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Art Life Lessons from an Unlikely Source

Color graphic promoting a Netflix show
An unlikely source

[BLOG POST 5/19/24] Recently I watched a few episodes of a reality show called "Interior Designs Masters" on Netflix. Generally don't like reality shows (Except for RuPauls' Drag Race) because they feel like they "force drama" by creating ridiculous situations and prodding the participants to amp up minor disagreement. This show is no different which is why I was surprised to find some nuggets of gold buried within the mud.

The premise is that ten aspiring interior designers are given 2 days and a modest budget to completely transform a space (bedroom, retail store, etc). Each episode has 2 judges, one judge is there every episode and the other is a guest which changes each episode. At the end of each episode one or more participants are sent home. The last person standing wins a lucrative contract with a London hotel.

Anyway, my first art life lesson came from the episode where the contestants have to renovate retail stores. The guest judge that episode explained that the future of retail is making the store a destination experience worth leaving your house. Because so many of us shop online, and we can find almost anything online, the only way retail stores can compete is by making their space unique in some way and offering exceptional customer service.

Clip art of a lightbulb lighting up

I think this also applies to art galleries / art shows / museums / etc. Personally I know that seeing art live is worth the effort EVERY TIME but to get people away from their computers and into a public space is hard and only getting harder with the rise of VR and AI. The key I think is in engaging all our senses.

We live in bodies that are designed to sense / feel the world around us and when all 5 senses are engaged we feel alive. So maybe one way to get people out to see art is to make sure they see, smell, hear, touch, and taste something amazing while they are out.

As much as possible I'm going to incorporate this lesson into my solo show at Gallery One SixSix this fall for my "Rattlesnake" portrait series.

My next art life lesson came several episodes in after the contestants had received multiple rounds of feedback from the judges. One designer lamented, "you just never know what they will like". That is SO TRUE!!! Anytime someone sees a work of art or design or anything created by someone else, they have their own opinion about it. Those opinions come from their own life experiences.

Clip art of a lightbulb lighting up

I learned that when your creation is being judged, take your ego for a walk! It's not about you! It's about the judge and their preferences. Learn what you can from their comments and move on.

Oh! And follow directions!!! Usually on the show there is a brief outlining the expectations for the project. In the art world, shows, contests, competitions are no different. They typically have a prospectus or a brief explaining the vision for the event and all the specifications for participation. Chances of success increase if you follow the directions.

If you are interested in seeing a real life prospectus click on the image below. (FYI: CaFé is a website dedicated to listing calls for art for different organizations around the world, I linked their logo to a specific show so you can see what a prospectus looks like.)

And my final art life lesson came from watching how the different participants dealt with critiques, the consequences from their design choices, and the challenges of working together as teams. As mentioned above I am aware that the show producers are doing everything they can behind the scenes to create drama and they edit the video to make a "good character" and "bad character". So I take everything I see with a grain of salt. But, group dynamics are real and not everyone likes everyone else all the time. So as I watched the participants say snarky things and get very high and mighty on their horses I realized that sometimes I can be a "bad" character.

Clip art of a lightbulb lighting up

Dear reader, it is easy to feel snarky about the art world. Galleries are hard to break into. Finding art buyers on your own is hard to do. Making art has financial and personal costs. Female artists face daunting prejudices and make less money than male artists. And all the while some artists seem to have a "golden ticket" and do well while others stay stuck in obscurity regardless of the quality of the work.

Sometimes success seems like it is more about confidence, charisma, cleverness and networking than substance or quality. Gimmicks like the blank canvas titled "Take The Money and Run" which sold for a ridiculous amount of money comes to mind. Success certainly can seem linked to name / brand recognition. After all, everyone wants a painting by a famous artist like Georgia O'Keeffe, but what about all the paintings by not-so-famous artists, like me?

So what is the art life lesson I learned? Well I realized that I don't want to be a "bad" character. While things can seem unfair, biased, unnecessarily difficult, and discouraging I want to be the character who sees the mud and builds a boardwalk.

I value taking time to celebrate others' successes, learning from my choices and their consequences, being grateful when things go well as well as when they don't, playing well with others, and above all be as gracious, patient, and kind as I can.

I believe that HOW you walk in this world is as important as WHERE you go.

Whereas I don't always hit the mark I do try.

And I've realized that finding helpful art life lessons is GREAT no matter where they come from – even a reality show!!! 😉

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