Cultivation, anyone?

This evening I read this line from Molly Crabapple in The New York Times: What you get in life isn’t about how much you cultivate your talent; it’s about how you cultivate your name.

Early today I talked to a woman whose children go to my son’s school. We have friends in common, we’ve chatted a few times, but our children are not friends and I don’t know her well.

“Are you still making amazing art?” she asked.

“Oh. Um. Well, I’m still making art,” I said.

She laughed and told me how much she liked the work I had in the art festival. I thanked her and talked about the festival’s plans for next year–new layout, fewer artists.

I didn’t tell her I had art at Genuine Joe’s Coffee House or at IF+D in downtown Austin. Sure, I thought about it. But I didn’t want to sound weird or presumptuous.

That doesn’t sound like cultivating my name, does it? Perhaps my work is doomed.

How do you feel about this idea of cultivating your name? How would you do it? How important is it? Have you ever been taken with anyone who was more name than art? What creative do you know who have both?

A typical conversation in our house:
Husband: Did you give that person a business card?
Me: No.
Husband: Why not?
Me: I don’t know. It seems pushy.

15 thoughts on “Cultivation, anyone?

  1. I know this is vital for writers and artists, but I stink at it. I really do. I don’t like blowing my own horn and don’t think I can do it successfully without sounding completely full of myself. So I have no idea how I’m going to do it.

  2. I’m sensing a commonality among you and your readers here, although it’s just Darc and I so far. Maybe we should set up some kind of name-cultivation workshop/critique group. 🙂

    Back at the beginning of the year, wasn’t it — when you took that acting class? One approach might be to think of the public-artist-you as a continuing role in a long-running play which you’re occasionally summoned to assume. As with taking such a role, I imagine it gets better with practice: you just eventually get used to being onstage without constant awareness that somebody’s watching you, ready to applaud or walk out of the theater. You’re doing it for you, for the work. The audience expects that.

    I keep copies of a couple of my tech books at work because every now and then somebody says, “Hey, I hear you write stuff.” When I show them a few sample pages of code I can see their eyes glaze over, although they’re still smiling. That’s one less person in the world to whom I will ever have to promote my work again. So that’s also convenient. Ha!

    On a somewhat related note…

    Last night I caught a few minutes of the movie An American in Paris. Gene Kelly is a street artist. A wealthy woman, Nina Foch, wants to buy up everything he’s got on display. [Following dialogue approximate, just from memory.]

    “How much?” she says.

    “I don’t know. I never got that far thinking about it. Why don’t you suggest something?”

    “15,000 francs,” she says. “Each.” [Apparently in France at the time depicted this was supposed to be around $50 each.]

    She doesn’t have enough cash with her, so she takes him in her big chauffeur-driven car back to the hotel where she’s staying. But then something odd happens: Kelly has a hard time parting with the paintings, although he’s close to penniless. She asks what the matter is.

    “After they sell their work,” he says, “writers and composers can always buy up more copies of it. But for artists, when they sell it it’s gone.”

    “I never thought of it that way,” she says. I never thought of it that way, either.

    (Notice, btw, how easy and natural it is to say “Gene Kelly is” — just as easy and natural as “Gene Kelly plays [the part of].” Hmm.)

    1. I LOVE that movie. And I know the scene well (I own the DVD actually). Now that I’ve had to price my art, I wish I could find my own Milo.

      Ah, the acting class. Maybe I need to go back to that! It has been a year.

  3. Tom

    Huh. Sounds like we had the same parental units.

    “Don’t even think about [insert name cultivation activity here]. No one likes a [insert derogatory name cultivator label here]!”

    I mean, really: why would they be like that?

    Some slack is due; it’s probably because they got the same treatment from their parental units. It’s a chain of inheritance, like hair color. Or maybe more like varicose veins. Or heart disease.

    Soul disease?

    Being a braggart is one thing, but being a name cultivator is something quite different, despite the lack of distinction made by our progenitorial cascades. The next time you find someone in need of your business card, give it up.

    Humbly, of course. ;D

    1. I don’t feel comfortable talking in public about how good I am at anything although I’m more forthcoming with my family and close friends.

      On the other hand, I see giving away a business card as a way of keeping in touch and I did it a lot when I was counselling. Mostly to other counsellors but you never know where they will end up. If you think of it as networking, rather than as selling yourself, would that help? You’re really just giving people the opportunity to take things further if they want to.

      You really are very talented and it would be a shame not to give people the chance to find that out.

      1. Tom

        I don’t really know you stop the disease, Marta, having never really seen that happen. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve exercises in “self-esteem building,” those that hand out “Super!” stickers for every tiny success. Kids know better.

        That’s the thing. On a gut level, we all know when we’ve accomplished something important, but that’s when the Inner Parental Units (IPUs) becomes most vocal. Those voices need to be silenced, and it seems that the best way to do that would be like the best way to stop smoking: just don’t start. That means parents — those who have the disease already — would have to squelch the tendency to smother a budding ego. (As a case in point, my reaction to the phrase “budding ego” is a rousing chorus of “Bad, bad, bad!” from my IPUs.) They would have to unlearn — or suppress, at least — “knowledge” inculcated over a lifetime.

        I guess being aware of the problem is the first step. The question is, if we could eliminate our now-natural “ego is bad” lessons to our children, what do we replace them with? How do we balance kids for success?

        My IPUs are giving me such a headache.

  4. It is a truth universally acknowledged that an artist in possession of a good talent will be purchased and widely revered on the basis of her artistry.

    As is the case with Ms. Austen’s seemingly spot on recognition, it is not at all true that the artist is recognized or that those with lesser abilities will not gain fame, fortune, and commissions.

    Do you even have business cards?

    It is understandable that while you don’t mind showing your work, you don’t care to advertise yourself as its creator, thus the matter comes down to the basics of acceptance. Accept your work. Accept the fact that you do it, even though aspects of it may bewilder you. You don’t need to wear sandwich boards that read Marta writes and makes art. The mere act of regularly accepting what it is you do is enough to let the genie out of the bottle and when someone asks, say Yes, I make art. It is even now on display. I write. I have not yet had the success of publication I seek.

    You freely admit to being a teacher, a wife, and a mother. No problems there. Feel free to add one more accomplishment to the list.

    P.S. You are about to be published. I’ll tell you the details in an email.

    1. I do in fact have business cards now. That was a big crazy step. When I got them I walked around for a while thinking–I’m a person with business cards? Really?

      You certainly know how to write a postscript.

  5. I can rave about someone or something I like – I can cultivate someone else’s name to no end if I like them or their work. (So Darc has a built-in cultivator! 😉 )

    If it was my own work on the other hand, I’d probably have a hard time with it. It’s one thing to be asked, “Do you have a card?” It’s another thing entirely to say, “Here’s my card.” I don’t think I’d be any more comfortable doing that than other people are to be on the receiving end of it.

  6. Miriam

    I have a severe case of this disease, as described in the rhyme I posted today. I’d love to find a remedy. Then maybe I could find a publisher….

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