me as dumpy old turd, photo by lynn worth
It's been a fairly interesting process I've seen my mind go through since rejection from the show in West Jefferson last week. It's a complexity of old thinking and new thinking of my own intersecting and separating, in constant motion. Never once did I feel anything like self-pity for not being included, or mad for the rejection. Before I went to pick up my paintings I talked with the husband of a woman I know who entered some things and was rejected. He'd gone to pick up her paintings and said the exhibition was up and none of it was any good, all of it trash art. He said he didn't see mine. I'd not had a phone call or email to tell of the rejection. So I called the place and then drove to WJefferson to pick them up. Driving there, a 40 minute drive, beautiful country, not more than half a dozen stop signs between here and there, a tape of the Green Mountain Boys playing mountain bluegrass. In my mind, all I had to go by was what he'd said. I didn't have a great deal of confidence in his notions about art, as he's a retired engineer who went to the Citadel in Charleston. But, that doesn't really tell me anything, except that he and I have different eyes for art. That's all.
I was about half in a mood by the time I got there. My full confidence my paintings would get in the show was shattered. It's a blow, albeit without a sting. I couldn't imagine why, though I tried. The town of W Jefferson had painted parking space lines on the street at the opening of the arts council building's parking lot. A car was parked diagonally in the middle of the entrance to the parking lot. I squeezed by it to get in there, hoping nobody parked in that little opening before I needed to exit. It's one of those situations where I tell myself I've quit trying to understand other people's decisions, so I let go of it in my mind. No grumblings like it hadn't oughta be that way. It is that way. That's the beginning and the end of it. I went in the door telling my ego to settle down. It's nothing personal and it's definitely no big deal. I didn't enter with any notion of winning any awards. I like seeing something of mine among it's peers, other artists of NW North Carolina, and that was my only reason.
As soon as I stepped into the gallery space, I understood everything. Nothing of mine had a place in there. The entire collection on the walls was one magnificent painting after another, each in the painter's own style, every one of them I thought, by my own assessment, would make mine look lame on the wall beside it, or between any two. I'd be ashamed for my pictures to hang in this collection. I saw that I am, indeed, in the league of "self-taught" artists. Around the walls I saw the league of painters who had been art majors in college and studied art under teaching. Everything had the "painterly" way that in the 50s was radical and new and by now is the academic main stream. When you've been to art school, you paint this way. If you've not been to art school, you don't paint this way. The juror taught art at UNCCharlotte and is a very respectable artist. However many were on the walls, 20 or so, every one of them was in a league beyond what I do. I saw that, respected that, realized if I'd been the juror, my paintings would not have been on the wall either. Like I said, I'd be ashamed to see my images on the wall among these others. I have to say I felt awe standing in front of each one of them, and every one for its own reasons.
After we'd found my paintings from the back rooms, I walked slowly around the exhibit taking in each one, savoring them, one at a time, for as long as I felt like staying there. Mine I held back to back, the hanging wires in one hand. Easy to carry that way. A few other people came in and I noticed they all would stand before one painting for a long time before moving on to the next. Nobody was pushing me and I had all day, so I drank in these beautiful images. Disappointment was completely vanished. I knew maybe two of the artists on the walls and respect them both as artists. A few of them I'll remember the rest of my life. It actually blew my mind that there were at least this many really superb artists in NW North Carolina. I felt more privileged about being among them than ever before.
My own mental process over the next couple days I found educational. I had emotional response going: dammit, I wanted to be in that show! And mental response: It's no problem. I'm not in that league. That's not a problem and certainly not an issue. I found myself dampening emotional responses with mind telling emotional part of self it's ok, you'd be ashamed to see one of your own on the wall in that room. I went into it saying I wasn't doing it to win awards or get attention, just to see them on the wall. So I don't get to see them on the wall. If I'd been the juror they still wouldn't be on the wall. It wasn't a difficult struggle, but another experience of mind reminding emotion that it's not all about self. Even when I thought I had it settled, emotional ego would creep in and tell me I oughta be at least disappointed. Then mind had to come in and remind emotion that I wouldn't have selected mine if I'd been the judge. Even if I'd wanted to be partial to self over others, I could not have selected them for inclusion.
That answer settles it every time. By now, 3 days later, the emotional part doesn't boil to the surface any more. I didn't like having it pop into my mind by surprise. If they'd just got somebody else to be the juror, I'd be in. No you wouldn't. Even if you juried it yourself, they wouldn't be on the wall. Then I give self-doubt it's say. Maybe I should alter the way I paint and educate myself into that league. Then I laugh out loud at myself. Why? is my first question. That settles it. I paint portraits of mountain musicians for mountain people. The mountain aesthetic sense doesn't reach as far as academic art. I'm not painting for New York, Charlotte, Berlin or Paris. I paint for Allehany County, for the people I live among, my world. My world is not New York. I am a self-taught provincial painter or artist, whatever you want to call it. Since the WJefferson show, I call myself a painter before artist. I'll use artist loosely on myself occasionally. When someone asks if I'm an artist, I say, "Sometimes." No need to start a monologue about definitions.
By today, I'm glad for the experience. It gave me a measure of my own place in the world of provincial art of my region. I find I've not been fooling myself about where my paintings stand among their peers. First, and most obvious, my league is the self-taught. In that league, I'd say my place is respectable, while far from "the Best." I'm nowhere near top dog and have no ambition toward it. I like that my way of learning painting was the same as a mountain musician; go at it and figure it out. How the mountain musician figures out his instrument becomes his style. In like manner, how I figured out painting became my style. Not all mountain musicians win Galax. Not all mountain artists get into exhibits. I did find, however, a universal truth about myself. I tend to think better of my abilities than works out, a lesser version of what the Johnny Depp character said at the end of the movie SNOW. He's in prison looking over what got him in there, concluding his ambition far exceeded his talent. I'm at a time in the life where I want to be fully honest about myself with myself, sweep away illusions. And certainly not think myself some hotshit artist. The answer found in my self-assessments over the last several years has been that I'm just another Joe. I say, TJ is for The Joe. The mountains put you in your place, give perspective. I like that about the mountains.