Delight Someone (Everyone)

Years ago, I had the joy of hearing Senga Nengudi talk about her art in a gallery at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver surrounded by the work.

Nengudi makes intimate installations and sculptures from discarded materials such as torn pantyhose.

Her use of this material started when she was living in a small space in New York and decided on a medium that would fit into her purse. (Further proof that making art is about solving problems, but that’s another topic.)

Senga Nengudi speaking
Curators at the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver interview Senga Nengudi about her work.

During a panel discussion, Nengudi warmed everyone in the room with her gentle, generous spirit and big smile.

Here It Comes

When we (about 100 of us in the audience) were getting ready to leave, the artist said she wanted to give us a gift to remember her by.

In line with her work, which transforms unwanted items into art, she considered a gift that we could transform into something new.

She confessed that she didn’t have enough pantyhose for the audience, which we were okay with because that’s when she pulled out a large plastic bag and handed out . . .

Dubble Bubble bubble gum!

Yep, the very same bubble gum that we bought for 1 cent when we were little and had only a penny or two to spare. (Some of us remember those days.) There was a collective grown-up giggle from the room.

Bubble gum is immediately transformed when it’s chewed. Then you can blow bubbles with it, pop the bubbles, stretch it, stick it in your kid brother’s hair, … You know.

The more adventurous can turn a wad of gum into a bubble-gum sculpture.

©2014 Senga Nengudi, Jive. Site installation for the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.
©2014 Senga Nengudi, Jive. Site installation for the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver.

Ah, The Memories

I was excited to get my piece of bubble gum and waited patiently in line for Ms. Nengudi to place it in my hand. Two seconds later I popped it in my mouth.

I couldn’t recall the last time I had a piece of bubble gum, and it tasted exactly as I remember.

It was pure joy—filled with memories of childhood when a simple piece of gum would yield a massive amount of delight.

The Element of Surprise

Let’s admit that, of course, your art will delight some people immediately upon introducing yourself. But how can you take an extra step to see that they’re also delighted by you as a person?

Your audience might be students rather than viewers and they will delight in your teaching. But how will you enchant them?

Sam Woolcott artist "business cards"
Sam Woolcott delights us at every live event she attends. At Art Biz Breakthrough this year she brought leftover paint sticks with her business cards attached to the ends. Photo by Regina Mountjoy.

In order to delight someone, there must be an element of surprise. It won’t work if you set up your plan with, “And now I’m going to delight you.” Right?

Your gesture must be unexpected and heartfelt. It’s a gift that seeks nothing in return but the light in recipients’ eyes.

Handing out bubble gum doesn’t make sense for everyone, so what is it for you?

I didn’t keep the piece of bubble gum from that evening after chewing it (that would be weird), but I don’t need it to remember Senga Nengudi.

I’ll never forget her, her art, and the way she charmed us. I’ll think of her whenever I put on pantyhose and, should the day come again, when I load my cheeks with a wad of pink bubble gum.

Somebody somewhere is waiting for your art to delight them.

This article was first published November 30, 2017 and has been updated with comments intact.

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28 thoughts on “Delight Someone (Everyone)”

  1. After years of struggling with pantyhose, I finally declared I was a pants girl & just stopped the battle…

    But now I have a vision…The Senga Nengudi Method of Home Pilates…

    Resistance exercise training for those who sit around in front of their computers all day, getting up every 20 minutes to refreshen their coffee or tea…

    I imagine tying my now unworn excess pantyhose to the desk legs, then looping that around my ankles, crossing my legs, & casually rocking my leg while I surf to flex my calf muscle…

    The calorie burn might burn off the Double Bubble chewing gum now stuck to the underside of my desktop…

    Love this post, love the show, love to you Senga Nengudi for delighting us!

  2. If you’re ever in San Luis Obispo, CA. you’ll need to stop by Bubble Gum Alley. Probably 50 years of gum stuck to the walls.

  3. I’ve hated pantyhose and knee-highs for years, and only wear a dress or clothes requiring knee highs when I really can’t get out of it. That said, paying it forward (or delighting others) is something I’ve tried to practice for years. I know that in my etsy business, I always include a little shop-related goodie (a postcard, stickers, a bookmark) just as a thank you. It’s inexpensive and it might please the recipient.
    As for bubble gum, and chewing gum in general – I still love it. Gumballs, Fruit stripes, teaberry and, of course, Dubble Bubble – bring it on

  4. One of my favorite ways to delight my buyers (and my “wanna-be-buyers”) is to give away free postcards of my art. I do this with almost every new image. I hand them out at events, and post them on my FB page ( for those who can’t make it to my events.

    It’s so much fun to send the postcards out to others, knowing they will post them in their work place cubicles, or on their fridge, or even send them on to another friend.

  5. I absolutely love this! Such a brilliant idea – it usually is something small that causes delight, and creates a memory – hopefully resulting in more sales 🙂

  6. This was one of the sweetest things I’ve read in a long time! What a delightful interactive experience for this artist and her audience. 🙂

    I’m inspired. I’m going to spend some time this weekend thinking about something fun and simple to do for my clients!

  7. So this is what I came up with! This summer, I am holding my very first retreat. While my first priority is to give participants a ton of valuable information, and unique learning opportunities, I also want it to be tons of fun. I decided to add in a scavenger hunt (that fits the theme of the retreat)that will lead participants to a local ice cream parlor for a scoop on the house.

  8. Earlier this year I was fortunate to be one of seven artists who participated in a tactile presentation of my wearable art work for visually impaired audience members prior to their attendance at the Wearable Art Mandurah showcase. The showcase had an audio descriptor service. As each small group came to my table, I explained the processes of making the garment whilst they held a sample piece of one of the leftover elements in the work (a wire flower). At the end of my short talk I asked them if they would like to keep the sample. I was delighted at the joy this simple gift gave everyone.

  9. Your post delighted ME. Thank you for that.
    Each month, I send a “surprise in the mail” to someone I want to thank, someone I’m thinking of, someone who needs a surprise… always someone different. The “surprise in the mail” is a small piece of my work that fits in a padded mailing envelope with a handwritten note to the recipient. Somehow, after reading your post, the Dubble Bubble seems like a more joyful gift to remember, so I’m going to think of how I can “up my game”. Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. When I teach a workshop, I often try to have some little supply item that I leave off the list and gift to the participants. It’s often something not expensive, but unexpectedly useful in the class.

  11. Thank you Alyson for a post that really has me thinking. Loving some of the ideas others are suggesting. It is funny that some little thing that I may think is trivial – like bubble gum! – may truly delight the recipient.

  12. Pingback: Following Up After You've Sold a Piece of Art - Art Biz Success

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