TRANSCRIPT: 290: Creativity is a Survival Strategy


Miriam Schulman: When individuals share personal narratives like experiences of loss or joy, it allows others to see parts of their own lives reflected in these stories, creating a deep sense of connection. That’s why I’m always encouraging you to share your personal stories because that is the way that you connect with your customers, with your collectors, with your prospects. They feel bonded to you when you share your stories.

Speaker 1: It’s the Inspiration Place podcast rewind with artist Miriam Schulman. Welcome to the Inspiration Place Podcast, an art world insider podcast for artists by an artist where each week we go behind the scenes to uncover the perspiration and inspiration behind the art. And now your host, Miriam Schulman.

Miriam Schulman: Hey there, my friend. This is Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration. Welcome to the Inspiration Place. Happy New Year! I am so excited for 2024. So now, as promised, I wanted to tell you about my Costa Rica trip. So, this is it. I started off having absolutely no idea what was going to happen, and I’m just going to begin the story somewhere near the beginning of the middle. And I’m already on the 12-seater plane. I didn’t know I’d be having to take a 12-seater plane. I had no idea. I thought I could take a car from the airport. But anyway, I’m on the 12-seater plane, and it’s rocking along the air currents. It’s one of those planes that is not up in the clouds. It’s low enough so you can see the ground, which in some ways makes it scarier. So, we’re traveling over the Costa Rican rainforest to get from the main international airport to this location. The red clay roads snaked their way across the green mountaintops. It is a beautiful country, but I had forgotten to take a Dramamine in the waiting room, so I popped one on the plane, hoping it would start to kick in as I gripped the green vinyl seats. “I am brave, I am brave, I am brave,” I murmured to myself to affirm the positive while pushing away the thought that this suddenly felt like a really stupid idea.

I was headed to this retreat to meet basically 12 strangers on the top of a mountain that was only accessible by a winding dirt road. And I thought we were going to sing serenity prayers, make friendship bracelets, braid our hair, and Kumbaya and all that sorority shit. You know, from a couple of weeks ago, I was definitely feeling apprehensive about going. After an introduction on WhatsApp, I had peeked at a few Insta profiles before we left, and all that I saw terrified me. Woman on the left, woman on the right, and here comes The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, plotting her way down the middle. Now, as I said in the past, if you would like to watch reality shows, there’s usually a bitch in every show, which I think they cast on purpose, and I imagine that would be me. So when you cut to the interview. Well, I didn’t come here to make friends, so I show up. My shoulders are up to my ears as tall women bent down to give me hugs as I awkwardly used my arms to keep my breasts from pushing up against theirs in what I find to be a forced sense of intimacy. I’m not a hugger, and I wasn’t a hugger even before COVID.

So on the first day, I learned that there would be a vegan chef on hand, and my bedroom overlooked the mountains and the sea. So I slowly began to soften under my thick banana skin. I thought to myself, you know what? I think I could like it here. On day two, we went surfing. Now, you remember that I had no idea we were going to be surfing. This was definitely a surprise to me, as most of the itinerary was. I had signed up at least nine months prior from a tiny paragraph off of a website, from a writing coach who was a friend of a friend, and I had only learned about the surfing from the WhatsApp chat a few days before we left. “You’re going to write and do yoga,” my anxious husband had yelled at me, and he definitely had a point. I am one who falls off my yoga mat during tree pose. I don’t have. I’m not really good at balance, and that’s nothing to do with my age, by the way. I’ve always been terrible at balance. I was a cheerleader in ninth grade. I never repeated that. I was a cheerleader in ninth grade in high school, and I was the one who always fell off the pyramid. So they said, “Miriam, you can just do a split in the front.”

So I swore to my husband up and down that I wasn’t going to do surfing. I lied. I would sit under a coconut tree and meditate, but the cute tan surf instructor convinced me otherwise. And even though I got bonked in the head a few times and was black and blue, I got enough of the salty taste that told me that I did want to try this again. You know, they actually make it really easy for you when you go on these trips. What happens is the surf instructor is basically holding the surfboard, which is not the advanced surfboard that you see in those posters that kids put on their dorm room walls. It’s like it’s basically a foam boogie board. And the surf instructor holds it, and he kind of pushes you up on the wave and tells you when to stand up. So it wasn’t as hard as you might think. It is hard. I mean, I fell off quite a few times, but yeah, it was fun.

Okay, day three, we went surfing again. And I actually learned that on the first day I had been doing it lefty instead of righty, which means I had put my wrong foot forward. So I started to see the surfing as a metaphor. Where else had I put my wrong foot forward like with the other woman? So as we shared our stories and food, which by the way, was amazing, they had a vegan chef there, the other women sharing honestly, and I started pulling up my deepest traumas.

I started telling stories that I hadn’t told anyone or hadn’t thought about in a very long time, and each time I told a story, it was like popping a juicy pimple. Which, yeah, it’s really gross and it’s really hard to look at, even think, think about. And, you know, it’s deeply satisfying. And sometimes it’s really the only way to treat them. And by them, I’m talking about both the pimples and the traumas.

Storytelling at its core is about connection and survival. And as artists, if we want to thrive, not just survive, but thrive, you actually need to inject storytelling into every aspect of your marketing, every aspect. The stories are on your website, your about page, your emails, the microblogging that makes up your social media posts, the copy on the walls next to your art, the copy next to each artwork on your website, your artist statement, and so much more. Now, if you need help with that, these are all important aspects that I teach inside of my artist business coaching programs. I have a few. They definitely overlap. It’s more like think about my programs. Is all of them get you to Hawaii? And sometimes you’re sitting in economy, and sometimes you’re sitting in first class.

So the Artist Incubator does have all this, all of this marketing included as well as coaching. My programs all teach you the nuts and bolts of this process. However, if you want me to take a look at your marketing assets and hold your hand while we refine them so that you can connect with your ideal collectors, that’s the level of coaching that both my private clients get, as well as those who join my mastermind level programs. In 2024, I’ll be hosting three-month sprints of my mastermind group. So it’s just a three-month commitment, and the next one actually starts really soon.

So if you love the podcast and you’ve read my book Artpreneur, then working with me, whether in a coaching program or sitting in first class, is the next logical step. If you want to learn more and see what’s available, whether you’re tuning in when this first goes live in January or later in the year, you can always see what I’ve got open. Head on over to to check out the coaching programs that are currently available.

Creative storytelling is not just a way to entertain or to pass down traditions. It’s deeply ingrained in our evolution. Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have often pointed out that the ability to tell stories was critical for our ancestors. Why? Because stories were the way knowledge was passed down. Where to find food, how to avoid danger, and understanding the seasons. And that was true even for gossip that also originated as a survival strategy. Let me give you an example. “Don’t sleep with Ian. Sheila slept with him, and now she has warts all over her yoni.” Sounds like idle gossip, maybe. And by the way, I have no idea what accent I was imitating there. Maybe. But if the Tribeswoman can warn other women from sleeping with Ian, it keeps them healthier and safe. So, storytelling, no matter what format it was, was vital survival information wrapped up in narratives. Studies and theories in the fields of anthropology and evolutionary psychology suggest that storytelling evolved as a means to promote cooperative behavior. A notable study that supports this idea is the evolution of stories from mimesis. God, I don’t even know what that word is. Mimesis, mimesis. Okay, DM me and let me know what that word is. Mimesis language from Fact to Fiction by Brian Boyd. Boyd is a renowned professor of literature at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, known for his extensive work on the intersection of literature, art, and evolution. Boyd shares how storytelling evolved as an adaptive strategy.

I’m going to be building the case not just in this podcast but in many podcast episodes that are coming up and we’ve talked about in the past, that adaptation is really our ability to be creative. When Darwin said evolution of this species was survival of not just the fittest, but those most willing to adapt, he really is referring to those most able to be creative.

Now about storytelling specifically, Boyd argues that storytelling serves various functions, including promoting social cohesion and cooperative behavior. By sharing stories, early humans strengthen group identity and norms, teach social values, and share vital survival information effectively. In essence, stories were the original social glue, helping early humans bond and work together, which was essential for survival in a world of uncertainties.

Now, I just want to circle back to my trip. One of the first stories I shared while we were there, because storytelling was a big part of this trip. Journaling and sharing stories using a technique known as the Gateless method, which is founded by Suzanne Kingsbury.

So one of the first stories that I shared was about a late miscarriage that I experienced before I was pregnant with my children, Talia and Seth. And once I shared this secret pain and the other women could feel that they trust me, they also started to share their stories of infertility, their stories of abortions, stillbirths, adoptions, cheating spouses, abusive parents, and more.

It was interesting watching the flowering of some of these women on the retreat who in the initial beginning were very timid about sharing their deepest, darkest pasts. The power of storytelling to create connections among people, especially in groups, is a well-researched phenomenon in psychology and sociology, and my experience is echoed in the work of Jerome Bruner, a distinguished psychologist and professor at universities like Harvard and NYU, and he was instrumental in developing the field of cognitive psychology and narrative psychology. His study, Narrative and the Construction of Personal Identity suggests that sharing personal stories helps in constructing and understanding our identity. When individuals share personal narratives like experiences of loss or joy, it allows others to see parts of their own lives reflected in these stories, creating a deep sense of connection. That’s why I’m always encouraging you to share your personal stories because that is the way that you connect with your customers, with your collectors, with your prospects. They feel bonded to you when you share your stories.

***Sunrise Mountain Retreat commercial***

Miriam Schulman: Now, I just loved this retreat, and so will you. In fact, I’ve already asked Emily to save the room for me for next year. So will I see you next year in Costa Rica? Like bananas in a bunch, as people, we’re stronger together. Separate, we easily bruise, peel off the thick skins, and enjoy the sweet, luscious beauty. Yes, you think you’re protecting yourself, keeping your skins on, not sharing your fruits. Maybe you’re waiting for it to be ripe, waiting for it to be, as I talk about in Artpreneur, you are like the Sleeping Beauty complex. Waiting till you’re a beautiful adult, not a baby business, but a beautiful adult before you go out into the world. But if you wait too long, what happens to bananas? They rot. They rot. And the sweet power can no longer be enjoyed. So you want to make sure you bring your ideas out into the world, your art out into the world, all those things out into the world. When we give each other permission to share our darkest past.

These little mermaids found their voices. And so did I. In fact, I wrote in my head as well as on paper, much of what you’re hearing on this podcast and will be hearing this year in 2024. It was not the conformist sorority songs I had imagined, but the soulful songs of sirens.

***Yoga Life commercial***

Miriam Schulman: Now I want to circle back to the power of storytelling because these studies that we’ve been talking about still hold true even when the characters are fictional.

In a study in 2012, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that when people engage in experience taking while listening to stories, they can temporarily adopt the experiences and emotional journeys of the characters as their own. Kaufman and Libby conducted several experiments where participants were asked to read fictional stories, and one key finding was that participants who deeply engaged with the narrative perspective of a story’s character, a process they termed experience taking, showed changes in behavior and attitude consistent with the character’s experience.

For example, in one experiment, participants who engaged in experience taking with a character who overcame obstacles to vote were significantly more likely to vote in a real election several days later. In other words, this process creates empathy and understanding, making personal connections stronger. So this is my argument about how creativity is a survival strategy.

These studies, in theory, suggest that when individuals in a group setting, like the group of women on my retreat, share personal stories, it allows for a shared emotional experience. This sharing can help in breaking down barriers, building empathy, and fostering a sense of belonging and understanding among the group. Now, creativity showed up in early humans not just through oral storytelling but also through visual art. When we think of ancient art, we first think of cave paintings, and these were more than just early attempts at art. They’re stories. The oldest known painting is over 40,000 years old. That’s how old our creativity is. That’s why creativity is an innate part of every human. In Castillo, Spain, they depicted scenes of hunting rituals and daily life. And just an aside, did you know that recent research suggests that many of these cave paintings might have been created by women? So the analysis of handprints in ancient caves, such as those in Spain, reveals that a significant number of them have these handprints, they match the size and shape of female hands.

So this challenges the long-held assumption that prehistoric man was the primary cave artist and suggests that women played a vital role in this early form of storytelling, art, and record-keeping. Just so you know. Now for entrepreneurs, understanding the connection between storytelling and monetizing their ideas is critical. Storytelling is not just an art; it’s a powerful tool in the business world. So I’m going to share with you some key insights that every Artpreneur should know about leveraging storytelling to enhance their business and their art sales. I’m going to share with you going to share with you seven different ways that storytelling creates a more thriving business. So using the creativity to make money from your ideas.

#1. Building a Brand Narrative: So, as we discussed, a compelling story can turn a business into a brand by creating emotional engagement with your audience. Your stories humanizes your brand, making it more relatable and memorable. It also helps you stand out among artists if you’re wondering how to stand out among artists. Your unique stories distinguish you, your art, your products, and your services from everyone else.

#2. Enhancing Marketing and Sales: Using storytelling to guide potential customers through their journey from awareness to consideration and finally, the decision-making stage is really going to help you sell more art. Authentic stories also build trust, establishing credibility and fostering customer loyalty. Sharing the why and the how behind your business helps establish credibility and foster customer loyalty. And we talked about your sacred soul being the why and the who. So much, we focus on the what and the how, the creative side. But this is really where the sacred parts must be integrated because the why behind your business is part of the sacred, the why and the who behind your business. This really does help form a much stronger connection, why and who, and not just what and how. Why and who.

#3. Facilitating Investment and Funding: Now, before you tune me out and say this isn’t about you, it is because I know a lot of artists who are making tons of money with Patreon or what’s the other one, Kickstarter. So, a well-crafted story can be pivotal in pitches to investors. And again, whether we’re talking about big venture capital money or small Patreon money, think about how your stories help them see the value of what they get. And like I mentioned before, crowdfunding. So like a Kickstarter campaign—I know that lots, there are lots of people who have made money. I don’t have the research right in front of me, but made money with journals, with things like that. So, this really helps create a connection with early adopters, appealing to their emotions and their sense of belonging to something that’s a larger cause.

#4. Customer Retention and Word of Mouth: Stories is what’s going to keep your artist brand at the forefront of art collectors’ minds and encourage them to come back for more. This is what you’re doing inside of your emails. They’re also more likely to share and recommend you if you have a compelling story. If you have a story that they can tell their friends because that’s what we like to do. Remember, gossip and storytelling have been around for tens of thousands of years, and tapping into this need for us to share stories by writing stories that your customers can tell is huge.

#5. Social and Environmental Impact: If your art has a connection to social or environmental impact, telling these types of stories is going to resonate with your customers, creating a sense of shared values and community. Storytelling encourages people to share your content. That could be deep and painful, as we talked about earlier, but it could also be funny. People like to make others laugh, so this is a great way to help whatever your content is reach people more organically by being entertaining, by using your creativity.

#6. Crisis Management: In times of crisis, transparent and empathetic storytelling can help maintain customer trust and loyalty.

#7. Understanding Consumer Pscyhology: This is something I dig deep into inside my book Artpreneur. In fact, inside Think Like an Abundant Artist, I give you 14 different ways that you can understand consumer psychology. But at its core, even if you don’t read the book or you just want one key takeaway: when you tell stories, like I talked about at the beginning of this podcast episode, that emotional connection is going to tap into people’s emotions, and it’s a key driver in people’s decision-making.

Most brain science has shown that even though people think they’re making decisions with their logical mind, most of the time, they’re actually making a purchasing decision with the emotional parts of their brain. So emotional narratives will definitely influence purchasing behavior more effectively than just facts and figures. An emotional narrative is the “why” and the “who” behind your art, not how large it is or what it’s made out of. Those are the facts and figures.

If you’re selling an online class, it’s not just the number of modules and the number of videos. What is the emotion that people will feel once they have your product, whether it’s art on the wall, an online class, or if you’re listening to this podcast and there’s something else that you sell. What is that emotion that people want to feel? What is their wet dream? What is their wet dream? Not to worry too much; you can also talk about their night sweats, but night sweats and wet dreams, those are the things whether it’s avoiding the pain or running to pleasure that people need to hear about, not just facts and figures. It’s this big and it weighs this much, or it’s made out of this or the price. It’s those other things. Of course they need that too, but it’s the emotion that’s going to drive their purchasing decisions.

For Artpreneurs, mastering the art of storytelling isn’t just about crafting a narrative; it’s about intertwining this narrative in the core of your marketing strategy. It’s a powerful way to connect with collectors, build your audience, create a brand loyalty, and ultimately sell more art.

Again, we talk about adapting to our environment, whether that’s using stories or art or our species just adapting to new trends, technologies, and social changes. This adaptability is echoed in our innate human creativity and innovation. Consider that the most successful artists and creatives among us are the ones who adapt the quickest to new trends, technologies, and social changes, and they also know when to drop them when they’re not working anymore. Their creativity isn’t just about producing art; it’s a way of thinking, problem-solving, and adapting to the world around us.

Now, as you think about ancient cave paintings or modern pieces in galleries, remember these are not just expressions of creativity but manifestations of an innate survival skill. Art, storytelling, and adaptability are deeply interwoven into the fabric of our being and help us navigate and survive in an ever-changing world.

If you want to thrive in your business, not just survive, as an artist, you’ll need to inject your creativity into every aspect of your business, not just your art. Your marketing should be just as creative as your art. Use storytelling to connect with your ideal prospects. If you’re struggling with your marketing, I’ve got some great news for you. I’m doing a live boot camp on January 24th, and you’re not going to want to miss it. Make sure you save your spot for this transformative experience to steer your marketing on the right course this year. Head on over to in January. I’m doing it live, and you don’t want to miss it. Alright, my friend, well, that’s it for today. I will see you in the same place next week, and until next time, stay inspired.

Speaker 2: Thank you for listening to The Inspiration Place podcast. Connect with us on Facebook at, on Instagram @schulmanart and of course, on

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