When my brother was in the second grade, his teacher pulled my mom in for an afterschool meeting to discuss something of exceeding import: his birds. “You see these?” she asked my mother, pointing at an army of black-crayoned “v”s on construction paper with accusatory menace. “Yes?” my mom said, confused as to where this was going. “Well, there’s clearly something wrong with your kid,” came the response.
What was wrong with this picture wasn’t my brother or his birds, but the attitude of his teacher. As far as I know, at that age, such a style of avian portraiture is hardly uncommon. Sure, some kids do a little loop at the bottom, an abstract attempt at a body. Maybe they even draw nubs to reference legs. But, for the most part, bird renderings are subjected to v-shaped similarities. Unfortunately, as an eight-year-old, you’re unable to see the wood for the trees. My brother, feeling embarrassed and ridiculed, began to hate drawing. By singling him out, his teacher had forced upon him a fear that was not innate, thus suffocating a future lifetime of creativity. All over some stupid birds.
This weekend I was talking to a friend who was in the nascent stages of brainstorming a website concept. There wasn’t a template out there for what she wanted to do, which was to combine two seemingly incongruous concepts under one umbrella. “I just don’t want anyone to think I’m being stupid,” she said, a grown woman on the cusp of 30 years old.
This friend, like my brother, had a brief history of creative heckling. Years ago, when she was manning a fashion blog, some troll left a comment that said something along the lines of “You should just stick to what you know.” Up until that point, everyone had been supportive of her efforts, but this tiny sentence cut her unexpectedly deep. Partially on account of this stranger, her confidence in her vision began to falter. She quit the blog.
To be sure, this stranger – this troll, as it were — was perfectly entitled to their opinion and equally justified in expressing it. After all, we’re fortunate enough to live in a country that (technically) praises the democracy of our individual voices, even if those voices are nasty, unsupportive, and ill-intentioned. The only thing my friend could control was her reaction to it. To have kept working under the assumption that 100% of all readers would like what she was doing would have been naïve. Somewhere out there, there is at least one person who dislikes each one of us intensely. Of this fact no one is immune. The same logic follows that there are people out there who are going to dislike your work, your products, your writing, your art, any extension of you by proxy.
No matter your age, your level of success, the quality of your work, there will always be detractors. Art, amongst other things, is not made in vacuums. Unless you hole yourself up in a garage somewhere, hoarding your work for an oeuvre never to be seen, you’re going to get hated on. But without taking that risk, you will also never find praise. All you can keep doing is drawing those proverbial “v”s — without compromise, without consideration, without heed. This is where genius lies, if not in the work, but in the attitude.