Opening responsibilities


Dear Artist,

In the comments section of last Friday’s letter, Sharon Lalonde asked, “What is the responsibility of an artist to be a good host at her opening, and what would that look like? I have been to openings where one has to guess who the artist is, or the artist is comfortably in a corner with a few friends and does not engage. I think some education in this area would be valuable.”


“The Yellow House” (The Street)
oil on canvas, 1888
by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890)

If you’re throwing your own vernissage, studio visit, artist-run or collective affair, then it probably makes sense to put on a hostess hat and work the room. But if you find yourself standing at your own opening in a commercial gallery, one engaged in the business of promoting and selling your work, you may have a little more freedom to do what my grandmother Lorrie Genn advised my dad on the eve of his first exhibition: “Be yourself, Bob.”

Not all creative people relish the spotlight. Many of us are introverts and have to work at being outgoing, while others among us may deeply enjoy cultivating a scene.


“The Man is at Sea”
(after Demont-Breton)
oil on canvas, 1889
by Vincent van Gogh

My personal feeling has always been that by the time you’re at your own opening, your preparation is complete and your work should stand on its own. Now, depending on your individual rhythms, expectations, people skills and desire to share, it’s best not to force anything. Be yourself, whatever that means, while allowing your partner — your dealer — to carry the ball the rest of the way down the field. She has a personal style, too, and a job to do, with or without your gentle help. If you’re lucky, she’s the kind of person who crosses a room with her hand outstretched, keen to spread her own passions, connection and joy. If you’re lucky, together you’re a team with complementary skills, shining light on the real star of the show.


“Miners’ Wives Carrying Sacks of Coal”
watercolour painting, 1882
by Vincent van Gogh



PS: “We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.” (William Butler Yeats)


“The more you know the artist, the less you like the art.” (Anonymous)

Esoterica: I remember travelling with my dad to the opening of our first two-person show. He ducked into the airport newsagent and bought two pens. “Before a show, I like to buy a pen,” he explained, “as a symbol of good luck and good faith.” His private ritual was a revelation, as I thought back over my childhood attending his openings, watching him take a seat in the gallery, trying to stay relaxed in the way that worked for him: through the intimacy of talking one-on-one with thoughtful people, finding the laughter in the experience, inquiring about others’ creative lives or travels, making friends. At times, he could be found in a corner in an act of personal connection, signing and dedicating one of his books — with his new pen.

“An artist needn’t be a clergyman or a churchwarden, but he certainly must have a warm heart for his fellow men.” (Vincent van Gogh)


The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.

“What am I in most people’s eyes? A nonentity or an eccentric and disagreeable man… I should want my work to show what is in the heart of such an eccentric, of such a nobody. (Vincent van Gogh)


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