I was standing in front of my local thrift store, basking in the warm glow of people admiring my work. I had brought in a few samples for the shop manager to see, so she would know what I did and what supplies I was looking for. Quickly a small crowd had gathered and my work was getting the "oooh and Ahh" treatment. We artists live for this moment. Then the comment came, unexpected, like sitting on a loud woopie cushion at a proper English tea.
"Wow! These are amazing! I had no idea you were so talented. You just don't LOOK like an artist!
Rapidly, I felt the glow leave me and be replaced by a prickle of irritation. I drew upon my 20+ years of customer service training to thank her for her kindness while hiding my annoyance.
As I packed away my work and left the store, I had to ask myself. What, exactly, does an artist really look like?
Is it like my art friend Valerie Bailey? A fiesty senior citizen, she wears her long white hair in a tidy braid. Her long flowing skirts are in a crazy quilt of satin and velvet, topped by a dark hat.
Is it like my art friend Pam Pitts? By far one of the best lampwork artists I have ever met, Pam's tiny frame is accented in baseball caps, blue jeans and hippie-chic tye-dye t-shirts. This suits her fave phrase of "Far out!"
Is it my Art Friend Debi Beard? Pretty and petite, she looks wonderful in soft and romantic vintage clothes. A class act.
Or, is it my favorite Rottengirl Keri Stanton? Her exotic features accentuated in a Gothic "Alice in Wonderland' dress.
My point is: exactly what the hell is an artist supposed to LOOK like?
I made a decision a while back that I no longer owed anyone a specific "look" to suit their views of what I should be. At fourty-freakin'-four I have earned that right. Granted, I never show up at a show in a t-shirt and sloppy shorts (I have seen it folks!) but neither do I feel I need to try to totter across a grassy yard, setting up a 10 by 10 canopy while waring 4 inch heels. My plus-size frame deserves comfort these days. As a former hairstylist, I have smelled enough chemicals to know that there is glory in salt-and-pepper hair and I wear my white streaks proudly. I enjoy wearing something offbeat to give the element of surprise, like showing up at a 4th of July show with an electric blue wig. But, I am just as home in a simple dress with my hair pulled back into a ponytail.
So, I have to ask. Does the dress make the artist? Or does the artist wear the dress?