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  • Erin Whitten Crysdale

How Risk Can Turn an "Unsuccessful" Art Show into Better Artwork

I recently had a show that was a challenge from start to finish. I knew early on that my risk to reward ratio was way off. Firstly, it was in an unknown market that was distinctly different from where I typically show. Secondly, there was no data (aka online sales) to suggest that this market was finding and enjoying my work. Thirdly, shipping my work would be costly and if it didn't sell, shipping my work home (over a border) would be costly and depressing. Ultimately I let flattery (perhaps a little low esteem) and a goal I had made which included showing my work in the United States lure me into making a pretty big leap. Despite knowing all of this, there was still a part of me that thought that this could be the show where big things happen. I am especially prone to this due to my previous life studying and working in film. Those narratives are the foundation of Hollywood, but alas, this is Toronto, Canada, known as Hollywood-North only in marketing pamphlets.


Here's the thing...the show happened just as I had expected. It wasn't well attended (despite showing with a world renowned woodworking family - Matt and Phillip Moulthrop) and not much sold. When I was younger this would have tanked me. I would have probably avoided painting, dramatically quit for the millionth time and mope about for weeks both internally and externally.


Instead of curling up in a ball, I reflected on all the big picture items I did achieve. I had no choice but to learn about shipping artwork and consequently found a great contact at Journey Freight who was very helpful and made the experience easy. Now I can ship anywhere...thus opening up the world to me. I was forced to write a new artist statement (ugh pull teeth instead please) which always shows you your blindspots and clarifies your future work. I found new followers (even if just a handful they are a handful I couldn't have otherwise met). I saw my work in a wonderful setting with great lighting and I could judge which paintings were successful and which didn't quite make their mark. I also could objectively acknowledge that my work is getting stronger.


Unexpectedly, this flop of a show absolutely revved me up to paint more. The night of the show was a bit difficult. I definitely was feeling vulnerable and perhaps even embarrassed. But I didn't stay there for very long. The rebel in me became fired up to do better and the day after I returned, I got to work on my online sales platforms (partial.gallery.com and saatchi.com ), I connected with my gallery so I can deliver new works as soon as the show is finished, and I got working on a new painting.

I have shown up for myself in a way I haven't before. Even when I have had shows in the past that have sold out in the first half hour, I never felt my own worth. I allowed the vulnerability of art making focus success on the buyer. Here is the least successful show I've ever had and I'm finding myself more committed to my art than ever. This is the result of risk. I am risk adversed by nature, so I guess when I took up this challenge and agreed to do the show...and believe me I wanted to cancel every single day after...it had a profound effect on me. I wasn't destroyed by the worst case scenario. I showed up fully despite anxiety and discomfort. I survived and now I am stronger than ever. I think this will lead to more risks in my artwork and that will lead to more interesting work. Maybe that will lead to more sales, maybe not. But it will definitely lead to more personal satisfaction with my artwork.


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