Every now and then, while I'm interviewing artists, they'll say something that gives me a red flag.
By "red flag" I mean that they've just said something especially poignant or striking and it really grabs my attention. This could be a number of things and it's not necessarily about whether it's positive or negative. It's just striking.
For example ... A super-talented artist once blasted me good for posting a note he had written to me after I clearly got his consent to post it. The artist had been struggling with something in his life and before I posted it, I told him that I thought his story would be a huge help to others dealing with the same issue.
Well … I should have guessed … after I posted the note, the artist went ballistic, which was very odd to me given what I've just shared with you. Long story short, I removed the post. No big deal. Truth be told, I think the guy freaked out when he realized it was “out there in print” for the world to see. He was no longer in some ethereal space. This was REAL.
By the way, many people put much worse stuff on their Facebook pages, but that's another topic for another day.
Here's my point. We're all entitled to our privacy and I am 100% trustworthy with things that people share in confidence with me. However, from a creative and artistic standpoint, I think there's this final wall that many artists and creative people in general have yet to break through.
I think that many people - artists included - view serious and gifted artists as these formidable, untouchable beings who live high up in some celestial bubble, far removed from the concerns of everyday people. They look at their work and they’re floored.
“Did another human being actually do this? It looks like the work of some ethereal, untouchable being!” Needless to say, this is a great compliment for the artist.
Yet, I also understand how some people reach this conclusion when I visit some artist's websites or social media pages and see how they photograph or portray themselves in somewhat haughty, elevated ways. I know one artist whose selfies are SO stoic and formidable and when I chat with this person via email, they say things (which I love) like …
“Hey Mike! What’s up?” Cracks me up. Familiarity breeds informality, I suppose.
Anyway, I think most people get intimidated when they see artists or anyone for that matter, who seems formidable or like they "have it all together." They seem untouchable or unapproachable. I really think that it's the job of the artist (or anyone in a similar position) to really “prick” their own bubbles of formidability.
I know this is difficult and I remind myself about this all of the time, but I really think that when you share a little of your vulnerabilities with people, you don't really lose, you actually gain in the process. This especially comes in handy when artists are trying to sell their work.
Years ago, I met artist Roger Disney at the outdoor Gold Coast Art Fair in Chicago. I must say that as I walked up to his booth, I felt a little intimidated. His paintings were stunning. However, he was warm and friendly. We talked about his work and the fact that he spent much of the year on the road traveling to various art fairs and many of the challenges involved with that, etc. In other words, Roger was being real and down to earth. In a matter of seconds, he went from untouchable being to homeboy from around the block.
I’m exaggerating, but you catch my drift.
By the end of our chat, I had already decided to buy a few of his prints. He wasn't trying to sell me his work, but he sold himself as an everyday human being, which in turn sold me on his work. Roger, was this a Jedi mind trick?
Like most things, being an artist can be tough. Look, I know this is easy to say, but I wish more artists would show their vulnerabilities so that people can TRULY get insight into what being an artist is really like. It's nearly impossible for most people to detect this in your work alone. They need to see it in YOU.
I don't know. Maybe I'm just talking out of the side of my neck. Still, I think that everyone, regardless of culture or standing in life, relates to humanity, struggle and vulnerability. So many people put on airs, but NO ONE is an untouchable being. Not even Queen Elizabeth.
Remember that angry artist I told you about? I totally “get” why he clearly changed his mind and wanted me to take down the email he had written to me. Nobody - and I mean nobody - wants their vulnerabilities exposed. But in his case, I wasn't "exposing" him. I was making him all too human.
Having your vulnerabilities exposed and being "all too human" makes you feel … well, vulnerable. Being an untouchable being seems like a better gig. Being untouchable makes you feel strong and assured. It makes you feel like you’ve got everything under control. It makes you feel like a bad ass.
However, if you’re a creative person, humanity, struggle and vulnerability NEED to show up in your work and they should also show up in YOU.
These things make us human. They make writers writers ... they make artists artists … they make singers singers ... and they make dancers dancers …
Vulnerability is exciting. If you’re vulnerable, you actually have a chance to transcend. Vulnerability fascinates people. It draws them IN. But hey, I get it. Some of us actually WANT to seem like we’re untouchable beings. It’s kind of like wanting to be dictator.
“Paging Darth Vader!” “Paging Darth Vader!”