Trends, Authenticity, and Self Preservation
Hello, hello! I made an instagram post yesterday that started a great conversation online and I wanted to bring it over here for some clarification on my end and maybe get a convo going in the comments if you're into it. Below is the link to the post, and ill copy the caption under that:
I see a lot of people talking about “trends”, giving a disclaimer about how they didn’t want to do something because it was a trend, but they caved in. Hot take: who cares about trends! Does it make you happy? Does it fit into your brand? Do you enjoy making it? Do your customers enjoy wearing it? Then make it! Trends come and go, but if something makes you happy then who cares? Make those “trends” without fear of being judged for it. Do what makes you happy, you don’t have to explain your choices, make it, wear it, own it, and make it YOURS!
I would say that a few of my closest clay friends may have been surprised about my take on trends yesterday, and honestly, I was too. As the clay community quickly grows I've been fairly bothered by the fact that 1 or 2 people will make something, and within a few weeks it seems that every clay account on the planet is also doing that style, therefore making it a trend rather than something that was maybe specific or special to the accounts that began doing it originally. In all honesty, I still dont love the frequency in which this happens, it can feel really icky when it first happens, and as more and more people do it, it becomes almost out of control...no longer an icky "did they copy me" feeling but more of a "well, that's a trend now" feeling. This was something I grappled with very hard last year, and I ultimately couldn't control something very true to my heart and my brand becoming a huge trend. The style "of mine" that had become a trend no longer felt good to me to make, I was so sick of seeing it on everyone's work and I felt betrayed, hurt, mad, lost, overlooked, etc. I was a pretty small account at the time and I felt that I'd never be known for that style of work, or receive any credit, and now everyone was doing it, so if I kept doing it, I would just look like a follower of trends, which I didn't love. I basically stopped doing what I loved and began to mute accounts and unfollow people, I got in my head night after night, and I would sit there and mourn the "loss of my creative voice", and I would drive myself absolutely insane, confiding in a few clay friends that I knew would get it and wouldn't judge me for being so mad (thank you for listening to me, you know who you are).
After a couple months of stewing, the hurt began to fade and I realized that I had missed out on months of ideas and opportunity because of the way other people were making me feel...or, actually, let's rephrase that to be honest about what it was:
...I had let myself miss out on months of work and opportunity because I allowed myself to let something I couldn't control dictate my actions, my feelings, and my work.
Ok, that's better.
So...after much reflection, a few too many glasses (er...bottles) of wine, lots of venting, and some perspective shifting and acceptance, I made a whole damn collection doing what I loved to do, and it felt good. That collection, Cusp, is still one of my fave collections to date and one of the collections that I think defines me as an artist the most. And, to be honest, I dont even know if I actually started that trend. Did i? Maybe? Fact, no. It still hurt, and it still is something that I feel is very authentic to my brand, but allowing myself to relinquish some ownership was also a huge step in my growth.
Well, a new trend was popping up around this time, which was the "draped" look of clay. WHOA. I have never seen trend explode like that before, there were a few artists that had done some variations in the past, and then one artist in particular that began to do it in a very specific way to her...and almost overnight I began to see it pop up everywhere. The familiar sense of ICK began to sit in my gut, I was so blown away that something so specific to a brand was just being...used...everywhere. But, here's the kicker, it wasn't mine to feel icky about, it wasn't mine to be mad about, and once again, it was out of anyone's control. That artist decided to just show people how to do it, boss move, imo. My mind was kind of blown, I loved that she saw it happen and took ownership of it in a really beautiful and powerful way. I haven't spoken with this person about this trend, this time in clay, or their intentions, so anything written here is purely an opinion of a someone observing from the outside. I never did the draped look, it wasn't something that I felt fit my brand, and honestly, I didn't love the trend of it all, I still felt that it was pretty specific to a few makers and I didn't want to participate in the explosion of it. It was truly beautiful and innovative, but it didn't feel good to me. I still stand by that, and by no means is that sending shade to anyone who did it, but for me, it wasn't the right choice for many reasons.
Right around this time, Patreon's started popping up - people in the community were taking the opportunity to teach their craft to other makers and beginners. This caused a slew of new trends to pop up because people were so excited to try out their newfound styles and methods, people were being paid for their intellectual property and the sharing of the methods that they had spent years working on. I think this is when my perspective shift began.
At this point, the trend that I felt was was so specific to me and my brand had died down a bit, so i didnt feel a constant state of panic every time I'd open up Instagram. I began to unmute people, work through my very complicated feels, and move on. I began to grow, and also decide that I needed to have a bit of tunnel vision and not pay so much attention to what other people were doing, it was self preservation, but I realized that I was paying too much attention to the trends people were following, to how many followers other/newer accounts were getting, etc etc etc, and it was hard to keep my head above water. In my path to acceptance and growth I reached out to an account who had contacted me in a few months prior about the style of work that I had been doing (the trend i mentioned earlier), right before it became a mass-trend. This account, who I adore, was sort of asking if I was ok with her using that method. She had done it of her own heart and mind, without seeing my work, and later realized that I had also been doing this method (pre-trend explosion). While I said I was ok with her making the earrings, and we had a fine conversation about it, I think that there was definitely an air of "PLEASE DONT, IT HURTS, IT'S MINE" in my response. I later reached out to her to apologize for my potentially loaded response; she had done what I saw as the right thing to do (honoring someone's style, asking them their opinion, having an adult discussion) and she was punished for it while hundreds of other people did the same style without doing any of the aforementioned things or dealing with the emotional baggage that she had to from me. I also want to say, I dont expect that from the hundreds of other people...hell, I dont even know if I did start that trend, I just mean that since her and I were friendly with one another she maybe got the brunt of my FEELS when no one else had to deal with that. Anyway...Let's go back to the perspective shift.
Here's where some of my approach has changed. At the end of the day, Im the ultimate hipster; once it's done by a ton of people, or it becomes like, so cool, I tend to lose interest in it. I tend to scoff at it and move onto something that's not as cool, or like, really edgy. Eye roll, I'm working on it, i swear. Chain/link earrings and checkerboard became HUGE around the same time as each other. I had been doing the chain earrings for a few months (thanks to my friend, Ishita, for teaching me the method she was using to achieve her chain!), so of course as they're starting to explode, my cooler than thou mentality started to be like UGHHHH NOW I HAVE TO STOP DOING THESE...but...I didn't. Not only did i not "have to" but for the first time, I didn't want to. I still liked them, I liked making them, I liked how, for the most part, people were making this trend their own. Checkerboard was different for me, I had been doing gingham and some checkerboard last summer, but I could never quite get it right...it was always pretty wonky and uneven. Lauren of Sigfus taught an amazing checkerboard tutorial on her Patreon and whammy! people were doing beautiful and perfect checkerboard! I originally wanted to try it out, but the desire to stand out stopped me again...would i look like a trend follower?!?! (Oh, the horror!) But...at the end of the day, i really liked the trend...I let myself be a bit swept up in my hipster feels and I never made the checkerboard, and that is where my post yesterday comes in. I liked something, and I didn't do it for fear of following a trend? Why? I got in my own way. I let some internal narrative discourage me from trying something that was taught to other people in a safe, paid platform, and I allowed myself to get in my own way for fear of following a trend. And, I know me, and I know my intention would have been to honor the knowledge I had been given by another maker, and then make it my own. Maybe that’s one take away I want people to have, make it your own, make what you love, not necessarily what you see. We all see trends, don’t be scared off by them, but find ways to make them authentically yours.
I guess the difference for me personally is how and where did this trend come from? Are you making something your own? Do you like the trend? Does it suit your brand? What spin did you put on it to stand out from other accounts?
Another fun trend story - I was knowingly following a trend when I made some photo props out of tile and colored grout recently, I had seen it on an account who does tutorials for home goods and DIY stuff. I had people writing me messages completely out of the blue just being like, "That trend is so big right now" (etc) literally in response to nothing. Ok, i get it...it's a trend...and something I learned from a platform that teaches you how to do this trend...what's the point of that message? I later learned a few of these people were also doing these props, and their messages and trend call-outs were probably just protecting themselves out of fear of looking like they'd copied. Maybe not, maybe they were just arbitrary messages, but I certainly understand the desire to let it be known you're not taking something from someone. It felt weird, I knew that it was a trend, and I was fine with that. I needed to step my photo game up and also work through a creative slump, and this was a great way to do both. Trend, shmend. This was one of the first times where the word "trend" didn't make me want to barf and I was being called out on it, cool cool cool, haha. It was a growing experience to maybe be on the other side of a trend.
A comment from another account on my post was also something i wanted to mention - we run businesses, and while I personally think it's very important to have a unique, authentic voice, dont buck a trend that maybe your customers want to see for fear of not standing out. Your customers are your business, and trends aren't always a bad thing, making what people like isn't always icky. I had also written in my captions something about accounts writing a disclaimer before they posted a photo of a trend - don't self-deprecate your work! If you're basically saying that you're not excited about what you've made because it's a trend, how do you expect your customers to be excited about it? I dont think trend always means BAD. If you like it, like it, just lead into it with authenticity and pride.
So, to mostly wrap it up - I don't love that so many things look alike...I don't love that so many people take things and do them after seeing other accounts do them. I encourage originality above all, but...sometimes we don't even know where an idea comes from, you're just seeing it everywhere and you like it...so you adapt it to your brand. Sometimes we think we have done something so original only to find out it's already been done. Above all, integrity matters, both to yourself and your brand, but also to the community around you. I've had to perspective shift about trends in order to stay out of my own way, in order to grow as a human and as a brand, and in order to stay sane when I feel protective about something that at the end of the day, I dont even know if it's mine to be protective about. I hope that post didn't come off as I think copying people is ok, I don't. It's actually something that keeps me up at night pretty often, but a trend doesn't necessarily mean copying, and it also doesn't mean that you're unoriginal, it just means that it's the current zeitgeist of the creative world, and it's ok to go play in that world as long as you're doing it with intention, authenticity, and honor. Play away, babes.
edited to say; I truly enjoy the comments and messages that have been sparked. I miss the curiosity and honest chats that I used to find within this community. It’s ok to have an opinion, it’s ok to disagree, and it’s ok to talk about it. Ask the questions, sometimes the answers you come up with aren’t the ones you’d expect, and often the subject isn’t black and white.