Focusing on the Important Things

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops joyful color of a fallen leaf in focusing on life and death, the important things.“Selling isn’t the important thing,” I said, “I just want people to see my work.” It was my first solo show as a photographer in Ithaca. The focus of the exhibit was death and grieving, reframing our views of these. Assuring myself the focal point of the event would be my artwork, not myself, I’d chosen to wear a black dress and over-the-knee black boots to recede into the background. But I’d put on the red beads my mother bought me, so I wouldn’t vanish entirely. The red necklace was to keep guests from fixating on the tragedy of That Woman Whose Daughter Died. After all, the core of the show was supposed to be creativity and healing. If people couldn’t see the forest from the trees, at least they might spot the joyful color of a fallen leaf.

At the reception, after making the rounds of the fourteen huge photographs, people headed over to me one-by-one or in twos. Suddenly I was the center of attention. But I didn’t know how to operate in the spotlight. I didn’t know how to break off speaking with an individual or small group in order to be with the next. Guests waited patiently for me to get to them, and then they gave up and walked away. The couple of times I excused myself saying, “Oh, I need to give that person behind you a hug,” it felt like cutting people off. And the few rare moments I stood alone, I was too shy to approach the strangers examining my work. I was entirely clueless in the art of mingling.

A mother and daughter came through, stopping to study each piece. I wondered what the girl thought of my story and images. I wondered what the mother was saying. Several of the pictures were of my own daughter: Marika as a baby. Marika at age four, at nineteen. We had never attended a show centered on death. Maybe if Marika and I had seen an exhibit like this we’d have had a discussion about dying.

Beyond the friends talking to me, the mother and daughter I didn’t know were ready to leave. I wanted to greet them, thank them for coming. Maybe I could answer a question, or ask which piece they liked best.

I didn’t stop them. But I stood there wishing and hoping my photos would start a conversation between them. Focusing on life and death. The important things.

 

So – does anyone have any tips for how to circulate when you’re in the spotlight?

 

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10 thoughts on “Focusing on the Important Things

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    I loved seeing you and your beautiful work. It’s not a comfortable situation for the artist, but you were beautiful and quietly composed. Your eyes sparkled. (I hope I don’t hog you for too long.) I think practice is the right idea. The first times I read anything in public, I trembled and nearly collapsed with dizziness (not exaggerating, as you know). The more I do readings, the easier it gets, but it’s still hard to sleep the night before. When my book came out, I had to trust everyone would forgive me if I messed up. There is no right way. There is only your way (or my way or someone else’s way). It is a gorgeous exhibit. I hear Marika yelling, “Way to go, Mom. You have a life.”

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Over these years, Elaine, it’s like you’ve gotten to know Marika. In only the way you can, hearing her voice through my words. Her words. It is so strange, neat, to hear her coming from you. It was so great to see you at the show. It was comforting. If I could have hung onto you the whole evening it would have made the time easier for sure. You have always already been to where I might be headed. So I watch you with both eyes. One day, maybe I can learn how you can “mess up” and “nearly collapse with dizziness” with so much grace. Cheers, Elaine.

      Reply
  2. SusanBs

    Robin, the subject of your artwork is intense and an uncomfortable topic at any time. Most people are going to have difficulty with it. Your shyness is nothing in the face of the grief you’ve had to integrate into your life. You’ll overcome this small obstacle as you continue to create and show us the beauty behind the agony of losing someone you would have given your own life for, if it would have saved Marika.

    Reply
    1. Robin Botie Post author

      Good to hear from you again, Susan. Yes, OUR subject is definitely “intense” and “uncomfortable” for many. I never thought of it that way before, but I guess we are showing “the beauty behind the agony.” It has become such a natural part of my life that I sometimes forget the whole history of what landed me in the forest of grief in the first place. Maybe it’s getting used to the situation. And That idea, great obstacles turning into small obstacles, is not so comfortable. But maybe it should be.

      Reply
  3. Lynne Taetzsch

    Robin, I’ve been showing my artwork in galleries all my life, and I still have a hard time with this! I related to everything you said.

    At the Community Arts Partnership Gallery (at Center Ithaca), they put out a box with a slit at the top, and ask visitors to select their favorite piece. There are forms to fill out to write in the favorite, as well as name and email information if the person wants to share. That seemed to help. Oh, one more thing–don’t stand in a corner, but closer to the center of the room so you don’t get “trapped.”

    But I’ve never been good at doing these shows and mostly now try to avoid the opportunities. That’s why I mostly sell my art online! 😉

    Your show is great, by the way, and I’m glad I did get a chance to speak with you.

    Reply
    1. robinbotie.com

      I like that, Lynne – “Don’t stand in a corner.” Which is exactly what I tend to do at these things. I’d be most comfortable hanging out under the food table except that most folks tend to gravitate towards the food. It’s good to hear that even seasoned artists have this problem, although this isn’t encouraging as far as my overcoming it. The forms-to-fill-out idea sounds promising. Must remember to try that. I could even have a drawing for a “prize” to interest people in filling out the forms. Cool.

      Reply
  4. Lucy Bergstrom

    I wish I could have been there for your opening! Thanks so much for writing about it. It is an odd role you were called on to play, center of attention, with people waiting to speak to you. Books and blogs are easier – no one can see you! It’s hard to make small talk without asking guests “What do you think?” And it’s not cool to put people on the spot. I don’t have an answer to how to circulate when you’re in the spotlight, but Robert’s tips sound really good! Love, Lucy

    Reply
    1. robinbotie.com

      Practice. That’s what I need. Although all the stress and work leading up to the event don’t make this a particularly appealing thing to be doing very often. Blogging and Facebook are definitely easier. But maybe if I attend more of these events, other people’s openings, I can learn how to schmooze. Cheers, Lucy.

      Reply
  5. Robert

    When you need to circulate to greet other visitors yet are trapped with one, try any of these:
    1) Invite the waiting party to join your “little group” — maybe they will form a friendship
    2) Ask the person you are speaking with to return to your booth before they leave, you would like to continue the conversation when there are less people waiting
    3) Ask the person you are speaking with to wait a moment while you get some literature for the waiting party, then greet the new guest

    Most people are kind at heart and will see you are accommodating a large group of visitors. Give them a reason to return back to you, then make a graceful exit. Offer to locate a special pamphlet and have it waiting for them when they return. Most will!

    And always reference your web site, and ask for their email to stay in touch.

    Reply
    1. robinbotie.com

      Thanks for the great tips. Of course I mention my website and even put out cards with web address and email. People don’t seem to like giving out their email addresses. They signed my guestbook but did not add emails. I guess I wouldn’t have written mine out in a guestbook either. Will have to consider having “special pamphlets” at my next event. Cheers!

      Reply

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