Thursday, May 5, 2016

Precarious Lexicon; How A Simple Word Can Complicate An Artist's Life Part 7

Hi there! Welcome back to this 7–part series exploring the nature of the term "hobby" regarded from an artist's perspective. We've hit on many points so far, all of them connected and interdependent in order to persist. It's one big muddled, intertwined conundrum out there, and the artist is stuck right in the middle. This means we need some effective strategies for navigating our way, which is the gist of this series. But it also means that when we unravel one aspect of the problem, we begin to help fray the entire knot. 

Yet first we need to preserve our enjoyment in this venue so we stay and continue to produce the best work we can. And the first step is to understand the nature of the challenges presented to us by the philosophy promoted by "hobby." They are many and varied, and all of them threaten to compromise that necessary sense of contentment in our studios. Yet learn to navigate them, and we help to preserve our positive attitude necessary to continue doing what we do. These insights also help to protect new artists (and new players) so they don't give up and leave. 

What's more, understanding the nature of the problems empowers us to be patient and empathetic with each other. It's hard to call people "stupid," "blind," "ignorant," "difficult," or a "jerk" when we have a better idea of where they're coming from and why. For example, many people who are trying to amend the status quo can be vilified and bullied since it's perceived they're trying to ruin the "hobby." On the other hand, those who wish to keep the status quo are afraid that change will possibly disenfranchise them even more, or lower the competitiveness of the show ring. But if we walk in each others shoes, we help to build compassion and, in turn, help to cultivate a sense of community, too. Rememberwe're all in this together! We must navigate our way in one voice, and that means awareness, compromise, consensus, and thought are required to move us forward.

So now that we've learned a bit about the problems at hand, let's explore some practical applications we can implement that can help to change our own corner of this venue, or help us to rebuild a problematic public image. It's never too late. Then we'll conclude this series with some additional thoughts. So enough chatter!

Let's rock!...

A New Paradigm

We've considered the reality of our problems that basically elevate the minority at the expense of the majority. What's the minority? Well, it's those who have access to the expensive and limited professional works mostly needed to win, and especially those artists who devote a tremendous degree of OCDlike fixation, time, energy, and resources on the arts to do so. These people are the Wimbledon players, to take from a previous example. In particular, the artists operate on a professional level, and so much so that they can make a living off what they do, and that introduces some specific motivations that take their involvement to a different degree of involvement and investment. Yet the majority either don't have access to such works, or cannot, or don't wish to dedicate such a professional–grade preoccupation to the arts. They're simply not as intensely motivated. This doesn't mean they create inferior works, only that their motivations are different. They aren't professionalsthey're casual participants. They just want to have a relaxed, fun hobby they can enjoy on a weekend, filled with enough challenge to make it interesting, but not so much as to make it frustrating or exclusive. They're the ones who play tennis for recreation. And it's precisely these folks who are being disenfranchised wholesale.

And think about it, if all we have are Open divisions, that's a highly limited access to ribbons. Only a few out of the many will win them. No wonder competition has become the almost singular focus of so many, at the expense of near anything else. Too many people are vying for a highly limited level of achievement. Now it could be argued that this has lead to the creation of highly sophisticated works, and this is true. But these works are created, for the most part, by the Wimbledon players (though there are always exceptions), and that compounds the problems of exclusion. It could be argued that this drives up the prices of professional work, too, and this is true as well. Yet this only serves to amplify the issue of exclusion and access. This isn't to say that the pricing of professional pieces would be lowered though. There will always be a strong demand for them, regardless of the gaming structure.

So let’s flip this equation around, and we have a very different gaming environment for the arts. Youth, Novice, and AO artist divisions would probably become the largest divisions by leaving the Open divisions only for professionals (who operate as a business and have tax numbers, their sales contribute to their living expenses, or if they've earned a NAN championship with their work) and intensely–motivated work (if someone believes their Pro, they're eligible). Youth could simply be about age (say ages 5-15, and they either create their own pieces on plastics, or their shown model can't cost more than $50). Novice could be about the number of years one’s been a beginner (say seven years, and the they either create their own pieces on plastics, or their entry could not cost more than $200). AO (or non
–Pro) could be about the more casual shower (and they'd have to create their own pieces or they could finish professional resins, and their sales tend to fuel their participation in the game rather than their living expenses). And there would be no reason to force AOs out of that division and into Pro, even after a measure of time. Let them stay in AO as long as they like, as long as they don’t operate as a business where they make a living off their arts. There’s also no need to prevent any AO from concurrently showing in the Pro divisions if they wish—let the AOs have free rein! This really is their community, so let them have the most opportunities to play the game. Likewise, there's also no reason to prevent Novice and Youth from showing in the Pro division with professional works either. It’s not complicated, but incredibly easy to do if we stop fixating on competition and who gets a ribbon and how, and start focusing on fun and inclusion. When we put that at the top of our priority list, everything else falls into place quite easily.

In doing so, opportunities to learn and play the game and the arts are maximized which gives other motivations and skill levels space to flourish, develop, and enjoy themselves, things that motivate them to stay and include others in the game. The end result is a new system that allows more participants to find a better measure of success, and on their own terms. What was once an exclusion–based activity ruled by a minority then becomes an inclusion–based one dominated by the majority—that’s a sustainable model.

But in the meantime, what does an exclusion–based gaming system mean for an artist? A lot. Boiled down, we’ll have to establish our own sense of accomplishment because the game is stacked against us, especially if we’re new or more casuallyminded. It also means that if we want to become successful in the Open division, we’re going to have to work far harder and sacrifice much more in order to achieve that—and we’ll have to maintain that hard work to stay on top. We can’t ever let our guard down. Doing the best work we can on each piece, and trying to find meaning in our work other than ribbons will be crucial for our sanity. Most importantly, this hostile system we’ve created through ambivalence and neglect means we’re even more obligated to help each other, especially those who are new and developing. We might also want to think about advocating, spearheading, and sponsoring Youth, Novice, and AO divisions with awards. Many times simply creating the niche is enough to make it bloom. Each of us can do this if we can imagine a more inclusive gaming environment.

In the truest sense then, we need more DIYers, and DIYers from more walks of life who are finding the kind of success that keeps them motivated and engaged. In other words, we need more players participating in the arts with a reasonable measure of success that's better aligned to their motivations or abilities. They shouldn't have to hit the ground running at Olympic speeds. Really, since the arts are such a big part of the game, all facets should be able to participate, and this may have a cascade of positive changes within the venue. 

For example, first, it could help to reduce the dependence on professional artists who are already hard–pressed to keep up with the demand. They can only create so much in a given measure of time which, again, compounds exclusivity. Yet this new paradigm wouldn't threaten their pricing since the demand for winning professional pieces would still remain for the Pro divisions. 

Second, we'd reduce the lopsided nature of competition and even out everyone's ability to participate successfully. And when more people can better succeed, we gain more motivated and content players who are more apt to invite others to play. We experience growth in our gaming base, and that can also help to stabilize the market and the downward spiral away from community. 

Third, we'd have more people appreciating what goes into creating a winning piece on the competitive level, and that only serves to heighten an appreciation for the arts and what artists accomplish. If more people understood what goes into a winning piece, perhaps that would lower complaints and frustration over pricing. 

Fourth, it would give room for the learning curve needed to master the arts, which could perhaps result in more professional artists over time to heighten competition and diversity. This could push along innovation and the sophistication of the arts altogether since more brains working on the same problem results in a plethora of solutions.

Fifth, more DIYers also amplifies the sense of community by adding another layer of commonality among usthe artssomething that can be shared and experienced together. When more of us are creating and competing with our creations, we help to create a nexus of shared values and priorities, which could further the compromise needed to reshape the game into something accessible and inclusive.

Sixth, in that light, more Diyers would also help us to find consensus on judging criteria and what establishes bona fide quality since more people would be involved in the arts. That's to say that we may finally solidify and identify what constitutes actual quality only because more folks come to understand what goes into a winning piece. We'd simply have more people coming to see the issues on the same page.

Seventh, we'd lessen resentment, confusion, and frustration among players since more people would have better access to success. This would help lessen the stress involved with showing, creating a more relaxed atmosphere that gives fun a better chance to flourish.

Eighth, since there's more room for more people to show successfully, entries into shows would increase, and our showing experience not only becomes more enjoyable, but populated by more eager showers.

Ninth, shows could also diversify to cater to specific interests and motivations. The number of shows would increase as a result, and perhaps the local and regional show would regain their status as centers of local camaraderie, regional cohesion, and stiff competition on all levels.

Tenth, since more people are experiencing the arts, judging would improve and the judging pool would grow, which benefits showing over all. We can't ignore that the game is suffering a dearth of truly good judges, and we need a means to produce more. Having a healthy population of DIYers is a great way to do this naturally and easily.

Eleventh, when we have swaths of unpainted resins which cannot get painted fast enough, or at all, their sales can diminish as people's collections grow without being finished...and so they can stop or reduce buying altogether. However, if there were more DIYers, the sales of resins would grow since the demand for them increases because more people can paint them and still be successful.

Twelfth, with more DIYers the need for Novice, Youth, and AO divisions makes even more sense. This can lesson the derision created by lumping everyone into one pool, with everyone crowded and vying for swimming space. We'd also have less animosity and anger from the Wimbledon players who resent the recreational players from trying to "dumb down" the game (how ever mistaken that may be). Indeed, we tend to hear intense showers complain about how less intense showers want to compromise the quality, exclusivity, "fairness," prestige, or challenge with winning a ribbon in the Open division. 

Thirteenth, when we take Pros out of general showing, we rebalance the minority dominating the majority. We also make the standards for the Pro division harder and more aligned to the OCDfixation needed to perform at that level. When Pros have to compete with other Pros, the stakes rise even higher, and that can push for even more innovation.

Fourteenth, we'll experience more variety and diversity for the available works for players to show. This could push quality up across the board. For instance, a Youth, Novice, and AO could show Pro works in the Pro divisions at the same time, then with their own work, show in their respective divisions as well. This increases the number of pieces shown and that helps to fill shows.

Fifteenth, the game would become more attractive to beginners and new players since they'd have a place to show that's aligned to their abilities. This will help the game grow and add diversity to our community.

And all this is just the tip of the iceberg. The advent of a larger DIYer base has a cascade of positive effects, and it's the arts that can lead the way to a paradigm shift. And who knows what other changes would happen with the advent of more DIYers in the game! 

But can we see how farreaching the effects are with simply reintroducing the DIYer en masse back into the mix? We live in a kind of closed ecosystem, one that's experienced a diminishing amount of diversity over the passing years. What was once a varied, dynamic environment with multiple "species" flourishing has been diminished into only a few "species" that have "overgrazed" the landscape, or atrophied the game. We need to "reintroduce lost species" back into the game for it to rebound and become healthy again.

So now that we’ve come to better understand some specific problems born from the “hobby” paradigm, and how they might be changed, perhaps artists can better negotiate through these troubled waters to keep their ships confidently sailing forward. We not only have an understanding, but now we can formulate strategies, too. From this perspective, artists should be sympathetic and thoughtful of players. Non–artistic types don’t live in the same reality within the venue as we do, and so may not understand the view from our perspective. Plus, many may simply be so immersed in the status quo that they don't even perceive the problems in the first place. So we need to try and see their perspective as well. This is why having positive strategies can be so important. When we meet people halfway we tend to inspire the same in them. And there is promise. The first whiffs of change are beginning to saturate the community as the status quo reveals its obsolescence with each passing year. 

To that end, we artists are uniquely situated to have a positive impact in that regard by having direct control in how we frame ourselves, our work, and our involvement. Do this thoughtfully and with a strategy in mind, and perhaps we can push along a fundamental paradigm shift as we role model certain behaviors. So how can we advocate for a new paradigm that emphasizes community over competition? There are many ways such as:
  • Freeing ourselves from the small–minded fear the “hobby” paradigm perpetuates. Think big thoughts and dream big dreams—then act on them fearlessly! 
  • Reach out to help others, especially beginners and newcomers. Try to steer them out of anticipated trouble and towards success. And become “that person” they would like to see when entering a room full of strangers. Show them that artists aren’t intimidating, cliquish, aloof, or snobby. 
  • Work to enrich the learning environment such as writing articles and blog posts, giving workshops, classes or demonstrations, hosting retreats, get–togethers, publishing books and guidelines, organizing field trips, YouTube videos, and supporting those organizations or shows that do. And attend these activities when offered in the venue. And attend such activities when we find them in other venues—experiencing creativity outside the game's fishbowl can do wonders to open up our mind beyond its narrow focus and fill it with fresh ideas we can bring back. Similarly, keep a close eye on parallel activities outside the venue to maintain a healthy perspective and to keep options open. Pull from them and bring back what we’ve learned into the game. Venturing out offers new perspectives that benefit both us and our community. 
  • Adopt a professional tone and standards. Always think of what we’re doing within a professional context rather than a casual one, especially when it comes to sales and conduct. This speaks well not only of us, but of all artists. And remember that professional expectations stabilize an activity. Having a vested interest means we have to think of The Big Picture rather than just our narrow experience. Professional attitudes also marginalize poor behavior, clearing the road for the community to contemplate a sustainable future for itself in more a rational setting for discussion. It’s very easy to get swept up in the minutiae we encounter, but always play the long–game in all aspects of our participation.
  • Start discussions on these topics discussed here. Get people talking and thinking about them. Listen to people, and try to see the issues from their point of view, too. Look for compromise and consensus. Remember, we all have a stake in this. Remember that our presence and participation are critical to the future of this activity. Each one of us is needed.
  • Strive to build social cohesion rather than pander to derision. Re–prioritize our involvement away from competition and towards community. Reframe the experience of others as our experience. Practice empathy. And treat everyone with a friendly, respectful demeanor. Never be aloof or appear dysfunctional, bullying, inaccessible, testy, or crabby. Moreover, publicly speaking negatively about others or their work only gives a negative impression of us and promotes an environment of derision. Don't do it. And try not to lash out publicly if our over–sensitive or indignant nature feels wronged. Step back and take a breath. Plus don’t ever forget what our work means to our customers whether it be as an art piece or a game piece. They’re often prized and loved, so behave in ways that preserve that level of affection. Always think about how our responses will appear to others when we act; always think about our public image. Everything we do and say stacks up to create a picture of us and that can affect sales. Make sure it’s a good one that inspires people to connect with us and our work. 
  • Don't allow bullying or toxic behavior to persist. Call the behavior out (not the person). When we ignore these things—sure, that's easy—it does let such things compound and spread. We need to recognize a kind of hate speech in our venue, and act to stamp it out in one voice.
  • Don't speak for others or name–drop, even if we feel cornered in an argument. Our words need to stand on their own.
  • Never use anonymous IDs on public forums or blog comments. We should own our words. Not only is this what professionals do, but it lends a level of decorum and even–handedness to any discussion. If we're too afraid to own our words, then they aren't worth mentioning. Cowardice discredits any point.
  • Avoid vulgarities online. It's off–putting for many people and paints an unpleasant picture of us in the eyes of the public. If we can't make our point without them, we've already lost the argument.
  • Remember that as we become more successful, we become more intimidating to others, especially players. What may seem like hostility, aloofness, or rejection may actually be shyness and trepidation. Work to dispel these reactions by making ourselves more accessible and friendly. Actively meet people, and strive to make connections. What's more, try to avoid using the term "BNA" (or Big Name Artist). More times than not, it's meant as a derogatory term to denote arrogance and oversized egos. 
  • Think about starting a blog or Facebook studio page that helps people experience our journey behind the studio door. Not only does this lend a better idea of what goes into creating quality work, but it's also fascinating for many collectors. And when people can experience creativity along with us, perhaps that'll inspire others to take up the arts, too. We can also discuss helpful or pressing issues, such as this series, to get discussion started.
  • Dispense with old habits for framing ourselves and the activity. For example, choose terms such as "equine collectibles," “game,” “community,” or “industry.” 
  • Be sure our behavior matches our thinking, that our walk matches our talk—don’t project an image of mixed messages. And take what we do seriously—value ourselves. Our time, skill, and energy aren't disposable things. 
  • Be confident in ourselves. Learn our boundaries, and develop rational, evenhanded, and responsive policies that protect them. Remember our limitations, too. Don’t take on more than we can chew. Keep things manageable in order to meet deadlines and people’s fair expectations. And don’t let anyone railroad us, but be fair and gracious, too. Plus, design a business model for ourselves with care, one that fits our boundaries and our work habits. For instance, if we're naturally disorganized and prone to distraction, if we don't like policing people and we prefer to avoid confrontations, avoid situations that call for such actions. Being so, avoid time payments, commissions, layaways, open–ended certificates, and the like. Create then sell. This preserves our sanity, our good name, and our long–term creativity. Never build a business model that panders to our lofty ideas, or what people demand that's counter to our natures. Know thyself. 
  • Employ trustworthy business practices that build confidence in the arts community, and work to put that professional polish on everything we do, right down to packaging and shipping. 
  • Expand our repertoire of work. Consider creating other types of work, or in other media. Not only is this loads of fun by allowing us to express our creativity in different, new ways, but it comes back to inform our usual work, too. It also expands our portfolio and helps to stabilize our sales when times are lean by expanding our customer–base. We also help to legitimize our usual work as art as well, and that has long–term benefits for us. Think about different price–points for it by offering different kinds of work, too. In turn, consider different price–points for our usual work that appeals to different pocketbooks. For example, creating "micro," curio, or "mini" scales, busts, bas–reliefs, plaques, and tiles offer the collector both a broader range of our work to collect, but better access for collecting it. Then think about entering appropriate work in art shows such as those hosted by AAEA. Comprehending the full scope of our potential is never a bad thing and lends value to our work outside of the game’s venue. Max out our possibilities.
  • Actively work to reaffirm imagination, artistic enthusiasm, the DIYer, and creative exploration. Doing so injects positive energy back into a system presently designed to snuff it out. 
  • If we suggest a new program or change to an organization, we should spearhead that undertaking. Be pro–active and accountable, that’s part of being an invested participant. If we aren’t invested enough in our own idea to undertake its fruition, then no else should be either.
  • On that note, work to expand the possibilities within the art form to broaden existing concepts. New creative directions can inspire an evolution in ideas and directions, and can help reinvent a paradigm! For example, encourage bas–relief, bust work, giftware, and other facets of realistic equine sculpture and finish work. Think about promoting showing niches for these pieces by sponsoring awards. 
  • Be a force of positive, revolutionary change. Be pro–active, not reactionary. We can pick those things we love about the venue and work to promote them. We can work to change those things discussed here, too. For example, work with showholders to hold Challenge Classes for our areas of interest such as a breed of choice, a kind of work we want to encourage, or even for our own work. This can add fun back into a busy, intense day of showing, helping to remind people of other motivations beyond a ribbon or card. And having these classes judged by People’s Choice infuses even more fun into the experience and can help train people on the nuances of judging.
  • View other artists as colleagues, not opponents, competitors, or enemies. Sure, there will always be professional disagreements or personality clashes, but keep them private and professionally managed. If we feel prickly, envious, or insecure—don’t let it color our participation and especially not on social media. Likewise, keep hostility, indignation, and resentment out of the public eye. Everyone has a different reality. Keep things respectful, cheerful, and gracious, and always keep the other artist’s experience in mind.
  • Remember that everyone really is doing their level best with what they have so don’t indulge conspiracy theories, bullying behavior, judge blaming, or go off on a rant, especially when it comes to showing or artistic endeavors. There’s no consensual standard for judging criteria, which is the real culprit in goofy show placings. 
  • Support other artists. Don't indulge envy or resentment at the sales or accomplishments of a colleague. Instead, offer support, congratulations, kudos, and enthusiasm, especially in public. Affirmation can go far in creating a cohesive, positive artistic community.
  • Wear a name tag so people can put a face to the name and to create an inviting impression. We can make them ourselves with colorful drawings of horses, too!
  • Always keep the customer in mind. Try to see things from their point of view, and meet them halfway when we can. Everyone has different limitations. This doesn’t mean to compromise our policies, but to be compassionate and thoughtful to their experience. And keep customers happy. Don't help to foster animosity towards artists or the arts. And remember that collectors are investing in us and our work. Appreciate every single one. Never forget they can always buy from another artist, and there's always another cool new piece coming down the pike from someone else. Work to build a solid customer–base, and keep them. Along those lines, treat our good customs like the gems they are. We should cater to them, and do everything we can to ensure their satisfaction.
  • Actively filter our customer base to remove those who are a constant source of headaches, unreasonable demands, or presumption. However, be professional and discreet about it. There's no need to become indignant or accusatory, or to take it public. Moreover, don’t get hot–tempered with any customer, no matter how unreasonable or unfair their request. Always take the high ground and remain professional. People talk and share their experiences with us, and that can either promote or tarnish our public image and business.
  • Don’t burn bridges. We're all connected. Indeed, this is a tightly–knit venue with many overlapping interests, and there will come a time when we’ll have to depend on someone or some entity we could have disparaged in the past. Bad feelings not only make us look bad, but they could snuff out potential opportunities for the future.
  • Think about the sustainability of our goals. Don't create work simply to create more of it: have a prerogative with each piece. Each of our works should add a new voice, a new perspective, to our portfolio rather than the same old one. On that note, think about filling niches such as different kinds of breeds or scales of work. Expand, reconsider, then expand again. There's a host of breeds out there!
  • Think about sustainability of the market. What’s the long–term effect of our business choices on the market as a whole? And don’t only think about only our own profits, but those of our fellow artists in business, too. If necessary, reschedule a sale or release date to avoid an overlap with another artist’s sale. Try not to steal someone else's thunder. Work together for a common good.
  • Never bank on our reputation, but always create the best work we possibly can. Never let things slide. People talk and compare notes, and a single cursory job can compromise our name. Own our signature with every piece. Indeed, great work is the best form of advertising, and speaks for itself. And we’re only as good as our latest piece. It should stand the test of time, so make its quality timeless and enduring. This is our obligation to the game, and even more to our collectors. And remember that our work speaks for us, too. Each of our pieces is a piece of us in people's homes, and it should speak well of us. And try to always produce creative, original, innovative work. Avoid habits and routines—make each piece unique. Not only does this delight collectors, it also pushes the boundary of communal expectations. Along those lines, create work that challenges the status quo, too, or the idea that we’re showing pieces as “real horses in a show ring.” Think outside the box and come up with novel ideas that make not only that work, but our entire portfolio, varied and exciting. As such, thinking about our subject more as wildlife, as a critter with a larger experience other than a show ring, can go far in this. For instance, pregnant mares, senior citizens, feral or wild horses, rearing or rolling horses, horses playing with toys, etc. can go far in forwarding the idea that we’re creating a kind of art form that’s to be enjoyed and respected on that level.
  • Don't get lazy with scales. Micro, curio, and mini scales should have the same level of care and detail as our larger works, whether sculpted or painted. Indeed, even a tiny mistake on such a small scale equates to a huge one if enlarged. Practice more precision and meticulousness the smaller we get.
  • There seems to be two schools of thought in the game: the BCCs (Breed type, Conformation, Color Accuracy) and the ABCs (Anatomy, Biomechanics, Color Accuracy). But try not to focus exclusively on either one, but create work that blends both in a seamless way. Creating pieces that can show in both with success not only speaks well of our talents, but offers the customer more possibilities for showing. Remember, our customers want the most bang for their buck, so give it to them.
  • Never believe we know enough, or that since our work is already successful, we already know what we need to know. Always engage in pro–active research and improvement. The moment we stop moving forward is the moment our work falls behind the bell curve. Other artists are always out there, improving by leaps and bounds, and to fall behind rather than being the trailblazer can have a catastrophic effect on our sales. And be open to learning from other artists. Someone may have a better technique or vision that can inform our own work. So read their how–tos and study their works. Don't copy them, just be informed by their work.
  • Always thank officials, volunteers, and judges. Without them everything in the game and community wouldn’t happen!
  • Focus on the positive, not the negative. Don’t get caught up in what we don’t have, haven’t accomplished yet, or negative reactions to something. And especially don’t post them on social media. These things have a tendency to backfire on us in rather unpleasant ways. If we do have such complaints, we should be informed, courteous, and professional, and expect to spearhead that change.
  • Remember that our words tend to be colored through a different filter, especially on social media. Choose words and ideas very carefully to avoid unwanted insinuations. And never beg questions, especially about the work of others. Keep things supportive, positive, and constructive.
  • Don't crowd–source information. Go right to the source; otherwise we just pollute the arena with heresay, gossip, and misinformation, and that causes headaches for our officials and volunteers.
  • Never give someone ammunition to fire back on us. Publicly indulging TMI, criticizing, inflammatory, controversial, dislikable, or pesky behavior not only puts out an unpleasant public image of us, but fills our life with headaches when we should be spending our valuable time in the studio. If we do have a concern we’d like to voice, make sure it’s constructive, informed, polite, upbeat, and chock–full of solutions—and, again, be ready to spearhead them.
  • Value our vintage works. Don't disparage them, especially in public. When we do, we're also disparaging those who own it and ourselves. Remember, each piece informed us and got us to where we are today. By owning them, we also lend value to the artistic journey, and that can have positive long–term effects. For example, when learners see that we're proud of what we've done, no matter how it makes us cringe, they're less afraid of making their own mistakes and come to value their own stages of development. Many collectors also enjoy owning an old piece of ours that exemplifies a phase we went through, and that's a cool thing to appreciate. And if vintage collecting can teach us anything, it's that there will always be someone who loves our vintage works. That each of our older pieces has a historical significance that speaks for our entire community and contributes to our rich backstory.
  • Learn to defend our work with a professional tone, an informed perspective, and an even–hand. Doing so in a shrill, insecure way doesn't lend credit to our perspective.
  • Don't post pictures about animal abuse online. It's good to highlight the need for better animal protection, but one of the quickest ways to get "unfriended" in an animal–loving, artistic community is to traumatize people. There are better ways to get our point across.
  • Avoid work that promotes cruelty or abuse. We claim we love horses and other animals, so our work should be informed to reflect that. This can include false collection and especially the "Big Lick."
  • Keep our participation on social media upbeat, positive, neutral, and inclusive. Use social media as a tool rather than as an outlet. Frame it according to long–term goals rather than short–term indulgences. For instance, don’t discuss religion, politics, or other such highly personal, touchy subjects, especially if its inflammatory, which goes for memes and links, too. This goes not just for a business page, but for our personal page, too. Poll after poll reveals that too much of this sort of thing is the fasted way to get "unfriended," and that means lost connections. If we do feel the need to discuss politics or religion, keep it evenhanded, respectful, and generous. Never become bombastic, contentious, judgemental, or thoughtless. What we post reveals a lot to others, so make sure it’s friendly and accessible. Never forget that our work speaks for us in people’s homes—their lives—and we want to make sure that’s a happy, respectful, welcoming one based on our public behavior.
  • Never copy another artist’s work without express permission. That only breeds resentment and hostility. Expressing our own original ideas and designs is always the best bet. Likewise, don’t alter or “remake” another artist’s work without express permission. “Improving” another artist’s work reflects badly on that work and begs questions about it. That’s rude and passive–aggressive. If we do (with permission) be sure to frame it as making it different and unique rather than better, fixed, or more appealing.
  • Keep the context of what we’re doing firmly in mind. When we lose perspective of our job and our participation, we tend to find confusion and frustration at the other end. For example, reframe our participation more about exploration and discovery rather than about winning a ribbon or bettering a colleague. Becoming competitive against oneself is often the better approach.
  • Remember that it’s not all bad! Sure it can be frustrating at times, but there’s a lot of wonderful aspects to this quirky activity that should be as clear in our mind. There are great people, great friends, great fun, and great challenges with great accomplishments. There are fun forums and the broad enjoyment of social media. And so many beautiful pieces to admire and learn from. We get to travel and experience new things, or photo show and learn to take expert photography. We may even get to see or meet lovely real horses and enjoy their talents and beauty. There are adrenaline rushes, and sweet anticipation, the excitement of show day, and that lovely exhaustion at the end of the day. It's a blast with a limitless opportunity to enjoy ourselves, learn, and oogle. Keep these things close to heart and we'll never stray off course.
  • Don't forget we all love the same thing: horses. We may have different ideas and different motivations, but we're all essentially the same in this one thing. We do have common ground. Let the horse be the cohesive element with our work and with otherslet him guide us through the rocky times to bring us back to the fun and camaraderie of the game. Not only is the horse the best teacher, he's also the best ambassador and mentor, too.
  • Above all, remember to have fun! We should frame our work and studio lives in a way that keeps it enjoyable and exciting so we stay enthused and curious. And promote fun for others. A sense of humor, a sense of silliness, and a sense of joyful participation can go a long way in bettering the experience for everyone. Putting a smile on the faces of others is always a good thing.

The skills and expectations within model horse showing have outpaced its old operating paradigm, and it’s starting to show its wear. Clearly we have some work to do. The nature of our game is pretty ruthless and toning that down would go far in creating a more inclusive environment for all our participants, and the arts are a great way to do that. Whether we recognize it or not, the community is now at a crossroads and artists can be a defining force for positive change. What the game needs now are fearless minds, fresh ideas, and novel solutions to the problems—and the license to explore them. In a literal sense, the venue needs creativity now more than ever!  

Challenges should match the abilities or motivations of an entrant, not be so far and beyond them that they meet with continual disappointment and frustration. And this applies to artists—of all kindsin direct, immediate ways. We need diversity in our game so support those shows that explore options (even if they don't offer a NAN card). Think about how each of us can further the evolution of this game in positive, inclusive ways. Each of us has a vested interest in the future of this game.

And artists have a large stake in the outcome, too. We create the game pieces people need to play the game, and so we have a debt and a responsibility not only to each player, but to the game itself. Even more importantly, engaging this game with a firm grasp on its nature and how we interact with it protects our interests. When we're unaware of the influences at work, we become like feathers in the wind, ever blowing in every direction to land where chance plops us. That can be a problematic proposition. Taking charge of our directions not only helps to preserve our productivity, but it empowers us to take control of our destinies. With that, we can improve our experience and help to become a beacon of change, inclusion, and stability in this game. We might even be able to change minds and change this game for the better simply by role–modeling and becoming invested. It's worth it.

We also owe it to ourselves. Do we really believe the status quo is viable? Do we really believe we can continue and still remain sustainable? If we do, we might want to rethink how we approach and participate in this game. And change isn't a bad thing! Everything changes over time, and if we're able to guide that change along lines that benefit our activity as a whole then we've truly become invested individuals in this crazy thing we so enjoy. Nevertheless, the arts community should understand that confused and frustrated people often respond with fearful, hostile reactions. Many people are desperate or disenfranchised, and unclear how to change things. They often feel helpless. So tread thoughtfully, and be patient and empathetic.  

Until this change occurs, however, recognizing the pitfalls created by the “hobby” paradigm lets us navigate through the hiccups to maintain our own sense of direction. Only by fully recognizing and accepting all the eccentricities—good and bad—of the game can we find a measure of peace in our studio. Our sense of well–being does impact our art as well as our lives so if we deny or ignore the issues, they’ll get the better of us and that can compromise both our business and our creativity. For this reason, we should be as committed to our collective future as we are to our work. We’re all in this together! And together we can make a difference. Perhaps some day, all these problems will be nothing more than quaint horror stories we tell newcomers. With this new understanding, we may find that the model horse venue becomes a marvelous place to build a career and explore our talents within the depths of the game. 

Now some of us may never experience many of the problems discussed here, and that’s a blessing. Yet each point was derived from personal experience, or the experience shared by colleagues so they have happened. Also keep in mind that there are always exceptions. There are always those who pay on time, who are educated judges, who don’t indulge conspiratorial theories, who collect primarily for pleasure rather than winning, who treat everyone with courtesy and respect, who step up to the plate to enact changes…they’re everywhere if we look for them. Seeking out, befriending, and helping those who play this game correctly can go far in both our contentment and development.

We probably have also made some of the mistakes discussed in this series, especially if we’re new. The importance is to learn from them, and as we become more established, adopt more thoughtful modes of conduct and business practices. And we can rebuild our public image and broken ties. Rarely are such things unfixable. Proceed ahead with a new vision and we often find that people are forgiving and gracious. People can change, and there’s always room for that.

Just remember that words have power. They can shape our attitudes, our beliefs, and our reactions, even our way of thinking. They can be used as tools or as weapons, carelessly used if we aren’t conscientious. How they describe something is important then, and the words we use do make a difference in how we perceive what we’re doing. So think about using a new vernacular. Words shape our community every minute, every day.

Likewise art has power, and artists aren’t always helplessly in the middle. As a united front, we can role model and lead the way by example. So artists—we should just keep creating what we’re creating the very best we can, and be patient, professional, and pro–active. Be that person who helps to lead the way to a new collective future. Stay creative, stay collected, and stay committed. It’s worth it. Truly. And, thankfully, the first glimmers of change are starting to spark. Surely, the next forty years will prove to be very interesting!

So until next time, game on!

"The best that an individual can do is to concentrate on what he or she can do, in the course of a burning effort to do it better."
~ Elizabeth Bowen

Tolerance.Org, The Power of Words
The Power of Words, Paper for Language Origins Society, Amsterdam. Robin Allott. 1990.
Taking ADvantage, The Power of Words: Advertising Tricks of the Trade
Part One of a Two Part Series. Richard F. Taflinger. 1996.
A Better Normal, Goldie Hawn. 2001. National Press Club Words Can

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