I gave a work of mine to friend as a gift and, today, I found it for sale on eBay!! :( I’m speechless. Livid. I’ve never felt so insulted, and to be honest, I’m just plain hurt by it. Am I overreacting? If she doesn’t want it anymore, I’d rather have the piece back than see it go for a few bucks on eBay to some random person. Should I contact her about it? What should I do? Any fortifying thoughts would be appreciated.
Dear Art Broken,
Alright, first, let’s take a few deep breaths together, sweetness. In and out. In and out. There we go. See, now isn’t that nice?
I understand why you’re upset. You gifted a trusted comrade something very personal and, now, she has rejected it. And without telling you about it, no less. You’re hurt and betrayed, and rest assured, you have every right to feel those things.
Let’s get serious for a second. You know what the devastating moment of cinematic history is, Art Broken? No? Well, allow me to enlighten you. The most devastating moment in cinematic history is when, in order to save herself, Rose Dewitt-Bukater, played by a fiery Kate Winslet, is freezing her tush off in middle of the Atlantic Ocean and has to muster the divine inner strength to let her one true love—Jack Dawson, aka Leo DiCaprio, one of the sexiest male specimens bestowed upon the world—whose frozen dead hand is locked onto hers, sink into the ocean’s murky depths . Now that, my friend, is a case study of “letting go.” Waterworks for this gal, every single time. And while not everyone’s learning-to-let-go moment is worthy of a top grossing film epic, it is something that each of us will have to come up against during our precious, difficult existence.
What I’m getting at here, my plum, is that I think this is one of those moments for you. I think this is one of those moments where you have to learn to just LET. IT. GO. (Cue 4-year-old sisters singing an adorable rendition of the Frozen song.)
The sooner you can learn to let go of your artwork once it’s out of your studio, the better off you will be. Because here’s the thing: it’s always going to be out of your control.
So many unpredictable things happen to artists’ artworks after they are bought/sold/donated/given. In virtually all cases, it’s simply not possible to control that part. You have to learn to live with it. It’s been this way since the dawn of art history. Or, well, at least we trace it back to the 1973 video of Robert Rauschenberg flipping his shit and shoving collector Robert Scull at a Sotheby’s auction. The artist’s painting, Thaw (1958), which was purchased by the Sculls in the late ’50s for $900, sold for $85,000. Rauschenberg famously says, “I’ve been working my ass off for you to make that profit.” (You can watch the clip in this brilliant documentary, it starts at 26:40)
And well, I’ve got bad news: them’s still the ropes. Whether it’s your artwork getting traded/sold/resold between institutions or private collectors, or, as in this unfortunate case, on an online auction site, it is out of your hands.
Instead, you have to focus on the work you’re making right now. Do the best work you can. And when it leaves your studio, kiss it goodbye and give it to the world. Just release it. If you spend your energy trying to keep your finger on every piece of work you make, where it ends up, and how it’s presented, you’re going to add so much unneeded stress on your already stressful life. I’m here to tell you right now, it’s not worth it.
On the flipside of all this, who knows who might see that work on eBay? Maybe Eli Broad is perusing Ebay one day, sees it, loves it, and contacts you wanting to buy your newest slew of paintings. Stranger things have happened in this world. The fact is, you just don’t know. Your artwork is a message in a bottle, essentially. Let it travel! Your job is to keep making work, more and more and more. A great volume of work, so that, even in the event that a fraction of your works wind up in trash bins or attics or thrift stores or eBays, you’ve got enough circulating out there to compensate.
In conclusion, try your best to move on. Know what you can control and what you can’t. Let this be the first lesson in your Zen practice. Even though you may want to call the person up and let ‘em have it, my advice is to take a deep breath and let it go. Or screw it, buy the thing back if you must.
Sara Estes is a writer and curator based in Nashville. She is the lead visual art writer at The Tennessean and an editor at Number, an independent arts journal of the South. She also works with David Lusk Gallery and Cumberland Art Conservation, and is cofounder of the gallery Threesquared. Her writing has also been featured in The Bitter Southerner, Nashville Scene, Nashville Arts Magazine, ArtsNash, ArtNow, and others. For more: saraestes.com.