Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Urbana Art Expo: A Priceless Experience

Selling my art in a little corner amidst a gigantic room full of 23 other incredibly talented artists is probably the scariest thing I've ever done in my entire life.  This is no garage sale we're talking about here.  This is my life's work!  Extensions of my heart and soul spread across a navy blue bed sheet on a little fold-out table for the assessment of total strangers.  I could not have done it if my good friend Jana had not agreed to share a booth with me.  She and her husband Thomas were my anchor through this crazy adventure.  They provided wire and hooks, extra lighting, much needed advice, a way for customers to pay with credit cards, and most important of all, moral support.

But even with their invaluable support I still felt insecure.  No insecure is an understatement.  I felt
like a candle flame getting dimmer and dimmer with each person who barely glanced at my work without a word and moved on.  Each one felt like a rejection.  I am not used to feeling ordinary.  I'm used to standing out and getting praised for it, but at the expo every artist was extraordinary, making me just a part of the crowd.  So many people would breeze through our booth not even stopping to look closely or comment on my work.  I asked Jana, "Does this make you feel invisible?"  She looked thoughtful for a moment and said, "It's funny you should say that because I always feel invisible.  For me, to feel invisible is to feel safe."  That simple statement just blew my mind.  I never realized how privileged I was to grow up in great big family and community who constantly praised and made it a point to make me feel special.  To me this was the norm.  So when I came to an event like this where I received no such special treatment it was a bit of a culture shock.  I wanted people to gush over my work.  I wanted them to purchase my overpriced originals.  I wanted to feel adored.

                                                                                                                      Photo Courtesy by 40 North
But this was not the reality.  Two full hours went by and I only sold one bookmark, a total of $1.  It was agony.  I just wanted to hide in the bathroom and cry.  My flame kept growing dimmer and dimmer with until I felt just about ready to give up.  Just as I was trying think up some kind of escape route, a co-worker of mine, Rachel Wooley, came by and purchased a print of my scarlet tanager illustration.  That simple purchase gave me the courage to stick it out for the rest of the day.

After that more and more people began flooding in and my work received a lot more attention.  One woman bought my "As Big as this World Piece" for her nephew in New Orleans.  She said, "I just have to buy it.  It's too perfect not to."  Another woman who spent a good 20 minutes looking over my work finally decided to buy prints of, "Going out on a Limb" and "Summer."  She said "I had such a hard time trying to decide!  They are all so wonderful."  The piece that got the most attention was my original "Walking the Black Dog." A woman tugged on her husband's shirt nodding toward that piece and said, "I like this one."  One boy pointed at it and said, "Daddy look at this!"  Many others walked up to it and simply looked for a long time.  Each time I swelled with pride.

The absolute highlight of the day was watching a moment between two women when they discovered
a print of my piece titled "Love Wins." One held it up for the other to see and I was awe-struck by what happened next.  They wrapped their arms around each other.  Their backs were turned to me so I could not see their faces, but their heads were tilted toward each other in such a way radiating a love so tender it took my breath away.  Then they set it down and without a word walked off together holding hands.  That tiny little interaction was worth more to me than my total earnings that day.  I even had to fight back the tears of joy as I watched them walking off together.  This is why I do art.  This is what I live for.

I earned $126 that day which was more than enough to cover the expenses for participating, but even if I made nothing the experience would have been worth it.  There is nothing that compares to watching the raw reactions people have to your work.  My mind keeps returning to the couple after they saw my piece "Love Wins".  They did not purchase or even look over at me to comment.  They simply walked off together with one resting her head on the other's shoulder and holding hands.  To me this is priceless.

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