I swear to god, there are enough artist’s handbooks out there to wallpaper a starship. Why don’t we have on that covers burning questions of art etiquette?
A few years back–and I mean, at least four or five–I did a painting called “Angels of the Inquisition.” It was pretentious and self-righteous, and while the wings made of thumbscrews were compositionally nifty, there were serious anatomical flaws with the chick, to the point where, in the course of spring cleaning some years ago, I pulled the sucker off all my galleries, buried it in the depths of my hard drive and forgot about it.
Every now and then, I get an e-mail somewhere along the lines of “I loved that painting, where is it, why don’t you have it posted?” (like the one I got recently, sparking this) And here I choke, because I cannot help but feel that it would be rude to imply that they have bad taste by saying, for example, “I hate that bloody painting now, it sucks, and I hope to god I’m better now.” I’m glad they like it! I’m delighted it speaks to them–it means I didn’t fail as miserably as I thought! Would that there was a button, like in Age of Empires, where you can just hit “Upgrade Obsolete” and all your backdated art would subtly and gracefully be brought up to your current skill level, and then you wouldn’t have to think of what to say to people who like something that you personally loathe because you can see every flaw in it as if there was a giant red pulsing arrow pointing at the flawed bits and screaming “LOOK AT ME, DAMNIT!”
But there is no etiquette for this. And it strikes me as horribly rude and ungrateful to say something like that to someone who’s being nice and who genuinely likes your work, because obviously without people who like your work, you’re not gonna get far as an artist, and anyway, they took the time to think about this and try to find it and then ask you about it, so they deserve courtesy and respect, even if the memory of this painting is like a branding iron to the particularly insecure bits of my artistic soul. The last thing I want to do is turn somebody off to commenting on art just because I’m critical of my own work, because that would be really quite lame of me. Damnit.
So I sit at the computer with my lower eyelid twitching like an epileptic flatworm, and wishing I had a Handbook of Artist’s Etiquette.
It would also be nice if it covered (for example) how long an e-mail one should write in response to fan mail–I feel guilty typing “Glad you liked it, thanks for writing!” when someone has obviously spent an hour composing a three page letter praising something, but what can you say that won’t sound like personal ego stroking?–and perhaps discussing your art with people in person. (I have this tendency, when people want to talk about my art with me, to turn puce and mumble because I cannot shake the feeling that it is terribly egotistical to spend twenty minutes talking about ME, even if they’re asking.) And hell, that’s a small section. We could also cover things like “Sketching at the zoo,” which requires a lot of pleasantries, and frequently turns into a case of being on display just as much as the Komodo dragon (although, unless you are supremely lucky, no one will throw you a live rat.) “How to turn down people asking for free art.” “When to simply delete rude comments, and when to come up with a witty rejoinder.” Etc, etc.
Unfortunately, someone else will have to write this manual, because obviously, I got no clue whatsoever.