Life is like a game of chess
The Game of Chess
Then another chess coincidence happened that week. While I was working at my sewing machine, I pushed play on Radiolab, one of my favorite podcasts. It just so happened that they were rebroadcasting an episode on games, which included a whole lot of interesting information about chess. My ears piqued.
As I listened, I learned the chess term "out of book". This term quickly caught my fancy. If you don't know this idea - as I didn't - here's the background: there exists a "book" of all the chess moves that have happened throughout the history of the game. Although it's not a real book, in Moscow there is an actual library of all these recorded moves. This library has been kept since the 16th century and, like most things, it recently has been digitized. Basically, during a game of chess, most of the moves players make have already been made before in past games. (The digital book can even tell you how many times before each particular play has occurred!) But, not all of the possible variations of chess moves have been made before. When a player come to the point in the game that isn't in the book, the play is now considered to be "out of book". The way chess analyst Fred Friedel explained it on the the Radiolab episode is my favorite. He says when your play is out of book, "you have a position which has never occurred before in the universe."
Wow. Consider that!
The Game of Life
Traditions are the life equivalent of playing by the book. The book of life says: go to school, get a job, get married, have a family. Traditions can be great; they provide quick and easy answers to basic life decisions.
In the game of chess, it's easy to tell when players are playing by the book. Their moves are quick and decisive. These moves are easy because the players have them memorized. They've been done so many times before that no thought is necessary. It's when play reaches the point of being out of book that the game becomes a challenge and slows down. Now, players have to think about each move they might make. They have to consider all the possibilities and all the consequences of each move and can no longer rely on what's been done before.
We humans can be really hard on ourselves. We beat ourselves up when we feel we did something wrong. But life isn't always predictable. If we learn anything from the game of chess - and the unfathomable number of possible plays there may be in a game - it's that not everything is in the book. Not everything has been done before. There are times when you may "have a position which has never occurred before in the universe."
For me, the pandemic created a whole slew of things that never happened before. I didn't know how to make money as an artist. My two teenagers fell into depressions. Tradition was no help, life was out of book. And just like the game of chess, everything was slow and challenging at this point. It makes sense to me now: my brain needed time to process absolutely everything. At the time though, it was awful, exhausting and terrifying. I felt incredibly guilty and constantly felt that I wasn't doing enough. The problem was, that I didn't know what I should be doing.
Here's my art interpretation of the chess concept Out of Book.
"Out of Book"
16" x 20", cut and sewn cotton fabrics, thread. Sold.
© Mary Pow. All rights reserved.
The true cost of art.
I had good reason to expect that the two festivals I got into to would be decent shows for me. I did my research on both events and I heard great things. But I'm not naïve, I know that doing any art show - especially if it includes large travel expenses - is a huge gamble. But I figured that if I could double the amount of sales I made at one show last year, it would be worth it.
"I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?"
Unfortunately, the end result of this experience has left me not only in debt, but also questioning my art. I've decided to share the true cost of selling my art at these shows. This is not an easy decision; I know that people unwittingly prefer to support winners and I could lose sales over this. I usually try to be as upbeat as possible about my art career in public. But I'm not sure it can get much worse; this week I definitely feel like the loser in Beck's song.
Two Art Festivals in Florida, February 2023
Costs and Expenses
What costs are not included here?
Artists are not paid for their time.
It's hard to imagine all of the time the entire art-festival-going process takes. Usually I try not to think about it since none of it is paid time. But, in an effort to be transparent, here's a look at some of the time I put into doing these two art festivals.
The hardest question I always get asked is:
"How long did it take you to make this?"
"Okay," you're probably saying, "but how much money did you make?!"
Here is the dismal truth...
Show one: $698.00 in sales
Show two: $2,323.00 in sales
Total after expenses = -$3,290.00
This result is extremely embarrassing to share. Sure, there are places I could have cut costs. I could have slept in the cheapest (worst) hotels available. I could have driven through the night (dangerous and stressful). I could have done the second show without my husband's help (no lunch or bathroom breaks and no support) and saved on his airfare. But regardless of expenses, the amount I made in sales wasn't worth it.
Where do I go from here? I don't know. I have more questions than answers.
Is it me? Does my art suck? Should I get a "real" job? If so, what makes something a "real" job? Maybe it's not me, maybe it's the economy? Perhaps people are too worried about inflation? Do people ever spend money on art? Do any artists make money at art fairs? Maybe it's my medium? Perhaps people aren't interested in purchasing textile art? And around again: Is it me?
Who knows. All I know is that I can't NOT make art. (I've tried to stop.) So despite the huge emotional toll all of this puts on me, I'm already planning for my next art festival.
I am an artist and designer based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My specialties are textiles and pastels.