This isn’t going to be a polished article with a tidy conclusion and some helpful suggestions. It’s just a post about stuff that has been weighing on my mind the last few weeks.
When you create, whether it is arts or crafts, at some point your work will be seen by others. Obviously not always, but you know what I mean.
It takes a level of vulnerability to put your work out there, whether it is a tiny Christmas ornament you make for a loved one, or a massive exhibition you’ve been working on for three solid years. When you do put your work out there, regardless of the size of audience, it automatically invites feedback. Sometimes positive, sometimes negative, sometimes you improve someones day, sometimes you speak on a deep and meaningful level to an individual, sometimes you offend someone… the possibilities of how others interpret your work are almost endless.
I am an introvert, incredibly shy and I have social anxiety on top of those two traits. For me it has taken a lot of determination and strength to let people into my creative world. I think there was an important shift in my thinking sometime between 2012-2014 when I was on art courses.
Something during that time frame really clicked and I stopped feeling over protective about my ideas and concepts, I stopped feeling threatened by others talents and skills, and I shifted away from thinking if something wasn’t flawless, it was garbage. These were profound mental shifts for me as an artist, ones that would need their own extensive article to cover but my point is, that shift happened.
Through that shift, I was able to open up more as an artist and I started letting others into first my work, then my processes, then more and more my creative mind. I feel like this was a wonderful and powerful change in my life, and one I am deeply grateful for.
I started feeling a sense of worth in the knowledge that me being more open was inspiring people to try new creative things, that my disability wasn’t stopping my creativity and that, in and of itself, was inspiring people, that me showing processes demystified the creative process for others, etc.
Lately, however, some of the input I have been getting back has been jarringly negative. It’s not often, but when the comments, snide remarks or passive aggressive digs come, they hit me hard. Despite being aware that these remarks are often not about me and projections of insecurity from others, I still find myself easily wounded.
Recently I saw a Facebook post about the cost of creating a crocheted piece of work and how frustrating it is when someone devalues the effort, time and energy that goes into a creation. I am keenly aware of this and find crochet a particularly difficult creative outlet for this kind of devaluing. It can take hours and hours to create a piece, after years of honing skills, and often the reaction of potential buyers is “YOU WANT HOW MUCH?!”.
Creative friends and I started to discuss this issue and many of them explained the reason they quit making things was because of the constant devaluation of their work or craft, the snide comments about how they could get it cheaper at Walmart, or make it better/cheaper themselves, etc.
As someone who actively supports others finding creative outlets, I find that reality really upsetting. It’s happened to so many people!
The other day I was catching up with an acquaintance and they asked me if I am busy with my art lately and I replied that I was swamped because of my GoFundMe and getting contributors commissions out to them, and after that I had to start making Holiday gifts. Their reaction, paraphrased, when I said I was doing less hand made gifts this year and sticking to our immediate family, siblings and nieces and nephews was to roll her eyes, ask me why it took me so long to realise most people don’t appreciate the effort I put into stuff, and how ridiculous it was it took me this long to cut back on my hand made gifts.
What a shitty, negative, awful way to express themselves to me about the fact that I hand make many of my Christmas gifts. But it isn’t the worst and it’s definitely not the last and there have been so many previously. I’ve had people question my disabilities because I can create things, I’ve had people tell me I am trying too hard. I’ve had people pft in disgust at me and ask with a sneer “God, what CAN’T you do?!”. Sometimes I want to snarl back: “I dunno… I can’t walk without a cane right now – you don’t see me making snide remarks about your ability to walk pain free…”.
The most common are questions about where do I find the time. Some are asked in a friendly light hearted way, which I never resent, and some are asked in a snide way, reacting to me as if I am intentionally showing off to brag. One reaction that seems innocuous is when people wistfully sigh and wish out loud that they had as much talent as I have.
Every single time that happens I want to haul out my first drawings from 2007, or hell even my first day of my art course in 2012 and be like “I have no innate talent. Look at this! LOOK AT IT! I started with the drawing skills of a 10 year old kid, ok? There is no innate talent!”. I doubt I would be believed. Creating has been held aloft as some arcane gift we are granted upon birth, instead of skills gained via working our ass off.
The only thing that I have that possibly separates me as an artist from anyone else, is my inability to not create. I cannot not create. Well I can, but I would be miserable. I derive joy, happiness, personal satisfaction and confidence from creating. It helps me connect to others, express love for others when I make them gifts and restores a sense of worth I struggle with as a disabled person.
Sometimes when someone says “Where do you find the TIME?” I reply “Well, I can’t work, so that helps.”
But… I do work. Creating IS my work. Art is my work!
When I was growing up my father often commented, as did others, about how lazy I was and I deeply internalised that idea… that I was lazy. Years later we find out that actually I have several medical conditions that limit my energy and it isn’t laziness at all. But my husband, who knows this is something I struggle with after being told it so often growing up, often says he cannot imagine someone less lazy than me, because I am always doing something, creating something, building something, fixing something, etc.
That was an important thing for me to realise, that I do actually work. I might be on permanent disability because of my health conditions, and therefore useless in a capitalist society for the “workforce”, but I DO work.
That shift in thinking helped several other shifts in my thinking. I realised most of the negative reactions about me being creative was actually not about me at all, but projections of the other person because they are feeling threatened or insecure at my abilities the same way I was when I started art school and saw others astounding work. While I have realised others abilities don’t minimise mine, that doesn’t mean everyone has realised that.
There’s times when I look at other peoples art and it is so damn flawless that in jest I throw up my hands and yell “That’s it! I QUIT! Look at this! LOOK AT THIS! There’s just no point!”. It makes me laugh, but it also highlights that often times abilities people have are used as competition. And the art world is FULL of competition.
Which is unfortunate because imagine the creativity that would be unleashed in people if they didn’t view creativity as a competition but rather JUST as a means of self expression. Sure it feels amazing when someone wants to hand over their hard earned cash for a piece you created, and yes it can be difficult to get the recognition that leads to more sales, which in turn provides a livelihood, but it doesn’t actually have to be a competition.
I refuse to compete with anyone, ever. Especially with my art. I make art because I love making. I love the act of it, I love the completed results, I love the focus, the zen that comes from that focus, the learning, the exploration, the possibilities! It’s literally my bliss, to use the corniest phrase I can think of.
I do sometimes wish people knew a few things though:
- Where do I find the time? I make time because it’s that important to me. Yes I am a disabled mother and wife, previously a single Mum, but I have always and will always make time for myself to create. I am still me, I matter, creating matters to me therefore I will make time.
- I do work. This is my work. Some days I might only be able to work for 10 mins, some days 3 hours, some days not at all, but bit by bit, I get there.
- I do not possess some innate talent for creating – I’ve worked my ass off to get where I am as an artist, crafter and crocheter. It feels devaluing to be told I have some miraculous talent because it devalues the sheer amount of time, energy, money and effort I have put into getting where I am now as a creative person.
- I do not create to show off, or show others up. What a waste of time. I create because I love it. It’s not a commentary AT anyone, ever.
- Even if my artistic and creative skills do make people feel insecure, I wish they would keep that and the negative feelings that come from that to themselves. It’s hard making myself vulnerable and showing people my work and processes, and the negativity often makes me want to clam up and hide my work and myself away.
- I document my processes, failures, successes and finished pieces to help inspire others by demystifying the creative process. I do it because I find self worth in it. I do it because I love it. I do it to hopefully help sell my work – some people really love feeling connected to my work via being shown my processes and I try to let those people feel that connection. I do not do it to make others feel bad about their days.
- Sometimes it takes me 30 mins to make something. Sometimes weeks, months or even years. Regardless, there are hours and hours of learning and effort and self educating behind what I make, so please stop putting yourself down if you can’t do what I do (yet!).
- My work isn’t about you, it’s about me. (Unless you hire me to do a commission cause that’s totally about you lol)
- Yes, I sometimes use whatever energy I have in a day to create to the exclusion of everything else being an adult demands. If I used my limited energy just to adult and parent, I would have nothing to give, and not much pleasure in a given day. Not even going to justify this – it keeps me sane, fends off depression and alleviates feeling worthless – something society pounds into you if you’re disabled.
- I am always sore. Always. I make anyway. That’s just how much it matters to me. If I was in bed, unable to move, I would have my husband rig me up a set up like Frida and keep. fucking. making.
I am going to keep making. I hope my keeping going and my art inspires more people then it intimidates or threatens, but even if it doesn’t I will keep making. It’s up to others how they react to that and I will keep practicing leaving their negative feelings with them when they come up.
I do hope that me talking about this helps shift some negative attitudes people have internally, or alternatively encourages others to continue on with what they love despite unfortunate attitudes. Hell maybe, possible, to help inspire someone who did give up, not to.
Much love ❤