Imagine that you’re an aspiring writer. After three years you have finally finished your debut novel. It has the appeal of the Harry Potter series, the depth of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and the page-turning quality of “The Hunger Games.” Deep down you know it’s worthy of a Pulitzer Prize.
So you hold the manuscript in your hand and walk out of the house toward your car, ready to drop off the manuscript at the publisher’s office. But suddenly, you slip on a banana peel. As you fall backwards in slow motion, you helplessly watch as the manuscript flies out of your grip in a perfect arch and lands in a deep, nasty-smelling puddle of muddy rainwater.
Your heart skips a beat and your jaw drops. Your dream, your future and your hard work have all just gone down the tube in a matter of seconds.
Then you remember that it’s still there, saved as a document on your computer. Thanking technology, you run back to the house.
But for ceramics teacher Julie Didion, there was no “save” button to fall back on when her sculpture, “Daughter of Amphitrite,” was dropped and shattered into hundreds of pieces during a show at Capital Public Radio (CPR).
Didion was working in her studio when the phone rang.
“My stomach sank and I wanted to cry,” she said.
Even though Didion, a renowned clay sculptor in Sacramento, takes pride in her ability to “repair pieces so that (one) can never tell it’s broken,” she wasn’t able to fix the intricate figurative piece that took her a week to complete. And though CPR generously reimbursed Didion for the piece, valued at around $500, Didion was initially crestfallen.
“That was an underwater warrior, sort of a warrior mermaid,” she said. “It’s a new concept that I’m working on in which it’s a sculpture on a pedestal, and behind the sculpture hangs the painting that represents the environment where the sculpture would live in.
“Now I have to make another piece to go into the environment because the show is up for three months.”
“It happens all the time, sadly,” Didion said.
“I think sculptors get a little bit more inured, a little bit toughened up to losing artwork because there’s always the possibility that it will blow up in the kiln or that when you’re creating it, it gets too wet and it falls apart, or something drops on your studio floor and it breaks, or it gets broken in transport on the way to a show.”
Victoria Bloedau, ‘06, who double majored in fine arts and environmental studies at UC Santa Cruz, learned that the hard way when she was in a summer art program during her junior year of high school.
“There was a class in which we spent 20 minutes doing a life drawing with a model. Usually this kind of drawing lasts five minutes, so a 20-minute drawing is pretty serious. You put a lot of detail, a lot of effort into it,” Bloedau said.
“At the end of that 20 minutes, we were asked to erase it—the idea being that we’re taking it down to a ‘ghost,’ which, in fact, is the rough sketch of the drawing.
“Some people had very strong emotional reactions to it,” she said.
“They tried to teach us to be detached from our artwork. Part of the reality of being an artist is that you have to professionally sell your work and let it go.”
Even student artists lose their artworks from time to time.
A prime example is the annual Chalk Mural. In the days after completing the murals, the students watch their hard work fade away bit by bit. Sometimes the rain will wash away everything in just a day or two after the mural’s completion.
Art teacher Patricia Kelly said there’s nothing to be done.
“It’s like an environmental piece. It’s out in the elements, so you just have to let that go,” Kelly said.
“And I think the best part of the beauty of the chalk is that it’s like the cherry blossoms—they come, the wind blows and they’re all gone.
“It’s all part of the process.”
But that doesn’t mean losses never hurt.
Painter Robin Leddy Giustina, mother of Giancarlo, ‘00, has had her work damaged and stolen on several occasions.
“I have cried my eyes out,” she said. “I have felt diminished and offended many times.
“When I was young, I gave paintings to my friends as gifts. These paintings ended up damaged in a storm, in the garbage or at the ex-boyfriend’s house, never to be seen again.”
And what makes losing art pieces even more difficult for Giustina is that she is more than just the creator.
“Paintings take on very human characteristics for me,” she said. “In the first stage of a painting, we flirt and mutually enjoy each other. The second stage, we have a disagreement, a fight, a huge blow-out sometimes. I think, ‘Should I work at this relationship or dump it?’
“Finally by the third stage the painting and I come to an understanding.”
To cope with losses of that magnitude, Giustina said she does exactly what she did when she slipped and fell during a dance performance in college.
“I just keep getting up and brushing myself off,” she said.
However, having pieces destroyed or stolen is just one way of losing artwork; artists often have to knowingly say goodbye to their creations when they sell or donate them. That, according to Giustina, can be difficult as well.
“I feel bittersweet about letting paintings go, but it is very necessary,” Giustina said.
“Sometimes I say that they are like puppies and I want to make sure they all go to loving homes. (But) you can’t keep all the puppies in a litter or your house would be a mess.”
Artist Pat Mahony, mother of Camille Getz, ‘12, began her career thinking she would never be able to part with her work.
“Once when I was in college, I asked a professional artist how he could sell his treasured artwork,” Mahony said.
“He said that when you are a professional, you never even think about it—it is your job.”
“When you make something really great, you know it. But you have to put it in your show because it’s wonderful, and it stands for what you do and what you can accomplish as an artist.
“You can’t hang on to every great piece that you make. You have to sell them.”
On top of that, Didion said not every art piece disappears from her forever—especially pieces she sells to regional art collectors.
“When you sell work to an collector, it’s not that it’s really gone away. You’ll visit their homes later on, and sometimes there’s a piece that they bought from you 10 to 15 years ago which you kind of forgot about. And there it is, on display.
“It’s like visiting an old friend. Or a child.”
While Mahony eventually came to terms with selling her artwork since she turned professional 35 years ago, there is one painting that she can’t let go.
“It is about the same age as my daughter,” she said. “I love it and will not sell it. It reflects a very important period of transition in my artwork.”
Alex Kardasopoulos, ‘12, feels that way about many of his creations. He is studying photography at California College of the Arts, but he also draws and sculpts.
“I consider my artwork a piece of myself—almost like a shadow of myself. I try to be very expressive in art about who I am,” Kardasopoulos said.
And for that reason, he rarely gives out his artwork and has never sold any.
“I don’t think I can until I feel more confident in the fact that I know who I am,” he said. “I don’t want people to get the wrong impression through my art.”
Kardasopoulos also said he’ll have to like the people to whom he’s selling or giving his art.
“I need to know that my art will be taken care of and cherished.”
Conversely, for art teacher Andy Cunningham it is his wife who occasionally refuses to sell his work, though Cunningham thinks letting go of paintings is sometimes just what he needs.
“My wife was with me the first time I stood in a U-Haul that was backed up to the dump heap where I lifted paintings, looked, and either set aside the work or frisbeed them out into the summer sun amongst the trash flies and rubbish,” he said.
“That can actually feel very liberating. (It’s) a new start, not really a clean start because of the history but a lighter backpack of sorts.”
To a certain extent, Didion feels the same way.
“One thing that happens when you sell a piece or donate a piece or break a piece or whatever, it gives you space in your psyche and your studio to create new art,” she said.
And speaking of new art, Didion has started making the replacement figurative piece for her show at CPR.
“Man, they take forever—their little hands and their faces and their arms and it’s just . . .”
Didion stops mid-sentence then remembers.
“Oh, my god, and the musculature to try to convey a woman who’s powerful without making her look like she’s got a man’s shoulder!”
She shrugs and laughs.
“I just hope this one will turn out better.”