Archive for No Artwork – It’s All About Me!

Silencing Your Inner Critic

Nancy Smeltzer,art quilter and fiber artistI don’t know about you, but when I first started out in making art quilts as my way of expressing my creativity, I had a chorus of naysayers going off in my head. “That’s not good enough!”, “You’re never going to get in a show!”, “Who do you think you are trying to compete with X?” were some of the more popular tapes that played on and on in my head. I describe this onslaught of negativity as the “itty, bitty, shitty committee”. Don’t you just love that name? Go ahead; borrow it; I did.

However, what I came to realize through my spiritual work, is that these voices are of my own creation. These inner critics may have kept me safe when I was little, but playing small doesn’t feel very comfortable to me as an adult. I don’t need validation from a peer group any more like I did in high school. During that time in my life, it was hard enough just to survive the pressures placed on me. Now, I am comfortable in my own skin, so for the most part, those critics have been silenced.

Now, how did she do that, you might be asking? For me, it was through healing a specific pre-natal event in the spiritual work that I do that the voices were turned off. I had no idea the cacophony of self-doubt that was going off in my head until those voices were silent. However, if you don’t have a similar method in your own process, some self-examination can go a long ways towards giving you courage to put you and your art work out there in the public.

What are your own special strengths with regard to your own art form? Listen to what people repeatedly say about your work? For me, it was “Look at all of those little tiny beads!” and “How long does it take you to finish your work?” are some of the frequent comments that I hear. At first, I was a little insulted, as I wanted to be known as an ARTIST, and not the technician that I felt that those remarks implied. However, if you keep hearing the same responses over and over, then there must be a message there for you with regard as to how you’re being perceived. Then, capitalize on those aspects! I frequently interject that 1 square inch of heavy beading with size 10 beads is one hour’s work. People are impressed that in this day of planned obsolescence, someone would take that much time in the creation of a work of art. After reviewing my list, which at first took a while to generate, I could start the self-dialogue and say… “OK”, I thought, “I’m not a total loser!”

Now, look at what you feel are your weaknesses. which for me were the strongest voices. For me, one would be that it takes so long to finish a piece, (4-6 months for some of the larger ones), and thus I have to charge quite a lot to make the work economically viable. Now try and re-frame that perceived weakness as the positive, flip side of the two sided coin of your perceptions. Taking too long became look how long it takes to complete one of my art quilts, and how rare it is today to find someone who still does handwork with that much detail. This method of re-framing has worked well for me in how I present myself to others, and how I feel about myself and my work. It also keep the little inner chorus muffled when they try to resurface.

I would invite yourself to explore why those voices are still going off in your head. What are you trying to protect yourself from? In the spiritual healing work that I do with my clients, I find that no matter what the presenting symptom might be, there’s usually an underlying fear buried, perhaps many, many layers down. Here is when a peer review, a support group, or a trusted mentor can go a long way in helping to unearth those blind spots around ourselves that we all have. What may be totally out of your own awareness may be blatantly obvious to someone else. Blind spots aren’t called “vaguely fuzzy spots”. When it’s one of your core issues, I find that I’m incredibly good at keeping that aspect of myself “blind” to me.

So here’s to silencing that chorus in your head that’s keeping you from moving forward in your personal endeavors. I experienced such relief when my mind went silent. What had been there before was the constant drone of conversations that occasionally I would be aware of. I invite you to find your own path to do the same and live your artistic life the way you were intended to be, free and with a heart wide open.

What methods have worked for you to silence your inner critic?How do you feel that you’re being held back by your inner naysayers and what insights do you now have with regard to their nagging voices?

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com

Creating When You Don’t Feel Supported

Nancy Smeltzer, art quilterI’ve always said that I would create art if I were alone on a desert island, even if the only one to see it was me. Give me some coconut shell buttons, a few sea shells pierced with holes, and I’d be making something, as the need to create is that strong in me. (This Nancy gets really “ancy” if she doesn’t sew every few days.) However, an artist likes to feel validated by a supportive audience, and what do you do when those closest to you hate your art? Such was the case with my ex-husband.

I grew up being given lots of art supplies, as my mother said that as long as I was busy, I would stay out of trouble. I’m also one of the few people that I know of (besides my brother and sister), who was told by my mother every day growing up how much I was wanted and how special I was. My every little endeavor was extolled to the heights, so I grew up thinking I was “pretty hot stuff”. Then I met my ex-husband to whom I was married for 22 years. He hated my work. His style is what I call “Scandinavian Naked” with regard to his furniture choices, so when I moved in with my scrolled antiques, it made for quite an interesting mix. He also felt my art work was too “busy” (translation =  too much stuff) and he was certain that the floor in the upstairs bedroom I had claimed as my studio was going to cave in because of the weight of all my treasures.

To his credit, he did support me financially in the summers when I wasn’t getting paid for my other job, teaching 7th grade science. That was when we got to travel, and I got to places that I would never have been able to do so without him. He was also more than happy to show off my work to others who admired it, especially when I got a piece in the American Residency in Stockholm. ( A classmate of his from Georgetown and he were classmates of President Bill Clinton, and the wife of the Ambassador loved my work.) So despite my husband’s sometimes very visceral distaste for my style, I continued on anyway.

Then he left, and I had to cobble together a new life. Having been somebody’s daughter or somebody’s wife for fifty years, it was not easy. The art quilts done right around that time were very ephemeral in appearance, as I certainly was not grounded in this world. My life, as I had known it was falling apart. However, as I began to pursue my spiritual path, and find my own way of being in this world, my work took on much better and stronger composition. As a result, it photographed much better, in  my opnion, and I got into a lot more shows… or at least that’s my take.

I’m sure that you realize that you’re only hearing my side of the story,and I’m also sure that my ex would have a different spin on what I’ve written. Howver, whether it’s about exhibiting in shows or listening to painful feedbacl,creating art and then putting it out into the world is not for wimps. It takes a great deal of courage to pour your heart and soul into a piece, and then have it criticized, especially by someone close to you. Peristing past those odds is often what’s needed to keep the creative juices flowing. I wish for all who find themselves in a similar situation to find your own inner strength and create your art because it pleases you.

How have you felt when your work was criticized? What did you need to do in order to continue creating and give yourself a distinctive voice?

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com

Rejection Letters One Inch Thick

Nancy Smeltzer, art quilterThis is the first in a series of stories about how I feel about my art work, what I’ve gone through, and how and why I’ve kept creating my art quilts. This stories are all about me.  This particular one is a story of perseverance and believing in yourself, when no one else does, and I seriously mean, it often felt like NOBODY did.

After getting my MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, ( a very good art school in Baltimore, MD, USA)  I figured that it would take about a year to get myself established, and make enough money from my art work to quit teaching 7th grade science to 11 & 12 year old kids. Since I had graduated near the top of my class, I felt that there was no reason to expect that I wouldn’t continue to receive the accolades that I had gotten while in art school. This was the mid-70s, and the fiber world was bursting with innovative work, and my specialty, art quilts, were starting to be accepted into fine art shows. Pioneers like Nancy Crow and BJ Adams, both of whom included me in some of  my first art shows, were blazing trails as fiber art became more accepted. Then, the big reality set in for me!

I started sending out submission slides (and the requisite entry fees) to any exhibit that seemed halfway reasonable. I spent my money and took my chances. The trouble was which world did I fit into as far as quilting was concerned? There were traditional shows where excellence was judged by the number of quilting stitches/ inch, and how neat the backs were. (The standard that everybody was shooting for with hand quilting was 10 stitches/inch.) Then there was messy me, who strove to make an artistic statement with fabric just as some one would with paint. Collision! I wasted a lot of entry fee money applying to shows for which my work was just not suited. That was when I started my stack of rejection letters.

Early on, I decided to keep all of my rejection letters from exhibitions and galleries to which I submitted. My intent was to keep me humble, but little did I know how thick that stack was going to get in the 30 years that I’ve been a professional art quilter. It took no time at all to acquire enough to wallpaper a small bathroom. One of the more memorable rejections was a rubber stamped message on the cover letter that I had submitted with my slides for consideration to a gallery inNew York City, which read, in red ink, “We’re not interested in your work.” At least, everybody else had a form letter with at least some civilized version of “Thank you for submitting your work for consideration for (our gallery/our exhibition) but we feel that it doesn’t fit into our artistic needs at this time.” A polite “kiss-off”, but at least those people  were professional enough (and kind enough) to have a form letter at the ready.

So over the years, the rejection letter stack grew and grew so that it’s now 1″ or 2.5cm thick. (The acceptance letters that I get go into individual files named for the event, with whatever other info is needed for that specific venue, such as shipping dates, catalog information, and other information particular to that event, so there’s no one “Acceptance” file.) After a few years, for every 10 rejection letters, I would get one acceptance.  A one inch thick stack of single sheets of paper is a lot of rejection! At least back when I first got started, you would get a few lines from the judges as to their thoughts on how you can improve your work. That’s not the case these days, so you’re left to wonder why you got left out.

Having sat in on a few juries and curated a few shows myself by now, it could be something as simple as it’s at the end of the day and they’ve already chosen too many purple pieces. While the judging is usually anonymous, especially in local shows, a particular artist’s style is so well-know that of course, she gets included. I have also since learned how to judge which shows my pieces have a chance at being in by looking at what’s on the Net for previous shows. Some my work just won’t fit in. I’ve also gotten way better at taking digital photos, as they’re everything in making the judges’ decisions, so as a result, my acceptance letters are at the rate of 4 acceptances for every 1 rejection.

If you’re a beginner, and just starting the show circuit, I hope that you won’t get discouraged by your share of rejection letters. It takes a while to develop your look and your voice. Gallery owners especially are looking for a body of consistent work that fits into the look of their store and is priced at an amount that you both can  make money on. (After all, if they go out of business, there goes a source of income.) Here’s hoping that you continue to grow as you move forward with your art work, and may the rejection letters start to equal out the acceptance ones.

What’s been your experience with rejection letters? How have you dealt with them?

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com