You suck. But enough about you.

Creative people care so very much what others think of them. They ask, “Is it any good?” and then wait not just for what you say but for how you say it. It’s not enough to be effusive in your praise. Were you sincere? Really? And does the fact that you say you like it mean your opinion isn’t worth listening to? Are you Paula Abdul? Or Simon Cowell? Is there a ‘But…” lurking in your praise? If you give constructive advice. is it personal? Are you saying I, as well as my work, suck?
(Sure, there are the rare, apparent exceptions who don’t give a good god-damn what anyone else says, but I suspect that they too are motivated by the perceptions of others — they just hide it better.)
Sometimes, others’ verdicts are integral to what you’re making.
In my business, the success of an idea is entirely decided by what someone else decides it’s worth. Does the client think it’s good? Does the consumer think it’s good? Does my boss like it? Do my peers? Award show judges? Et cetera.
If I was showing my work in a gallery, the dealers’, critics’ and patrons’ opinions would make or break me. If I act in a show, a review could take bread off my table. Some person I’ve never met at the New York Times could devastate my next book.
When I draw in public, a passerby might possibly be sneering, even if just to himself, at my presumption at being ‘an artist’ while scrawling in my sketchbook. If I yank the page out of my book, I must be careful to tear it up so no one piece sit back together and scoffs. I shred the pieces small so no one thinks that I myself don’t know how much it sucks: Sure , I can’t draw, but at least I have the taste and judgment to know it. Or, maybe I’ll leave it in my book but write a long essay next to it about how bad it is, like a reminder and a slap in the head not to do such crap again. If anyone sees it, well, they’ll read my notation and know I know better.
Do you go through this? So did I, until I discovered a little fact, that boils down to this: by and large, no one cares about anyone else but themselves. I don’t mean that we’re all hateful and selfish, just that we’re almost always wrapped up in our own issues and can’t much be bothered with anyone elses’s actions, except as to how they pertain to us.
Doubt me? Prove it to yourself. Start a conversation with anyone and see how long it takes them to steer the conversation back to themselves:

“I love your shirt.
“Thanks. It’s new.
“Really? I can never wear pink.
“I didn’t think I could either…
“But you look great in it. Where’d you get it? Loehman’s?
“No, I …
“I love Loehman’s. When I can find stuff that fits me.
“Huh.
“Yeah, I must have gained ten pounds since Christmas…

Try listening instead of talking and see how long the other person will talk about themselves. Be prepared to wait because virtually anyone, if given the stage, will hold on to it eternally.

“What are you doing?”
“Drawing”
“I can’t draw a straight line. Even as a kid, I never could. You’re great. You must have taken a lot of lesssons.
“No, not really.
“Well, I just have no talent. I used to play the guitar but you know, who has the time. I’m so busy at work since I got that promotion…

Sound familiar? A couple of years ago, I gave a colleague, a ‘creative’ person, a copy of Everyday Matters. A month later, he hadn’t said anything about it so I asked him what he’d thought of it. He said,

“Yeah, it was great. You have that stuff in there about Wales and my father’s from Wales so I thought it was interesting.”
“Wales, really?”
Yeah.”

I waited for more but that was it.Wales. Sigh.

I’m not talking about hard-core self-involved people, mega-bores. I mean everyone, including me (goes without saying, I hope) spends most of their time thinking about themselves or how what others are doing affects them.
Put simply: no one is nearly as interested in what you do as you are. No one is judging it as hard as you, or analysing it, or wondering about it. The only time they really get involved is when your success or failure could effect them. Will looking at your work entertain or divert them for a moment (oh, your drawing sucks, never mind then) If you draw and they don’t are they less than you? WiIl your work make theirs look worse? Will it make them money? Can they use your technique to improve their work? WiIl praising you oblige you to them?
Seriously, what other motives do they have? And are those sufficient reasons for your to be concerned? Are these sorts of opinions what drive your work? Are you making art so others can make money or feel better about their own abilities (or worse)?
Think about it: we all, even Brad Pitt or George Bush, occupy a tiny percentage of any other given person’s interest, That’s why some of us are interested in achieving fame: because it takes all those tiny percentages and multiplies them across millions of people. Eventually that adds up to something.
And because we are all, at best, living in our own self-reflecting bubbles, you should relax and do what you want. Stop caring so much about externals. Make what you like in the way that you do. Sure, maybe you’ll manage to be a blip on someone else’s radar, but that’s not why you bother. Live and make art for the only person that matters or truly cares.

[Originally published  on: Apr 21, 2006 @ 19:17]

8 thoughts on “You suck. But enough about you.

  1. That´s so true,
    But I forget it over and over again and sooner or later I start looking again for confirmation from other people.
    How can I teach this to my inner little girl?

    • Great question Martina. Just keep telling yourself the truth, and then practice living so that you are believing it. The fear of what other people think is an oppressive tyranny. “When People are Big and God is small” by Edward Welch is a great book on this subject for your inner little girl.

  2. A great re-post for sure. Wise words here and a great reminder for all of us. “Stop caring so much about externals” — amen to that!

  3. So very true Dan….We all suck in our own little ways:-). But yes, where would be the fun then? Born human, stay human….yet strive to be our own demi-Gods. So what if no one cares, I still have air in my lungs and pen in my hands….draw I must and draw I will….I am the King of my own world!!!!

  4. Here’s a quote from Flaubert that I like, in a similar vein to what you’ve said Danny:

    ‘Stupidity, selfishness and good health are the pre-requisites of happiness, though if stupidity is lacking the others are useless.’

    Rowland

  5. I’ve had a lot of ‘sigh’ moments lately. ;)

    Now, I’m sitting here with a big smile on my face – and a reminder that I have ‘permission’ to just get on with my art regardless of what anyone else thinks.

    Thanks, Danny!

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