Surprise criticism in the real world

One of my interests in my art practice is the use of the Internet as a forum for art engagement. I use Instagram, Twitter and Facebook extensively for engagement with regular people in my art. I use it more than any other method (it’s a lot quicker to post an image on Facebook than it is to arrange an art exhibition). I also, and perhaps more so, use it as part of my research. Every time I paint or draw something, or come up with an idea that might lead to a piece of artwork, I go straight to social media. Most of the time, the feedback I receive is fairly instant, both positive and negative, and also via the medium of social media. I use the feedback I get for further research. However, very occasionally, I receive feedback in person. And when I do, I am somewhat thrown by it and on how to react.

Recently, I posted a photograph of a painting I had made as a study of black-and-white depiction of an ‘object’ that relies on colour. This week while socialising in the pub, I had some feedback on that painting delivered to me in person. This feedback was not connected to the artwork itself, rather, it was personal to me as the artist. The comments that were made made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t blame the person who made the comments, this person was rather inebriated at the time. However, that doesn’t change what was said or my internal response to it (my external response was to recoil).

Alcohol makes everyone an art critic

Initially, I was a little perturbed by this exchange. A couple of days later, and after I’ve had time to reflect, I have started to analyse the situation. Now I am mostly curious to know why this feedback made me feel so uncomfortable. It was partly the nature of the comments (which you could argue I left myself open to), but it was also the fact that the feedback was delivered face-to-face and directly. Not many artists get such immediate feedback or in person. When an artwork is in a gallery, it is rare that the viewer will get to meet the artist. If the viewer connects the artwork to the artist and the artist’s personality or lifestyle, they are unlikely to have the chance, unless they know the artist personally, to make a judgement.

As an ‘ordinary’ person, posting my artwork online, it reaches an audience which includes people who know me personally and who see me frequently in the real world. I see that this can both be a positive, and now a negative.

I realise that sometimes I forget that when I post images on Instagram or Facebook, my audience is quite close to me and able to approach me in real life as well as comment online. I use social media for artistic engagement because it affords me distance, yet, it seems, ironically, it doesn’t at all. 

The lesson I have learnt from this experience is twofold: to develop a thicker skin when feedback comes back to me in the ‘real’ world and to remember that the Internet doesn’t necessarily act as a barrier between artist and audience, in fact, ironically, it can be a bridge.


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