I was twenty years old and visiting some relatives in California. My grandmother, Margie, was also visiting. She was kind to me, unless I irritated her, and even then she tried her best. I was downstairs in the guest bedroom working on a painting called “Selkie” which was inspired by an Irish myth about a seal who becomes a woman. Margie came downstairs to say hi and saw what I was working on.
“Maureen,” she said in her warbling voice, “That is wonderful. You are very talented.”
Every artist I know has had this experience. Someone in their family or a friend encouraged their work when they did not see its value. Someone outside the self-critical voice in an artist’s head said, “This thing you are doing is worth something. It has value.” This kind of support is the currency artists cannot live without, it’s like food and water.
In the workplace of professional arts, there is a saying: “Who besides your mother thinks your art is any good?” There are thousands of artists competing for gallery space across the country, and the line between what gets shown and what does not can seem cutting, but it is necessary. In the end, professionals have to act, like, well, professionals. It’s not personal it’s business when something gets juried in and something gets juried out. We have all had it happen to us. Because it can be a rough world, even the very best artists I know need a restorative dose of praise on occasion.
The simple act of showing up is another kindness between supporters and their artists. One thing I love seeing at artist receptions and studio tours are family and friends of artists hanging out. You can tell them from the rest of the crowd by the love on their faces, their unusually expert knowledge of the art and its process, and the fact that they don’t leave after a quick walk through. The supporters of every artist linger.
I would like to acknowledge Margie, my sister, and my best friend Alex, who has a framed water-color painting hanging in her living room that I made when I was eleven. These are my earliest supporters. Though no gallery owner will be asking me for their opinions of my work, I will always value input and love from them. I encourage every artist to thank their fan club of friends and family this holiday season- these folks really are something to be thankful for.