I’ve received criticisms about the artwork I make. When I say ‘criticisms’, I mean to speak about the good, the bad and the not-so-great things about a specific piece of artwork that I’ve created. I majored in Visual Communications (Graphic Design) in art school and learned a lot about how to critique another person’s artwork. Within my studio, we could get into some fairly gory depth and detail during our critiques. I never took the negative comments personally. It just meant that what I was trying to do wasn’t working and that I needed to try something else. I also felt that these sorts of critiques would prepare me for the much rougher world of graphic design that I would eventually enter once I graduated.
What this early training in art criticism did not prepare me for was the world of non-commercial art. (Regular art? Fine art? Gallery art?) To be more specifically, it didn’t prepare me for the things people who are not makers of art will say to me about my artwork, techniques, materials, craft and presentation.
The how and why of some of the things that people have communicated to me leave me confused and sometimes annoyed. I’ve talked to another artist who work in the same vein as me and they have too have had some similar feelings and experiences. I talked at length about these weird, confusing and annoying comments, in an effort to try and figure out why a person might say these things, and what the root causes might be.
1. The Customer is Always Right:
I almost feel as though this concept is baked into the DNA of most of the people in the US. I take a great deal of joy when I see that my artwork makes people happy. I take even greater joy when a person thinks my artwork is good enough that they decide to open their wallet and purchase it. I know that my artwork is more or less a luxury item, serving no other purpose than to make the customer happy to know they own it. I mean, it’s not like one of my paper maché play-set dolls is going to complete their taxes for them, or perform useful household tasks like dusting and laundry.
What will stick in my craw wrong, is when the customer will offer a completely unsolicited opinion on how I should make my artwork, as well as the types of artwork they think I should be making, you know, so I can make lots more money. Because you know, money is the only possible reason I would spend as much time as I do making artwork, right? Getting lots and lots of money is my end goal, right?
“You should make Minecraft and Duck Dynasty dolls. People would buy those!” This comment by far is one of the stranger ones. I also got a “You should make dolls like Ugly Dolls! People love those!” comment once. I would think that the people offering this advice know very little about copyright law.
I think this is part and parcel of a consumer society like the US. There are some people who feel as though the conveniences of buying just about anything they can imagine at any time of the day or night, translates into this being their ‘right’ as a member of that society. And when they do not get what they want, when they want, how they want, they will tell you, either to your face, or through a negative review online.
2. Dolls are Not Always Toys:
My artwork is incredibly personal. To some, it doesn’t appear that way. To some, all they see is a doll. Sometimes that doll is cute and sometimes that doll does not conform to the persons preconceived ideas of what a doll is and isn’t. To many people, a doll is a plaything for children and is therefore something that is almost a disposable item, both physically and mentally speaking. Toys are part of childhood. Period.
The dolls that I make are not play things for children. They are art. As an artist, I’m constantly exploring why the doll is a constant theme of my artwork. It never goes away, which means, I still have things I need to ‘figure out’ about the doll and why it is so important to me. Each individual piece is a creative exploration of who I am as a person.
Dolls have never been ‘just toys’. They have been used to teach children about religion and societal roles, and to train young through creative play as to what is expected of them within their culture as well. For me, the dolls that I create have become a fusion of many different roles that dolls have played for humans over the millennia.
“I just don’t know what I would do with a doll. You know, I’m a forty-year-old-woman! I don’t play with doll!.” Said to me at a craft show, while her sticky-fingered daughter touched every single one of the highly embroidered and appliquéd faces of some of the dolls I had for sale.
At the time, I was a forty-year-old woman who was making dolls. Lots of dolls.
3. Handmade Things are Not as Good as Store-Bought Things:
My younger brother once told me that he didn’t want me to give him handmade gifts, because he’d just rather have a gift card or money. At the time, I thought it was better that he was honest with me, but it really hit me like a brick in the face. I’ve never made him another gift.
For some people who may want to purchase my work, they get a little ‘sticker shock’ when I give them a price for a specific piece of artwork. Sometimes, they will try and get me to lower my price, with weird back-handed compliments. When those don’t work, then they start to comment on what they perceive as the shabby parts of my work, thinking, I guess, that I will believe them and say, “Oh! You are so right! 300€ is way too much for this piece! It’s really tremendously crappy construction and made of cardboard and newspaper that I got for free, and you know, the 100+ hours that I have spent working on it don’t really mean anything. I was already ‘paid’ in the emotional sense, so I’ll let you have it for 20€, no, no 10€!”
I once took a doll to work to show my supervisor. He was curious about what I was making and I valued his criticisms and advice regarding placing it in an upcoming art show. A woman in our department saw what I was showing my supervisor and offered me $20 for the doll. It was a large and complicated doll (Cactus Mama, an opuntia cactus with multiple faces and smaller babies) and I declined her offer. She walked away and then came back a few minutes later and hung into the doorway and kind of rolled her eyes and said, “Wellll….I GUESS I could give you $40…” Again, I declined her offer, stating how many hours I had worked on the piece. I put the piece in a show and won a ribbon.
4. People Who Have No Knowledge of Art Creation of Craftsmanship:
I make the artwork that I make, with the materials and techniques that I use, because it suits me to do so. In my personal experience, that’s kind of how creating my own art works. I’ve spent more than thirty years making art with anything that I could get my hands on. I’ve been an art teacher, and continue to teach art workshops here in Finland. I have been fascinated with my hands since I stuck my own right thumb into my mouth while still in utero. I started drawing as soon as I could hold a crayon and have never stopped. So it always surprises me when someone who does not make art, or do any kind of craft or activity with their hands, attempts to tell me what they feel I’m doing ‘wrong’ in my artwork, and how I might fix those things, so I can be more successful as an artist. Their only credentials seem to be that of ‘personal opinion’, and that their personal opinion of my work is something that I should change my own personal artwork because of. (Fnck my drag, am I right?)
I spend an insane amount of time inside my own head. I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, planning and physically creating my artwork. As I’ve stated previously in this post, my work is extremely personal in nature, but I do reference other artists (of the older, more dead variety, as well as of the more alive, breathing, and contemporary kind), art movements, music, literature, nature as well as vintage toys (GAH! The toys of my childhood are now ‘vintage’!) and contemporary toys. I am mining my own life experiences and how I interact with the world around me while creating my artwork. My life. My experience. My thoughts. My art.
A few weeks ago, my husband came over to look at some of the tiny dolls I was working on. He said, “You know these kind of look like Lego Minifigs, right?” Yup. Totally. I was aiming for something in between a Lego Minifig and a Playmobil figure visually speaking, so his observation told me I was more or less, on the mark with my artistic intensions. These are toys from my childhood. Take those toys and smash them up with my fascination with miniatures and dollhouses, and my creating these tiny dolls makes sense.
I suppose that this section paints me in a rather snobby light. The insinuation being, that if a person doesn’t have the experience of what it’s like to make or do something with their own hands, that encapsulates their own unique visions, emotions, thoughts, and dreams, while using a variety of materials, supplies and techniques, as well as having a depth and breadth of knowledge and practice about the subject of art (or gardening, or writing, or cooking, or modern dance, or film, or carpentry, or playing a musical instrument, or sewing clothing, or crocheting items, take your pick of all the creative fields!) then deciding that without any of the aforementioned credentials, that they can tell an artist how to make their work better, or more sellable, does not hold a whole lot of water with me. Making art is when I feel the most ‘myself’ and I’m fairly sure that there is no one out there who can tell me how to ‘be me’.
My husband and I talk about ‘forks’ and ‘spoons’ a lot. When I was teaching art in the elementary school, I would have lessons in which I would give the students a lot of three dimensional recycled and up-cycled items and we’d create sculptures. I remember on exercise in which I was holding up some of the materials they would get to use to create these sculptures and as a group, we would brainstorm about all the things that the object could become. I held up a plastic fork first and the whole class said, “It’s a fork!” I asked them again, but what could it be, use your imaginations! “It’s a fork for a person!” Okay. Okay. I will re-frame the question for them. Imagine you’ve never seen anything like this before, and you find it while you are walking in a forest, what do you think it could be? I got a lot of silent stares, until…someone yelled, “I’d use it to eat food with!”
I was about down to my last spoon with that last answer.
Some people see my artwork for what it is and accept it. There are others who don’t find it attractive, or interesting, and simply move on without saying anything about it. Then there are others who think my work should be a fork and they tell me why it should be a fork. Hopefully, I will have enough spoons to deal with it internally.
And occasionally through a blog post.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next Tuesday.
A little additional reading, if you are so inclined:
The Customer is Always Right
I’m good at thrashing around inside this concept: The Dunning-Kruger Effect