WORKING ART: You and Them
-By Greg Ruth
Of the many things that go into being, working, and making a living as an artist in this new world, (and it seems like its a whole new world just about each passing day, I know), is interacting with your audience. Never before has this been such a crucial and wholly involved part of our lives as it is today. Like the old patronage system of old where a select few artists chosen by the aristocracy enjoyed a career under their financial generosity, or the high end private gallery and intellectual social scene that replaced it, we are now in the early days of the internet age as it shapes how we see interact with art. That affords us the artists, a great deal more we have to do to make our way in the world, but it also gives us a level of autonomy and agency, free of gallery owner dictates, that makes it especially exciting. But also with this new tool of ours comes a great deal of responsibility. So kicking off a multi-part series on some gathered advice and I thought I'd get down and dirty with it all, and largely speaking from my own personal experiences. Starting backwards, this week is dealing how we receive input from the public under this new paradigm, and also about giving names to those who may gift us with their insights.
We as creatives are expected to share and promote ourselves more than ever before, and part of that is an unherent interaction with our audience that brings the convention, book signing aspect into our homes and offices via social media. There will be terrible things said by people, both out of meanness but also more often accidentally hurtful that will haunt you for decades. A lot of it stems from a hubris that by given an opportunity to play at Art Director, some assume the wisdom of one and operate as if they understand what they are talking about... when they kind of really do not. This is a sharper point of a kind of effect that frankly scares a lot of us away from working and interacting online, and its understandable. A hundred good critiques still matter less than a single bad one, to your art ego. I can safely say this is true for us all. Yes, I do dream of an arrogance so mighty and invincible as to truly not give a rat's butt about a negative review or critique, but that is never going to happen. It's hard and sometimes overly cruel out there, and rather than wince at it for what it is, I say get out there and wrestle it to the ground. It will make you stronger as being forced defend and reconcile yourself helps further your own ability to do so again, and fortifies your understanding of what you are doing. Just own it and roll with it and you'll be fine.
The other thing to realize, is that the pain of good and bad opinions is an ego pain. There is actually no bruising nor bones breaking, no one dies... It can feel like the world changed, but it did not. Getting overly worked up from a positive review can be just as treacherous as falling into a puddle of sadness over a negative one. The trick is to ride the middle in all things, but especially in this thing. Keep your perspective and never ever respond in haste or anger and you can keep these sparks from lighting up forest fires. It's not easy but you will emerge stronger from it, and at best you will also acquire an ability to self art-direct that can really serve you professionally later. SO here below is a guide to some of the creatures of the forest you are about to encounter:
This is a common creature who has always lived among us, but since the advent of the interwebs and all its knobs and tubes, has burst upon our collective landscape like a plague of locusts. The Superionator is a man or woman who through the magic of the megaphone social media provides is a sudden genius in all things and has no qualms about letting everyone know. Their opinion is mighty and they will never be convinced of ever being wrong not ever, no never. Learning is a one way street that flows from them to you. Now this is not to say that sometimes there are gems hidden all the avalanche of poop-nuggets, and while yes, it is often painful to read their screeds, those gems can come in handy if you don't let your emotions get the better of you. Harder still to achieve in the face of a Fix-O-Tron, (see below).
THE ART DIRECTOR (also sometimes your EDITOR)
This unlike the others is an actual name for an actual person's actual job. Art Directors usually do, and always should, know their business. At the very least they bestow these things all day long and as such can get right to the point and get you sorted out. These are pros and what they can do is speak to you professionally about how to do what you're doing better. Or rather, how you are doing or not doing well enough for your client, which is someone they are also subjects of in this kingdom of art making. You get hold of a good art director, you hold onto them like grim death. They are gold and not to be tossed away. It doesn't mean everything they say is helpful, but they have the highest percentage of anyone in this collection of types. And despite what your peers may say, especially int he alt comics scene, you need an editor and want an AD when you can get a good one. A bad one can be a disaster, but like a bad apple, it doesn't mean you should eat apples forever as a response. These are and can be deeply intimate and effective relationships. They are in effect the only other people who will be there right along side helping you craft your baby. And unlike you they have likely birthed a lot of babies before you, or currently, and as such have some real wisdom to mine. If you're suffering from anxiety because some troll said you drew feet badly, these folk can make you feel better about it with some necessary perspective. Plus because they are pros of the business, their word in this instance carries more heft even that a hug from Mom.
THE TERRIBLE SURGEON
He sees your soft parts. Of them all these can be the roughest to wrestle with. The Surgeon isn't necessarily mean or cruel but is able to with xray vision poke at exactly the things you yourself fretted or struggled over. They can see exactly what's wrong and aren't afraid to say it. If they were mean or rude about it, they would be easier to dismiss but largely they drop their truth bombs and walk away casually like an 80's action hero from car going boom. Trying to get sympathy from them is like trying get praise from a mountain. But the thing is, the mountain if listened to, can teach you things. This is where you should most employ the ego-dampener and make sure the feels don't obfuscate the wisdom of the mountain.
A.k.a. The Love-Maker, or The Ego-Stroker, & The Cheerifier. The Gusher essentially ranges from nice mom or dad who just loves to death everything you do no matter what, to stalking uber-enthusiastic superfan nutcase. They are non-parental ones all over Facebook, and I confess to being one myself there often. There;s a lot of great stuff to gush about and no one ever got hurt by being supportive. Seriously- really earnest and nice comments make a difference to all of us, and especially to us as artists. Its pure love like a mother's love. These can be easily dismissed by the jaded, but they can also be the pieces of wreckage you cling to after a rough bout with a troll or an incisively negative review. These lovelies are also known as The Momifiers- essentially loving you for being you. It can be goofy and of course a grain of salt must be had, lest one becomes self deluded. But these folks are both harmless and likely, encouraging.
Kissing cousin to the Troll, the Crusher-Downer is just there to make themselves happy by making you sad. If identified as a true Crusher-Downer, these people and their opinions are to be wholly ignored and dismissed. Really. Just flush the commode. The place from which these reviews come is not a place that has anything to do with you, and you and your work are merely the nearest puppy they want to kick. Unfortunately, the only real way to sniff these folk out is to have suffered the, enough to know them by their odor. Sniff and run, my friends. Sniff and run.
These folk are kissing cousins to the Superionator, in that the walk into any room full of opinions, but go a smidge farther by way of telling you how you should change your piece to make it better for you.... As they see it. They see you as a glove in which they can and will insert their mighty hand to exact their own brand of genius. They want to make you better for them. They tend to ignore praise and get right to telling you what you should have done and sometimes in the end confuse the situation more by telling you nice things as an afterthought. Ultimately, like learning that fire hurts when you touch it, being able to identify fixes comes from being more self aware about what you are doing. Also not to be confused with solicited wisdom, which can help you fix what you are asking for.
THE TIMID SQUIRREL
One of the more psychologically tricky ones to wrestle with. The Timid Squirrel will often begin ti say what they see as needs fixing, but when probed for more or some level of clarity, will instead retreat into their shell rendering you alone with all the mental daggers sorting out what the worst thing you could have heard is in fact true. They are not necessarily intending anything but help, and often such folks simply have no idea they might be causing you distress, but... By poking and running, the Timid Squirrel leaves the true critique to yourself, and believe me, you are the meanest person you know.
THE TRAVELLING ALIEN
Someone who say, only knows about fantasy art, but nevertheless speaks volumes about why abstract art is bad, or why cowboys are unbecoming why photography is dead. Essentially they aren't from your planet, don't really get at all what you are doing, but render a cut throat opinion on the subject anyway. We all have a little Travelling Alien within us just bursting to get out. This is a creature whose size and population has been most fed by the internet as this sort also requires very little to affirm their own predisposed idea about a thing, no matter how dubious the source. It can sometimes come off as weird or disjointed. Think... your grandmother preaching the merits of Fetty Wap. Nod and smile and be on your way. They are soon to visit another planet anyway, and will shortly not be your concern.
THE BRIDGE TROLL
We all know this one. The soulless cruel bastard, or bastardess who simply wants to burn the world down. They just want to delight in your sadness and bring nothing of value to the conversation, or to your work. Trolls feed off your response, and the more they see they angered you, the more the love it and grow bigger. They flourish in reply threads and on message boards like mosquitoes in a stale pond of water. In short they are THE WORST. But the thing is, they are so bad, they can be dismissed more easily by the ego. Being cartoon villains leaves little room for the essential element of effective cruelty: merit. The only medicine to stop these terrible beings is to ignore them. No bully wants to be irrelevant, and no troll wishes to be made silent. You cannot reason with them, you cannot befriend them. Everything you do to try and make things better only makes it all worse. Like with bears, do not feed the trolls. You'll want to. But don't. The endgame is their game, and the only way to win is not to play.
THE PEER REVIEWER
These are your friends, your colleagues and your mates. They know you and know how to talk to you. They also know your work and essentially what you are trying to do with it, so they can offer some real insight into it all. If they are working professionals, they can really be of aid, and if you have an honest truthful and bravehearted relationship, they can bring insight and understanding to your work unparalleled by any other. These are the folks in the trenches with you and you can learn a lot from your brothers and sisters in the foxhole. Return the favor by being good in the same way to them when they need it. These folk are your best defense against any of the terrible horribles you'll hear from others. These are the people in your neighborhood and your art family. Love them and they will love you back. The rest of the weirdos can go take a long walk off a short bridge.
YOUR (ACTUAL) MOM
Yes I mean your actual Mom or Dad. If you do lovely purely and truly uplifiting children's lit work, like as not they will simply be so damned proud of you, this will be the easiest thing ever. Granted they will likely be proud of you no matter what you do, unless something is really wrong with them, but if you're like me and pursue a more darkening path, or enjoy political or adult themes in your work as well as the earnest kids work, you will have to sometimes brace for disappointment or worse. It's not that your folks re dicks, but more that their opinion matters too much to you on a near cellular level. Even a sigh followed by an overlong silence can throw you off a building, and sometimes you could very simply piss them off or offend. I know you say "they're old and barely know how to use a remote!" which is true for some I suppose, but really not so much overall. Proof: why are so many very young people Snapchatting or Tumblrizing as opposed to Facebooking? Because parents are all over that thing, and I bet yours are as well. Even if they just google you name they will see you out there doing your thing... though likely alongside some other interweb weirdness that combines cats, boobs, and Hitler's penis, which oddly by comparison may actually help your case. Simply put just know they are out there, the same way if you do racy work, know your wife or husband is out there, and take a quick sec to think about how it might make them feel.
In any case, while I am very old now and out of date as each second passes there is certainly a lot I have no missed or gotten hilariously wrong. We are after all creatures of our time, and there does come a time as you become more... seasoned, where this kind of stuff matters less and less. Time and experience can be a blessing and allow us to roll with the hard licks and manage our expectations of the good ones in ways that were previously impossible. So there's that.
Good luck out there, and don't fear the animals of the forest!