…And Why is That Important?

Why does your art matter? . #hylsnaps #hylsketchbook #hylartboss #animation

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Most of us don’t know what to say when faced with this question.

Especially for the 4th or 5th time.

Most of us have never thought to ask ourselves more than once.

I suspect it is because we haven’t really figured that out ourselves so this question would expose that.

The reason to ask yourself this over and over is to make you think deeply about why you are doing something and reveal what you are thinking.  And why your work is important enough for other people to pay attention to it, fund it or buy it.

Your answer to this question is the seed of your mission.  From this, you build your tagline, your pitch, your grant proposal narrative.

I asked one artist to tell me why his art was important.

“I create art because I have a message to share with the world,” he said.

“And why is that important?”  I asked.

“Well, I have something important to say,”  he said.

“And why is that important?”  I asked.

A moment passed.  Then, he said, “It could help people, maybe show them something new.”

“And why is that important?”  I asked.

He shifted restlessly in his seat, thinking.  “Seeing something they never saw before, or even imagined… it could change them, make them experience things differently…”

“And why is that important?”  I asked.

“If my art could give people a new experience, it could change them, make them feel and connect on a deeper level.  They would change how they go through life.”

“And why is that important?”  I asked.

“Life,” he paused, and finally said, “is too short not to live every single moment deeply and fully.”

Now that is very different from his first answer.

Millions of people have something to say, a message they want to share with the world.  If we allowed ourselves to receive all of these messages, we would be in a constant state of bombardment and overload.

We decide what we are going to pay attention to.

To get a grant as an artist, it is not enough to have passion, skills or a message.  But by asking yourself this question over and over, you will discover something else: impact.  You will know why your work is vital, why it has to happen now, and why the world will be better for it.

You will have a reason for someone to take note of what you are doing.

And this is important because…

 

How Your Focus Can Change Your Life

 

People don’t read.

If you are lucky, they will scroll slowly.

People don’t listen.

If you are lucky, they will eavesdrop.

Is this a consequence of being surrounded by relentless noise in our daily universe?

Is this a sign of a deteriorating intelligence?

Is it simply bad manners gone viral?

What is lost is an unimaginable amount of meaningful connections, synergies, serendipities, and masterpieces.  By not investing fully in the moment you are in, whether you are talking to someone, tying your shoelace, writing your novel or talking a walk, your energy is dissipated leaving you with a fleeting shell of an experience.

What if you didn’t carry around a hundred thoughts in your head or multitask your way through your day?  What if you just did one thing and told yourself that was OK?

I did an experiment years ago to see if I could devote 30 days, one month, one entire January, to memorize one Beethoven piano sonata.

Piano Sonata in D major, Op. 28 “Pastorale”

Composed: 1800-1801, dedicated to Count Joseph von Sonnenfels

To make that happen, I had to rearrange a few things in my life.  I found myself practicing 2 hours a day.  I didn’t realize when it happened but soon I found myself at the piano 4 – 6 hours, comparing recordings of Vladimir Ashkenazy (the Bruce Springsteen of the classical piano world in my opinion), and Maurizio Pollini, and humming the melodies from each movement in the shower.  To get the music into my fingers and my muscle memory, I played the music over and over by rote, starting from the last section and working my way backwards to the beginning.  I felt the shape of the music in my hands, the sound of it in my ears, every note became a familiar vibration.

An odd thing happened during this month.  As the music deepened, it filled every part of my life, everything else became a background.  I had a big purpose, a wonderful goal and something inside of me squared its shoulders and said, “You can do this.  You must do this for every sonata, every thing you want to make your own.”  I loved what I was doing.

That was the true gift of those 30 days.  Knowing what it takes and actually living it, doing it, breathing it and making space in my life to make it happen was a life changing experience for me.

People are capable of doing anything they want to but are often so unwilling to do the one thing it takes to make it happen.

What is that?

Focus.

This way of being will take you deep into the one thing you choose to do.  You will be tempted by distractions, friends, a million excuses to abandon your solitary pursuit.  You will be thinking about lunch, bingewatching something on Netflix, knocking off a little bit earlier to go to the gym.

“Focusing is about saying No.” Steve Jobs

But like most things in life that are worth doing, turning your focus inward, tuning out the temptations and taking yourself deeper in your work will bring you to that place known as “the zone” or “flow” where you will love being and doing what you are passionate about.

 

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.” Bruce Lee

Here’s 3 things you can do to get started:

Choose one thing.

What is one thing you would love to do?  Give yourself the gift of making that happen.  Choose something you feel you can accomplish in a set amount of time.  I love all of the Beethoven piano sonatas but there are a lot of them so I chose one to memorize,

 

Give yourself a number.

For me 30 days was a good amount of time and January was a good time of the year – post holiday, pre spring. It is easier to convince your mind to do something for a limited amount of time.

Tell someone what you are doing.

Once your project is outside of you, it becomes a stronger reality.  The person you share this with will keep you accountable, cheer you on and pick you up when you fall.

“The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” Alexander Graham Bell

Focus is your superpower.  You can do anything when you use it.

 

If You’ve Lost Your Creative Mojo, Ask Yourself: What Would Stravinsky Do?

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Confession #1:  I love wearing yoga pants

Confession #2:  I love/hate doing yoga

Because of yoga, I can stand on my head.

Upside down, I feel closer to Igor Stravinsky (he was never able to compose unless he was sure no one could hear him and, when blocked, stood on his head to “clear the brain”).  This is a man who heard a new musical language and composed the groundbreaking ballet and orchestral work, Le Sacre du Printemps. Its premiere, at the Théâtre de Champs-Elysées on May 29, 1913, conducted by Pierre Monteux, had such a shattering impact on every musical tradition that, to many people, it was the sacrilegious work of a madman.

Stravinsky composed the work in a rented house in Clarens, Switzerland, in a tiny room with just enough space for an upright piano, a table and two chairs.  He had many of the same obstacles that you have: limited time, money, creative blockage, self doubt.

It is comforting to see that great artists wrestle with the same challenges we all have to do the work they are passionate about.  Everyone does it differently: some artists need a challenge before they start creating, some artists need to create something as a challenge.

“Time is short, my strength is limited, the office is a horror, the apartment is noisy, and if a pleasant, straightforward life is not possible then one must try to wriggle through by subtle maneuvers.”  Franz Kafka, in a letter to Felice Bauer in 1912.
  

Kafka is one of many novelists, poets, playwrights, painters, philosophers, scientists, and mathematicians, who have somehow discovered ways to overcome the many (self-inflicted) obstacles with (self-imposed) daily rituals to get done the work they love to do.  Some do it by waking early or staying up late; some meditate; some self medicate with doughnuts and drinking vast quantities of coffee, or taking long daily walks.

Time is one of my challenges.

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.”  Leonard Bernstein

In theory, that should work: I have a plan and never quite enough time.  I know adding commitment and self discipline will bring about the best results.

What has worked for me are the following:

Get up early

Write or draw for 90 minutes before work

End with an unfinished sentence or sketch

“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck … That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.”  Ernest Hemingway

Make a short list for tomorrow

Stand on my head if coffee is not close by

Thank myself

 

This becomes a habit after a while.  I find myself waking up without an alarm and getting sleepy earlier every night. The world is a magical place at 5:00 am between the moon fading and the sun rising.  You may be the only one awake in your home but can take comfort knowing you are in good company with other creative minds doing what they love to do.

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Hoong Yee

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About the Author: Hoong Yee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.

Battle Your Demons in 3 Simple Steps & Take Back Your Power

 

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An artist told me that one of the best things his chiropractor ever did for him was to tell him to ask one question whenever he felt stressed.

“Ask for something.”

What you ask for can be something you probably don’t think you have the right to ask for.  In his case, it was time.  He was at the beginning of his career and said yes to almost every project that came his way, even if it wasn’t the right thing for him.

His fear of missing out on an opportunity or not knowing how he was going to pay his bills was a relentless anxiety that drove him to the point of becoming so stressed with pains in his body  that he went to see this chiropractor on a steady basis.

Many people are paralyzed by options.  Rather than be completely present in the choices they have made, their eye is constantly on the horizon wondering if they made the wrong choice or worse, they say yes to everything because they don’t know how to say no.

This will inevitably result in overwhelm and a good measure of self doubt that can often trigger physical pain and discomfort.  

When we’re anxious and stressed, it’s easy to look at all of the tasks that lie ahead of us and become overwhelmed. At times, we’re stopped in our tracks and completely shut down. We have reached our breaking point. At this point, anxiety is very high, and our ability to cope seems very low. The good news is that we have the power to prevent ourselves from breaking.  Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC

Big stress

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When overload hits, it feels like the walls are caving in on you.  Despair and helplessness usually follow and if you are like me, the knot in your stomach can make you crumble.  Left alone to our already overworked imaginations, we picture a scenario that grows bigger and darker with no way out.

At this point, your fear can really do real harm to your mental and physical well being and the one person who is allowing it and who has the power to stop it is – you.

Which is why the question the chiropractor recommended is so important.

Ask
“It’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s the way you carry it.” -Lena Horne

This artist asked for more time.  He was drowning in deadlines.  He could not possibly deliver high quality work at the promised times and he needed more time.

When he did ask, it made a tremendous difference.  In fact, it changed his world.

He realized it is OK to ask for help.  It is not a sign of weakness or amateurism or anything bad he had imagined in his head to ask for what you need.  In his case, people were willing to give him the time to complete the project because they believed in him and they were invested in the success of it as much as he was.

Something else changes in your relationship with your fear when you raise your hand to ask for help.

You are no longer a powerless victim.  You have taken one step to overcoming your gremlin.  You have claimed your agency to changing the power dynamic.

Once you have done that, you can take another step.  And another, until you have taken back your castle and banished the gremlins.

Make a list

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You will need a lighthouse to guide you out of the storm.  This is something you can do by sitting quietly, taking a few good deep breaths and writing yourself a list of just 3 things you can do to make things better.  Not 5 or 10 things, just 3.  It is more important to give yourself momentum with a few small successes in the beginning.  Cross each thing off your list as you do them and really celebrate each one.  You can add more things once you have completed your first 3 if you need to.

Why this works

The combination of putting out a request for help to the world and building your lighthouse changes the energy of your situation.  

You are attracting people to rally around you, not as a helpless victim, but as someone who is pushing ahead with a goal.  People are good about being helpful and actually want to be part of a bigger goal if you ask.

Having your list of things is a powerful weapon in your hand you can wield against the gremlins beating you up and your path to success.

Do this

I recommend you follow these steps as soon as you start feeling stressed:

  • Acknowledge the gremlin

“Ah, there you are,”  you say to the demon pushing the walls down around you.  “I see you and I know what you are doing.”

Size up the gremlin in practical terms without allowing your fear and imagination to make it bigger than it is. Once you do that, you will know exactly what you are up against and what you need to do to overcome your challenge.

  • Ask for help

 

Remember, people are helpful by nature.  Let everyone around you know what you need and how they can help.

  • Make a list

Write yourself a short list of 3 things you can do right way to solve your problem.  Completing these things will get your momentum going and restore your confidence in your own power to change your world.

Life is full of gremlins.

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But they are no match for you, your people and your list.

 

Advice for MFA Students

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As you work towards getting your degree, chances are you are wondering about what happens next.

How will you get your career started?

What will your life be like?

Here are 5 things you can do right now that will help you get started, make you feel better and won’t cost you more tuition:

 

1. Get out more

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In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks. John Muir

Get out of the classroom, get out on your feet and go somewhere.  See somebody else’s work, go to a museum, take a long walk in a new direction.  Physical activity is the body moving against gravity.  If you keep moving, you will be healthier, happier and run circles around gravity. Creative activity is your soul moving against a different kind of gravity.  If you keep practicing, you will build up your artistic muscle and rise above gravity.  Let your feet and your eyes open up new experiences, and unexpected opportunities, for you.

2. Find a few friends to cook for

 

Cooking for six people every day is like having a cafe. Linda McCartney
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Learning a simple dish or two is a great way to save money and eat well.  If you can gather some friends to cook for, it is a nice way to spend time together, show work, talk about your projects, and your ability to cook can help really help you couchsurf when you need to. Look up some Youtube videos (try Tasty Videos ) or check out some cookbooks for beginners in the library like these Five Best Beginning Cookbooks recommended by LifeHacker. Here’s tip: One pot dinners like one pot cajun shrimp and pasta are super easy!  You will be feeding your stomach and your soul.

3. Be part of something

 

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The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.

Norman Vincent Peale

The secret about success is that it isn’t about how talented or artistic you are, but what you have to share with people – your ideas, your personal posse, your willingness to be helpful.  Forget about everything you have accomplished and think more about how you can contribute and help grow the group of people around you. A subtle but powerful psychological shift happens when you stop asking what other people can do for you and you ask what you can do for them.  You begin attracting the success you wanted in the first place.

4. Share something everyday

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“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” ~Vincent Van Gogh

How do some artists have these tremendous audiences for their work?  If you think success came overnight, you are wrong – and right.  Creating a substantial body of work happens over a lifetime.  If you are like me, that amount of years and months just overwhelms me.  Try working with 24 hours, one day at a time.  At some point during the day, stop whatever you are working on, where ever you are in your process and share a small piece of that with the world. Maybe that is a preliminary sketch of your finished piece, or an early color study, it could even be about the tools you choose to use and why.  These small daily pieces are like scenes from a dress rehearsal or the director’s commentary while the show is being created.  People love to “look over the artist’s shoulder” for a chance to see the creative process in action.  A little every day, and overnight, can become big.

5. Talk about yourself

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“So, what do you do?”

If you answer, “I’m an artist,” the next question will probably be, “Do you actually make a living from your art?”

Consider these questions as an opportunity to redirect people from focusing on what’s on your name tag and your income bracket to telling them what your passion is, who it is for and why – a much more interesting conversation.

Here’s a quick fill-in-the-blanks sentence to help you get started:

I do WHAT for WHO so WHY.

For example, the one I use is this:

I write & illustrate picture books

for children of diverse backgrounds

so they can see themselves reflected in American literature.

You never know, you may be talking to someone who may want to buy your work or introduce you to a friend who runs a gallery.

Keep it short and intriguing.

 

OK, now what?

  • Finish school
  • Have a dinner party with your friends and colleagues to share what you are working on, encourage each other and try out that awesome shrimp and pasta recipe
  • Post something you’re working on
  • Take a long walk
  • Talk about yourself

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HoongYee

20140603_142704

About the Author: HoongYee Lee Krakauer helps artists & creative people grow their careers with great grant writing strategies & mindsets she has developed over 15 years as an veteran grant panelist, grant maker & grant writer. Get her FREE Master Grant Strategy Worksheet and a weekly dose of insights from a grant reviewer’s point of view.