The Writing on the Wall by Louise Fletcher

The Writing on the Wall by Louise Fletcher

A few months ago, I entered 3 mixed media pieces into a local juried art exhibition. It’s only the second time I’ve done that as I mostly sell via Facebook and RedBubble. And this is new work is in a different style, so I was unsure how it would be received.

But all 3 pieces were accepted and I was invited to the preview evening. The exhibition is in the gallery space of my local town hall. As we sipped wine and chatted that evening, I was introduced to a leading light of the local art scene whose name I now can’t remember. 

She was pleasant and chatty and smiley, and she asked to see my work, and we walked over and looked and that’s when she started dropping her little bombs. Snide little remarks that could be taken either way, but were clearly intended not to be. One painting she deemed as ‘relatively successful’ (note the ‘relatively’ – it makes all the difference). Another ‘less so.’

She said other things, things I’m not going to repeat because they hurt me and left me wondering if this new work was worth anything, if I even deserved to be in the exhibition.

The crazy thing is, I sell paintings fairly regularly, despite doing very little exhibiting or promoting.

Even if this new work is a departure for me,  I should have more confidence. But the reason I am writing this post is that I know I am not alone. I know there are thousands of other artists who feel as I do, who can be knocked by the slightest criticism. And broader than that, there are writers and actors and gardeners and plumbers and postmen and shop assistants and parents, all of whom can shrug off praise and compliments only to focus – even obsess – on one negative comment, one bad situation. (Apparently it’s a common psychological phenomenon known as the negativity bias). And it makes us unhappy, this constant worry that we’re not good enough.

Anyway, I told very few people what this woman had said – only my most trusted friends. They responded loyally, with a variation of “she’s nuts/wrong/a nasty bitch” but that old voice was back, the one that whispers to me that I am a fraud. The one that never hears positive comments and only latches on to the negative ones. And over the next few weeks, it continued to whisper in my ear. 

I take a life drawing class in the gallery that is housing the exhibit and, each week, I check to see if anyone has sold anything. For 3 weeks, there were the same 2 red dots on prints by a well-known local artist, but nothing else.  And then last week, when I showed up for class and wandered past my pieces, I had to stop and do a double-take.

It couldn’t be.

Surely not?

But there it was … a red dot on the label beneath one of my pieces! The very one that the great lady had deemed unsuccessful!

This painting now belongs to someone else:

Mill Village by Louise Fletcher

Mill Village by Louise Fletcher

What’s more, in a display of 70+ paintings, only 5 had sold. And one of them was mine!

This has happened to me a few times lately … you see things a certain way, feel certain your perception matches reality, and then something happens and the lens shifts and you get a completely different view.

My new view is this: My work has value. It isn’t to everyone’s taste, but some people take real pleasure in it. So much pleasure that they buy my paintings, order my prints from Red Bubble, take the time to comment on my Facebook page, and even – dear reader – pay attention to my blog ramblings.

I am going to try very hard not to pay attention to the negative voices, because thinking about them only magnifies their words, and instead I am going to focus on making art my way. 

That red dot may only be a small sticker, but for me it has been a seismic event. 

To the person who bought my painting – and to everyone who takes the time to read my words or look at my work – thank you from the bottom of my heart. From now on, I’m only listening to you 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Gayle Howard
    December 1, 2015

    Congratulations on your red dot. Well deserved. As a person who understands the negativity bias only too well, I’m glad you’ve made this commitment to yourself, to your exceptional talent, and to the audience of your works who will invest their hard earned cash in your art. Nobody else matters. And that’s the truth!

    Reply
  2. Susan
    December 1, 2015

    If you must, doubt something else but never your artistic talent.

    Reply
  3. Karen Santoro
    December 1, 2015

    Yay, Louise! What a triumph. I have always admired your work…am sorry to have turned the last page of your cow calendar today! Even the sweetest, most well-meaning people can utter something that stings deeply. Thank you for the gentle kick in the pants. I’ve been taking my work in a different direction of late, and just this evening was experiencing the negative bias big time. It’s a tough nut. I try to use the occasional moments of clarity to take a cool-headed look at finished work and things in progress, but those moments are few and far between when I’m in new creative territory. Haven’t yet been brave enough to show things to any but a couple of close friends, and even then found a way to interpret their kind comments in a negative way. Our doubting brains can be so annoying….

    Reply
  4. Lynn Cohen
    December 1, 2015

    Dear Louise, you told this story so well! For several years when I was making art quilts I would enter them into juried shows at our local gallery. I always got something in the shows. Sometimes one sometimes more. I also volunteered to help on judging day, which meant I got to see and hear the judges reactions to art and saw how they chose winners. I saw discussions between judges saying "If you vote for this one , I’ll vote for that one you like." "I want this one of (artist’s name), he’s from such and such a city, and I really want to support his art." Sometimes it got down right nasty. I was a complete unknown, but my work was unique. I never really completely understood how I got voted in, I often felt it was pure luck, never because it was just Good! When all was said and done I felt it was a crap shoot. But I did sell some of my Art Quilts, and the one time I entered drawing art in a non juried show I sold one of those also. When someone buys our art it’s because it really spoke to that person. We need to believe our art speaks to many people. Maybe they can’t all afford to buy it, or have room for it, but they still like it and it’s good.
    I love your art. Your cows have brightened my of five for eleven going on twelve months now. I gave one cow away to a child who loved him so much. That same child who comes to his parents therapy sessions each week still greets your/my cows first thing every week!
    I will keep that calendar up in January because it’s where the cows pasture! You have fans, Louise! Take a bow. ( and turn a deaf ear to any nay sayers, they are probably just jealous! Xo Lynn

    Reply
    • Judy Barber
      December 1, 2015

      I once entered a juried show with a wall hanging that had to use a specific fat quarter of fabric. I had only been quilting for a few months and felt quite pleased. Tom surprise, I won first in best use of the fabric! I decided to quit while I was ahead, lol.

      Reply
  5. Judy Barber
    December 1, 2015

    Funny how one negative erases any positives said. And what’s more, it takes a thousand more to erase that comment. You are so talented and we take great pleasure in seeing your work.

    Reply
  6. Helen W
    December 1, 2015

    I think your work is stunning and have no problem seeing why that one sold. The truth is that no-one in the world can make everyone happy – but would you want to anyway? How boring our world would be if we all liked the same things! (Having said that, it always saddens me when people are so thoughtless that they feel it is ok to belittle someone else’s work. What a sad life they must lead themselves.) Congrats on the well deserved sale, and thanks for sharing feelings we all experience from time to time.

    Reply
  7. crytal hunt
    December 1, 2015

    your work is so real and wonderful . try not to feel bad every ones a critic.
    love you miss you happy holidays

    Reply
  8. Jodi
    December 2, 2015

    Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. Wise words for everyone making art.

    Reply
  9. Philippa
    December 2, 2015

    Well I love the painting and I’m glad it has found a good home.

    Reply

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