HATERS GONNA HATE: You’re Not My Friend

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”  For ten years, Luann also wrote a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explored the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer.

Rude, perfect strangers are one thing. What do you do when a FRIEND is rude??

So far in this series, we’ve focused on perfect strangers who sometimes say the oddest things about our work. Before I continue, let me say it again (and again, and again) that most of the time, people don’t realize they’ve said something that triggers us. They simply want to connect, even if it’s a very broad “me, too!” These are the people we need to give the benefit of the doubt, and respond with our “higher power”.

But sometimes the remarks verge on being downright rude, or tasteless. There’s the customer who makes constant sardonic remarks about your work. It’s “supposed” to be entertaining patter, all in fun–but it sure doesn’t feel that way.

And sometimes, it’s not a perfect stranger.

Sometimes it’s a friend who gets a little mean. Or another artist. Or even a family member. How do we handle them?

I’ve heard this referred to as “talking smack”–an exchange of put-downs and insults between friends. It’s all in good fun, right? Otherwise hurtful remarks are disguised as ‘jokes’: “Oh, I’m just kidding!”

I say there is a time and a place for such practice–maybe in a bar over a few beers discussing your favorite respective baseball teams. (“How about them Red Sox?!”)

But never in our place of business. Never in our studio, at a show, in our booth. Never where we are trying to earn a living. NEVER in front of our customers.

I had a “friend” who did this at a show. (Spoiler alert: This was my first real insight that this person was not really my friend.) As they looked at each piece, they had a crass, or even crude remark to offer. They had done this before, and I’d always laughed it off. “Going along” to “get along”. (Another spoiler alert: Does. Not. Work.)

This was a prestigious, juried show I’d spent well over a few thousand dollars to be in. I was on my game, and on my feet, 8 hours a day, for a week.

That day, I simply wasn’t in the mood to tolerate this anymore.

I called him out on their behavior on the spot. I was gentle, respectful, but firm.

I said, “You know, I love to goof around and say silly things. But not about my art. And not when I’m at a show. I’m as serious about what I do here as you are about (insert their profession here.) I hope you understand.” (Big smile.)

I said it quietly, without any rancor. I did not shuffle my feet or hem nor haw. I did not apologize.

I meant every word, and they knew it.

It worked. They were embarrassed. They mumbled a vague apology, made some token effort to look at my work “seriously”, and left soon after.

Years later, we realized we’d overlooked a lot of crap from this person, because of their charm and wit. It took a long time to see what was really going on. Better late than never!

In this case, they were envious of the authenticity, and the integrity, of the work I was making. The “jokes” were a way to diminish me in a socially acceptable way. “Hey, I’m just kidding! You’re pretty sensitive, aren’t you?”

I used to apologize for being sensitive. Not anymore. YES, I’m sensitive! I’m a friggin’ artist! My heart is open to the world around me, highly-tuned to nuance in design, color, story. It’s who I am, and I am never going to apologize for that again.

And neither should you.

The person in our life who acts this way, whether a friend, or a family member, is acting this way because something in us is affecting them. Intimidating them. Scaring them. We have something they don’t have, or haven’t had the courage to reach for.

We are committed. We are courageous. And our work is precious to us.

We constantly tune our technique because we are committed to doing our best work. We put it out into the world—posting it on social media, enter it into juried shows, approach galleries to represent us, etc.—because we have found the courage to do what needs to be done. We practice how to talk to people about our work because this is the work of our heart. Like a child or a puppy, it needs our love, our best intentions, our best efforts, to thrive in the world.

As life coach Danielle LaPorte puts it so succinctly, “Open, gentle heart. Big effin’ fence.

Last, when we get to the point where we have to say this to someone we love and/or care about…

When we have to set our boundaries, gently but firmly…

If they ever do this to us again….

There is the final blessing, the biggest gift of all, this beautiful, powerful insight from poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou: 

If it happens again….they have shown you exactly who they are.

Believe them.

We may choose to still love them, to keep them in our circle. We just now know for sure who they are, what they do, even if we never understand why. That is their journey, not ours.

We just know to consider the source, to protect ourselves, and deflect the negative.

And we need, above all, to keep on making our art.

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14 thoughts on “HATERS GONNA HATE: You’re Not My Friend

    • I find it difficult too, Jon, and still get caught off-guard. But it really helps to memorize a few key phrases. And I do think it takes me less time to identify the merely awkward from the truly toxic.

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  1. Reading this again, and I loved reading it again, I thought that your post revisited “micro aggression”. And I thought you were right on with the concept of “haters” envy of your integrity, authenticity, courage, commitment and the absolute “heart” in your work.

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    • Susan, thank you for your words, once again I am humbled by your support. (Thank you, too, for your patience as it took me awhile to find your new comments!) Ironically, this post triggered some massive blow-back from a reader or two (or three!) on Fine Art Views. The irony was so obvious for me–someone attacking me for observing that sometimes people attack us for speaking our truth, making our art, standing up. I was strongly encouraged not to respond, at least on that venue. But I’ll be writing about it soon here. It’s a scary place to go for me–I’m not that courageous in general! But I’m also done treating disrespect, hostility and desparagement with silence. And Susan, your words, along, have given me strength, and hope. THANK YOU!!

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  2. Dear Luann,
    Thank you so much for writing this series of posts. I love and respect your writing because you have the guts and skill to gracefully, powerfully and humorously blog about things most artists will only admit to their closest friend or therapist. lol. I got so much affirmed/confirmed to me in this post, it has stayed with me for weeks and like Ms. Delaney, I have come back to read it again to reinforce the message into my noggin.
    It’s kind of sad that artists and writers get projected on in this way by friends and strangers because as you say, we are doing what so many people dream of doing. I wish the shadow artists and writers the strength and abandon to just do it already- make asses out of themselves as well, and join our fabulous conga line party! It isn’t an easy career path but it is richly rewarding at the level of soul.
    My sincere thanks again for your work as a writer and artist,it’s fabulous stuff.
    Thea

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    • Thea, I am so glad you wrote to let me know this helped. It proves what I say over and over again: Whatever we are suffering from whatever obstacle hinders our journey, when we can see it for what it is and set it aside and MAKE OUR WORK, we have to put it out into the world. Because someone else, somewhere in the world, is going through something similar. And needs to know they are not alone. If this helps ONE PERSON, it has filled a purpose beyond our own needs.

      I am forever grateful to Julia Cameron for naming this. Because once we see it, experience it, and understand it, once we understand it comes from THEIR spiritual/emotional shortcomings, not ours, then we are stronger and more resilient. And like you pointed out, if only the perps of this behavior would do what you said….!! But as a dear friend tells me, over and over, “That’s THEIR journey, not yours!” (Thankyouthankyouthankyou Melinda!)

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      • Good point Luann AND Melinda! Yes. So easy to get thrown off the track, stop making art and go down some mad rabbit hole of a tangent trying to analyze WHY another person said what they said about your work. I have a buddy who always says-“Give it 72 hours to let the dust settle before you respond and in the meantime, keep making art.” And if I adhere to that dictum I usually don’t even remember the comment 72 hours later. Still smarts when its a close friend though. So in your case being inspired to write/make art about the sting of those experiences — turned straw into gold. I think you have a book here in this “haters” series. Artists need this info, it solves a problem for them that I have yet to see anyone else solving out there in art blog land.

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      • Thea, first, thank you for sharing your buddy’s 72-hour comment. Excellent advice!
        And second, I truly appreciate the suggestion that this series could be another book(let). It officially goes on the front burner today!

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