My boarding school was big on presentation. Any event that involved us as a group saw every girl issued with a pair of deeply horrible American Tan tights. In fairness to Americans, I think the colour was based more on the idea of America as a place of glowing opportunity than a skin tone. Either way, we were made to wear bizarrely tangerine tights in the name of unity and good presentation.
The tights might have sucked, but the presentation thing stuck. My first ever exhibition took place in our garage and consisted of about twelve prints. A small show, but I was big on the presentation aspect. We hauled out every last bit of junk and scrubbed the place, added lighting and hung work in matching frames made by my husband on our kitchen table with huge care and painfully little experience. I hung signs on as many local lamp posts as the local council would stand and made carefully coordinated price labels and little storyboards about printing. Then I optimistically invested in wrapping and a cash float for the imagined sales.
Perhaps I should have worn the lucky American Tan tights too. For the first six of the nine days nobody came at all except my family. Thankfully they showed up, made robust comments about giving things time and generously found a need to buy a print or two.
On the last weekend I got some proper visitors; four unknown strangers. The first couple came and took my small show perfectly seriously, writing in the visitor’s book that they enjoyed the ‘well-presented work’ and promising to come back next year. The second couple bought a print, commenting that they were sorry they’d not noticed I was open in previous years as they very much liked my work. Suddenly all that preparation was worth it and the show seemed a total success. The sale felt great, but more importantly the casual acceptance by total strangers that I was the real deal did wonders for my confidence. It also confirmed my faith in the power of good presentation. That said, I remain steady in the belief that American Tan tights, still available on Ebay, are best avoided.
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