Readers may have noticed that I don’t think artists should talk about what they’re going to do, what they’re doing, or, in some cases, what they’ve done. Something about words that eviscerates the will to do things, to derail works in progress, or take the shine off done deals. But now that everyone’s blabbing, tweeting and Facebooking minor and major glories, there’s a new way to deliver your stuff. It’s called humblebragging.
This is where you lace your accomplishments with enough humility to get your stuff across and yet soften the blow to others. After all, it’s not nice to let people think your life is better than theirs.
“That crummy painting I struggled with and almost threw out got sold to Lindsay Lohan.”
You get the idea?
“Things are tough in the art business. I’m going plein air in Languedoc tomorrow.”
I don’t believe in any of this stuff. The better idea is to just go to Languedoc, do your plein air thing and let them hear about it later, preferably from someone else. Fact is, I’m most concerned what blurting does to art learning and art quality. This is just another reason why I try to talk about you, not me. Oh dear, that sounded a bit like humblebragging.
Here’s the rub: If you transpose your doing thing to a talking thing, you might just be changing the dynamics of your doing thing. And if you decide to add a shot of humility, especially false humility, that might just screw things up even further. We are our words. We are what we say. What we speak, we become.
We all know of artists who constantly need to verbalize their weaknesses and failures. Is the lousy self-esteem they project because their work is actually lousy, or is their work lousy because they’re always saying how lousy it is? Ralph Waldo Emerson thought verbalizing humility was a naughty thing to do. The Greek lyric poet Pindar took a more balanced approach: “Humble in a humble state and great in greatness.” The Roman philosopher Kjerkius Gennius (36BC), said, “Humilitas profugio est.” “Humility is bunk.”
PS: “The humblebrag is a way to brag while also seeming humble. It’s a subtle brag, a brag with a wink and a nod, the inside joke of bragging.” (Jen Doll, blogger)
Esoterica: Full humblebragging baloney often comes with the well regarded institution of the Artist’s Statement: “My folks were very poor. I was born in an old paper bag in the middle of Highway 401.” Truly noble heights are attained when artists write about themselves in the third person: “As a child Joe Bloggs was always interested in mud puddles, hence his current fascination with marine subjects.” “Mary Pinnacle’s father was an undertaker — she grew up surrounded by flowers.” The Canadian painter Ross Penhall is a quiet guy who doesn’t have much to say about his art. A tattoo on his arm reads, “Shut up and paint.”
Today’s market requires shouting
by Michael Chesley Johnson, ME, USA / NB, Canada
Your philosophy makes sense for good economic times, but I have to say that today, when galleries in both the US and Canada are shutting their doors and painters who paint for a living are considering a career move, any humblebragging among professionals is just another form of advertising. If you don’t shout, no one will know you’re there.
Unfortunately, this shouting has reached a fever pitch. I don’t like it, either, but what can we do? In desperation we blog, tweet, message and offer sketches for sale on eBay in the hopes we’ll attract the attention of real buyers. “Shut up and paint” doesn’t work today unless you are independently wealthy or have a patron with deep pockets and 10,000 square foot house with empty walls.
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Plein air saves the day
by Margaret Kent, New Ross, Wexford, Ireland
Who cares what I am doing or thinking and I certainly do not want to know what others do. Plein air is the answer to so many problems, blocks and so on, out there in God’s garden with my little dog, at one with nature painting for ME. If it is good it is a bonus; if not so what! This summer here in Ireland has been challenging weather-wise. I have been wet so often my poor brain is rusting from the outside in. (That is not humblebragging!!)
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One on one still the best
by Robert Sesco, Charlottesville, VA, USA
With life experience I have come to the understanding that (a) I have limited capacity for understanding, (b) that, although I may have opinions about everything and everyone, I actually know very little, (c) that with every new ‘device’ that kids are carrying these day that offer the wonderful potentials shown on TV advertising, I estimate that the bulk of the use of these devices constitutes a distraction from what is important in life and rarely serves up a fraction of the potential, (d) that the dollar return on time invested in social media is practically nil in my experience, and finally (e) that simple relationships one-on-one with a fellow human remain the most efficient manner to build a following to which to sell your product.
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Prize winner afraid to tell
by Jo Watts, Smithville, TX, USA
In our county, the newspaper does an annual event called “The Best of….” — I think many communities do this. Anyone can write in their favorites for businesses, doctors, food, etc. Several years ago, to my great surprise, I was voted runner up as best artist, and this year I was awarded first place! The problem is this: If I tell people about it, it does seem like bragging (I’ve told one friend who does not receive the newspaper and my husband has told 2 or 3). If I do not tell people, it looks as if I disdain our community and the people who voted for me. We do have a few more well known artists in our community who seem to wish to have nothing to do. We “lesser” artists do not wish to join that group. I’m actually quite proud of this honor and would like my collectors and friends in the area to know I appreciate their recognition. How can I do that?
(RG note) Thanks, Jo. Mentioning it here lets approximately 250,000 readers know what you did.
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Go forth and communicate
by Mary Weatherwax
This is an ironic topic coming from one who has seemed to master the use of words as a communication tool. As you say, talking about doing is not doing and there is a very fine line between doing the talking about your work and bragging. We were raised not to brag on ourselves and our work is us!! Our work should of course be its own greatest communicator and communication. An audience is the wish of an orator in the visual. Affirmation… ahhhh the true desire of every humble artist, bragger or non-bragger. I say go forth and creatively communicate in your choice of voice, word, or visual medium but let that be enough for others to listen to our meaning.
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by Louise Murphy, Fredericksburg, Texas, USA
Today, as I read about humblebragging, my thoughts went to how I have done just that and don’t like it. First, it centers on myself, and second, I’m asking for a compliment which I may not deserve. Yuk!! Somehow I thought it would boost my confidence. But yuk again; it’s false compliments and fragile confidence. Proverbs 27:2 states, “Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips.” That for me cuts out the humblebragging and puts me back on the path of pursuing my passion to create, learn and becoming more skillful as I put in the hard work.
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Accept people the way they are
by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Port Moody, BC, Canada
This bragging/humility thing can cause a lot of confusion. I’ve discovered that it is strongly tied to how a person has been raised, and I dare mention that even the deeply-rooted system of family’s beliefs has something to do with it. At some point in life I got associated with a family that was alarmed by my family’s lack of bragging. They thought something was wrong with us. The feeling was reciprocal. Later we all realized that people just happen to be raised differently. For a bragger, humility sounds suspicious, bland and empty. For a humiliator (hmmm, interesting how that came out), braggers are a bunch of flakes and crazies. But in fact what needs to be done is accept the people the way they are because they are not likely to change, and they just may be your next best friend.
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Recipe for mediocrity
by Mike Barr, Adelaide, South Australia
I like it when you talk straight. Most times I enjoy siding up with your comments and feel vindicated in my own thoughts that are similar. I must confess though, this time I was caused to question my own forms of humblebragging and took quite a hiding as I read the letter.
So, why do so many artists do it through things like Facebook, blogging and artists’ social sites? My guess is that successful artists have got nothing to prove. They are the followed, not the followers. Artists with any kind of ambition aspire to be even fractionally as successful. If artists of lower station have any kind of step forward, we tend to want to tell the world or at least our circle of friends about it, no matter how small the triumph. It’s a kind of substitute for really making it. It feels like we may be on the way to making it, whatever that maybe.
The sad thing is, though, that the world of artists (which includes anyone who picks up a brush or pencil) is full to brimming with the mediocre and worse. Art Societies reward and praise mediocre work; it’s as if there is no such thing now as bad art, just good art! A cursory look at social art sites will tell the story; truly poor art is extolled by fellow artists with the effect that most artists are happy with their mediocrity. Woe betide the critic! I feel sick when an official opener of a community art show states that the standard of work is very high, when the truth is that over 90% of it is drab and unskilled or just plain bad.
It’s apparent that in a lot of cases Facebook and blogging about art is about ‘image’ and this can be seen when you look at the avatars of artists. It’s amazing how many of them are glamour shots or show the idyllic view of a plein air painter complete with a Holly-Hobby straw hat and apron. We may not be famous but we can sure look the part.
Quite frankly I think most of us couldn’t give two hoots about the ‘successes’ of other artists — we just wish it could have been us! Humblebragging is here to stay and is a true companion of times. Getting rich or famous may be out of most people’s reach but we can all gain some kind of notoriety with the smallest of merit awards.
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by Donna Duffield, Kenora, Ontario, Canada
Please, if I may, I will share a snippet of my experiences with this most appreciated purchase.
I have never taken a “formal” art course, but have painting in my essence — a gift from my Mom who passed away 2 years ago. Mom loved to paint but in her later years gave it up as she felt she was never “good enough.” Sadly, she also tossed away all of her efforts save for one unfinished acrylic landscape that now graces the wall of my little reclaimed bedroom/ studio. Color, light, form — all conspired to frustrate and elude Mom. She was so self-deprecating of her efforts that, despite my pleading, she was reticent to share her knowledge with me. “I can’t teach you anything, Kate” (her nickname for me)… “Just do yourself a favour and learn from someone who knows what they’re doing.”
During the storm of grief after Mom’s death followed by the death of a dear friend to suicide, the “need” to paint was compelling — almost obsessive… yet I didn’t know where to begin. The lessons, the “secrets” if you will, of her lifetime of the pursuit of art, went with her. Effort after effort ended up in tears of frustration and blobs of muddied indiscernible pigments both on palette and on canvas.
Then I read about Richard Robinson’s Mastering Color. I took the plunge and ordered the course. Quite literally the elusive world of painting — color, light, form — began to reveal its myriad of secrets! I delved into the lessons. I learned that I had to put down the brush and step away to catch my breath. “Lavender”… Mom’s favorite color and scent… the color of the last piece of clothing I held of hers before it was relegated to the “Good-Will” pile. Lavender — the color of love. At that moment I knew… I knew… that all would be well. That I would heal, and that I would paint.
Thank you Robert, Thank you Richard, Thank you Mom.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Humblebragging…
Featured Workshop: Lois Dodd and Elizabeth O’Reilly
oil painting by Julie Houck, HI, USA
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Kenneth Logsdon who asked, “Robert, you quoted ‘the Roman philosopher Kjerkius Gennius (36BC).’ Fact or fiction: Is he the brother of Kphonius Gennius?”
(RG note) Fact: Kphonius was Kjerkius’s younger brother who was a Ford dealer in Rome and a close friend of Kierkegaard and Kant.
And also Belinda Wilson of Auckland, New Zealand, who wrote, “I like what Golda Meir reportedly said about humility, ‘Humble? No I’ve never been that great.’ ”
And also Marianne Champlin of Pauma Valley, CA, USA, who wrote, “This is one of the best! I have had other artists leave me unable to paint for days after their bragging, leaving me to wonder why I ever paint at all.”