Lessons from my First Art Exhibition

A few months ago a friend I had just met asked me a simple question: Do you want to be part of an art exhibition? As a young artist in college, the idea was fresh and the answer was a resounding yes. The fire in my gut was strong as new uncharted territories lay before me. In the next few months my communication skills were tested, my spirits were strained,and my self-confidence was shattered and pieced together several times all because I said yes.

The strenuous task lay out before the four other artists and myself to come up with a collaboration piece, and from there it would spawn a theme of it’s own. Hopefully, this theme would direct the rest of the show and keep us going from there. So we began brainstorming for our project; bringing in photos of things we liked, sharing them, critiquing, and creating potential mock ups. Our web of communication was ever changing. Sometimes we drew, sometimes talked, and sometimes simply nodded a yes or no. We almost never completely agreed on anything. How could we when we were communicating so differently? Most notably, when it came time to plan when to meet each week. Sometimes, a resounding agreement from a majority of us made the answer to our problems simple, while other times we’d debate for over fifteen minutes whether a shape fit the space correctly.

As we continued, the collaboration piece came together. We’d come up with a historical theme, which would easily appease the gallery owners and give the art a feeling of fullness: no one can argue with our high held idea of art’s important history. So we shot about with our pens, pencils, and brushes, while I preferred the time of abstract modernists and postmodernists, others among us preferred high renaissance, and we all agreed the Venus of Willendorf was of the utmost importance. The piece’s came like a jigsaw, here and there, slowly building upon each other, and leaving the perfect spaces for others to fill with their own puzzle pieces.

Slowly, it gained momentum. We produced a draft of our piece commemorating and encouraging the lineage of art history. Then, met with the gallery director to go over the details. With few minor details, it went great. He understood our purpose and we were given the all clear, so we moved on to the next step: execution.

While continuing to improve the collaborative piece, we began working on the rest of our exhibit, which would house our own personal artwork. Curation was an unknown realm for us. Even though we were aesthetically trained, three dimensional space and it’s interaction with our personal artwork was tricky. One has to switch perspectives constantly, and toy with possibilities, not absolutes. In our conceptualization of the project we wanted to keep a black and white aesthetic. It would keep it simple. So, again, we went to our canvases with ink and paint to bring life to our ideas. Coming each week with new concepts or sketches, only to be knocked down by each other’s harsh critiques.

It was here I began having trouble. As an artist, I strive for authenticity, but also originality. This is a hard thing to balance. And with the theme of history, it became an increasing hard task to find a piece that felt authentic, yet original in concept. Especially, knowing fully well at my young age I had no idea who I was as a person, much less as an artist. I had no true style yet. Then came the task of running it by the other artists, who as a young artists themselves didn’t really know what they wanted. The arduousness became overwhelming, making me question my artistic vision at every new turn. Finally, as the date drew near for our exhibition, our ideas all seemed to materialize at once. With sudden vitality, we sprung upon our canvases taking less than a week to finalize all our works.

Finally, our week was here. We worked with the gallery director to finish and set up the exhibition. Our large collaboration: a vinyl mural, spread over four hollow core doors, which took at least four hours just to align and layout. Then we began preparing the walls for our personal pieces. We had to fill small hole, paint over the patches, erase or correct marks on the wall in order to make the place look respectable. Unfortunately, due to a failure between the higher ups, we failed to receive the right paint for the white walls, which now had yellow tinted white spots on them. So through a series of other connections we worked out receiving the right paint, and not having to pay for it ourselves and bust our budget. The day of the event, we worked continuously, sanding and painting the walls, hanging artwork, and putting out a sign for the exhibit.

The night was upon us. And so the crowd was gathered out before us. So we opened it and they descended like crows upon a carcass. And they talked and laughed among our art, complementing and critiquing with their facial expression and sudden gestures. A few people told me they loved my work, some simply walked by as if the monumental effort I put on the wall was nothing to tell. Then the crowd began to die down, and the sunlight faded, signalling the ending of our exhibition.

As the crowd mingled out and I said goodbye and congrats to my fellow artists, I reflected on the experience. Communication was a huge obstacle, and I thought I could hurdle it. All of us artists were talking on different wavelengths, and it would’ve been a good idea to establish that at the beginning. Admitting there’s a problem is the first step to solving it. We could’ve gotten it done a lot quicker if we’d just tried a little but harder to communicate effectively with each other. A lot of precious time was wasted just going back and forth with each other only to realize we’d all been saying the same thing. And don’t expect other people to intuitively understand that they have to communicate. No one ever seems to understand that off the bat. It’s probably a good idea to mention it a few times.

Another thing, be prepared to work your ass off. Especially if it’s the first time doing something. It’s gonna take twice the amount of time and effort you plan, guaranteed (unless you plan that in of course). This is the part that tests if you’re actually ready to do “the thing.” I questioned a few times if it was actually worth doing the exhibition, with the communication off and all our differences, it was hard to see it coming together cohesively. But, I wanted this, I was proud of myself and wanted to show off, I was proud of all of our work and wanted to show that off too, and I put in too much time and effort along with building relationships to give up. So when it comes to the edge of the cliff, and you have to consider whether to jump and trust the parachute, think about it carefully. That’s was defining moment for the rest of our project.

Lastly, once you’ve jumped, trust the parachute. It hurt seeing people walk past my art, but that’s life. Not everyone loves you, or understands you, and you have to realize that doesn’t mean your project sucks. It’s just someone’s taste. For instance, I had someone come up and tell me they loved my observation work, and how it interacted by contrasting against the rest of the other pieces. He happened to be a teacher and loved that I threw in something different. The point is be confident, but know its also alright when people don’t love you.

When I walked out those doors into the rain, I laughed as I thought about the night. I had thought so many times, we can’t do this, we can’t do this, we can’t, there’s not enough time, money, etc, But we did. And it was awesome.

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