I heard from a good friend this weekend. They’re doing the League of NH Craftsmen’s Annual Craftsmen’s Fair at Mt. Sunapee. It’s been a crazy week for them: Attendance up day, crashing the next. Slow sales, strong sales, then…crashing. Hot, humid weather. Friends in Keene say they’ve had heavy rain and hail. I’m praying that went south of the mountain, and didn’t hit the Fair.
Every show we do can be a test of our talent, our commitment to our work. Amidst the craziness, there’s almost always a sudden burst of light and amazement. Someone who buys a major piece. Someone who loves what we’re doing. Someone who gives us the wise words that lift our hearts, and keep us going another day. Week. Year. If we’re truly fortunate, for our lifetime.
When I got the message, I was browsing Craigslist. (No lectures. I’m housebound! Have mercy here!!)
In the arts and craft section were the usual offerings of supplies and actual works. There was a plethora of paintings, for some reason. Did a collector die?? Did a lot of collectors die??
It was hard to tell from the crappy photos, but most of the work was ho-hum (to my uneducated eye.) Even odder, the works ranged from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. I don’t know if they’d been assessed at that price, or if an eager heir was sure these were masterpieces. Who can say?
I’ve already told my kids that when I go, they shouldn’t worry about all my stuff. Just let people into my studio with a grocery bag, let them fill it, and charge them $50 a bag. They will be millionaires.
As I scrolled and scrolled through this vast wasteland of art, two thoughts came to me.
One was from the lizard brain. Who bought this stuff? Did they surround themselves with this work in their home? (Maybe it looks better in person…??)
Even sadder, who made it? Did they spend their lives painting mediocre landscapes and portraits? Did they sell any of it? Or…even worse…was the artist selling it? On Craigslist??
Does the world need more bad art????
Thankfully, the angels of my better nature chirped.
Yes. The world needs art. Even bad art.
I miss Regretsy, a hysterically funny website where April Winchell daily curated truly awful items for sale on Etsy. (Her tag line was, “Where DIY meets WTF”…) If I ever had doubts about the quality of the work I was doing, I only had to check in with Regretsy to feel enormously superior.
So one advantage of bad art is it can make us feel better about our own work, and give us our giggle of the day.
Then I thought about the artist(s) who made that work.
They must have painted their heart out over the years.
Every day (metaphorically speaking) they set up their easels, found something beautiful (in their eyes) to paint, and went to work.
Every day, they tried to do better (sometimes with mixed results) so they could be the artist they’d always dreamed of being.
Every day, they did something they loved–making their art–and hoped someone else would love it, too.
Maybe they cast a ray of light for someone else, too. Perhaps they were an artist living their dreams. And maybe someone else saw that, and was inspired to make art, too.
So what’s the takeaway today?
I cannot compare myself, my work, my success, to others. One of my art history books talked about a very popular Victorian artist, hugely successful in his time. But today, his work was considered too schmaltzy. Other artists of that period (some of them unsuccessful in their time) produced work that has stood the test of time. (I can’t find the reference now. Do I need to buy back my college texts??) The same for certain poets of that era, too.
I cannot judge the value of what I do. Only time will tell if what we make will stand the test of time. We may, like Vincent Van Gogh, become a major discovery in the years after we’re gone.
Or our work may end up on Craigslist. Or worse, the midden heap. (The dump, in days of yore.) (Where do you think most archeological finds come from, btw? Yep.)
I treasure what making art does for me. Taking up my artwork, without judging the value of what I do, healed me. If it did nothing more than that, that would be enough. But the practice teaches me, too. I began to write about these insights and lessons, to encourage others, too.
I want to be an art hero for others. We may never know who else has been healed, or helped, by the work we do. If we were once inspired by art, or another artist, then we know the value of that. Now it’s our turn.
I’ve quoted Martha Graham’s profound quote on creativity many times in my writing. The short story: There’s only one ‘you’, only you can make your work, and your work matters in the world. For yourself, for others, for the tiniest bit of beauty and meaning and healing it brings to the world.
I wasn’t put here on earth to be immortal, and neither is the work I do. Of course I hope it lasts! I hope to create a legacy in my lifetime, just like you do. We all do. But I that’s not under my control. All I can do is make the work of my heart, and put it out into the world. All I can do is to do the best I can–and then let it go.