I didn’t start painting until my forties. Until then all my experience of the arts was in writing plays, novels and political articles. Until I finished my first painting it had never occurred to me that sharing one medium of art could be so different to sharing another.
The things with novels is very few people read them out of obligation. A friend might scan a few pages of something they are not really interested in but nobody is going to sit down and read my 160,000 word novel unless they actually have some interest in the subject. And that works in the favour of the artist. I can post a proud post on social media that I’ve finished my book in complete confidence that only the engaged and intended audience will read it. So I’m only really opening myself up to positive feedback as the audience will self select based on their own interests.
It is a similar situation with the published articles. I write on some pretty contentious topics but most of them are specialised and the man in the street probably doesn’t feel inclined to enter into debate with me. So if I post an article on Facebook I’ll get a couple of comments from people who share my views and very little negative feedback at all. Good for the ego perhaps but not as helpful as constructive criticism.
So when I completed my first painting and decided to share it I had some misgivings. Aside from the unfortunate fact that it wasn’t very good, it was also the first time I would have to genuinely open myself up to criticism. And criticism in the age of social media isn’t just close friends and family, it involves exposure to a lot of people who have no vested interest in people polite about my work. In my particular case as an anti hate activist it also involves showing people who really hate me my canvases.
Unlike a novel or an article, a painting invites an immediate impression. There is nowhere to hide. I can’t tell people a painting gets better after the first chapter because it is all there on the canvas, exposed and demanding evaluation. It’s the ultimate lesson in humility, putting all that hard work and effort out there for a quick glance and a snap judgement. Even for someone with a lot of confidence, it is a challenge.
And everyone has an opinion on art. It isn’t like writing which is shrouded in pseudo intellectualism which deters people from being critical for fear of looking stupid. If a painting is rubbish, then people say so. Even the most artistically uneducated person can tell when my perspective is off or when my tree looks like a lollipop. No amount of bravado or bluster on my part will convince people that my rubbish painting is a credible work of art.
All this humility was pretty good for the soul and I dredged up the confidence to show my work to some real artists on art forums and ask for comments on my work. And yes they were hard to hear. Who would ever have thought that artists, stereotyped for their airy fairy ways could be so blunt and brutal when it comes to giving feedback.
Not just a lesson in art but a lesson in life really. More than anything I have ever done, painting has finally taught me how to be humble. When I picked up a paintbrush I learned how to fail, showcase my failures and still keep failing again and again because my love of art was greater than my ego.
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