I Turned Down My First Show / by Alice Absolutely

Well…it finally happened.  I turned down my first offer for a gallery show.  Not as in, “Oh, I’ve done tons of gallery shows and this one didn’t fit in my schedule, so I had to turn it down…” but this was my first offer to have my first gallery show and that was the offer I turned down.  And yes, I am sick to my stomach, to my soul, about my decision, here is how this went down…

My website traffic is mediocre, I know I need to work on ways to drive people to my site.  My Pinterest following is non-existent.  This is my fault, I am still using my personal Pinterest page rather than trying to build up my Pinterest following as an artist—I am just not ready to give up the guilty pleasures of wedding dresses I will never wear and vacations I will never be brave enough to take.  I publish my work on Facebook, but I am looking for more than friends and family to be on my site.  I am not a big Instagram user, so I thought that might give me a new social media outlet to build a following of people I’m not personally connected to.  Turns out I was right. 

Instagram is paying off for me.  People I would not normally connect with are seeing my work—even my artistic superhero is one of my followers! (I’ll save that for another blog post though.)  My website traffic is increasing.  My blog posts are more widely read.  I have views on my site from Canada, Russia, Sweden, India, and the United Kingdom. 

*Happy Dance*  

On New Year’s Eve, I received a message on Instagram from a Canadian gallery—yes! I took this a great sign for an amazing upcoming year!  We discussed back and forth the process for having a show at their gallery.  I was so excited!  Thank you, Instagram!

The next day I discussed the opportunity with my family and a few friends.  It was going to be an expensive endeavor for me, but it was a real step into the art world.  I kept hesitating though at the venture when everyone else in the conversation was still staring at me with wide eyes and open mouths.  It was going to be in Canada.  Canada is cold.  Canada is far away.  The more I considered the show, the less I excited I was.  Within 18 hours of the offer, I turned it down.

In my rejection, I cited the show would be more of a financial burden now than I could manage.  But really that was just my excuse.  I know that the cost of the show would be an investment.  I am confident in my art work and I know that I would get more than an adequate return on the money I spent for the show.  Honestly, I made an emotional decision.  The gallery wasn’t the right place for my first show.  The gallery itself was fantastic.  I loved their reviews.  I was inspired by the work they do in their community.  Their previous shows were diverse and highlighted serious artists.  I would have fit in well at the gallery.  The one problem was the problem I kept coming back to: the gallery was in Canada.

My family and friends are extremely supportive of my work.  For the most part, few in my inner circle are in the “art gallery crowd”.  They would all want to go see my work in a gallery and it would be the first time (and probably the last time) most of them had ever set foot in an art gallery.  They would take that step out of their comfort zone for me, but they would not be able to fund travel to Canada to go to an art gallery.  By having my first show so far away, I would have excluded the very people who believed in me and supported my growth to a point of having the show in the first place.  Excluding them from that moment in my life when I know how much they believed in me felt ungrateful to me, so I turned down the show.


No, I don’t know if I made a good decision or not.  I started my year off with an amazing opportunity as a developing artist and I closed a door in my own face.  This is something I tell other people not to do.  When I think of the situation like that, I get sick on my stomach.  I know that perspective though is important.  As the days go by and I get further and further from the conversation, I am trying to look at this different.

I have decided to see this situation in this context: my current professional, personal, and financial situations have given me the power to pick and choose among the opportunities which come my way.  I believe that at thirty-eight years old, I don’t have to jump on every bandwagon driving past my house to navigate my way to success.  I think, at this point in my life, I can take advantage of professional opportunities that include time and space for my friends and family because for so long my personal life has been sacrificed to my professional responsibilities.

Few situations in your life are inherently good or bad.  Instead it is how you choose to see those situations.  This is a lesson I am still learning.  But, for this situation, I have decided I made the best decision I could make.  I have successfully negotiated a gallery contract on my terms.  I have remained honest in my work and I have been faithful to the people who have helped me get here.  Any time you can say those things as a professional, you have done good work.