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.
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:
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 🙂