In September, I presented as part of the “Strategies for Artists” series at the Kansas City Artists Coalition. It was a rewarding exercise that required reaching back into my archive and presenting my work and efforts to exhibit and sell it over the past 20 years. When the Q & A opened, an artist sitting in the front row asked me “what has made you so confident?”
The answer? Failures. Or at least, what seemed like failures at the time. How many “I regret to inform you” letters have I received? If I had to count accurately, we’d be here until next Thanksgiving. And those are the private shoot-downs, enjoyed within the walls of my in-box.
Public events, where I watched what seemed like the whole world move past, without a glance at my work, much less an actual sale, were painful economically and, in the early days, had the power to create crisis and confusion within my own mind. What I admitted to the artist in the front row, as well as to everyone in the room was “I knew I’d turned a corner when I had sat at an art fair for three days without a sale, and my response was to not change my work but, instead, to embrace it even more fully.” Let the audience and other conditions share in the responsibility while I go back to painting.
My friend, the artist Garry Noland, once said to me that you must be the best advocate for your work. The folks you invite in to your studio “will know if you are not behind it.” Filmmaker Walter Hill told my favorite podcaster Bret Easton Ellis “You need to have an almost unshakable belief in yourself” as an artist. Painter Laura Owens recently commented on the importance of trusting one's own efforts as an artist: “You are not trying to make good art.” Artists who avoid risk-taking “because they really want to be sure they are doing good art...History tells us that is not the way to make art.”
When a turn-down is a relief, it means we’ve crossed over into considering that the next opportunity we seek is a better one. Even an incurable romantic like me can get with that.