The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. Pablo Picasso
It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds for the opportunity to rain on a tent. Dave Barry, Author and Columnist
Art Show Season has begun. From June through September Don and I spend ten to twelve weekends showing and selling our paintings and photography from a white 10 X 10 tent. Before I started this lifestyle, I envisioned it like the gypsy life, spontaneous and carefree. As an art fair attender, I never saw the back side of the tent, only the delightful colors in art and story in the front. Once on the other side, I realized that this is a life that requires calculation and intention. Every detail is important and necessary. Picasso’s words of dusting off the daily life are true in another way. This is a totally different life than our daily living inside Simplicity.
Much like a turtle, artists carry their home with them. Packed in our trailer are the tent with its zippered sides, display panels and bins, weights for wind, bungie cords, chairs, bags of poles and connecting devices for the panels. The marketing items such as sale bags, business cards, paper towel and glass cleaner, clipboard, sunscreen, bug spray, a fan, stakes for the ground, pens and sales receipts are stored in a four-drawer cabinet that travels in the trailer. Inside our vehicle is artwork wrapped in bubble wrap and secured in cardboard boxes and bins, personal needs for rain and sun, overnight bags, set up clothing, show day clothing, and a cooler of food. Every nook and cranny of the vehicle and trailer are filled, carefully packed, wisely placed to ensure they will fit and arrive safely without damage. We live like artful gypsies. We plan like experienced campers. Both are necessary!
An artist tent is a space designed to display art, conduct sales, and be home during business hours. The site is likely to be located on grass or asphalt. If trees are around they add protection from the sun, but may be problematic in wind storms by dropping their branches. Without any trees, the hot sun, potential winds and rain are complicating factors both to the artist and the art. A grassy location usually means uneven footing, adding extra work for the art to hang straight. Each show presents a new adjustment and adventure in living in this fabric space. Maneuvering the trailer onto the site amid other parked vehicles, enough daylight hours to set up and take down, sores backs and tired muscles, blood blisters from fingers getting caught in the tent poles, and thirty-five pound weights that land on innocent toes, this lifestyle is in constant motion and jeopardy.
Weather is a primary factor to the enjoyment of this temporary home. Wind, water, heat, cold – all can make the stay miserable. Artists attempt to keep dry and presentable to the customer, after all, an artist’s image is at stake. While the physical comfort of the self is important, ultimately the safety of the art is the greatest concern. We will sacrifice any physical discomfort to keep artwork safe, undamaged, and presentable. Sometimes this means drastic measures such as holding down the flapping tent as it fears to lift off and fly away. Other times it means covering art with plastic garbage bags to keep dry from rain or potential drips inside the tent. And in the hot sun? A constant vigil keeps artwork from too much sun.
Over the years we have lost two tents to storms. On one occasion a significant wind shear came through. Our tent pulled up from its weights, somersaulted in the air and returned to the ground looking like a lunar lander. All tent legs were mangled and destroyed. Amazingly, none of our artwork was damaged. After this experience, we purchased a much sturdier tent that gives us confidence. We added heavier weights to each tent leg. Much more complicated to set up, the extra time and muscle power required for our now sturdy and secure tent is well worth the peace of mind.
This art show business has also exposed some lessons about our relationship. Both of us are first born children with a desire to lead. Both of us want to be in charge. We also have different approaches to setting up. I can easily multi-task while Don prefers doing a single job at a time. Both methods can work, but not together. For a couple who rarely squabbles, this scenario is fertile ground for outbursts of irritation and gritchiness. With lots of mumbling, angry sighs loud enough to be noticed, and time outs taken to collect oneself, this is no fun.
As a result, we have problem solved to make this life on the road enjoyable and workable. Knowing the 10 X 10 life is an automatic challenge for the best in any person, we have developed two simple rules. Whoever is showing on that weekend is the designated leader. Like the game of tag, ‘You are it!’ This person makes the call on what is what, while the other follows. Before we unpack, one of us will say out loud, “Remember, let’s take our time and be gentle with each other.” A simple rule, a simple mantra, that has saved our marriage, maybe even improved it.
Our second rule is much easier to manage. We do not enter the same shows. Putting up two tents at a show is too much work and often requires a village of friends or family to assist. We tried this once and were exhausted. On the spot we announced, ‘Never again!’ Now we support the other and find life is much kinder this way.
Weather, location, and all the parts of the art fair life make for great survival stories, like ‘I walked ten miles to school in the winter’, but the stories heard and shared in the 10 X 10 space make the art and artist come alive. This simple white fabric tent is a magnet for conversations about the partnership of art and life. While sales are important to provide the funds to keep afloat in this business, the comments from the fair goers keep our hearts and souls inspired. Where else might you hear how a photograph or painting has touched a life, how it inspired a creative spirit, was a metaphor for life? Our lives are deeply enriched by the people who arrive in this temporary space. Don often says after a day in our white tent, “There is no better way to spend time than to talk about art.” Indeed, it is true. Life is explored multi-dimensionally through the lens of art. Spirits are lifted, philosophical questions are posited, and ideas are birthed. Who would ever guess that so much could happen in a 10 X 10 space?