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Friday, July 29, 2016

Fighting Apathy - The Artists Worst Nightmare

As an artist, getting people to pay attention to my work is perhaps one of the greatest frustrations for me. I don't mind negative criticism towards my work as long as its done with some amount of diplomacy. "That's fucked up man" is neither criticism nor constructive. 

But worse than that for me is apathy in the viewer.  The feeling that no one cares. The sound of silence while your singing to the heavens about a new piece of art you spent months creating can be the most agonizing thing possible for any creative. Whats it all for? Sometimes we just want to cry out in anguish when we create and no one acknowledges that creation.

I spend an extraordinary amount of time preparing to debut a new piece of art online. Part of this is because what I create is sometimes so complex that in order to give it any amount of justice I have to put a lot of consideration into its showing.

I shoot and process a huge amount of photos showing the work from every angle. In hopes that the work may sell someday I go overboard on the photos so I have them for my portfolio long after the actual piece is gone. I may photograph the piece in various types of light and even in near darkness. I may take it out to the garden so it has a nice leafy background, or I may rearrange my studio to accommodate a variety of angles to the shoot.

I write descriptions, I consider pricing, sometimes I talk about the history and background of how the piece was developed and I make sure that I've covered everything possible before that piece enters my portfolio. And then there is the harder job of disseminating it out to the public. Blog articles about it, redundant (but not overly redundant) posting to the various social networks is essential.

And what is the result of all this effort? Three "likes" on Facebook, one of which is your mother, because she's proud of you. And another is some person who sends you back a photo of their cat. What the hell???? Is that all there is? At least say "yuck" or something. 

Yes I exaggerate a bit. But for a long time this was the result of all this effort and this swelling feeling of pride in a job well done.

Sadly I think the thing these days that can sink an artist even quicker than not selling their work is apathy. If we are creating in a vacuum it can suck the air right out of us. Art by its very nature is not meant to be stuck in a closet. It needs to be seen in order to come completely to life. And we as artists need to know that people at least appreciate the energy and spirit we place into our work.

You would think with the advent of technology that links us all together no matter how many miles are between us, that the problem of apathy would be less. No longer are we working in a studio where we are alone. Through technology we can bring the experience of the studio out to the rest of the world. But extreme apathy both online and offline can make an artist feel like a total reject.

"I guess no one loves my work".
"I suck".
"This is stupid, I'm going back to my day job".

Professional artists that are struggling to survive and become experts in their craft face these feelings all the time.

How do we fix this? Is there anything that we the artist can do that we are not already doing? I think there are some basic steps that we can all take if we are conscious of them.

There are three areas of focus and they each involve our own acknowledgement of creatives we cross paths with both online and offline

The first is to stop slapping the "favorite" button so much without at least taking the time to say something to the artists we like. I make an effort to not only like other artists and share their work, but when I see a piece that really strikes me I tell the artist. It may be something as simple as "great job" or something more complex about what I liked and why. The point is that I am engaging other artists in a direct way. We can't do this for everyone, nor should we. We want to be honest about our opinions and if we dislike something or find it is only mediocre then its dishonest to slap the like button anyway or force a response. But if something truly touches us, then its not that hard to tell the person directly.

Second (and more complex) is to network with other artists. Choose your top 10 artists and engage them in a conversation about their processes and techniques. Invite another person to see their work.

Third, when you know someone has put a hell of a lot of work into a piece of art, then make a big deal out of it! Help them feel accomplished. In turn you become more accomplished.

If we keep in mind that every artist has a core group around them online of followers and that those followers can become yours also just by establishing a cooperative friendship with each other. 

There are other steps also. Back home in the studio there are steps we can take also. We can engage the artistic community around us. We can help other artists locally by critiquing and commenting thoughtfully and constructively on their work and we ask for commentary on our own work. 

If we remember that the audience will not just come to us until we have established a reputation then its a matter of becoming our own audiences. 

Lastly is finding ways to engage with the movers and shakers in the art community. Making our presence felt, taking an active role in projects happening around us and stopping the habit we all have of wanting people to come to us while we do not come to others. 

These aren't huge steps, but they are something. No thing worth doing comes in one big bang. It takes small steps to get where we wish to go. Some will say it just doesn't work for me, but that's because many artists are solitary creatures who instead of engaging fully in the arts community prefer to work quietly. But wouldn't be much better to know that people actually saw your work and told you?

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