Without fail, there’s always a nadir that occurs just before a show. Doubt creeps in. It’s the same every time – you question the validity of your own work, worry if anybody will show up. Larger existential questions about time, effort, value. It feels awful. The doubts hurt. The worst part is knowing none of the doubts are outlandish nor unfounded.
Things progressed for my little holiday art show without a hitch for months. I made the obligatory lists of things to do and hung them on my walls, updating them as projects waxed and waned. Surprisingly, I was on target and ahead of schedule. Boxes arrived daily, full of odd supplies and more parts of the puzzle. My bank account withered, finally showing the strains of my investment in myself. My press releases were sent out, dozens of emails, promotional stuff, postcards and the tedious details of advertising oneself like a little whore was all done. I even got some positive interest from my efforts! Through it all, my projects were becoming realities, and the non-stop pace pushed me passed the smallest of doubts.
All of the last week of work was coming on the heels of a nice interview that was done on Artspeak Radio. It went well, with my own quibble of a minor failure to remember the name ‘Oscar Kokoschka’. Jazzed about the cool appearance, it put a spring in my step and kept the good vibes for my show going.
The show opens the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I’m home alone, feverishly knocking off the final parts of each project. A ton of screenprinting lines the docket. The loneliness feels deafening, as I’m avoiding the holiday, eschewing friends and staying focused on the work that, for the first time in months, actually has to be finished in the next day or so.
I did some dishes. They haven’t been piling up too much lately as I haven’t been hungry enough to eat a lot these days. As I was putting some plates away and clearing the sink to wash out a few silkscreens, a plate slipped from my hand. I instinctively lunged with my other hand to grab it. My reflexes were on point! But I stopped and watched the plate complete its lazy arc and crash to the floor. The porcelain shattered into satisfying chunks – then made a unique sound as they skid across the tile floor. I just stopped.
I stared at the debris strewn about. My heart sank and all sorts of Hollywood imagery ran through my head. The ubiquitous image of a plate, coffee mug, or vase slipping and crashing on the floor. The tritest visual of a nervous breakdown, a characters collapse was now happening to me in real time. It crushed me. That was the moment the veil of denial fell away. I was depressed, stressed out, full of doubts and every fear of diabolical worthlessness of my upcoming failure came to light.
The next few days were a messy haze. I turned off all my music and worked quietly, slowly, methodically. I still had to finish things. Yet, my insides were hollow. It’s a brutal sensation. I always think back to a moment a few years ago when I applied for a grant for one of my projects. I ran into the head of the grant process at an art opening and she knew who I was and talked about my project in great detail.
She laid wonderful bouquets at my feet, brandishing embarrassing adjectives describing her love of my project. She told me I made it to the final cut, and I should try again with my next idea the next year. It was ultra flattering and unexpected! My ego swelled a bit, and she asked if the project would still happen. I told her I scaled some things back and the show will go on! She then told me with a straight face, “It’s always exciting to see what artists can do without a budget!”
I never understand people’s ability to overestimate other people’s resiliency. I understand I keep a pretty stoic front, and only share my private worries and regrets with a select few folks but we all have breaking points. I’m never sure how many times I’ve broken over the years, but I can recall a handful of the lowest, most miserable moments. The loneliness in those moments overwhelms any other feelings of insecurity, and worthlessness.
The trope of the poor artist
Artists get handed innumerable backhanded compliments all the time. (You may be broke) But you’re doing what you love! (You don’t own anything but) You’ve never worked a day in your life! Your paintings will be valuable after you die! It’s all so exhausting and tedious. To be told by an older, rich, made up lady it’s exciting to see what poverty can produce is a trope I can live without. Just because I can finish paintings, have shows and still manage to pay rent doesn’t mean I’m always okay.
I don’t know what will happen when my show opens this weekend. I imagine some students will show up, maybe some former students, and I’ll make some sales, maybe even have some friends and strangers show up as well. That’s fine. The world owes me nothing and I don’t expect the world to beat a path to my door. Managing expectations is a real bitch. Runway thoughts of big sales and some luck can make success an impossible bedfellow. All I can do is stay focused on my work, somehow pay my bills, and try to hold everything together. I don’t want to shatter when I hit the floor, although sometimes, it really feels that way, doubts and all.
This month I was all over the map musically, but there’s something about Lois’ voice on this song that made it stand out this month. She steals the show on this great album from Dub Narcotic Sound System: