I’ve been a professional artist for long enough to know that you must find your audience. But, in doing that, you set yourself up for failure. It’s all part of the gig. You have to fail to know how to succeed.
Let me start from the beginning. At the start of my career, I was an artist while also running art galleries for other people. My art was often shown at these galleries and when people walked in, they didn’t know I was the artist. Some people would be like “these pops are so cute.” I’d blush, yet still would not mention that I’m the artist. However, more often than not, people would walk in and say “what do you do with this?” or “Why is this $250?” Ouch! That hurts my heart. But, I just kept quiet and felt bad about myself (as many emotional artists do). Over time, it got easier to tolerate. The more it happened, the more I realized that these people are not my audience. They are entitled to their opinion. If I want people to value my art, they must be educated in the process and thoughts behind the creation of it. I had to work almost as hard at educating people as I did to make the art itself. Nowadays, I let my galleries do the educating.
After some rejection, I found several great cities to place my work. I found collectors that appreciate my unique designs and the effort it takes to dream these up and turn them into reality. I try to show the intensity of my process so that people will appreciate my finished works more. But, have I told you about my worst show ever? Oh my gosh! Let me tell you- It was my first international show. It was my first show with a new gallery.I felt so confident. Going into this, I though “holy shit, I’m a legitimate artist now.” Well.... that was before the opening.
Imagine this: I spent thousands of dollars on crating & shipping sculptures to Hong Kong. Then I bought a flight and hotel room. I was super pumped to have reached my goal of becoming internationally known (even if it was my first international show). The days and weeks passed slowly. I had had so much success in the US already that this new, asian city would certainly be a hit, right? ...
The night before I left, I thought “what if I don’t have enough work”, so I packed my suitcase with pops instead of clothes. (I really hope they x-rayed that bag). When I landed in Hong Kong, I went straight to the convention center where the Affordable Art Fair Hong Kong was being held. After a 12-15 hour flight (I can’t remember) I dragged my jet-lagged self to the show to set up. I met my new gallery for the first time and offered to help "hang" the show. Part of me wanted to just go to the hotel, shower, and go to sleep. But, I really enjoy the behind-the-scenes part of shows too. My first sign that this would be a bad show (if you believe in that stuff) was that my last name was misspelled on the cards my gallery made for me. I get it though. It’s a ridiculously long name and only Germans can get it the first time. So, I didn’t make a big deal of it. I just asked them to correct it for future shows. No biggie.
That night I crashed hard. The show opened the next day. I remember not having any jet lag. Was I just running on adrenaline? Who knows. So, I got all dressed up, went to the VIP opening of the show and within an hour I was in tears. Why? Well, it was the comments again. I really expected that the people who attended art shows would have more respect for the art and galleries, but nope! They basically took my melting pops as a joke, as a toy, as a gag gift. They did not value it at all. I couldn’t rationalize it. I couldn’t understand how I could spend so much time, effort, and money and get nothing back from it besides uneducated remarks. Why were these people being so cruel? So, I left the show and never went back. I didn’t go back to convention center and I’ve not returned to Hong Kong. I don’t blame Hong Kong, of course. In fact, I ended up having a great trip. I wandered the streets in the sweltering, balmy air observing everything around me. I remember smelling dried fish everywhere and I distinctly remember the air conditioning units dripping water on my head while I walked down the sidewalk. It was so hot & humid that I’d sweat through my clothes, then go inside an air conditioned store to dry off. Then I’d do it all over again. Over & over, sweating drying - I considered it a “cleanse.” I had to cleanse my thoughts, my sadness, my frustration. I had to find a way to “get back on that horse” and do another show. Amazingly, my European gallery kept me on as an artist and found great success in other European cities - I proceeded to have “sold-out” shows in London, Stockholm, and Hamburg.
The moral of this story is that everyone fails at some point. Everyone stumbles. Mistakes will happen. The lesson- if you power through the failures, you may actually find your own version of success.