I spent the better part of two years trying hard to be a metal/wood sculptor. I guess I succeeded in being that, but being a successful metal/wood sculptor? Not so much. But through rejection comes wisdom, and what I learned can apply to many different endeavors, restoring an old house included.
I had the usual taste of local success, with a few “wins” in getting accepted to juried shows, a few one man shows in local art centers. The next illogical step was to assume I could go from local wanna-be to international success in one step. I packed up my portfolio and spent a few months going from gallery to gallery in New York City. As an aside, the one positive response I did get came from a well-known funky SOHO gallery, O.K. Harris. I was told to bring pieces in in September for a group show. Cool! A preliminary visit in late August to go over details showed that the gallery had gone out go business a month before.
At any rate, there was one very well respected gallery that showed work by artists I really admired, the Alan Frumkin Gallery. I wandered in with the book of photos, and showed him works like this:
The result was pretty predictable, but Mr. Frumkin did what all the other gallery owners failed to do: he spent about 3 minutes with me, explaining what his reasoning was behind rejecting me. While others blew me off with a wave, the three minutes with Mr. Frumkin were invaluable.
First, he said (to paraphrase): “You have three really strong works here, a couple of mediocre ones, and many that are just weak. If everything was like the three good ones, you might have a chance, but there’s not enough here to give you a show or to spend time thinking about one. Go home, work for a year or so, and come back with about 20 like these good ones and we might be talking.”
Second, he said (again, paraphrasing): “If you had 20 strong ones today, I still would pass. Not because you weren’t good enough, but because I’m a little long on three dimensional work right now. I just had three shows back-to-back with sculptors, and I need to show my collectors some 2-dimensional works so they have room to hang works. There’s only so much they can fit into a house.
The lessons learned here are simple and work for everything. Stick with quality, don’t slack. Just do it right, or don’t do it. And, know your market and it’s limitations. If we extrapolate that to restoration work, it’s pretty simple. Just bite off what you can do right. Don’t spread yourself thin, and do things poorly. You’ll just have to do them again. And second, stick to a plan, and avoid mission creep. Don’t overspend if the market can’t bear it. What you think is great might not be to everyone else. If you do go overboard, just know that you’re doing it for your own satisfaction, not for anyone else.
And that’s pretty much that. Simple, sure, but if you follow those two nuggets from Mr. Frumkin, you’ll be ok. As a parting gift, I leave you with this, because everyone needs to have a picture of a sculpture with a small doll stuck in a metal floor with a rat closing in from above. Looking back, I’d have rejected my work also…