Sticks and Stones

As an artist I have had to learn that there needs to be a separation between the highly personal process of making my prints and not taking personally any comments made about them by their viewers. I quickly realised that I was going to get very hurt and upset if I took every passing comment, and there have been some stunners, to heart.

Part of being a working artist is putting work in front of people. I do a lot of demonstrations and fairs and spend a great deal of my time talking to strangers about my art. Early on I made a decision that I had to impose a filter on comments. The first thing I remember is that my work is not me: it’s a product of my thoughts and skills and it is my choice that it is up for examination. Anything said about it is not a personal attack. The second thing I remember is that viewers are not, on the whole, experts in my field of printmaking and almost certainly not on the works of Laura Boswell: their perspective is fresh and shouldn’t be judged by my standards of insight.

I am selling a product, the viewers are my clients and I endeavour to treat everyone with care and respect. However, I will only take seriously adverse criticism that comes with a decent back up argument. ‘That’s rubbish’, ‘Why?’, ‘Because it is’ is the sort of circular argument best saved to have with a small child at bedtime and deserves about as much attention. Serious criticism is very different, if disagreeable, and I learn a great deal from people prepared to share their views intelligently. Then there’s the foolish passing comments made by the thoughtless and let’s agree now, anyone who hasn’t bothered to think that the artist standing beside them could be hurt by their words, hasn’t thought at all. Should we then care what they say? Better to have a giggle over ‘she should be doing something more grown up than lino’ than weep (I eat out on that one, my personal favourite so far).

The flip side of this is that I try to do exactly the same with praise, but in a far less serious way. People are on the whole very kind and accordingly say kind things about my work. I try never to get too pleased with myself over the general comments. It’s the specifics I treasure because they come from people who, like the serious critics, have really looked and thought about my work. It is very easy to bask and I try to moderate my basking tendencies just as I try to toughen my skin. I’m not perfect on either count, but I’m a lot better for having given it all some thought.