Image from Urban Cowboy
A couple of months ago I posted about The Difficult Artist. Today I’m posting about the other end of the scale: The artist who doesn’t take enough control. Whether out of fear of ruffling the feathers of colleagues or a gallery, or not being aware of their own power as artists, these are the folks who just don’t speak up..
Item #1: A Midwest artist told me that his local dealer pressed him to enter a juried show because of the caliber of the juror—not an unreasonable request (though, frankly, the dealer should be cultivating those curator connections). Knowing things the dealer didn’t about the organization hosting the exhibition, the artist had reservations about entering. Against his better judgment he capitulated to the dealer’s request. The show was "a solid average," according to the artist, and the juror was not in attendance. Both artist and gallery gained nothing from the experience..
“Why didn’t you tell your dealer you didn’t wish to participate in this show?” I asked..
He replied, “I didn’t want to piss him off.”.
Item #2: A West Coast artist curated a show with a great concept and wonderful artists and secured a regionally prestigious not-for-profit venue. Sounds good, right? The problem is that the opening date conflicted with an established annual event in another city. This might sound like apples and oranges except that the curated show sprang directly from the original event in terms of mentorship and artists involved. Even the artist/curator was conflicted. Why didn’t she tell the gallery director that the date squared with the other event?.
“I suggested it, but the director wanted it on the date she wanted it,” replied the artist..
“But it’s your show,” I countered. “ You have every right to say, ‘I cannot make the opening of this show. We need to reschedule,’”.
“I didn’t know I could do that.” This from a person whose chutzpah level is normally over the moon..
Item #3: An artist organized a show with a prestigious curator as juror. Curiously, when the postcard was printed, the name of the juror—the most prestigious aspect of the event—was omitted, while the artist organizer, unknown to all but a small circle of friends, was prominently noted..
When asked why the juror was omitted from a show she’d organized, this artist placed the responsibility in the lap of the hosting institution, demurring, "I didn’t necessarily agree with their decision.”.
Well for godsake, if you don’t agree with their decision, make an issue of it. Do something about it! It’s your show!.
The list goes on:. An artist/curator ceded installation to the non-profit gallery staff. He was mortified to find that a painting was placed in a space with storage racks that doubles (badly) as an adjunct exhibition space. When he asked the director to move the painting, he was told, “We always place work there." Translation: "We're not moving it." He was mortified but didn't press the issue because he didn't want to “rock the boat.” Dude, that ship has hit the rocks.
. An artist arrived at the opening of a group show in a small-town commercial gallery only to find that her triptych had been separated and its panels placed around the gallery among the other artists’ works. “That way we can sell them separately,” she was told. The artist was aghast, crushed, furious . . . and silent. Because she didn't want to be "difficult,” she said nothing.
But there are success stories in this mix, too.
. When I arrived to see the installation of my solo show at a gallery I work with, I found a large sculpture by another gallery artist in the same space. It is not unusual for that gallery to place an occasional sculpture by a gallery artist in a solo painting show, and in fact I like the way a dimensional work can charge the energy between and among the paintings. However, since my paintings in that room were small, I felt the particular sculpture overpowered them. There was some discomfort on both sides when I asked the dealer to move it, but mutual respect carried the situation. The dealer accommodated my request, relocating it to a second gallery where I had large horizontal painting. The vertical sculpture was an effective counterpoint.
. When B, a savvy
. Jhina Alvarado, a.
artist, talks in a blog post
about When it’s Time to Jump Ship. Alvarado learned, rather quickly, that
if it isn’t working for you—if the gallery requests are unreasonable, if their
treatment is less than respectful, if they cancel the opening even after they
know you’re planning to drive seven hours to attend it—it’s time to commandeer
a lifeboat. She spoke up. And then she found another gallery. That is how you rock the boat. San Francisco
Finding your voice
I know it's not easy for some artists to speak up. You think that by doing so, the opportunity you've worked so hard to attain will be taken away. But if it's not worth having, as Alvarado's story underscores, you have nothing nothing to lose.
Speaking up is an acquired skill. No one would call me reticent, but I've learned to articulate what I need. That story about the artist whose triptych was separated? I was that artist, a long time ago.
Over to you: Are there times you wish you'd spoken up? What was the situation? Have you spoken up? What did you say?