“When your work is counted, will it be counted as art?…Acceptance and approval are powers held by others.”
— From Art and Fear.
There in a great and terrible power in the negative voice.
Why are criticisms so much easier to believe than compliments? When someone says something kind, I smile, say thank you, and go on my merry way — grateful, but forgetful. But say one negative thing, even without malice, and I find myself coming back to those hurtful words over and over again. I feel like an oyster desperately trying to protect myself form the irritation of a tiny grain of sand. Maybe all this would be easier if I thought at the end of it, I would at least have earned a pearl of wisdom, but it doesn’t seem to work that way. The pain and suffering seem useless, futile.
I have the perfect example for this. Six months ago I posted a video slideshow to my Facebook page (the photos in this post are a few of the shots from that slideshow). I got a huge response to this. I’m not a famous photographer so my numbers might be lackluster in the eyes of some, but to a mostly-anonymous photographer in the middle of nowhere Montana, the numbers created by this video far outmatched anything I’ve created before or since.
If you want to see the video and have a Facebook account, here is the link:
Here is what this video did for me.
More than 1000 likes to my Facebook page in about a month. That was a nice ego boost.
2,536 people reacted to the video.
7,997 people shared it.
197,594 people watched it.
I got hundreds of comments from people. Most consisted of simple things like: “Wow,” “Beautiful,” and “Thank you.” And everyone one of these made me smile, made me grateful.
But a lot of the comments were more personal. I now have a Facebook friend who follows my work from France and comments in French (a language I sadly can’t speak — thank God for google translator). Her comments are so encouraging and because they’re in a foreign language, each one is like a delightful treat.
A woman who lives in Costa Rica offered to let me stay at her place if I ever wanted to come down and photograph that country. Wow.
For the slideshow I matched the photos with the song “Bury Me in Montana” by singer/songwriter Mike Murray. The song is incredible and is on his album Tumbleweed which you can find on iTunes at: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/tumbleweed/id1008787372
(it’s track number 11 the Alternative version). Some people who viewed the video really connected with their grief and I got comments from people about lost loved ones and how this video touched them and was a comfort to them. I am an artist who has lost both of her parents, so these types of comments were dearest to my heart.
Some comments people wrote:
“Absolutely wonderful, Brenda, thank you for this beautiful work of love! Makes me miss Montana all the more! I will share this, too gorgeous not to! Blessings to you!”
“Your work is beautiful. Being a lapsed photographer I do know the hours that went into your presentation. Keep going with your passion you have a real talent.”
“Brenda your photography is insanely good!! What you capture through the lens is gorgeous. If you words don’t make it into some kind of printed compilation it will be a shame. Beautiful work!”
Who wouldn’t want to get comments like these? And there are hundreds of them. So much good. So many kind people. So many expressions of love and gratitude.
Of course, it isn’t all perfect or kind. There is one person in particular who couldn’t be kind a wrote a comment that started off with “I’m sorry” (because if you’re going to insult someone you should always start with an apology.) “I’m sorry but…” she basically said that she was sorry but she felt compelled to point out that my photography really isn’t all that good. She went on to link to another photographer’s Facebook page as an example of what a “real” artist can do.
I didn’t respond.
I mean really, what is there to say?
“Thank you.” Nope. Not grateful.
“The photographer you admire sucks.” Nope. I don’t need to go on the attack.
I could acknowledge how much she hurt me, but why give her that kind of power?
So, I said nothing. I ignored the comment and since this was six months ago, I couldn’t get back to it to find it if I had to. After all this time, after thousands of joyful, positive, enthusiastic, great, amazing, heart-warming, inspiring, edifying, uplifting, unique, thoughtful, and gratitude-inducing moments that have come from this video there is still only one comment that I remember clearly, and it’s the negative one. One negative voice, in a sea of compliments, and that is the voice I hold onto.
Why is that?
After the deaths of my parents I remember finding a beautiful little poem that I memorized and have remembered now for 15 years. He wrote:
“Our joys as winged dreams do fly,
Why then should sorry last?
Since grief but aggravates thy loss,
Grieve not for what is past.”
A few weeks ago I read a great little book that has been helpful and challenging. It’s called Art and Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Making Art by David Bayles and Ted Orland.
There are so many great quotes in this book, I took pages of notes while reading it. But for the purpose of this blog I am going to end with three. These are the three things I am trying to remember, trying to hold onto and learn instead of getting wrapped around that negative voice.
“Making the work you want to make means finding your nourishment within the work itself.”
“The viewer’s concerns are not your concerns. Their job is whatever it is: to be moved by art, to be entertained by it, to make a killing off it, whatever. Your job is to learn to work on your work.”
“Catering to fears of being misunderstood…you discard your own highest vision in the process.”
I’m going to hold on to what was worth holding onto from this experience. I am going to hold onto the people who wrote with love and kindness in their hearts and who touched my life and left me feeling alive, and appreciated, and so very grateful. This has been a bit of a challenge, but the work should always be a challenge. My mentor (and best friend) always used to quote Tom Hanks from the movie A League of Their Own.
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”
Whatever else my life ends up being, it certainly has offered moments that were truly great. Every bit of challenge has been worthwhile.