No one likes to have someone look at their artwork and say something critical or skeptical. It can get in your head and steal your courage. That’s happened to me before for sure. However, the biggest, most hopeful turning point in my art career came directly from a critical/skeptical comment.
I had just finished a very unusual painting. At the time, landscapes and still-life paintings were selling a lot in galleries, and mostly for that reason I’d been painting lots of landscapes still-lifes. But not this time. No, this time I painted a picture of a bunch of strangely dressed ladies carrying various tea party supplies on their heads, while standing on cats who were walking into a zebra striped forest. Not a very popular subject matter. It was this crazy, beautiful picture that was in my head and I loved it so much that I had to paint it. It was like a craving. It took a very long time to finish— way longer than any landscape or still-life had ever taken me. And when I was done I just loved it.
One day a dear friend stood looking at this painting. She looked concerned and said, “I wonder if anyone will buy it?” This was a reasonable question as I sell my artwork for a living. But it was also a question that suggests the possibility that perhaps no one would want to buy this bizarre, candy-colored creation. A hard question to think about after spending hours creating, but I’m so thankful my friend asked. Because at that moment I looked at my painting and considered the question honestly. Would anyone buy a painting like this? And I knew right away that I would buy it. Not only would I buy it, I would buy it even if it cost a ridiculous amount and I had to save up a long time to afford it. And even beyond that, if I had seen it in a store window, I think it would have brought tears to my eyes, because I would have loved the colors so much and because the strangeness of it would have reminded me that there must be other people out there like me—that I am not alone in the world. Because that’s what art does for those of us that speak its language. And in that moment, I knew that paintings like this were worth creating. Not because they will necessarily sell well or quickly, but because anything that is beautiful is worth making. It just is. I’m sure of it.
That was the beginning of my Story Paintings. Belief is so important. It steers us. If you believe something is truly worth doing, you’ll do it. And criticism is important too. Sometimes if we let it sit in our minds too long unfiltered by truth, it can steal our courage. But sometimes it helps us make wiser decisions than we would have otherwise, and often it just wakes us up to know what we believe.