“Well, I didn’t make it for you!”, or: what you should know about artists when it comes to criticism. Specifically, me.

Posted on 11.04.2012

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I’ve been writing this post since November.

November.

I started it in response to something that happened on Facebook, and I decided that I needed to get over that incident and really be ok with it before I started to write about the event objectively.

I might not even be there yet, but I think I’m in a better place to talk about it.

The incident that occurred involved my photo series, which I re-named after the event, ‘Survival’, which you can see on Flickr (by clicking on the link). Feel free to read the longest artist’s statement I’ve ever written.

Before I get into what happened, and maybe before you read the statement, this article came out recently from Salon, and it does a pretty good job of explaining exactly what I’d written for my statement.

So, here’s what happened back in November: A friend of mine (also an artist) posted a link to the Survival series on her page. She mentioned how beautiful she thought the work was, which I appreciated thoroughly. She tagged me in the post as the artist. About an hour later, a woman commented on the link with something along the lines of ‘I’m sorry, but gross’, and was quickly backed up by someone who must have been her daughter, who said ‘Yeah, mom, I agree. This is disgusting’. Or something to that effect. I’d include a photo of this, but apparently I was smart enough in the past few months to delete the screen shot I’d taken to immortalize the event. But that is pretty close to verbatim what was said.

At first, I was kind of appalled at the lack of decent FB etiquette: these women clearly saw (I’d imagine, since they clicked on the link) that I was tagged as the artist. Anyone who isn’t my grandfather understands how tagging on FB works. And even he’s learning. So they must have known that I was going to get a notification of SOME SORT telling me what they’d written in response to the post I was tagged in. Were they aware of that? Looking to start an argument online? If so, I’m sure they were disappointed: I promptly blocked both of their profiles on the site (after taking the screen shot) and tried not to be bothered.

But then, I was angry with them for being so amazingly insensitive on a public forum. The friend that posted COULD HAVE BEEN one of the people in those images… so what the hell?

And then finally, I was a mix of dismissive and dismayed for them: these people have never had ANY kind of life-threatening bodily issue. Apparently, no one close to them has ever had anything removed, or grafted, or amputated in their lives. How nice for them, but how sad for their lives, in general, that they’ve never known or been able to appreciate just how great they have it. How amazingly closed-minded of them to think that a scar is ‘gross’ and makes someone ‘ugly’.

The dismissive part came afterwards, as I sat there thinking of all of the people who have THANKED me for making that series, for taking their photos, for helping them to feel more confident in the sharing of scars and stories, who realized that others have been through the same things, or things far worse.

On top of all this, my general ‘artist mindset’ kicked in.

Obviously, no one enjoys criticism. But if there’s one thing I learned at art school, it’s that you’ll never make everyone happy, and to try is to fail before you even begin. Artists aren’t making art for the masses, as much as people would like to think that. We make art because we HAVE TO, because we feel the need to create. I didn’t go to art school to get a high-paying job in the arts, I went to art school to get better at doing the thing that I love. How many other people can say that they love what they do? I can. Can you?

I spent 4 years in college sitting in 6-hour-long classes where effectively ALL WE DID was sit around and critique each other’s work. If you have a weak ego or are sensitive to criticism, art of any kind is probably not a good field to get into. But the upside to hearing people tell you for an hour or more all of the ways in which you could make your work something that they might like more, week after week after week, is that you stop caring and start listening to the criticism that is actually helpful. Unfounded or uninformed negative criticism falls right off of me.

If someone likes or buys my work, I’m thrilled, but I don’t actually (or EVER) make art with the hopes of receiving praise afterwards. I make that shit for me, and you can either love it or fuck off, for all I care.

I’m saying that and it sounds defensive, but it’s the truth. More than anything, I feel sorry for those women.

Because maybe the daughter will have to have an ovary removed, like I did, and her mother won’t be able to say to her (like my mom did) ‘that scar isn’t important, baby, people will love you for who you ARE’.

Maybe the mother will have cancer and have to have a breast or a tumor removed, and her daughter won’t be there for her after the surgery when she needs the support, because she looks ‘gross’ now, and her daughter can’t bear to look at her.

How terrible, right? That’s what those ladies have coming to them, if they don’t change their perspectives. I hope for their own sakes that they can.

So here’s what it comes down to: I made that series for myself. I made that series to help myself put into perspective just how damn lucky I was to be alive. I didn’t make it with the hopes of people loving it, or me, or buying prints to hang on their walls. I made it for me, and it did what I needed it to do. It gave me perspective, and helped me to see these scars as what they really are: signs of strength and survival. I’m happy to show people my scars. I’m happy to talk about what happened to me. I’m totally ok with telling you that if they hadn’t catheterized me when they did, I would have died in 2003 before graduating college.

But that didn’t happen. I’m alive, and I have the scars to prove it, and I don’t give a shit about how you or anyone else feels about them, or my art. I’m alive, and I feel great. I will continue to make art as if no one will ever see it, and I’m completely content to just make the stuff and get the images out of my head.

And I still want to see and hear all about YOUR scars.

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Posted in: art, my work