A Personal Reflection on Showing Work at an Art Exhibition

RQG IconsThe third annual St Michael’s Art Exhibition has been and gone. I found a copy of the brochure torn into little pieces at the bus stop this morning. So it is over, in the past, a moment that has drifted by in a midsummer haze.

What did I think about it? Well… I was impressed by the quality, variety and presentation of art by my fellow exhibitors. There were some extremely talented artists showing their works in our little church. They were also lovely people to chat to. As ever I felt a total impostor in their presence.

Secondly, I was painfully disappointed that the visitor numbers were meagre to mediocre. So much hard work by a small and very busy team had gone into organising, preparing and extensively advertising this exhibition that it was really sad that more local folk didn’t drop by and be enchanted. I was also, and this is an aside, fist-clenchingly, wall-punchingly wound up by a minor incident. But that’s just me – and I’m only saying this so that if I get grumpy elsewhere in these ramblings you know why.

St MichaelThirdly, I have ended up being acutely embarrassed. I sold a piece. Several people had previously moaned at me for not pricing my work. So I did, at roughly minimum wage x hours spent + materials +/- a bit depending how much I liked the finished work. This meant that my four pieces ranged from £125.00 to £295.00. I hoped that was enough to stop anyone from buying. However, I sold one. But it went to someone who I would call a friend. And if they had asked me to create it for them I would have done it for, well if not for nothing, then at most perhaps a third of what they paid for it. The organiser sold the piece precisely on the instructions I had left, they were not to know the convolutions of my heart. It was most certainly best that they handled the transaction as I would have made a mess of it. Unfortunately this sale has left me feeling extremely guilty and embarrassed.

Why do I feel guilty about selling my work?
1. Because, despite, having been a bookseller for nearly 30 years I really don’t like selling product;
2. I find it especially difficult selling to friends/people I know well;
3. I simply don’t believe in my art work. I look at it and all I see are the mistakes. I feel that I am just faking it the whole time. All I do is so inept and amateurish that it makes me cringe.

So why do I do it?
I can assure you that it is not for pleasure. Most of the creative process is agonising. I’m not very skilful and I don’t have the money to waste resources or the time to practise. I exhibit my works for a variety of reasons. Part of it is pride. I would like to be thought of as creative and capable and maybe even a little bit clever. It is pleasing, in an ego grooming sort of a way, when people come up to me and say how much they liked my work. I have no self-confidence and I need a great deal of affirmation. Sadly, this time not a single visitor or church member told me that they liked my work. I was very tempted to remove it halfway through the exhibition and take it home. But then again, if people do express positive views I think they are just being nice to me and I don’t believe them.

Part of the reason I exhibit is because I said I would. I was instrumental in getting the idea of a church based exhibition to happen and I feel I ought to step up and make sure that there are exhibits. I do believe that churches should be creative places and should be seen to be spaces everyone can use or feel at home in. But another important factor is that I need deadlines to achieve things. By being busy preparing these pieces for the exhibition I can at least feel that I’m using my free time properly. Andy Warhol has been quoted (by Lou Reed) as saying ‘all that matters is work’. I am tempted to rephrase Descartes famous line to ‘I work therefore I am’. If I’m not working then I don’t really feel I exist. Therefore selling my art becomes double-edged. Selling it validates it as a worthwhile activity. However, selling it is plain embarrassing because all I do is so amateurish.

Will I do it again?
Possibly. I’ve sort of promised that I will exhibit in church as part of the North Somerset Arts Week in 2015. These would have to be works for sale, but by keying in to the NSA initiative there would be wider publicity and hopefully a wider public viewing. The danger of this is that more impartial critics would expose the nakedness of my art. The plus side would be that if I sold something it would be because somebody genuinely wanted it. After that I think it will be time to drop this agony and do something different.

At the moment the painted screen I created for last year’s show is on display at an exhibition of Somerset church art in the Bishop’s Palace in Wells. Initially I was excited by this ‘honour’ and really wanted to go to the preview event. However, I wasn’t able to get there and have now decided that it would be very wrong and extremely self-indulgent of me to go and see it.

Finally, while there was much to admire about the works of my fellow exhibitors at last weekend’s show it was notable that there was only one artist really moved beyond observations of the external to exploration of the internal, the complexity of existence and the unravelling of the mind. If I had the confidence that’s the direction I know I should move in. Decorative geegaws I can create. But the mind is a murky place with no hard lines to contain the pattern and at the moment I don’t believe that I could either do justice to my imagination or produce something which wouldn’t embarrass, offend or alienate the viewer.

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