Saturday, June 12, 2010

On Letting Go

Lilies and Books, c. 2010, Sukie Curtis, oil on canvas

When this painting was hanging in Starbucks in Portland last month, I wasn't ready to sell it. It was my unrivaled current favorite painting, and it may be I was even a little worried that I might never paint another one of a similar quality and strength and confidence.  

It felt like some sort of landmark painting for me--perhaps a marker of my arriving at a new painting phase of some kind. It was at least a more successful attempt to integrate my drawing (this began as a drawing of an actual lily stem and blooms against our bookcase and window) with painting. Including my frequent tactic of painting over an unsuccessful painting. (There's an aspect of letting go in doing that, too.) 

Maybe it's too much to claim that this painting marks a new "phase" because I don't know how long it will last and if I will approach lots of paintings this way. Perhaps it is simply what worked this time.

A neighbor of ours saw the painting and expressed an interest in buying it, acknowledging disappointment back in May that it was marked as not available for sale. He asked if I might paint more like it some day, and I answered that I thought most likely I would (knowing of course that creative endeavors don't always end up the way one imagines they will). But his clear interest in this particular painting kept poking me and prodding me. 

Does it make sense to get so attached to a painting that you're not willing to sell it? Maybe it's not rational, but I am sure it happens. Other painters I know certainly choose to keep some of their work. How do they decide? I wondered.

What was making me want to hold onto this one? Was I clinging to something? Clinging to what I felt it represented for me? (An observer of the painting back in February, when I spoke at St. Luke's Cathedral sharing some of the stories of my midlife journey, had commented that she saw in it who I am now, boldly expansive and joyfully stretching my limbs in paint, while my more restrained, book-oriented past was in the background.)

I never really zeroed in on an answer. Nor did I ever lose the sense of being needled by the knowledge that someone wanted to purchase this creative endeavor of mine, and I was resisting.

When I put new paintings in Starbucks in June and brought this one home, I was excited to have it on our living room wall for a while. To enjoy seeing it more often (though I had enjoyed seeing it through the window of Starbucks from the street) and to feel its companionship. And I did enjoy it. Some days I even talked to it, looked closely at it to remember how I had approached painting it, to revisit the process as well as the result.

And I continued to ask myself why I wanted to keep it. And whether I might change my mind. And when? And soon enough I noticed myself thinking the painting was really too small for the space on our living room wall where I had put it (the most natural option). Rather than look around for another place to hang it, I found myself imagining that it might really belong somewhere else entirely. That having enjoyed its presence for a while, I was ready to let it go. 

Really, what more could a painter ask than to know that someone else really loves one of her works? And isn't the point of it all to create not just "private things" for my own private enjoyment but also to let my work be seen, wondered about, sometimes appreciated and enjoyed? To do my best to share my enjoyment of painting as well as my delight in the objects painted--to communicate and offer up to others my own quirky curiosity, amazement, wonder and delight at this world we live in? Yes, and to let my paintings speak to people's eyes and minds and hearts however they may, with whatever blessing they may carry.  

I let my neighbor know that I was ready to let my painting go if he was still interested. Which he was--he and his wife and their adorable young boy. They were all quite excited, which made it seem all the more right and good to let go. 

Though it was not without a tug, mind you. I said my own private goodbye to my painting when I took it down from our wall. Even kissed it (is that really corny to admit?) and gave it my blessing and my thanks and wished it well. 

My neighbors, not knowing the twists and turns of my inner drama, graciously offered to me to come "visit" my painting from time to time. I might like that. And in the meantime I am comforted to know it has been welcomed into a loving, appreciative family. 


Karen Martin Sampson said...

It is not at all uncommon for an artist to become attached to certain paintings they do - I have priced pieces very high at times just to prevent a buyer from coming along! My neighbor, Debbie Reusch, is only now beginning to feel ready to actually let go of her work which has become very professional and mature in the past couple of years. Then the time will come, as it did for you, when you can move on from it and say goodbye - kind of like letting a child go into the world and find their own way.

Melinda said...

Thankyou for sharing your thoughts and feelings of "letting go" of a piece of artwork you've created.
I also find it harder to let go of when the painting is one that flows onto the canvas..and really easy to let go of the ones that werent so easy.....I dont feel so weird about having that connection to it now..:)

Jeff said...

I can definitely relate to your story, as I sold my favorite painting last week.

I think there is a lot to be said about the attitude of the buyer, when it comes to purchasing an important piece of art. The process is closer to an adoption than a business transaction, and I was definitely sad to see it go.

I just had to keep reminding myself that I paint to share with people.

Sukie Curtis said...

Karen, I thought about pricing the piece very high at first. (And in retrospect, it would have been an interesting experiment in valuing my work and seeing what happens. Easier to do with a piece I really love than with work I'm not so totally enthralled with.)

It is kind of like letting a child go into the world. Something you have invested yourself in, given a lot of your self to.

Melinda, it's interesting, sometimes my favorites are those that truly flowed, so that the process was nearly euphoric. Other times the ones I've worked on, nearly given up on, then managed to break through to something better. It all depends...

Jeff, I agree that the attitude of the buyer makes a huge difference. In the case of my experience last week, the buyers were so excited (and so genuinely good natured) that it made it easier. I knew it would be hard to find a "better home".

Going back to Karen's point, I think the experience did make me realize I had perhaps underpriced my piece given how much I loved it. I have read advice that all similarly sized pieces should be priced the same, no matter which you think it better. So I went with a price I had already set for another piece this size. But I truly did believe this one was worth more than that. Which is a learning opportunity in itself.

That's another topic--I find setting prices to be very challenging! Any thoughts?

Thanks for all your comments.

Anonymous said...

Sukie, what a beautiful sharing to go along with your beautiful illustrate with the brush and pen in such a moving, real way....BLESSINGS.

Melinda said...

hmmmm Pricing ...can be painful for me!

Sukie Curtis said...

Thanks, Jenny!

Melinda, and others, I'd love some conversation and collegial assistance with the pricing topic.

Of course, it's largely about learning to value oneself and one's work. Easier said than done!

tessa said...

I've wondered away from my friend's blog and just saw this painting. I love it! Totally understand why you don't want to sell it. I have a couple of mine that I can't sell, but mostly because of the memories attached. It's hard!