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artist’s life 101: a nightmare

i was 33. i had just left a relationship with the nice man who is a brilliant sculptor with a generous spirit but not a huge intellect. he is the person who told me: “artists marry women in the health professions.” said that to me in all sincerity, his big brown eyes unblinking; and in a flash, i made a mental checklist of his ex-wife and all of his friend’s wives and ex-wives. it was true – they were all social workers, nurses and nutritionists. i do not lie, i do not exaggerate. i was a paralegal and i guess that was close enough, because he wanted to marry me.

all in the health professions who in college had majored in dance or creative writing – or, art, like i had. so, what about my art? if i married him, what about my aspirations?

it is so interesting, ironic, and mind boggling how nightmarish experiences are money-in-the-bank with a high interest rate – some of the best investments we make. 

a few months earlier, i had finally made a woodcarving that wasn’t just practice. i was proud of it and i thought it was good enough for other people to see. i had been fighting with my sculptor of the big brown eyes because i was spending more time at my place with my art than i was at his place. “you can work here,” he’d said over and over. “everything you need is here.”

it was true that his place in Chelsea really was a professional sculpture studio – including a kiln and even a foundry in a dark room behind the heroic-sized marble female in-progress. but everything i needed was not there. i am lucky to have been born with that thing that a lot of creatives lack and spend so much time struggling with: the talent for solitude, which for me is not the same thing as being alone. the space inside my head where i have solitude and where i begin/end as an artist goes everywhere with me, but it could not fit inside the Chelsea loft because my sculptor of the big brown eyes was jealous of it and tried to get in, which was impossible, of course. it was MY head.

but that was just a dancing elephant in our relationship. it wasn’t the nightmare. most normal adult relationships survive in spite of jealousy; and we were nearing a compromise at the time i finished the wood carved lady i thought was good enough to show him and the rest of the world. i even found a listing for juried show of sculpture in NoHo, filled out an entry form and made an appointment to hand-deliver my work. he, who was in a creative slump practically the whole time i knew him and was whoring himself (in my opinion at the time) by making ceramic erotica plates because he knew they would sell, he decided to make a late entry in the show, also. i found this annoying and prepared myself for embarrassment because i thought he was going to enter one of those damn plates.

“No. That’s the mortgage,” he said, and went to a closet that i’d never seen opened. He pulled out a small bundle, unwrapped it, and showed me the small bronze figure inside. We measured it – it was just at the size limit. we got into the van, drove to NoHo, double-parked (as usual), and went into the gallery, where my sculptor of the big brown eyes was immediately recognized and surrounded and adored and praised and welcomed. then he introduced me and i introduced my sculpture and they were silent and polite. and in that nightmarish moment, i knew if we got married i would always be in his shadow.

the fight lasted for two days. and i went home and into my solitude, exhilarated because even though my work had been rejected, i was out of my fiancé’s shadow and now the art world could happen to me. and as soon as the words went through my head “now the art world could happen to me,” i swear i heard a noise like a huge POP! inside my head and i couldn’t move, quite literally felt paralyzed for two hours, realizing this IS the art world.

nightmarish experiences are money-in-the-bank with a high interest rate – some of the best investments we make.

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Caden Manson is Editor In Chief and Curator of Contemporary Performance Network and co-founder and artistic director of Big Art Group, a New York City performance company founded in 1999.