Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Precarious Lexicon; How A Simple Word Can Complicate An Artist's Life Part 6



Here we are again with this 7–part series exploring the nature of the term "hobby" as it relates to an artist working within the venue. As such, "hobby" has some specific influences that can work against an artist so we need a solid set of ideas that can help us mediate them to preserve our happiness and productivity.

For this reason, this series focuses most on artists because the nature of our participation is so quirky and peculiar. It's a funky place to work within given all the myriad forces at work and the design of the game itself. In this Part 6 then, we'll explore the idea of community and how all what we've previously discussed adds up for us. So enough gabbing...

Let's go!...

A Sense Of Community

Because the venue is based on a game, competition is the primary motivator for most participants. This is perfectly fine given this drive is kept in check by more important community priorities. Unfortunately, however, not only did the “hobby” paradigm atrophy the game’s structure, it also caused a deterioration of the community’s cohesion. 

While people can participate in a competitive activity as a hobby, this doesn’t mean the activity itself is a hobby. In a sense, the “hobby” aspect of model horses is incidental. Because as we’ve seen, especially when it comes to competition, it’s very serious business! And the stakes are getting higher every year. However, if we study other communities built around competition, we find they’re far more developed for an inclusive and sustainable future. For example, we find a formalized structure with a learning environment to initiate newcomers. We also find the promotion of the social aspect of the activity such as lessons, coaches, training, education, socials, beginner levels, AO (nonPro), Youth, and Novice divisions, etc. This is because its community has a “the more, the merrier” perspective and that results in growth. And because this is the priority of the community, it becomes self–sustaining, and in kind, community cohesion strengthens. When an activity is based on its non–competitive priorities first, when community comes first before competition, we not only create a more fun environment, but a sustainable one, as well. But clearly this cannot be said of the model horse game! 

Instead, we find the exact opposite, for the most part. We find participants becoming ever more fixated on competition while simultaneously overlooking the infrastructure that supports it. Heck, players created a national show with no formalized infrastructure to support the validity of the placings. There was also no regard for the long–term impact such a show would have on the community by placing a myopic emphasis on winning a paper card regardless of anything else. And that some of that "anything else" are experimental shows that could help solve the problems now inherent in the game. That’s how problematic the priorities have been. When we have players fervently arguing over the validity of a paper card and how they can best win one or who should win one or how we win one rather than discussing the systemic problems at hand, we have a real, practical problem.

So because of this fixation on competition, we find no real sense of community or social cohesion anymore, but a community that’s fractured and derisive. Shows used to be social gatherings rather than just a means to win a qualifying card. There was a sense of neighborhood, as fun and socializing was the point of the show, not the ribbons or cards. Yet today can be quite a different story. Indeed, when a specific show or region can make the novel boast that, “we have tons of fun together,” there’s something very wrong with the status quo.

Without community, competition can be a poisonous brew. Yes—competition can be instrumental for artistic progress, and many people enjoy the adrenaline rush, but it has its place. And it’s not necessarily the best or only means to improve our work, and it certainly shouldn’t be the singular focus for any community. There are far more important priorities at play.

Another problem arose with the myopic focus on competition: the more supportive and less intense environment artists once had for that long learning curve is now essentially gone. There’s little room for new or less–intense motivations since everyone is thrown into the Open (essentially professional) divisions—the most intense divisions. Not only does this disenfranchise swaths of participants, it also amplifies the player’s dependence on artists, compounding all the problems discussed in this series. Ideally, the game would shift the focus off professional artists and onto the DIYer since the non–pro actually forms the bulk of the community.

Eventually, the model horse community must realize that it’s not instrumental change that can take all the fun out of the game—it’s the status quo! To turn this situation around, the venue should start to place social cohesion and community above competition to reinstate balance, inclusion, and fun. It should start to embrace Youth, Novice, and Amateur–Owner (or non–Pro) classes and divisions. It should put focus back on the local and regional shows, and actively welcome newcomers with a more formalized system for initiating them. Judge mentoring and apprenticeships should be instituted, and perhaps in the future independent judge testing could help formalize criteria. Public forums should be moderated to ensure they remain a place fun for everyone to visit, free from toxic personalities. And last, but not least, education, clinics, workshops, seminars, books, blogs, demos, talks, and classes should become part of the experience. But, above all, that the sense of fun and camaraderie should be at the top of our list, our primary motivator for this activity. And it all begins with each of us, when we make ourselves accountable to not only to the game, but to the community, too. We can all have a hand in these positive changes if we motivate ourselves.

Until that happens, however, we artists will simply have to be patient. Yet we can do our part to strengthen the fraying social and creative aspects by helping to push along the process of reorganizing our community’s priorities. We can share our information and techniques to help others realize their creative potential. We can work as ambassadors for the activity, be that welcoming face to new folks. We can behave in ways that promote professionalism and cohesion as well as that sense of fun many of us miss. We can start discussions on these topics with others. Be the example. The arts can become a force of progress when we start to shift our priorities from competition and to community.

What Does All This Add Up To?

And now, we finally come to the end game of the "hobby" paradigm, the culmination of all the previous concerns into one big doozy of a problem for an artist.

What  is it?

Well, when casual participants only need to think about their own hobby level of involvement, there’s little motivation to address how the game’s existing framework impacts the collective future. The inevitable result is a gaming environment that based on exclusion rather than inclusion, resulting in a widespread and progressive disenfranchisement of players—and often without them even noticing it’s happening. For instance, those participants with less intense motivations are obliged to adopt the same OCD–like fanaticism it takes to create consistently winning work in the Open division. Newcomers and beginners are in the same boat. Without a place for these folks to enjoyably compete, with a decent, fair shot at doing well, they become disenfranchised or are forced to buy artists’ work and thus are discouraged from taking up the arts altogether. This is problematic for our collective future.

Yet too many often convince themselves they don’t want such divisions since they interpret them as being a “B–Team” player. They couldn’t be more wrong! Firstly, there’s nothing “B–Team” about the AO division! There are plenty of non–pros who create better work than professionals, only they simply don’t operate their model horse involvement as a business, but as a genuine hobby. When they sell, they do it usually to fund their involvement, not to make a living off it.

Plus, contrast that “B–Team” attitude to the showing environment within the Quarter Horse industry, perhaps the smartest infrastructure for encouraging inclusion—they really have it right. Now we can clearly see just how brutal the model horse game has become for the majority of participants, and how complacent we’ve become to accept it. We can clearly see that the model horse status quo is designed specifically to favor a minority at the expense of the majority—this isn’t a sustainable system. People worry about the exclusive "1%" in life, yet cannot see that we have the same dynamic working against us in this game. No wonder competition has become the constricted focus for so many participants. People are latching onto the only means to participate, and in Open competition that means a scramble. When all we care about is who got one and how we get a ribbon then there's no room for other things, is there? Do we see how it all adds up? And the model horse venue maintains it’s modeling itself after real horse showing? Oh, the irony! 

If we started to frame our activity as a game, and that we aren't only showers, but gamers, things take a whole new spin. We can compare ourselves to other gaming institutions like Magic and Dungeons and Dragons, and we can see how they've structured their system to be inclusive, welcoming, and fun–based. Even the prime directive in all D&D games is that people have fun, and everything else is secondary. Imagine if we each shifted our attention away from a card or ribbon and towards that? But we also have to recognize that the value of any given game piece is directly connected to its placings and qualification cards. This connection helps to create the fixation on awards, so we need to think on how to mediate it. Imagine if our pieces weren't the means to an end, but the end unto themselves? Nonetheless, it's understandable. When any player's piece is valued by how many ribbons or cards its won, that's a hefty correlation. Players are essentially trying to increase the value of their investment by showing. They're also trying to get the "most bank for their buck" by showing well, by having that thrill of winning more and more times. Yet it also highlights how Novice, Youth, and AO divisions are all the more needed. It also amplifies the need for more ways a player can participate, to lessen this burden on any one game piece.

But put it all together, and the “hobby” paradigm causes people fixate on how people win ribbons rather than how people can have fun and find fulfillment. Instead, most can be in it only for themselves with little regard for their fellows, or our shared future. Or they can be uncompromising and dogmatic since there's little accountability to the consensus and compromise needed for a healthy community. How is this truly a casual hobby for anyone?

So as an artist, especially a casual or new artist, expect to meet with a brutal set of expectations possibly far out of synch with our motivations or capabilities. So instead of competition, it’s often best to focus on education, on learning, and becoming competitive with ourselves rather than with others. When we learn to make our participation about discovery rather than about some satin ribbon, not only do we bring our endeavors into a more rational focus, it’s also a healthier one for the long–term.

And try to advocate for experimental shows that explore alternatives to the current status quo. When people have support for trying other things, that helps to generate enthusiasm and conviction. It may also be a productive idea to sponsor, or better yet, host, experimental classes or divisions at an existing show. What the venue needs is experimentation and a willingness to discover new ideas and implement them. The game needs more levels of participation so that the majority of players can find a more sensible measure of success. We need options.


On that note, for artists and players alike, along with taking photos of the pieces exhibited at a show, think about also taking pictures of the people present. Then share them through social media and blogs. We can even get quotes from the people present to include in our write–up. As we've seen in the vintage custom circle of interest, not only does this have historical value, but it helps to shift interest towards the people involved, and that can help rebuild a sense of camaraderie. Placing a focus back on the people at a show, we humanize what we're doing since people can add faces to the names they know so well, which can help to add a sense of community back into the showing experience. It can also help us remember that there's a person behind an avatar, and that may help to give people pause before blasting some comment through a keyboard. 


And as artists, we can share our knowledge through blog posts, articles, videos, and books, and give demos at our show tables. Sharing out knowledge is a generous, civic–minded thing to do which can not only help others realize their potential, but sets a tone to be community–minded. It also helps to elevate the skills needed to create a winning piece, and the more people who create cutting
edge work, the better. Plus, teaching is one of the best ways to learn! When we have to impart our techniques and ideas, we have to know what we're talking about, right? And the only way to do that is to be clear in our concepts and that begs education and research, and this informs our own work. It also gives people a better idea of what's entailed on the other side of the studio door, and that can go far in developing better reactions to our decisions and policies.

By becoming the change the venue needs so badly, we attract like–minds to us and that sets off a spark. Together, we naturally share our ideas and concerns, and that can help to generate new ideas and directions to explore and support. In a very real sense, helping to rebuild a sense of community could help us learn to find consensus and compromise, too, as we relax our fixation on ribbons and place it back on fun and cohesion. Indeed, when we view this venue as all of us in the same boat, it becomes harder to try and sink it for our own narrow interests. And above all, be patient. The tide is slowing turning. 

Conclusion to Part 6

With these new ideas perhaps it's more clear how the casual idea of "hobby" has caused some of our thinking to mismatch our reality. Our community isn't a throwaway thing and the negative influences "hobby" has on all of us are real and pervasive. We all have a stake in this. There is a future that needs our attention. This implies we all need to be pro–active because each of us has a responsibility to each other, and that helps to care about every interest involved in the game. Each of us is important, and each of us is needed and should be appreciated. We're all in this together!

In Part 7 then we'll explore some specific things an artist can do to improve her participation in the community and help to elevate it, maybe even change some minds or rebuild a compromised public image. This shouldn't be seen as some kind of hoity–toity behavior, but something that's positive and beneficial. We'll also conclude this series (yes, there is an end!) with some additional thoughts on all this.

So until next time...get community minded!

"I think we could build a better one."
~ Bill Boeing

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Precarious Lexicon; How A Simple Word Can Complicate An Artist's Life Part 5




Welcome back to this 7–part series discussing how the term "hobby" influences the experience for everyone in the game of showing model horses. There are indeed many things to consider from how the term affects how we think and interpret the game to how we behave towards each other. In particular, it creates a bit of rough terrain for artists working in the field, practically and philosophically speaking. Knowing how to negotiate these rough bits will help artists maintain their sense of well–being and productivity within this underlying atmosphere of confusion and derision.

And it's no small matter. Many artists find themselves at the short–end of the stick because of outcomes directly linked to the term. They can find themselves exploited, demeaned, or dismissed while at the same time the players can end up confused, frustrated, or angry. All this can be better avoided with a simple paradigm shift that moves us away from a casual, throwaway attitude to that of an invested motivation for the game, and for each other, and for the cohesion that seems to be eroding away more every year. We're a community, and being able to inspire more camaraderie and clarity within it and within the game only helps to promote a better environment for everyone.


So in this Part 5 we'll explore some additional issues for artists like volunteering, donations, discounts, auctions, and the nature of our demographics to get a better idea of more of the concerns at play.


So let's have at it!...


Getting Real

The “hobby” paradigm forces a skew between scale and reality when it comes to running the venue’s large organizations. In the real world, annual extravaganzas are run by armies of well–paid, full–time professionals. Yet in the model horse venue, we find that these organizations typically operate on the sheer generosity of overworked part–time volunteers constantly berated by those who complain, criticize, speculate, and presume too much. Such demands want ever more perks and outlets from a gaming system designed specifically to limit them. However, it's partially a question of players' time and resources. Most players have jobs or families that limit the time dedicated to playing the game. Yet at the same time, large horse shows go for days, and people always find a way to make it. 

Regardless, it's also a matter of an organization's resources: many are simply unable to cater to such demands either financially or with staffing, yet complaints become more pressing every year. It’s no wonder then why the largest organization flounders as volunteers are crushed by this hostile environment. Time is a limiting factor, too, not only with the clocks of the volunteers, but with the show clock, too. There's only so much time able to be dedicated to such a massive classist and still remain within the limitations of the volunteer base, and the claimed limitations of the showers. This puts such organizations in a real hot spot riddled every day with frustration and aggravation.

Indeed, the desire for new opportunities to show has inspired the birth of huge new divisions in an attempt to give more people a shot at showing with their different types of pieces. These divisions eat up the show clock voraciously, leaving little room for anything else. They also eat up the staff's ability to manage them, bringing into question whether the army of volunteers is large enough. However, what was ignored is that all these divisions are still Open divisions and not AO, Novice, or Youth divisions. They're based on the nature of the game pieces, not the motivations or abilities of the players. We, as a community, didn't want to show apples against oranges when, in fact, that's exactly what we did, only in another way. And we did so in a way that's fundamentally antagonistic to the very base of the community itself. Sure—many DIYers enjoy showing with the big guns in the Open division, but still many don't appreciate it. And wouldn't be it cool to have Youth, Novice, and AO classes on the National level? Real horse shows do. Yet even more, we should think about how we can help such organizations realize such things, to actually spearhead and stewart them ourselves, to release an already overworked staff from unreasonable burdens.


There's also the question of qualification. If Novice, Youth, and AO classes and divisions are anemic, how are such showers expected to qualify for the equivalent options in an organization's year–end show? Simply put, they can't. And for a qualification–based show, that's a real practical problem.

However, there's the option of specialty model horse shows that can fill the niches created by the game as it exists today. It seems that time has come sooner than expected. In response, perhaps organizations could amend their bylaws to allow such shows to qualify to fill such classes. Then it has to give the venue time to permit these classes to catch on and grow. It will take time and investment. Yet it's in the artist's vested interest to have Novice, Youth, and AO options flourish, something we'll explore later.

Anyway, what this means for an artist is care should be taken in how invested we become with model horse organizations. It’s good for our enthusiasm to spill into other aspects of the community, and it’s important to give back—and volunteering is a great way to do that. But we should be careful where and how we engage that enthusiasm. We should also know and accept exactly what we’re getting into when we do volunteer. There are many ways to give back from helping with shows to writing articles and books to hosting a workshop to writing informative blog posts to organizing a retreat to mentoring a beginner to sponsoring a specialty division, so we should chose an outlet that best suits us. In other words, we should know our boundaries and stick to them. 

See, here’s the issue: without an understanding of what we’re signing up for, or a personality that can’t weather such storms, volunteering for certain positions can burn an artist out rather quickly with frustration, anger, and strife. And when we have to squeeze in our art, especially if we're a working artist, this can impact our income. So picking a “pay it forward” conduit that best suits our personality and time limitations is the best way to volunteer because it ensures we’ll probably stick with it and be happy doing it.

Which brings us to the issue of donations. The “hobby” attitude usually forces an activity to rely on artist donations as subsidization since players generally are resistant to fully paying for the resources they enjoy. And as a member of the arts community, we may find ourselves regularly solicited for donations, which can point a doubled–edged sword right at us. It’s a tricky situation. For example, we may encounter players who argue that donative subsidization is an obligation of the arts community, an entitlement owned to the game. While there is some truth to this, it does tend to overlook some important issues from the other side of the studio door: 
  • The activity may be operating in ways contrary to our convictions.
  • The chance that we’ll be treated with professionalism is rare. We may never be told to whom our donative piece was sold, or for how much. 
  • We may never receive a “thank you” note or the promised advertising, or copy of the show program. 
  • We may never receive the requested sales receipt from the show for our tax purposes. 
  • We may never receive a "thank you" for the awards we donated. 
  • Donating work, whether a custom or a piece of a limited edition, is a problematic prospect for a working artist. Donating effectively tells people we can afford to give our work away, which can be counterproductive to our long–term goals. If we do so, and regularly enough, be sure to deal graciously with the subsequent challenges to our policies and pricing.
  • A dependency on donations can hinder the adoption of more sustainable funding for the activity. 
  • A donation may not fit in our production schedule.
Along these lines, here are some special notes to new artists: 
  • Don’t donate a certificate for something like a paint job, prep–job, or sculpting. This approach usually ends up with the artist being exploited in some fashion, no matter how defined the conditions of the certificate. Never leave a donation open–ended. It’s much better to donate a piece and be done with it.
  • Remember that a percentage will be taken out of our donation, so we shouldn’t outdo what we expect to be paid. Indeed, donations can be the surest way into the poor house when we forget the context of the situation. 
  • Always be aware that we’re gambling with our reputation if it’s an auction donation. Yes—we may gain exposure and buzz—but we have to weigh that against the very real risk that our auction lot will come up short, or not even sell. A bad sale in public view is terrible advertising.
  • Have a bad auction enough times and this effect can compromise the value of our work over all. It can also endanger the investment previous buyers have made. Both scenarios can breed bad future sales.
  • We should know the reputation of the show and the show host before we opt to donate. Ask for referrals, if necessary. Never donate blindly.
  • Understand that as our fame grows, donations only offer a cycle of diminishing returns. There will come a point when “no” will actually be in our best interest. 
Now that said, donations can be a terrific way to promote ourselves, especially if we’re new on the scene. It’s buzz that advertising just can’t buy. Donations also funnel essential resources into the backbone of the venue—showing—which does have a cumulative positive impact. 

But remember, too, there exists many ways to offer donative support, and often with more managed conditions. For example, providing awards to a show, especially an experimental show, could have a long–term positive outcome. Or donating awards to special challenge classes we design to showcase a particular interest we support can add interest to a show. Buying a class or division sponsorship can be a good option, too. 

Whatever our decision about donations, we should manage the circumstance well enough so as not to compromise ourselves too much. It should also serve our long–term goals and prerogatives. Don’t forget that donating is a means to an end, so we should know what those ends are and decide for ourselves whether donating is the appropriate means to achieve them. 

We should also be careful about discounts. If we routinely discount our works, that can compromise their value with existing buyers, or with our sales in general. We're essentially telling people that we were overcharging in the in the initial sales. Only discount periodically, and try not to discount our finished works (those we've prepped and painted). Discounting unfinished pieces, like blank resins, is a little bit better, but be careful all the same. Perhaps offering twopacks at a discount is a better route because it gives the customer an added bonus of two at a lower price point. This can also be useful when a blank resin edition is slowing in its sales. Nonetheless, discounting can be a slippery slope, and we don't want to give the wrong impression. So proceed with caution.

Also be careful with auctions. When our pieces consistently sell for good prices in auction, we're doing it right. And sometimes we want to put a piece in an auction to gauge the accuracy of our price points, and an auction is a great way to glean this information. But if our piece under–performs, we've got a pickle of a problem. For example, we've just compromised all our prices and sales. We've especially potentially compromised the value of the works already bought. However, if all of a sudden our auction prices tank, we may want to rethink our sales methods or the nature of our work. Even more, we may want to evaluate our public image and standing in the community since how we come across to people can have a strong influence on the performance of our sales, especially auction pieces. And if we auction all our pieces, we're tapping out its price, and that can be a problem on the secondary market, especially if we only have a couple of people driving up the price. We want about ten people actively in pursuit of the piece because that helps to bolster its value on the secondary market. Truly, don't undervalue the importance of the secondary market. If our pieces can consistently hold their value, or go up in price, we're on the right track. We want to create timeless, heirloom pieces that hold their value. But overall, it may be better to have a fixed price, or a "Buy It Now" option rather than an auction. When we fix a price, we're telling people that we're confident in our work, that its quality reflects our best work at the time. Or we may want to auction some pieces, especially particularly popular pieces, and sell others at a fixed price. The thing is, many people don't wish to participate in an auction and would rather buy a straight price. So mix it up! Offering different ways to procure our work is smart, and thoughtful to our collectors. 

A Question Of Numbers

With the small, insular market engineered by the “hobby” paradigm, product over–saturation can be a real challenge. The equation is simple: a small, fixed group of buyers can only purchase so many pieces a year. This presents some problems for artists, which worsen in times of recession, or even around holidays, or large gathering such as Breyerfest or NAN.

Here’s the thing—buyers usually have a budget and will therefore prioritize their purchases. Now if we share a niche with another artist, or a group of artists, the market base can become tapped out by a single sales opportunity. Similarly, timing can mean the difference between boom or bust if we’re competing for the buyer’s dollar with other artists. For instance, if our sales overlap those of another artist with similar buyers, both of sales can suffer. Or tying to sell in the months before a big event, like Breyerfest, can meet with difficulty or come up short. In other words, the less buyers there are for our work, the more anemic our sales tend to be. This can also affect our work’s resale value on the secondary market, regardless of its quality. 

In an insular niche market, which is what the model horse market actually is, the movement of money can be brisk and lively just as easily as it can become sluggish and unstable. Indeed, if there aren’t more “fresh” dollars being funneled into the system through a more open market or healthy economy, the more buyers are forced to sell pieces in order to fund new ones, closing the system even further. We may have already heard, “I have to sell some pieces first before I can buy yours.”

We also have to recognize that many players are horse traders, too, and they derive a lot of enjoyment from this aspect of the game. While fun, we should know that this additional layer can inhibit a buyer from purchasing from us because they’d rather trade than buy. Plus, if the horse trading game is slow on the secondary market with our work, perhaps our future sales will be as well.

We should also recognize the ever–increasing number of works competing for the buyers’ dollar when this activity is actually a small, fickle, luxury market. So as artists, we should ask ourselves if our sculpture really is cast–worthy or if our 200th paint job serves a purpose other than simply increasing our body of work. That’s to say we should become as picky in what we produce as buyers will be in purchasing it. Creating our best, innovative, provocative work each time is always the best bet. 

But down to brass tacks: the game relies on an unstable and rare demographic—horse–crazy girls who grow up to collect (often expensive) little replicas of them to engage in a resource–demanding, skill–intensive game. Without a mechanism by which these types are attracted and retained en masse, the game is starved of new generations to sustain it for the future. Look around—we can’t ignore that the bulk of the model horse community is aging, especially its arts community. With too few newcomers to take up the reins, one wonders what the community base will be like in another forty years. Even worse, it seems frustrated participants aren’t showing, or leaving altogether in search of another hobby. Indeed, there are plenty of online cheaper versions of what the model horse game is essentially doing. How much longer can this game continue to hemorrhage players? 

These are serious concerns if we plan a career in the model horse market. It means we could be selling to an ever–shrinking or increasingly–fickle market, and at which point does that become an upside down equation? 

These are issues we’ll wrestle with, one way or another, so give it some thought. Bear in mind, too, that our decisions not only affect ourselves, but the long–term sustainability of the game’s economy, too. Indeed, continually tapping out our prices may have a big negative impact over the longtermfor everyone. Until the venue recognizes and addresses its precarious future, we artists simply have to do our best to ride out its times of instability. Paying attention to the supply and demand cycle for our work, filling open niches within the market, diversifying with different scales, media and ware, venturing outside of the model horse venue with our work, and always creating consistent, envelop–pushing pieces are our best tactics in such an environment.

Conclusion to Part 5

We've now got some practical ideas to chew on in regards to the term "hobby" and how it permeates the community with its influences. And they can be troubling. While this activity is truly a hobby for most of its participants, to an artist working within the venue, it's serious business. Because of this, working artists tend to be more concerned with the long–term viability of the market they cater to for obvious reasons. And there's a concern that the future is starting to fray. Lots of things to think about.

So until next time...get real, get engaged!

"Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."
~Winston Churchill

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Precarious Lexicon; How A Simple Word Can Complicate An Artist's Life Part 4




Welcome back to this 7–part series regarding the use of the term "hobby" in regards to an artist's experience within the game of showing model horses. This ubiquitous term has influenced how we think and behave within the venue so it bears thinking about in order to design a studio strategy that avoids its pitfalls and roadblocks. Artists are in a strange place because of the term, and so having such a strategy is good policy to protect not only our productivity, our sanity, but also our continued involvement in the game. In this Part 4 then, we'll explore the nature of professionalism as it relates to "hobby" so we cogitate those aspects of our conduct that could use some rethinking.

So onward to glory!...

Professionalism

Once we set up shop in the venue, we may discover that professional business practices can be a bit of a novelty. This is because “hobby” obscures the acknowledgement that the moment someone buys or sells something, what they’re practicing isn’t a pastime, it’s commerce. 

Consequently, artists should be prepared for a cavalier attitude regarding timely payment, particularly with commissions. Some buyer’s fail to recognize how important their promised on–time payments are to us, that they are the means for us to pay our own bills and to expand our studios. However, we also aren’t some “big scary” company with an aggressive collections department that can actually enforce repercussions for nonpayment. Indeed, we can’t turn the power off or ding their credit score rating, so to speak. So some buyers may regard our invoice as just a suggestion, which can become troublesome—and tiresome. The best way to mediate this is to create policies that protect us in the case of default or late payments—and sticking to them. That can be unsettling to do, but when we actually practice what we preach we tend to weed out those who are constant sources of frustration, so in the long–run, we hone our client list down to those who are dependable and respectful. This is definitely a “long game” strategy that eventually pays off.

Yet the obligations we owe customers can be similarly flawed. We should never treat any customer rudely or tersely, but generously and graciously, and do our best to make sure they're satisfied. This is another long game strategy that has definite pay–offs. And one aspect of such professionalism that gets routinely ignored is shipping our work. How we ship customer purchases says loads about us and our priorities so it should be professionally done not just from that standpoint, but to also ensure the safe travels of their pieces. That means new boxes of appropriate size, with new materials, adequately taped and labeled to ensure safe, proper, and speedy delivery. Reusing used boxes is unprofessional and shows we're cheap and uninvested in our customers. Sloppily slapping a box together with messy tape and mismatched box seams only demonstrates our laziness and lack of attention, and that begs questions not only about us, but our work, too. It's also a good idea to put in a business card and informational packet about the piece inside into the box to provide more information to the customer. Any little touches we can add is a good idea, so we should always keep quality shipping in mind.

Another phenomenon exists that an artist should be aware of, especially a new artist. The structure of the activity generates a problematic situation when popularity grows—and the greater the popularity, the faster this effect takes hold. What is it? Well, it’s the false sense of control that comes with the new clamor for our work. We may think we have the world by the tail at this point, but it’s really got us by the tail! So we must tread with great care here in order to preserve our long–term happiness. For example, when people are beating down the door to get our work, it would seem like the ideal opportunity to start accepting commissions, right? Nope! It’s the worst time! New artists often lack the practical experience to manage this situation well and to deal with the ramifications long down the road. Orders stack up, but our ability to fill those orders in a timely manner is a secondary thought, sometimes even ignored. Plus, the novel seduction of the limelight and the fast buck can blind us to the inherent dangers involved with such popularity. The same circumstances that make our work so hot are the same ones that can create debilitating long–term consequences such as impossible backlogs, frustrating customer relations, and eventual burn–out. When our work becomes so popular, that’s exactly the moment to stop and think twice! Instead, the better policy here is to create the work we love on our own time and terms, finish it, then sell it. Pacing ourselves and feeding that creative drive first, then worrying about sales later is often the best strategy. Obligating ourselves to countless commissions creates a yoke that’s often difficult and exhausting to throw off, and can quench our creativity quicker than we might expect.

But perhaps one of the worst effects of unprofessionalism is unpleasant behavior latent within the venue, especially online. Because “hobby” doesn’t inspire culpability within public settings, there’s little professional expectation of behavior. Let’s face it—if an activity is simply a disposable pastime, there’s no need to truly concern oneself with how we treat each other or how we come across to others. When we don’t take ourselves seriously, we don’t take our social settings seriously either. And so we see the result on many public forums and sometimes at shows, too. Vitriolic posts and emotionally charged tirades, bullying tactics or snide innuendoes, rampant misinformation, judge pressuring (even by other judges), conspiracy theories, judge blaming, unintentionally obnoxious or off–putting commentary, heresay and uninformed speculation, and lashing out born of insecurity can happen. Indeed, many forums or social settings have become so toxic that some participants just leave. 

Another aspect of social interaction we should be aware of is how different our standing becomes once we’re acknowledged as an artist, especially a popular, successful one. For better or worse, we’ll be regarded differently and therefore treated differently within the venue, which only intensifies as our popularity grows. So while we may see ourselves as just another person, many in the venue don’t view us so casually. This means that many public forums can be a worrisome place for us to socialize. Everything we post will be interpreted through prejudicial filters and so we can find ourselves the target of an unexpected attack. Our words also have far more weight and can unintentionally skew a discussion, too. Plus, those who agree with us will be interpreted as synchophants or brown–nosers, compromising their standing within the community. And the more successful we become, the more pronounced these effects. 

As for our own behavior, it’s good policy not to give the public too much information that gives others ammunition to fire back at us. For instance, giving out too much detail about our personal life, or "TMI," is a mistake. It can open us up to criticism or the "ick factor," and that just spells "headache" or "embarrassment." Try to keep highly personal aspects of our lives to ourselves. That doesn’t mean we can’t share our personal selves and show our fun sides like others, but we should be careful what we post in that regard. In addition, vulgarities erode our professional standing. If we can't make our point without cursing, we've already lost our argument. Cursing erodes our credibility and makes us come across as uneducated or overly aggressive. 

We also shouldn't to put words in other people's mouths or name–drop in our arguments. All the does is to irritate the artist invoked because when people speak for us they either give an incomplete picture of our beliefs, or a wrong one altogether. And if that artist is carefully cultivating a public image, such behavior can compromise it, or destroy it. So why antagonize colleagues? If we cannot defend ourselves and our beliefs on our own, we've already lost and should back out. Nonetheless, we should also be patient. We should understand where this reaction is coming from—the need for validation. It comes from vulnerability. So we shouldn't be quick to attack or vilify those who put words in our mouths, but politely and gently provide them with information and pointers that could help them defend their work more effectively. Lending a helping hand often is far better than turning into another attacker.

We also shouldn't beg questions about the work of others, or people themselves. Making leading statements causes others to doubt the credibility of someone, or their work. For instance, if we customize something and claim we "fixed" it or "improved" it, that means there was a flaw in the first place, disparaging the original artist who sculpted the piece. We have to be careful how we frame our statements to avoid unfairly besmirching others or their work. Instead, taking from the example, we should frame our customizing as "making it unique," or "making it different." Because that's exactly what we're doing, isn't it? There's no guarantee that we're actually improving the piece! Indeed, we could be making mistakes that diminish the original! In this way, making leading statements can reflect badly on us and our work, so avoid them. 

Basically it all boils down to this: how we come across to others. If our posts are off–putting, emotionally–charged, overly–sensitive, prickly, inflammatory, or derogatory, we’ll appear unpleasant or unbalanced. Unlike non–artists, we cannot post whatever we think or feel, but need to filter our words to maintain a sense of professionalism. Here, social media can be a blessing or a curse. We often work sequestered in our studios alone throughout the day, and it’s social media that allows us to share ourselves and our experiences in a convenient manner. When applied effectively, this can do much to humanize us, for making us more accessible and welcoming, which improves our image and sense of self within the community. However, when indulged irresponsibly, social media is a PR disaster. There's probably no faster way to damage our sales that to come across as unlikeable online. Passive–aggression, political or religious rants or attacks, consistently negative attitudes, coming across as insecure, combative, or touchy, or generally appearing unlikable and unpleasant will backfire in a big way. We have to moderate ourselves if we're to utilize social media to its best advantage. And when we do, we find it's a fabulous way to connect with people and share our work. 

Because we should never forget that our work is a part of us. When people buy and bring it into their home, a part of us is imbued in that piece. So whenever someone looks at our work in their home, they tend to think of us and the experience they had buying it. So make sure that feeling is good every time! But here’s the thing: everything we post in public has the potential to tarnish that experience, to wreck that feeling when they look at our work. So we should be very careful to ensure the long–term “like–ability” of our ourselves and, therefore, our art. Doesn’t mean we can’t be ourselves! We absolutely should be—but just our best selves. We are our art—we’re inseparably linked—so it’s a good idea to make sure that link is a positive, endearing one.

Plus, behaving in such a professional but accessible manner attracts like–minds to us—we attract happy, pro–active people, and that creates a circle of friends that inject our lives with positive vibes and helpful attitudes. In contrast, when we come across as inaccessible, dysfunctional, insecure, passive–aggressive, or prickly, we drive people away, especially those who have the most good energy. Pump out good energy into the community and we get it right back. All negativity does is breed more negativity, so make an effort to avoid it, whatever the reason.

That said, sometimes an artist is targeted for “leveling.” Some hivemind decides that an artist needs to be “brought back down to size” and so is targeted with criticism meant to chop them down. For example, labeling a knowledgeable presenter of a seminar as a “know–it–all,” or someone who also casts in bronze as “arrogant.” It may also be a complaint about how we sell our work, or at what price. It may be a swath of complaints about our work or working habits. Whatever the reason, the more popular we become, the more we should expect to be “leveled” at some point—but we shouldn’t let it get to us. In many ways, it’s a badge of honor, so we should just keep doing what we’re doing and damn the torpedoes.

We should also be aware that as the more successful or popular we become, the more like lightening rods we are for bad behavior. Everything we do or say will come to attract negative attention from some who thrive on such things, or harbor animosity towards us for whatever reason, even if our public image is good. As a result, we can meet with argumentative behavior, outright attacks, or snide insinuations when we post, and we may not understand why. Regardless, always take the high road, no matter how infuriating this can become. The more shrill others appear in contrast to our professional coolness, the better for us. For this reason, it's often a good idea to turn off the comments option on blogs or newsletters because more times than not, we'll attract the argumentative type. And if we're generating this back–blow with our own behavior, it's time for a rethinking in how we engage the public.

But it’s important to know that this behavior is found in the real world, too. There are always those who thrive on negativity, and the equine collectibles venue is no different. The real problem is the insular and casual nature of the venue that allows the behavior to persist while also making it difficult to escape. So we shouldn’t let it tarnish our life in the studio! Ignore it and avoid those places where it’s prevalent, seek out like–minded colleagues for social interaction, and then proceed forward according to our own prerogatives. And, most of all, be happily creative—that’s the best rebuttal! Joyful productivity is the best retort! Never give this kind of negativity more power than it deserves by responding with equal temerity. Shouting matches just bring us down to their level. Instead, it’s best to direct that energy towards the creation of the best work we can produce and helping others do the same. 

How does this unpleasant behavior prevail? It starts at the root of the issue: the incomplete competitive structure of the venue, one that currently tends to disenfranchise DIY creativity and dampen a sense of camaraderie. In turn, players tend to interpret each other as objectified opponents rather than fellow enthusiasts, especially online, and especially artists, ultimately culminating in an arena not typified by cohesion and inclusion. And, unfortunately, artists are often the convenient target. Players sometimes also tend to have an "us vs. them" attitude with artists largely because, at present, we're the primary means to procure game pieces. This can breed a level of resentment and hostility with some, and they can lash out online as a result. The same can be said about the venues big organizations, too. We often have players complaining or attacking such entities whole sale, yet rarely offer viable solutions in return. One begins to wonder if they simply like to hear themselves talk, especially with self–righteous indignation.

Add into this mix a prevailing belief on some forums that intelligent moderation gags free speech rather than protecting it, and things tend to get out of hand rather quickly. There’s no concept of model horse hate speech, so there’s no communal impetus to recognize and temper bullying or aggressive behavior. The thing is, open public forums only work well if everyone exercises professional courtesy for the sake of the greater community. If not, then firm moderation is required to act as a referee in a kind of benign dictatorship. But if all speech is regarded as free speech, is regarded as equal, those who naturally play nice are driven away. Rarely can a large public forum effectively police and moderate itself. So this causes the forum to degenerate even further, which may end up churning out a constant feed of bad vibes throughout the entire community. And because artists are the source of the game pieces for the game, we’re often the target. The point being that public forums usually aren’t the best place for an artist to socialize for this reason.

We should recognize that not everyone’s opinion has merit and not everyone’s presence is beneficial. As individuals, we make these judgments about people in our daily lives as a function of social interaction, so there’s nothing new here. Yet online we often find that people can post whatever thought or emotion they wish, no matter how toxic or irresponsible. Quite literally, it’s like being in a one–room party with some party–crashers who cannot be removed, so we end up having to leave the party altogether. One can argue to just ignore the bad behavior, but this overlooks the cumulative effect this behavior has on the community—it’s corrosive. Until there exists a defined standard of behavior within the venue, with an idea of model horse hate speech and bullying recognized, this will continue to be a problem.

As an artist, this means we have to be careful with our professional image, and that we have a stormy sea to pilot if we frequent open, public forums. Sadly, many artists come to realize this too late and suffer because of it. And many have found that the more time spent on some of these big forums, the less appealing the whole venue seems to become! Don’t get the wrong idea, however—there are wonderful people out there, and on wonderful forums. We just have to find them and focus our attentions there. Also, there's social media that's better designed to protect our sensibilities and allow us to better control our public image and meet these great people. For example, Facebook lets us set up a business page. If we set it to only posts our own posts, we cut down on potential backlashing and veiled attacks. We can also delete combative responses, or those that insinuate negative ideas. We can build and edit a friend–base of people who feed our positive energy rather than drain it. Beyond all that, however, we should also remember that our precious time and energy is better spent in the studio creating our work. Taking up too much of the clock on forums or social media can be equally destructive to our art as anything else. Remember what gives us the most joy: creating our work. Remember what gives our customers the most excitement: when we create new work. It's all about our art, so stay most focused on that and we can't go wrong.

Conclusion to Part 4

With this understanding about professionalism perhaps some aspects of "hobby' come into sharper focus. We can better understand that our experience isn't our own, but shared with everyone in the community. Once this happens, our paradigm shifts to think bigger thoughts and become more concerned about the inherent problems within the game. We become more invested and claim a stake in our shared outcome. And though it may not seem like it now, this is important for an artist to do. Each of us is tied directly to the nature of the community to which we cater. Whatever form it takes, for better or worse, impacts our well–being and development as well as our sales. For this reason, it pays to help shape it for the betterment of all involved, particularly for fellow artists. So ponder these ideas with an openmind and in the spirit of camaraderie and cohesion. From them we can glean a better understanding of what's generating some of the behavior out there and come to formulate healthier attitudes and strategies to mediate them.

So until next time...ponder professionalism!

"For success, attitude is equally as important as ability."
~ Harry F. Banks

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