Performance Anxiety

December 17, 2008

So my first solo show is going up in two weeks and while I was initially worried because I thought no one could come, now I’m worried because people probably are coming.

Let me ‘splain.  In the cloistered academic environment of CalArts, at a physical and otherwise remove from the Real World and the Art World, I felt free to do whatever the hell I wanted with the solo show slots I got each year I was there.   What I did, a lot of gasket-blowing, uncomfortable stuff, got mixed reactions but that was less important than learning about setting up and learning about reactions to a solo art project/show.  It was less like a showcase than a laboratory, and I learned a lot, especially: don’t bite off more than you can chew, and don’t ever rely on other people (a good general rule).

I’ve broken both rules with my upcoming show, and though it’s a tiny one-month stint at a great non-profit in an as-yet unfashionable part of LA, I’m still worried about two possible reactions:

1) Embarrassment on my behalf.

2) A kind of polite brushoff from people who are very nice about mostly hiding the fact that they don’t like what they see.

Outright criticism and dislike would be okay and even interesting, even if foundless.  God knows I can handle people treating me less than wonderfully.  But what squicks me out is the potential for that kind of mutual unspoken discomfort and silence that makes me squirm.  The subject matter (civilian amputees hired by the Army to play IED casualties) is kind of hard to shrug at but, on the other hand, the show is a lot more subtle and minimal in some ways than anything I’ve done and I’m worried that other ideas about doubling and repetition and identity are not going to come across.

My meta-worry, of course, is that anyone who shows up instantly dismisses and forgets the show. 

But the underlying question here is: how much is a show a showcase?  How much of me is on display by proxy?  How will I be able to gauge whether this specific arrangement of stuff in a public room is a “success,” whatever that means?  Why should I be concerned about success?  Why shouldn’t I be?  I do ostensibly want more of these show(case)s in the future, right?   And one thing has a way of leading to another.

Ultimately I’ll probably be there and either chatter incessantly outside in order to avoid seeing people’s reactions or else I’ll totally clam up and turn tomato red.  Which leads to another question: how much of this worry is just me, and how much of it is a natural outcome of the way the art world works?  Getting back to the proxy idea, it’s no accident that the Bright Young Things you see whose careers are taking off are, more often than not, young and easily objectified (i.e. good looking) and, generally speaking, crowdpleaser types of folks.  I am not that type of folk.  I just want to be able to say that this is the work that I do and have “being an artist” mean something more tangible than it does at this point.   And I don’t ever want to feel, at any point in my art “career,” like a used car salesman or a politician.

(I also don’t think I’ll have extra money to buy snack food for the guests, and this somehow is of great concern to me.  No idea why, honestly, but it haunts me.  I’m thinking of selling plasma so I can buy some cookies.)

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6 Responses to “Performance Anxiety”


  1. Suggestion #1: You should arrange some fake-PETA protesters: People for the Ethical Treatment of Amputees.

    Suggestion #2: Beer not cookies.

  2. AdamFeldmeth Says:

    If he wants cookies. I’ll bring some.

  3. Nicholas Says:

    Beer is already taken care of. But that’s all there is, and seems like there should be more.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    piece of cake man, your first solo show should be practice, just relax. these kind of gigs are all about learning from your mistakes.

    im home for winter break and i wont be able make it to the opening but will check it out when i get back into L.A.

    much love&support, good luck!

  5. calvin. Says:

    piece of cake man, your first solo show should be practice, just relax. these kind of gigs are all about learning from your mistakes.

    im home for winter break and i wont be able make it to the opening but will check it out when i get back into L.A.

    much love&support, good luck!


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