Marketing Mondays: Two Nasty Flavors

“Taste” is a word used to describe one’s esthetic preferences. Art and the people who make, show, curate, sell or acquire it have many degrees and levels of taste. But today I want to talk about flavors.

Two flavors that artists deal with are sour and bitter: We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t taste them sometimes, but you don’t want to get to the point where you find them poisoning your practice and overtaking your life.
These flavors have many subtleties
. The juror/curator/dealer is an idiot, because they didn’t select you or your work
. Who cares if you didn’t get in; it wasn’t worth much anyway
. If you did get in, it can’t be that great an opportunity
. Someone else got the show/award/grant because they are white /black/some other color in between; male/female; younger/older. In other words, whatever you’re not. There’s no denying the isms in the art world, but sometimes it really is "all about the work"
. You believe it's never what you do and always who you know—but you're convinced that networking is a waste of time
. You're convinced you lost out on yet another opportunity because someone didn’t like you (probably not true, unless you’re a blowhard jerkoff)
. The art world sucks
. You take pleasure in another’s failure—the artist who gets dropped from a gallery or loses out on the grant for which they were shortlisted, the gallery that closes its doors, and so on

“Compare and despair,” says my friend Jackie Battenfield who knows art careers like nobody’s business. Her advice: There’s always someone who has more, so respect and appreciate what you have achieved.

How do you deal/have you dealt with those nasty flavors in your own art life? (If you post anonymously you can share every last detail . . . )
Images from the Internet, here and here


Philip Koch said...

Early on in my art career I had the pleasure to get to know two very prominent artists fairly well. I learned a great deal from them about painting, art history, and the art world. Though to my young eyes both were extremely successful, I was surprised by how each felt they had been ignored and passed over by a biased and unfair art world. Their feelings had obviously been hurt, and badly. And there was quite a note of bitterness in their voices in talking about this.

It made a big impression on me. It is SO true there will always be someone "ahead" of you to envy. We all have to be on guard against putting too much energy into experiencing those emotions. That's just not a fun place to spend a lot of time.

Anonymous said...

I maintain a secret lair (separate from my studio) where I grow human-animal hybrids who help me construct evil weapons of enormous potential. My neighbor Mr. Cheney sometimes stops by and we compare notes.

Then I go back to the studio and try to express the love I feel for living and life.

Alyson B. Stanfield said...

Super post, Joanne--once again.

The flip side to this is that bitter and sour lead to placing blame and making excuses. This gives other people control of your art career rather than taking responsibility for yourself. You can't get far if you always assume that others have the power.

Anonymous said...

I love this! I love the shirt. I don't think I know one person who does not/has not felt those feelings at one time or another.

While I have felt this many times, I am so grateful for the more established artists who have kindly taken me under their wings and taught me so many things.

There is so much to be grateful for. But where did you get the shirt.

Anonymous said...

I was let down once or twice by people who desperately wanted to work with me but decided for some reason they couldn't or shouldn't.Funny they had made the first move.I love the t-shirt by the way.I would rather say:bitterness is not in my vocabulary.try collins or oxford.

Peggradyart said...

When I find myself with that bitter sour taste in my mouth I push my complaints to absurdity...that moron walked into the gallery and bought HER lame/derivative/boring/garish painting instead of my masterpiece? What next, will he buy a painting of kids with huge eyes next to a hound dog? Elvis on velvet (without the irony)? A Kinkade? Laughter and bitterness have a hard time living together.

Anonymous said...

Following up on Mr Koch's post, back in the 80's one of my teachers was in a mega-funk because the visiting artist was applying for a Guggenheim fellowship. The visiting artist had some more than tenuous (sic?) connections to Robert Motherwell (who was on the jury) and his social circle . My teacher was so glum about the unfairness of this nepotism and his certainty that visiting artist had the grant in the bag. What I now find ironic is that said teacher had 2 Guggenheims under his belt, a good exhibition record, important art world connections/friends etc. I suppose that artists are often unsure about where their work is going and if they are doing what is required to make it better. On the other hand, curators decisions, other people's successes etc. are tangible events that are way too easy to get riled up over.
By the way, Visiting Artist did not get the grant.

Marie Kazalia said...

The t-shirt message got my attention. Enjoyed reading the comments.
I too have been around people who sat in cafes analyzing others possibilities, successes, situations bitterly. Those same people made excuses for themselves for not showing, not working(to have another glass of wine, more vodka. light another cig). So, I usually have considered such a mindset rather self-serving to justify lack of effort.
On the flip side--seeing others succeed may be impetus for working harder( maybe one of the positive results of some of those negative thoughts and feelings). But then I am kind of an oddball.

In the past others have tried to goad me--doesn't that bother you? Aren't you upset, jealous, envious? etc over every little thing.
I have replied to those sorts: *no matter where I am at, there will always be someone above me and someone below me*
Was that just to get them to leave me alone, or a useful way of thinking about things? I'm not sure.
I do know that, that sort of round and round envy comparison stuff is a huge energy drain/waste of time. If others see/hear a person caught up in that they avoid that person, or else try to aggravate them/mock them--which causes more bitterness and self-pity. (I hug out in a Bohemian art crowd cafe one summer--some of the complainers had complaints going back decades allowing minor slights to stop their own growth). Those who worked hard on their art avoided those traps, and had ops come their way. I was able to observe extremes from a detached vantage point. It's much harder when you are caught up in your own emotions.

Unknown said...

We've all felt like this at one time or another. The problem I have with it is that in the meantime I might miss my big break because I was clouded by bitterness and cynicism, and I can't afford to do that...

Yes, having some untalented, lazy and/or opportunistic person win a prize/grant instead of you sucks(specially is you really really know them!)!!! But even if it takes time, life puts everybody where they belong.

And time also helps you tell the difference between you just feeling threatened and arguing so and so's piece sucked; as opposed to such piece or body of work actually sucking...

Joanne Mattera said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Keep 'em coming. To respond to anonymous about where I got the short. I pulled the image from the internet; link is at the bottom of the post.

Tim McFarlane said...

I've had flashes of envy here and there (and they were truly brief) but then, I just got on with it and worked. Sinking into the bitter sauce is a sure way to miss opportunities to learn and get ahead with your own work.

If I feel the tang of bitterness trying to rise, I dig deeper and work harder. That attitude has definitely worked for me over the years.

Casey Klahn said...

Oh, yeah. Other people!

I got the t-shirt (metaphorically speaking) and this is a great post!

Mery Lynn said...

Envy can be constructive if it encourages you to try new approaches. To me it's a positive force.

Sour and bitter, though, are different. They are the preludes to depression. Whenever I am left out of curated shows (often), I remind myself that visibility and networking generate more opportunities than moaning and groaning at home.

If I just can't be social, then the cure is a good long day in the studio.

Anonymous said...

I had the taste recently. Someone signed a good commercial deal with a big store. I couldn't help thing "what the heck? Her work's so mass-produced looking".
I fairly quickly realised I was just being a b*tch and should be celebrating a fellow NZ artist's success.
So I got myself together and emailed my congratulations. Once I had done that my temper returned to normal.
Oh, and by the way, there is nothing wrong with her art - only my attitude on the day.

Mark Staff Brandl said...

But of course not all criticism is bitterness. Those two can be conflated, esp by rather "yuppie" types, insisting that we must all "take or leave" the entire system as is. I think it is highly important to be highly critical of anything one sees as hypocritical, e.g. esp. ones own connections, yet keep a sense of humor and a thankful attitude toward ones own successes.

jane longman said...

I wonder if bitterness is procrastination in disguise ...a sub-conscious form of self sabotage.
I think these two things often go hand in hand.

K. Gill said...

Honestly, I'm kind of feeling this way right now. I can't really figure out which art is good anymore. I can barely figure out where to start so I can finally start selling my newer paintings (first since art school). Crappy art at an Indianapolis "art fair" put me in a major funk. So called "blue chip" artists like Koons, Hirst and Murakami put me in another kind of funk. On days like this, I can barely lift my paintbrush. I went to the library and checked out a lot of books (including some about the art world, art collection, and art careers) in an attempt to jumpstart my brain. I listened to Bad at Sports interviewing Judy Ledgerwood while I painted today. I liked her design-y work even though she made up all kinds of theoretical BS in the interview. But then I read Sharkforum saying that she sucks. I still think her work is okay, but this is the kind of thing that undermines my confidence as an artist.

Anonymous said...

Does it help to know that dealers feel envy too? I can totally relate to looking up at those "above" me and wishing.... keeping up with the Joneses is the toughest thing to resist! Thanks Joanne, for your "top notch" thoughts!

Fiona the Artist said...

I have experienced the 'Two Nasty Flavours' myself many times, and I believe most artists have. I think that in order to see it in perspective, you have to realise that everyone feels this way at some point. It's a mistake to let rejections take you to the dark 'my work is no good' point, or to the 'they just don't see how good my work REALLY is' point. I have seen that when it comes to open submissions there is nearly always a 'style' or bias of some sort, and often one's work just doesn't 'fit.' I learned not to take it personally, and one of the things that helped was getting a network of artists around me, who support and understand my direction. And what helps to pass beyond the rejections is to keep on working, because I did some of my BEST paintings after rejections!