How to Tell a Gallery Owner You're Behind
“Hello, Dr. Maisel, I’m a painter with a gallery show coming up in a few months. I have a meeting with the gallery owner next week and I really don’t want to tell him that I’m behind. Help! What should I do?”
Frank, Brooklyn, New York.
Thank you, Frank, for your question. Let’s start with a few things that you shouldn’t do:
1. Don’t take to your bed.
Hiding under the covers can’t be the answer. Even if you’re feeling depressed and overwhelmed, try not to throw in the towel. It can feel as warm, inviting, and safe in bed today as it did in childhood, but as an adult you’re harming your career and giving your self-image a battering if you try to avoid the situation.
2. Don’t cavalierly blow it off.
Don’t adopt an attitude of “the hell with it!” and get it into your head that it doesn’t matter, that you’re too special to be held to rules, and that the gallery owner is a small-minded bourgeoisie for requiring deadlines. This attitude may make you feel good for a minute as you bask in your “I don’t take anything from anybody!” glory—but then you’ll remember all that you’re losing.
3. Don’t make yourself sick.
There is no denying the mind/body connection or that anxiety and emotional distress open people up to illnesses. Ventilate your emotions and practice anxiety management so as to avoid making yourself sick. Learn some discharge techniques like “silently screaming” to ventilate pent-up stress and some anxiety management techniques like deep breathing and guided visualizations to reduce your experience of anxiety.
4. Don’t go to the meeting and then lie through your teeth.
Don’t show up with a smile on your face and the intention to tell big, fat lies about your situation. To be sure, it behooves you to speak carefully and strategically about what’s going on and not paint a bleak picture that causes the gallery owner to doubt you and file you in the “never again!” category. But there’s a world of difference between speaking carefully and outright lying.
5. Don’t go and then act out or start apologizing.
Don’t show up with the intention of thumbing your nose, asserting your independence, or making a scene—leave your arrogant persona at home. By the same token, don’t show up and immediately start apologizing—leave your meek persona at home as well. These shadowy aspects of personality, whether on the one-up side or the one-down side of the spectrum, do not serve you and have no place at business meetings.
6. Don’t go drunk or high.
If you regularly show up at important meetings and events drunk or high, get your hands on Creative Recovery, the book that I wrote with addictions specialist Susan Raeburn in which we spell out the first addiction treatment program specifically designed for the creative person. If substance abuse or substance dependence is an issue for you, make that a top priority matter.
7. Don’t go and start excusing yourself or blaming others.
You may have good reasons for falling off schedule, like the flair-up of a chronic illness, and legitimate gripes about the actions of others, like the disrupting influence of your teenage son’s car accident. But unless you are asking for an extension, the bottom line remains the bottom line and the only real issue is whether or not you will get strong paintings to the gallery owner by the agreed-upon deadline. If that is still your intention, there is no pay-off whatsoever in complaining, excusing, or blaming.