You know that there are things you love. You see them, touch them, they may make you feel happy, or uncomfortable, or childlike, or even sad. Yet, you still love them.
That happens to me with many gallery experiences. I go in and see stuff that I simply enjoy. As most of you may know, I am an artist myself. So I love seeing what others do, how others express themselves, their techniques, their sublime expressiveness and their massive flops. It is all part of the planetary network of neurons that we all share as artists. If you want, it is kind of letting the left side of your brain getting a glimpse of what the right side is doing. Sometime you may approve and sometimes you may not, but most of the times, you will probably think “that´s different, why didn´t I think of that” (while in others it will be more like “I´m glad I didn´t go there…).
There are as many visual paradigms as inhabitants on this planet we call Earth. Yet the freedom to express those different views of the world are not that simply available. We artists are, in general, highly sensitive individuals. And we are courageous too. The truth is that not everyone is prepared to pour his or her heart out so that someone can trample on it. We artists do that time and time again, and I can assure you there is always someone ready to trample, jump, back-up over the victim, and even do a few wheelies over the dead body.
But we learn to survive with certain stoicism. Sometimes it hurts, but we have also learned that survival is paramount to our success. Most of us will use basic methods of defense like intellectually separating the views on our art from personal references (which are different things in fact, but not always easily disconnected at the receiving end).
The truth is that our art is usually something very personal. Our artistic expression is a part of our inner being just hanging somewhere for people to see and criticize. And so, in self defense, some of us may resort to more unusual methods of resistance. They may vary from practicing Voodoo, shooting from very far (but purposely missing as we artists are generally non violent), to even make the “tramplers” (I think I just made up a new word) part of a very profound exhibition on the subject of feces – or something of the sort -.
Jokes aside, it is quite clear that criticism, and therefore critics, are part of the business. There are good critics. Some kind, some harsh, some provocative, but in general terms, they are looking to guide, to get the kinks out of our work by forcing us to move when we have become staid, or to help us stop when we are moving too far away from our essence. The truth is that there are as many critics as people who see our work (“Everyone´s a critic” as the old showbiz saying goes).
But then there is another special race. These are darker figures lurching in the shadows. Critics like, let me see… like you are a werewolf and they are vampires and we are in the middle of a battle from the “Underworld” movies. These people gladly – and without afterthought – destroy without pity, they convey lessons that they themselves made up about the “right” way to do things and the “wrong” way to do them, or even stuck in some rigid and parsimonious “standard of practices manual” – which they themselves have written or presumed-, proceed to wipe out from those same rules what they now don´t like.
And it is not that I do not agree with the fact that certain things should not be done in the name of art. People hurting animals, or other people for that fact, or making fun of the old or the frail in the name of art sickens me. Can someone call that art? Sure, you can call art anything you want. Now, is it art? And most importantly, should that be done? In my book these things would rank as a definite no noes (Paraphrasing Chris Rock: “You can drive a car with your feet, but that doesn’t mean it is something to be done”).
But these people are not about criticizing these things. They place themselves in the role of judges of the correct ethical and artistic paradigm, and then proceed to destroy the poor artist who dares cross over or yet remain in visual or aesthetic areas with which they do not agree. Some of these so called critics, albeit not all of course, even agree with the crazy stunts I mentioned before for the sake of being on the “edge”, or for the sake of generating a new market, or a new “visual experience”. And if they change their own sustaining paradigms in the middle of the stream, they will usually explain this move as just their way of evolving. Never as the result of the work of the artists which they had summarily and harshly dismiss not long ago.
These people I have happily renamed “The Art Nazis”. Just like the beloved “Soup Nazi” of Seinfeld fame, the Art Nazi is that person who has such a strict view of what art is or should be, that shoots to kill anything that does not fit within his or her views.
The truth is that we may find them anywhere. There are even dealers and gallery owners who also belong to the Art Nazi breed. And I can tell you, they are not only difficult for the emerging artists who come to them for advise, and who get shot down and sent to the back of the imaginary line. They are also the young artist´s worst enemy, and the established artist most difficult nightmare.
“What rubbish”, or the look of disdain and the typical “this is not GOOD enough”, to the pretty extremist “get THIS out of my gallery” (all true cases) are not uncommon. These rebukes, and right to the jugular type of criticism, resonates in the poor heads of artists, some of whom have even crumbled under the weight of the Art Nazi´s critical hammer.
People have the right to “like or not like”, criticize, ignore or applaud – I am not disputing that -, but visual coerciveness to force a resolution acceptable to some rule is conceptually the opposite of Art. Yet, it is apparent that some egos must be fed, some closed markets maintained and some careers pushed along, and so the Art Nazis survive by keeping a tight reign over their whole area of influence.
The lesson is always one. Always take the time to listen, even if it is harsh criticism. But learn to distinguish between a tough critic and your run of the mill “art nazi”. In their case, the way to proceed is to just ignore their painful remarks and keep looking for other avenues of exchange.
The main thing is not to lose your faith and keep searching for those who will finally understand what you are trying to say, for the ones who may even “get” your point, for those who will be critical – even relentlessly – but always in good faith, for those who will be amazed at your freedom of expression and at the fact that your constant disregard of some accepted paradigm has allowed you to cross over into another artistic dimension. In short, search for the ones that, with their comments, will nurture you somehow instead of just feed their own egos.
There are a lot of good people out there. From individual art lovers, to experts, critics, journalists, curators, art dealers, “connoisseurs”, and gallery owners who love art a little bit more that the “Art industry”. Maybe, unlike the Soup Nazi, they may not necessarily have always long queues of people at the door, all ready to be fed their concoctions. But these are the people who know what true Art is all about. They are the ones who will guide you and help you to go as far as you possibly can with your career.
I urge you to look for them. I am sure they are out there waiting for you and your art.
Until next time!
©2016 by Ignacio Alperin Bruvera