The Art of Art Discussion: Just Quiet Down and Go Create

We all need a break now and again from the day-to-day work that holds our focus. Like the vaunted “15-minutes” regular office workers get to stroll into the cafeteria for java and a Danish, we freelancers take our moments, too; often to hop online for a little social media refreshment. I’m as guilty as anyone; there are days when serious-conversation_smmeeting a deadline, finishing a project, getting errands done, or managing my ever-growing list of marketing tasks all require the interruption of some light trolling on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Huff Po, Fine Art America or any of the groups and discussions one might find here or there. And when I do, I’m typically compelled, by virtue of senses stirred, to jump in. Sometimes it’s just clicks on photos and links I enjoy but, equally as often, the urge for rejoinder is strong. It’s hard for me to read inane chatter, mean-spirited comments, or truly debatable topics without wanting to throw in my two cents!

Certainly political postings corral the lion’s share of this type of response, but more recently I’ve read or partaken in “art discussions” — analysis and deconstruction of style and technique, contest decorum, commerce demands, etc. —  and, much like politics, the tendency for some to veer into cynicism, negativity, and arrogance is apparent. And disappointing.

Like anything else on the Internet, Art is a big topic. Go to any art-oriented site – photography, painting, jewelry design, graphic art, whatever –  and you’ll find opinions on every aspect and angle. And in those discussions, you’ll meet as many wonderful artists as you will curmudgeons, which, frankly, I find surprising. I don’t know why, but I always expect artists to be more uplifting and good-spirited than they often are.

See, I was lucky to have been given a constructive and very positive foundation in my training. My experiences in a wide variety of “the arts” included an overriding message of support, assistance, camaraderie, and the sheer joy of the craft. Certainly there were those who took opportunity for snarky critique, behind-the-back denigrations, sniffing arrogance, or bashing disguised as instruction, but I was fortunate that most of the teachers, professors, mentors, and fellow artists involved in my impressionable youth exuded their own joy in the craft and that imprinted upon me a higher-toned mission statement; one of constructive input, positive output, and personal and communal artistic integrity. Or, as is suggested in this age of The Secret and The Power of Positive Thinking, a “half-full perspective bereft of the toxic effect of negativity.”

talking

“Either love it or do something else,” I was advised. I was also reminded of the old adage, “If you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything.” Which, unless you’re a bona fide reviewer, opinion writer, or comedian, applies to pretty much everyone else.

So it’s jarring for me to read threads in which artists snipe at each other, knock down the work of others; become “authorities” about what is or isn’t Art (as if they, in particular, know!), criticize and demean the marketing choices of fellow artists, or denigrate any aspect of the industry – art or commerce –  that they, personally, don’t appreciate or wish to partake of. These are the kind of people who find fault and spew criticism, whose toxic brew of negativity was what a mentor of mine used to call “sour-pussing.” Glass half-empty. Discordant. Contrary.

For example; at Fine Art America, the very well managed site that provides hosting, printing and delivery of fine art photography and paintings – and a place where I’ve met a slew of very talented, supportive artists who are smart, enjoyable people – there is a contingent (likely too large a one) that “sour-pusses” on a regular basis. A discussion thread commenced recently regarding the winner of a now-concluded “Times Square Art Contest.” The woman who started the thread posited her prompt with a tsunami of criticism; of the winning piece, the artist, the contest, the overall marketing demands of the art world, concluding with a cranky assessment of “the whole thing.” (Frankly, I wanted to get her a juice box and tell her to take a nap!) But, more disappointingly, what followed this diatribe was a slew of commiserating comments, supporting her thesis to some degree or another. Lots of judgment of other artists’ work, denunciations of the overall state of the industry, snarky rejoinders about contests that “demean” artists into “begging” for votes, right down to a nihilistic grump-fest that included the statements, “There will be artists as long as there is society, but that too is coming to an abrupt halt. America is going under as we speak, and the rest will follow in quick order,” and the exceedingly grim “THERE IS NO FUTURE to ART. Humanity is much more interested in Ipods and marching blindfolded into the future. We are the last artists on this planet.”

All I could think was…WTF?!?

I shook my head as I read this manifesto of negativity, wondering how these people got out of bed, much less found the energy and inspiration necessary to create art. Luckily there were a few bright individuals who spoke up to shoot down the negative trend and did so with enough intelligence, optimism, and artistic good-will to offset, to the degree they could, the snarling hordes but, I have to say, I was disappointed that so many seemed hell-bent on ripping Art, and its artists, a new one! I was tempted to leap in and make my points, but realized, with some weariness, that the thread leader was jumping on every response with her continuing brand of snark and snarl and it was just too nice a day to get involved in that level of crankiness…though I did send an email to the most cogent and wise of her debaters, thanking him for his insight!

While I agree that we all have “the right to our opinions,” as Debbie Downer repeatedly pointed out, too many seem to have missed the lessons of integrity, constructive thinking, artistic magnanimity, and a positive, supportive outlook. Clearly Art has long had a history of creative personalities who were churlish and mean-spirited; many who were (are?) burdened with insecurities, jealousies, schadenfreude, and plain old nastiness, but in the communal world of online art exchange and discussion, there really is no room or reason for all that.

But people are who they are; I can’t change them. The woman running that thread is clearly a person with many other issues in her life that contribute to the attitudes she exudes online. But while I feel sorry for her (and certainly anyone in her near circle!), I ain’t gonna debate her. Because I reserve my perspective, my thoughtfulness; my contribution, for conversations that are constructive and focused on offering views and opinions that transmit something positive and helpful, rather than the banal, deflating, blather-fest of negativity I found on that thread.

stepping-into-the-plaza

My suggestion to that crowd? Stop talking and go create. If you have that much time to spend tearing down others in a community setting, go make another piece of art instead. Rather than getting some kind of buzz out of stirring up mutual frustration to feed your own, shut off your computer and pick up a brush or a camera. Don’t worry about what others are creating, just create. Quit expounding on what you think is stupid and create. Don’t announce what you won’t do, just do what you will do. If you don’t have the desire to be in a contest, don’t; but don’t cut down others who do. Don’t want to ask people to vote for your work? Again, don’t. But quit yacking about others who have no problem garnering support for theirs. And if someone wins a damn prize, offer congratulations and accept that even if “it’s not really creative” to you, it clearly is to someone else…enough that they won! And if you don’t have it in you to congratulate them…

Just quiet down.

Stop talking.

And go create.

All photographs by Lorraine Devon Wilke

LDW w glasses


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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24 thoughts on “The Art of Art Discussion: Just Quiet Down and Go Create

  1. alan

    I feel like I’ve run into the exact same thing you have with some of the discussions I’ve read or been involved in! So much jostling for place, like a bad musical chairs, thinking someone has to lose their place in order for someone else to find theirs. Stupid and unnecessarily competitive and negative. We artists have enough to deal with trying to get our art out, marketed, sold, hung,and appreciated, so I have to question the sanity of any artist who decides to also get into a shoving match with a fellow artist! It’s hard enough out there. We gotta support each other, no matter what. The only one we’re competing with is ourselves.

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    1. LDW

      Excellent insight, Alan, and a perspective a completely agree with. Your musical chairs metaphor is perfect! Thanks for commenting. LDW

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  2. Of course, you’re correct. They are not there because they are actually artists, just wankers. There are so many places both online and off involved in art that they could certainly find one more in tune with their ideas about it. UNLESS, that’s not what they’re about. What they found was a place to express their negativity. That makes it not worth arguing with, to me. Rock on, Lorraine!

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    1. LDW

      I agree, Heather…not worth arguing with. But still so strange to me; artists living in that stratum of negativity. Worth commenting on but, hopefully, a small, small group within a much larger one that lives, instead, in the realm of creative and positive thinking! Thanks for your comment! LDW

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  3. Dag

    Really enjoyed this piece. Needed to be said. It won’t change anything, the people who like to bitch will bitch, but you made some good points for the rest of us who don’t appreciate the bitching. Go Create. Should be a bumper sticker! Thanks.

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  4. Pingback: NEIL

    1. LDW

      Neil: It’s not naiveté; I have no delusions about changing anyone, as I clearly stated, but I don’t think change is brought about by toxic negativity. I don’t think venting at the expense of others is useful to the spirit or the creative drive of any artist. And I have never found bitterness and cynicism to serve ANYONE, either the spewer or those in the path. Trust me when I say this is not about my skin (which is plenty thick, thank you!:); it’s about the bigger picture of our artist community, the soul and spirit of how we frame our work and the work of others. Debate is fine; debasing is not. There’s a difference and that’s what I was addressing. LDW

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  5. Cody Nicastro

    I’m on a site of artists who sell all sorts of things and I’ve gotten into a few discussion threads myself that sounded a lot like the one you’re talking about. What is it about art that makes people think they can analyze it and turn it inside out and come up with some grand statement that applied to everyone? Stupid shit like that winds me up. I basically tell anyone who tries to run the bull on me to do exactly what you wrote, shut up and go make something. Not interested in your opinion about what I should do or how I should do it, got it? Sorry for the vent. Thanks for putting it better than I could!

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  6. Jacquelyn G

    I really appreciated this article. I like reading material that makes me think. As an artist, this one struck a chord. I think we all go through some version of this in every field of art. I’m glad you actually made the points, most of the time I just stop talking to people like that!

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    1. LDW

      Yeah, me too, Jackie. But this time it just got to me more than usual. I’m glad it strike a chord. Hopefully some of the people who behave this way will read it and give a little more thought to how they express themselves in the art community. That would be nice….LDW

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  7. I’ve been doing this online communicating stuff since logging onto my first local BBS in 1984 and the one constant in all that time is . . . when ordinary people take on an assumed, online identity, they treat it as though it were a license to go completely crazy . . .

    I think the level of discourse would change, dramatically, if everyone had to affix their real names to what they post . . . whether it be political, cultural or sports (have you seen any of the comments attached to ESPN articles??? OMG).

    Anyhoo, my dear . . . your web presence is an Oasis of civility and intelligence in a sea of ignorance and immaturity and a welcomed harbor in the shit storm we call the Internet!

    Keep on keepin on

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    1. LDW

      Phil: I completely agree with you about the “using their real name” issue. I made a similar point in another article, believing firmly that the ignorance, bile and truly hateful discourse would diminish greatly if people actually had to take ownership of the words they said. So much cowardice in hiding behind a screen name. And yes, I have seen comments at ESPN and, like so many other places, it’s humanity at its most base.

      Thank you for your kind words, Mr. Cody…I very much appreciate it! LDW

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  8. aiden z

    Greetings. I am thrill to have found your weblog. I really found you by mistake, while I was researching on Digg for something else. Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thank you for a tremendous post (as a member of the art community I can only say I’ve had the same experience!) and an all around enjoyable blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to look over it all at the minute but I have bookmarked it and also included your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read a great deal more, Please do keep up the fantastic job.

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    1. LDW

      Thanks, Aidan. I’m always happy to hear that readers have found the blog in indirect ways…especially when they take the time to read a bit and leave a comment! I’m glad you enjoyed this particular post and do come back to get caught up with others. I’ve always got something new to say! LDW

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    1. LDW

      Jane: Thank you so much. Glad to hear FAA was involved in getting you here, too; always nice to know artists are connecting with each other’s work…of whatever nature! LDW

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  9. art m.

    Every word in this piece of work is very clear and your passion for this topic shines. For every artist everywhere the topic of how to frame, discuss and debate art is always on the table. Please continue your work and I hope to see more from you in the future.

    Like

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