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Mar 08, 2018
Recently I went to speak as an artist for “Career Day” at my son’s elementary school. I asked the auditorium full of children if they thought artists made a lot of money.
“YES!!!!” they shouted in their screeching high voices, “Millions!!!”
I laughed and said, actually most artists hardly make any money at all. This got silence and stares. In the stillness, I got the feeling I was failing at career day.
“Why would you choose a career where you make no money?” I persisted.
In the hush, a few raised their hands. When I pointed at a bright-eyed boy, arm stretched to the sky, he shouted, “Because you really love it.”
“Exactly,” I said, “Because you really love it.”
Sometimes, being an artist has insanely great benefits. Here’s an example: recently, in the midst of my ordinary life taking young men to baseball practice, I got to be a rock star artist for a day. When I say “rock star” I mean treated like royalty with free stuff, adoring fans and extra-special, curbside parking.
How did this happen to me, an obscure, possibly even completely unknown artist from an equally obscure suburb of San Francisco? Well, I belong to an esoteric little co-op gallery in a quiet block of Berkeley. One day last month, the gallery got a call from Dick Blick, asking if we’d like to do a demo at their grand opening in Berkeley.
“Sure,” we said, and rustled up four artists, including myself, to show up and paint at Blick for an afternoon. The organizer explained that we were just a small part of the festivities—artists from many places would be demo-ing all weekend.
In my mind, I imagined that all the other artists Blick had lined up would be Picasso. I thought that I would barely be good enough to even qualify to demo, but when I got there, the “rock star” treatment began. First, the man-in-charge handed me a bunch of gift cards and told me to shop for “anything I required.” Then the staff helped carry my equipment and showed me my prepared table. As the other artist’s arrived, shoppers gathered around, oohing and aahing over our work. I saw that I was perceived as an expert!
As I pulled out my sketches, an art supplies rep walked up and handed us several expensive blocks of watercolor paper and a full palette of fresh paint.
“I’m leaving now,” she said, tucking away her name tag and apron, “and I can’t take these with me. Would you like them?”
“Yes!” we replied and swooped down on the glorious supplies. Taking the palette, I decided to try the Daler-Rowney Acrylic Ink, which looked fat and luscious. Soon, I was completely entranced in the new thick, saturated colors.
All afternoon, myself and my companions did what we normally did at our co-op gallery, which was paint and chat with patrons. However, in the rush and tumble of Blick, sitting in on a semi-stage surrounded by excited students and inquisitive amateurs, we were elevated temporarily to the “God-Like” status we all secretly felt we deserve. If only the world saw us the way we do inside!
For four sunny hours, we received our adulation. When the lights dimmed and it was time to go, I took off my apron, carried my boxes to my twelve-year-old van and motored back into obscurity. I picked up my sons from baseball practice and we went to “Mod Pizza” in the mall for dinner.
“What did you do today?” asked my husband, loosening up his tie and corporate shirt.
“I was a rock star.”
“Really?” said my son.
“Happens to artists all the time,” I replied, kicking my husband as he choked on his beer laughing. “I have to fight off the groupies and I need suitcases to carry all the money people throw at me.”
“No dear. It's just great to be an artist, even when you get paid nothing. That's the truth."
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