Monday, June 24, 2013
some unpretty honesty
Several years back my work was featured in a super-cool gallery. The gallery owner created lots of buzz about the work and the opening reception was a big hit. There were tons of people, loads of compliments and several pieces sold. It was a huge success. But somehow the huge smile on my face faded into this weird sense of sadness before we made it home. It was the strangest, most confusing thing.
There have been many receptions over the years and to varying degrees, there's inevitably this mysterious gloom that creeps in after an exhibit reception. At the point when you should feel very accomplished, some depressing feeling punches you in the gut.
Last week I received several pieces of good news. I got a couple of acceptance letters into upcoming shows and I learned that one of my sculptures won some type of award. Even though I knew there would be socializing, I headed to the reception in good humor. The event was nice, Blue got the thrill of us getting a "ribbon" and we had good pizza and ice cream afterwards. And then, on the drive home, it happened. The gloom.
I thought about it while it was happening. I wasn't sad. Was I disappointed? That seemed to be the closest I could come to describing the feeling. But what could I be disappointed about? This was a juried exhibit which means lots of artists submitted work to be considered for the show. The juror (in this case a really good, well respected juror) chose only the best work to be a part of the exhibit. So getting a piece accepted is reason enough to be happy. I had two pieces accepted so I was thrilled. Then from all the accepted pieces there were a handful of awards...and by getting one of those I should have been even more thrilled. And I was. I was excited and very happy with the results. So it wasn't any of that.
What I started to think about was the work I saw in the exhibit that was really great. There were some really beautiful pieces in the show. Some of the work, including the Best in Show winner, made me say, "Dang, that's so much better than mine." That has to be it. Or it at least has to be part of it. I'm competitive and I still want to be the best. And awards aside, sometimes you just look at a work of art and you know that it's miles ahead of you.
So here's where you disagree with me and argue that we are talking about creative expression and that it's not a contest to find the best work. You tell me that there's no way to compare drawings and sculptures, ceramics and fiber art and that you can't really judge one work of art to be "better" than another. Right. Tell that to the juror. And whether it's a juried show or an invitational show or just an exhibit in a gallery or museum, the process is the same. Someone other than you or your mom looks at your work and decides it is worthy of a show. They decide that it's better than something else or that it will sell better than something else and you get in the exhibit. By it's very nature, it is a competition. You don't have to like it for it to be true. Heck, you don't even have to agree with it for it to be true.
Yet, having said that, I will also agree with you that it is nearly impossible to judge a wide variety of works of art against one another. I know people who refuse to be jurors for exhibits because they say this is impossible. And still each time, I walk into an exhibit and see something truly great and I think, "Dang, that's so much better than mine." I value and appreciate it's beauty but there's also this deep sensation of wishing I had made something that great.
I understand both sides of the argument and both sides mingle with an uneasy truce in my head. I want to create something beautiful, something from the most honest part of me. I want it to be pure and I want it to express my view of the world around me. But I also want it to kick your butt in the exhibit.
I'm starting to believe that this mixture of motivations is the reason for the post-reception gloom. I also believe that it is the reason I work harder and try to be better with each new body of work.