Wednesday, 21 March 2012

sorry, i don't speak arts-hole: the importance of 'thank-you'

On the whole I'd say I was a pretty happy person. I have bad days, like everybody else.

You can tell a lot about an artist by the way they interact with fellow creatives and admirers. Nothing gets my goat like artists who carry on like the world owes them. This is something that's been bothering me for awhile now, and I'm wondering if any of you have had similar experiences or might be able to explain this arts-hole epidemic.

This blog exists because I love making art and I love writing. I also use Facebook because I am one of those old-fashioned types that is genuinely interested in meeting other creative people and sharing intelligent thoughts about art and the world we live in. Being an artist is often like working in a vaccuum: most of us are solitary creatures and work alone. Of course, the world and our art can't work that way, and getting out with friends is absolutely necessary and healthy in the pursuit of preserving our sanity. And yet, as avid Facebookers will know, some of the people you'd most like to interact with, at least on a professional level, live thousands of miles away. Social networking at its' best- when it works.

A lot of people also use social networking sites to promote their work and/ or business. Again, this is great, and I certainly take advantage of these features myself. If people have already expressed an interest in my work, I share bits and pieces on my page- very much like the Ophelia giveaway post earlier this week, or new treasures in my Etsy Shop. Subscribers can either participate or ignore these posts.

But here's the rub: when admirers take the time to compliment or congratulate an artist on a job well done, I am absolutely appalled at how few actually take the tme to say 'Thank-you'. Writing essays of thanks as I do is optional, but I'm a word-lover and enjoy the discussion, so that's my perogative. In reality, it's two words that takes two seconds to say and three to type. If artists put their work out there for the public, chances are people will want to comment. I found it dfficult when I first started selling my work at my local markets, to talk about myself. I'm naturally quite shy and given the choice I'd rather talk quietly with three people rather than 23. But there it is: people do actually want to know about you.

There still exists a great stigma upon the artworld that divides those that can and those that want to, and I don't honestly feel all artists are doing enough to break that down. It is not, as kids are still conditioned in school, an exclusive club riding only on lofty and abused terms like 'talent' or 'giftedness'. Art still isn't seen as one of those basic needs, but the funny thing is, it makes a hell of a difference to the places we live and work in and our emotional wellbeing, and by that measure it is absolutely necessary.

Not interacting with people who express an interest in an artist's work therefore exacerbates this divide. So many people come up to me at the market and tell me they had a terrible time with art at school, that their teacher tore their work or their confidence to shreds. If an artist gives such individuals the cold shoulder in response to their congratulations/ queries, most often people reiterate to themselves, even unconsciously, that they are not good enough to interact with art.

If an artist can't interact with their supporters to make them feel their congratulations are valued, why put their artwork out there in the first place? Excuses like 'I don't have time' are, quite frankly, bullshit. If an artist doesn't have time to say thank-you, they don't truly value what they do.

Worse than being ignored is the fobb-off. I make art almost exclusively to collect it, and like 90% of the wonderful people who have and continue to support my work, I like to buy direct from the artist. And I love the interaction that goes with it. So, if I'm thanked in a perfunctory sort of way (online) for my interest/ purchase feedback and then promptly redirected to an artist's blog/ Facebook page/ Etsy shop, I've already tuned out. Shunning discussion in favour of redirecting your audience to another inaminate online application communicates only that you consider individuals as numbers. I know just what sort of sacrifices it costs to be in the position where I can make art full-time- why waste it by alienating your audience?

Ugly manners make the prettiest of pictures much less appealing.

As a potential customer, I absolutely want to know that my hard-earned money is going toward supporting someone else's dream, that they'll use their earnings to make more wonderful things, to develop as an artist and that they can take heart in being congratulated when faced with a creative block. Everyone, whatever their profession or passion, wants to feel valued. 'Thank-you' is the only response anyone should ever give to a sincere compliment. It's not a particularly Aussie thing to do, to sit back and be self-satisfied with loads of praise, and I admit it still does make me blush sometimes. But I'm not talking about being conceited here; there is no excuse for not accepting a compliment graciously or for fobbing someone off.

I encourage, in fact I urge, everyone, to judge an artist on the way they treat those who wish to support them. I will not buy work from anyone who can't say 'thank-you' or 'you're welcome', or who forgets the potential art can make upon a life. And no, I won't 'like' your Facebook page either- I don't subscribe to arts-hole.

I do not for a minute forget that it is the people who read, buy and support my work that allow me to be here, still making it. Without these wonderful people, I'd still be teaching, probably earning a lot more, with less personal time and feeling like something was missing from my life. I have chosen to live my life this way, and I certainly don't think I'm better or lesser than anyone else, artist or no. I've made my decisions.

Last I checked, manners were still free. And I intend to keep using mine.



  1. Great blog post! Several Artists come to mind when I read this. I have been feeling this way for a while so it feels great to get some validation! I hear you and I agree 100%

    1. Thanks so much Amber, I'm glad you enjoyed reading. I don't suppose we can change the conscience of those who don't interact with their supporters, but we can lead by example!

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  3. Hi Mel, you have beautiful work.
    I came across a lot of that sort of attitude at art college. The practical side of being an artist was looked down on almost. Maybe I'm just too practical. Love the term art-hole. I also find art-wank frustrating, I enjoy reading a good piece of art literature but when you need a decoder to work out what's being written it's crazy.
    I totally agree a smile and a thank you is worth so much.
    great blog x Luna

  4. Hi Mel, love your work.
    I came across this sort of attitude at art school and had several interesting discussions with fellow students & that believed that real art can only be found under a spotlight in a gallery. The practical side of art is almost looked down on. I was labeled pragmatic and too commercial at school but if that means I sell work then I'm a happy little artist.
    Love your term art-holes, I feel the same about art-wank. I love reading a good piece of art literature (India Flint is a great writer)but when you need a decoder it's beyond stuffy.
    A smile and a thank you is worth so much
    great blog x Luna

    1. Thanks so much for your kind comments Luna, I'm really glad you enjoyed reading. I think it's wise to remember being frustrated about these issues- like you, I know being pissed off about it can prompt us to be stronger in our own self-belief and defending attitudes and causes we know to be right.

      The criticism of being 'too commercial' is such a sour-grapes attitude isn't it: treating your supporters well is not only right on a moral basis (treating others as we wish to be treated sadly seems to go out the door online in the attempts at flagrant self-promotion), but it makes perfect business sense. If artists alienate their supporters, supporters are less willing to support the artist by collecting their work. Simple!

      Yes, I completely agree about the art-wank: we're real people, and art is for everyone. There's a lot of wasted tlent in this world, but you can do whatever you want if you've the interest, and often all it needs is encouragement to try- I saw it all the time teaching kids. Excluding people from participating by ignoring their questions and curiosity is plain irresponsible.

      Thank-you Luna, I wish you all the nicest things x

    2. Hi Mel
      Sorry about the double entry, it disappeared so wrote it again before I forgot what I'd said. Ah those internet gremlins, I can hear them giggling in the back ground now.

      keep on smiling x Luna

    3. No problems Luna- I can almost guarantee I am at my most eloquent just before a storm passes over and cuts out my internet connection! All nice things x


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