Giving Birth :: The Artist’s Exhibition

"Peacework" ©1996 Janice Tanton.
"Peacework" ©1996 Janice Tanton.

This past September, good friend and fellow artist, Dr. Nancy J. Adler, opened  “Reality in Translation: Going Beyond the Dehydrated Language of Management”. This exhibition was seated within the 2010 Academy of Management Conference in Montreal, Quebec at Galerie MX.

Throughout Nancy’s exhibition process, we conferred about the challenges and emotional roller-coaster of creating an important exhibition. Covering many subjects from the publicity, the curation, and the energy an artist invests in the creation of something new, we put out heads together in support, and I became Nancy’s “midwife”.

This morning, we were again discussing the experience and reflecting on the post-exhibition happenings. The best way to think of the artists’ work is that it is an ongoing process – never really ends with the exhibition, but that is the starting place and the defining moment where a significant transition in lifeforms occurs.

The best metaphor for an artist’s exhibition process is childbirth. Everything beforehand is pregnancy and gestation. The first exciting “idea” is like great sex. Following that, you get the wakeup when the little blue stick indicates something life-changing is about to happen. You’re stunned that your little idea has taken root and a life of it’s own while you’ve been going about your life.

You have a good nine months or more of taking care of something that is really a mystery. You know that you’re heading towards something wonderful and new, but you’re not really sure if it’s going to be healthy, (or a boy or girl). You eat right, you do all the things you need to ensure it’s going to have all it’s fingers and toes. You visit the doctor, and solicit opinion and feedback from those with more experience in the process and whom you know have your interests and the best interests of your “child” at hand. You read too much about it on the internet and you overthink it all.

The prep is getting to know the labour room, and your gallery. The Curator is the doctor…they’re in and out and have their hands in private places inside of you that can’t even reach! Sometimes you love them and feel reassured and sometimes you want them to back off. The opening is akin to having your water break and giving birth all in one night. You know at some point it will happen, but you’re never truly “ready” for it. It’s fast and furious and at the end, you have no control over it. You aren’t really sure who was in the room, what you said or how you acted. People send flowers.

The period of exhibition  is a bit like the time you spend in the hospital. There are folks there to help, the occasional unwanted guest, family members,  & visitors. Everyone has something to say about your new baby. For some, it looks more like the Dad and yet others whisper behind your back that it looks a bit like the postman,  and has an awful lot of hair. Some folks drink too much in celebration. Some, who you really thought cared, don’t even show up and you’re left wondering if it was something you said during your hormonal pregnancy. Pretty little gifts come in, sometimes in the way of unexpected insights, sometimes in that chocolate or scotch one of the gallery staff passes you.

At the end of it all, it’s really not about you.  The focus goes from the mom to the baby. It’s about what you have created – that child. Eventually you go home with it and wonder if there is a manual. You think you’re over your head and not ready for parenthood. Too late! Post-show/Post-partem blues! You wonder if your life will ever be the same.


For the first little bit, you struggle…. then you begin to know it differently and fit into your stride together. You have to feed it, nurture it, discipline it and raise it right so when it hits it’s own age of maturity, it’s developed it’s own life from that which is around it. At some point, you’ll watch with sadness and happiness as it travels it’s own road in the world. You let go……. but you’re always there to mother and nurture that which you have created.

Being a good artist is all about being human. If you don’t engage in life, you’ll never “get” it. You’re just playing at it.

(P.S. – I see that glint in your eye. You wanna do it again, don’t you?)



“An exhibition of one’s work in which passion and your human capital is invested, is an intensive, life-changing experience. It is like giving birth – the experience & responsibility lasts much longer than the show opening.”



This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Drafting Table World

    This is a really great article. Anyone who has had a really creative idea can totally relate to what this is saying. An artistic idea is like a child to the one creating it.

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