Let’s not be too quick to judge

 Malika Favre

The other day while I was perusing Facebook, I saw one of my students post up a diatribe on how some artists are getting recognition for work that isn’t “that” great, while other artists who can do better are not getting the recognition they deserve. Her short post included reasons she believed as to why some artists were successful and the rest, aren’t – which involved the former knowing more people and for being good at kissing ass (which might not have been her exact words, but that was what was implied). She was also criticising how other people do not recognise good work if it hit them on the head.

She was a smart student, and this concern of hers was something I’ve encountered more than once. I promptly told her to stop and think for a moment and gave my reasons why. The post was deleted a while later, but I kept thinking about it. I was unsettled.

It’s easy to watch other people’s success and then whinge about your lack of it.

“She’s not as good as me, but why is she getting all the publicity?”
“His grades were lower than mine when we were at school but he’s showing at a gallery now?”
“That group’s stuff is just so-so, but why are so many people flocking to their stall?”

It’s one thing to whine about how other people may be successful, but it’s another to assume that they managed it under suspicious circumstances. “Oh, they must know someone”, or “I think they must have gotten the gig in return for another favour [sic]*”

That, is not cool at all. Unless it’s true. However, if it is, then it’s now gossiping instead of being judgemental – both of which won’t do you much good in the long run anyway.

“The famous ones know more people.”
While not all of your assumptions are wrong, thinking along this line of thought is destructive and quite frankly, mean. My retort to those who bemoan how well-connected successful artists is my usual: “So, what have you been doing to know more people?” That usually just ends with them stammering about how they lack family connections that would lead them up the higher rung of the social ladder, blah, blah, blah. Because, you know – there’s no way they could have gotten there on their own.

It’s easy to complain about how well others have it, and while sometimes a good rant is just that – it would be much more constructive if you’d ask them how they got to where they were instead. Yes. The good old asking-a-question trick. Heck, it’s not even a trick, really. Not if it’s done without malice and snark, and politely with a dose of old fashioned curiosity. Their answer might really surprise you. Underneath it all, artists are people too – and yes, that goes to those who are successful as well. From what I know, the ones who are successful have great tips, stories and advice to share, that it would be such a waste to let one’s ego get in the way of finding out what really happened along their journey.

But what if someone by a stroke of luck has a great network care of their parents/relatives/friends/school? It happens, and while that may leave others seething with jealousy; remember that the artist also needs to make it work. Maybe they’re embarrassed about it. Or maybe they’d prefer not to have the leg up, but circumstances made it hard to say no. Maybe they don’t deserve it. Maybe they do. There’s all sorts of reasons, many of them have nothing to do with you. And so, let’s not begrudge others for their good luck – rather, it would be more fruitful to engineer some luck of your own.

“But I’m better than he/she is.”
If you believe your work is great and that you’re an undiscovered genius – good for you. Anyone can call (or think of) themselves as the greatest talents to ever walk the earth. However, what other people think of you might very well be otherwise. Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t believe in yourself; on the contrary. Being a genius (or any other compliments for that matter) is something that others bestow onto you; which would make it undoubtedly more meaningful. Sort of like how giving yourself a trophy is kind of sad.

If you believe all the work you do is great, how else would you learn? If everything you created was a work of art (critics be damned), how would you know the good from bad? As a student, where does it end? A healthy ego is necessary to be a great artist, but to have an inflated one from the onset does not bode well for you – it gets in the way of learning (which should never end even if you’re successful) and it also gets in the way of getting to know more people (because you might end up being a jerk who thinks he’s right all the time).

So what can you do?
Fear not – to rid you of your judgemental and egotistical streak (hey, it happens to the best of us!) I have a 7-step program that I recommend heartily. Doing the below will significantly up your goodwill karma and results can show in as little as a month or it might take as long as 5 years for great results. Mileage will vary according to how hard you work:

  1. Be nice.
  2. Ask others for advice, don’t assume or judge.
  3. Ask for constructive feedback for your work.
  4. Listen for feedback and try them out – if it doesn’t fit, discard and repeat.
  5. Reach out to other people who you think might like your work. (Bonus points if you have something to say or a story to share)
  6. Say hello a lot.
  7. Be nice.

Rinse and repeat.

Try it and see for yourself. Not everyone made it through having connections. Most of the time they’ve worked really hard and worked smart by reaching out to people who in turn helped them. There’s a lot of things that could have happened in between that’s compounded by luck and timing too.

So in short – the road to success looks something like this (mind you, this is very simplified):

(talent x hard work)a + (luck + timing)b + helpc = successx

Note: With all of the above, the variation of success is subjective, and is wholly dependent on the effort put in (a) & (c) and factors beyond our control (b) in the equation.

Thoughts? Share them with me in the comments! And if you want to read what 39 other artists have to say about experiencing jealousy/envy, here’s a free download of the PDF copy of issue #6 of the Good to Know project!

[Illustration by Malika Favre]

10 Replies to “Let’s not be too quick to judge”

  1. Jesse says:

    Wonderful post. Always good to be reminded to examine one’s judgements; it’s so easy to fall into these thought patterns without noticing at first, and then they take over and turn everything bitter.

  2. This was a great post – some of my schoolmates were a bit like this. Questioning why classmates who weren’t as naturally talented (but who worked a lot harder) were doing better than they were. I think sometimes people can feel like they are owed success just because they are naturally talented – which makes them lazy.

  3. Loved this article, I think so many of us are guilty of doing this! A great reminder to just keep creating and working, and trying not to focus so much on other people’s journeys that you forget to work on your own!

  4. Ellen Ma says:

    Oh, absolutely. I was just like your student once, but after realizing how important it is to listen, seek advice, and build relationships with successful art professionals, my pursuit towards art became much more attainable. Your equation also hits the nail right on the head.

    Really enjoyed this article! Thanks Amy!

  5. Juliet says:

    I’m glad to read this realistic post. Thanks for writing it. It keeps me in perspective. 😛

  6. Ashley says:

    This reminds me of a big lesson I learned at my first time at CTNX a few years ago.

    I met a student named Charlie, who was so incredibly proud of his sketchbook and loved to show it to people. Looking through it, he wasn’t the most technically proficient artist I had ever seen, his skills not being on the level to which I was expecting. But I caught myself and realized that the passion and fearlessness that Charlie had for his work was inspiring. He’s already such an amazing artist for being willing to share his work so earnestly, that it’ll transcend any draftsmanship or artistic ability that he has and will continue to grow. Charlie was already miles ahead of me; I didn’t bring a sketchbook or cards, I was too shy to admit that I was an artist.

    I hope your student realized this within herself, that a good attitude and openness will bring her much more success.

  7. Melissa says:

    Yes! Yes! I always feel like the time and energy people spend complaining about the success of others and judging/second guessing could so much better be spent bettering your own work! There is always more to learn, and when I am someday successful the last thing I would want is for people to be badmouthing my success. There’s that saying about “be careful how you treat people on the way up, because you never know who you’ll meet on the way back down”

  8. Raisa says:

    It’s definitely not a good look to be bitter about someone else’s success. I agree that comparing yourself is never a good thing, and you have to look inward to what you’re doing to improve yourself, to see how far you’ve come.

    However, we can’t overlook the fact that who you know does matter and if you come from a family of influence or money, you are given more opportunities to start with (where you study, access to resources, etc) than someone who didn’t. This isn’t a bad thing; we all do what we must. There’s no reason to be defensive about it. Just be grateful for what you had.

    It’s natural for someone who didn’t have those chances to feel frustrated. They could very well be working just as hard and never get as far because they didn’t know the right people. Perhaps they were never given the chance at all because of where they came from. Just as we don’t know what’s really happening with someone successful, we don’t know the whole story behind someone who’s struggling.

  9. Melanie says:

    Thanks for this article…. I think at some point or other jealousy does get into us. Your article is a timely reminder (for me!) that jealousy does not get anyone anywhere and we would be better off spending our energies becoming better artists and finding creative solutions to make it as an artist in this big world of opportunities!
    If we only open our hearts and mind, those opportunities will come instead of closing doors with negative vibes of jealousy & envy!

    Cheers and have a good Thursday!

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