I’m back this week with #3 in our series on The Seven Deadly Sins, as they apply to Art and Artists. This week, we’re going to tackle one I know we’ve all had to deal with from time to time (and some of us more often than that)…the big doozy: Wrath. Rage. Anger. Ire. I think Wrath has a nice biblical ring to it, so we’ll stick with that.
This is one I don’t think I need a dictionary definition for. No question, we have all felt the burning fire of wrath in relation to our art. Maybe it was after a hard critique in an art class. Maybe it was infuriating client feedback. Maybe it was a late or lost invoice and an unhelpful accounting department. Maybe it was an Art Director who killed one of your pieces. Maybe it was an artist who pushed their deadline and then still delivered sub-par work. You’d have to be a saint to truthfully say you’ve never felt the flames of ire and a need for vengeance urging us on.
And as an art theme this week, I am giving Bosch & Blake a well-deserved break, and illustrating this post with some of my favorite depictions of Medusa from art history. Medusa is the mascot of the sin of wrath. In some tellings of the myth, she was so consumed by the fire of rage that she was turned into a monster, with poison-spitting snakes for hair. I invoke Medusa here for an even more specific reason, because she was, in my opinion at least, unjustly wronged. In Ovid’s version of the story, she was a beautiful maiden priestess of Athena. Poseidon desired her and, as Greek gods were apt to do, raped her in Athena’s temple. That’s enough, in my book, to become poison-spitting mad, but the story is that Athena got so pissed at the defilement of her temple that she turned Medusa into a monster who would turn everyone she looked at to stone. That’s Medusa doubly wronged in my book, (talk about blaming the victim) and she had every right to be pissed the f#*k off.
|Medusa and Perseus by Laurent-Honoré Marqueste, 1876|
No matter which version of the story you want to follow, Medusa was turned into a monster by the sin of Wrath. But when your anger feels righteous, it’s sometimes the hardest to control, because it is a justified anger. But it will still burn you.
I keep using fire analogies for a reason, because I am going to talk about two more: “Flaming” clients and “Burning” bridges.
Flaming someone has been around since long before the internet, but the audience was in most cases small, and controlled. Even if you got drunk and loudly complained about a client in a crowd of people, chances were you knew who had overheard. If you wrote a scathing review of another artist’s work, it was usually contained to a pretty insular audience. But it wasn’t a good practice then, and now, with the exponential growth of our own personal audiences, it’s nothing but a lose-lose situation.
|Medusa by Caravaggio, 1597|
No one says you can’t rant, or vent, when you have been wronged…just keep it to a controlled audience. We all have safe spaces. I have trusted colleagues and friends that I can bitch to when I need to. We all need to, sometimes. However the internet is not a safe space. You cannot control your audience. Whether you are writing on a website or blog or on social media, the evidence of you losing your shit is there for anyone to see. Forever. And sure, your friends may know that the client (or AD) completely deserved to get chewed out…but are you going to be there defending your side of the story to everyone who happens to read that post? Even if you are always in the right, and miraculously you are also always perceived by the casual observer to be in the right, it still paints a pretty dangerous picture of you as an artist who will fly off the handle and start a smear campaign if something goes wrong.
I’ll be honest with you, the first thing I think about when I see an artist horribly flaming a client online is “Wow. What if a job they do for me goes awry (as sometimes jobs do, no matter what you do to avoid it)…will I be the next rant target?”
Does it keep me from working with an artist entirely? Maybe not — it depends on how ugly that rant was — but I will certainly hesitate before I assign them something of mine.
|Medusa by Bernini, ca. 1630|
Ripping someone apart on in a public place shows a lack of self-control, and more importantly, a lack of empathy. I am absolutely not saying that the client is never wrong. I am also not saying that if I see one or two frustration-fueled rants on the internet that I am going to hold it against someone. But if I see a LOT of nastiness and negativity coming from a person who especially goes so far as to name the other party publicly, well then yea, I admit it, I am not going to want to work with that person.
Also remember, email to an AD or client is also not a safe space to flame someone. I’ve said it many times before: ADs all talk to each other. And clients network too. If you rip someone a new one in print — whether it is on social media, OR in a “private” email, or heck, even in a written letter — you are burning more bridges than you know.
|Medusa and Perseus by Antonio Canova, ca. 1790|
This is going to sound unfair to a lot of you, and I’m sorry, it’s not fair. A wise man once told me, freedom of speech is not freedom from other people judging that speech.
Sometimes the best thing is to get it out of your system. Write that nasty email, and then leave it in the drafts folder for at least 24hrs. Rewrite it the next day when you’ve calmed down. Send it to one of those trusted peer friends. It’s almost never worth the potential of burnt bridges. The worst part is, you’ll probably never know that’s why you’re not getting the commissions you want. Trust me, it’s not worth taking the chance. There’s always a firm but professional way to say what you need to say.
And then go out with a few friends (and maybe some whiskey) and get it all off your chest in private.