Yesterday, Megan Moore of Missoula, Montana, USA, wrote, “A show of my portraits began recently at the local museum. On the first day darkness peered into my heart and has since grown larger, looming in the form of, ‘I never want to paint again.’ While it’s true that I’m no stranger to darkness, this feels unusually palpable and viscerally painful.”
“My show had no opening event. I wonder if this has anything to do with my deep sadness. Perhaps openings give the artist a reality check, witnessing others’ responses to one’s work? I have had a few comments from people close to me, but otherwise, silence. Sadly, silence leaves room for shame and doubt. What are your thoughts at moments like this?”
Thanks, Megan. First, let me say I think your work is sensitive and genuine — in short, terrific. We’ve taken the liberty to put some of them in and at the bottom of this letter.
It might be valuable for you to know that there are some artists who’d rather have a root canal than attend their own show. People actually get sick or arrange to be on a slow boat to Antarctica.
Making the sudden switch from frenzied creativity to human engagement can be a shock to delicate sensibilities. Also, at public openings, the perfume of artificiality may be heavy in the air. You may begin to believe you’re greater than you are — or, for that matter, lesser than you ever thought possible.
A couple of years ago I had a month-long museum show. There was a big opening. I said a few words. Afterwards I didn’t go back. People didn’t say much. Most critics were on holidays. We had a nice guest book where folks wrote mostly nice things. I’ve lost the book now, but I do remember a couple of comments: “I like your paintings. Where do you get your paint?” and “Your work is old fashioned. . . but good.”
It seems to me that shows are the least exciting of all art adventures. Especially museum shows. At least with commercial exhibitions the work dwindles down and goes out the door. At commercial shows one feels the joy of old and new friendships — from both the gallery angels and the folks who take the trouble to come. Whether you deserve it or not, people are on deck to wish you well.
PS: “To have all your work and to have them along the wall, it’s like walking in with no clothes on. It’s terrible.” (Andrew Wyeth)
Esoterica: Shows are a function of our innate need for approval. They have little to do with the daily joy of study and work. They can actually interfere with an artist’s individualism and creative progress, particularly for the sensitive and youthful. Long ago, Sir Joshua Reynolds noted, “The Royal Academy exhibitions have a mischievous tendency, by seducing the painter to an ambition of pleasing indiscriminately the mixed multitude of people who resort to them.” For the same reason Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres thought shows should be abolished. Both failed to say that shows of some sort were then, are now, and will ever be, part of our game.
Part of the livelihood game
by Greg Freedman, New Westminster, BC, Canada
If I could arrange it so I never had to attend another opening I would do so in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, it is part of the commercial game we are called upon to play if we want to exhibit in galleries and benefit from the exposure they can provide. I participated in another opening last Wednesday. It was the grand opening of Vancouver’s new Becker Gallery and it was packed. You couldn’t turn around in the place much less see what was on the walls. There was the usual and sometimes fatuous comments from the gallery crowd and the more meaningful conversations with other artists and thoughtful collectors but it was still torture to be there. I comfort myself at these events by affirming that the people who should see my work tonight will see my work and something good will come of this misery. It helps me make it through the night.
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Two abilities required
by Jakki Kouffman, Santa Fe, NM, USA
The splendid paintings in this series by Megan Moore are the clear result of a serious focus on craft and a deep sensitivity to the power of heads and figures to articulate universal truths. Kudos to the artist! It is important to note, however, that the ability to show paintings in public, like the ability to make paintings in the solitude of the studio, evolves slowly over time. As with any specialized skill, the practitioner needs to set realistic goals in order to feel successful. Opening receptions do serve a purpose, but in the absence of one, the artist necessarily needs to step back and reflect on the results herself, just as one would a new painting at the easel.
More accessibility needed in paintings
by Pearl Gatehouse, Malvern, UK
Megan’s paintings look good quality and very individual — I hesitate to use the word ‘original’ as we are all influenced. Maybe there is a problem in communication though. It might help to help the viewer into her thoughts, and make the paintings more ‘accessible’ by using a clue… in the title? They are good paintings but I feel unable to understand the personality behind the image. In fact I am not sure if I want to… There is a lot more to portrait painting — we have to want to know more in the first instance, and then have the means to investigate. Tricky!!
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Adrenalin drain from shows
by Fred Hulser, Houston, TX, USA
In a former life, much passion and activity was focused on an intense period of activity called a “closing.” After a closing, I felt the draining, blues sensation described in “After-Show Blues.” For an artist, the Opening can be similar to the Closing — it is the culmination of an intense period of activity coupled with anticipated but uncertain outcome. This leads, in my theory, to greatly increased amounts of adrenaline so, whatever the outcome — sales, no sales, closing, no closing — the end results in a shutdown of the adrenaline. In short, after show blues is a consequence of adrenaline withdrawal. I’d be interested in the comment of the medical/artists in your database to this theory.
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Free print brought them in
by Loretta West, Spokane, WA, USA
I think we can all relate to Megan’s plight. It’s a rollercoaster ride and some times of epic proportions. I had a small show last week and it was glitchy beyond belief, but I persevered through it all. Most times, I think that root canal might be preferable. However, I did something different this time, which has helped lift my post show spirits. It may sound cheesy but I offered a print on a free drawing in a way to get people’s email addresses. I found that nowadays people are so very reluctant to sign guest books, perhaps over privacy issues. Anyway, it drew people in to where I was so that I could talk to them and tell them about my work. So instead of the usual post show doldrums I found just about every one of the entries’ names on Facebook and sent them a note, in return I got encouraging comments back and that helped to lift my spirits. The drawing may not be allowed in a museum setting, but museums are in the same boat as everyone else these days, (having worked at one, I know) and are looking for ways to get people in the door so you never know unless you ask.
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Get yourself a mission
by Taylor Ikin, Tampa Bay, FL, USA
I paint the fragile environment of Florida and I select locations relating to the necessity for preservation. Not all painters have a mission, but if you do, and if you contact the press, museums and national publications and tell your story — eventually someone will pick it up. Instead of having a quiet show of current paintings, you create a buzz and an invite to share your thoughts, verbally as well as visually. An opening, when possible, gives you a chance to raise the flag and ask for a cheer!
Painful human realities
by Deborah Barnett
To me, your work tells a difficult set of truths, representing hard times and the wear and tear on us humans that life can exact. Those who suffer are not bad, wrong or to blame, but they are hard to look at while we forge ahead thinking positive thoughts to take on the next day, the next challenge, the next round of personal work.
I keep realizing again that few people will thank you for showing painful human realities. They are too accurate, too much like the fears we all have scurrying around inside our bellies. But like the blues, being near this art tells the viewer that she is not alone in her fears and torment, in her/our dark places and as such is the gift you give.
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Grad show goes flat
by Kevin Combes, Virginia Beach, VA, USA
Boy, reading this really struck a chord with me. I had a similar experience to Megan Moore’s last year. Being new to this game (business), I was about to graduate from university and so was holding my Senior Show, a graduation requirement for my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. Hardly anyone showed up for the reception. This was real discouraging for my expected “big splash” in the art world, although one of my paintings did sell. In retrospect, I did a lousy job of advertising and promoting the show, so it was a lesson learned. I take heart from your approach towards making a living as an artist: just keep painting and working to improve and the money will follow.
Intermittent fallow periods
by Shawn Dahlstrom, East Dennis, MA, USA
My work was recently exhibited at the Cape Cod Museum of Art. When the curator contacted me a year and a half ahead of time, I decided to create site specific work for this gallery. It was a particularly busy time in my life with additional family obligations and I soldiered on midst the chaos of my life. I also did not have an opening/reception. I also experienced a letdown, feeling drained.
It is six months later with intermittent painting. Like a well-tended farm where a field is allowed a fallow period, my fallow time has restored my creative energies. There are still delays before I can return to my studio full-time and I can’t wait. What has been important was allowing myself that quiet time, to honor the need for rejuvenation.
Take time to recharge
by Barbara Lussier, Putnam, CT, USA
I recently had four shows in a row at various locales, including an open studio event. Even though they were very successful and well attended, I became almost hermetic and despondent after all was said and done. It may be a reaction to the incredible amount of energy required to finish the work, do the promotion, frame, frame, hang, wait… and smile… and hope. Even when all these components went right, that amount of energy and emotion seemed to leave me deflated. After a bit I was able to get back to focusing on the internal conversation about the act of painting. Our work requires solitude and the exhibition stuff is not a natural state. So, Megan, take some time and recharge.
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Do something else
by Jeffrey Hessing, Nice, France
It’s time for tough love. First of all anyone who can stop painting should. Stop being such a baby. Stop whining. Before you go to bed each day and every morning before you start your day count your blessings and give thanks. Make a list and say it out loud while looking in the mirror.
I am so lucky to be a painter.
I am fortunate to be able to express myself and share that expression with others.
I am grateful to have an exhibition in a museum.
I am grateful to live out my passion in life.
I am really good at what I do.
And so on.
Megan’s work is strong and solid. There are so many artists who would be thrilled to have a museum show. My advice to her is stop complaining or step aside and do something that you find more fulfilling.
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Get back in the studio
by Skip Rohde, Asheville, NC, USA
Megan’s feelings of depression following the start of her show are normal. A show is a culmination of a period of hard work. We paint feverishly toward a deadline, prepare artist statements and bios, send out cards and invitations, and orient our professional lives around a specific date on a calendar. Then, suddenly, it’s over. The mission that has been driving our lives for months is done. The blues that Megan describes may be a sense of loss or mourning. It’s a feeling of “now what?” I’ve found that a show often marks the termination of a particular line of thought and that I need a period of time to find a new one to explore. The only way to do that is to get back in the studio and flail around for a bit until something starts happening.
Speaking of which, in just a few more months, I will finish my job here in Baghdad and return to my studio. I can’t wait to start flailing around again!
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Tharee Woman with Charkha
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Syra Larkin who wrote, “The best bit is walking into the gallery on the opening night to see your work not stacked against a studio wall but finally hanging on a well lit gallery wall.”
And also Michele Hausman of Soquel, CA, USA, who wrote, “I always feel a lull after an exhibition… I think it’s adrenaline depletion.”
And also JoRene Newton of Georgetown, TX, USA, who wrote, “Although it isn’t the easiest thing to do we need to put ourselves out there so “our talent isn’t hidden under a basket!”
And also Virginia Urani of Hayesville, NC, USA, who wrote, “I simply want to learn to paint better, to see better, to be able to know why some of my paintings “work” and others don’t and to be able with some confidence to know what I’m doing.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Fighting the after-show blues…