Today is the date for delivering works to the art gallery for judging tomorrow. I dropped two paintings off this afternoon with something like a breeze of indifference. After almost ten years of entering work and being rejected, with the exception of one year (and the exception of other exhibitions), one begins to see how pathetic it can be. The most pathetic though are the artists who change their work to the likeness of those works that get accepted and prized.
Yet no amount of detachment spares one the hurt of going to the gallery and finding your pieces have been rejected. It's a healthy hurt - if you take it right.
Awhile back, there was this other competition and exhibition held locally, where the rodeo and fair is held every May long weekend (Victoria Day). It was a western themed exhibition, to be held during the fair and rodeo. I entered a landscape; a local landscape. I also volunteered to help receive the entries; to help move them around. There were a lot of entries. The large hall which held them was lined all the way around with paintings and drawings.
Helping to line up the paintings, of course I got to see them all, and felt mine to be like a scrappy little ruffian at a cocktail party. I remember one couple who had entered pieces. They were going along looking at the works, and they made snarky remarks about some of them, and I remember wondering what sort of nasty things they would say once they got to mine.
That was the morning, and the judges were going to come in the afternoon. Of course, no artists can be around when the judging takes place, so I went home. The entrants were to come back late in the afternoon to pick up their work and see if they were accepted or not. I got back down there a little early; the judges were still deciding. I loitered around the outside and smoked a mischievous cigarette. Of course, I was there to help again with getting the works of art back to the artists.
I was standing in the door to the hall and saw the judges sitting around a table, and one of them kept pointing in the direction that my painting was. I didn't think in the least she was pointing at mine. They were coming to a final decision, engaged in discussion; then they all got up and went over in the same direction she was pointing earlier; and I saw in complete bafflement that they were gathered around my painting.
One of the ladies at the table to receive paintings and keep records started talking with the judges, and she came back towards me holding up her index finger to signal: number one.
If I said that I didn't take delight in what just happened, I would be a liar. I was elated; I was shocked; not in the faintest had I thought my painting would even make it into the exhibition, let alone get first place. It was like a grace of God swooped down from on high and did it as if to say, "There are some graceful things in this painting. Keep going."
And I'll never forget the week after, at the end of the May long weekend, when I went to pick up my painting from the exhibition. I went into the hall, now filled with all manner of booths and tables; companies getting their names out there and selling stuff. The place was packed to the teeth, with people and artifacts. When I came to my painting, it was hanging there like a lost thing, completely forsaken. It looked like a dull piece of crap.
I always sort of have that dichotomy in the back of my mind; that dichotomy between Prize Number One and that day picking up the painting. Each day is a new creation and our works will have about them something that - though the work has savour in relation to a whole - is limited in more or less degrees. No one is exempt.
I remember reading Flannery O' Connor stories back-to-back over a stretch, and around the tenth or so story her infiltrating Grace started to look like a cheap parlor trick.
Take a hard look at Michelangelo's figures on the Sistine Chapel or on its altar wall. Lose sight of the whole, and narrow in on the singular anatomy, and you see that no one is exempt from this limitation.
You think you'll be the most conscientious and not fall into the same failings? Alright, the Muse says, wish granted: your work now stands before you, without light, utterly square and hopelessly pedantic.
This is an incentive that should free us, and not be a cause for cynicism. For what is most amazing is this: all that is so fickle in us and in our works is hardwired by a very direct connection to our eternal longing for the Permanent.
The Buddhist likes to meditate on impermanence - a noble thing: let's not be fickle. But what is it in one that is meditating on impermanence?