$5.95 (revised 8-30)
Brian J. Sullivan
$5.95 including tax was not a large sale by any stretch of the imagination, but it was significant because it broke a psychological barrier. It was the first sale of the day with hopefully many more to follow. Always the eternal optimist, I start off each show with fresh enthusiasm and anticipation only to have it wane as the day drags on. "Is it the economy, my style of work, my prices, the town, the fair? Is it me?" I silently ask myself after the close of another slow day in central Pennsylvania.
It was destiny that we should cross paths. She extended her hand and introduced herself as Jennifer. A 40ish year old woman, she was rather plain, with straight brown hair cut shoulder length with matching brown eyes. She wore very little makeup. Her dress came down to her knees and was of a simple pattern. No jewelry adorned her except for her wedding ring. Jennifer was a "shrink," or should I be more politically correct and say "therapist?" After 45 years of living, I was having doubts about myself as an artist and thought some professional help was in order.
Her office was a stark white cubical devoid of any windows or decoration except for a cheap mass produced poster of "The Scream" by Edvard Munch taped to one wall. A noisy clock hung on the other wall and ticked each minute off in an annoying monotony. I sat across from her in an institutional grey steel chair with green arm pads worn threadbare from years of use. In the corner, behind her desk was a large "green" plastic plant covered with dust. Two framed pictures of her children sat on her desk, but off to one side.
I had been coming to see Jennifer now for several months. Sometimes I talked; sometimes I sat there silently for 50 minutes. Today I bawled my eyes out. Jennifer, however, said very little and showed no emotion. During one of our sessions, I suggested that I was planning on performing circumcision on myself just to get a reaction from her. Her stoic expression never changed; she blinked, looked at the aging clock and said, "Is there anything else?" Most of the time it was hard to tell if she was breathing. During one of my next sessions I held a mirror up to her face but was sadly disappointed when no condensation formed. Yet strangely, I continued to come to see her week after week.
It was a strange attraction. We were from two different worlds. She was the analytical type, a University trained professional, a right brain thinker. I was a left brain thinker, intuitive, carefree, bohemian artist. Over the course of eight months I had shared many stories of my struggles as an artist: living in a roach infested tenement house in Chicago, having no money to pay the heat in the middle of winter, taking sponge baths from a 35 gallon Rubbermaid garbage can, etc., etc., etc. She, in return, shared very little about herself, but by saying nothing she said very much. Still I struggled to figure her out.
I tried to explain to her that I did not choose to be an artist. It was who I was. I was born this way, just as if someone was born male or female. I can remember my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. McGinnis, and that I was always getting into trouble for making art during class time. "It just comes out of me," I tried to explain to Jennifer. She nodded, but her blank stare spoke volumes of her inability to understand. How could she understand my artistic addiction, my need to create, my dedication, my commitment, and my passion? How could she understand the allure of life on the road, living out of a suitcase for six months at a time? How could she understand the artistic stimulation of seeing new things, places, people and ideas? How could she understand visiting friends and family across all sorts of American landscapes and terrain? And how could she possibly understand the euphoric high of making a large sale to an important museum director?
I had always felt like an outsider, looking in. Now, sitting here in this homogenous office with a clock clicking the minutes away, it is becoming very clear to me my attraction to Jennifer. I have tasted life outside the box. I have lived a colorful life free of the normal constraints which bind most people. Across from me sits the epitome of the average person sitting in a 15' by 15' cubical for 30 years of her life until she retires. This could be considered sensory deprivation at its most insidious level. Gradually her life blood is sucked right out of her in such an environment. The attraction to Jennifer was my religious fervor to bring this milk-white zombie out of her proverbial shell/box. I felt sorry for Jennifer; I truly did. I had seen her face thousands of times before throughout the country at each and every art fair that I had attended. I was not sure she got "it," nor ever would.
I even offered to give Jennifer some of my art work to spruce up her office, but she politely declined, stating that she liked her office just the way it was.
That $5.95 was the only sale I made that day. But it was monumental. This was the first piece of art Jennifer had ever purchased for herself. She said very little, but the slight up turn at the corners of her mouth said it all. I know that tomorrow will be better. All the "be-backers" will come out in full force and make my day. I zipped up my tent for the day. Our 50-minute session had come to an end. I again thanked Jennifer for her purchase and said goodbye, knowing that next week it will be the same routine all over again.