we do not always finish what we start

An unfinished work from 2004 by the late Cassandra D. Ivey. From the collection of Cameron Alexander and Lory Ivey Alexander.

An unfinished work from 2004 by the late Cassandra D. Ivey. From the collection of Cameron Alexander and Lory Ivey Alexander.

 "Start small.

Start now.

Start everything. And don't bother to finish any of it."

-Barbara Sher

The great reality of life is simply that sometimes we don't finish what we start. That is as it should be.

-Lory

My mom had a strange way of painting. She started with the body, then moved outward. She would ask her painted people to tell her what colors they saw, what was around them. "Now, do you have brown eyes, or are they more gray, but people think they are blue?" Often, there would be notes on the canvas. "What color is your chair?" one painting says. She trusted those imaginary people because they trusted her to give them life.

And what people she found within herself! She often found people no one else would have even stopped to paint: women whose skin was so black they were blue, mothers overrun by children, women with red, wavy hair and sagging arms, like the one here. "If I don't love them, who will?" she'd say. Who, indeed.

I learned many things about #artlife from my mom: some things about how to be an artist and others about how not to be as an artist. From her and my dad, I learned the value in seeing the world through others' art. I learned not to be possessive of my art. It isn't mine, really, anyway. It came before I did and will come again later. I am under no illusion this this genius belongs to me. It is genius, but it ain't mine. I am but a conduit. 

Because of my parents, I seek to encourage others and to support others along their journey as creatives. With that in mind, I want to share some actionable steps for being better creative community members. 

1) Don't be afraid to recognize your own genius or the genius in another. Genius is big and it builds. It isn't always visible, but don't be surprised if it is lingering, waiting for you to activate it or recognize it standing there.

The danger in genius is not in acknowledging it. It is in the human temptation to master and possess. Be afraid when you begin to believe that the "you" or the "they" is what is paramount in "your work" or "their work." We must honor what we do because we honor the work and we honor ourselves. To improve the work and ourselves, we must be purposeful, deliberate, and self-loving. And we have every right to honor our skills and knowledge by sharing what we know. So yes, give it away, sell it for large sums, write it down or whisper it in someone's ear.  But don't be fooled: genius is bigger than you, and everyone is replaceable. Don't forget that. When you die, someone else will begin your work even without knowing you lived. Right now, there is probably someone else doing what you are doing. Don't overinflate your significance to be significant. You are significant. Your genius is real. That's enough.

2) Give real compliments and thoughtful comments. From my dad, I gained a serious compliment skill. I leave flattery alone entirely. I ask questions. I tell people what I think because if I don't, they won't know. 

To that end, I recommend you be generous and observant. Be glad that one is painting/drawing/singing/making/walking about. Start from there. The more you allow yourself to experience joy in another's endeavor, the more you will observe their hands at work. The best compliments (in art and in life) come from keen observation. 

2) Lift as you climb. Note who is around you. If you are in an arts organization or group, reach out to the people nearest you. Engage them. If you are an introvert, be the person you have never been before. I am not talking about wild behavior. Just be there. Pay attention when the folks who encourage you have triumphs. Tell them when they make something that makes your heart sing.

The ill-articulated saying "dance with the one what brought you" comes to mind. Pay attention to those who are sharing your content, replying to you, and generally supporting you. Don't just say thanks. Repay the favor. Not because you have to or because it is the right thing to do. Do it because it is NOT your uniqueness or skill that got you where you are. Other people's momentum pushes you ahead. 

3) Pity mediocrity, but don't reward it or join it. This may sound counterintuitive to my encourage and compliment comments, but it is not. 

Mediocrity is a disease. It is a cultural ailment that has spread rampantly through America for centuries. If an artist is not paying attention to one's art/work/cause, neither should anyone else. The end.

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If you don't have skills, build them. It is better to be bad at a thing you are trying to do than to be shit at a thing you aren't trying to do. Don't ask others to watch you not try.

4) Try new things. As an artist, part of your job is to find new ways of seeing. You cannot find new ways of seeing if you aren't looking at new things. That doesn't have to mean looking at actually new things. It means paying attention. If the last time you looked at the fountain in the park as a fountain, this time look at the water as a series of prisms. Next time, look at the patterns in the tiles. Then at the textures. Just keep trying to see more and more.

4) Don't get caught up in the analytics, the metrics, the do I know enough, the am I good enough. You don't have enough followers, you don't have enough likes, you don't know enough, and maybe you aren't as good as 90% of artists. But none of it matters.

People have sold art with no followers. Folks have sold art with 50 likes. Still other peeps have sold with 30 people on their email lists. Artists who just started sell out whole collections, and they know less than you do. Creatives who make really, genuinely, objectively TERRIBLE, thoughtless art sell out.  

It isn't because of some trite rhyming slogan, "good vibes," or "mindset," or "lifestyle." (It grinds my gears just to "utilize" these "nice" words. WHITE. HOT. RAGE. You better be glad I am not the internet's English teacher.)

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You know why some people win? Because.  

Dissatisfied? Well, that's the answer. People win because they are genuine, or talented, or good marketers, or lucky, or creative geniuses, or rich. Often because they are rich. But most often, people win because of other people. Because someone else was hungry, sleepy, overfed, curious, confused, deprived, empowered. People win because traffic. Do you try to understand traffic? 

Don't get caught up in it. Do your thing. Learn best practices. Notice if the landscape changes and adapt. Don't trudge along blindly, but do not get caught up. Don't let another's win or your loss prevent you from continuing to do the things you are doing right. Do let your wins remind you to pay attention to other people. I don't mean shouting them out on your page (though that's cool). I mean go to (at least some of) them. Watch what they are doing, listen to what they are saying, try to understand what they are needing. Your little gratitude journal is cute and all, but you can ACT in gratitude. And you can do it unselfishly.

5) Or selfishly, or whatever. Sometimes it pays so be selfish. This one is about social media and events, specifically. If you are in any sort of cohort with other artists, it behooves you to be sure they are doing well. Folks know the other people in your gallery -> folks come to gallery -> folks buy your art _ -> your kids eat. That means check in with each of the 10-20 people who are in your groups at least 1x a week. Comment - yes, comment - on their posts. Remember: eyes on them, eyes on you. (And the one person who leaves a thoughtful comment on another's post might be interesting enough to follow, too.) Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, people!

 

As for me, I am trying to take my own advice. I know I want my art to give a platform to stories that are untold. I may only do this in the smallest of ways, but I keep trying to do it. 

To purchase, go to  Loryivey.com/bright-brown

To purchase, go to Loryivey.com/bright-brown

Today I shared a shirt. It is for my people, of course, bright as diamonds and brown as ebony, but it is actually called "Bright Brown" because that's an antiquated complexion descriptor I found on a FPOC registry from Richmond city in 1853. Because in order to have "freedom," one had to bear his teeth and show his skin. If I don't love them, who will? If I don't remember their names, who will?