Lately I've been keeping notes on potential topics to discuss in this space. In the interest of brevity I'll narrow it down to one topic per post. Today I think I'll talk through what happens to be on my mind these days as I navigate certain social media communities. And that topics is: how to do creative work with humility and receive criticism with grace, and not become a raging cynic.
Here's the thing. Cynicism is easy. Not being a bitter, unpleasant person who cultivates negativity is infinitely harder. I have found the online art community overwhelmingly a positive one, full of people who are willing to share anything with each other. It has appeared to me to be mostly a welcoming, inclusive group of people who treat art as an open marketplace to exchange ideas and support each other. When one artist succeeds, all artists succeed is sort of the unwritten code. We're stronger for our dedication to being supportive of each other. (However, I'll interject a caveat here to explain I'm actually speaking about the illustration industry, and more specifically, the fantasy illustration subgenre, which is where a lot of my interactions with the community take place.) I've been very reluctant to approach any of the galleries in town, since my work really isn't what would be considered "fine art" level. I mean, knowing your market is the first step, and I am pretty sure that isn't the market for me. Of course, you don't know until you try. Maybe once I take that first step I'll find it's not quite what I thought.
And that being said, I will say that I'm aware of a local artist who is very prolific - and very, VERY vocal when they post on one of the Facebook group pages set up for local artists to share work or upcoming events. They seem to relish reminding everyone about the fact that they've been rejected by every gallery they've ever approached but are still successful regardless. I know these posts are meant somewhat tongue-in-cheek. At least, I hope so? This artist has obviously found their audience and a market, so that's something. But the tone...it's cynicism all the way down. And it is almost every single post. It seems exhausting to keep up that level of resentment. I think what I'm trying to say here is: Be a lighthouse, help bring people safely past the rocks, instead of acting as the soul-sucking abyss that drags everyone into the darkness.
I get it - criticism is tough to take. With it comes a sense of rejection. That's true for anything in life, be it your art, your hair, your clothes, what music you listen to...no one wants to hear that someone else thinks that thing you love so much is worthless garbage. And our art, in whatever form it takes, is a big part of ourselves. It takes a lot to be vulnerable enough to be open to receiving criticism, even the really constructive, well-intentioned kind. Or the "this isn't 'high art' enough for our clientele" kind. But there's a difference between "this is not for me" and "OMG that sucks and you are stupid for liking it." Something not being a fit with a given market isn't necessarily a flat-out rejection of your value as an artist or as a person. I see a lot of the latter, the "that thing sucks and let me tell you why" interaction online and pretty frequently in life, and it bums me out.
Everybody has the right to love things. Even if other people find those things silly. Maybe we should endeavor to be more vocal in our love for things as opposed to our open and immediate impulse to heap derision and scorn on the harmless, trivial things that don't appeal to us? Case in point: pop-culture conventions. I have an acquaintance who thinks the various cons are for stereotypical basement-dwelling, no-girlfriend-having dweebs and will never accept that otherwise "normal" and high functioning people attend cons. Flip that coin, and you have a stereotype of typical American pro football game attendees as beer-swilling, tailgating blue collar broskis, and that's seen as "normal" and "acceptable" social behavior. I argue that dressing up in your sports gear is a form of cosplay, and that pick-up football games in the park are the athletic equivalent to LARPing. Two iterations of social interaction to reinforce group dynamic and cohesion over a shared interest. (And you have the thesis for my Masters dissertation, right there...)