The fennel's as high as an elephant's eye...


One of Hubby's favorite musicals is "Oklahoma" and for a while a couple of years ago, he listened to the soundtrack practically every day. In the song "Oh What a Beautiful Morning", Curly sings about all the wonderful things that make that morning grand. Hubby is prone to impromptu tweaking of lyrics to get me to laugh. The line "... the corn is as high as an elephant's eye..." has been morphed so many times over I can't even count. Thanks to Hubby, it's now part of my internal vernacular out in the garden. I now measure things mentally to see if they are "as high as an elephant's eye". And the fennel in the front garden definitely qualifies. Its blossoms are so far up in the air that I have to crane my neck to see them when I stand underneath it. It's a fascinating perspective.

Perspective... I've been thinking a lot about this concept as of late.

On July 7th, I passed the two year anniversary of starting this blog. I went back and read my first entry and realized that although a lot can change in two years, an awful lot also stays the same. I started the blog as a place where I could share my own life perspective, hoping that someone out there in the blog-o-sphere would connect with my unique life experience. I also wanted to share my own creative reawakening with anyone that might find it of interest. I had been on a creative hiatus for almost 10 years, and had just started rediscovering all the creativity that lay dormant in me or had been channeled into home improvement projects. I had just taken up photography again and it was inspiring me to create more and more.

Over the past two years, I've explored lots of creative avenues. Some have been fruitful and others... well, not so much. With Hubby's endless moral (and financial) support, I've dabbled and dipped with some creative pursuits taking root in me and others not.

I find myself at a crossroads right now. I have a spare bedroom in my home that is my "studio" that is fully equipped so that I can create to my heart's content. Yet, I'm stuck. And I'm stuck on the same thing that always gets me--it did 20 years ago and it does today.

This sticking point is actually a question, "Why should I continue to create if very few people show an interest in giving my creations a home by buying them so I can fund the equipment and materials it took to create them?"

It is at times like these that more than just the fennel feels higher than an elephant's eye. It feels like everything is higher than an elephant's eye.

Expectation of "Free"

I know that by sharing on a blog, Flickr, Facebook, etc. I may be pleasing someone's eyes for the few seconds that they look at my work on the screen. But does sharing in this way actually dilute the value of a creative work? Is it viewed as "free"? Do people think, "Well, I can look at it again and again here on my screen. Why should I buy it when I can look for free?"

I also know that by putting my work out there on those venues, there are other eyes that see my work as an opportunity to copy, pirate, or shamelessly take elements and pieces of my work and then use them to market their own work. In an ever-coarsening world, the lines of ethics get very blurred when it comes to internet sharing. There are many people that wouldn't scan an original piece of art and then post it or sell it online but they would post, sell, or copy a piece of art they found posted on the internet because they see it as "free". How many people think, "Well, I can look at it again and again here on my screen. And if I right-click it, I can put it on my desktop. Sure it has a watermark on it and it looks a bit skewed and fuzzy because the resolution isn't so hot, but that doesn't bug me. Why should I buy a print to hang on my wall when I can right-click for free?"

I've read a number of articles about the changing market and how the expectation of everything being "free" is becoming more and more prevalent. I have to wonder then what does that do to the breadth of creative and artistic perspectives that are available for consumption. Does this societal expectation of "free" narrow the field drastically because there are individuals that can't afford to offer their work for free? I know that for me, it was much easier when I let my artistic creativity lie dormant and channeled my creativity into my home and my garden exclusively. I had a greater sense of satisfaction and purpose because I didn't feel like I had to monetize what I was doing in order to fund it. Society's shift toward everything being "free" didn't matter much to me at all. Nobody could come and steal my garden and market it as their own so I didn't have to be constantly vigilant about "creative garden theft" like I am now with creative art theft.

Over Saturation

I've identified another phenomenon unique to this new world we live in and that is the reality of over saturation. I've read a couple of books about this fact and also experienced it firsthand. People are so over saturated with messages, information, images, etc. that they stop really reading and seeing. If people stop really reading and seeing, where does that leave writers and artists? If we only visit other blogs, to drive traffic to our own what do we miss because we're skimming over the words and not truly reading them? If we're only looking at others' Flickr photostreams and leaving comments so they will come visit our photostream, what are we missing because we're not really seeing what others have created.

Instead of being a beautiful rainbow of many different creative perspectives, it's like someone came and stirred all the colors of the rainbow together to the point that everything has turned the same shade of brown and is muddy colored. No one looks unique anymore even though they really are. People stop paying attention and stop really looking because they figure it's all the same anyway even though it isn't.

"Authenticity" and "Being Real" Aren't Believable

The technology that makes it possible to share an image or words so easily has also distanced the audience of that image or set of words to the point where things don't seem "real" or "authentic". Here's an example of what I mean...

After a great deal of research and a lot of forethought, Hubby and I made the decision to purchase a very large piece of printing equipment so I could produce my greeting cards in-house. I didn't like the quality or price of on-demand printers that are online right now, yet I didn't want to produce cards that anyone could print with their own ink jet desktop printer. So we bought a Konica Minolta Magicolor 7450 4-color digital laser printer. It weighs over a 100 lbs. and is almost 3 cubic feet in its physical dimensions. It's a behemoth. But the printing results are gorgeous, and I can finally print my work on heavy glossy cardstock, hand-score the cards, and have them look more luxurious than a card available at Target.

Here's the problem... no one believes me. How do I know? Because I've been asked many times if the cards are "glossy" (code for "Were they just printed on an ink jet printer like mine?"). It doesn't matter what I write in product descriptions, how many angles I photograph the product from, or even if the person is holding the card in their hands in a cellophane sleeve. They still don't believe me.

A similar scenario is the case with my photographs and fine art prints on paper and hand-stretched canvas (otherwise known as giclees). Again, after a great deal of forethought Hubby and I chose to invest in a professional-level photo and art printer--an 8-color Canon PixmaPro 9000 with archival ink. It can produce up to 13"x19" prints on photo paper, fine art museum-quality paper, or Belgian linen canvas. The results are stunning. There's NO WAY I'm ever taking my work to a photo lab again for prints, because I've never gotten results as good as I do with this printer.

But again, people don't believe me. The assumption is that if I produced it myself then it must be sub-standard. Even if someone holds it in their hands, I know the thinking is, "Well, if she did this herself then it must be something anyone can do and that means it isn't worth much."

It doesn't matter if I make it clear that I've printed an art print on Hahnemuhle Museum Etching 350 fine art paper that's made of 100% rag (making the print water resistant) and then hand-buffed it with Renaissance micro-crystalline wax polish. Even if I went so far as to point out that Hahnemuhle is a paper company that's been around since 1584, it wouldn't matter much. People don't believe it.

It's really hard to be a completely truthful person in a coarse and disingenuous world. Especially when I'm just trying to create something beautiful that someone will want to buy to bring into their home.

My Dilemma

My personal dilemma is that I have wonderful equipment and materials to produce art pieces that I think are beautiful. But for one or a combination of any of the above reasons, I cannot sell my work.

Do I remove my work from all the social networking sites that are over saturated in order to not add to the muddy mess even more?

Do I let the equipment and my creative pursuits go dormant and focus my energies on my garden and home in a private way that is shared with few?

Do I continue to write on this blog when I know that most people haven't bothered to read this far down in the post because I wrote more than a paragraph?

These are genuine questions, and not an invitation to a "pity party". I sincerely appreciate any and all insights you have to offer. Because right now I'd rather that only the fennel be as high as an elephant's eye. From your perspective, what do you see?
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16 comments:

  1. From my perspective of thinking about putting my work out on the internet (etsy or my own site), I've been holding back because the market is not good for selling anything except necessities right now. I think it will improve in the future.

    Have you tried taking your cards and pictures to small gift and card shops in the area where you live? Not the big corporate ones but the indies. Or having a booth at a fair/farmers market?

    I do understand your frustration. I've been thinking about this a lot lately.

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  2. First of all Cindy,......I read the entire post. And I enjoyed every word of it.

    I agree with you, in this over saturated market, beautiful hand created artwork has less value than something picked up at your local housewares discount store.

    But what is the saying? "Do not cast your pearls before swine," not that I am calling anyone a swine, poor piggies, that would belittle them.

    There is a market for beautiful high quality pieces, it does require some searching for a discerning customer who realizes that price is not everything. And not every customer is going to be that person. It most likely encompasses a very small percentage of the market.

    Please don't quit, I love your blog, your work, your vision. You know how inspirational, and extremely helpful you have been to me.

    My business is never going to become a full time job, but it gives me a outlet that inspires me, it pushes me to create. And I am sure that many of my photos have been pirated, how little those thieves value my work, that they would just copy it off of the computer.

    I guess that is the price I pay, just like if I had a store and a shoplifter came in and stole from me. Word to those who do this, it is stealing, no if's and's or but's.

    It is a decision that you alone can make, but I for one, will miss you and your amazing work. And I can tell you that I would not be the only one who missed you.

    Biggest hugs, Jen

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  3. It would be a crying shame if you quit creating. Marketing always seemed to me to be very hard. I am feeling a little guilt right now becase I have not purchased from artists I have noted on line and even at shows. I'm a cheap sucker and don't often buy cards or art or anything other than food and plants. You have made me rethink my behavior. I've got a passel of sisters to buy birthday gifts for and big box stores certainly don't need more of my money. May I make one suggestion. Try local tea rooms. We have one here locally that sells beautiful cards and other things. That might be a good place for your creations.

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  4. Hi Cindy! Believe it or not, I read yout post from A to Z. You are asking very interesting but not easy questions. I don't have answers. Time is needed to think over everything what you wrote. But I see what you mean. Some of your questions are the same as those that many artists asked centuries ago, and other questions are born by out time with the Internet, etc., etc. Let's look at Blotanical. There are tens of posts about the same plants, birds, blooms, etc. Among them, there is one or two that stand out. People notice that blog which produces something special, different and come back. ... If your works are good, they will be noticed. Do you think you might want to do some research withregard to marketing your works, try to find your niche? Creating and marketing are two separate areas. There are your customers somewhere, but how to find them?!It's very difficult right now, when many people try just survive. Well, this is just what came to my mind after reading your post. I wish you all the best!

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  5. Sweet Cindy,
    I'm not sure I have any answers for you but, in my own small way, I've gone through some of these dilemmas. I realized that I *couldn't make a living* from my sewing or quilting... it just sucked all of the joy out of it for me. I look at the investments that I've made in equipment (whether for quilting, scrapbooking, photography) as things for me.

    I will be the first to say that I am not in the same class of artist as you are... I am happy to create for myself and for those whom I love. I don't care if people read my blog or comment on my photos. I do this for me. If others enjoy it and tell me so, all the better.

    With that being said I know that this is a situation only you and hubby can answer. I hope that you don't stop your blog. You know that I read all of them. I love this connection that I wouldn't have with you if we only communicated via the phone or emails.

    I've read the previous comments and I think that they make some good points. I think that the present economy largely impacts your *saleability* right now so don't be hasty.

    I have one other suggestion... you sound hot and tired and discouraged... give this some time and wait for the cooler weather, more sleep and things won't seem so enormous that you're seeing eye to eye with that elephant.
    Love you so much,
    YLA

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  6. Cindy, Just want to let you know I did read to the bottom of your posting!

    As I read, I 'heard' your heart as you shared a lot of concerns that many artisans are facing. Lots of good questions and I certainly don't have answers.

    But, I'd hate for you to quit being creative just because other people don't appreciate it. Being creative is a large part of how God made each of us. And if we let it go, something inside us will shrivel and die.

    I shall always remember something that I felt God speaking into my heart once about writing, and in truth about all that I do creatively. To do everything for His eyes alone. He tells us that we were created for His pleasure, and the creativity He's placed inside us is ultimately for His pleasure too.

    He delights in us, in our creativity, and I've been learning that if I write an article with the idea of delighting His heart, then it matters less if anyone else appreciates it.

    Of course that doesn't answer the questions of what to do with all the product of our endeavours if no one wants to buy and own them. But perhaps that's where He could give you that witty idea that will work for your situation.

    When you mention that maybe you'd rather just be seeing the fennel in your garden..... of course that's a creative endeavour too.

    BTW, I'd personally hate to see you stop blogging, because I enjoy your postings. I like popping over to see what you're up to.

    Is there any comfort in knowing Van Gogh probably felt the same way? Yet He just kept painting....

    Wish hugs could be sent via blogsphere..... because I'd be sending one right now.....

    Brenda

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  7. This was certainly a post to make one think. I subscribe to your blog so I usually read the post in my email and sometimes I don't take the time to comment.

    I love your work. I love reading your blog. And as much as I love art it is often the last thing I purchase, which is sad but true. When I do purchase it, it is often an impulse buy so I am more likely to buy it from a local store. Several local restaurants, beauty shops and florist allow artist to display their work in their shops. In fact I got my purse when I went to get my hair cut, talk about an impulse buy.

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  8. I read the whole post! I think that those who posted ahead of me are very wise and gave you some great suggestions. Joanie's suggestion to step back is probably the best. Sometimes looking at the situation with a fresh perspective, after a break, is the best thing!

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  9. It is tricky to face the fact that sometimes what you are doing isn't valued as highly by others. But that does not mean it should not be of value to you. If you love it, and can afford it, KEEP IT UP. You do so many wonderful things and I appreciate viewing all of them...they are both inspiring and uplifting. Don't give up on yourself if what you do makes you happy.

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  10. Dearest Cindy: I DID read all of your post all the way through. Your thoughts are poignant and beautifully expressed. Please do not take the downturn in the economy as an indication that your work is not desirable, or appreciated. Having been in the interior design business for many years, I have seen many of my designer friends, as well as furniture shops and drapery workrooms go out of business this past year. I think people do not have the luxury income right now to spend.

    On the other hand, I do think there are more effective ways of marketing than the internet. I have found that many of the specialty stores have loyal clientele who appreciate the unique and the carefully-crafted artistic products. I think that your art will particularly appeal to those who love the one-of-a-kind artist-produced work. These kinds of people (like yourself, I am sure) love combing the specialty shops and are delighted to pay a fair price for their artwork.

    I wish I could say more, and I fear that this is not phrased exactly as I would wish. We are moving this week to Washington (home!), and are in the midst of loading the moving truck as I write this - but I did have to respond. (You see, I needed the boost of reading a Cindy post on a hard and hectic day!) Much Love, Lynda

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  11. This is a thoughtful, provocative post. I've been preemptively stalled creatively over here myself because I've been second guessing and critiquing the value of my own ideas for creating a second stream of income. Having a very short attention span and therefore very little stick-with-it-ness doesn't help either...

    I'm literally counting pennies in my home, what with a recent car lease buyout, unexpected vet bills, and a lower income the last couple of months. Today I elected not to buy groceries because I don't have the available cash and I don't want to put it on plastic...so luxuries are out of the question for me right now, no matter how much I may admire or desire them.

    I'm going to share something with you that you may not like to hear. However, I think there's real wisdom in this and I am in no way suggesting that your work does not have value. Please hear that.

    The late Thomas D. Willhite has said, "A person is paid in direct proportion to the service they render mankind."

    Now, personally, I think that can be interpreted a couple of ways. A service can be something tangible that is being marketed for an exchange of monies. It can also be charitable works, tithing, etc. that go into the universal kitty and comes back to us multiplied through different means.

    I, for one, really enjoy your blog and I think you have something of value to offer. The artwork itself, like the renovations on your home, may only be a means to another end not yet apparent, an opportunity for growth, or a stepping stone to something else not yet realized.

    I'm also incredibly envious of your equipment. I didn't realize you had the capabilities of producing giclees on canvas. I love that work. Here's a thought...what if you offered a service to produce giclee's for others' work? That may bring in enough money to support your own creative endeavours and perhaps more besides.

    I also think the suggestions of getting your artwork into local niche market stores and farmer's markets is an excellent idea. More and more, people are wanting to support local artisans and find work that isn't 'cookie cutter' or a dime a dozen (literally) on every corner.

    I haven't sold a single one of my photographic images. I leave it on the site because it doesn't cost me anything.

    As for my blog, I've found it to be a wonderful venue for expressing myself and for finding my voice. I write because I need to and this venue has gifted me with wonderful relationships I would not otherwise have made. I consider you one of those valued friends and would miss you if you didn't continue to contribute your perspective on line.

    Ultimately, however, it's about what works for you. You have my support whatever you choose to do.

    Much love to you as you sort this out.

    Carolynn

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  12. One more thought...sorry...have you considered taking a photo of you standing in front of your equipment and using it as a marketing tool? That way people will be able to put two & two together and see that you really are using something a little more sophisticated than a colour printer to produce your work.

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  13. Hia Cindy,
    catching up here. It sounds like you haven't found the right market for your beautiful work. The places in England that sell the high quality cards are places like museums (free entry in the UK) National Trust houses and gardens, and the higher class cafes. Have you thought of approaching your state's equivalent of Kew Gardens? One friend sells her nature photos through them with some success.

    It sounds like you invested a lot of money in equiptment. What about offering your services to other artists in your area?

    Whatever you decide I hope you continue to blog and don't become too despondant. Selling anything is hard right now. A survey of European workers showed that 1/3rd feared for their jobs, so people just aren't spending at the moment.

    I would love to start to sell some of the things I make but I worry that I would think less of them and less of my ability if they didn't sell. I know though in my heart of hearts that I can create good things. At the moment though people are battling to keep the roof over their heads and food on the table, so I know it's not the right time for me.

    I hope some of what I've said helps. Yes I did read it all.

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  14. A very thoughtful post. I hear your pain, and like another commenter said, this is a tough economy. It sounds like you are doing all the right things. I also get frustrated because people who see my work in person RAVE about it, but it doesn't translate online. Have you ever thought of selling your cards wholesale to retail shops? Or even or consignment? I did that and the shop owners were raving that the cards were flying off the shelves. There's a Yahoo Group that is has great info called Greeting Card Professionals. Let me know if you need the link. Or what if you did "parties". Become the Cookie Lee of greeting cards-since you seem to especially like the retro thing (me too!) you could design your parties to be like ones the 1950s housewives used to go to. Okay, I'm going off on a tangent & too much info for a comment. Email me if you want to brainstorm together. Hang in there-it's just about finding the right combo.

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  15. Hi what a very interesting and philosophical post questions similar to what most artistic people ask. Including my daughter who is currently re evaluating her work.
    I am guilty of not always reading peoples posts fully not because I am not interested although the photos interest me more than the writing. It is just that there are so many wonderful blogs and I don't have time to do them all justice.
    My main interest is to record a record for me when I started I did not realise who interactive I could be with other bloggers that has been such a bonus.
    Good luck with your decisions all i can say is don't close doors on things in life they always come useful somewhere down the line.
    Best wishes Joanne

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  16. Hey Cindy, wow, now I know what is going on. You know, sometimes we just have to go with the market, with the flow, and change accordingly. I think you have done an amazing job, but yet face the struggle. The problem is with everything that whatever we love to do, there is no money there. I myself would always try to do first what will give me monetary support for something that I like to do. This is the sacrifice I had to make. The art stuff I did in the past, I just had to give up, and now without any stress I do it for fun. Excellent post Cindy, and very useful to many of us too. Anna :)

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