It was May 2010. I was a babe in the Woman of the World woods, having left Corporate America less than 2 months earlier. My “Internet friend” Jess Swift was comin’ to town for Surtex, and we were planning to meet for the first time ever. I forced myself on her for 3 days because I wanted to help with her show/spent time with her, and I sat with her in that booth for the majority of the time she was there. I watched her talk to potential buyers and fellow artists – especially the students who were there to “walk the show” – and saw how she prepared and saw the amazeballs reaction she got from her work when people walked by the booth and connected with the bright colors (to the max!, as her tagline suggests). But there was one exchange that I can still hear in my head, an exchange where – when it was over and the girl walked away – I turned to Jess and said, “You’re one of my favorite people ever.”
The art student walked up to Jess’ booth, complimented her work, and asked point-blank:
“There’s just so much competition here. I mean, the market is so saturated, isn’t it? There’s not room for anyone new, right? It just all seems so hard!”
I’ve heard this question before, and a million variations of the same answer:
“Yup, there’s a lot of artists out there, and less than 10% (or some ridiculously low number) make a living from it”.
“Yup, it’s really hard – so hard that you shouldn’t do it unless you have to.”
So I sat up straight and smiled wide when I heard Jess respond, which went something like:
“There’s always room for someone new. Look, there are over a hundred booths here, but every style is different. Sure, it’s hard work – I’m working all the time – but there’s always space for someone’s vision, someone’s art, someone’s perspective. This is my first year here, and I’ve already gotten a wonderful reception. You shouldn’t not do this because you think you don’t have anything new to offer, or that there’s no more room – that’s absolutely not the case.”
It was funny, because the girl seemed a bit disappointed by this answer. Jess’ response was an optimistic, no-nonsense, kick-in-the-butt when this girl looked like she wanted a grim Reality Check so she could go back home to Play It Safe. But Jess doesn’t subscribe to that perspective, and when the girl walked away, Jess said to me, “Ugh! That makes me so mad! YES, of COURSE there’s room for everyone – you just have to do the work! Go do the work, don’t walk around moping and complaining and looking for a way out! Otherwise, go find something else to do!”
Seriously. One of my most favorite people ever. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESS!