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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Determination, and self-determination

This topic is something I've wanted to write a blog post about for quite a long time, but for a long time I wasn't sure how to go about it. It's a story that I have shared with students, particularly when they seem a bit reluctant to jump in and try.

This scenario occurred at my very first Big Art Show, back in 2003.  Before this I had been entering paintings into juried art shows in local communities and county fairs, and for a long time prior to that I had work in a number of galleries and gift shops.  But this? This was a big annual art show that was well attended and drew around a hundred artists from several states and required one to fill up a booth space with one's work.  This was much bigger than I felt I could do, but I sucked it up, gathered my courage, and did it anyway.

Nearly all the artists at this show were very warm and welcoming, and generous with their
After The Harvest - painted October 2014
encouragement.  Their kindness and advice during this show did so much to bolster my confidence, though I still felt like I was way out of my league.  The work these folks could produce was astounding, far better than anything I felt I could do, but they never made me feel like I didn't belong.  I was the new person, the one oddball who was painting birds and animals on feathers, a highly unusual choice of canvas and something that no one had seen before.  I had a lot to learn, but I was there anyway and giving it my all.

There was just one artist who was not so accepting. He was well established in his art career, and his work certainly showed it. I was mesmerized by the beautiful oil paintings in his booth; they were very traditional in style, beautifully rendered and lifelike landscapes and detailed scenes.  He eventually strolled into my booth that weekend, eyeing my work without speaking. I was too timid to say anything more than a brief greeting, but he didn't respond anyway so it didn't matter.  Slowly he leaned in to examine one of the framed painted feathers hanging on the gridwall, considered what he was seeing for a long moment, then slowly leaned back again and thought for a moment more.

Then, without looking at me, he spoke.  "You shouldn't be here," he said.  This is an art show, you don't belong here.  You should be down at the flea market."  And with that, he left my booth.

I was so stunned, I couldn't speak, but it didn't take too terribly long for the thought of Well who does he think HE is? to form in my mind.  I wasn't going to allow myself to be deterred by this one person, and could not let him get to me.  I shook it off and determined to go on with the show.  This one opinion did not matter, not when everyone else was so kind and encouraging.

I still exhibit at this show, and I have attended every year ever since that awkward nervous first exhibition.  My work has grown a fair bit since then, as has my audience.  These little feather paintings I do have been written about in over 40 countries, collected on five continents, and have been collected by many, even a few  politicians and royalty.

The purpose of this post, or moral, if you will?  Actually there are three.  First and foremost, never ever let someone else's opinion define you.  That determination is yours and yours alone.  If what you do happens to be a bit unusual, don't let that stop you from putting it out there.  Uniqueness is a good thing, and if it is your passion and your heart's work, that authenticity comes through and you will find your audience.  Keep at it.  Lastly, when you engage with someone new to the circle, choose your words carefully, don't ever discourage a hopeful new person.  You don't want to run new folks off with an ill-considered thought, and you sure don't want to be remembered for an ugly opinion.  First impressions really do last.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more. Very, very well said! ~ chaeyahne