Friday, May 20, 2016

Horn Tootin': The Fine Line Between Bragging and Blowhard


Working in our studios, often sequestered away, immersed deep into our artwork is normal for artists. We exist in our own world inside our creative spaces, happily creating our work and conquering all manner of challenges and trouble spots.

Being so, however, a kind of peculiar condition can develop if we aren't very careful, a kind of "tone deafness" to our public words and actions. In turn, this can compromise how weand our workare perceived by colleagues and collectors. This is a concern because how we're regarded by the public and our peers can affect our sales and standing in the industry.

Therefore, this discussion addresses this phenomenon in the hopes the ideas presented here can help illuminate, guide, and curb some of the negative consequences of being unaware of our tone or insinuations. It's all in the name of camaraderie and growth, so let's go!

Feeling Good

Creating something from our imagination with our own hands naturally inspires pride and a sense of accomplishment. And if that piece is well–received, then self–esteem bloomsas it should! We probably tackled untold challenges and frustrations to create it, and perhaps we grew as an artist, too. 

So when our laboroflove meets with public enthusiasm, we should savor that heady brew of optimism. Job well done! And if we’re so inclined, it’s no sin to toot our own horn a little—we’ve earned it! It’s good to recognize our achievement and embrace the freedom to pat ourselves on the back. And when we see another artist succeed, toot along! It’s important to reaffirm the successes of our colleagues because in doing so, we make a collective statement on the positive environment we wish to cultivate. 

Because let’s face itcreating realistic equine art isn’t a cake walk. Whether sculpting, casting, painting or glazing, it involves a set of skills that are hardearned with each newly completed piece. Artists make sacrifices and slog through their own challenges quietly in their studios, so why not cut loose once and a while when we really get it right?

And how is false modesty any more noble? Can’t we brag a bit and take credit for our achievements when we earn them? Besides, it’s good for the public to see a confident artist enthused in her work.

And let’s be honest with ourselvesthe moment we decide to display our work in public, that’s a form of grandstanding, isn't it? Even when we talk about our processes or inspiration for a piece, that’s a kind of boast by setting ourself apart in a way that makes us shine. And bragging is part of the art game, right? For example, advertising, or taglines are designed specifically to highlight the special appeal of our work, right? Really, without this kind of horn tootin', advertising wouldn’t exist in the first place!

Along those lines, pricing our work is a kind of swagger. To charge someone for something we made does take a bit of chutzpah, doesn’t it? Otherwise, wouldn’t we simply give our work away?  Be honestthe basis of running an art business is knowing our value, which does require a measure of ego. Similarly, entering exhibitions
 is a kind of showboating, too, because we expect our work to do well, don’t we? Humility and exhibition really don’t go handinhand! And sometimes holding classes, seminars, and demonstrations, or writing blogs, articles, or publishing books can be interpreted as a form of bragging, too, as in “look what I know.”

The point isbragging isn’t all bad! Taking pride in our abilities, our art, and our value is important. It sends a positive message to the public, helps the venue to advance, and creates a healthy feedback loop that stirs our confidence to push our skills and goals ever forward. And after all, taking pride in our work is a good thing on an emotional level. 

This is all true, yes. It takes gumption to step up and pop our head above the rest. It does take a bit of swagger to promote our art. It does require confidence and enthusiasm to teach, publish, enter exhibitions, or display our work. So call it confidence, pride, or moxie…we need it! 

In this sense, pride is a positive force. Look at all the wonderful things it doesit inspires artists to stretch farther, it encourages the distribution of information and techniques, it fills up the exhibitions that hosts work so hard to present, it makes for lively forums, it compels an artist to run her business in an upstanding way, and it maintains the value of a collector’s investment. The ability to brag greases the wheels of any artistic scene or business venue. Without it, there would be no art market!

Feeling Not So Good   

Nonetheless, without some humility and thoughtfulness mixed in, there's a point where bragging becomes a kind of slow poison that seeps into the scene. While it can be said that horn tootin’ is part of the biz, it’s also true a delicate balance exists between a professional tone and a kind of veiled bashing. The moment that line is crossed, one ceases to brag and one becomes a blowhard. 

So much about selling art is being a likeable person. When people look at our work, and especially when they buy it, they're partaking in a bit of us as a memory. If that association is positive, that's what we want. But it means that blowhard behavior is a professional liability with some immediate consequences. For example, it can alienate an artist from colleagues with her cloud of ill will, and it can hamper the growth of a client base because people can be turnedoff by such conduct. People want to have a positive feeling when they collect our work, so when that isn't forthcomingguess whatthey tend not to collect it.

There are many reasons for blowhard behavior, but they all distill down to one motivation, recognized or not: fear. Call it insecurity, envy, resentment, or worry that the market is passing us by, tearing down another’s “threatening” work rather than accepting a new standard is a typical blowhard tactic. Appearing disdainful of work other than our own, throwing punches of snide insinuations, or taking cheap pot
shots to make our work seem more validated aren't the smartest PR strategies, but we may not even realize we're doing it. We may simply believe we're voicing an opinion or describing our work to its best advantage, but what we say in public as well as how we say it are equally important.

Because what’s the ultimate result? Well, being a blowhard can cast doubt over our work by begging questions regarding our own motivations and skills. By disparaging the work of others to elevate our own, people are forced to ask two questions: (1) why can’t we sell our work on its own merits?, and (2) if we think we're so hot, how does our work compare? In this way, our work comes under a more powerful (and less kind) microscope, which can backfire rather unpleasantly. In the end, our work isn’t enhanced as we may have intended because our credibility now comes under fire. The Golden Rule: unless we want to be filleted ourselves, put down the knife! 

Think about itartists creating genuinely good work don't need to artificially inflate its validity, either by grandiose boasting or by demeaning others in the public arena. Good work speaks for itself. But this is why when we speak of others’ work in public, sensitivity to what our words insinuate is a professional imperative. Being part of an art community is both a social experience and a business venture, and so it’s as much about being a positive influence as it is about creating influential art. And while social skills aren’t a prerequisite for great art, why indulge problematic conduct when being thoughtful has so much better results? Really, who knows what potential opportunities vaporize when we fire off obnoxious commentary? And because blowharding reflects more on the perpetrator than on the intended target, we shoot ourselves in the foot by tarnishing all our actual accomplishments in the process. 

A community is shaped by the harmony of each participant’s interaction, but enough bad notes clanking together can ruin the music for everyone. This is why we’re beholden to our public words and why when we’re careless with them, we begin to generate a negative pattern of behavior. And while it can be argued that others should simply ignore such behavior, or leave venues where its frequent, still those ideas are now out there, poisoning the well for all of us. Our words have tremendous power, and we each need to wield them responsibly.

But there will be times when we’re forced to suffer a blowhard in other ways such as through advertising or at shows. For instance, it seems that with every debut of new work, blowhards come out of the woodwork, pretentiously pointing out all the perceived flaws, real or not. Conversely, boorishness can seep into advertising as an artist "talks up" her work. For example, if we highlight our work's legitimacy by invoking disparaging insinuations about the work, methods, or business dealings of other artists, that's a real PR blunder. What kind of public message does this ultimately broadcast about us and our work? Nothing particularly flattering, that's what.

The thing is, compliments are always good policy, but critiques are best left to private discussion unless otherwise solicited by the artist. Plus, careful and thoughtful wording is vital in any critiquing situation, especially when given in public. As we explored in a previous blog post, a successful artist is smart to dampen her public free speech, and put greater thought into public words only because they have a lot more weight. Regardless, the point is this: if we have to besmirch others to promote our work or our operations as "better," chances are we've become a blowhard.

These dynamics are critical for us to understand since a small and competitive market can pit artists against each other. The realistic equine art market is insular and very competitive as a result, with each artist vying for status and kudos. Likewise, this may be why blowharding can often urp up in the equine collectibles world only because the formalized competitive format turns artists into opponents, or colleagues into direct competitors. Pair this with stringent artistic demands, a relatively small customer base, and a casual setting and it’s easy to see how things can go awry rather quickly.

Yet perhaps the core reason for this unfortunate phenomenon with equine collectibles is the venue's tradition of customizing. Not to say that customizing is in question—no, Breyer® openly encourages it. Instead, it's to say that the sentiments associated with it can be problematic. How? Well, in this we find that the idea of "improving" pre
existing work is a mainstay in that customizing makes the piece "better," or "more realistic," or "more appealing." In other words, it's okay to flagrantly criticize the existing work when we effect "improvements" to it, contrary to any kind of professional courtesy or discretion. 

Now early in the venue’s history, there was distance between the artists who created the “bodies” and the customizing artist. Because of this, the creative environment had little care for how the finished piece was presented in promotion, especially in what was implied about the original piece. Compounding over time, this common oversight cultivated a disregard for professional tact within the genre as a whole, with a strong tendency to deride the original plastic bodies upon which customizers worked their craft.

This bad habit then took on a new dimension when Breyer tapped into the model horse or art communities for sculptors, shortening that previous buffering distance, or removing it altogether. Complicating matters, customizers also turned their attention to the new artist resins being produced, pieces that had no buffering distance whatsoever. So now we have the work of immediate fellows going under the knife, as it were.

In kind, there should have been a radical change in how the customized versions were framed, yet this didn’t happen. Instead, the habitual disregard prevailed, bolstering the insensitivity and insinuations about all the "improvements," only this time to the work of an immediate colleague. Really, how many times have we endured a blowhard’s thoughtless boast of how she "improved" a colleague’s work? Being tone deaf in how we frame our customization can wrongly mar a colleague's achievement, and send a rather callous message to the greater community. It can also generate embarrassing blowback if our "improvements" actually diminish an otherwise nice piece. 

This brings us to this idea: shouldn't a customized piece be an inherent improvement over the original? No—not necessarily. Customization may introduce new features, but they may be flawed all the same. Haven’t we all seen customization that hosed up the original work? So the only accurate statement we can make is that customization changes the original piece to make it different from all other castings. Similarly, we can also say that customization removes the relics of the molding process, which is a very different issue than the intrinsic sculpting. These are important distinctions. It's important to remember that when we customize another artists’s work, we're actually engaging in a collaboration. Therefore, professional courtesy is essential if we’re to avoid insulting the artist who lies at the basis of our efforts. 

Yet a blowhard would refer to the original piece as "bad," "wrong," or simply, “I didn’t like it," inappropriately besmirching the efforts of the original sculptor. Likewise, the blowhard often goes on to boast that her changes improved all that was “wrong”with all this announced in public and possibly within earshot of the original artist. What's achieved, however, isn't an elevated piece, but often hurt feelings and potential professional ramifications that only insensitivity can generate. It can also bring about "egg on one's face" if the touted improvements diminish the original, or introduce new errors. 

Yet to be fairit's easy to fall prey to this compulsion. Working within realism forces us to make judgments of “more correct” or “more realistic,” and we often do so mentally. Add to that our sequestered life, and it’s easy to see how selfsatisfaction can mutate into something problematic. From this perspective, it’s also easy to understand how we can succumb to blowharding if we feel our talents are overlooked or unappreciated by the community. It’s precisely these urges that push us over that fine line, so how do we avoid poisoning our collective well? 

How To Feel Good EffectivelyAnd Not So Effectively

What we need is to build a little mental machine that measures what we say in publica “BragOMeter,” if you will. Now some artists’ BragOMeters are gleaming, finelytuned machines that deftly measure the vibe emitted by their words. But we also see that others may not have such advanced machinery. Perhaps they’re new and are still learning the social skills required in such a tightlyknit art market. Even so, other artists seem to have sporadic machines that appear to fail altogether under stressful conditions. And then there are those who don’t seem to have a functioning BragOMeter at all, churning out bad feeling in a continuous fume. So how do we know if our BragOMeters are working adequately? To finetune our calibrations, consider these guidelines

A gleaming BragOMeter:
  • Doesn’t flaunt skills because the artist knows they already are apparent in her work. There’s little gained from rubbing people’s faces in what we're good at.
  • Never speaks disparagingly of other art work in public, not even as a means to educate others. 
  • Always finds something positive to say about another artist’s work.
  • Offers courteous, thoughtful guidance, and in private, and only doing so in public when personally prompted by the other artist. What's more, such guidance is based on informed, solid biological facts rather than personal opinion.
  • Treats everyone with courtesy and respect, always taking the high road.
  • Sticks only to the merits of one's own skills and prerogatives when advertising.
  • Is cognizant of how words affect others and how they shape a public image; it isn't tone deaf to one's own words in public. 
  • Likewise, it avoids using the words or insinuations of “improve,” “more realistic,” “better,” or “corrected” when referencing the original body in a customized piece. Instead, it uses nonjudgemental terms such as, “change,” “make different,” “alter,” “modify,” or “make unique.” 
  • Is quick to praise the original work that was customized or painted, acknowledging it as a source of inspiration. 
  • Knows how to defend its work professionally and effectively, avoiding any shrillness, insecurity, or passive–aggressive tendencies, especially those that demean the work of another artist. It also won't put words into the mouths of colleagues or other collectors, but can base an argument on its own facts and perspectives.
  • Remembers that all forms of customization (from a drastic alteration to a simple paint job) really are collaborations, whether on a plastic or a resin.
  • Is quick to applaud the successes and accomplishments of other artists.
  • Is pro–active rather than reactive, especially when it comes to finding and spearheading solutions. 
  • Is quick to enthusiastically acknowledge the contributions of colleagues in a group effort or project. 
  • Admits to being inspired by the work of other artists. Any time we point to another artist’s work and say, “This art is just wonderful and I’m so moved by it” is a good example of a gleaming machine.
  • Is generous with compliments and support, whether to other artists or non–artists.
  • Works to help form a cohesive and inclusive arts community. This goes for reaffirming bonds with established artists and reaching out to new ones. It's that welcoming face we all wish to meet when we walk into a room full of intimidating strangers.
  • Is enthusiastically pro–active regarding one's own education and improvement. When we focus more on developing our own talents rather than tearing down those of another, everyone benefits.
  • Contributes to the communal knowledge base by sharing their knowledge and expertise through demonstrations, articles, books, videos, blog posts, workshops, and clinics. They believe that when each of our talents are elevated, so is the entire arts community.
  • Can be inspired by, but won't plagiarize or copy another's work; it only seeks to create 100% original work.
  • Understands and remembers that everyone has blindspots and that everyone is in the process of learning to mediate them, including oneself, in particular.
  • Won't indulge conspiracy theories, judge–bashing, colleague–shaming, or hate speech. Instead, it understands that it's the inconsistent judging criteria and the inconsistent application of it that's at the root of wonky placings. What's more, it helps to rectify this situation through pro–active education, problem–solving, and heightening awareness.
  • Puts 100% of an effort into each piece, never letting things just slide. Also works to innovate and push the envelope, never getting too comfortable with habitual methods or interpretations.
  • Will come to a colleague's defense if they're targeted by malicious malcontents.
  • Admits surprise over an unexpected triumph and thankful to those who contributed. 
  • Reveals delight, humility, and gratitude to an enthusiastic response to a piece or an achievement. 
  • Maintains an openmind and an eagerness to learn from others. Being able to acknowledge a better method or better interpretation in a colleague's work, and to then be informed by it (rather than copying it), is a good indicator of a well–oiled machine. 
  • Understands the difference between an opinion and a fact, especially when it comes to its own.
  • Will politely point out blowhard behavior to help dampen its occurrence.
  • Recognizes that being successful in a favorite pursuit is a blessing, and so seeks to cultivate the community in that spirit.
A busted BragOMeter:
  • Repeatedly shoves its abilities in the face of others, to the point of tedium. 
  • Employs insinuations that disparage the work, media, or business dealings of others in order to elevate its own legitimacy.
  • Uses words in advertising that are confrontational or inflammatory, being based on veiled jabs at colleagues or their work. A common manifestation is an implied inferiority of the media or methods other artists use, or improving what needs "fixing."
  • Is quick to speak publicly about a flaw in another artist’s work, either outright or with various snide jabs or pointed innuendo to discredit competing artists and their work.
  • Is particularly prone to finding fault in popular pieces or artists, revealing envy and resentment.
  • When publicly defending its work or involvement, it becomes combative, snide, aggressive, or insulting to others and their motivations. There's a lot of room for participation in this venue, and everyone does so according to their own sensibilities. 
  • Will perceive the accomplishments of others, whether work, books, workshops, clinics, demonstrations, and the like, as arrogant and narcissistic rather than productive and beneficial.
  • Is self–important to the point of boorishness.
  • Interprets colleagues as competitors to be squashed and bettered, to "teach them a lesson," or "bring them down to size."
  • Copies the ideas or designs of other artists, especially with the intent to do "better."
  • Practices bullying behavior and hate speech in order to "level" another artist or collector.
  • Believes that the amount of years we've been involved in this automatically makes us more important or influential. In reality, everyone is important and influential, especially in such a small, niche activity. And—sure—being an long–established artist introduces a level of standing, but the fact is a lot more goes into being truly pivotal than simply the years we've been at this.
  • Feels entitled to healthy sales or prices for one reason or another, even because soandso gets them. The truth is that good sales are earned with each new workthey're a privilege. One earns the standing necessary to command such prices, and to assume otherwise is presumptuous.
  • Implies mediocrity in other work by demeaning it as “silly,” "cutesy," or “dumb,” disregarding the idea that every piece has meaning to someone. 
  • Exhibits a pattern of behavior resistant to complimenting the work of others, but is remarkably quick to compliment its own. 
  • Customizes the work of colleagues and framing it as "improvements," that the new version is "better" than the original, and forgetting that one’s customized work rests on the inherent quality of the original. Also forgets that customizations represent merely changes because introduced errors are just as likely to happen.
  • Is quick to hog a conversation for the merits of its own work.
  • Attacks the popularity of another artist's work, or puts down the collectors of other artists’ work, as though they had no taste. For example, referring to those buyers as "stupid," "ignorant," or "blind." Everyone collects work for their own reasons.
  • Is quick to inflate one's own importance in the genre, giving lesser credit to other artists and their accomplishments, especially if they exceeded one's own.
  • Forgets the importance of a positive PR image, routinely behaving in ways that compromise it, often with disastrous and embarrassing results.
  • Is slow or unwilling to recognize the contributions of other artists to the arts, especially those of yesteryear. We think that what we're doing is new, but really, it's likely it's been done before.
  • Banks on the notoriety of a popular piece yet churns out subpar work otherwise.
  • Uses one's reputation like a weapon becoming more like a diva than a colleague.
  • Takes short–cuts and cuts corners with each piece to crank it out faster—and when it shows, gets cranky when it's pointed out.
  • Boasts how much is made on each piece. There’s no need to flaunt itwe know.
  • Makes cocky, arrogant statements or excessively embellishes the description of its own work. The truth is that great work speaks for itself.
  • Is slow to recognize the contributions of other artists on a project or collaboration.
  • Can claim "boredom" with the current work out there, it being "uninspiring" or "subpar" in quality. 
  • Begs questions about the practices or work of other artists, or habitually makes argumentative, demeaning, and negative subjective statements about the work of others, but quick to get defensive about its own.
  • Excessively complains without offering solutions or spearheading change.
  • Believes people aren't buying its work like they used to because there's a conspiracy out there, or people are just "dumb." The market is pretty savvy and works shift in popularity dependent on its inherent quality and realism. Chances are, our work or our pricing needs amending if its popularity begins to wane. If not, it'll work on positive education to help assuage any possible prejudices or misinterpretations.
  • Forgets how weighted its own words are in the public venue, lambasting others with its "opinion" without due consideration.
A fully functioning BragOMeter helps to cement bonds with other artists and, in doing so, lends cohesiveness and community to its art base. It also projects a welcoming and respectful public image which comes back to benefit us in untold, numerous ways. And the thing is, the more we engage a well–working Brag–O–Meter, the more positive–minded we become and that reflects in our studios. Being mindful of the feelings, reputations, and accomplishments of other artists goes far, indeed.


In the end, learning how to brag artfully about our work is an art unto itself! It takes practice, sensitivity, and thoughtful consideration. How we speak about our work as well as the work of others speaks more about us than our art. In doing so, we can either attract people into our experience or drive them away, since being persona non grata offers no benefits in a small, tightknit art community. Yet few possess this kind of professionalism from the getgo, so we should also be patient with each other since a learning curve is involved. 

Publicly showing respect for our peers and care for our collective experience demonstrates real professionalism, which reflects well upon us and our work. As artists who share similar interests and aesthetics, shouldn’t we be happy when a colleague creates beyond their goals? Every success helps to advance our skill sets toward new possibilities! The negative emotions that feed blowharding really are a total waste of time and energy. Wouldn’t our energies be better spent on developing our skills and helping others do the same? 

A measure of modesty and professional restraint never hurt anyone. In fact, they do far more for our advancement than a blaring blowhard trumpet. Knowing how and when to toot our own horn is as important as the art we create, so we should give it the same level of contemplation. After all is said and done, if we only concern ourselves with our own experience, feelings, and aggrandizement, especially at the expense of others, what kind of atmosphere are we ultimately creating for ourselves?

So until next time...blow away those blowhards, and brag away!

"The destiny of every human being is decided by what goes on inside his skull when confronted by what goes on outside his skull." ~ Eric Berne

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