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How to be an art hero

Detail from neon sign at Yucca Motel

A detail from the neon sign at the Yucca Motel. Photographed with permission at the Las Vegas Neon Museum

It’s easy to think about art fairs and open studio tours as opportunities for self promotion. Buy my work. Like my work. Compliment me for creating my work.

But a recent blog post by New Hampshire artist Luann Udell was a gentle reminder that it’s not always about me.  Writing about an upcoming open studio event in her community, she makes the point that by sharing our art — and especially our stories — artists not only enrich ourselves but we can empower others. We can be a hero in their lives.

Here’s what she had to say (paraphrased a little):

Many people think about pursuing their art, but only a fraction follow through.  Maybe it’s lack of time or money or focus; maybe it’s fear of rejection.  The reasons don’t really matter. “There are people who wish they could do what you do,” Udell writes. “They want to meet the people who ran away to join the circus.”

And for those in transition — maybe they’re taking a class or turning that spare bedroom into a studio — they need to see that it’s possible to succeed.  “There are artists-in-waiting who need to know that it’s possible to have that life, to make their own work, to carve out a place in the world for themselves,” she writes. “You are living proof that it can happen.”

Artists also enrich a community, using their creative vision to make their localities a better place.  “We do more than just fill art galleries or people’s homes with our work,” Udell writes. “We teach, inspire, enrich, model our values to our community.”

Not too long ago, I was one of those artists-in-waiting, not really sure how to make the transition from taking photos just for myself to sharing them with others.  Sure I took classes, but it was going to open studios and art fairs — talking to artists about their work and their lives — that helped me take that leap of faith and apply to my first show.

Some of what I learned was practical — how other photographers displayed their work, for example.  And I quickly figured out that it’s not always cool to press for too many details. There is a legitimate difference between asking a photographer to describe her creative process and asking her what kind of paper she uses and where she buys it.

But that’s the easy stuff.  By talking with other creatives I also learned to visualize myself in this community of working artists, to recognize that there’s really no such thing as an “artist type,” and — most important — to be able to say, “I’m a photographer,” without feeling that the statement needed a qualifier or an asterisk.

So thank you to everyone who helped me get to where I am today. And thank you, Luann Udell, for writing more eloquently than I about the importance of being an art hero.

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