As I have been invited to be guest presenter at this year's Independent Education Union of Australia Awards for Excellence in Art Design, I was busy preparing my little speech. I will address a group of students between Prep and senior years and decided to talk about artistic drive. How lucky we are for having creative minds with artistic drive among us and how important it is to nurture this. It made me think how difficult it can sometimes be to keep up the artistic drive, to create new things despite criticism, your own critical voice, art blocks and whatever is there to throw an artist out of balance. It made me also think about the fact that this generation I will be addressing in my speech is probably even more exposed to social media and therefore potential criticism of their work than I myself opted to be. Kids these days are just way more 'out there'. They will also face more challenges to stand out with their work due to the high availability of art. You got to admire and encourage such young creatives and hope for them that they learn to deal with any form of criticism early on. I think it's probably the hardest part.
Criticism of your work is such a curious thing. Obviously it can be helpful if it's communicated to you in a sensible way and if you decided to be ready for it. It can push you forward. Criticism on social media is a whole different ball game because it can happen out of the blue, unasked for and often times it's not even valid (unless you draw a butterfly that looks like a penis). Depending on how much time you spend on social media, criticism there can be poured down on you hourly, daily, weekly, and it can happen in silence, too, just by the simple fact that nobody 'likes' your stuff or 'follows' you. It's easy to lose your way there and then. You and your art are then a bit like being back at school and having the least popular person as your best friend. The one with freckles, big yellow teeth and thick glasses or the one whose jokes nobody gets and just leaves everyone cringing. Are you gonna stay loyal to your strange friend because you know she's awesome and the others don't see it just yet? Or are you going to distance yourself from this friend because the embarrassment is too big for you?
Once I decided to create an illustration based on a photograph I had spotted in a German FB artist group. Let me just add that Germans are very blunt and honest when it comes to giving their opinions and giving their opinions is also their favourite hobby (right after being efficient which goes hand in hand with giving your opinion to improve someone else's status quo). I should know as I am German myself. Additionally, I was born and raised in a very outspoken area in the North-West of Germany. A city called Muenster where cycling is the preferred method of transport and seniors would tell you that you will "soon tip over if you don't go any faster on your bike" or young women advise you that your sunnies are way too big for current local fashion standards. Yes, I'm from Muenster and as such grew a thick skin in regards to inappropriate advice from complete strangers. Back to the German FB group, however. I contacted the photographer of mentioned picture that I wanted to use for reference and boy was I in for a treat! Our messenger chat started friendly enough with him giving me permission to use the pic, no problem. Then the fun began. I received very long and detailed instructions on how to help me with my "problem", the problem of not being able to draw. As he obviously seemed to be an expert in both illustrating for children and giving out advice in this field he described my work as something that looked like "a child scribbled it and popped it onto the family fridge". I patiently read through his precious advice eagerly awaiting his prescribed cure for my problem (after a long monologue of his it sounded like I would be effectively and eventually helped in the long run by being tutored by him, the multi talented photographer).
I'm not going to pretend like this didn't touch me at all even though I've dealt with belligerent Muensteranian seniors before. As a matter of fact there was nothing wrong with this piece - it was not blurry or flawed in other technical ways. It was 'just' my style he found fault with. Mostly I was concerned about just having been trolled and felt I had been lured into a trap by his initial friendliness. This, however, is the brutality of an anonymous crowd on social media you always have to be prepared for. An illustrator friend of mine helped me change my perspective on such kind of criticism - she basically told me as a children's books illustrator it can be considered one of the highest compliments if your work looks like "a child scribbled it and popped it on the family fridge". It's a special kind of style not everyone knows how to create. I preferred going with her interpretation and have kept polishing my family fridge-style ever since. I stay with my weird friend, so to speak. :)
Since then I have been "lucky" on social media so far and did not receive any more eye-opening critiques such as described above. I'm certain that it will happen in some form or other again, but that's ok. I will then again try to change my perspective on the criticism and find the positive. I do struggle,though, with an unusual amount of odd socks in my laundry and am considering to get back in contact with my photographer friend and life coach to get me back on track... I'm sure he will know what needs to be done.