Artists have very little choice but to express themselves. A hardwired compulsion within us forces us to bridge our own inner truths with that of the world outside. It is hardly a profession with assured retirement benefits or even recognition within one’s own lifetime.
Vulnerability is a given! In honoring the impulse to create, artists are also conceding to the likelihood of misinterpretation and cruel judgments.
Personally I have endured much criticism; sometimes the harshest are my very own.
Once during a class critic a painting that I had painstakingly worked on for 14 hours was simply picked off the easel and dropped on the ground, very much like an apple picker would throw away a fruit because his basket was full. Needless to say the experience was painful. I endured it by first pretending to be braver than I was and then by simply continuing to paint.
Through all of this I have learnt that I cannot stop or refrain from the act of creating itself – once having taken root creativity seems to grow unhindered and carefree.
Usually, when I’m heavily criticized I’m hopeless with a quick comeback. I belong to that vast majority of people who know what they should have said exactly five minutes after the moment has expired and then beat themselves up for the next several days for not having spoken their mind.
However, recently, I had the cruel satisfaction of knowing the exact thing to say in a highly charged situation. Upon being criticized for my writing style, which is pretty much like the way I look or how tall I am – things that I have little control over, I indulged in a very sarcastic retort. It was a classic and something that will be spoken over several Thanksgiving dinner’s, a statement that will be time-honored and go down generations.
In case you are wondering, I’m not very proud of my sudden prowess with incisive words and phrases. Self-righteous anger is like being high on alcohol – it leaves you flat when the high is gone! Especially if like me, you too are born with both a heart and a soul.
Another instance of unnecessary criticism is classically portrayed in the movie ‘Five Flights Up’, starring Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman. The movie circles around a hectic weekend when the pair are trying to sell the apartment in which they have formulated a life for about 40 years.
One of the bedrooms in the apartment is used as a studio by Morgan Freeman and is stacked with paintings painted by him.
During an open house when they courageously open their home to potential buyers, the callousness of those visiting is both humorous and reflective of the shallow and dismissive urban culture that we have all adopted. With the couple still present in their home that they have cherished for years, potential buyers talk carelessly about gutting down walls, clearing up the ‘clutter’ of his artistic pieces, changing the bath tub and on and on. Some even comment on his artistic capability forgetting that they are there to buy his apartment and not his art- work.
Morgan Freeman chuckles as he says, ‘everyone’s a critic these days’ and his comment came very close to home for me.
Truthfully, I understand completely that not everyone will fall in love with my work. My raw writing style and my niche novels are not for all. My love for the human form and my deep joy in painting the human figure is definitely not for those who prefer other forms or techniques.
I myself have been appalled in finding a urinal as an art piece, though I have to admit it made me curious about the thought process of the audacious artist who chose to do that.
Artists are definitely more susceptible to criticism but like most humans we understand that our life’s work may not be appreciated easily. My child’s kindergarten teacher used to say, “if you don’t have anything nice to say then don’t say anything at all” and while that attitude is much appreciated, if you have to say something then try to say it with kindness.
Personally I have to admit that not even my sulking ego has the capability of keeping me from my work for long. So since I might just survive – please beware!