Unfortunately, artists are people, too.
I remember the first time I did a major fine craft show. It was amazing!
Oh, sure there were the expected (and unexpected) obstacles to overcome. These shows are incredibly expensive to do—booth fees, meals, transportation, marketing. The realization that your track lighting issues are going to get even worse. The nerve-wracking experience of packing, set-up, break-down, and everything in between.
But then there is the wonderful side, and that’s all about the people. Gallery owners who really love your work. Show coordinators who eventually become good friends.
And finding your tribe.
At one event, a major national wholesale show, I met people I previously only knew through our conversations on a professional discussion forum. (Remember those? I miss them. Sort of. Keep reading!) I distinctly remember thinking, “I’ve found my tribe!”
For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who were creative makers, like me. People who took their work seriously. People who were true professionals (for the most part) about getting their art into the world. People who focused on doing excellent work, who worked at their craft daily, who sent their kids to college and paid their mortgage doing the work of their heart. People who laughed, shared information readily, supported other artists.
It was a magical year.
After a year or so, though, a few chinks appeared.
There were people who took shortcuts in their process, making it all about the money.
There were people who copied, diligently.
There were people who resented “newbies”, angry about people who “hadn’t paid their dues,” people who were envious of newcomers who won accolades and awards so “easily”.
There were people who were envious. People who were intensely annoying. People with obvious mental health issues. People with egos so big, they took all the air out of any room they enterted.
I tend to accrue a lot of information when I try something new, and I love to share it. (In fairness, tru dat.) So a few people let me know I was an upstart know-it-all with a big head.
And a very few people went out of their way to be obnoxious, to the point of bullying.
Where was my tribe?? I felt broken-hearted.
It took me years to come to terms with this unpleasant knowledge. (I still struggle, I admit that freely.) And now I know this to be true:
Artists are people, too.
In fact, some of the factors that make for a successful (however we define “successful”) artist can make for a difficult human being.
We have to make your art a priority. We have to believe in ourselves, especially when times are hard. We have to trust our process, sometimes to the exclusion of everyone else’s process. We (sometimes) have to fight work hard for our place in the world.
Sometimes this means: We believe we are always Number One. We believe no one else’s opinions matter. We believe our way is the only way. We believe when someone else gets a bigger piece of the pie, we won’t get our own piece.
One summer, after a particularly grueling interaction with someone who was making my professional (and personal) life miserable, another artist finally said, “We can’t all be the Buddha.” “Hah!” I thought resentfully. “I’m just asking her to leave me alone!”
Unfortunately, we really can’t be the Buddha. And in my case, the Buddha would probably be, “Quit trying to fix/change/out-argue those people! You can’t win!”
Because life is filled with difficult people, and creative people are no exception. If anything, we get judged harsher because we are creative people, because we’re supposed to be happier, more fulfilled, livin’ the dream.
And so, instead, I try to see them as, not a problem to be fixed, but an obstacle to get around.
It’s hard. I want to be friends with everyone. (Don’t say it, I know. I know. I KNOW!!!) I have an open heart, and I keep forgetting to put up big effin’ fences when I need to. I consider myself a student of life, and pursuing my art has enriched me on all levels—especially the learning part!
So when it feels like you’ve been voted off the island, consider the source.
Do the people I know and trust support me? Or do they gently suggest I still have some growin’ to do?
Do these people really block my path? Or are they just an inconvenient moment in my life I have to get through?
Can I learn to truly see the good in people who kinda suck are not perfect? (Note: Please do not excuse or make up a story about people with extreme malignant narcissism/sociopathy. Just get away.)
And most important, when the weight of personalities lie heavy on me, I can always go to the sacred creative space of my studio, and get back to making the work of my heart.
Do you have a good story about how you dealt with a difficult person in your art career? Enquiring minds want to know!!