Frustration Conduit #3

Art-group therapy: Say it like you mean it.

Competitive spirit in arts

If you ever ran across someone who belittled your artistic expression without any particular reason, you know exactly what I am taking about. Competitive spirit takes various forms: open ridicule, shameless patronizing, backhanded compliments and indifference, just to name a few.

I can see it like it was yesterday. All the ugly comments are stinging my lower abdomen. “Thankfully, we work in different media; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to show you my techniques”. “Your art is not on the same level as mine, I am not sure I can comment on your art – it is too decorative”. “This piece is nice… Your brush-strokes are precise. (I really don’t have anything to say.)” I get steamed up. I clench my fists and see my knuckles turn white. And then I breathe, smile and walk away.

Believe me, I think expecting everyone to love your work or to praise your art is unreasonable. However, I don’t think letting someone throw up all over your work is acceptable either. Does competitive spirit stem from fear? This behavior is so similar to a bully who attacks vulnerable prey and is motivated by fear of losing control.

Lily Briscoe from Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse”

While reading “To the Lighthouse” I couldn’t help but think how important it was for Lily Briscoe to overcome her fears and express her talents through art. Granted, her competition didn’t come from a fellow artist, but was just as painfully debilitating coming from a man of philosophy. “Why then did she do it? She looked at the canvas, lightly scored with running lines. It would be hung in the servants’ bedrooms. It would be rolled up and stuffed under a sofa. What was the good of doing it then, and she heard some voice saying she couldn’t paint, saying she couldn’t create, as if she were caught up in one of those habitual currents in which after a certain time experience forms in the mind, so that one repeats words without being aware any longer who originally spoke them.” – Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.

Speaking for myself mostly, there is enough self-deprecation contained in one artist’s soul that there is no need for external forces that will spit, step on and defecate on your work. If my work sucks, just tell me why and move on. There is no need for abuse. Since art is viewed through subjective measure it becomes exceedingly difficult to establish universally recognized parameters for talent. But does that entitle someone to label you talentless just to elevate themselves above you? That I don’t understand.

Artists should not have trade secrets or anything of the kind that requires interaction through an attorney. Heck, what is competition? There is no competition to talent in art. You either have it or you don’t. Plain and simple.

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