I learned a valuable lesson this week, the kind of lesson you can only learn the hard way.
Yesterday, I spoke about my experience with a gallery owner who was unhappy with the work I brought her because it wasn’t summery enough. Unfortunately, she couldn’t articulate that, and instead dismissed all of my work as grim, dark and depressing. I liked it, but felt ashamed for producing work that made someone react so violently. I never meant to upset anyone.
So my work came home with me. One piece was refinished, and I shared another piece yesterday.
But there was one piece that wasn’t so lucky.
It was a painting titled “The Coming Storm.” It was the darkest piece that I’d brought, with deep green-blue waves and gathering clouds.
But I’d never quite gotten the composition right. There was a chink of doubt. The gallery owner’s words widened the chink into a gap, and soon, an insurmountable chasm.
I took off the varnish, tried to scrape off the paint. I tried to sand it down, and then paint it again. I couldn’t find peace with it. I was in love with the waves of the sea, but the sky eluded me.
On Monday, the canvas gave up – there were too many layers of paint and sanding and it had sunken in* beyond help. It wouldn’t take another drop of paint.
*Sunken in: the process wherein the oil in oil paint sinks to the bottom, leaving the top layers matt and flat, as opposed to glossy and rich. Usually just needs some varnish.
I had to say goodbye.
I took it out of the frame, and put it in the opposite corner of the room to dry. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it yet. For now, it remains as a reminder:
LISTEN TO MY GUT.
When my gut said, “Good enough”, I should have listened. Not every painting will be a masterpiece. That’s not my job – my job is to do my best and create work from the heart.
People loved that painting. Unfortunately, I let one summer-lover’s words get under my skin and now it’s gone forever. I may tackle the subject matter again, but it won’t be the same.
I should have taken the gallery owner’s aversion as a sign that I was heading in the right direction – if she hated it so much, then that means someone else is going to adore it. Taste varies. For every extreme reaction, there will be an opposite and equal one. One woman’s junk is another woman’s treasure, as they say.
Eighteen months later (and wiser), I can see things more clearly. At the time, with my first “real” gallery interested in my work, I was too emotionally invested to see clearly. I wanted to sell, to be liked, to be successful. I didn’t want to be the artist who painted “dark, grim, horrible things.”
I’m not angry with myself. I was just doing my best to cope with a new and unforeseen situation.
And now I just whisper to myself:
Never again. Never. Again.
RIP, The Coming Storm