What’s in Your Bag of Tools?

Isn’t it strange
That princes and kings,
And clowns that caper
In sawdust rings,
And common people
Like you and me
Are builders for eternity?

Each is given
A bag of tools,
A shapeless mass,
A book of rules.
And each must make –
Ere life is flown
A stumbling block
Or a steppingstone

The poem, A Bag of Tools, written by R. L. Sharpe (1870-1950), is timeless. Here we are, with perhaps more tools than ever before. Are our tools a stumbling block or stepping stone? What are your book rules?

Here’s actress Maggie Smith reciting Sharpe’s poem. Video provided by UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland).

A Few Guidelines for Forming a Critique Group

Photogram by Mary Gow
In my last blog post artist Ines Kramer mentioned the importance of having a critique group. Nancy Mizuno Elliott, who is in a critiquing group with Kramer, says it helps to have some guidelines in the first meeting. Here’s a few of her suggestions:

1. Clarify what the group is and is not. It is for critiquing each other’s work. It is not a therapy group and it is not a business group.

2. Use a timer for critiquing sessions so each person gets equal time.

3. Make group participation a requirement. Bring food if everyone is supposed to bring food, help with hanging the group’s shows, etc.

4. The group decides how many absences within a given time period is unacceptable. For example, 4 absences in six months means you will receive a “bye-bye” email.

5. At the first meeting have all agree that each is ok with receiving a “bye-bye” email.

“You have to make sacrifices for community and support – and for any kind of relationship,” said Elliott.

Three Tips for Emerging Artists

I was sitting about four feet from Oakland-based artist, Ines Kramer, as she spoke to group of artists preparing to become more visible in the art world. Her short dark hair and features reminded me of a younger Billie Jean King, the tennis pioneer.

Kramer had a calm confidence about her as she expressed her passion for art. She said wants to be like Henri Matisse (1869-1954) who painted to his last days and continued to create though he was bedridden in his final years.

It was more than a decade ago when Kramer had a job that ended and she then found herself able to produce enough income from her art to cover her monthly expenses. So she kept going. Gained more recognition. And kept going.

Among the wisdom she shared are some tips for an emerging artist:

1. If you’re looking for art galleries to sell your work, pick places you like and check them out first. Walk in and see how you are treated when you walk in. Are you treated with courtesy? And be up front with the gallery, don’t act like a customer if you are an artist. Don’t interrupt the art gallery personnel if they are in the middle of a sale.

2. Don’t jump at the first chance to show your work. First produce a few bodies of work to see who you are before you have the pressure to sell.

3. Find or form your own regular critiquing group. Ween yourself off of the automatic support system provided by school’s structure and classroom environment. Kramer has consistently been in critiquing groups since she left school.

Coincidentally, Kramer studied art at one of my favorite places, the Art Students League in New York. You can see her work at www.ineskramer.com. She definitely exudes the Art Spirit!

Where Do Opals Come From?

Yesterday I was scanning a feed I get from allbusiness.com and “Create a Memorable Customer Experience by Telling a Story,” by Glenn Ross, caught my eye. In this article Ross shares how he used to manage a mass market retail jewelry store. When customers would ask where opals came from he told an entertaining story about how the Universe was created instead of going into the factual contents of opals. Ross ended the article saying many purchases are based on emotion, not logic.

Best selling author and business blogger Seth Godin emphasizes the power of storytelling in his book “All Marketers are Liars, The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World.” But he says marketers also have responsibilities within these stories that include being true, to make a promise and follow through.

The opals story is another in a series of many that emphasize that storytelling is an important part of not just marketing, but any kind of human interaction.

In “7 Best Pieces of Advice for People Who Want to Move Past a Rotten Childhood,” Tracy McMillan’s (a television and film writer who recently wrote for the Emmy Award winning series Mad Men) first suggestion is to get a new story.

Is it time to rewrite your story?