Friday, March 21, 2008

who can stop you?

I heard from someone who used to be in the same online journaling community as me, saying it was wrong of me to state that someone's art was "shitty" (this was a few years ago). She thought I was talking about her work, though I never mentioned any names.

What stayed with me the most was when she said that she stopped painting for a long time after the comment. It made me think, eventually, about just what can make us stop doing what we love doing.

The question I pose is - who can stop you? And why should you let them? It’s amazing, the power we hand over to others, while they may be completely oblivious to our acts anyway.

In the public pursuit of art making, it's not for the weak or timid. If you seek approval - to have everyone love you - you are going to have a rough ride! Because even if you become very "good" at what you do, not everyone will agree. Art is subjective. People have very strident opinions about it. (Perhaps I came through it trial by fire, because my first public foray into an art “career,” if that’s what you want to call it, were the punk collages, fanzines and posters. I had a fan base of about five back then.)

Many of us go into the creative act thinking well, we've made a poem and it's good. But sorry to say, this does not make us a poet. A really great poet applies their life to it. The great poems are no accident, or the thing they did last year when there was time or "inspiration." Writing a couple of good poems did not make me a poet. Even at 51, I am still finding out on a daily basis just how much art is asking of me.

The notion of quitting made me pause because I, too, from time to time, would or could not paint. Perhaps I told myself it was about economics but maybe that was not really true. Perhaps that stroke of the ego was not received at a critical time.

And there is that cyclical thing - everyone has them - you make work by not making it. Maybe you have to go out and make money (instead of art, damnit!) or you’re sick. Maybe you just need to think. But what someone does or does not say about your work should never stop you.

This also made me consider what I might to say to several fellows who told me what I couldn’t or shouldn’t do and why I listened to them. Because yes, I listened to them and while they have probably forgotten all about it, my own reaction hurt me. Of course this is really a subject for another post, but when someone says they love you and your work is cool but but but - well, it’s really damaging….

- But is it their fault I took the turns I did? Whoever made them right anyway?

16 comments:

amy smith garofano said...

Thanks for this reality check.

Tibia said...

It's the lack of an authentic response from the artist who's just been shot that kills the desire to create. Shout back! Agree! Throw stuff! But keep going.

Anonymous said...

What about those of us who do not stop the actual practice but stop telling the world about it? This, in some respects, is what happened to me. I was told I'd never make it as a collage artist and so I stopped trying to show it. It was never a conscious decision - just sort of happened after getting pounded on the head about it enough by someone who mattered to me. Dumb, I know. Dumb dumb dumb.

But at least I never actually stopped making the things! Now that all of these years have passed and I've got all the montages, four decades of them, I think he might just have been wrong. You never know. But there's no percentage in quitting.

Eva

tibia said...

Probably the most dangerous critics or "stoppers" are the Water Torturers. Not the ones that slam you with a big one. But the daily drip-drip of slight condescension, or avoidance, or ever-so-slightly squashing. That's when the most doubt comes in.
Stopping telling the world then is good. Going inside is the only chance an artist has to keep a good dialogue going, even if it's bouncing around inside. A self-imposed garrett.

Anonymous said...

Tibia,
You are so right. And while it is difficult to suggest to anyone to not disclose their art making, it is actually helpful advice for the sensitive.

It also can help an artist develop a unique voice - because all you've got to do is please yourself, once you take out the other in the equation. It's no one's business but your own then. I think I was able to tackle some things I just wouldn't have if it was manufactured, from the get-go, for critique and "dialogue" and of course, the gallery system.

The problem with all of that is that art, on some basic level, is about communication. And so it was painful to not share it too.
Eva

m. said...

perhaps the trick is the timing of the sharing...and the timing might even be different with different friends, colleagues, and family...that's how i work best, anyway...

the timing of everything i do is critical, now that i think about it...

maybe 'the gambler' had it right all along...know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em and all that ::giggle::

m. said...

p.s. nobody can stop me, not even me...it always seeps out somewhere...though i will admit things definitely absolutely no question go much better when i don't try and get in my own way...which is, somehow, harder than it sounds ::wink::

m. said...

wait. said much better this way: things go much more smoothly when i stay out of my own way...which is, somehow, harder than it sounds.

there. much less room for confusion. obviously i'm on more of a visual kick rather than a verbiage kick these days...

(geesh. nothing posted forever and now three lame volleys in a row. well, whatever ::grin::)

Anonymous said...

Hey m.,

Staying out of your own way is tough indeed.

If all you aim to do is make art, that's it, then it can happen fairly smoothly. It's the conversation, whoever you have it with, that can change everything.

Eva

m. said...

i dunno, E.

as i'm sure you know, just making art (if only for its own/your own sake) can be a damn bumpy road depending on the project...seems to be an external reflection of an inner conversation most of the time for me...and those conversations are rarely smooth all the way to the end...if at all...

but getting back to your actual point, i agree that even one 'off' comment--let alone a whole conversation that feels just plain wrong--can change everything...

and here too the gambler's advice comes in handy...know when to walk away, and know when to run!!

and i know, i know...that's easier said than done--it's not like i've never gotten burned...

but maybe just that while i was burning i must've seen the light...or something...

hence my reason for 'releasing' things in stages...

i know who's likely to leave constructive comments like precious stones in their wake versus shitbombs of personal ugliness wrapped up in pretty packages with my name on them but that really have nothing to do with me or my work...

the idea being that the later the stage, the more comfortable i am with the work, until i have either chucked it, started over, fixed it, or released it for public consumption, at which point i am so good with it that i hardly feel like the 'author' and readily take any sort of comment in stride...

what about you? do you have a similar sort of process?

Anonymous said...

When the big blows happen in youth, you might not even be able to measure or respond. That was me... a sort of non-response by no longer allowing my photomontage be a part of the big conversation.

All these years later though, I feel like I own it. And I'm not in competition with anyone about it - which is not necessarily true with painting.... And because it never hung in the balance of anything (like do you or do you not get to have an art career), I have a positive identity associated with it.

So when you say later in the game, well, I think you're right. Now when the conversation is there about that work, I am not that vulnerable. You like it, you don't like it, I don't care.

This reminds me of when I first got that Collage Show at PSU in 2002. Many works in that show had never been exhibited and they spanned from 1982 to 2002... My longtime friend observed that because I had made all these works just for myself, they might have been stronger than anything I had produced for The Conversation.

Not saying it's true for sure, but it's a thought.

Eva

m. said...

sounds as true as anything to me. you were free to say what you wanted when you wanted how you wanted. in theory, the only room for dissembling would have been to yourself...so it's not surprising, i suppose, that i also personally find the results beautiful, as i am a lover of personal truths...it's not an easy thing to achieve in art...but you know, i think (or some people do) when an artist has achieved it...there is a certain vibe...and no other art has it...probably why most of us find van gogh, for example, so engaging, i think...

Anonymous said...

Thanks, m.

This goes to authenticity, a pet subject. Most of us know it when we see it - but there is no formula on how to get it.

Pleasing yourself for a very long time without considerations of the current poll would be one way.
E

Cinque said...

I agree with much of what's being said about the timing of art making. I have recently started making work again after a good couple of years of doing other thing: paying off debt, writing, arts activism, remodeling my house, just generally being out in the world. At the time, I had nothing to say that couldn't be expressed through running an arts organization or resurfacing my hardwood floors.

Then later... well, I did have something to say that needed to be said in art making. I don't look back on my less productive periods as lost time, but instead as a reckoning of the fact that what needs to be done will be done when it needs to be done in the form in which it needs to be done.

I'll inject something else: There are people who really should stop making art (or at least make it a hobby), people who are caught up in what they believe to be the prestige or the social aspect, or simply the fact that at some early stage they convinced themselves that that's what they always wanted to be and so now feel trapped by it. Sometimes when someone gets critic bombed they ought to listen in order to clear the way to follow whatever their real gift is, which might be, for example, teaching or activism or sales or faux finishes. Knowing which category one is in, of course, is a conversation between each individual and her guiding spirit.

Anonymous said...

Hey Cinque!

This reminds me of what one woman said as regards getting out of theater work. At the time, she had two kids and sort of blamed that as the reason she got out of theater. And that also it had its own cut-throat tenor. But when she looked back, she knew that the real reason was just that she was over it - it was time to move on. She realized that it was fine to no longer be in it, she didn't have to defend the decision, or even feel that she was no longer "creative."

You and I have similar models on making art and then, for some other times, working with art (and artists)in different ways. It is useful to see different sides. When you help others or promote their work in some way, it can give new impetus to your own art later.
Thanks!
Eva

Cinque said...

Indeed. I also found that my work changed in response to my surroundings. I painted when I lived in a city that was light on traditional media. Where I am now, painting in an ecology saturated with traditional 2D media feels redundant, so without planning it I automatically gravitated toward more installation and *shocker* slightly more conceptual-leaning stuff.

By the way, it's nice to be in conversation with you again!