On letting go of my babies
Art-making is a personal thing. As I sit down to make a work, I control the brush along with the choices of color, composition, expression, and overall mood. The work I am creating is very much mine until I’m satisfied with the way it looks.
Once I am ready to introduce the painting to a wider audience, I’m happy to share it—to see it completed by the meanings that the viewers give to it—but, even at this stage, I feel possessive about the work, like a mother with her baby. I imagine a parent knows when it’s time to let go in order for her child to become a whole person on her-his own, but it can’t be an easy transition. Similarly, though it’s a little painful to lose control of a painting when I present to its audience, I also know the work won’t be complete until it makes its own way in the world, whether that means simply being seen by a wider audience or being purchased by a patron.
And when a painting does end up in a client’s home, the little feeling of loss is easily outweighed by the wonders of making a living with art as well as by having some knowledge of the adoptive parents of my babies. These days though, it’s becoming harder for me to place my work with that kind of familiarity. As I begin to sell more finished work (as opposed to commissioned work) through agents, I don’t always meet the people who will be owning a piece of me. In that way, I’m becoming less and less a part of my work for patrons. While I am excited that buyers find enough value in the work itself so that they’ll purchase it without knowing me, I find it vaguely unsettling that there are pieces of me surrounded by people who know nothing of me and who, furthermore, don’t care to. It’s that last part that’s a little dehumanizing. I’m trying to be a good mother, to learn to let go of my paintings and to not worry about whether or not they’ll phone home regularly…but it is proving to be a difficult transition.
Happily, the bulk of my sales still come through personal contact with my patrons—and it’s a contact that’s sought out and enjoyed by both my clients and myself. I find that while my patrons are excited about the work they are buying they are usually interested in being a part of my life in other ways as well. It’s as though the paintings become an excuse for a friendship. The works are a way of communicating affection and of forming bonds in a world that shuns openness between acquaintances. Selling work is, for the most part, a confirmation of my humanity.
I might never have met Curt except that he commissioned me to paint his portrait last year, and, today, Curt is one of my very favorite people!
It’s a delicate thing, this making a living with art, but, complications and all, I wouldn’t trade it in for any other calling. It’s the only way I know to tap into the ill-understood psychology of value—of what and whom we humans dismiss or cherish.