As I tell all of my students, whether it’s in a community class in a small town library or a school assembly with 400 students, there will be two statements that you will hear from fans and critics alike; how you deal with these two statements will define your career as an artist, as an individual and as a human.
The first statement that you will sooner or later hear is, “What is it?” I am not excluded from this; pouring hours into one drawing, sure that I have done some of my best work, only to show it to someone and have them shake their head and say, “What is it?” Ouch. It may not even be meant to be a cruel statement just a simple question, but as an artist if it is not as clear to your viewer as it is to you … you immediately think it’s junk. I shudder to think how many Rembrandt’s or Picasso’s this world has lost simply because a viewer of a young person’s crayon project could not stop to look at the whole piece and give a kind word on color or line strength followed by a simple question, “What do you see?”
The other ‘artist killer’ phrase, “I don’t get it.” Sometimes design, space and balance must give way to passion, determination and emotion. The idea is SO strong that the artist must get it out of their head before they mentally burst, only to be caught by THAT GUY … the “Fact Checker,” counting fingers on stick people, counting the spelling errors on a letter to Santa, or even pointing out the flaws in a crayon edition of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. This takes its toll on the young artist, takes the wind out of their sales and feeds that ‘little I’m-not-good-enough beast’ inside of them allowing their self-value to pay the emotional tab. And it can all be just as easily dismissed with the excuse of, “I’m just doing this to make you better.” What should be said is, “I wish I could see it as you do, tell me more about it so I can try.”
I tell my students, when you hear those statements, you should be happy, if they were to understand everything you did, then they would get you as well and that is NOT the purpose of the Artist. Ours is the calling of causing people to think, contemplate and react. I am a published, syndicated cartoonist and like any artist, I have those that repeatedly come back to view what new things I have done. Even my regulars do not understand everything I draw; there are times I look at my own work and think, “What was I thinking?!” The gag, or the written word, is the quickest, most prevalent ‘bridge’ to tying the drawing together but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Sometimes, they see something ENTIRELY DIFFERENT than what I set out to communicate and THAT IS JUST FINE! What ever your medium, classical painting, cartooning, coloring books, finger-painting or anything in between, Art is about interpretation not oppression. Celebrate the fact that others appreciate your work and the differences you have from others, that’s what makes you … you.
Go be different.