I was sitting in a park recently, drawing the trees, when a woman asked if she could sit down next to me and watch me draw.
“Sure,” I said. “Are you an artist?”
“I wanted to be,” she said. “I started to draw, but then I showed my drawings to my boyfriend and he said they were no good, so I quit.”
“Stop showing your work to your boyfriend,” I said.
She laughed. “Yeah, I guess I could do that.”
Just last week I was on book tour with Elly Griffiths, whose protagonist is an archeologist. Elly’s husband is also an archaeologist. Someone in the audience asked what he thought of her novels.
“Oh, I don’t think he reads them,” she said, lightly and cheerfully.
The audience seemed shocked, but she wasn’t bothered at all by this. “They’re just not his sort of books,” she said.
Makes sense to me.
I believe that anyone who loves you should be able to look at the art you’re making and say, “I love you and I love it that you’re doing this. Please keep going.” That’s reasonable to expect.
An occasional “Wow, that’s wonderful” would be nice, just like an occasional “Hey, gorgeous” is nice. It’s not a full-page review in the New York Times. It’s a compliment, given out of kindness in those moments when you’ve made an extra effort and it shows.
They could also show their love by making it possible for you to work: by watching the kids, or clearing out a space in the garage, or simply by leaving you alone when you’re working.
They could help you load your equipment into the car. They could change that hard-to-reach light bulb in your studio.
They could point out an upcoming exhibit at the art museum, or a new book, or a concert, that speaks to your work.
They could inform themselves about your art just enough to be able to explain what you do to a stranger. “My husband’s a plein air painter,” would suffice, or “My wife’s a jazz percussionist.”
If your loved ones put you down for making art, or get in the way of you making art—well, then we have a problem.
But they don’t need to love your work—especially your rough, unfinished, just-for-practice work. They don’t need to read your books, or go to all your concerts. If you were a lawyer, they wouldn’t attend your every trial and deposition, would they?
My dad’s a musician, and my mother didn’t sit all night at his gigs, gazing adoringly at him while he played guitar. She made sure he had a clean shirt and something to eat before the show. Then he went off to do his work.
Your loved ones should look after YOU. You should look after your art.