Do you remember the first time you exhibited your artwork? Remember what it felt like when you delivered your precious painting/sculpture/pot? Or walked into a show to see your work amongst others? Did you feel like you were exposing yourself?
Preparing for or dealing with the anxiety of seeing your work in public is different for everyone. Some of us are nervous and want to avoid the situation all together. Whereas others are looking forward to the engaging with art patrons and fellow artists.
Perhaps your first time was in a gallery, an exhibition venue, your studio or with other artists in an art fair. We all have those memories. Please share them in the comment box.
When I prep myself before a show, I have a internal “chat” with myself in a quiet space. I revisit why I am an artist, why I created the work that I am presenting. Then I review my goals for the event. These can vary anywhere from 1) meeting new people; 2) soliciting feedback; 3) selling my work; 4) learning more about why people attend art events, etc. What are some of your goals?
For some venues I need to give myself more of a pep talk than for others. My first out-of-state, one-person show back in 1998, was absolutely nerve wracking. In fact, two days before the show, I was convinced that we were leaving a day late and I would miss the opening!! Now I can laugh and the memory makes me grin.
Before that show opening, an internationally known composer friend of mine, Judith Lang Zaimont, offered me sage advice:
“You have painted your soul,” she says, “but not really. Not many people will see that, because they will only feel and see at their individual capacity levels. Only a few will truly feel your sense of soul.” She also said, “We artists do not just communicate one way; art is truly a mirror of the viewer. Your show is authentic and people can be threatened by that. You need to be prepared. You need to preserve a psychic vault for when people start giving you technical criticism. Just take it, put it in the vault and open it up when you are ready to hear it. They are impressed with the work and may need to feel better than you. Your vulnerability allows for you to truly feel all of the positives.”
More of the story is written about in my book, “Painting My Passion: An Artist’s Journey with the Women of the West.”
Have you ever wondered about how going public with our creations is a vital part of the creative process? Yes, there are those artists and painters who choose not show their work. In this article I am referring to only those of us who do want to share our work publicly. Creating art is a form of communication — visual communication.
What if I had never ventured out and exposed my visual message to the world? What if I had not learned to own my creative process, stay with it, and then let it go? Not only would I have missed out on many adventures, a richer life and personal insights, I doubt I would be painting and writing today. More importantly, my soul would be churning, knowing I was not pursuing my life’s purpose.
Frequently, artists do not continue in their creative endeavors because the hurdles seem insurmountable. There are endless stories of the cycle being put on-hold indefinitely or permanently terminated—most of us have heard about them or have done so ourselves. An awareness of the creative process, helps to understand these stumbling blocks.
Through research, I discovered this stoppage occurs most often in two different phases. The first is during the early stages of the creative process. According to the well-known author Betty Edwards, in her book Drawing on the Artist Within, “The mind longs for closure while the answer stays out of reach and this is the most critical moment in the creative process. The artist succumbs to the anxiety and gives up, for fear the problem may after all have no solution, or cannot summon the courage to accept the anxiety, keep the problem before your eyes and in your mind and take the next uncertain step.”
Edwards states that the second place where artists most frequently do not forge ahead is during the time when artists need their work verified; this verification comes from within and from others or going public. Either they cannot quite complete the idea as they see it in their mind’s eye or they do not complete the artwork for fear of disapproval.
The fear of the unknown response from others can be debilitating. Feelings of personal failure come to the surface because the artist cannot do what he or she set out to do. Bringing our artistic results forward for all of the world to see, critique, enjoy, purchase, stare at, and walk by, is not unlike enduring the dreaded act of public speaking—stated by many psychologists as one of the most feared activities people can face.
I learned I needed to g-r-a-d-u-a-l-l-y step outside of my safety zone as I presented my work. (This was early in my career.) Over time I slowly enlarged the circle of people I had the emotional countenance to tolerate. Further confidence decreased my anxiety significantly and the amount of confirmation and validation I needed lessened. Going public with my work became more enjoyable and I even began to look forward to it. Awards and my paintings on magazine covers added to the pleasure of these public experiences.
Interestingly, I also began to fully comprehend the wisdom Judith Zaimont had passed onto me—viewers bring their own experiences to my artwork, of which I have little control.
Yes, it was scary when Sally met Harry. We artists do experience wet palms, heart palpitations and sweaty armpits when we go public. However, these opportunities often provide the juice for us to continue in our creative process. Without them we do not engage with the world at large. We would also miss learning how our art impacts the world. Art does change the world!
When talking with others about my work, I learn more about myself in the process. There is a heartwarming connection with fellow human beings that occurs and there is nothing more gratifying that when someone wants to purchase one of my paintings to take home.
I wouldn’t trade in this experience for the world, would you?