Deep Thought Thursday: A misunderstanding?

It’s often said that artists are misunderstood.

Is that true?

What does it mean to be misunderstood as an artist?

Are you misunderstood? By whom?

Is it important to be understood?

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22 comments to Deep Thought Thursday: A misunderstanding?

  • The only misunderstanding that gets under my skin is the assumption that since most people have a digital camera now and “…could take that photo…” then art photography isn’t worth paying for and the photographer is expected to hand over their work for free in exchange for the exposure.

  • I feel Jamie’s pain. The person who thinks “I could have taken that photo” doesn’t realize that it still takes the vision and the skill to see, compose, mat & frame attractively, etc. I’m sure I’m missing a bunch of skills not to mention equipment.
    I think some people don’t understand the message the artist is trying to send in our art. It I make a piece that has a message but it’s interpreted differently than I expected I don’t always think that’s a bad thing, it’s just another point of view. If it gets people to think and feel it’s a good thing. IMHO

  • The only beef I have about being misunderstood with the general public is their assumption that since I love making art and have a talent for it, that it in turn comes easy, is always fun, doesn’t take much effort and therefore shouldn’t cost them much. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  • I’d like to echo all of the above comments as well as, for what it’s worth, share my own thoughts.
    I’m currently studying a fine art degree and what I find is that while at university I am totally understood and when surrounded by like minded people it’s much easier to communicate my ideas and thoughts but when I return home to my old friends and family and try to communicate the same things I have great difficulty.
    I receive a lot of questions such as; “but why are you doing it?”, “but what does it mean?” or “but what is it about?” and it seems hard to explain my work.
    This can be greatly frustrating.
    Having said this, I do believe a certain amount of misunderstanding is good and that good art prompts questions from the viewer.

  • I sympathize and agree with many of the comments above, having experienced some of the same things. I especially react to Tim’s comment about how much easier to be around people who are “like-minded” – and while it is easier, it is probably even more valuable to be around those who are not – at times. The challenge of trying to explain ourselves may be where we really solidify for ourselves what it is that we’re doing. That may be where we experience our greatest growth. But you need to be back where it’s safe and comfortable sometimes, too -

  • Oh so many good comments already! I agree with them all, photographers who combat the ever increasing and easy to use tools everyone is playing with, the notion that making art is easy and fun therefore it should be free, people who have little experience with art just “don’t get it” and it’s hard to explain to them the intangibles.

    My first thought was about being misunderstood by others in the art world. Judges who like abstraction dismiss traditional work, and the reverse, jurors who value realism discount abstract works. Teachers who critique but don’t understand the intent of the artist and look at a loose painterly work and suggest it must be “tightened up”. The list goes on.

    This is why it’s critically important to be clear about who you are as an artist and have a vocabulary on the tip of your tongue to describe your work accurately. Then you must believe in yourself to the very core of your being, That is a tall, tall order given how uncertain the creative process can be.

  • I believe we have lots of opinions from non artists and we can’t get sensative about it. Find your audience be diferent stay positive and confident.

  • Tim and Jan hit the nail on the head.

  • Thank you Alyson, for the opportunity to vent here. I have enjoyed reading all the comments, and agree with Jan about the difficulty of explaining intangibles and the uncertainty of the creative process itself. Well said!
    What drives me nuts is when a client asks me how many hours it will take, as if the amount of time spent on a work had something to do with its value! But since our culture monetizes everything, I shouldn’t find this surprising.

    What I realize and have learned to accept is that a) I do it for myself and don’t have to answer to anyone or “explain” and b) it’s wonderful when somebody get’s it, but if they don’t, that’s okay too. As for c) I got so tired of people not understanding what I was on about that I turned to another art form – writing – and found great pleasure in being able to say exactly what I meant without there being the slightest misunderstanding. Because d) – what we’re all about as artists in whatever form, is communication. It’s for each of us to decide how and what we want to communicate, and let go of any and all reactions. The longing to be understood is an attachment. Let’s just follow our bliss. If we want followers, we can join Twitter….

  • I actually don’t feel like venting. Yes, I and my works are misunderstood. But so is every teenager, every 2-year old, every other person in the world. Society places a great deal on conformity and then says everything is now understood in that context and everything that isn’t (yes, I note the paradox) is either irrelevant or misaligned with respect to said societal morés.

    Does this mean I am satisfied with the status quo? Of course not. It is a challenge that we all as artists and human beings must deal with if we want any sort of recognition for (not to mention a living from) our work.

    Nonetheless, there are moments when there is resonance, when two people intersect in such a way that some sort of understanding, be it permanent or not, is reached. Those are moments of joy worth working towards.

  • I think if you’re concerned about being misunderstood you’re not focusing your creative energy in the right places. Actually anyone with a camera could take that photograph. Anyone with a pen and some inclination could do what I do. But they don’t. And those people aren’t your audience anyway. Those people don’t appreciate what you do and there’s little if anything that’s going to change that.
    Your target audience understand that they also could take that photograph but not in the way you have. Not with the same focus, the same vision, the same passion. They appreciate that and they will be the ones who visit your gallery or your website and invest in your work and buy your book when you write it.
    Wasting your energy on ‘being misunderstood’ is pandering to the stereotype of the tortured artist. The only time I worry about being misunderstood is when I talk about money. That’s what contracts are for.

  • Rhomany, I agree up to a point and that point is education. Not all who might be our target audiences are already there. There is a segment of uninformed, uninitiated and uneducated people who might be part of one’s target audience if they knew about and/or understood one’s art form.

    As am example I offer the person who has never heard classical music. Without the opportunity, the person doesn’t know it exists; this is a potential aficionado. Thus while I don’t advocate dwelling on the potential to the exclusion of everyone else, I do think it is worth noting and addressing when possible.

  • My feelings are the same as Will’s. I also get a lot of condescending remarks wondering why I paint horses. They might as well be saying, “Didn’t you outgrow that adolescent infatuation when you left your teens?” As if it takes no skill, vision or maturity to paint a subject which is outside the accepted norm and is incredibly difficult to do well.

  • After about 30 years as an artist a new friend said to me, “I’ve never understood artists. What kind of arrogant soul would think anyone cares about how they see the world? We all see the world differently and frankly, I’m just not all that interested in their minute but well studied view of their belly button or whatever they are trying to show me.”

    I had nothing to say to this at that moment and I still don’t. It’s just a belief or a thought and doesn’t need my commentary…..but I think it does shine a light on the way some people think. And I have to say, it helped me see how little most people care about the average output of any artist other than as decoration and how rare a truly universal piece of art that touches other people deeply really is….

    It also made me put down my brush for over a year while I considered deeply my motivations and my own aspirations as an artist, something I am still struggling with.

    So yes, artists may be misunderstood but I don’t understand race car drivers endlessly circling a track either so it all comes out a wash for me…

  • Ditto from me, about what Will said. … that Tim and Jan hit the nail on the head!

  • Some people are into art; some people aren’t. Maybe those who aren’t misunderstand artists, as well as their art. It’s no big deal. As an artist I don’t feel misunderstood- unknown maybe, but not misunderstood. Ok, sometimes I don’t understand myself, if that counts for anything.

  • @Patricia But ‘unknown’ and ‘misunderstood’ are not the same thing. ‘Unknown’ requires marketing, not education. Some people who misunderstand an artist might be educated to appreciate the work. Might. It’s more than likely a very small % that doesn’t warrant anyone lamenting about how misunderstood they are.

  • Toni

    Nancy, you put it perfectly!

  • We are all the ‘Artists’ of our lives and how we live and the life we create is our ‘Art’ as well as the drawings, paintings, sculpture, photography etc.

    To be completely understood would diminish the wonder. Being sometimes misunderstood as an artist and a person is not at all a bad thing, it can keep people interested and wondering what is next!

  • Wow, great comments!

    Rhomany, I totally agree with your point that while “…anybody could take that photo…”, THEY didn’t. This is always my answer any time I hear someone say “That’s not art! I could do that!” They didn’t, someone else did, and there it is up on the wall in the exhibit.

    Misunderstanding about money, in my instance the mistaken belief that my work has no value because it’s “…just photography…”, is my biggest gripe. I don’t know how often artists in other mediums have to deal with this, but I get hit up ALL the time! Sometimes they dangle the carrot of “exposure”, but not always. This is extremely common for photographers, and while it’s often from big companies with plenty of $$, it appears to now be spreading to established art institutes that should know better. Too bad we can’t pay our mortgages or membership dues by giving THEM exposure! :D

    Forrest, I like what you said about “unknown” vs. “misunderstood”!

  • I’m misunderstood in that people wonder how I could be doodling/playing all day long. And those people might be my family!
    Honestly, I don’t care what anyone says about what I do, how I make my art or why, or my idea of how I see the world, because it’s just something I need to do. It’s not that complex.

  • As far as my art being misunderstood, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s up for interpretation and it’s so subjective, so NO, it’s not important, therefore I don’t feel that one has the “need” to be understood.

    However, when it comes to art as a profession, it is important for people to understand it is not a “hobbie.” When we are juggling, family, children, etc..people tend to not see or appreciate that this is our career, not something we just do to pass the time.