As an artist and a writer, I’m opening the door to other people’s opinions when I create. That’s risky business, for not everyone thinks alike. I was shocked to find out that not everyone would see my work the way I do, and even more surprised that they would actually tell me! In this day of social media, the world has gotten very small, and words from clear across the globe can reach you in an instant.
I once received an email from a reader that really rocked my soul. Now keep in mind, I receive hundreds of emails every month, and most are very complimentary. I fully appreciate each and every person who contacts me, and I do try to answer each one. This particular email begged for an answer, for it was an actual form of hate mail.
You would think that a career such as mine, designed to help people produce beautiful things, would only elicit positive feedback, wouldn’t you? Nope. Human nature is funny that way, for some can only see the negative. And you would think that with all the positive remarks I receive, I would be able to disregard the negative, but that’s not always the case. I’m a creative, sensitive human being, and one negative remark will momentarily eclipse all the good. (I don’t wallow though, I just learn from it and move on…)
Anyway, this email was an eye-opener. The subject line was: “I used to be a fan…” You know it can’t be good with an opening like that.
The email went on to say that they had followed my career for years, and that they used to think I was one of the best artists out there. (Used to be? Huh? What?) He then went on to say that after close observation he had noticed that I had quit growing as an artist, and that I was dumbing myself down for the sake of writing books and chasing the almighty dollar. He suggested that I quit, and focus on my artwork more, for he believed that I could become one of the 21st century’s great masters. But instead I was merely prostituting my work (he said it, not me!) to get my name out there to make more money. As if that wasn’t enough, he also said that I stupidly had taught everyone my style of drawing, and that now, even I wasn’t special anymore. Whew! Needless to say, my head was spinning.
So, how does an artist deal with the criticism? Putting yourself out there will not be easy my friends, for there’s always an email like this ready to be sent, with the eager click of a negative person. I know of some sensitive artists that will never show their work for fear of this type of response. Unfortunately, the beautiful work they produce will forever be relegated to the corner of their basement studio, never to be seen, until after they die, and the family digs it out. What a shame. Fear of failure and criticism can be crippling.
I’m sure you’re wondering how I responded to this individual. I admit, that for a moment, my finger hovered over the delete button, to forever assign it a lost place in cyber-space. I also secretly wished that Microsoft and Apple would install a witty retort button that could be pushed repeatedly in times like this. (Now, that would feel good, admit it! Talk about a money maker!)
But no, after reading and re-reading this email, I decided to learn from it. Actually, he had some valid points under all of that negativity. I decided to reach for those and apply them, and flush the rest. (“Reach” is the title of a motivational book I’m writing, so practicing what I preach is important!)
I did actually respond to him, and this is a paraphrase: “Thank you for your very heartfelt email. After digesting the information, I came to realize that some of it did make sense. I’m sure that I could indeed become a much better artist, which I intend to do. I could, as of today, lock myself in a dungeon and create the world’s next great masterpiece. I could also lop off an ear as proof of my passion to make people understand my artistic drive.
But sir, you are missing the point of my career. The greatest gift I was ever given, was the ability to teach. To see the excitement on a person who just drew their first portrait is worth more than any amount of money. Yes, after a 30-year career, many people do draw just like me, and as the old saying goes, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. I’m proud that my drawing style is as popular as it is! Few leave that type of legacy behind. As far as the money is concerned, it isn’t what you think. Being a best-selling author in a small market such as “art instruction,” is hardly a lucrative career. It’s the joy you give to others that makes the time and effort worthwhile. I don’t teach for the money. I teach for the smiles. Do not write me off as an artist either. Teaching makes you grow, and I’m sure that by the time I wrap up this career, a masterpiece will be revealed.”
The moral of this story is to not let the negativity in others take away your joy. If you’re following your passion and loving your work, that’s the greatest payoff in the world. Did you leave the world a better place? Then job well done!
Lee Hammond has been called the Queen of Drawing. That may not be fair these days, since in addition to providing the best drawing lessons, she has also created fantastic books and videos filled with the same easy to follow acrylic painting techniques, colored pencil techniques and more. Click here to see all of the instructional books and DVDs that Lee Hammond has to offer!