Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Five Principles

"Wildflowers, Rabbit Ears Pass"
Oil on Canvas

In Robert Genn’s October 24, 2006 newsletter, he talks about his preview of the book The Starbucks Experience, Five Principles for Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary by psychologist Joseph Michelli. In the newsletter, he talks about five principles of success, discussed by Michelli:
1. Make it your own
2. Everything matters
3. Surprise and delight
4. Embrace resistance
5. Leave your mark
When I first read this, I glanced over the principles and decided they were a little bit touchy feely and typical of the “feel good” stuff you find in your average how-to-make-your-business-successful book.

Then I took a second look and thought a little bit more about how these principles apply to my art career. I think it was a good way to bring together some thoughts about how and why I approach my art the way I do, and where I see myself going. I’m usually a bit nebulous about my painting – I hate writing artist statements and defining my work – so every once in a while I think it’s a good exercise to sit down and put some of my thoughts about art into words.

1. Make it your own.

This is one of my top priorities as I develop as an artist. Developing a personal style is something that evolves from spending countless hours alone in the studio. I value the critiques of my peers, and can’t put into words how much I’ve learned from the handful of workshops I’ve taken, but nothing has been more valuable than the hours I’ve spent alone in the studio developing my own voice. When I’m at the easel and something isn’t working, it takes some serious problem solving to figure out how to fix it. Combine my personal responses to every moment of difficulty while painting, and the result is my own personal style.

Nothing bugs me more than to walk into a gallery and to see a painting that was obviously done by someone who studied with a particular artist. I make a conscious decision to take a limited number of workshops and classes, and those that I do take are with artists who have a reputation for teaching principles and basics rather than technique. This allows me to learn within the parameters of my own style, and make sure that my paintings are and will always be my own.

2. Everything Matters

I agree – everything matters. When I drop off my paintings at a gallery, quality and consistency matter. Framing matters. Quantity matters. What a client sees hanging on the wall of the gallery influences their overall impression of me as an artist worth collecting. In working with the gallery, responsiveness and professionalism matter, and dependability above all. If I have a good working relationship with the gallery, it will reinforce their commitment to sell my work.

I could go on and on about the all of the things that matter. I’m only one person and sometimes I’m just going to have to prioritize the bigger things over the smaller things, but it’s still good to remember that everything matters. Because selling art is more than a collector falling in love with a painting - people’s opinions are influenced by more than what they see, and everything matters when it comes to presenting collectors with a package that will inspire them to open their pocketbook and buy.

3. Surprise and Delight

This one is tough for me. I paint because I’ve loved art as long as I can remember, but I’m at a point where I’m transitioning to making art my career, and at this stage I view art as work. Making and selling art is soon going to be my job, and I’m devoted to approaching my art business with the same amount of energy, discipline, and professionalism with which I approach my current day job. I think that this commitment has been responsible for the success I have experienced in this, my first year selling my artwork. But sometimes the stress of producing can suck some of the joy out of the creative process.

This principle serves as a reminder to me that I’m choosing to make art my job because I’m passionate about it. One of my goals should be maintain that passion when I get bogged down with deadlines and requests. My love for art needs to be the heart of this business if I am going to be successful in the long run.

4. Embrace Resistance

This is a tough one for everyone, because it’s human nature to respond to criticism with defensiveness. My husband is my toughest critic, and every time he makes a negative comment about a painting, I immediately respond with all the reasons he’s wrong. But every time I complete a painting, I set it up on a shelf in my family room where I can soak it up for a few days, and I never fail to see his point of view eventually. Often, the specific criticism he makes isn’t the root of the actual problem, but when I take the time to figure out what’s causing his response I can almost always use it to make a better painting.

It’s hard to admit when I’m wrong, especially when it comes to my art. I take it personally when it comes to my paintings, and it’s hard to separate hurt feelings from the truth when I’m evaluating criticism. But it’s important to embrace resistance, at least to the point of setting aside time for evaluation. Sometimes resistance is worthless, but sometimes it’s a valuable means of improvement. If you don’t stop to embrace it, you miss the opportunity that lies within.

5. Leave Your Mark

I’m a representational painter, so I don’t have any deep statement to describe what my work is about, and I’m never asked to explain what it all means. Sometimes I feel like I must not be a “real” artist, since I don’t have to put subtitles below my paintings explaining my vision and concept. But my landscapes are my personal response to the world around me, and it’s very important to me that I use my paintings to share that vision with an audience.

I see a lot of beauty in the natural world that I think the average person misses. When a particular scene takes my breath away, I would venture to say that 90% of people respond with “What?” when I say, “Wow – look at that!” The purpose of my art is to take that scene and put it in the face of someone who otherwise might not notice. It’s amazing how something that might escape a person’s notice when they’re driving down the highway can cause them to pause when they’re walking through an art gallery. I’m a bit of a tree hugger, and I just hope my landscapes can remind people that there are places out there that are worth saving.


  1. To start with the last item:

    Nice painting!!!
    Love the pinkish glow of the
    "wilgenroosjes" They also grow
    out here. Did you painted it yesterday or is it an old one to
    aside the message?

  2. Thanks Rene. I did that painting last month, and I think it sold last weekend (yay!). I like to paint the flowers - I can be abstract and focus on their color.

  3. I think you have a very promising career ahead if you,but i will tell you that with children, it gets hard to find time for everything You will though!

  4. 1. Make it your own
    2. Everything matters
    3. Surprise and delight
    4. Embrace resistance
    5. Leave your mark

    I readed your post with some more interrest now, and for me i see some things a little different. #1 for example.

    Make it your own I think you develop a personal style by paint/draw or what ever a LOT, nothing more and nothing less. Just work much and often. But you also can read this else "make it your own" means in my opinion make it my own, it's mine I DO IT! I will have to make the time to paint, draw and for most make it my own importance.

    Everything Matters
    You said it yourself you prioritize the bigger things over the smaller things. I find it for myself exactly that "everything matters" so for one that has much eye for the larger things, it's a hint to watch over the smal one aswell, and otherwise. Just selling en showing isn't everything, painting watching expiriencing is also and artist job. And then NOT to forget JOY in you work, one very small thing but oooow so important, don't loos that out of sight.

    Surprise and Delight
    Could be a tough one, but i think it's the most important one. Surprise and Delight is like staying open for everything, for your art, family husband eviorment nature erverything that Surprise and Delight's you. Take that into your hart and when thing don't Surprise and Delight you anymore, think about everything matters again, or MAKE it your own.

    Embrace Resistance
    I can see this for my work, trying to paint the things that i find hard to do, I find somewhere a resistance to do that. Thinking that i would fail. I would ruine a piece of canvas or what ever.

    Leave Your Mark
    That's only done by living allong these 5 lines i think. When you enjoy making your art, taking care of you own. Delight and suprise yourself by making something that at first was a resistance, and watch out for everything that matters, i think you will deffinatly make a mark. "Only change a small rock in a river makes a mark for ever in this world"

    (Sorry for my poor english)

  5. Great post Stacers! And it is a good exercise. Nice to see someone doing something they are so passionate about.

  6. Thanks for taking my principles and "making them your own." I enjoyed my visit to your blog and your art. Joseph Michelli, author of The Starbucks Experience

  7. Hi. I haven't stopped by in a while but thought I'd check in and see if you've had your baby!

    I'm glad I did because I really enjoyed this post. I rarely read all of Rober Genn's letters but found that the Starbuck's principles caught my eye as well. I like what you did with them.

    Take care!