Your Art Isn’t My Thing: Learning To Take A Punch

Your Art Isn’t My Thing: Learning To Take A Punch

“You know, I don’t actually like your work. I can see why somebody would, but I don’t. Good luck.”

I don’t think she said the words with the intent to crush me, but that’s exactly what happened.

What Happened?

I was one of six artists who had been invited to show our work, unveil new event-exclusive originals, paint live and spend the hosted weekend in a destination city exploring art, history and landmarks — all the while building meaningful relationships with art collectors who appreciate all kinds of art and artists. These collectors, they’re kind and generous … and some of them have worked hard their entire lives to earn the prerogative to spend on things that make them happy.  I want to be these people.

After a long second day of exploring the arts around the city, we concluded with an evening of dinner and drinks and painting. The artists painted while the collectors roamed from artist to artist asking questions, discussing techniques and generally dishing out positive vibes and tons of kind words. As an unspoken rule, everyone was complimentary to one another ... and if the swirling tornado of decency wasn't genuine, I was completely fooled. 

Humanism is contagious. I was in a great mood. It seemed people liked my work. I liked that they appreciated the detail I incorporated. It was a fun weekend, no doubt.

Then, she moseyed over my way … drink in hand … we exchanged greetings and she watched for a second as I painted. “You know, I don’t actually like your work. I can see why somebody would, but I don’t. Good luck.” And she moseyed away.


A verbal punch square in the nose.

My face fell. My brush slumped on the canvas. I didn’t know what to do or say. So I did nothing.

How It Affected Me

For the next several days (well, months if I’m honest), I replayed the moment over and over in my head. I went from dumbfounded to offended to angry.

To her, it was a moment she likely forgot seconds after she moseyed away to the next artist, drink still in hand which should be instead, perhaps, drink thrown out.

To me, it was a moment that instantly became forever engrained in my emotional memory bank. It's like hearing a song or smelling a scent that instantly takes you back to a moment in time. Except with this example, recalling her words instantly takes me back to an emotion, a state of mind, a dark void of self-doubt. 

That comment made me question my career choice. “Am I good enough to be a full time artist? Is my work appealing enough on a broad scale to succeed?”

That comment made me question my abilities. “Maybe I’m not talented after all. Is the technical side of my art strong enough?”

That comment made me question every single compliment I’ve ever received. “Were they just blowing smoke? Are my paintings too elementary?”

Honestly, did she even have to say anything at all? What ever happened to the school-learned courtesy of “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? Couldn’t she have just walked on by?

What I Learned From It

Really? What CAN you learn from a comment that basically says your creative vision sucks? Essentially, I'd just been told my career aptitude test said I should be anything but an artist. 

Eventually (and when I say eventually, I mean a moment in time that took waaaaay too long to reach), I realized that I was kicking my own butt worse than the backhanded remark from that lady ever did or could. I began to ask myself why I let that happen. But, the bigger question (resulting in a more helpful answer) I had to ask myself was what I could learn and take away.

The answer was simple … not everyone will always like your work. How to deal with the answer was not so simple (but I’ll address that later).

When you paint or create any sort of art and then put that art on display … be it online, in a gallery, on the walls of a coffee shop … you’re literally putting your heart out in the open for others to see. You will be judged (or at least your art will be). That’s ok.

When you go to a clothing store, you walk around until that one particular shirt stops you. You like it. Equally, you dislike the one hanging next to your chosen shirt. You just judged two designers … two artists. And that’s ok.

One jives with you. One does not. And that’s ok.

It’s important that we come to terms with the fact that art is a matter of taste.

Plain and simple.

Art is a matter of taste.

Musicians, fashion designers, directors … they’re artists who we judge daily. When you say you like a song, can you describe why? It’s usually just because it spoke to you in some way, you felt the song. Each musician produces a different sound, a evokes a different emotion and ultimately appeals to a different audience.

The visual arts is no different. Each artist paints in a different style, evokes a different emotion and ultimately appeals to a different audience.

Take The Punch

As difficult as it might be, I have found myself more often intentionally categorizing and compartmentalizing comments from others about my artwork.

Technique can be taught, but the heart you put into your finished products cannot be learned. It comes from within you. I might not care for someone’s art, but I can certainly tell if there is talent behind the work … I can tell if there was great time and care spent in the art’s creation … I can respect the art, even if it’s not my taste.

So, with that in mind, I now take less-than-positive comments and categorize them — constructive or destructive.

If a negative comment is meant to be helpful, then it goes into the constructive pile and I keep that one. I reference that comment later while painting. “I’m not sure I love the expression on the dog’s face. It confuses me.” I can constructively learn that the communication from my characters' faces might not be as strong as they could be. I could find more ways to clarify emotions through light reflecting on the eyes or perhaps further raising the ears or the brows.

If a negative comment is little more than opinion, then it goes into the destructive pile and I let that one go. “I just don’t like your work.” Those words don’t help me as an artist to better my craft or broaden my reach, so I just have to let them go. No reason to keep them.

Not every person will connect with my art. And that’s ok.

I’ll Take It

The truth is, those negative comments that you have to sort through are few. Most comments are positive. I think in general people like being nice. It makes both the giver and the receiver feel good. Serotonin, ya know. Most folks, even if they don’t particularly care for your work, will still say something nice. “Good work. You’ve got talent.” And you know what? I’ll take it!

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