Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The feminine side

I was exhibiting at the Kitsap Arts & Crafts Festival in Port Gamble last year. I love this show and have been involved since I moved to Washington (it was the first show I did, even before I opened the gallery).
I had many pieces, but as usual, the drilled beach glass and stones got the most attention.

I explained to folks how I drilled the glass and stones and I even have the drill corers I use for sale at the show. Nothing unusual about that, someone always asks about the bits I use, so I found from experience it is better to be prepared. Here's the unusual part...at least 10 people were astonished that I would spill my "secrets" of how I make my pieces. They were even more shocked that I would sell the hard found tools of my trade (trust me, I tried every masonry, jewelry and lapidary bit out there until I found these corers). One woman nearly fell over when I gave her my business card with my email and cell phone number and told her to call if she ran into any problems drilling her pieces.

Now, I admit, this is not the first time this has happened. I do many shows and have sold many bits over the years, and I do the same thing every time...I tell people exactly how I drill the pieces, what my set up is, my tools, how fast to run the drill-I even printed up instructions to had out. Then I hand them a card with my contact information so that they can call if they get stuck.

Apparently, people find this highly unusual. I can see their point...

In business we are taught to be competitive, we need to beat our competition. In the current marketplace the business owner or CEO's goal is to sell better, faster, cheaper, & more than the other guy and hopefully, drive him out of the marketplace. It's dog eat dog, and when one dog tries to undercut the other, the attacked fights back with a better deal or a special coupon or anything to get the customer to buy from them and not the other guy. Adversarial? Absobloodylutely! How can any business expect to create loyalty when they are constantly attacking? Or cutting prices to beat the other store? Or thinking up new and more underhanded ways to bring customers to their store and prevent them from shopping at another? Not to be too sexist, but this is a very male way of doing business.

And I really don't mean to be sexist. This competitive model has worked for many years, and competition can be good. Competition drives us to excel in various ways; it makes us reach and strive in ways that can be unusual for us which can lead to new ways of thinking. However, this reaching & striving can turn dirty and fast. When "winning" is the only goal, the fight turns and things can get nasty. So what is the other option? If winning isn't the goal, then what is?

Well, I think the other goal is winning through cooperation. What if everyone wins? No losers, just everyone reaching and learning and helping each other along instead of leapfrogging off another. This is the more feminine model. Women are taught to stand together; to share burdens, group tasks and share responsibility for projects. Ever tried to cook a holiday dinner for 12? Very difficult unless, you dole out tasks to others; and disastrous if you try to make it the best holiday dinner ever...way better than Grandma's, all alone. Grandma never worked alone, why do you think you can best her working solo? And what would that kind of victory mean? Would it engender you to the family? Your victory would be nothing, just "your victory". In any other context, it is still a solo victory, you besting others and nothing else.

So...I view my success as an artist differently. I learned my craft from other folks who were willing to share their successes and failures and trials with others because they thought what they did was worth passing on. Keeping their "secrets" would not make their work any more precious because no one would know the kind of effort & skill involved in their process. For anyone to really appreciate artwork, a little about the technique used to create the piece has to shine through. So I thank all those who came before me, those who tried & failed and learned and passed on what they knew so that we could appreciate what came before us, enjoy the process of "making a living" and swell with pride as they share what they have learned with others. After all, how "accomplished" would I be if no one thought they could learn anything from me.