Find your gift, then give it away

GETTING AND GIVING: "We are all artists in one sense: that our driving life force is to find or create happiness. ... OpenDoors connects communities and resources to bridge gaps for at-risk kids in our community," says Nancy Hilliard Joyce. photo by Kirchner

“For it is in giving that we receive.” —~ Francis of Assisi

There sometimes seems to be a paradox that lies between the idea of “altruist” and “artist.” This is not to insinuate in any way that artists are self-indulgent — but as a practicing artist, I do often find myself grappling with the fact that there is pure and simple vaingloriousness involved in the subjective creative process.

Artists like myself all began at some point by intuitively pouring out sketches onto scrap paper, perhaps sensing that we’d be better off doing something more productive. But those doodles became addictive because they made us feel more alive. The feeling of being vastly different or separated and alienated from others evaporated through the artistic process, and we found ourselves feeling whole, connected and complete. We discovered a true purpose.

We are all artists in one sense, that our driving life force is to find or create happiness. In the best-case scenarios, we look for this in love, meditation, prayer, our children, friends and family. We seek fulfillment in life and an understanding of it in ways that sometimes leave us in despair. Under certain circumstances, though, the process is a positive one that leads us to real self-actualization and fulfillment.

“In these troubled times … I wonder how so many can be in so much pain when others don’t seem to feel a thing.” — Musical lyrics of Brett Dennen

There was a time, not too many years ago, when I felt really possessive of my paintings. It’s not that I thought they were ever that fabulous. But they were a part of me, and it felt disingenuous to give part of myself away without a certain level of reciprocation. To a certain extent, that feeling of connectedness with others seemed vital and necessary to validate my art and craft.

Over the last few years, though, I’ve completely changed the way I paint and view my work as it goes out into the world. That shift in perception started with an open door of opportunity right here in Asheville.

Just six months after I moved here in 2011, when I still knew very few people, I was asked if I would donate a piece for the OpenDoors Art Affair fundraising auction. OpenDoors is a not-for-profit organization working to eliminate multigenerational poverty here in Asheville, through education and enrichment programs benefiting young people and their families. The proceeds generated from the Art Affair event directly fund year-round initiatives that support inner-city children who are looking to actively break the cycle of poverty.

I was honored to be asked. After all, I was the new kid in town and there were plenty of other artists to choose from, so I looked at it as an opportunity to expose my work to a new audience.

Along the way, I learned that OpenDoors connects communities and resources to bridge gaps for at-risk kids in our community. Thanks to OpenDoors initiatives, those young people receive opportunities they would otherwise not have access to on their own. There are so many inner-city kids right here amid the prosperity of Asheville who desperately need that kind of support as they face difficult challenges. With help, they have a chance to leverage opportunity and succeed, thrive and give back to our community in substantial and sustainable ways that benefit all of us immensely.

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.” — Pablo Picasso

This is my fourth year donating to the OpenDoors Art Affair. But I can honestly say that the first year I donated my work to the Art Affair, I knew I would be dedicated to OpenDoors for the rest of my life. By giving, I receive immeasurable solace and satisfaction, knowing that as an artist I am actually able to assist families or individual children to get a step further in their journey.

Giving my time through art to raise money for these at-risk kids has become my own personal guide to happiness. Being an altruistic artist is now my life mission. I realize I cannot change an entire community on my own. But finding charities that I feel intrinsically connected to and meeting other people who derive pleasure from giving keeps me motivated and inspired as I continue to donate all or portions of my work. The irony of giving — and then receiving twice as much fulfillment in return — is proving itself in truthfulness.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” — Mother Teresa

WHAT: Art Affair 2015, the annual fundraiser for OpenDoors. The event features silent and live auctions of more than 75 items, including handcrafted jewelry, travel experiences and collectible pieces donated by regionally and nationally acclaimed artists. The live auction will be conducted by Andrew Brunk of Brunk Auctions, “Antiques Road Show” and formerly of Christie’s of NYC. The festivities include performances by an aerial dance troupe, live music, celestial stilt walkers, food and libations. More info:

WHEN: 7 p.m., Saturday, March 7

WHERE: Harmony Motors, 621 Brevard Road, Asheville


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About Nancy Hilliard Joyce
Nancy Hilliard Joyce is a contemporary, mixed-media artist with an Americana flair. She currently works out of her studio in the River Arts District.

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