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Total Satisfaction Not Guaranteed

Sometimes it is enough to listen to the wind and the leaves; to feel a cool breeze on one’s face or the kiss of warm sunshine.

Sometimes, as part of the human condition, it is natural to express deep dissatisfaction or longing. A material desire, a longing for satisfaction in a relationship, a hunger for something that is intangible and unattainable.

In general we are pretty good at getting our needs met and this is how our primal creative core drives us as we move through our artistic career and life’s various chapters.

Artists long for satisfaction. Sometimes it is elusive. Sometimes it is fleeting. Rarely is it substantial or long lasting. Sometimes the drive towards satisfaction leads only to despair or simple ennui. Once you have something, a thing, a success, or badge of honour, you may find you don’t need it as much as you thought you might when you didn’t have it.

I have just spent the last week working with the Bath Society of Artists as they put together their 117th show. Last Sunday was the selection day. Friday was the grand opening and yesterday was the first day for the public to view the show and the first day for handing back work to those that were not selected.

I was asked by several disappointed artists for some kind of comment or reason why the work was not selected. I had to explain that there was no single rational cause. That the selection is done by a committee of nine and often the split of the votes was five to four. Rarely was it unanimous. This answer helped some but others remained perplexed.

I have two pieces in the show. I am guaranteed one because I am a member. Sometimes that is all I get.

I have been accepted and rejected by the Royal Academy. The first time I was ecstatic. The second time not so much.

I have friends who you might consider really successful and highly regarded artists. One is bored with the idea of painting. Another continues to paint but remains disappointed with his most intimate personal relationships. He said a profound thing. That artists are very susceptible to the fairy tale myths that career success and romantic love will bring happiness. I think it is true that we are a wistful bunch and probably very prone to bouts of longing. It is a very two edged thing. Without that we remain static. Too much, with too little satisfaction can lead to unhappy results.

One particular conversation with an artist collecting rejected work stands out. A man with young children and his wife came to collect his piece. It was an intriguing work. A digitally conjured image. I would have liked to have seen it in the show. The man had a feeling that somehow the selection was stacked against him. He had put many hours into this work. Both he and his wife explained that they could not afford to spend such time on work and have it rejected. I ran through all the explanations listed above. I wanted to say that we are not the only game in town and that perhaps there were other shows where he might achieve success. I didn’t think it wise to say that out loud and I am not sure whether he and his wife went away with any feeling of satisfaction with my answers although it was a friendly enough parting. I wish it could have been different.

As ever, there are some great artworks in the rejects corridor and some on the walls that I personally - and forty percent of the selection panel - would change. It is nonetheless, apparently, a great show. Several people have already told me they think it is the best BSA show they have seen. Some are satisfied and others not. I long for the day when all selection is unanimous and everyone is happy with the result. I suspect that will never happen.

And now the sweet summer rain is falling outside my window, rattling against the leaves in the garden. My wife is driving up to Yorkshire with our old dog and new puppy in the car.

I will be satisfied when I know they have arrived safely.


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