​How uncomfortable does it make you to ask?

Some call it Chutzpa, Nerve, Guts, Audacity, or more recently, “getting out of your comfort zone” but it all amounts to the same thing in the arts, which is the ability to ask for something. In my books I outline my own stories, and the stories of others who have asked for everything from funding to museum shows and got them because of all of the above adjectives.

At any stage in an artists career, there is a time when having the nerve to ask for something is rewarded hansomely. From Damien Hirst bringing paintings directly to auction or artists selling on the street to asking a better gallery for representation. The difficult part in all this is the “ask” itself. That is, the moment when you ask for something that is probably more than you think you deserve.

I am no psychologist, but among artists there are different thresholds for what they feel they can ask for.

I once read a book (Twilight I believe) by Elie Weisel, the holocaust survivor, and at the end, he quotes a mentor as saying, “The most generous thing you can do is to receive everything.” At the time that was mystifying to me.

But later I understood it to mean that is it generous of an individual to receive a gift wholeheartedly. For example, those that you give presents to that say some form of “you shouldn’t have” or say they feel guilty that they haven’t bought you a present in return – are examples of not being able to receive. Conversely, if you give someone a present and they go crazy with joy and keep thanking you and then open the present with great enthusiasm, I imagine you will want to give that person a present again, because their unbridled enthusiam was a gift to you.

Perhaps that is what Elie Weisel was talking about, but on a grander scale. And as an artist, if you are going to get a better gallery, or sell more work at higher prices, you need to have the nerve to ask for it. And part of having that nerve is realizing that it is a generous thing you are doing, to ask for more and receive it, it is a generous act.

So as this holiday season approaches, and you hesitate to ask for that big grant, or that bigger gallery, or sending out those fundraising letters, perhaps think about the ceiling you are creating for yourself and consider exploading that ceiling with the simple gesture of asking for more. Yes it takes guts, it takes audacity, but if you are prepared to receive that, it will be the greatest gift you can give yourself as well as the person you are asking.

Happy holidays (in the largest sense of the word)

Sincerely,

Brainard

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