THE RESILIENT ARTIST. (I DIDN’T SELL, BUT NO ONE WENT HUNGRY)
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
– American inventor, Thomas Edison
I ‘failed’ this weekend. I took 6 paintings to an art fair and brought every single one of them home again- (plus two that I bought, but that’s another story!) Since then, I’ve been feeling all the feels- sadness, rejection, disappointment, and I know I have to reframe my emotions before the demons start playing havoc with my hard-won self-belief. Hence, a blog post about reframing failure into something more positive.
I knew when I decided to become serious about making art that resilience would need to be an important part of my mindset. Artists spend a good deal of time failing, yet telling themselves that failure is a necessary path on the road to success… whatever our definition of success is. We fail every time we make work- each creation is imbued with tiny achievements and catastrophes which makes the final work textured and nuanced. This is how muscles are stretched, boundaries are pushed and growth happens. It’s the zone of ‘proximal development.’
The obvious metric of success at an art fair is the number or value of sales, and by that metric, I well and truly hit the dust. But what positives can I find?
We aren’t generally very good at sharing our failures. Whilst I don’t exactly play with smoke and mirrors on my social media feeds, I do inevitably portray a ‘glass half full’ slant on my creative life. But I think it’s really useful on a personal level and hopefully also of benefit to the artist community to share my thoughts on bouncing back from adversity.
Be self-kind / nurturing.
When the confidence takes a knock like this self-care is a top priority. For me, this has looked like yoga, walking, early nights and healthy food. As my yoga teacher reminded me this week, I’ve tried to ‘remember the pause at the top of the breath. That’s where the magic happens.’ I have resolved to take this time to rest, reflect and review, before moving on. Yes, this sucks. Yes, the experience has left a crack for doubt and self-criticism to creep in, but the gift is that it also allows an opportunity for growth.
I’ve been asking what possibly might have affected sales. The way the work was presented? The quality of the work itself? The choice of venue, and location within the venue? Was it anything I did or didn’t do, or that the Gallery (who represented me at the fair) did or didn’t do? There aren’t necessarily right or wrong answers to these questions but there is definite merit in reviewing the practicalities. I’ve also been focussing on what has worked, not solely on what hasn’t. (Plenty of positive feedback and interest from another couple of Galleries).
Don’t blow it all out of proportion.
Firstly I note, this situation this disappointment is only temporary- a bump in the road. It’s one art fair, not my whole career. This event didn’t go well, but it doesn’t mean I should end my career as an artist. It also doesn’t make me a fair as an artist and a human being. And, you know what, I’m fortunate- no one is going hungry because I didn’t sell a painting. At the same time, the use of food banks went up by 19% last year. Perspective, Maz!
Nothing is insurmountable.
Undoubtedly there is scope for me to use the creativity I’ve been blessed with to solve the problems it also presents. I’ve had a gut instinct for a while that there must be a different way to sell art. Now I need to explore it.
I was reminded once again this weekend that most of my buyers and the majority of interest in my work comes from other artists. What does this mean in terms of knowing my audience? How can I use this knowledge to become a better artist? Maybe this situation happened for me, not to me? The reasons why will become clear as time passes.
Remember my goals.
The ‘why’ behind what I do hasn’t changed. I would still make art if I never sold another piece. I have my one-year, three-year and ten-year goals, and these won’t change as a result of this experience. The trust I have in myself and my vision will not change as the result of a setback.
Ask for help.
The biggest resource I have as an artist is the network supporting me. I am a member of a small, tight and committed mastermind group being mentored by Jessica Serran. I went today to a regular artist meet up with curator Sonia Pang at Gallery at Home in Usk, who rallied and gave me invaluable advice. And of course, I have my ever brilliant and supportive ‘Art-Wife’ Mel Cormack Hicks, as well as a wonderful tribe on Instagram who support me every step of the way. I’ve been in touch with all of my ‘gang’ this week and their words of support and advice have shored me up and spurred me on. Community is everything.
I’ve bolstered my self-belief in own abilities by journalling around my strengths, listing past achievements, reading the positive emails and messages that I’ve been sent about my work.
I’m in control.
A repeated mantra- no shame, no blame allowed. No identifying as a victim. Be empowered. Take control.
The really good news is that resilience can be learned, through behaviours, habits and actions. I strive not to worry about what others think of my ‘failures’. My job as an artist is to make work that is real and authentic, that represents my values and vision, and allows me to express myself fully. It won’t please everyone all the time. I need to keep calm and carry on, to hold my nerve.
This is the work.