Skip the Drama, Meet Your Gallery Deadlines
"The Persistance of Memory"
Dear Dr. Maisel:
I have a deadline coming up where I’m supposed to deliver some paintings for a show and the deadline is making me really anxious! Any suggestions? – Harriet R., Spokane
Let’s look at this issue closely because it’s very important. Imagine the following scenario. You are part of a group show at The Downtown Gallery. The gallery is expecting four paintings from you. You are to deliver them, framed and ready to hang, on a certain date. Originally that date was six months away; now it is only two months away. You have all four paintings started—but only barely. For the last month you haven’t worked on any of them. You argue that you were productive in other ways—you made some Giclee prints, you sent out a mailing, you straightened up your studio, you applied for a residency. But in your heart of hearts you know that you’ve been stalling and procrastinating. Thinking about these four paintings makes you terrifically anxious.
You hear yourself saying things like, “The four paintings don’t maintain a single theme—they’re all over the place” and “I’d love to know what the other artists will be showing—will my paintings work with theirs?” You wonder if it would be better to show next year, when – when, what? You’re not sure how next year would be different but at least it is further away! Every day you think about calling the gallery owner and wriggling out of the show. When he calls to check in and ask how things are going, you stammer, “Great! Couldn’t be better!” When you hang up you hear yourself think, “Boy, will he be surprised when I have nothing to show him.”
What’s going on?What’s going on is that you are face-to-face with the specter of judgment. A deadline not only means that something is due but that something is due to be judged. The primary reason that so many artists find deadlines stressful and debilitating is that two events loom: the moment when they themselves must judge their paintings and the moment when someone else will judge their paintings. Without a deadline in the offing an artist can contrive to hold that the painting isn’t finished yet and doesn’t need to be judged. If it isn’t complete, no final judgment is required. The impending deadline demands completion and, as a consequence, judgment. It is hardly just an innocent date on a calendar.
Until you call a work finished you can maintain the hope that it will get a lot better. You can cling to the belief that you will solve its problems and turn it around. Because some percentage of the time you actually will pull off those last minute corrections and transformations, your current hope isn’t mere fantasy or wishful thinking. It is rooted in the reality that sometimes a thing of beauty can be pulled out of the fire. It is rational and plausible to maintain this belief—but only, of course, if you tie that belief to the actual work of correcting and transforming. Since you aren’t so sure that you can pull off any such last minute magic, you find yourself dodging the encounter, which turns this piece of rationality into mere rationalization.
You rationalize your procrastination in the following way. You claim that you can’t finish your current piece until something clicks inside of you and knowledge of what to do next arrives. You tell yourself that you have no choice but to wait for inspiration. Why is this a mere rationalization and not rationality? Because you aren’t holding open the door and inviting information in. You aren’t really incubating the paintings or standing ready to receive bits of internal instruction. You are in a very different relationship to the paintings: you are anxious and determined to put off the moment of judgment.