I’ve not been an artist very long. I started with a few modest ambitions, such as selling work, having a piece of mine (or two...or three...) accepted into a permanent collection, a solo show, and a review in a major publication, some of which I’ve achieved. Being complimented was never on the list, but I will admit, it is nice.
When you’ve been alone in a room for months, concentrating so intently that you greet several imaginary friends cordially by name and even soft soothing, flute, music or the flutter of fairy wings sound like harbingers of the apocalypse, a few kind words are welcome. Consequently, hearing a fully sentient human being or even a deluded crazy person saying they like your work is a wondrous and humbling experience.
At a recent group show I spotted someone photographing my piece. When later we spoke, they said unprompted that they loved it. Blimey...aw, shucks *blushes* But how best to respond? This much I know: say thank you very much. Quickly. Do not explain the work in detail or at all, unless asked.
Another attendee wondered what my favourite piece in the show was. I told them. When I asked in return they said it was mine. I gulped. I spluttered. Shucks! They had been drinking quite heavily, mind you but when sober again they insisted it was true. I’m smiling still.
Artists can be extremely arrogant. Some of my acquaintances say ‘Yes! It’s completely brilliant, isn’t it? My solo retrospective at The Tate is assured,’ when complimented. I am still waiting for the Turner Committee to give me the wink, but keep it to myself (don’t want to ruin my well-rehearsed ‘surprised’ face.)
I’m only half-joking. False modesty can obscure many an artist’s overbearing sense of entitlement: ‘...what this little thing?’ When really they are thinking: ‘You only like it? You should lurrrve it – admit it; that piece changed your life, your dreams and your perception of reality. Me! I did that!’
There are times when you hate your own work and imagine that viewers can sense your fear and lack of talent. When you just couldn’t stop painting lovely pictures of happy cats; you knew it was bad but simply couldn’t help yourself. Artists can be so very sensitive, you know. And they often love cats. This is worse when the work was made a by a friend. But if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all – in public at least (in private: bitch until your teeth bleed.)
Otherwise, do not curl up into a tiny ball, contorted with self-hatred, rocking to and fro wailing: ‘You know nothing! My every breath is mediocre!’
Do not say ‘Of course it’s brilliant! What do you expect? After all, I am a certified, bona-fide genius.’
Do not adopt a Mussolini-type arrogant jutting bottom lip and firmly demand more compliments. Do not weep. Do not hide. Have some dignity. Do not hump your newfound fan’s leg, lick their feet or kiss them.
When in doubt, remember: a simple thank-you will suffice.