“I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another.” – Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam
Recently I was invited by an artist friend to show some artwork in a pop-up gallery. I’m not a visual artist, usually, but I dabble. At the time, I was sorting through boxes of old family pictures, so I decided to display some collages and family-themed pieces in the exhibition.
It wasn’t until the last minute when I finished the collection. I arrived late at the gallery space to put up my work, and all the other artists had already put up their pieces. Immediately I felt inadequate. Their work looked professional. Most of these artists were local art professors, or gave lessons, and regularly sold their work. My work looked like a family photo album compared to all these walls of framed paintings and tables of glass sculptures. Compared to everything else in the room, I wasn’t convinced my collages were art.
It was too late to bow out gracefully. So I arranged my work as I’d planned: with a lace table cloth and a vase of baby’s breath, to look like a table of pictures you’d see at a grandmother’s house. It didn’t look like it belonged. I scolded myself for not realizing that this collection would be too personal to be of significance to anyone else.
On the opening night at the reception, I stood beside my table, anticipating that I would need to explain the pictures to bemused passers-by before they moved on to the real artists’ work.
And I did explain to passers-by, some of whom did look bemused. But I also got a reaction I didn’t anticipate: several gallery-goers approached me to tell me about their own family pictures and heirlooms. My work stirred up memories of their own grandparents.
I thought of C.S. Lewis’ statement that “friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” I connected with a lot of people that night, and we exchanged stories of our families and the things they’d left behind.
By the end of the opening reception, I no longer felt that my work was inadequate. It was, at the heart of my effort, “an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another.” And I am assured that it was art.
Aubrey Allison is about to graduate with a BFA in Writing from the Savannah College of Art and Design. When she's not writing or reading, her hobbies include photography, embroidery, and cutting out pictures from magazines. Aubrey is a native of Dallas, Texas, and she has sold her artwork in gallery shows in France and the United States. She is Ruminate Magazine's Web Editor. Her favorite things to write about are a small town in East Texas and the intersection of faith and art. She likes strong coffee, shoes that are silent when she walks, and the smell of old books. Find her artwork and more of her writing at aubreyallison.com.