Sunday, January 9, 2011

A difference of opinion...


Long day, but not bad.  I attended an artist's reception today, since I had won the "People's Choice" Award of First Place, and, being asked at Christmas time, to attend the awards ceremony by a former committee member, I decided the cordial thing to do was to go ahead and attend, but once I got there, I began to think otherwise!

I walked in, and I was very much given a cold shoulder, for real.  Apparently, the Association that mounted this exhibition didn't agree with the Curator/Juror who judged the show, and were rather miffed that I, an outsider, and a brand new "Club Member" had won the show.  Plus, the old dragon ladies that were running this institution, were not thrilled with my painting.  I stood behind them, and listened to their comments, all the while giggling to myself, since they didn't have a clue as to who I was, as they had never met me.

I heard the words "appalling," "shameful,"  "arrogant," and other adjectives, along with this exact sentiment "This painting makes me uneasy--what was the juror thinking?"  Another older woman looked at it and said, "I don't like this painting at all.  The way these young girls are looking is very menacing, and it's just not a nice painting."  One of the womens' husbands disagreed, saying, "I really enjoy it.  It's a very different take on figurative work than I have seen.  I also like her treatment of the girls' hair, it has nice texture."  Both women looked at him as if he were nuts, and then he looked rather sheepish, and walked on.   As the younger people came in, they automatically and instantly gravitated to it, admiring and discussing, and I also sat back and enjoyed that.  I knew they would see the truth in it.

As I was standing there, a woman of the press corp stood in front of me, and stared for a long time at the painting.  She turned to me and smiled, and said, "I just love this painting."  So, I said, "Me too."  She nodded and looked back at it, and said, "So, do you have a piece in this show?"  I just smiled and said, "Yes, that would be it."  Her face lit up, and she broke out into a huge grin and said, "YOU did this?  I love it!" And we both laughed knowingly. 

As we got to talking, she told me she saw the show being hung, and she was there and excited when the painting was juried as First Place.  She told me the Juror, a professional with a very impressive career behind her (I'll not mention any names here), also loved the painting, and that made me smile.  Neither of these women knew me, they had just seen the work, and the work spoke to them, and the work spoke for itself...so the art was a success.

As word filtered down through the show who I was, not one person of the official committee came forward and introduced themselves to me, or even congratulated me.  I noticed that my painting was situated in the back of the exhibition, where it was somewhat obscure, not in a place where the winning painting would be placed.  Instead, in the view of honor, was the second place painting, a very tame painting of a few onions on a lace doily, of which the vested ladies fawned all over, "What gorgeous treatment of the lace," and,  "Really, this lovely painting should have been the winner." 

I actually rather got a kick out of the whole situation, since it made me feel very good...actually, it made me feel great.  My painting had done it's job, which was to provoke a reaction, whether positive or negative, you couldn't ignore it, or just walk by without actually being drawn to it.

I also noticed the comments were not of the technical prowess of the painting, it was rather of the subject matter.  I had abandoned the high art tradition of making these girls submissive, shrinking violets, who cannot meet the gaze of the viewers, as most women are portrayed in art.  Men can look you square in the eye, but according to our ancient and idiotic traditions, a woman should be demure and meek in a painting...I say, "Bullshit."  My girls are girls of the 21st Century, and if they want to meet you squarely in the eyeball, and be in your face, so be it.  And, that was the crux of the problem.  I broke with tradition, and these old dragons were quite insulted with it.

When the time for the awards came, they basically shoved the check in my hand, and all but told me *not* to elaborate on the painting.  I was really amazed by this point, but didn't care.  The final insult came as I was getting ready to walk out the door...

A tall, thin, elderly lady with rheumy green eyes and an angry red slash of a mouth approached me.  She was decked out in an elaborate fur jacket, with pearls at her throat and wrist...she was so stereotypical, it was almost a laugh riot. 

"Ms. England?" she sniffed, and when I acknowledged, she went on.  "My name is &*&^^*&*, and I am head of the exhibition committee.  I have been curating all of our shows for the last 25 years.  I would just like to voice a....'problem' to you.  While we were hanging this show, this, er, painting of yours, apparently was still wet somewhere, and your painting 'soiled' one of our ladies' sweater.  You must be sure if you plan to submit any further paintings to our group for exhibition that it is fully dried." 

And then she stared at me.  By now, my annoyance was aroused, so I said, "Are you trying to say that you damaged my painting?" I looked at her in the eye and said this quite pointedly.  She was taken aback, and in surprise, at the tables being turned, said, "Uh...NO!  No!  That's not what I meant!"  I folded my arms across my chest and said, "Well, what do you mean?  This painting was fully dried, so perhaps she had paint from another work she handled?  And what does she mean putting her hands all over the picture plane anyway?"  At this point, she knew she had lost, and she said, "I'm sorry.  It must be a misunderstanding," and she just turned abruptly and walked away.

I had been standing there with a small group, and we looked at each other in amazement at the exchange, and then we all  burst out laughing.   I traded info with a few people, and with one woman in particular, since I really enjoyed talking with her, and she also paints, so we made a plan to get together with a few of the other local artists I know and do an informal model session.

So, all's well and end's well!

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