Good Vibes Only: Negativity in the Art World and How to Fight it
The more we put ourselves out there, the more people will share their opinions of us and our work - both good and bad. It’s amazing to have people express interest in your art on social media and especially in person. We hope that you appreciate the encouragement, internalize that you are deserving of the positive support, and enjoy returning the compliments as much as Kat and I do! But as they say, it’s not always sunshine and roses. It’s likely that you’ve encountered negativity in the art world and it can be difficult to be at your best when the attitude of others doesn’t match your own. I’ve broken down a few common situations below to identify and overcome these unnecessary sources of drama!
Ignoring the ‘Starving Artist’ stereotype
“So what are you going to do with that?” was a question that I would often get from people when I told them that I was studying towards a BFA (and when I was in grad school for my MA in Art History too!). My response was almost always met with a look best described as halfway between puzzled and concerned. After working in the arts for the past ten years, however, I feel more empowered in this field now more than ever. For example, while there is still tons of progress to be made, we are seeing more women and people of color taking charge and making their way into the roles and institutions that had previously been out of reach. Choosing to pursue a creative career shouldn’t feel like it limits your options. From exhibiting nationally and abroad, working for galleries and art fairs to museums and non-profits, starting a business, writing a book, and more, it isn’t what can an artist do...it’s what can’t we do?
It took me quite some time to arrive at the realization that my possibilities were not limited by what others think artists are capable of. While it can be disheartening that not everyone will be 100% supportive of your goals, you don’t need anyone else’s permission to follow your passion. When you put yourself in the mindset that anything can happen, things can surprise you in the best way!
Minding your Ps and Qs
When Kat and I went to Miami in December 2018, what really stood out to us was the incredible variety of art that we saw (at over ten fairs!). This is one of the things that we appreciate most about this industry: the art world IS big enough that everyone can find their place in it. Not everyone will be represented by blue chip galleries or exhibit in museums, but you do not need to do either of those things to find supportive collectors and share your work with people from around the world. With this in mind, push yourself to be a savvy networker: keep business cards with you, have a memorable elevator pitch ready to go, and don’t be afraid to speak up about your accomplishments.
Here’s an example:
Kat and I stopped at a booth to admire a piece we liked. A man walking by paused next to us to introduce himself as the creator of the work, explain a bit about it, and as he was on his way to do something else just quickly ended the conversation by saying: “Thanks so much for looking at my work. Here’s my card. Please keep in touch!” Keep your business interactions professional and polite, which will ensure that you leave a great impression.
The art world is great for making new connections and finding your niche, but be very careful about burning bridges. It is so unfortunate that for as much good as social media has done for artists, it has also given some people the false notion that they should use it to criticize others. Whether it’s posting disrespectful comments or even trying to preface a remark with “I don’t mean to be negative but…”, engaging in that kind of behavior online will guarantee that the other person will not want to work with you. What if down the road they are the link to a big opportunity that you would have loved to be a part of?
I’m sure you’ve also seen the comments that start off with “sorry to be the one to say this but…”, as if this excuses poor behavior. They’re never from someone who writes criticism as their profession. Rather, it is a cheap way of putting aside guilt when they know that the second half of what they’re going to say is unnecessary and negative. It is highly unlikely that any person with a valid reason for being critical of something would apologize for it.
The same holds true with overreacting to not being selected for a gallery or exhibition. We know that it is disappointing and frustrating, especially if you’ve applied more than once. We’ve been there! You send your best work and hope that it will be picked, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. I actually discuss rejection in much more depth both in our first book ‘The Smartist Guide: Essential Art Career Tips for Emerging Artists’ as well as on the Art & Cocktails podcast, but my best advice is to stay positive, try to be gracious, and move on. Something better is coming!
Developing a thick skin
I strongly believe that artists should support artists rather than get sucked into competing with or comparing yourself to others and it is especially disappointing that even today, you still see women who think it’s okay to put down other women (why?!). Remember that everyone is on their own path and even if another artist is finding success that doesn’t mean that you never will. Jealousy will only distract you so keep working hard and be patient that your time will come when it’s meant to. It’s also important to bear in mind that people rarely post about the hard times and struggles that they go through. If all you see are sales and exhibitions, it may seem like an artist achieved ‘overnight success’ when in reality they had to put in blood, sweat, tears and years of effort!
Negative feedback or unsolicited advice (not actual constructive criticism) can feel annoying at best and devastating at worst. As your initial reaction might be defensive, first ask yourself if it is even worth it to continue a discussion with this person. If you still feel the need to respond do so concisely and politely, but don’t expect anything in return. It will be up to you to tune them out, delete their comments or even block them. Kat shared a quote with me a while back that really resonated with me that was something along the lines of “nobody doing more than you will criticize you, only someone doing less.” The people who go out of their way to bring you down are simply dealing with their own feelings of insecurity. While it’s unfortunate that they have to take it out on you, focus instead on the awesome people who are genuinely there to encourage you and what you do!
Kat and I are so happy that the community of readers of both Create! Magazine and The Smartist Guide is a positive place for artists to share, connect, grow, learn, support, and inspire or be inspired by one another. We know this isn’t always how it is and that it can be difficult not to let the fear of facing negativity interfere with or stop you from putting yourself out there. But if it is your dream to be an artist, we encourage you to do it anyway!