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At the time we began working together, Anne was hiding out in Provence, licking her wounds after an unsuccessful show of her paintings at a prestigious Parisian gallery. She was barely communicating with the world and painfully wondering if she should continue as an artist. The fact that she has sold paintings previously, that she had had successful shows previously, and that she was still something of a darling of the art world seemed to amount to nothing. Not in the aftermath of what she dubbed “that monumental disaster.”
We chatted over Zoom. One of my goals was to help her change her perspective. Her career certainly had taken a hit. But for her to dwell on that “disaster” amounted to a serious mistake and a recipe for despair. Focusing on that event was only one lens through which to look at her career. I quietly and carefully explained to her that she was fortunate to have had the successes she had had, that this one event might or might not signal anything in particular or auger anything in particular, and that her best path was to get on with her life and get on with her art-making—the act of which, fortunately, had lost none of its luster for her.
I asked Anne to detach from the show results. I also asked her to invite a postmortem from the gallery owner. How brave that would be, to ask him why he thought the show had produced no sales! She wasn’t sure if she was equal to that. I explained that she might get “more equal” to that bit of bravery by doing some reflective writing, maybe on her turbulent childhood, maybe on her bullying father, a famous painter who always belittled and minimized her efforts, or maybe in a more “in the moment” way by writing about her feelings about communicating with Claude, the Parisian gallery owner.
We chatted a week later. It turned out that she had journaled every day that week using the prompt: “Do I dare write to Marcel?” She explained that she had learned a lot about herself in the process, especially about her habit of fleeing at the drop of a hat. In childhood, she hadn’t been able to flee. She had been watched, controlled, commanded, and punished for taking even the smallest step out of bounds. Now, as an adult, because she could physically flee situations, that’s what she did—and far too quickly, she now understood.
Indeed, she returned to Paris, bravely met with Claude, and had that painful conversation. It turned out that Claude had very little to offer by way of explanation. People “loved the paintings.” People were “wild for the paintings.” Many expressed what Claude felt was a completely genuine desire to make a purchase. Yes, nothing had sold. But, Anne explained to me with relief, Claude was not down on her, had no intention of reducing her presence in his gallery, and in fact expressed his intention to redouble his efforts on behalf of her and her paintings.
Over the months, I learned that several paintings from the show had sold for fancy prices and that her new suite of paintings were progressing nicely. She still had to endure all of the challenges that creatives must regularly endure; but her “monumental disaster” seemed to be behind her. “And I now have a sturdy tool in my tool kit,” she explained. “I now have conversations with myself in writing where the part of me that wants a good outcome can coax my wounded self in the right direction. I now have a friend who is nicer to me than I usually am. And that friend knows all about my tendency to flee! She knows all about it—and she knows how to talk me out of running away.”