Our good friend, and plein air painter, Celeste, remarked yesterday about the questions people ask her while she's painting. It reminded me of a story that is the jumping-off point for a discussion about the image we artists project in society, and our "manners." Here's the story:
(This photo was taken by Bob Travis)
For those of you who aren't familiar, Monhegan a very small island (3 miles long, 1.5 miles wide) twelve miles off the coast of Maine near my summer home. Before building my home, I'd spend summer vacations there because of the superb hiking trails, quaint seaside village, and artists' colony. The photo above shows Monhegan village by the water.
Anyway, one day I was walking down the unpaved road through the village and came upon an artist who had set up her easel right next to the road where there's heavy foot traffic (no cars). Just as I was walking by, trying not to gawk at her work, a man stopped and began to photograph her while she was painting. She flipped out! Turning on the man, she scolded him for taking the picture without first asking permission and rebuked him for several embarrassing minutes. Of course, I and many other passers-by, stopped in our tracks to see what was going to happen. The man tried to apologize, but the artist was relentless in her scolding. He eventually wandered off looking wounded.
This got me to thinking about how we artists deal with the public. Some of the stories shared in yesterday's comments reveal that people frequently ask us questions that can be offensive without knowing it. How we handle those situations reflects upon the general reputation of artists. What I mean is, people who aren't professional artists learn about who we are as a group by their interactions with us. So, the "manners" of each artist affect the group as a whole.
The big question is: How do we artists wish to be perceived?
There's the age-old image that we're all a bunch of lunatics with wildly eccentric and unpredictable behavior. I doubt that very few artists genuinely fit that description.
Then there's the "elite" bunch of artists that think they walk on water. To me, they're phonies.
Another group is so insecure that they need constant attention and praise or they resort to whining and depression. They are the "it's all about ME" bunch. I hope that's a small group.
And then there's the group, which I think is probably the largest number of us, that's well-mannered, pleasant to deal with, and socialized enough to engage in normal interaction with the public.
But, whichever group we identify with, the fact remains that our individual behavior influences how the public perceives us as a whole. Am I my brother's keeper? Yes. I'll remember that the next time someone asks me a rude question.