With the closing of another year, a common practice is setting meaningful intentions for the year newly beginning. As creatives we may have goals to widen our skillset, participate in more shows or events, or increase our sales by x amount. However, something that’s been on my mind a lot lately is how can we set achievable goals on better engaging with fellow creators? Though nothing is across the board, it often boggles my mind that creatives seem to have the hardest time getting along with each other than any other group. I believe a lot of this stems from the hustle culture that necessitates working in a creative field in the 2020s. It’s natural for competition and jealousy to seep in, and everyone is working so hard, they can’t imagine anyone else is putting in the same effort or perhaps even more than they are. Art, music, writing, theatre, and so forth are also incredibly personal work. There are some stories others’ work tells that we just aren’t going to “get” because maybe it wasn’t made for us, and that’s ok. Just because something doesn’t resonate with us doesn’t make it obsolete, though it can make it hard for us to appreciate and leave us shaking our heads and asking “why does this exist?” On the flip side, because it’s so personal, when we pour our heart and soul into something and it falls flat to viewers, clients, or project managers, that takes a hell of a lot more of a toll than if you’re pitching a new ad campaign at the shop you work at and people decide to go in another direction. It feels like not just your ideas are being rejected, but YOU as a person.
Even amongst new artists, engaging other creators with a sense of appreciation and curiosity can be tough. For those of you new to the blog, I run a program geared towards providing arts education to adults with disabilities along with the general public, so when you add into the mix that the type of art each person physically can do varies widely coupled with the fact that many of them don’t get a lot of significant achievement based compliments or recognition in their day to day, sometimes tempers flare and the claws come out. This idea of meaningfully engaging without judgement is something I’ve been thinking about all year (well, year(s) – see a transcript of a journal entry from the summer of 2021 at the bottom that I feel loosely relates), but it has never seemed more relevant than in the current heated discussions about AI Art. I follow an autistic artist on facebook who uses AI art creation as a form of therapy. Unfortunately, they have received so many hateful comments personally attacking their existence and character after sharing their creations that their support staff had to completely take over the page. Logging on was becoming detrimental to their mental health. I am a very non-techy artist who has only recently began to seriously dabble in digital art using a Wacom tablet I took years to conquer a fear of and a nearly 15 year old version of Adobe Photoshop. Safe to say I have zero interest in using any of these AI programs myself. I also fully understand the ethical concerns of how AI programs have been “trained” to respond to prompts, copyright issues, and creators profiting off of AI generated images that are quite literally based on someone else’s work. Meaningful engagement doesn’t mean we can’t speak our mind and have to pretend to like everything, but nor should we be cruelly attacking each other. Basically, play nice.
Tips for meaningful engagement with creatives who may do things differently than you do, or whose art you may not understand or even flat out dislike:
- Ask them where their ideas come from
- Ask them about their process
- Ask them how they got interested in the style or medium they choose to work in
- Ask them what they hope viewers see in their work
- Ask them what success looks like to them
- Ask yourself if I were reaching all my goals, would this other person’s work/process/tools/philosophy bother me as much as it does right now?
At the end of the day, you are not going to like everything and you don’t have to : No matter how many people I talk to, I will probably always find performance art incredibly awkward, and I will never understand how people get emotional looking at pure abstract art that is just colors and shapes. Corporate art(link) or art that just mimics current aesthetic trends and fads will always make me cringe a little. And that’s ok! What’s not ok is making other creatives feel inferior simply because their format doesn’t fit your personal taste. If creatives became more willing to work together and strengthen each other, plan together and really listen to each other, imagine all the powerful things we could build in this world!
(An additional note: The above image is a merch design I completed this Fall for The Breaking Bread Village, a local non-profit that is all about meaningful engagement amongst people of vast differences. I’d encourage you to watch some of their content as it has definitely changed the way I listen and respond when faced with people I disagree with. You can be true to yourself and your beliefs AND be kind.)
Journal entry from 6/15/21:
Art is not about your ego. Art is not about proving you are better than someone else. Art is not solely about extensive education, nor is it solely about countless hours spent in practice. Art is about making people happy and inspired, but it is not about giving people only what they want. Art is not only about happy feelings. Art should make you think but not give up, not give up but let go. Art is about giving yourself a gift; of time, of space, of presence. Art is about reaching out, grabbing others’ hands but is no less valid if no one else but the creator ever sees it. Art is communication. Art reveals individuals’ truth. Art doesn’t have to be pretty, but sometimes all it will say is “look at me, I’m colorful and beautiful” and that’s okay too. Art has to be an expression to work. “I had fun doing this” counts as an expression. Art celebrates without objectifying. Art honors. Art unlocks potential. If you value creativity, you should be excited about anyone taking the time to be passionate about creating something, even if the end result doesn’t do anything for you. Art isn’t always about or for you, but creating is for everyone.