I walk through cemeteries for serenity and inspiration. Instead of finding them creepy, I find them clarifying.

An angel at a grave in Chicago.

An angel at a grave in Chicago.

The art on the headstones as well as the poetry or frankness of the eulogies intrigue me. In addition to the basic “who” and “when” on the headstone, the additional text or the art within the cemeteries conveys the funereal expectations of the dominant culture.

When I lived in the North End in Boston, I lived across from Copps Burying Ground Cemetery. Robert Newman was the sexton in the Old North Church, who hung the lanterns on April 18, 1775 to communicate “one if by land” and “two if by sea.”

He is one of the patriots buried in Copps Burying Ground.

HEadstone of Robert Newman, patriot buried in Copps Burying Ground, Boston.

Headstone of Robert Newman, patriot buried in Copps Burying Ground, Boston.

From season to season, on the top edge of his headstone people left coins, American flags, notes, and other mementoes. It was very moving.

Sometimes when I visited and there were no coins, I added a handful from my pocket so other visitors who came after me could experience the remarkable pondering about the practice that I experienced each time.

Also, in Copps Burying Ground is a headstone that has been re-purposed. The front marks the passage of a child. A six year old girl, as I recall. Yet, on the reverse of the headstone is cursive writing that apparently was associated with another grave.

A re-purposed headstone. The "current" information is on the opposite side.

A re-purposed headstone. The “current” information is on the opposite side.

At some time, the headstone had been unearthed, cut to a new smaller shape and carved on the opposite side.

Very thrifty of these Bostonians 150 years ago.

An additional photo of Copps Burying Ground, North End, Boston, MA.

An additional photo of Copps Burying Ground, North End, Boston, MA.

The tomb of President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding is a huge edifice. It signifies the contemporaneous popular opinion of a president who died in office. If it were built today, it most likely would be a less formidable shrine. Although, it is magnificent, so I’m glad it was about 90 years ago.

The tomb of President and Mrs. Harding in Marian, OH.

The tomb of President and Mrs. Harding in Marian, OH.

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View of the columns and steps leading to Harding’s tomb.

In Paris, a photo of the tomb of Madame Marie Curie, as well as the tomb of Napoleon. In the image of Napoleon’s tomb, for scale, notice the people standing in the upper-center of the photo.

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The tomb of Napoleon.

The tomb of Napoleon.

The stairway leading to Napoleon's tomb.

The stairway leading to Napoleon’s tomb.

The Bohemian National Cemetery, Chicago, had rows of headstones identifying the departed. Many from the late 1800s and forward had Slavic names. The ornate detail on some of the headstones was reminiscent to me of Ukrainian eggs.

Detail in granite at Bohemian National Cemetery.

Detail in granite at Bohemian National Cemetery.

The patterns carved into the stones convey the artistry of the crafts persons, and a point of view of the fleeting moment of life on earth.

Many headstones showed leaning or fallen crosses or trees.

A leaning cross symbolic of the sacrifices of Christ and the fleeting nature of life.

A leaning cross symbolic of the sacrifices of Christ and the fleeting nature of life.

Trees fallen during a storm at the Bohemian National Cemetery. (Summer 2012.) Also indicative of the fleeting nature of life--as well as the power of storms in the Midwest.

Trees fallen during a storm at the Bohemian National Cemetery. (Summer 2012.) Also indicative of the fleeting nature of life–as well as the power of storms in the Midwest.

Ironically, actual trees that had fallen in a recent storm in the cemetery replicated the symbolism and the drama of crosses on their sides as well as the frequent example of concrete molded to suggest the steadfastness of old noble trees, and presumably of the individual buried there.

Molded concrete popular in the Bohemian National Cemetery.

Molded concrete popular in the Bohemian National Cemetery.

There were many examples of exquisite detail in the carving. One is illustrated in a tile wall accentuating an urn at a dramatic headstone.

Elegance and beauty at a grave site

Elegance and beauty at a grave site

This decorative artistry is in contrast to the sleek, no-nonsense flat headstones at many contemporary cemeteries.

Or, as discovered in a tiny little cemetery outside a teeny little town in  Minnesota, illustrating the practical side of their Norwegian and Lutheran heritage: a brief expression of a cause of death in a headstone says, “Died from a live wire.”

Cemeteries provide a pastoral canvas to display art, to convey the aesthetics of a culture at a point in time, and ultimately to leave many questions unanswered.

Cemeteries can inspire reflection and renewal, and can connect us to culturally instructive, brilliant art and craftsmanship.

My sincere gratitude to all the friends and families of the departed (as well as the countrymen and governments) who chose to commemorate their loved ones and leaders through the sculpture, poetry, and permanence of these headstones, tombs, and cemeteries.

In a tech-savvy, texting-obsessive world, are thumbs and poking fingers at keyboards all we need to create a visual representation of our thoughts? I spend as much time as anyone on keyboards and on smart phones. But, allowing cursive writing to disappear is a shortsighted mistake.

As fallout of the No Child Left Behind law of 2001, and similar legislative standards, penmanship and cursive writing were not being tested. “Increasingly schools gear curricula to excel” at tests that grade the schools, ABC News summarized in an interview with Kathleen Wright of Zaner-Bloser, a publisher of education writing materials.

Since we teach to the test, it became easy to erase cursive out of the classroom with a big “PinkPearl” eraser. (Note the irony that the logo on the eraser is in cursive).

The iconic “PinkPearl” eraser. Identified with its cursive title and distinctive shape.

I taught English at the college level and have volunteered in elementary classrooms, and I “get” the struggle to fit everything into the academic day with all the (outrageous) administrative expectations we put on classroom teachers.

But, a comment to me while I was in the state archives of the Ohio Historical Society got me thinking about the entire topic. The comment was, “With kids not learning cursive, they have no idea what these historic documents say.” Cursive documents can appear like a pattern of undecipherable curls and loops, rather than representing words and thoughts.

My First Argument:

I remember how challenging it was for my younger son to learn the Roman alphabet. As a first-grader he brought me a sheet of his own hieroglyphics and told me he wanted to use his symbols for words and reading. He understood that characters stood for words, but he had a hard time with Roman characters. Eventually the fact that he thought differently paid off for him. Now as a filmmaker, he is able to process and solve problems either globally in a right-brained process, or with more literal linear left-brain thinking.

But his hieroglyphics posed questions for me. There was more to the significance of him bringing me his hieroglyphics than I could completely comprehend then or now.

I believe that in that example somewhere is one of the reasons why it is important to teach cursive. Maybe it is a “black swan” sort of concept. Understanding or being exposed to more sets of hieroglyphics introduces us to the notion that there are others alphabets out there: Roman is not the only alphabet. It introduces the possibility of protocols and systems that exist beyond your native 26-letter plan. To get the drift of the magnitude of this notion, Google “how many letters in the alphabet?”

But in the context of this discussion, what else is learned from reading, writing and specifically cursive writing? Having taught art to elementary kids for a dozen years, I know how fine motor skills for some youngsters is excruciating.

Some cursive text from a journal my grandfather carried in Italy as he traveled through Europe in 1900. He is discussing Renaissance art and the same paintings, sculpture and churches I visited more than 100 years later. Seeing the text in his own hand is very powerful. Can I absorb more of my grandfather’s personality by the energy and grace he conveys through his cursive handwriting?

Yet, the act of connecting the brain to the hand to physically create words taps into different parts of the brain than typing. Anyone with minimal typing skills can talk while typing. Yet, anyone who has spent time writing on a chalkboard while talking knows that it is more difficult. The process of connecting our hand with a tool and moving it physically to shape the letters is overruling our ability to simultaneously talk and think about different words than we are writing. Interestingly science concurs: Brain scans of students who were a “hands-on group” showed greater stimulation in the area of the brain associated with “language comprehension, motor-related processes and speech associated gestures,” than the group that had used a keyboard.

Anne Mangen associate professor at the University of Stavanger’s Reading Centre was quoted in the ABC story to say, “Handwriting seems, based on empirical evidence from neuroscience, to play a larger role in the visual recognition and learning of letters.”

I know, as an artist, I cannot be involved in serious painting and talking at the same time. Tapping into your right brain, which I theorize is done by using a tool in your hand and physically, muscularly creating a shape, (and not by typing) is an important physical connection to allow creative thinking to be nurtured.

There is sort of nirvana-like state  in creating art when you as the left-brain, analytical thinking person can disappear and there is an exquisite harmony of, I presume, the artistic right brain and the connection of your internal energy to the tool in your hand. You are not even aware that you are creating something. It is not conscious. It is intuitive and almost dreamlike. Time is suspended and the entire world consists of your subconscious and a connection between the tool that is making the marks. In my experience, at that point, my art is beyond my abilities—or truly beyond my conscious abilities. I have done a lot of typing and this has never happened at a keyboard.

For those who may be artistically inclined, the process of competently using a tool—crayon, pencil, pen, brush, or rasp, requires thousands of hours of eye and hand coordination. If we never put tools in hands—except for smart phones, screens and keyboards—will we lose our ability to create art?

Two Pretentious Pumpkins.

This painting is part of my “Maladjusted Vegetables” Series of paintings depicting “vegetables with an attitude.” There was a great deal of alliteration involved in the little stories I made up about each of the vegetables featured. But in the context of this post, I created this alphabet–or some would say, this font– to augment the whimsical quality of the paintings. The “whirliness” of the cursive added to the silliness of the mood of the painting.

My Second Argument:

An entirely different argument raised for me by this question of cursive was: is cursive another language and therefore a natural way to introduce bilingualism to our students?

The study of other languages, allows us to step outside our assumptions and try on someone else’s culture—learn what they value, their sense of humor, their sense of courtesy, their idioms and slang. Additionally, to learn that there exist hundreds of alphabets that have no relation to the Roman alphabet can be an eye opener. Cursive in itself—similar to the sheet of hieroglyphics my son brought me so many years ago—can be an entry point to expanding one’s thinking to understand that these protocols of sticks and curves, characters and icons, are representations of words and concepts.

For example, it has always fascinated me how kids make the jump from looking at a stylized drawing of an apple, let’s say. And we repeatedly say “apple” in the A-B-C book to the child. Then we show her an apple to eat. Somehow the concept of the iconic representation of the flat, two-dimensional picture in a book is translated within her mind to equate to a three-dimensional delicious sweet fruit. Perhaps the apple that is put in her hand is even sliced up and without its skin, so it has virtually no relation to the visual of the apple in the book. But because we as humans can grasp these abstract thoughts, even tiny toddlers can allow these two vastly different concepts to merge into one word and the three-dimensional reality of a wonderful fruit. I think exposure to different alphabets creates another portal to abstract thinking. Where would math and science be without abstract thinking—let alone art! How could the Internet even exist—as well as smartphones?

Summary:

I don’t know what the long-term effects would be of eliminating cursive, and I’m not sure anyone does. But I recommend we continue to teach it. If not in schools then somewhere! I think it is valuable not only for hand-eye coordination and fine motor development but for the time it gives a child to let her mind wander and think creative thoughts. And for the grounding of the abstract concept that these different symbols represent the same words as the Roman alphabet. I’m an advocate for those who are attracted by it and find it faster, easier or more beautiful and for the ability to create a signature. But also to allow us to continue to decipher our founding documents, diaries and correspondence of our history.

What do you think about cursive?

For some great information on cursive and penmanship, and a wonderful video about the value of teachers and good writing, go to: http://www.zaner-bloser.com/about-us/history

Here’s a paragraph from the site about a developing “penman” in America: “In 1888, Charles Paxton Zaner founded the Zanerian College of Penmanship in Columbus, Ohio. The school’s curriculum included courses that prepared students for careers as penmen, who, at that time, wrote by hand most of the documents used by business and industry. The school also trained students to become teachers of penmanship, illustrators, engravers, and engrossers-specialists in the kind of ornamental writing used for diplomas and certificates.”

Sample of the type of pastoral depiction of the flowers, crops, trees, etc included in this series. I no longer have images of most of the paintings. Although I still own at least one of the paintings.

Blackberry Jam: Understanding the Cosmos

A number of years ago I was working on a very detailed series of large watercolor paintings – (32 x 22” and larger) when a disaster threatened to destroy a very important painting. This painting, that I had been working on for about 40 hours, was due at a juried show, and the unexpected catastrophe nearly cost me my place in the exhibit.

The painting was one in a series that told my concept of using quilts as an analogy for the Midwest. The premise was that the Midwest with its patchwork-like fields, sometimes very geometric, sometimes crazy-quilt like—had many characteristics in common with actual quilts—and vice versa. For example, both carried the traditions of the family who worked them, they represented Midwestern values of hard work, family, respect for materials, and thriftiness. They both endured for generations. On the other hand, they both could be at the mercy of outside forces—many a disaster could befall either and virtually within an instant they could be gone—tornadoes, floods, financial ruin.

With that as a premise, I created a concept to represent these parallels and risks by including in each painting elements of a quilt – but including an element that has blown apart, become deconstructed. Then I also included an iconic Midwest scene, frequently a flower—such as an iris, sunflower, black-eyed Susan. Or I included a building such as a grain elevator. Or a bird (red-winged black bird). Or a crop (like the corn shown in my painting included here in this post).

Part of the drama and the conflict within the painting was that there was this visual tension between the traditional pastoral depiction to the Midwest icons, and a hard-edged, bold graphic abstract intensity to the quilt block elements of the painting.

I had finished the “keystone” painting in the series, a painting with sunflowers, bold “Marilyn Monroe lipstick red” colored quilt blocks and an intimate depiction of two young sisters on a tricycle in a mid-1950’s era. The painting had taken hours and hours, and now was complete. It needed to be framed and go to a gallery for an exhibit the next day. Since a painting takes about 24 hours to dry completely, I had finished with minutes to go. So, I decided I needed a celebratory snack. A piece of toast with blackberry jam sounded ideal. With snack in hand, I sat examining the painting laid on a low table in front of me. The corners of the quilt blocks had to be absolutely crisp and perfect–difficult in watercolor. The washes in the subtle blends of the sunflowers had to be brilliant, clear and transparent—also a mark of an accomplished watercolorist.

Somehow as I was evaluating the painting, the toast with blackberry jam, launched itself from my left hand and landed face-first (jam side down) on my painting. Absolutely aghast I was completely speechless, stunned, incredulous and dismayed. As someone who gets quiet and strategic in the face of disasters, I took a moment to compose myself and then strategize as to how the heck I was going to get blackberry jam off the face of this painting.

Needless to say, I learned a lot about:

  • Disaster as a motivator to creative problem solving.
  • Understanding in watercolor, you go with the flow and allow the materials to tell you how to solve a problem.
  • Inventing techniques to resolve a creative/design opportunity.
  • Avoiding panic when a plan will get you out of the “jam” so to speak.
  • Appreciating the cosmic sense of humor.

It all worked out, the painting won an award and now is residing in a private collection in Bethesda, Maryland. But to me, the underlying lessons were: expect the unexpected; you are not done with the painting until it is hanging in the gallery; expect the cosmos to have the last laugh.

Since the point of this series of paintings was in part to call attention to the fact that a disaster could at any time hit the Midwest or a quilt– or apparently a painting of a quilt and the Midwest– the irony was not lost on me.

Ah yes, oh mighty cosmos– I get it. I get it.

Being an artist takes courage. To really get into the deep muck of being an artist you have to conquer your fears and allow yourself to be put out there—by your own doing. You have to grapple with challenging the conventions of normalcy. The creative process might involve the sometimes brutal slamming together of unknowing, wallowing, passion, apathy, indolence, depression, confusion, genius, inspiration, method, fear, nausea, light-headedness, and this insistent pounding from within to create something.

When you feel this drive in your belly to create something it pushes, pushes, pushes. Sometimes the process is less obnoxious—your muse might pop into your head with a quiet little ray of sunshine—it’s quieter, but not necessarily less insistent.

Once you acquiesce and give in to the insistence of this drive, you can be sucked into discussions you don’t want to have with yourself, and crammed into rooms in your head you don’t want to visit. And yet, there you are. It can pull you down a staircase and through a crowd of ideas that seem oh-so-easy-to-solve and past those off-the-shelf solutions and onto the bare stage of confronting the reality that you have no idea how you are going to solve this creative dilemma.

Confidence and lack of confidence show themselves with wild abandon in your work. Independent of your intentions, they flaunt themselves. It doesn’t work to fake it. There have been occasions in my painting career when I thought; Hmmm…I’ll stop here. I don’t know how to solve this now, but maybe in a year, I will. I knew I couldn’t fake it. I just had to wait it out.

It is weird, outrageous and courageous to stop; to pull the brush off the paper and step away. But when I did, a year later, the solution came to me, and I finished the piece.

Along those same lines, they say, the Leaning Tower of Pisa had a couple of “holding” patterns while artists and engineers (and city finances) determined how to solve the lean. During the construction in 1173, they figured they could just sort of straighten it out as they went, but it didn’t solve the problem.

(There’s sort of a weird subtle kind of curve to the outside edge of the tower as you can see where they attempted to accommodate the leaning).

They waited hundreds of years, until a new idea came along. Benito Mussolini wanted it straight and yet that effort actually made it worse. so again they waited to allow more engineering and more scholarship to devise a solution, The tower was closed in the 1990s with a precipitous lean; the risk was accelerating. They waited knowing that a better idea to solve it would eventually come along. An intricate plan was crafted in 1998 and was fussed with until almost a decade later. In 2007, the Tower was straightened to its 1838 position—a lean they feel comfortable with… for now.

Yet it is “problem solving,” patience, battles over disciplines and ideas, along with the courage to try something that produces the art. It may involve jumping the chasms of fear and managing the clashing of ideas to distill a solution—that’s how the creative process sometimes works. It is a process though, which I often find confuses people. It’s not just a random serious of sparks until a flames ignites. It’s more like childbirth. It may be painful and chaotic, but there is a journey through a tunnel and then you see daylight.

Another example of courageous problem solving is depicted in this video of Boston artist and sculpture, Janet Echelman giving a TED talk on her journey with her art. Her work is breathtakingly beautiful and almost stupefyingly astonishing.

She was confronted with a challenge to create art with unfamiliar materials, then her brain took her to places she had never intended to go, and she continued to problem solve until she created airy, ephemeral, gossamer mists of art—more like floating music than actual 3-dimensional art.

Janet Echelman's sculpture, Museum of the Center of Europe, Vilnius, Lithuania, Permanent Collection, completed August 1998. "Trying to hide with your tail in the air." http://www.florencelynchgallery.com/janetechelman.htm

As expressed in her TED talk, her courage to keep pressing through empowers me. Her humility humbles me. Her vision allows my mind to be carried away of her floating billowy art and to imagine once again that anything is possible.

Re-emerging from Obscurity

It’s a thrill to learn that American painter John Marin is being rediscovered, talked about and featured in important new exhibitions: Maine’s Portland Museum of Art (through Oct. 10) and Atlanta’s High Museum of Art (through Sept. 11). Marin has enthusiast admirers–such as myself–but for some reason after once being in the same stratosphere as Jackson Pollack, Marin fell out of the primary discussion.

The first time I saw one of his watercolors, I was instantly almost dizzy with an incomprehension as to how an American watercolorist could be so far away from traditional composition and how childlike yet…je na sais quoi… complicated, his watercolors looked. It was a far step from how watercolor art “should” look. They say he painted over 2500 watercolors. Really no surprise there. His ease and confidence with the medium demonstrates his mastery.

Note: this is one of his oil paintings: John Marin, (Rutherford, NJ, Dec 23, 1870 - Oct 1, 1953, Cape Split, ME), Grey Sea , 1938, oil on canvas, 22 in. x 28 in. x 3/4 in. (55.88 cm x 71.12 cm x 1.91 cm), National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1987.19.1 . For podcasts on how to appreciate some of Marin's paintings go to: http://www.portlandmuseum.org/Content/6048.shtml

At the time I was a  neophyte to American Moderists, and I found his point of view completely intoxicating. It was riveting and world changing for me as a watercolorist and artist trying to figure out what a style and point of view meant for an artist.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article This WSJ article is a great article; please click link to read it... he was described as, “A bold colorist who viewed the American landscape through the kaleidoscopic prism of cubism, Mr. Marin conveyed with identical precision and sympathy the nervous angularity of lower Manhattan (“City Movement,” 1940) and the ceaseless turmoil of the waves that break on the coast of Maine (“Outer Sand Island, Maine,” 1936).”

Exactly!

Now, after quite a bit of study of the Abstract Expressionists and other artists, I am completely enamored by his dazzling simplicity yet complexity, and his story-telling through his work. For example, his work can present multiple points of view or points in time simultaneously– like cubism. it is a different way of thinking. Like a cartoon panel tells multiple frames. Or more closely really to the doors on the Bapistry of the Duomo in Florence, Italy which tell the Biblical story of Jacob and Issac in one frame but in within that frame presents the visual sequence as the story moves along.

John Marin, 291, No_4,1915. Public domain.

The WSJ article presents options as to why Marin fell off the sights of the influential art critics, curators, patrons of the first half of the twentieth C. Perhaps because he was American, the article conjectured. In my opinion, it was partly because he was working in watercolor. Most of the giants of the Abstract Expressionism movement and other modern styles were working in oil, collage (like Pollack), or other media in which they could create bold big work. Marin’s used oil too, which he often handled in a watercolor-like way. I think his true voice was crystalized through his watercolor. They were often comparatively small works in a transparent medium. Watercolor lends itself to portability and a fluid, spontaneous technique. I find his watercolor paintings incredibly fresh and brilliant. But those were NOT the key adjectives sought for the artwork in the brooding, intensely dark era during and immediately following the World Wars. so because his mood didn’t fit, nor did the transparency of his medium, he fell behind the pack.

Unknown photographer: A Group of Young American Artists of the Modern School (from left to right: Jo Davidson, Edward Steichen, Arthur B. Carles, John Marin; back: Marsden Hartley, Laurence Fellows), c. 1911, Bates College Museum of Art. Sarah Greenough et al: Modern art and America – Alfred Stieglitz and his New York galleries. National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C. 2001, ISBN 0-8212-2728-9, p. 63.

In any case, what a treat, a renaissance of Marin. And, wouldn’t it have been an intriguing afternoon, spent in a room with these fellows in 1911? Ah-h-h-h, to go back in time…

Constraints as a Channel to Creativity

Most artists will admit, there is something creatively exhilarating about constraints put on the creation of your work. Some art exhibits require work done in a certain medium–like the Transparent Watercolor Society’s requirement that the art actually be completed in transparent watercolor– not opaque. Or the challenge of a small size for the work, like less than 100 sq inches, in a variety of shows, Richeson’s Small Works show (note to enter the show for this year, entry is 11.4.11).  Or, see a fantastic example of small space art–less than 8×10 at the Soap Factory’s $99 fundraiser, MN.  As an aside, this is a genius way to raise money for an art gallery.

I have a friend who constrained herself to paint only on hub caps.

One time I had run out of watercolor paper, so I painted on manila folders. Not too bad;  not my best work, but a change of materials can be enlightening. I can’t tell you the number of times I and other  watercolorists have dipped their brushes into their coffee instead of their water. Partially due to that happy accident, now some watercolorists have  reverted to painting with coffee. It makes a beautiful sepia tone, although I would not consider it archival. I’m quite fastidious about archival materials.

On the “social-media-meets-emerging-contemporary-art” scene, I am newly intrigued with the challenge of creating eye-catching, stunning, silly or brand-sensitive QR codes. They are those odd little boxes that look like a scrambled-up bar code– which is sort of what they are. The “Quick Response” code can be read by downloading a scanner app and scanning the code. It can provide coupons, videos, content, etc.

A startling QR code for the thrid season of HBO's True Blood.

From the artist/designer’s perspective, it’s certainly a constraint to design an image within a defined shape containing elements that are readable by a downloadable app and still carry the double meaning of the code AND the message of the artist.

Mashable.com has a discussion on how to make QR codes more beautiful.  In a recent Facebook post on Mashable’s page, a discussion grew about if a QR code is more appealing, are you more likely to download the app and scan the code? Although some people said they would prefer a more tangible reward (like food) the consensus was yes; the beauty of the image would motivate them to behave in a way the brand wanted them to.

Note the little trees in the south-east quadrant.

Ahhh-h-h-h, beauty wins again. Or on the True Blood one; maybe it’s gore that’s winning. A little creepy–but you can’t ignore it’s power. In any case, superb design gets a nod for efficacy.

Constraints can come from necessity, accidents, forgetfulness, a drive to challenge one’s self, or just goofing around.

I think constraints can actually can lead to more innovative art.

Know how to eat up the life of a professional artist? Juggling priorities, keeping up with art trends, sparking personal creativity, volunteering, chasing money, marketing your “brand,” pitching to galleries, and actually CREATING art.  After all that, you might think about social media.

Original waterolor by jane M. Mason. (C) 2009. All rights reserved.

As a professional artist, I found that frequently I could spend only about 10% of my time creating art.

The rest was spent as described above.

At the end of the day, after you’ve manage everything else, social media seems daunting. But, even if you’ve ignored it so far, you can’t ignore it any longer. So you’ll need to take a deep breath and add it to whatever else you do to promote yourself. It costs less out-of-pocket than post cards and other methods of promoting yourself. Although realistically, since your time is a primary component of your “raw materials” it will take some time and therefore has a real cost.

Now, please don’t give me that “I’m too old to learn it” excuse. FYI – the fastest growing age group  on Facebook is people 50+. And According to Branding Yourself, the average age of a Facebook user is mid-30′s. Kind of surprising, huh?

Here are 6 Social Media Tips to Advance Your Career  & Connect with Prospects:

  1. Limit yourself to what you can keep up with. Perhaps a Facebook page, LinkedIn and Twitter is as much as you can handle. Some experts suggest a blog is essential… but you know your own capacity for writing and keeping up on non-art creating tasks. These are in addition to at a minimum a web page or website. You can see mine as an example at janemmason.com. Also consider adding yourself or your studio to Wikipedia.
  2. Keep it one-to-one — consider that you are having a conversation with one person, and a bunch of people are that one person. (I know it sounds weird, but that’s really what it is.) Ask your prospects, customers and peers how they want to hear from you and how often.
  3. Ask questions and listen. Don’t do all the talking. You don’t even have to respond to a question with an answer. Sometimes another question works best.
  4. Have fun with it. you can let your “real” personality come through. You want to stay professional, but you can act as you would among a group of friends who are also professional peers.
  5. Load images, photos, content, links, videos, retweets, “shout outs,” questions, calendar dates, columns you’ve written, openings, big successes, little successes, idle chatter (briefly), important life-changing thoughts–you get the idea–be fruitful, and your thoughts will multiply via social media. (Be cautious about loading images of your two-dimensional art to sites, whether your blog, Facebook, etc. There is so much content sharing without regard to  intellectual property rights, that you are putting your images at risk whenever you put it in any format on the web. Posting to the web is forever, so think it through before you post.)
  6. Talk to experts. Check out sites such as Mashable.com to browse through what’s new. (You don’t have to understand it all. It just keeps you in the loop.) My new favorite book is Branding Yourself, Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy. It’s a simple read with really great tips. If you are new to Twitter, Lacy has “25 Small Business Twitter Tips.” Simple, but on target ideas to get you started or hone “best practices.”

Have any home runs in social media you want to share with me? Let me know!

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