The Care and Feeding of Your Artist

(Originally posted on Facebook; reposting and expanding here)

One thing I think non-artists1 don’t understand about about artists — and that can be any kind of artist, from painters to fiber artists to writers like me — is how important feedback is to us. Positive and negative, but I’m going to focus on the positive today.

1This is a misnomer, because I truly believe everyone does something that could be called “art.” But certainly some people are more invested in the creative life than others.

We need to know you see us. We need to know you read us, saw us, experienced us.

That choice of word, “us,” is deliberate. The work isn’t us, except it is.

We need to know if you felt something when you read, saw, experienced our work. We need to know if the work lingered in your head. We need to know that we don’t cease to exist when we’re not there.

That “reaching out” part is important. Putting into words that positive feedback is so important to us. A tweet, a comment on a fanfic (likes or kudos don’t quite do it), an email, something that shows effort. That the work moved you to action.

Why? Because, first, we’re control freaks. We want to make people feel and do things. Second, it’s not a lie that we want to achieve immortality with our art. (Though me, I’m also aiming for the “becoming a lich” route).

One of my favorite Millay poems — and you know that’s like choosing my favorite of my four cats — speaks to this:

Stranger, pause and look;
From the dust of ages
Lift this little book,
Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die!
Search the fading letters, finding
Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I!

Edna St. Vincent Millay, “The Poet and His Book”

“Just because I didn’t comment, doesn’t mean I didn’t read it!”

I hear you. Not everyone is good with words. Not everyone has the emotional energy to do more than hit “like” or “kudos” or retweet when they see something they like. If that’s all you can do, I am grateful.

But over time, that lack of outreach and feedback eats away at an artist. It feels like screaming into the void. I begin to think, “Am I really not succeeding at my goal? My work must not make people feel anything at all, if it doesn’t move them to action.”

My ask for you today

If you have the energy and inclination, of course!

Tell an artist you love their work. Write an email telling them you read their story and it moved you to tears. Write a long comment on a fanfic gushing about every line that evoked excited squeeing noises in you. Tell someone you followed them solely because of a funny tweet they wrote. Tell a character portraitist that you love their art and would like to commission your own. Tell a friend you watched their play and it made you chortle.

(It DEFINITELY does not have to be me, but I assure you, if it IS me, I will remember it forever).

My own artist love ❤️

Lest I be accused of asking and not giving, here are just a few of the artists whose work I fangirl!

First of all, my friend and fellow VP17er John Wiswell, whose short story, “Open House on Haunted Hill,” was just featured on Levar Burton Reads!

Summary: “A sentient house, haunted by its own loneliness, exercises its powers on a skeptic.”

I heard John read this at Readercon in the Beforetimes, and it made me laugh and warmed my heart. What sticks out in my head, nearly three years later, is the little girl rejecting the tyranny of pants, and the secret room with a sewing box and spinning wheel 🙂 (Of course I remember the sewing tools).

I also want to note that John’s life is its own piece of art. He is one of the kindest and friendliest people I know, always making efforts to include folks who might otherwise be excluded. (And this happens a lot in writerly circles; we’re a sensitive lot).

Second of all, there’s my pal Phoebe Roberts, who I know feels that whole “screaming into the void” sensation as acutely as I do. She is an incredibly prolific playwright and fanfic writer (and probably some things I’m forgetting), and I regret I have not experienced as much of her oeuvre as I would like.

But I can’t say enough good things about her Mrs. Hawking series. It will appeal to you if you like the idea of an idea of a female Sherlock Holmes+Batman analog, avenging crimes committed against women and the marginalized in Victorian society. (Oh, and Mrs. Hawking is ace, which of course appeals to me in a personal way).

For something a bit lighter, I also love the “in the same universe” piece Gentlemen Never Tell, which is kind of like if you took a Wodehouse novel and made it delightfully queer. It’s made me giggle riotously, but it’s also sweetly romantic. I had a ton of fun finding all the Wodehouse references, too. (Spot the Glossops!)

And you can watch it all for free on her YouTube channel!

Lastly — for today! — is my friend Melissa Carr, who describes herself as a “Mixed media artist, mythic blogger, and general teller of tales.” She blogs at The River’s Wayward Daughter, and you can support her on Ko-fi.

Melissa is multitalented, but I love her mythopoeic storytelling best of all. Reading one of her short pieces about folklore, the clever reader will realize that –sometimes, but not always — this is folklore she has imagined herself. She can do that because she has a deep understanding of folklore and what makes it sing.

That blurring that line between “real” and “invented” folklore says something really interesting about the value of stories in our lives — things that are true but not accurate.

(Of course it’s about metanarrative to me!)

Also she draws an awesome inkcap mushroom 🍄

Featured image credit: Adam Jang on Unsplash