Having an art gallery is not what I thought it would be.

Having an art gallery is not what I thought it would be.

The year anniversary of the gallery is a couple months away, and I am sitting here at the desk, looking around. I’ve rearranged the furniture at least six times. The bookshelf is now, after a small world-tour, back in the spot I’d originally planned for it. Most of the plants are still alive though there’s one on death’s door that I’m trying to revive at home.

I’m not sure what I imagined owning a gallery would be like, but I’m pretty sure I had some fantasies of constant sales and maybe even paintings that would “fly off the shelves.” I also entertained my fair share of fears about no one being interested in it at all, dust collecting on those bookshelves I’ve moved so many times.

What’s surprised me most has nothing to do with shelves. Someone just left the gallery who was visiting for the first time. We got to talking and she told me about losing her husband at a young age and later her mother, and it occurred to me how many people have come in and shared their stories. Scratch that. It’s more than that. People have shared their actual grief. With me. Who is not a therapist or healer of any kind. But by what feels like some miracle, a little painting will speak to them and, well, in all my imaginings I forgot to imagine that part. The part where I get to make a real human connection. Where something in me speaks to something in someone else and vice versa. 

At our last after hours party, I made some hummingbird coloring pages in case any kids wanted to make art. In case. Ha. In my experience kids always want to make art because they have not yet learned to care whether or not it is “good.” And make art they did. One little boy told me that I forgot to put the second wing on the bird; he was not having my explanation that it was behind the other wing and just out of view. You’re right, I told him. Please, add the second wing, and he did. It was beautiful.


Later, to end the night, our talented musician, Cody Roth, played a slow song and couples quickly grabbed their partners and headed to the make-shift dance floor, ie, the parking lot of the shopping center where my gallery is located. I may have cried. 

This is not what I thought having a gallery would be like. It’s better. 

I still have a lot of work to do; we are just getting started. But any time things are slow, and I get discouraged, I think of all the unlikely conversations I’ve had, the stories I’ve been trusted with, the kids who’ve made art with abandon, the slow dancing in the parking lot. 

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My ten things

1. This is something you might actually do for a living one day. And here’s a whole host of people doing it for a good living that aren’t famous and don’t have shows at museums. Here’s what they are doing. (I would have loved to see what this looked like in 2000).

2. Nothing is original. We don’t create art in a vacuum, and maybe we couldn’t since art feels very much like a response to something. We all build upon the discoveries and accomplishments of others. Here’s the paradox: finding your unique voice usually involves trying on (and shedding, and expanding) those of others. Don’t get so caught up in being original that you never develop the skills and ideas that allow you to find your unique contributions. Originality comes. You don’t have to force it. 

3. Consistency trumps raw talent. Showing up despite motivation and inspiration is more important than being the best at the start. 

4. No one needs your art or has any particular reason to care about it (except maybe your grandmother). Making it anyway requires a unique level of self-motivation and being self-motivated takes practice. Figure out what tools, subjects, processes, and rituals excite you, and draw more satisfaction from them than you do validation from others. 

5. Ward off inevitable loneliness by finding or creating a group of other artists. Art is (mostly) made in solitude and even introverts need community for edification, collaboration, and reassurance. 

6. People who will like (and collect) your art are out there and finding them requires actual work. The artists for whom it appears to have come swiftly and easily are the exceptions that prove the rule, but we tend to think of them as the standard. We tend to think we have to work so hard at marketing because our work isn’t any good, and if we were only better we wouldn’t have to find an audience, they would just appear. That is false 99% of the time. 

7. Progress isn’t linear. Some days are magical and others feel like you’ve regressed. You’re normal.

8. The sooner you come to terms with imperfection, the sooner you will be free enough to create something worth anything. To seek perfection is to dismiss the creative process entirely which is built on wrong turns, happy accidents, tangents, dead ends, and paint on all your clothes.

9. Keep a sketchbook and a journal. Write, informally or not, about your work, your inspiration, your worries, your hopes. Make lists of pieces you want to create and ideas you want to explore. Writing it down gives it weight. Looking back at both your old work and what you were thinking about it can get you unstuck or inspired. It might also provide a good laugh. 

10. It’s just art and not a physical object that represents your entire personhood nor your human worth. Relax.

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