Liz Huston

Liz Huston is a modern mixed media artist based in Los Angeles, California. Her art borders on the symbolic and the surrealist, creating an esoteric narrative that hints at a logic far beyond the average and mundane.

An open letter to the woman who broke my art yesterday

January 22, 2017

It was a day truly unlike any other day.

We had both spent the morning marching in solidarity with our sisters and brothers for a cause we both feel important, The Women’s March. There were hundreds of thousands of people in Downtown LA, more than I have ever seen gathered in one place, at one time, for the same reason. The energy was palpable, heart centered and beautiful, and as we would all later learn, it spread around the world! It was a big day, energetically. After marching for several hours, I decided to go and open my shoppe, which was conveniently located at the center of it all. The interaction with the first woman who came in to my shoppe was beautiful; we connected on a deep level and she stayed for quite a bit.

The next people to come in was a group of ladies, whom I believe you were with. Everyone was sparkling with this lovely energy of the day, which was centered in goodness. Reveling in that good feeling, something outside caught your eye, you went to look out the window and accidentally knocked one of my most beloved pieces of art onto the floor, “Whatever You Love, You Are”.

The shattering sound it made when it hit the ground, I can still hear. It was loud and sharp, like hitting a cymbal with an axe. My heart paused and I truly couldn’t even bring myself to look. What happened next was I guess the best any of us could have done. I don’t remember who turned it over to see the damage, but I held back my tears with as much strength as I could muster as I saw that yes, the antique frame was cracked and broken. The hard to find antique bubble glass, shattered. The print beneath the glass, badly scratched. I was surprised at how much that hurt me, inside. I know it wasn’t personal, it was an accident. But my art means so much, I couldn’t articulate my thoughts into a coherent sentence. As a business owner, I should have had a “break it you buy it sign”. I did not (I do now). Nothing has ever broken in these 4 years here. I had no plan for such an event.

What you did next is where my injury really lies, however. You were trying to make it good, I know this, but went about it in such a way as to actually cause more harm. You told me, “That’s a print, so I know it can be replaced. Those frames, you can find more of them.” I woke up this morning with those words burning in my mind. How wrong you were in those assumptions. The antique frame, sure, with some effort, can be replaced. It was, however, special and of sentimental value, which cannot be replaced. The print, well, that was the very last in a small edition of 5 plus 2 artist proofs. The one you broke, that was the very last artist proof I had. So no, it is not “replaceable”. I have more integrity than that. I will not reprint an artist proof, as that is not the purpose of an artist proof. It is to proof the colors, the quality of the print, when making an edition. It’s not just an open window to make another print whenever I feel like it. I honor the numbers of my collections. I honor my collectors.

Basically what you did was try to tell me that my art wasn’t worth anything after your carelessness destroyed a piece of it. And I, stunned at the chasm between the hope and connection I felt minutes earlier and the shattered glass before me, knew that I could not respond eloquently. So I said nothing. Anything I would have said at that moment would have been filled with venom and truly not in the spirit of the day, nor in the spirit of who I am as a person. You did not offer to pay for your mistake. And I did not insist. I knew I could not insist. I had no established precedent or had a break-it-you-buy-it warning posted.

That is the first and last time I will respond like that. Were I to be exhibiting another artist’s work, even without a sign, I would have fought tooth and nail to get that artist payment for your carelessness. I’d have notified my insurance and even paid the deductible if I had to so my artist could be compensated. I know this about myself. I fight for others whenever I see injustice. But when it comes to myself? That is a battle I’m not so good at, and oh, I am so ashamed to admit this. It’s easier for me to fight for someone else’s good, than it is my own. I never saw it so clearly. You taught me that. Thank you.

It’s not news to consider how hard it is for artists to place a dollar value on creations of the hands and heart. Nor how hard it is for artists to ask the price we know our work is worth. It’s even harder to find an audience capable and willing to pay those prices. I came up with a price, and after all these years, have found collectors to support the work at the prices I ask. They are not unreasonable prices. Just to break it down for you; I spent 3 months of my life creating the piece of art you broke. 3 months, plus a lifetime of learning. 3 months plus 4 years running my own gallery, working 80 hours a week, every week (sometimes much more) to make my work and to get my work in front of the eyeballs who will appreciate it and support it.

Your carelessness broke the result of that effort, my chance to be compensated for the creation of that labor of love. And in that, you have taught me the true value of my work. So for that lesson, I suppose, I must also thank you. I now know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what my work is worth.

I am keeping the piece you broke, in my home, as a reminder of what the true value of what I do. In a way, I’m glad you didn’t offer to pay and that I didn’t insist. I feel that perhaps you didn’t value what I do enough to own it. But I do. Thank you for that very harsh lesson in worth. I hope that you have learned something from this as well. I hope you will be more careful and aware in the future, and maybe not be so diminishing of the value of another’s craft. I in turn, hope that I will do better at standing up for myself. Look, things break. This is life. I accept that. And because I choose to live mythically, looking for symbols and meaning in life, I choose to make this a learning experience. When I say thank you for the lesson, I truly mean it. Sometimes it’s really hard to see the things we need to learn, and we need bigger lesson example. I wish my art hadn’t broken, but such is life. Things break. The current flows on. The lessons get applied. And finally, to that first woman who stayed during the whole thing; the woman who guarded my shoppe when I had to take the broken glass to the trash can, who held me as I finally cried, who embodied the support and solidarity I felt earlier and desperately needed to see again in that vulnerable moment...Thank you.