The title of this post is a quote I heard long ago from the lips of Erykah Badu at the beginning of her single "Tyrone." Remember this? I'm not sure if she was the first to say it, but since then it's a statement that has been repeated by many, including Queen Bey, who said it in her HBO documentary, Life is But a Dream.
Having gone through art school, being an artist, working as a designer and now teaching design I have a hard time with that statement. I don't know if I believe it. Can one really be an artist and be sensitive about their work?
Creative expression is personal because it comes from a place of experience, emotion (perhaps), and maybe even devotion. In the creative pursuit failures and a-ha moments are in abundance — and money, well sometimes not so much. Months, but more-often, years can go into a project or achieving an artistic goal. In the end, it is that time, effort, and perseverance that makes it all come together. So your heart and soul does become attached, so yes it can get personal and yes the critiques can hurt, sting, and bruise. But isn't that supposed to come with the territory when you are opening up your vision to the world?
I remember my first year in foundation drawing at art school our professor (a famous artist in her own right, by the way, and shall remain nameless) would tell us to hang up our charcoal drawings on the wall and we would do so, reluctantly. After the walls were covered with our "masterpieces" we would all huddle in the center of the studio hoping our collective warmth would protect one another from what was to come. Our professor would go around the room pausing briefly in front of each drawing tearing down and dropping to the floor the ones she didn't feel was worth acknowledging. "If it looks like you spent 5 minutes drawing it then I have even less time to critique it." Boom. You could hear the artists of said drawings gasp for air, or slump into themselves. Meanwhile those who survived would still have hearts racing in preparation for the lengthy critique that would for sure be hard to sit through. She ALWAYS gave tough critiques. You learned a lot, but boy were they brutal.
Some might say she was harsh. In today's world of higher-ed I don't even know if we're allowed to do stuff like this (we should be), but this professor and the many professors that came after only prepared us for what was to come when we would enter the real world — when money is involved and people are thinking about making an investment in your work, and they have even less time to look through your portfolio.
Because I've been on that hurtful side of the stick numerous times, taking brutal critiques from potential employers and portfolio reviewers now is like being an Olympic gold swimmer in a 3 foot pool. I can handle it. (I think, ha!)
Not only do artists have to face the challenges of figuring out what to do with their talents, but they also have to wear armour for the harsh critics ready with bow and arrow responses. Artists have to constantly be ready to defend their work and be completely open to how others will perceive it, but also be able to separate their feelings as much as possible.
So can you enter this line of work and be sensitive? Especially in this day and age when EVERYONE is a critic? EVERYONE has a social media account somewhere and a soap box where they can say whatever they want?
I don't think so. If you decide you want to be an artist (insert writer, designer, performer, etc.) then get ready. It can be tough, but it's part of the job — like a mechanic getting dirty. It's necessary, and if nothing more it helps you grow.
At the end of the day they are just hurdles that are small in comparison to the gift you are sharing with the world.