Performance Anxiety and Simple Gifts

The Art of Jazz Collection
Molly Larson Cook
Studio Shot – Getting Ready for the Show


Mounting an art show is a joy and a botheration.  That’s just my opinion.

Joy because of course we want to have our best work seen.  Botheration because there are lots of details connected to a show that have nothing to do with painting, and also because there are moments when you question your own decisions.  Again, that’s just my opinion.

Art, for us ordinary mortals who have not felt the rush of commercialization – and also have not sought it –  is about as personal as it gets.  My writing is personal, too, and yet I never feel any pangs of self-doubt when sending something out to judges or editors or readers.  I know what I know.  And the judges and editors and readers either like it or they don’t.  Words are words.

Art shows feel different to me and even more personal.  Maybe the difference is that I’ve wandered through too many openings and art galleries and overheard the old “My kid could do that.”  “What the hell is this about?”  “Come on, Doris, let’s go eat.”  I’ve never heard anything like that about my writing – or about anybody else’s either.  Everybody seems to be a critic.

Preparing for the show is kind of like becoming an editor for your own writing.  The notion of “good enough” is no longer good enough.  But a little of that goes a long way with both writing and painting.  It’s easy to destroy something that was, in truth, good enough.  I’ve written here before about the risk of seeking perfection in creative projects.

One of my favorite poets, Rabindranath Tagore says this:  “I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.”

I’ve been around on this planet long enough to know this may just be a case of performance heebie jeebies.  And in so many ways, a show is a kind of performance.  You’re out there on the walls just as you might be on a stage, and you pray that you remembered to put on your clothes.

The show will be hung in a favorite local hangout – bakery, deli, coffee shop – which is usually packed at all hours.  And they are known for the rotating shows – a new one every month.  When I opted for this time slot for the show, about 25 of my abstract paintings along a wonderful brick wall, I was thinking more of the parents and other visitors who come to this university town for all kinds of sports and music events.  People who might be interested in seeing and buying art.

Given the pandemic, it’s hardly as if my show will be seen now by the usual hundreds.  And among those who’ll likely see it, half will be college students who frequent the place and will be much more interested in planning the next party.

But, in the old theatre tradition in which I was trained, the show must go on.  And go on, it will.

Sidebar:  I once traveled from Portland, Oregon to Vancouver, B.C. to perform in an avant-garde play for an audience of one plus two reviewers.  It did not go well. 

I know I’ll have a few more folks than that to see the paintings and in truth, I’m happy with the work and pleased to let the public have a look.  In his book, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, Lewis Hyde writes that the value of a gift increases when it is shared.  I have little to give the world these days except my art and my writing.  While we artists are always happy when someone buys a painting, simply going to the effort of showing our work to the public is a wonderful way to share.

As I paint the edges black, and screw in the D-rings, attach the hanging wire and finally sign my name in the bottom right hand corner, I’ll trust it.  And I’ll call myself “artist.”

Simple gifts.


4 thoughts on “Performance Anxiety and Simple Gifts

  1. I stole it too! It’s a favorite. Thank you, Dana. With the virus and the fires, it’s hard to know what will happen with the show, but it keeps me as sane as can be expected during this crazy season! I owe you a lot when it comes to this art life. You rock!

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