Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Blog Envy

While I have been dashing around this past week, without the use of the internet on my computer, I have been reading my email on my Kindle. There has been a discussion thread on the Quilt Art List called "Blog Envy" and it started out asking if you ever read blogs and see the work that other people are doing, or the awards they are getting or book deals, and feel like you are accomplishing nothing? It asked,

"Do you ever look at stuff someone else has made and think "wow! I wish I'd made that!", or read about someone's success, either artistically or in the business side of their art, and thought "damn, I could have done that - my work is that good, why don't I get the big rewards?"

And there were lots of answers about why or why not people feel this and lots of people confessed that they get down on themselves when they see what other people are able to do. This is a discussion that drives me nuts. This is an attitude that drives me nuts and this is what often makes me want to go to my studio, stop reading the internet and never associate with other artists again.

Since when is making art a competition? Well, maybe since people started competing for acceptance in shows or for prizes. But is that really why you do what you do? I don't think it is for most of us, and really I don't think that is the envy the discussion is about. It seemed to be more about wanting to be able to do what other people do. To have their lovely life and their wonderful work. This is so self-defeating and so unworthy of each of us. Most obvious, of course, is that no one really knows, least of all from looking at a blog, what another's life is like or how many failures you don't see on the way to the terrific piece that was posted. But what bothers me the most is that this kind of envy diminishes the person who you envy. It says, "I want what you have," without acknowledging what has gone into it. It supposes that the person is lucky or magically "talented"—not that they have worked, studied, put in the time, made the mistakes, embarrassed themselves, struggled, sacrificed and continue to do all these things that finally show in improving their work. It is not a compliment to be envied. It is not a compliment to be told you are lucky to be talented. It is a compliment to be admired for your dedication and hard work. I am tired of the idea of "talent." Study and practice and lots of both are what produce competency. Talent is a myth.

Thus endeth the sermon.

Now, about that piece at the top of the page. It's a piece called "Rockin' and Rollin'" that I made in 2000. I am thinking about entering it into the HFD Rhythm and Hues show, despite the fact that it is 12 years old and looks nothing like what I am currently making. I've always liked it. Nothing in the rules addresses how old or new the piece must be. I think it would fit the theme. Is that crazy??


  1. I'm no expert, but I say, "Go for it!" It looks like a great piece and certainly fits the Rhythm and Hues theme. So what if it's a bit retrospective?

  2. hey, do it Terry! It fits. Someone (like me) didn't see it 12 years ago and it might give them the push they need to what is in their heads.

    I agree about the backhanded compliments when people envy your 'talent'. You end up feeling like they expect you to apologise. What for? For the fact that you have actually used what comes into your brain? I don't know. Sometimes it makes me cross. Especially when they are doing work equal to or better than yours in some aspect that you have yet to develop.
    oops, better quit before it gets to be a soapbox.
    Sandy in the UK

  3. this is the first time I've read your blog and I agree 100% w you! as for entering that into a show H--- yes! do it! it's really cute.


    I am so with you on "talent." When I began teaching, I thought that ANYone could do what I do... it's not so hard, it just takes practice, dedication, paying attention, learning, making mistakes, learning from them... on and on. And as you do the work, you improve.

    Then after a number of years of teaching, I decided that anyone can do what I do, BUT they need to be willing to devote the time and effort it will take them (which may be more or less time than it took me) to get from where they are, to where they want to be.

    However, some people don't have the time at a particular moment in life: if you are caring for parents in decline and kids that are challenging (or even ordinary kids!) and/or working a full time job, you don't necessarily have the time and emotional/mental energy. For those folks, it'll take a little longer to progress. Life happens.

    Worse, there are people who expect "talent" (a.k.a. the improvement from working at it) to be handed to them on a silver platter. People need to have the desire, the drive, to put in the work needed to get from where they are to where they want to be. And, alas, there are people who *don't* want to try or to put in the work. They want a magic pill to make them good. Ain't gonna happen.

    So thank you. Now, off to some work (teaching myself to see/draw/paint so my quilts will become better). Cheers, Sarah

  5. Not al all crazy, Terry - enter it! I wouldn't have picked it as yours though. Isn't it interesting how some works just stay strongly high on our list of satisfying works, and no matter how old they are, we still feel that way about them. I have several too

  6. Anonymous6:02 AM

    Looks like a perfect fit for "Rockin' and Rollin'" to me. And, I agree with your sermon. You have a wonderful gift and I congratulate you for continuing to work on it, develop it and for sharing it on your blog for all of us to enjoy.

  7. LOL- My first thought was that it was YOU feeling envious of other peoples successes, and I was forming my own rant in response. But instead you did MY rant! I so agree- everybody is different, sure some people manage to bang things out, others struggle mightily, but I have never found anybody yet to be envious (jealous) of. Well except maybe you...

    LOVE the precision and thought that goes into your work, and yes, even from the piece at top I can recognize your touch!

  8. You are ever-inspiring. And if the rules don't forbid it, enter it. Love your statement on blog-envy; so much so that I expect to quote you at some point and put a link to your blog! Have a wonderful day!

  9. Anonymous7:04 AM

    enter it! it has always been one of my favorite pieces of yours!

  10. Go for it, it fits the theme and doesn't look dated, but then I didn't have to tell you that.

  11. Excellent rant, couldn't agree with you more. It's so easy for people to think people live these fabulously exciting lives, opportunities drop in their laps and their houses look like they belong in a magazine spread, because they are only shown a snapshot of a carefully arranged setting with really good photography skills or when they write a post they leave out a lot of the negative and focus on the positive.

    I've had a policy of not sharing too much of my personal life on my blog, so only my close friends knew the hell I've gone through the last 4 years. Every once in a while I've opened up and shared a little about going through a difficult time without going into details, because I felt the cathartic art work shown needed some explanation.

    The healthier mind set we should embrace when it looks like others have wonderful opportunities is: maybe I could have done that too, but you know what I didn't think of it first, I didn't work quite as hard, or I didn't pursue that path instead I made other choices. Good for them for grabbing the gold ring and running with it, maybe I can learn from how that person accomplished that.

    Most importantly it's about priorities, where do we focus our time and energy and are we smart about how we spend it.

    The 'talent' thing drives me nuts too!

  12. I agree with your "sermon". I don't usually get envious, but I am human. So once in awhile I'll hear or read about something and become a little envious. But not because I want to be like them, more that I wish I was having as much success.

    It only lasts briefly as I tell myself I have my own path to follow and I made be plodding along, but that's just me and it's o.k. I also look back at my own accomplishments and see that yes, I am moving forward. Then, I get back to focusing on my art.

  13. Oh "talent", what IS that... My theory, based on learning to draw, is that with 150 hours of focused, critical-analytical, reflective work, just about anyone can seem to possess talent. That means spending half an hour a day on it, and assessing your work or getting someone else's input, and figuring out what to change next time. After that, what you draw will definitely be recognisable. But that was the easy part -- building on that "talent" takes rather more effort, don't you think?

  14. I never think that the stuff I see, which blows me away, was easily done. I also don't think I could have done it. I know how much effort goes into what I do know how to make------and I don't have the time or diligence to try for more right now.

    Envy is a bad thing. It's like you got cheated in some way and this other person was just luckier.

    I have always wanted to enter QN but can't find the time to do the WORK. Envy those who enter and get in? Not at all. Admire them. Hell, yes.

  15. I think you'd really enjoy "Outliers" by Malcolm Gladwell. He posits that it takes 10,000 hours to achieve mastery in your field (plus some nuances). He talks about the Beatles playing 10 hour days for weeks on end, various sports players who end up practicing more than others, Bill Gates who had time and opportunity all at once, etc. It resonated with me and was an interesting read.

    Mostly when I 'envy' a new piece I've seen I tend to mostly wish that I had time to focus on doing "that" so I could create something as masterful myself. Then I remember my FT job, the 10,000 hours, and remind myself that I can be a stronger time manager and work toward it eves and weekends. And then I wish I could just win that darned lottery and not use up my productive hours on my job. :)

    I do get tired of being called "Martha Stewart" like no one else can think of cool things to make. And then the person says "I could *never* do that!" with a tone that sortof means I'm a freak of nature. What they really mean is that they don't want to make any effort to learn or do. And they don't like that in themselves, so they backhand compliment me to excuse themselves. If I have "talent" they can say they don't have it and so don't have to try.

    It is human nature to compare though. We are taught to do so with grades and bell curves, job evaluations, salaries, home size, type of car, etc. It is easy to want good things and harder to understand the work involved.It takes a lot of mindfulness to stop the comparisons.

  16. Interesting post/discussion. Seeing what others create might cause envy, but not seeing would deprive us of inspiration to strive harder. A conundrum.
    I greatly admire you and your work, but I don't harbor envy - except for your grandchildren!

  17. Excellent article Terry...thank you!

  18. Mom,
    You and I are so much alike in so many ways beyond our "talents"
    I discovered many years ago, when people around around me would say things like "you are so talented. I wish I could draw like you", I would reply "you can. Just not like me". I have a belief that everyone is "talented" Everyone can create something to any extent. We are all unique individuals. Completely different in our makeup. Everyone has their own talent whether they know or practice it. I agree that honing your craft takes a lot of time and practice, but I also think that everyone is born with a talent. Albeit, some talents may not be as socially acceptable as others:)
    I absolutely agree with your argument that art should not be a competition. I have encountered people that put off that vibe in my life and I just tend to walk away. I am confident and proud of what I am able to do and always try to improve on it. I have taught myself to try not to read too much into what people think of my work (except you, of course) because they are not me and I am really doing this for myself and no other...
    As far as the piece is concerned, that has always been one of my faves. Didn't either Emily or I name it for you one night?

    Love, A.

  19. Jessica G.6:13 AM

    I guess I never really thought of art being a competition either. Sure there are artists that appeal to a certain audience more than others, but art in general is so subjective how can it be a competition? It is too bad that people describe themselves as “envious” of their peers’ work. I would never classify myself as an artist; I barely know how to operate a sewing machine! But, I am not envious of the beautiful pieces people create. I am in complete awe of what people are capable of creating. I appreciate the process, the thought and the time that people put into their works, but not jealous that I didn’t do it myself. I do believe people are born with artistic tendencies, talent perhaps? :) But you and Andy are correct. It takes years of practice, patience, successes and failures. True artists should not only be dedicated to the outcome but also the process that brought them to the outcome. Perhaps the “envy” cohorts feel stems from a lack of time, patience and energy to dedicate to their own work.

  20. EXCELLENT "sermon". I personally admire those people, I always think about entering contests but don't follow through. One day soon ...maybe! First time visitor, I will be back.