The Art Bully

This collage was created on a shopping bag, using a black, printed stripe on the bag as well as the kraft-colored bag. A #2 pencil was used to sketch the bird. The feathers were found in the street. The printed pieces, cut from a newspaper, read, “We tend to forget we are animals, until we become prey.”

Making your way as an artist has never been easy. For most artists, it can at least be interesting. During the Renaissance art patronage shifted from bishops and cardinals (that’s how all those lovely European cathedrals were built), to wealthy merchants and bankers with political interests, who supported artists and offered them a livelihood, but were often not the kindest, most ethical, or generous people.

The Medicis  supported Leonardo da Vinci, Boticcelli,  and Michelangelo. Luckily, the Medicis had excellent taste and a gift for choosing the right artist for the job. It is not outrageous to say that the Medicis, by investing in art, laundered a lot of money by hiding it in art. The entire city of Florence (Italy), home to the Medicis, is alive with commissioned art.

Now that there are fewer Medicis (and art patrons), artists have to look to the American business model for a patron and a path to fame.

I began to pay attention to just how hard an artist has to work to become well-known. Roughly, here’s how it works: an artist develops a niche, a specialty, and focuses on that to attract an audience. The artist teaches this specialty, using favorite products. She (could be a he, too, but for this article, I’m using “she”) contacts a number of companies that produce the products she uses, hoping to get onto the company’s marketing or demo team.

Once that happens, the artist gets free products, but has to promote those products on social media, podcasts, blogs, on-line and in-person classes, books, and videos. Traditional book publishers shucked their marketing departments, using artists to market for them instead. It was a gamble, and for some publishers, it worked.

And effortless piece of art (butterfly, dog nose print, more) is no more than a piece of gum on a sidewalk.

Now the celebrity artists are often bound to art- or craft-supply companies, required to promote the products. If an artist is especially lucky, they work with their supply company to develop a new color line, maybe even a new product, and travel to promote that company.  For some, it’s a symbiosis that works. Artists develop classes to teach and books to write, and companies provide product and name recognition.

Sometimes, the supply companies unwittingly train art bullies. What’s an art bully? Someone who insists on specific name brand products being purchased for class use. Someone who insists that when they praise a product, their followers must like it, too. And if a celebrity artist/art bully doesn’t like a product, well, their friends, audience, and class participants shouldn’t use it, either. It’s the “cool kids table,” all grown up, now with art products.

Sure, I understand that not every ink, watercolor, paper, or tool is interchangeable. But a list of specific brand names in a supply list makes me suspicious. Is this brand the only one that will have a favorable result?  Is putting an art celebrity’s name and face on a product line a guarantee of art success?  (Short answer: Never. Success is 90 percent artist effort and 10 percent supply perfection.)

Some time ago, I said (in the thread of an art celebrity’s Facebook comments) that I had no luck with washi tape. It doesn’t stay stuck for me.  I joked it must be the art equivalent of kale. (I’m not a fan.)

The celebrity was not amused. She told me I must be using the washi tape wrong. Surprised, I said I was pretty sure I was doing it right, and had even tried several brand names. Out came the art bully. She disliked people contradicting her when she recommended her preferred products, she said.  She was pretty sure, she insisted, I didn’t know how to use the tape correctly, and certainly was not using her recommended brand. (Yeah, I was.)

Let’s get real: art skill never comes from buying a magic product. Art skill comes from experimenting, from failing, from trying more and different approaches until the practice begins to take hold. I thought of how asking questions to learn was so easily squashed by art bullying.  Like the worst of grade schools, you have to color the sky blue (with a specific product) and stay in the lines.

But I remained quiet. I did not clap back. Why? I don’t feel better when I make someone feel worse. Because I knew her fear of not supporting her money source, and I really can figure out how to use (or not use) washi tape. I made a mental note never to take a class from the art bully, though. There’s a price for bully-hood.

Those who protect the product they are hired to market, who care about the source of money more than spreading creative ideas, may do well. But they can’t do good.

I’m not at all sure that the art bully ensures the success of creative work. That work is always private, soulful, and revealing. And not stuck with a brand name.

—Quinn McDonald’s blog has, in 18 years, never been monetized. I want to keep it that way, so I can like and dislike, recommend or share what works for me and what doesn’t,  with freedom.

8 thoughts on “The Art Bully

  1. I had to laugh at the idea of washi tape being used the wrong way. Unless you use it sticky side up. 😉 It’s a pretty simple concept. Like any tape, you just … I don’t know…stick it down?
    I love washi by the way as an element in collage and decoration in my journals and I have a huge collection, but not every supply or brand is for everyone.
    We all have things that work for us and things that don’t for all kinds of reasons, the most important thing is that we can keep expressing ourselves in our art.

    • Yep. Keep expressing ourselves in our art. Without someone else pooping on us.
      My problem with washi tape is that it doesn’t stay stuck. The answer is amazingly easy–glue it down! (Maybe with a new glue stick!)

      • Hahaha! No glue stick for you!
        I have to admit with rubbish washi I do use a glue taperoller sometimes at the ends so it doesn’t curl up, but it does seem ridiculous to need glue at all for a thing that’s supposed to be sticky in the first place. If it helps, there’s also some tapes that stick too well and so you cannot get them off the roll without tearing them, those are the ones that really drive me insane!

        • There is a wide range of washi tapes, some better than others. I am less familiar with rolls that are TOO sticky, because I throw them out, fast! I might add that our lack of humidity in the winter could contribute to the glue issue, but the idea is that all products can go wrong, and creativity is figuring out how to use what you want. (And the freedom to ditch what doesn’t work.)

    • Sticky side down???? This is the first I’ve heard of this! You’d think they’d write those instructions on the tape. BTW, did you know scissors don’t work if you use them as a mallet? So much to learn, so little time.

  2. Actually this is quite amusing. I’ve experienced this more than once. There is a multi media artist/designer/product line developer, etc., who once critiqued one of her own pieces on the internet. She said it was not one of her best. I agreed with her because it really wasn’t one of her best. She promptly deleted my post and blocked me! All I did was agree! I’m better off without this person and am glad to have discovered just how silly she is. The internet can provide great insight into people.

    • OMG, I had to laugh! That’s a great example of art bully. I gather you were supposed to argue her out of her own opinion of her artwork. Too much work! But you are right–the internet can provide some great insights into how people think now!

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