world more deeply.
I cried as I spoke, overcome by sadness that Andrew was not there instead of me, telling his stories to her for himself.
And then she said that Andrew might be alive. She showed me a clue, and then another. Before we knew it we were in my car, driving like mad, to the last place she was able to trace him.
It was the last place I ever expected to find Andrew, to be honest. It was ugly, decayed, dogs growled menacingly behind weary chain link fences. "Andy," I thought, "What happened to you?"
She pointed to a grim structure that was boarded up. We peeked into the backyard, strewn with trash and overrun by weeds. We both closed our eyes in pain. But she pointed out the raised garden beds and paintings on the tree trunks and we smiled at one another, "He's been here!"
Only one neighbor would speak to us. Andrew had been there. But we were too late now. He was gone. The man told us that Andrew drank. A lot. He'd been taken away, gravely ill. I never knew Andrew to take a drink. But I knew that losing his daughter would have left him hopeless.
My own father died of drink. The fact that I was never able to say goodbye has always haunted me. I looked at my friend's beautiful daughter and vowed to give her story a different ending.
We studied the clues again and were able to piece together enough to track his family. "We may be too late," I warned her, but prayed that her story would conclude happier than mine.
I tracked down Andrew's brother on the phone, and tears came when he told me that Andrew had recovered from his ordeal and was once again thriving.
Andrew's brother was anxious to meet his niece. I gave him her number and danced in happy anticipation of a beautiful ending to this story.
But then my phone went silent. Nobody wrote.
Andrew's family embraced his daughter and closed a circle around her. They did not know me - so they shut me out. And why shouldn't they? I wasn't family. This was not my story. It was her story.
But I became obsessed with finding Andrew myself. I wanted to take Andrew to his daughter in that way I could never do with my own father. I wanted to write this ending.
But I had forgotten, it was not my story.
His brother had mentioned the area where Andrew now lived. I drove the streets frantically, asking everyone if they had seen a sight-impaired artist named Andrew.
The postman asked, "Does he walk with a cane?" Yes!
The bus driver asked, "Is he fit and suntanned?" Yes!
The neighbor asked, "Does he have long hair?" That's him!
It had been 20 years since I'd seen Andrew but I was certain that if I followed each clue I could control the outcome, I could make it happy.
But this wasn't my story. And, as it turned out, it wasn't Andrew. When I finally tracked him down, the man whose trail I had followed so obsessively turned out to be someone else. I was chasing the wrong blind man.
How many times do we chase stories that aren't ours? Do we get infatuated with things out of our control because we're so attached to the ending we want? How many times do we chase the wrong man because we're blind to the truth?
I finally let go.
I won't say it was easy. I struggled with not writing the story I wanted. But I learned to trust the truth that time would tell.
And then, the night before I left Phoenix to return home, my telephone rang. A once-familiar voice said, "Hello Crista? It's me, Andy."
We talked for hours, picking up right where we left off, as old friends do. Time fell away. My fears no longer mattered. Andrew had taught me once again how to see.
And this is my story.
To read the initial post about my friendship with Andrew that led his daughter to me,click here.
And if this story speaks to you, please SHARE it!
Hello, my name is Crista Cloutier and I am an obsessive list-maker.
To be fair, lists have gotten me pretty far. It's been a few years now since I first started dreaming of creating an online business school for artists. And, after checking off literally thousands of tasks on hundreds of lists, I launched the first official session of The Working Artist last October!
But since then, new ideas and opportunities have been coming fast and furious. One thing I've learned is that not everything needs to be dealt with RIGHT NOW, so I put those things aside in folders marked NEXT for the next session.
And then it was time! Time to start preparing the next launch for the Spring session of The Working Artist. And I looked at all the pieces to be put into place and began to weep uncontrollably.
That's where I was, right at the center of Overwhelm and Freak Out, when I was visiting my brother over the holidays.
He told me to breathe, and gently reminded me that he works as a Program Planner for Mission Planning Systems. He helps the Navy put systems into place. He could certainly help me with The Working Artist launch.
My kind brother then carefully took me through the steps of the "Military Planning Approach."
It was brilliant! I took notes, drew diagrams; this could work! Wow! I loved the Military Planning Approach! Who knew that the military could plan so well?
Once home, I pulled out all of my notes taken at my brother's house, only to find that I had inadvertently grabbed my nephew's calculus homework instead.
"Don't panic," I told myself, "You've been obsessing about the Military Planning Approach ever since you first saw it. You can remember the steps."
And so I did; step-by-step just as my brother had told me, I put together a comprehensive plan for moving forward. The next session of The Working Artist would be even bigger and better than before. And it was completely within my grasp!
I wrote to my brother of my success. I told him how I'd introduced the Military Planning Approach into my consulting practice, sharing his process with other artists - and how they embraced it too! And I proudly detailed the system just as I did it, just as he'd taught me.
"Err, that's not the Military Planning Approach," he replied. And he then detailed each step; complete with:
Course of Action Development
Course of Action Analysis
Decision and Concept of Operations
Transition to Execution
Hmmm.... that all looked sort of familiar...
But my system focused on motivation, reflective questions, pretty pictures, and holistic structure that emphasized insight and feelings.
Gosh, I thought as I looked at my planning system, my brother's right. This couldn't possibly be how the military makes decisions.
I'd gone rogue.
I'd taken the Military Planning Approach and churned it through my Artist Brain until it came out wrong.
But then I realized that this is what artists do.
We break rules. We bend materials to suit our needs. We create something personal and unexpected out of what was. We take left-brain material and move it to our right brain, making something new and different.
Some may call us outlaws, misfits, renegades, complain that the strange way our brains work is all wrong.
But I say that's only because our brains are right.
When I worked in the art business I talked on the telephone constantly. So much for the glamorous life, who knew that cauliflower ear was an occupational hazard for art dealers?
But I was moving and shaking baby! I needed to be on that phone. I couldn't be disconnected! My phone defined my life.
I recently read a study suggesting that our iPhones have become extensions of ourselves. When separated from them we get anxious; our heart rates increase, blood pressure soars, and we get all antsy.
That was me.
But I finally did disconnect when I moved to France. There, I still found it difficult to stop checking my phone but now it was always the same answer. Nothing.
For someone who'd made a living from talking to people, it was strange to find myself with no one to talk to. But my days of wheeling and dealing with gallerists and collectors were over. And without the phone at my ear, I was forced for the first time to listen to my own thoughts.
Eventually, I would hang up my phone and learn to embrace the peace of living alone in the French countryside. And this is how I fell in love with the sound of silence.
Today, with my return to civilization, people expect me to be married to my telephone again. They get alarmed when it takes me a few days to notice a text or check my messages. I constantly leave my phone at home and don't even notice.
I understand that it's time for me to connect now. I have responsibilities and decisions and deadlines. We live in a dangerous world and phones can help us stay safe.
But my feelings about the telephone have remained on hold. I can't bring myself to start jumping at its ring again, or allow it to sabotage my attention.
We don't define artists by their tools, for tools are only there to serve the message. Art is communication. And real communication comes from the heart. That's the only call I want to answer.
Jack was 90 years old and still the town rascal
I first met Jack when he came to my rescue in the pub. I had just moved to England, to Tunbridge Wells, a small town outside of London.
Hearing my American accent, the Brits were having a go at me about the war. World War II that is. I was trying to hold my own against disgruntled Englishmen still angry that they had to fight the Germans on their own for two years before the Americans swooped in. “And saved you!” I explained. But they weren’t having it.
Suddenly an old man slammed his beer on the bar and shouted “I was there!” and all went quiet. That was Jack.
Jack loved Americans. He loved us because, as he said, England was losing the war and the Americans made all the difference. He remembered how terrifying it was to be so close to defeat, and he pointed his finger at each of the geezers in the pub as he told them how he’d always be grateful to Americans for the victory. Then he bought me a beer. And thus our friendship was born.
Over the years I often ran into Jack. Sometimes at the pub, other times I’d see him toddling out of the bookmakers after placing a bet, or shooting billiards with the local sharks. On weekends he was known to visit the nightclubs and dance with the kids. And every Tuesday night you could find him at The Guinea Butt pub for Karaoke Night, where he’d sing his song, “My Way.”
Jack was always surrounded by a harem of (relatively) younger women as he made his rounds. I never did find out their relationship to him but like a uniform, they all crossed their arms and wore the same disapproving frown as they followed him from one vice to another.
The last time I spoke with Jack he told me a little bit about his childhood and what life was like in England 90 years ago. At first, he waxed nostalgic but after a few beers, his secret came out.
When Jack was 11-years old, he won the big swimming meet. “Your parents must have been proud,” I said.
He nodded, his face aglow with beer and memories, and for a moment I could see him as an 11-year old boy again. “The newspapers wrote about me. They called me ‘Boy Wonder Swimming’.” He bragged.
Then suddenly his expression turned dark. “But I was a fraud!”
He explained, “There was another boy, Bob Osbourne, he was a better swimmer than me. He could have easily won that swim meet. But he had mastoids, see? And so his parents pulled him out of the water. And I won the swim meet. But Bob Osbourne could have beaten me. I knew it then and I know it now. I was no ‘Boy Wonder Swimming’. No matter what they said.”
I often think about Jack and his shame over being Boy Wonder Swimming. I think about him when I meet artists who tell me that they’ve won an award, made a sale, or been accepted by a gallery, only to have them then belittle their own achievement in the next sentence. “I didn’t really earn it.” “It’s not very much.” “It’s not important enough.” And I’m saddened that these small moments of glory cannot be celebrated, that blessings are cursed. Like Jack did with his swimming award.
Recently, I returned to Tunbridge Wells and went to the pub looking for him. But the locals just shook their heads. Time finally caught up with Jack and he’s gone now. Tunbridge Wells will never be the same.
But Boy Wonder Swimming or not, Jack lived a good life. Not many 90-year olds can carry on as a teen-ager. Jack did it his way.
My wish for you in 2015 is that you do it your way. No apologies. No playing small. And celebrating each and every success.
"For what is a man what has he got If not himself then he has not To say the things he truly feels And not the words of one who kneels The record shows I took the blows And did it my way"