Saturday, September 5, 2020

Pickled Art

The Pickle

Artists exist in a tricky spot in the equine collectibles community—the genre depends entirely on artistic works yet many participants don't quite "get" the artistic type. What's the result? A bit of a pickle for how artists are treated in the community. 

This post has been a long time coming. Observations over these long 33 years paired with many conversations with fellow artists fueled this, yet it was a discussion on Facebook that finally triggered its writing. I knew it was troublesome out there, but I had no idea it was that bad. The stories these talented, respected artists shared were upsetting. Some of them even sharply curbed their creativity for our genre outright as a result. I reeled at their experiences, and then I thought about this renewed age of the DIYer and alarm set in. If these established, hardened artists could take these blows but still be left limping, what was in store for these budding talents who were all enthusiasm? 

Even so, let me preface with this: This post isn't to suggest that all artists are dainty flowers wilting in the blistering sun of public opinion. They're actually dang tough...they have to be. They have years of hard earned emotional callouses that buffer the worst blows and a host of coping mechanisms to serpentine a critic's grenades. In their hearts they are a pugnacious, scrappy, courageous bunch who remain ever hopeful and optimistic for the most part. But here's the point: If such spirits still get worn down, frustrated, jaded, and dejected by the treatment found in this community, it's gotta be bad out there. 

Now absolutely, let me be perfectly clear here, too—our community has hordes of positive folks who support and encourage artists enthusiastically, and speak of their works with sensitivity, kindness, and respect. Thank goodness for them in more ways than can be counted! Seriously, without ya'll, we'd perhaps be hemorrhaging even more creativity. You invaluable souls do far more to shore up and heal than can possibly be known, being the glue of this community and the fuel that keep so many artists going. I think I can speak for many artists out there when I say, "Bless you—I'm grateful you're here and that you speak up!" Indeed, based on my discussions, it was often the one kind soul who kept a devastated artist motivated. So—thank you!

Because I'm going to be frank: The equine collectibles community can be brutal to its artists. Callous, thoughtless, careless, even cruel. And the more popular or established, the worse it can get. Ask darn near any artist and chances are they have at least one horror story—or they will eventually. Ask many and we begin to see the pattern. If not to their face, then behind their back. And they'll be left feeling heartbroken, betrayed, disillusioned, and anxiety-ridden, and all because they were unnecessarily bashed, shaded, dehumanized, or exploited. Friendships have been lost. Beautiful art gets destroyed or never finished. If it's bad enough, creativity even stops. This isn't good for the community. In many ways though, hard truth be told, this genre is a bit incompatible with the artistic nature. Because of the competitive element, people tend to have no qualms about blasting works based on perceived "quality" or making comparisons about which is better. Sensitivity—that critical ingredient for any art-based genre—just isn't part of its dialogue yet. It's like a comments section out there, but without moderation and even the nastiest comments getting equal validation. 

But let's also be honest about this, too—there are some people out there who take peculiar delight in stomping on others, harshing their mellows, or just spewing ugliness. Or some are so thoughtless, they don't consider how their words slice and dice. Some even profess pride in all this. By the same token, there are those so tone deaf, it's a wonder any sensitive word can come out of their mouths at all. Yes—there are jerks in every facet of life—we just have to surf the Internet to see how rampant they are. Yet they're particularly vocal in ours and allowed to run amok, unchallenged and unchecked, quickly making this community toxic for many creatives. And because our community is close knit, these types become especially loud and influential so even if we try to avoid them, they're still within earshot. It's like being stuck in a room with a bunch of obnoxious party crashers with no doors or bouncers. But we're all peers and colleagues. Is this really how we want to build our future? How does this encourage creative participation? How does this create a safe space for creativity, especially for beginners and DIYers? And consider this—when someone bashes an artist's work, they're also bashing those who love and collect it. Is that also okay? 

So why all the ick? Perhaps it makes someone feel important and special. Maybe they're envious. Maybe they just derive their life force from negativity. Maybe they have to tear someone else down to build themselves up. Or are they trying to target someone? Do they have a sadistic streak? Are they really so clueless about how they come across? Are they really so thoughtless? Beta aggression? Who knows. Either way, can't we do better? Can't our community be more universally kind? We hear a lot of this new enthusiasm about camaraderie and positivity...shouldn't that be directed to our artists, too?

Yet perhaps it's this as well—many people just don't understand the artistic temperament, the inherent nature of the typical artist. Really, to get to the crux of it, an artist can hear a thousand wild kudos but it's the one negative comment, even offhand, that will stick in their head and grind in there like a sparking rim on the freeway. Over and over and over. The negatives have a far stronger impact than the praise. Some psychologists believe this is partly due to a "negative bias" hardwired in the human psyche, but any which way, it smacks like a hammer on the heart. 

Because here's the thing: Artists tend to be—by nature and necessity—sensitive, and so rather reactive to other people's behavior. Artists also tend to entwine themselves into their art so a negative comment can't really be compartmentalized. Instead, they'll probably feel like a total failure despite all the enthusiasm expressed otherwise. Sadly, many artists have been left despondent and deflated by a single unfortunate remark in this way, even when their feed is packed with kudos. Indeed, the damage done from even one unpleasant remark can be devastating.

Now in response, we'll often hear three typical bits of advice: (1) "grow a thick skin," (2) "ignore it," and (3) "stop being so sensitive." Granted, all three do have a seed of truth in them because robust coping mechanisms are critical. That just comes with arting. Nevertheless, they only go so far because the inherent nature of an artist is fundamentally at odds with this advice. Yet even more, this advice essentially blames the victim. So let's break 'em down...

Growing a "thick skin" may sound good on paper, but that's not how it works with most artists, it's just not how they're wired. Truly if they could, they would! See, it's precisely having a "thin skin" that lets them absorb what they need to create the art they do. Good art requires a goodly degree of receptiveness which is exactly what makes artists so sensitive. Many artists simply internalize everything. It's a sad irony then that the very thing they need to be good at their job is the same thing that makes them so vulnerable. In this light then, isn't demanding an artist grow a thick skin actually unreasonable? Isn't it unfair? Isn't it blaming the victim? It's their fault if they can't let it go, right? But how can they, given their nature? Yet what about the person who lobbed the bombs? Shouldn't they be called out in the blame game? 

Then there's "just ignore it." That's to say, if we can't process the pain then deny it. But we're human after all so does that ever really work? Nope. The pain just entrenches deeper, embedding to become worse. And for artists, the damage this can do can be particularly destructive because this pain directly attacks the motivation to be creative. So asking an artist to ignore it is like asking a horse to ignore a beating. (There's a definite difference between sympathy and empathy, and the best way to help someone ride things out is through empathy.)

Next then is to "quit being so sensitive." But...yikes. That's like demanding an introvert "people" all the time. Or like insisting a clinically depressed person just be happy, dang it. Or like expecting a victim of violence to just shut up and get over it. Remember, most artists—by nature and necessity—are sensitive. To demand they stop being so is to literally demand they stop being themselves. How is that compassionate? How is that reasonable? And feelings just happen, don't they? We don't have control over what crushes us. So up pops that tired old adage, "we can control how feelings affect us." But that's flawed logic, isn't it? Honestly, learning how to manage bruised feelings still doesn't mean you don't feel them, it doesn't erase them. Meanness sticks with you, and if it's habitual, it compounds, and when it compounds, it shapes your personality and outlook on life as any victim of bullying and abuse can testify.

Put it all together then and it seems that the burden is heaped onto the victim while the perpetrator escapes accountability. So why do we demand that artists just tolerate it, just suck it up with a smile, while those who behave so ugly aren't confronted? We call out those with ignorant opinions, sometimes quite enthusiastically, don't we? So why do we fall short in defending an entire group of our peers? Indeed, if an artist does speak up in defense of themselves, look how often it's gaslighted as "ego" or "over-sensitivity" or being "unreasonable." And, yes, life isn't always a bowl of cherries, but does ugly behavior have to be so loud and pervasive in ours? So unchecked? So validated and enabled? So normalized?

On that note, we'll typically hear "it's just my opinion." Now that's true—everyone and their dog and cat and bird and hermit crab has an opinion. And to be fair, an opinion is a normal response to having something put in front of our face. Informed opinions are also critical for furthering our understanding—so it's smart to consider the source since not all opinions are created equal. Opinions can also evolve so what comes out of someone's mouth today may not tomorrow. Above all, however, we shouldn't confuse an opinion with a fact—they're definitely two different things. So—yes—opinions are inevitable, plentiful, and variable, there's no doubt about that. It's often not a good idea then to get hung up on them. 

Yet even so, the typical defense someone uses after launching something negative is "it's just my opinion." It's as though any measure of ick is somehow made palatable—even passable, even acceptable—being framed as "just my opinion." But to an artist, opinions aren't "just sayin." They're ammunition that can be fire or fuel, bullets or balm, impaction or impetus. Every artist holds their breath when it comes to the opinions of others, and what comes out of their mouths can either spur on motivation, tarnish it, or even choke it altogether. People should realize that "it's just my opinion" isn't a means to lessen the blow. To be frank, it's a cop out that gives people license to be careless with their words. That being the case, it's not so hard to see that some opinions can be weaponized, using this spin as a camouflaged delivery system. So anything said is okay given it's just an opinion? Yet consider how we treat people who voice lousy ones in the rest of our lives. Why then is this response so sluggish when such things are lobbed at our creatives in the public arena? Should the burden really be on the artist to bear that stab or on the person doing the stabbing?

Now it bears mentioning that every artist develops their own coping mechanisms to buffer criticism and other junk. Indeed, while some artists are more stalwart, some are highly sensitive, and some lie on a spectrum in between. So because we don't know where on the spectrum an artists sits, it's best to treat each one with the same courteous sensitivity and always refrain from unsolicited critique, or "cold call commentary." It's just safer to assume that they prefer to exercise their art on their own terms. The temptation may be great to say something hoping to "help," but that's a dangerous and, frankly, presumptuous assumption. Yes, one may be tempted to think, "How will they improve if they never learn?" But trust me—the artist will figure it out in their own time, in their own way. Give them the safe space to do that without imposing or poisoning their experience. Honestly, a single misstep on your part can so tarnish the piece for that artist that they simply never finish it. Indeed, I've known artists to throw out their piece due to one careless remark. Truth be told here, it's just not your place to correct them when they haven't expressly asked you for help.

See, here's the thing: There's such a thing as "creative consent." What's that? Well, it's the implied set of boundaries that automatically initiate the moment a piece is displayed which entail the artist's agency over their own creative experience. This means that we do not step into their internal creative space and impose ourselves uninvited. Put another way, it means we never negatively comment on a piece unless the artist has expressly asked for a critique from us. And simply displaying a piece is not consent to criticism or critique. If a cosplayer dresses a certain way, does that imply consent to being groped? Aren't they just "asking for it?" Absolutely not. So just because an artist displays or posts their work doesn't mean that's an open invitation for our corrective opinions, even if well-meaning. Instead, what the artist is probably just doing is keeping you updated on their progress, sharing their process, relating their journey, sharing a moment, looking for a bit of encouragement, relishing their proud accomplishment, or just letting you have a peek into their life. Trust me, if they actually want pointers, they'll clearly ask for them. Truly, if collectors and showers are entitled to a safe space to practice their past time, then artists are likewise entitled to theirs, too, and despite all the "what ifs" and "even thoughs" and "buts." Let them have a safe creative space to show off their hard work, challenges, sacrifice, discipline, and dreams. We owe it to them as colleagues, friends, and fellows.

Now—yes—it's natural for folks to talk about a piece, especially a new one. And sometimes people need to talk to decide things—and that's okay! Seriously, that's okay. That's not the problem. The problem arises when this discourse isn't framed with thoughtful, courteous sensitivity as though the human being who created it was sitting right next to us. When we talk about their work in a way that strips them of their humanity to turn them into objectified, anonymous "others" to be shredded at will, we've gone over the line. It's so we have this activity wholly dependent on the arts to even exist, but unlike other arts communities that have developed a courteous manner of speaking about their arts, the model horse community is still stuck between Jerry Springer and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. There are no standards, no decorum, no expectations of behavior when it comes to relating to our arts and artists. And it's causing harm. It's making people afraid to practice their creativity. It's making some begin to unjustifiably doubt their own abilities. It's causing some to stop entirely, or begin to question why they're creating for this community at all. In short, it's poisoning the experiences of many artists, and in so doing, this community is poisoning its own well.  

As for the difference between a critique and criticism...well, they're two entirely different things. On one hand, a critique has been expressly requested by the artist as a means to move forwards with their specific piece, personally inviting input under conditional circumstances, or only from specific proven people they trust. (Believe me when I tell you to avoid vetting public opinion unless you want a lot of error introduced into your work and knowledge base. Public opinion is typically a contamination of your work, not a correction.) In contrast, criticisms are uninvited remarks, unsolicited "help," cold call commentary because we think we know better. This is never okay. It doesn't matter what we believe or think we know—this is never okayThe artist is creating according to their own vision and current capabilities, and our comments could potentially impede or distort their efforts, motivations, and growth. Indeed, our vision may simply be incompatible with theirs, or even misunderstand things, or be incomplete, or flat out wrong. And no no no...don't start down that road of, "But if it were me, I'd want to know." Never impose your reality onto another. You have no idea how that artist will internalize not only your comments, but the experience itself. You have no idea what shoes they're walking in right at that moment, do you? How can you possibly make the assumption then that you know better than they do with their own piece, with their art, with their development, with their goals, with their vision, and with their own truth? Only the artist knows all this—and they aren't obligated to share it either—so let them exist unburdened by our arbitrary impositions. Their internal creative space is theirs, not ours to bust in on.

Okay, so their piece is bugging us. Fine. Everyone has their own ideas on "good" art. And when it comes to technical realism, that can of worms is enormous largely because there are always those who have it wrong, only they think they have it right. And though we aren't obligated to like a piece, of course, we are obligated to speak of it thoughtfully in public as though the artist was standing right there. Because it's absolutely true that no matter how problematic a piece is, there's always something to compliment even if it's all the hard work and imagination that went into its making. Focus on that, instead. So please give artists the benefit of the doubt. Most are trying their level best and every artist—even if long established—is still growing at their own pace. Being so, they'll usually hammer things out on their own or they have their own preferred conduits of feedback. Allow them the psychological safe space to do all that without trepidation and self-doubt. Truly, all said and done, it's always better to leave the artist's enthusiasm intact. They'll figure things out eventually, but the real goal of our interactions should be the preservation of our fellow's enthusiasm for what they're doing. 

Now okay, yes...even so, we think we know how to fix it. Great. Good for us. But we have just as much chance of being wrong because we may be the ones who are mistaken. How do we know? Truly, pretty much every single time a Corrector shows up, it ends up they're the one who's misunderstood the piece. Because here's the thing: Do we have the artist's knowledge base? Skills? References? Spectrum of development? Years of experience? Backstory? Do we even have the same goals for the piece? This is their vision, not ours, remember. Simply because we want that piece to be a certain way isn't justification enough to start imposing on their process. 

And contrary to belief, all this has little to do with ego but has mostly to do with momentum. Here's the thing: The artist is hardest on themselves so they're already beating themselves up. If they get pecked to death by criticisms then, that'll risk the whole enterprise imploding. To tell the truth, the concept of the "artistic ego" is often a gross misunderstanding. What's more typically happening is that the artist has already pulverized themselves so badly that to get any more "beatings" from someone else just becomes too much. In response, some artists will quit the piece in exasperation and lingering self-doubt while others may lash out in frustration. Either way, they'll be unfairly labeled as "egotists" when this isn't the case—they're being human. Because isn't it a human reaction to react to internal anguish, right? Really, it's not such a matter of pride as it is a matter of how much bruising one can take—and every artist is different in what they can withstand. Yet adding salt into this wound, those artists who are particularly sensitive tend to have the lowest thresholds, making them more reactive and therefore the most prone to being stigmatized as an "egotist." But think about it—it would be a hefty ego that would protect them! Truly, almost all the artists I've met in this venue have been down to earth and greatly humble. I just don't see these big egos they're purported to have. If anything, I see a desire to have their own protected, autonomous space and agency to do their work in peace and on their own terms. Is that unreasonable?

Because here's another thing some may not realize—to blurt out a criticism can wound an artist, even if meant with good intentions. Unsolicited comments can truly be destructive, but when allowed the space to figure things out in their own way, the artist would have followed through. So think about giving artists the space to be human. And remember, too, that comments are cumulative, they all add up, and we don't know if our comment was the nail in a coffin we really didn't want to nail shut.

It's odd though, in my observations throughout the years, when an artist has tried to stand their rightful ground, the roof may fall in on them like they committed some grave sin, and then all manner of labeling gets heaped onto them—"mean," "egotistical," "unreasonable," "bitch," narcissistic," "BNA," "difficult," "arrogant," "big headed," and on and on. Indeed, it was such vitriol that was used to keep artists "in their place" in the past—is that still the case? It does seem like some artists are shamed into submission as though defending themselves was somehow an affront to the community. But while artists are surely grateful for any support, they're supposed to wear a smile and take the blows with equal gratitude? Some are even blamed for speaking up—I'm sure I will be after this post. Just watch—it'll happen. So it's not surprising why some artists are too scared to speak up for fear of a backlash. Yet some are such boiled frogs, they don't even realize their situation is worrisome. 

So what's the motivation for this cold call commentary? Could it be a sense of entitlement to an artist's work? Remember that most participants are dependent on our artists to supply them with the game pieces they need to show. Even more, however, it's artists who supply the dream horses that fill our hearts and imaginations. Because of this dependency, could it be that some folks feel that artists should create specifically for their desires to fulfill their own vision? That because they cannot create the dream horse themselves, they wish to shape, impose, even coerce an artist to create it how they want? Is the artist simply a means to an end bereft of their own agency? One wonders.

On that note, there's this, too: If we aren't creating these pieces ourselves, experiencing all the triumphs, challenges, failures, anguish, elation, sacrifice, discipline, tedium—all that goes into each one—we don't have a full appreciation for the experience. As such, how could we treat that experience thoughtfully? And without that understanding, there can be no common ground. The artist then remains an "other," forever existing outside the courtesies shown to fellow showers and collectors, and that objectification introduces problematic treatment. One wonders.

Maybe perhaps those who pipe up feel superior, feel they know more and so feel entitled to their opinion and voicing it. It may also make them feel important, an authority. Yet in all truthfulness, going around and correcting others makes one an insufferable boor, and also a persona non grata among artists—and artists talk to each other. Yet a true authority leads by role modeling and giving artists their space until invited in. They show respect and courtesy, and always empathize. They lead rather than push, inspire rather than criticize, and empower rather than bash. So one wonders.

In Response

Know it or not then, nearly every artist breaks at some point and enacts some protective measures to insulate themselves. For example, they may gravitate towards like-minded cliques and away from the big online spaces. They may throw up proverbial walls or even back off the venue, putting distance between them and the community. They may tend to focus more on their own feeds. Their policies can tighten, and they may become more selective in their collector base or circle of friends. They may block certain chronic offenders on social media. But it's not about being unfriendly, egotistical, inaccessible, or aloof—it's about protection of their psyche and preservation of their enthusiasm. Hard truth here—when an artist strategizes their interaction with the community, it's likely to preserve the illusion they can continue to like the community at all. Indeed, I don't know of a single artist who hasn't been made more cautious for their experience at some point. And—yes—people are people. Any community is going to have its problem voices—of course that's true. Yet can't we all work for something better?

What's the unspoken reality we're sweeping under the rug then? Well, the sad truth is that many artists—including potential artists—develop a degree of fear when creating in this particular community. Is that really what we want? It's scary enough to create something and put it out there in the arena of judgment, but this community's arena is particularly harsh and vocal. There's no standard of behavior when speaking about our peers and their efforts, allowing the lowest common denominator to drag everyone down. When a community's accepted behavior can engender fear in a targeted group of participants, isn't that a problem?

Now it may seem that social media is a boon for getting the positive feedback needed to counterbalance things. When it works well, it definitely is! But this isn't so much the case on the big lists, groups, and forums where it's usually the opposite effect, tending to be peppered with negativity often directed at our arts. Just look how OFs are spoken of, even when the distance between the piece and the artist is zero. What people will say through a keyboard in public but never say to an artist's face sets a worrisome tone in our small, close-knit niche. Now—absolutely—artists can manipulate their own feeds to filter out obnoxiousness, and many do. But that only goes so far. Artists are often still within earshot of this toxicity which is exactly why they tend to retreat further away. They aren't trying to be inaccessible—they're trying not to get hurt or allow all that negativity into their lives.

Probable Cause

So how did this questionable treatment come to be? Why is it tolerated? Heck, why is it even protected on certain forums? Because—hey—if artists started speaking about showers and their efforts as showers speak about artists and theirs, the outcry would be deafening! 

It may have started from the very beginning, which is probably why it's so entrenched. There was great distance between the artists of the OFs and the collector back in the early days, and so a level of carelessness in speaking about them was commonplace. (I was guilty of this myself in some of my ancient past articles critiquing specific old molds. Not proud about it now that's for sure.) Then as competition ramped up, so did the harshness of tone so even when that buffer zone shrunk dramatically with CMs, ARs, and now our artists-mined OFs, this style of speaking didn't evolve, but doubled down. We now have an arena typified with no buffer zones between many of the works yet the way some speak is still so thoughtless, even downright mean and callous. So let's be clear here: It's not that people talk that's the issue, it's how they speak. "It's not what you say, it's how you say it." Are we not at a point in our activity where we should be expecting better? And if we're welcoming new people into this, what sort of messages are we sending them? What kind of role modeling are we demonstrating?

Also exacerbating the issue is a unique quirk of this activity—people showing the work of others in a competitive format. In this, the longtime freeze on DIYer dominance perhaps had a more negative effect than we realize. How? Well, it allowed the community to pull the human factor out of the creative equation more easily. When we aren't creating our own pieces to show—when we aren't experiencing the creative reality ourselves and the arena of judgement—we forget the human element in the works around us. We lose sight of how hard it is to do, how time consuming, resource-rich, skill built, and sacrifice-demanding, the strong feelings, the unending struggles, the maddening craziness of it all. And then we begin to forget that our peers are making themselves painfully vulnerable by displaying their created works. So when the community began to depend ever more on the creations of professional artists to provide the means to participate, it became an easier slide to dehumanize them and objectify their efforts, especially as things intensified. 

Subsequently, creatives were no longer "us," they were "them." The Other. The Means To An End. And so began the long-standing, unspoken love/hate relationship some have with artists. Honestly, in all my 33 years involved in this, I've been made to feel overtly unwelcome, resented, even disliked at times, especially in the early days of my career here. Posts and private messages detailed how awful my presence was, sometimes I still get an errant jab. Heck, an entire webpage was created blasting me. I've been a target for a long time. So if I've ever come across as off-putting, inaccessible, aloof, shy, or's not because I's because I'm afraid. Compounding this, I also have some introverted traits so being around folks I don't know well can be tricky for me. I get scared. I get shy. I get awkward, stupid, and unsure. I get starstruck, intimidated, and overwhelmed, too. I'm human. Yet simply because I'm an established artist, I've been thus labeled all manner of things from "unfriendly" to "narcissist" to "arrogant" to "egotist" to "elitist" to "aloof" to "mean" to...oh, you name it. And all because they didn't want to see my human frailties but would rather paint me with a meaner brush simply because of what and who I am. And I'm not alone here. I know of other artists who met with a cold shoulder, too. Is it any wonder then why some are gone now?

Because dehumanizing an artist is the key ingredient here. When creatives are objectified into a means to an end, it becomes easier to treat them thoughtlessly, even as targets for dissatisfaction. So if something doesn't measure up to someone's expectations, we get cold call commentary. Or if something goes awry in a deal, things can get ugly fast even if nothing is actually wrong—even if it's the buyer who's wrong. The stories I've heard about the behavior and demands some artists encounter can be downright unsettling. Sadly then, it's not uncommon to discover a friendship was really just a manipulation to gain access, or the artist was only liked for their work. 

Perhaps another part of the problem are three additional elements: (1) many forget what's truly entailed with being a working artist, (2) not comprehending the nature of the work itself, and (3) not understanding that the realities of a working artists are often quite different. 

Let's unpack the first one. It seems that Amazon, McDonalds, Walmart and the like have conditioned our society to expect a certain kind of operation, and that's fine. They have the resources to provide it. But curiously, some in our community believe that's how things actually operate with artists here, or worse, should operate. But while similar operational ideas can be applied, the fundamental breakdown of the situation means they simply cannot. They just don't have the same resources massive corporations have. See, here's the basic problem: The artist only has themselves and their most precious resource, their time. The artist wears all the hats and so must prioritize things based on production realities or life circumstances just to get everything done. Think about that for a minute. While those big corporations have whole departments and armies of employees to attend to everything and immediately, the artist has to do it all themselves, creating a very different equation. Yes, some have hired additional help—me being one of them—but that only goes so far. So think about the amount of work needed just to create, advertise, and distribute one edition, all dumped onto one person. Think about the copious materials needed to do that and how it can be tricky to get them at times, such as quality castings. And when they're attending to all that, they cannot be doing other critical things, making everything a ladder of prioritization out of necessity. Now what if things go haywire in their operations or their lives? What if they have medical or psychological conditions? Any number of unavoidable things can disrupt their studio. Really, despite all their best practices and intentions, life happens. The cottage-industry nature of the typical artist in this venue isn't anything like that of big corporations. The personal investment of a working artist is magnitudes greater while the resources are magnitudes lesser. Yet these aren't rationalizations or excuses—they're simply facts for a large number of working artists. They do the best they can within their impacted circumstances, but things can go awry despite their best intentions. So the expectation that an artist operate like big corporation or even a sizable small business with employees misunderstands the equation.

Now let's look at the second one. Breaking it down further, think about the nature of these creations in the first place. They aren't mass produced in a cheap-labor foreign country by faceless workers with the resources of an entire factory behind them. No—these are lovingly handmade one at a time by either the artist or caster. What's more, think about what it takes just to get anywhere near respectable in quality, in the artisanship needed for excellence. Just to create them is entirely dependent on long brewed, hard earned, time rich, resource laden, sacrifice ridden, and psychologically and emotionally taxing effort. And a lot goes into making these things behind the scenes, off the public radar. On the other hand, when it comes to OFs, remember they're mass produced as quickly as possible. They aren't the same quality as an AR or custom—they can't be to remain at their price points. They may also have had to be designed a certain way for production, lose something in translation, or have production issues or relics. OFs are a very different animal and so necessitate a different kind of expectation, so don't blame the original artist and always be understanding of the company's factory process. Heck, I remember when chattermarks, gouges, and overspray were simply part of the package, and now? Wow—OF collectors never had it so good!

Now let's consider the third one. Because of all this, the concerns that fill a working artist's head aren't really the same as everyone else. The realities are quite different. Daily goings on are different, practices are different, finances are different, priorities are different, most everything. Indeed, just consider this for just one example: While someone may be one person, a artist is having to deal with many, all with different needs. Now given that time is the only limiting factor, the one critical resource for a working artist, that means their time is best spent in the studio creating the work no one else can. No wonder some have taken to hiring helper mavens. But for those who can't, they have to figure out how to balance this on a daily basis and that doesn't always work so well—not because it's necessarily their fault but because that's life within their very different reality. 

All this is just one of the reasons why those transaction boards can be problematic—they present only one side without an equitable burden of proof. Indeed, I know of one artist who was blackmailed with the threat of a red light to force an inequitable situation. In these systems, the burden of proof lies on the artist to disprove their presumed guilt, yet it can be the buyer who has a misunderstanding or the unreasonable demand. Maybe there should be a customer rating board for artists to use! Imagine the outcry over that. 

How Can We Change Things?

Our community is trying to build a more inclusive, safer space to mend some torn seams in our social fabric. So does that also include a safe place for artists and their creativity? 

I'd like to repeat that I'm not suggesting our community is all bad. Nope! There's a loads of wonderful folks involved who offer an avalanche of encouragement, positivity, and support for the creatives who work so hard. And the fact is, they probably constitute the vast majority out there—at least that's been my experience. And when it comes right down to it, it's this sense of pervasive positivity out there that can be the last thread an artist holds onto when things get bad. So it's likely that only a relatively small, but highly vocal, minority is cranking out the ick. 

But that's the crux of it, isn't it? When the ugly minority is so vocal, that creates a lop-sided experience for the artist. So there's a big clue for jumpstarting change: Speak up! Don't be the silent majority! Get out there and "like" and comment with support and positivity on artists' feeds. Happily share their works and speak about them and their work in nice ways. Even more, send them PMs encouraging and supporting them, perhaps even sharing what their work means to you. Trust me—it can mean the world to them. And artists? your fellow artists! They aren't opponents to belittle or bash—they're peers, and their achievements and struggles deserve support and kinship. We're all in the same boat! Absolutely, positive reinforcement can inspire creativity better and in more ways than criticism ever could. 

Most of all, though, rather than bash what we hate, support and promote what we love. So instead of berating what we dislike in a piece, focus instead on what we like and leave the rest out of it. The world has enough negativity—why add more? If more of us did this then, imagine the lovely new tone set in our community. It could also lessen the fear factor of the public arena which could inspire more folks to pick up tool and brush. The more welcoming we make the atmosphere for creativity then maybe the more great stuff will become available to us.

Now all that said, let's be real—none of this means we can't discuss things. That's a natural, expected outcome of sharing anything, right? Of perhaps even needing to learn about sculptures, horses, and art. So people will talk; it's just normal behavior. But can we do this in a way that isn't destructive to someone's experience? Isn't care with our tone, word choice, and meaning that mediates unfair assumptions, irresponsible speculation, insinuations, and hurtful begged questions the better route? Aren't the feelings of our peers more important than voicing whatever opinion is unkindly lurking in our head? 

Also understand that certain ways of speaking have a loaded history that instantly paints an interaction with negativity. For example, "BNA" ("Big Name Artist") isn't a term of endearment or neutral description. It's one born of malice. Originally coined as a negative label, it referred to artists who were thought to have become "too big for their britches" or who were deemed "too big" for anyone's good, being a bad element that had to be squelched or driven out. Even when one artist started casting in bronze, for example, that riled the ire of some who stamped "arrogant BNA" onto their forehead. So when some long-established artists hear this term—especially since that term may have referred specifically to them—it can poison the interaction right out of the gate. Instead, it's better to use the term "established artist" rather than "BNA." 

So here's the first Golden Rule: Don't confuse display with consent—only offer critique when that artist has expressly solicited feedback from you. Otherwise, focus on the positives we like rather than mention or beg questions about the parts we don't. Now then when we do give an invited critique, be careful with words, phrasing, and insinuations so pointing out a problem won't sting. Plus, always offer a solution or helpful route to make that fix. And be generous with compliments and encouragement, always. Also try not to inundate them with a multitude of issues all at once since that can be overwhelming and discouraging. Instead, give them two to three fixes to work on in chewable bites. A critique is about empowerment and encouragement, not about shooting off our opinion or imposing our vision. 

So here's the second Golden Rule: Speak about the work of others in public as if that artist was a friend and standing right next to you. Be kind and generous, supportive and caring. Sure, we can be tweaky over parts of it, but we can still speak of those areas with a greater degree of thoughtfulness, right? For example, instead of saying, "I don't like their work, it's odd and wrong." Instead think about, "Their work is really cool only my tastes are more flamboyant." Better yet, focus on those aspects we like instead. For example, instead of saying, "That model is just weird and goofy looking," think about saying, "I really like the face and neck," or "I think the movement of the tail is cool," "or the tone of the paintjob is pretty." Artists hear enough garbage about their work. For instance, back in the early 90s when I was still fresh and intimidated by all this, I was at WRC in Las Vegas. Uninvited, some random woman plunked down in my seat and proceeded to rip apart my work, loudly proclaiming which pieces she thought were passable and which were crap. Yet the "ugly" ones had done quite well in the show and one in particular was one of my favorites. In my hurt, I took him home and redid him, but never finished him, effectively destroying him. I threw him out, my experience with him being so tarnished. And I see in hindsight how technically wrong she was in her opinions. And I'm not the only one who's suffered this. That's the destructive power of this sort of unpleasant, unwelcome behavior, only today it's moved online, even more publicly, aggressively, and corrosively than ever before.

The thing is, we can still have issues with a piece or with an artist's work. That's the nature of how we relate to art. And not everyone will like the same things. But "if you can't find something nice to say, don't say anything at all" as the adage goes. Just because we have a negative opinion doesn't mean we need to voice it. No matter how strongly we feel about it, no matter how entitled we feel to it, no matter how much we think it'll help, no matter how important it makes us feel, simply not speaking is often the better practice. Let people enjoy their thing. Let artists savor their efforts untarnished. Don't rain on someone's parade or pop their balloon. Plus there's always someone out there who loves that piece just as it is so let them love it, too. Absolutely, a bit of psychological safe space can do far more to develop an artist's abilities that criticizing their work.

On that note, consider how even insinuations can hurt. Things that leave someone thinking, "What does that mean?" can be just as troublesome. For instance, if someone proudly presents their dapple grey paint job, replying simply with, "I like chestnuts more" isn't so kind, is it? We've just ignored the effort as if it was inconsequential which is discouraging and hurtful. Instead then, acknowledge the effort such as, "I'm a big chestnut fan myself, but that dapple grey is really cool! Great job!" See—just a little shift in word use paired with acknowledgement can make a world of difference. Or rather than saying, "I think Quarter Horses are dumb, I like Saddlebreds way more," in response to someone's sculpture, instead think about, "I'm big into Saddlebreds myself, but golly—you really infused a lot of personality into your Quarter Horse!" On the other hand, there's, "I like the head but I'm not sure about the rest of it." That begs questions that aren't very nice, doesn't it? And what's the point of that additional quip anyway? Rather it's better to just say, "I really like the head, such a beautiful face and expression!" and leave it at that. Simply omitting what we're not hip over can result in a lot more positivity. Or, "That cannon bone looks wrong to me" is a subjective and ambiguous statement that isn't so helpful. And are we so sure our idea is more accurate? Everyone's Eye is in flux, including our own. There's also camera and angle distortion which can really hose things up, even in very subtle ways. Phone cameras are notorious for this so keep that in mind. There are the curveballs nature throws at us, too, which we may not know with our more limited mental library or references. 

Here's the third Golden Rule then: Consider the courage it takes to create something to then share it in the dauntingly harsh arena of judgement. Most creatives take a big gulp every time they debut a new piece, no matter how long they've been at this. Please remember that. Their hearts have been placed before you so handle them with care. Also understand that "comparison is the death of joy," as Mark Twain insightfully observed, and so many artists are trying very hard to maintain that joy in a comparison-based genre. So put yourself in their shoes...could you really be so brave? Could you really suffer the beatings over and over, and still get back up to do it all again with the next piece? And the next and the next?

Proactive Strategies for Artists

In turn, there are targeted strategies that'll help artists navigate the choppy waters out there. First off, think about staying off large public groups or forums, especially if they aren't aggressively moderated. You'll just end up having to dodge bullets and you'll get hit at some point. These places will also fill your head with negative voices that'll play out in your head all day long, and who needs that kind of energy? Instead, seek arenas of likeminded peers, and it's also preferable that you know many present there personally. (Yet notice how we see victim blaming here, too, as artists get accused of forming elitist cliques. And yes, it is a clique, but many artists are driven to it because they don't dare frequent the open spaces anymore.)

Additionally, try to stay peppy by reminding yourself of these ten things: 
  1. For every dolt, there are countless others who like your work and are supportive—focus on them instead. 
  2. Those dissing your work probably aren’t your collectors anyway so don't waste your precious energy on them. 
  3. Hold Brene Brown’s quote close to heart—"If you're not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback." 
  4. Create for yourself first—if you love your piece, that’s truly all that matters, so reframe things away from what people think and towards what satisfaction you derived from creating it. 
  5. While we may cringe at our past work as our development progresses, remember that there are people out there who absolutely love it. Try to see past work through their eyes then and appreciate all the stepping stones you've walked to get to where you are now.
  6. An opinion isn’t a fact and so can be completely wrong, incompatible with your vision and goals, or frankly flat-out stupid. Always consider the source, too. 
  7. The best comeback is to be happy and happily creative, cranking out beautiful work that grows and deepens in scope and skill. 
  8. Sometimes bad vibes are born of envy, jealously, and resentment of your accomplishments and talents. Some people—for whatever reason—just want to chop you down because your head is sticking up too high. That's on them, not you. 
  9. You're going to have "bad horse days," it's inevitable. Every artist does. It's part of the developmental process and part of being human. So be kind to yourself; don't forget that the need to be kind also applies to you, too.
  10. You're more talented than you know and more capable than you think, so find your courage in that when self-doubt is imposed on you. You and your work are special and wonderful so if someone can’t appreciate that, well...that’s a reflection on them, not you. Don’t let someone’s ick tarnish your shine—glow bright! 
These TED talks are also immensely helpful and reassuring—I highly recommend them:
Closing Thoughts

It's understandable to believe that artists, especially popular ones, get regular kudos in private, that people lavish them with compliments and encouragement behind the scenes. But this isn't always the case. Many work in isolation, sometimes receiving meager positive feedback even when a new piece is debuted—but boy, can they hear loads of bashing in public. This lopsided feed of negativity can take a toll despite coping mechanisms and so some artists come to wonder why they're doing this at all at some point. It can be really important then to dump positive feedback back into their lives to compensate for the continued onslaught of yuck hurled at them from nearly every direction.

There's this, too: How we speak about artists and their works reveals far more about us than it does them. And if we want to build a future that nurtures creativity, remember it can be a fragile thing—it's more like an HR, not a Schleich. It can be deflated more easily than we may realize. Truly, when an artist loses the joy to create for this genre, we all lose. And with beginners, who knows that future geniuses we may be hampering or scaring off. More, too, every artist will take a creative misstep at some point. Mistakes are part of the creative process and development. So let's give artists the safe space to make them without having to build a bomb shelter. 

And—yes—some people are just going to talk meanly no matter how change progresses. There's always "that guy" in every crowd. And people will talk in general—that's just part and parcel of creating for a competition-based genre. People will also talk privately, of course, which is where negative talk should be kept. Even so though, we can talk publicly about things in a way that doesn't necessitate emotional plate armor, right? Do we have to speak in a way that actually drives creatives away from the social conduits enjoyed by everyone else? Aren't we thoughtful adults? Can't we do better?

Because it's an inverse equation: Criticism can do tremendous harm while praise will always do tremendous good. So giving kudos is never a bad idea! That stuff is free so dole it out in generous handfuls! Then watch the eyes of artists light up then watch how they come to believe in themselves just a little bit more then watch what you helped inspire come to be then watch as the tone of the community blooms into something better—and you helped to do all that with some simple praise instead of disapproval.

And there's this simple fact, too: Any criticism is an open invitation to create your own piece exactly how you want, according to your own vision, and then you'll get to experience how difficult it really is and intimately come to know the arena of judgment out there. It'll put a whole new spin on things. Again, as Brene Brown astutely relates, "If you're not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback." Don't like it? Do it yourself.

Now lets be fair and honest with ourselves again here: Criticism is an inevitable part of arting and display. It's part of the package. If not in public then in private. Insightfully, Brene Brown confirms, "If you're going to show up and be seen, there's only one guarantee and that is—you will get your ass kicked. That is the guarantee. That's the only certainty you have. If you're going to go into the arena and spend any time in there whatsoever, especially if you've committed to creating in your life, you will get your ass kicked." And in this age of the Internet and comment section, literally everyone is a critic. Yet as my favorite movie—Ratatouille—gently reminds us in Anton Ego's ending soliloquy:
In many ways, the world of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves for our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.
And there we have it. So while the world at large may often be mean-spirited, does our community have to be as well? Isn't there an opportunity here to become a sanctuary for all of us? I'd like to think that in a few years, the terrible things so many artists have experienced will be quaint horror stories told to new ones. I sit back and imagine a community where everyone's abilities are embraced with care and their achievements met with support and thoughtfulness. I hope for a time when any artist can share their works online with all enthusiasm and little worry. I fancy a day where the realities of creating in this genre are respected by more. I dream of a creative landscape where those who spew awfulness and carelessness are held accountable, inducing more folks to pick up the arts without a target on their hearts. I wistfully think of a social setting where artists can participate in more open spaces without anxiety and cynicism. I yearn for a day where some walls can come down between the creatives and the community so that sense of "other" can diffuse into "us." And I hope for a future where camaraderie overrides acrimony, where cohesion counteracts corrosion. I'm probably being too idealistic but, nevertheless, I hope.

"You, you may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you will join us
And the world will be as one."
~ John Lennon


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Breadcrumbs Home

The Rugged Trail

Being an artist surely is fun, but still, it's no cakewalk. So many challenges, so many things to juggle, so much to dodge. We put in long, hard hours and try our level best, pouring our fervent selves into each piece. Sometimes things come together magically, but other times we just have to muscle through in the blind hope it'll all come together in the end. Yet nothing is certain when we start a new piece, even if we finish it at all. We can also feel inadequate and self-doubting at times and sometimes, just sometimes, may even wonder why we're doing this at all, especially given some of the awful criticisms pelting us. Honestly, if being hard on ourselves wasn't hard enough, coming from others can sorely test our camel's back. 

Ours is a crazy path to be sure and it doesn't necessarily get any easier either, perhaps getting even harder as we advance as expectations amplify. Yet we somehow find ourselves forging ahead nonetheless, drawing from a mysterious force of will we perhaps didn't know we had. Often times then the more established the artist, the stronger they are as if the battering and brilliance of the passing years has tempered them. They're seasoned trailblazers, charging down their rugged trails not necessarily in full control, but confident enough to stay surefooted.

Still, it can all get to be too much at times. For that then, a nudge to scoot us past our doldrums or a supportive word to sooth our doubts or an oasis of wisdom to replenish our inspiration may be in order. I'd like to share with you then some of my favorite quotes as they relate to creativity. I find they really help me in my moments of vulnerability, of self-doubt and despondency because just the right idea at the right time can swoop in to save the day, even change our whole outlook. So let's go!...

The Breadcrumbs

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." — Teddy Roosevelt

This truly speaks to an artist's struggle with the devotion, effort, and courage it takes to stay creative while still bearing the criticisms that would squelch us. And the struggle is real. It can be so hard some days, can't it? Going into the arena is a brutal business. 

It also speaks to the differing realities between the one who's taking all the risk—the artist—and the one who isn't—the critic. Whose efforts have more merit? Who's demonstrating more grit and dedication? Who's presenting something new to the world? Which one should get our attention more then? And should the one taking all the risks really give so much power to the one who isn't? The truth is this: Whatever the critic may say, they're not the one who's in the arena "marred by dust and sweat and blood." They aren't doing the work so should their words really be given so much weight? 

I also appreciate the idea of daring greatly because, indeed, just believing in yourself is powerful magic. We don't have to be super confident either, we just have to believe in ourselves a little bit. It's hopeful. So many people don't even start for lack of confidence, but just a little bit of hope can go a very long way. Which brings us to...

"Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion"
— Rachel Platten, Fight Song

When it comes to creativity, this passage speaks to the power of the singular moment, the singular person, the singular effort. It's so easy to get caught up in the flash and show of popular work, in the drama and excitement of show days, piece debuts, or model releases. Life is a big, thrilling, shiny place. But it's the sum of its parts, isn't it? And even one single effort has the extraordinary power to change everything, to shift an entire paradigm! And each one of us can truly make a difference. Isn't it wonderful? 

But it's not just about an outward "explosion," either—it can also be about an inner event, a rethink, a rejuvenation, a remaking, a rebirth. Sometimes our toughest battles, the worlds that need the most revolution, lie within ourselves. And sometimes the only hero that can save us is—us. So believe in yourself and in the worth of your efforts—even when it seems the world doesn't care or is even against you—because you just never know the domino effect they could topple into motion. 

"Some tiny creature, mad with wrath, is coming nearer on the path." — Edward Gorey

The Gorey illustration that goes with this passage from "The Evil Garden" lives in my studio because the tiny, wrathful creature is just so darned adorable! Now as for how he's connected to creativity, I grant you, you may wonder if I just included this to show you how cyoooot he was. Maybe.

But but but, seriously, yes...there's a connection. What is it? Pugnaciousness. Moxie. Pluck. Cheek. Every artist needs it. And sometimes, we need a lot of it. It can be the only thing that keeps us going if a piece is being particularly challenging or the world at large is being...particularly challenging. So get those little arms up and start flailing! Let's hear your war cry!

"To practice any art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow. So do it." — Kurt Vonnegut

By our very wiring, we're a creative species. From the very first cave paintings to carvings to storytelling, we're driven to create—it's in our bones. Being so, I'm a big believer in the healing power of creativity. When I get low then, I go back to how joyous my art makes me and find reassurance. In this we can also be happy in the creative achievements of others, knowing the wonderment they experienced, too. This place is also common ground with artists, a means to connect to find more mutual understanding.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts." — Winston Churchill

We're going to fall on our art face at times—that's the promise of creativity. And that's a good thing. We learn, we grow, we develop more empathy for the struggles of others. Like the most difficult horses, our mistakes are our teachers. Really, if we did things right all the time, how would we be so driven to rethink, explore, and discover? Mistakes aren't the end of the world, they're the beginning.

I also like the idea that success is fleeting, that wariness of our own status quo is something to be valued. It's so easy to become self-satisfied, but there's always some new way that bumps up the bar. Understanding that our stake in all this is never assured, we stay on our toes.

And in the end, we have to get back on our proverbial horse, don't we? We have to get up, brush off the dirt and gravel, bruises and all, and keep moving forwards, relentless, stubborn, brave, and hopeful. It tests who we are. I've learned that the best artists are a hungry, scrappy bunch. They gut it out.

"Each horse is practice for the next." — Ed Gonzales

My buddy, Ed, said this a lot and I love it. It's so hopeful, isn't it? So full of promise and assurance. Because it's true—each horse is practice for the next as we continually learn the progressive lessons. So don't let discouragement take too much of a hold—because while we will feel it from time to time—let it instead run like water off a duck's back. Just let it roll over you and move on, knowing that the lessons you learned can be applied to the next effort. And never forget, while we're only as good as our present piece, there's always the next one that will speak for us even more.

To that end, I also like this quote because it implies there's never an end, is there? And we can move forward at our own pace to boot. Two important components for staying curious and eager learning. It also provides great calm since there's a degree of acceptance here, even an embracing of our quirks and foibles that make our human and creative experiences so rich and unique.

"Creativity without discipline will struggle, creativity with discipline will succeed." — Amit Kalantari

Making art takes gumption, but making equine realism takes discipline. A lot. If we hope to be successful at this, we have to buckle down. That's simply how it is. Only discipline can hone the blade needed to cut through this inordinately tough art form because without it, there's no focus, no concentration, no impetus to perfect our skills. We have to "stay on target," as Gold Five would say, pushing forwards out of sheer force of will. Honestly, many artists flounder not for lack of skill, but because they have difficulty crunching ahead. 

"Make it work." — Tim Gunn

Sometimes we'll get stuck, spin wheels, confused or offtrack on a piece, or any number of minor catastrophes. We'll art ourselves into a proverbial corner. But because we should finish, it's time to switch gears, jury-rig, backtrack, go sideways, tweak and futz, or do whatever else it takes to save the piece, creatively rethinking it all. 

And there's great value in this. We discover, we innovate, take risks, ponder, and explore...we're changed by the process. Great challenges forge great artists because—yes—we make the work but the work also makes us.

"The only way round is through." — Robert Frost

Yet rethinking can bring us right back to the start, can't it? Sometimes there's no way to avoid it—you just have to grit your teeth and plow right through. Maybe we have to remove a part of a sculpture we love because it just doesn't work. Maybe we got the tone wrong on a paintjob, and though it's gorgeous, it has to be changed. Maybe we have to start over with a whole new piece. It takes a special kind of will to do that, but everything about our piece should remain changeable to serve the vision.

"It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop." — Confucius

It's easy to become impatient with our progress, but that's normal. Here's the thing: Sometimes there a disconnection between what we expect of ourselves and what our skills are capable of creating at that moment, so we just have to wait until the two coalesce with experience. These limitations are temporary. So keep going. This isn't a race, it's a journey. Learning takes its own time, too—it cannot be rushed, short-cutted, circumvented, or cheated so give yourself time to absorb and process. None of this comes easy, but momentum alone, no matter how small, can keep the groove going.

Moreover, persistence and hope tend to be assets with equine realists to forge on in the belief that our efforts will be somehow fruitful. Indeed, those artists who accomplish the most usually have the most pluck—if there's a will there's a way most of the time. 

Now if we actually crash up against circumstances—because it happens—rather than stopping, why not just go sideways? Switch gears. So, say, if we get tired of sculpting full body pieces, think about bas-relief. Need a refresher from realism? Create stylized horses. If we're bored of realistic colors, paint in crazy colors and effects. If we're totally fried sculpting the head, work on a leg instead. Go in any direction, just keep going. You have an adaptable skillset so bend instead of break.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." — Maya Angelou

When people buy a piece of your art and bring it into their home, they're bringing you into their home as well. They'll remember their experiences with you every time they look at your piece. Let that be a win-win.

What's more, good work should move people, inspire them, find connection, and seek to elevate. We love horses and great equine art reminds us of that, reaffirms it, nurtures it. People should feel our work rather than just look at it.

"Follow your bliss." — Joseph Campbell

I like to believe that each of us is born with a special gift and it's our privilege to discover it. How do we know what that is? We follow our heart, our soul, our gut...our bliss. What makes us engaged and happy? What brings us that special kind of joy unlike any other? What's our funktionslust? You won't have to begrudgingly drudge through it because no matter what kind of hard work you have to invest, you still love it. You still wouldn't want to do anything else. And it can be anything! So if we find ourselves pulled in a particular direction, follow it. Don't be afraid and uncertain. If anything couldn't be more certain, it's that path for you! The Universe will conspire to help you. Which brings us to...

"Find what you love and let it kill you." — Charles Bukowski (or Kinky Friedman, depending on the debate.)

I like this quote because it speaks to the madness I have for my own art that deliriously, delightfully drowns me. Indeed, I can be single-minded pursuing it, absurdly focused creating it, ridiculously distracted by it, and just essentially possessed to the point where I lose track of the outside world. When I mean "possessed," I truly do mean that word and maybe that sounds familiar to you, too.

But in another way, it encourages us to go after what we love with abandon, joy, and fearlessness. Let it fill you up and give you a wondrous reason to get out of bed in the morning, devour the day with zeal, and fill you with great satisfaction when you hit the pillow at night. Let it possess you with its "good madness," as Neil Gaiman knowingly described.

"You didn't build that." — President Barak Obama 

No—no, I didn't. I wasn't alone. I recognize I haven't done it all by myself but took a lot of other people helping me along the way. From close friends to family to colleagues to mentors to teachers to business partners to other professionals to even my postman and accountant. A host of helping hands the Universe sent my way. In my soul there lives a special place that's eternally grateful, cultivating a deeper kind of happiness than simply creating a good piece—you see everyone and everything that truly went into it and it's humbling. My accomplishments were achieved with the help of so many. Our species, at the fundamental level, is a social one. We seek each other out and work together to create something new, a feat that can inject a great deal of meaning into our creativity. And, truly, if we remember where we came from, we can better appreciate where we're going.

"The only valid rule for a work of art is that it be true to itself." — Marty Rubin

I'll do me and you do you—that's the best and only way to do art. Draw from your gut, your inner singularity, your gifted uniqueness, and work from there. Be original and your original self. Tell novel stories. Don't be afraid to be "you" in your art. There's plenty of room for all sorts of styles, interpretations, variations, similarities, ideas, ambitions, art forms...whatever you can dream up, we can make room for it. Be true to yourself in your he-art, you're on the right track. This brings us to... 

"Comparison is the death of joy." — Mark Twain

Oh, isn't that the truth! There are few things that can disillusion us faster than comparing our work, our success, our achievements, our whatevers to that of others. Want to quickly deflate your enthusiasm? Apply someone else's standards, accomplishments, and aesthetic to your own. And think about it—that's pretty unfair to yourself, isn't it? You can't be someone else. You can only be you and that's more than enough.

So stay focused on you. Seek to perfect your own work and efforts rather than competing with others. When we jettison comparison, we'll become much happier, but even more, we learn to embrace our peers since they cease to be opponents. Which ushers in...

"I won't let my demons win; 
My only rival is within; 
I will fight through thick and thin;
My only rival is within." 
— Rival by Ruelle 

The only thing you have to exceed isn't another artist—it's yourself. You are the source of all your own limitations, most brutal comparisons, harshest criticisms, and anxious trepidations. Your own internal landscape can stop you at every turn or it can be a garden crisscrossed with promising paths. It's all inside you. So it's better to reflect everything inside and get going on the landscaping.

Because, know it or not, each of us struggle with the opposites of human nature, and our compulsions, thoughts, doubts, anxieties, overthinking, feelings...any number of things. All of this can become a creative distraction or they could also become its fuel and fodder. It's up to you how it all works best and everyone is different, but the point is this: Address the struggle within yourself where it originates, and make peace and find incentive there. "Go placidly amid the noise and the haste" advises the Desirderata and that includes within ourselves. 

"Don't be afraid. Don't be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, just for one moment through your efforts, then 'Ole!' And if not, do your dance anyhow. And 'Ole" to you, nonetheless...just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up." — Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert related how the Greeks had a very different idea of "genius" than the one typical today. They believed that genius was a spirit that visited to compel you to create an inordinately great piece of work. It didn't come from you per se, you had help from outside yourself. But today, genius lies completely within our person and that ushers in some problems. For instance, with the Greeks, if you did a problematic piece, you had someone to partly blame right? Our "genius" just didn't deliver. We have a buffer, a means to process failure better. But if genius lies only within us, we're entirely to blame with all the flooding awfulness that brings. It's a tempting, idea, isn't it? But that's what she's referring to with "divine, cockeyed genius" in that quote.

So anyway, just keep on rocking it even if your notes clank or don't come together quite right. We all have "bad horse days" and by the same token, we'll all create The Piece by which we'll always be measured, for better or worse. It's just the way of things. So whether your "genius" shows up or not, just keep arting. Because, lemme tell ya, sometimes you'll crank out a piece you think will fail horribly which ends up to be an insane success. Stormwatch was that for me. So forge on anyway because you just never know what will pop out of your effort. Give your "cockeyed genius" something to work with because there's always the possibility of magic happening.

"If you're not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback." — Brené Brown

There's only one guarantee when you display your work in public: Criticism. Often a lot of it. Some people may be misguidedly trying to help, some are careless with their words, some are tone deaf, some are simply thoughtless, some are trying to impose their vision onto yours, and some are just outright mean. And everyone is a critic. A quarter-penny per billion trillion, criticisms can be exasperating, hurtful, and deflating, and even be about the dumbest things. They can be be outright wrong, too, since they often lack the equivalent knowledge base or creative goals. Yet note how vocal they are? Indeed, critics tend to blather the loudest and most often, perhaps because they like the perceived stature it gives them or they just derive their life force from disapproval. All in all, criticism "inspires you to stay small," as Brown put it, so if we don't know how to buffer it, criticism is going to paralyze us. We'll come to doubt ourselves and our abilities, even question why we're arting at all. At its worst, it can even cause us to dislike ourselves through shame, inadequacy, and unworthiness. Some people can truly be cruel and thoughtless. 

Directly linked to the first quote in this post by Roosevelt, the "Man in the Arena," here Brown also affirms that only those in your same boat know what's truly encapsulated in the experience. Everyone else? Not so much. They just aren't living the same reality you are. They aren't taking the risks, making the sacrifices, doing the work, taking the hits, and lurching back up after the beatings and stabbings to do it all over again. They're on the safe sidelines, in the safe seats. So instead focus on those who are also in the arena, fighting side by side with you. When they offer help then, that's the help to take.

But at the same time, we're also our own worst critics, aren't we? Brown observes, "We orphan the parts of us that don't fit the ideal...leaving only the critic." This could be our human penchant for "negative bias", or because we expect so much of ourselves, or because we're comparing ourselves others, or any number of reasons. Yet try to balance it with seeing your creative positives and congratulate yourself often. We truly do rewire our brains based on negative or positive thinking so keep that in mind when you start to wear yourself down.

There's this, too: Critics are loud, admirers are often quiet. Kind people just tend to be on the unobtrusive side whereas obnoxious types are in your face. For every critic then there are probably ten quiet people who love what you're doing only they may be too shy—or too put off by the boorish critics—to chime in. As such, toxicity may simply be more noticeable and corrosive, but usually not an indicator of the general sentiment out there. Just please remember this when criticisms start to beat you down. Remember the silence out there doesn't mean agreement, it means timidity and that's someone's anxious nature that asks for sympathy.

Likewise this related quote resonates as well: "Do what you feel in your heart to be right—for you'll be criticized anyway," said Eleanor Roosevelt. Don't let anyone's ick detour you from doing what you love. Your joy gives you zestful purpose and when you do that with love, critics can't touch you, can they? The best rebuttal then is to be happy in your endeavors. 

And finally, notice that your critics aren't your collectors? So what they're saying is literally disposable and inherently skewed, isn't it? Only listen to your collectors and knowledgable peers if you wish to vet feedback; otherwise you're giving too much power to exactly the wrong perspective!

"In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face is that, in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so." — Anton Ego, Ratatouille

Bingo—there it is...the true value of criticism. So you just keep on, keeping on, in full knowledge that what you're doing is worthy, worthwhile, and wonderful. You're a brave art warrior! And the people who matter most are behind you four square.

And actually Ratatouille is my all-time favorite film, for obvious ratty reasons of course, but also because I think it speaks to artists and the irrepressible, beautiful spirit of creating despite the forces that may be pushing against us. Indeed, Ego goes on to say in that monologue, "But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist can come from anywhere." We've all heard it before, haven't we? "Drawing horses isn't real art." Or, "you didn't graduate from art school? Oh, then you're just dabbling." Whatever. Don't listen to them. You just be you. Great art is great art, no matter what.

"People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish...but that's only if it's done properly." — Bansky

I like this quote because it reminds me to never take things too seriously—good or bad, especially the bad. Stay playful, lighthearted, humorous, irreverent, and be silly whenever possible. Laugh at yourself. It's good for you. Because it's so easy to lose perspective in all this, isn't it? Doesn't mean we can't be serious about our work, of course, but it does suggest that we balance it with a bit of cheek, especially with ourselves.

"Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end." — John Lennon

Every time I start a new piece, I draw on hope like a ratty chows down yogies. This is because—with every single piece—there are phases during its creation where I'm very uncomfortable, where I'm thinking, "What the heck am I doing?! You fool! You cannot do this, you useless, incompetent idiot. What were you thinking?" But those feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, disgust, helplessness, shame, and fear will eat you alive. This is where hope comes in. If you can just follow its glimmer, no matter how dark or monster-ridden it gets in there, you'll make it out and probably happily surprise yourself in the end. I know a lot of people talk about the importance of the journey over the destination, and that's true to a point—there's enormous value in the adventure. But the destination is equally important. It's the moment when you prove to yourself you can do it, that you can rise to the challenge despite the odds. You can be changed during the journey and still be just fine, perhaps even better off. And all fueled by the power of hope. You don't have to follow a giant beacon, either, just a little flicker can lead you through.

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." — Buddha

One of my favorite quotes, it affirms so much, doesn't it? Patience, serendipity, inevitability, stacking up circumstances to always be ready for the lesson, and on and on. It's also hopeful and assuring—have faith and trust that when you're ready, the Universe will send help your way, and stay open because it can come from anywhere.

It also alludes to this fact: We can only absorb at the moment what we can absorb at the moment—no more. In other words, if we aren't ready for a particular lesson because we don't yet have the ability to process a more advanced tidbit, it'll be lost on us and will usually render us frustrated. Learning builds on previous lessons and efforts, not absorbed all at once out of nowhere. So be patient, be persistent, and accept that improvement is often a series of baby steps, trusting that each is truly taking you steadily forwards.

I also like that it encourages teaching and holding it in a reverent place, and speaks to staying a learner, too. Yet it's a call to action to be a teacher as well. When we're invited to help others in their efforts, we ensure a clearinghouse of eager brains at the ready.

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour." — William Blake

I love how this quote speaks to the wonder of the world around us, even in the smallest, most seemingly insignificant thing or moment. Magic exists. As to creativity for me, it alludes to the wonder of where it comes from, how its manifested, what it encapsulates, and what it achieves. Each of us is a complete Universe, and each of our pieces is an expression of that Universe. And likewise, to see the same in our subject with all the infinite specialness he embodies takes our appreciation to the next level because, like us, each equine is a complete Universe, too.

I think this passage also suggests that the power of art to express the profound beauty of existence—and our subject—is a magical privilege to be reflected on and appreciated. I also like how it implies that every little touch lends power to the whole—every expressive nuance, every tick in a pattern, every dapple, every highlight, every line and curve, everything contributes in equal measure. The whole is truly the sum of its parts, no matter how seemingly small, and I find a lot of inspiration, challenge, and purpose in that.

I believe it also asks us to be mindful and present as we work to find marvel in our moments. That our entire Universe could narrow down to the love we're practicing, creating a euphoria of creativity. I find so much blessing in that.

This quote also nudges along the idea that no one's creative contribution is insignificant or without merit or wonder. There's always—always—something nice and encouraging to say about every piece even if simply the devotion, pride, and hard work it took to create it in the first place.  

"If anything is worth doing, do it with all your heart." — Buddha

Your art is important, for the world and for you, so dive in with your entire being with happy mania. It also relates to the Japanese concept of "ganbaru," of doing one's very best no matter what that is, and in doing so, everything gains a deeper meaning (just don't push yourself to excess stress). There's no small job, no insignificant effort so be present in the moment. 

This also gets to what I also heartily embrace, the German concept of "funktionslust" (the pleasure of doing what we're meant to do) and the Japanese idea of "ikigai" ("the happiness of always being busy"). When we embrace our creativity as a purpose in life, we gain a different perspective on challenges and obstacles because they cease to be creativity-stoppers, they become creativity-generators.

"I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing — which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself." — Elizabeth Gilbert

You're going to get knocked down by the creative life. You're going to faceplant, make mistakes, create bad pieces, get psychologically beaten up, and stumble towards your potential. That's the flip side promise of creativity and there's no way around it. And you'll probably also create a piece so popular that everything else you crank out afterwards will be viewed and measured through that lens, creating a dreadful pressure that damns you if you do or damns you if you don't with all the pieces that follow. People will love what they love and be disappointed in the rest. That's just the way of it.

But don't you love arting more than all this? Isn't your art where you find so much of what you need to be happy, serene, and balanced, too? Doesn't your art bring you a sense of joy, accomplishment, and satisfaction even if no one else appreciates it? Gilbert came to this realization after her manuscripts were rejected for almost six years and she came very close to quitting writing altogether. Can you imagine being rejected for almost six years? Talk about demotivation! But the point is, despite all the garbage, remember that you love arting "more than you love yourself." So try to stay in that inner space regardless of the consequences—good or bad—because what you do makes you happy and whole, so let the rest melt away.

"Because vulnerability is certainly a part of fear, self-doubt, grief, uncertainty, and shame, but it's also the birthplace of's the birthplace of love, belonging, of joy, trust, empathy, creativity, and innovation. Without vulnerability, you cannot create." — Brené Brown

Creativity is an act of excruciating vulnerability. Indeed, being an artist takes a degree of everyday courage many others don't realize. Putting your everything into something then holding it up to scrutiny over and over and over again—fully knowing you're going to be repeatedly chopped to pieces by countless knives—takes a level of guts and devotion many folks take for granted. And to some, taking potshots can be sport or a means to amplify their self-worth at your expense. Truly, artists make themselves targets every day, especially in this age of keyboards that expose them to the worst among us.

But as tempting as it is to "armor up," Brown warns that this comes at a terrible cost: The numbing of the sensitivity we need to be thoughtful artists in the first place. See, we cannot kill off one and nurture the other—our emotions are a complete package. Instead then, we have to learn how to take the blows without missing a step to keep moving forwards, confident and hopeful. (Four related videos are recommended at the end of this post which, I think, are mandatory watching for all artists.)

"I'm not going to quit, I'm going home." — Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert talks about how whatever success or failure her work found, her visceral love of writing—that "place" where that feeling lived—was her "home." What a great way to put it, right? Home. Of course. Our sanctuary. 

We each have that home inside of us where our instinctive love of creativity dwells, and the biggest candle in the window burns inside of us. Our home is where our inner creative self shines in its pure form. No matter how lost you get on the map then, how "vaulted from your home" by success or failure as Gilbert puts it, your inner sanctum is always there for rejuvenation, affirmation, and new attempts. Return there, always.

Gypsy says, "Tom, I don't get you." Tom Servo responds, "Nobody does; I'm the wind, baby!" (Mystery Science Theater)

I'm an unabashed Tom Servo fangirl, and I love his quip here because it's so irreverent and matter-of-fact. Even if no one understands him, he still confidently keeps on being Tom. 

And for me, that's reassuring. Some folks—maybe a lot of folks—may not "get" your work. Many may flat out not like it. That's alright. We each have our way of doing things that no one has to like, and that anyone does like it is simply amazing! So you keep on being you, even if no one understands, can't see the same things you can, appreciates the same things you do, or gets where you're headed. Each of us live in our own vibrant reality so you live your Truth and they'll live theirs. If they intersect, great. If not, such is life. Your Truth is in your work and it'll speak for you even when you can't—and that's enough.

Home, Safe and Sound

And there ya have it—bits of wisdom to steer you back on course no matter how far you've swerved off. You'll make it "home," as Elizabeth Gilbert would say, back to that safe and exquisite place, that still point, where your creativity resides and rejoices, feeding your psyche, heart, and soul. Yay! Really then, in so many ways, these quotes have saved me, pulling me up when I was most down, or slapped some sense back into me, or got me to lighten up. They also kept me centered, serene, and bolstered my confidence, and I hope you find similar help in them, too.

But even more, I hope you find your own collection of fortifying ideas that keep your arting tenaciously tracking forwards. Because the journey is rugged and will always test you, and every artist—no matter how seasoned—has difficulty along the way. But as long as you find you way home, you'll be okay, because, truly, the guiding breadcrumbs you follow will always get you there. 

Speaking to all this, I highly recommend these four talks. They do well to inspire and reaffirm your convictions and reveal our commonalties within the creative process:
So keep homebase close, and wad all these quotes into a ball and gobble them down when you need a detox. Refreshing our élan vital can also refresh our art, even refresh our entire outlook on this delirious obsession. So chin up, strive forwards, and art on!

"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." — Edmund Hillary

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