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Are You An Artist Who Has Been Crushed by a Troll?
Transcending a Troll: O’Keeffe Shows Us a Way Out
By Thea Fiore-Bloom, PhD
Artist Georgia O’Keeffe can help creatives with fear in general and the fear of trolls in particular.
Why? Because she was a specialist on fear. Fear was her bedfellow.
I first got curious about O’Keeffe and her relationship to her fear when I noticed that she had a sculpture of a hand displaying the Abhaya mudra (symbolizing no fear) plastered into her bedroom wall.
(For more on O’Keeffe’s home studio, read Why O’Keeffe Thought Happiness Was For the Birds and What Artists Should Shoot For Instead.)
O’Keeffe was a minimalist, so every object in every room of her 2 New Mexico houses held significance for her.
Why did O’Keeffe choose that particular mudra? And how can her walk with her fear many years ago help artists in the present?
Let’s find out.
One of my favorite quotes from Georgia O’Keeffe was taken from an interview she gave when she was eighty. O’Keeffe admitted to the interviewer:
“I’m frightened all the time. Scared to death. But I’ve never let it stop me. Never.”
— Georgia O’Keeffe
Sharon Rohlfsen Udall writes in her excellent book, Carr, O’Keeffe, and Kahlo: Places of Their Own, “Whether in modulating physical risks or forcing professional ones, fear never became the enemy in O’Keeffe’s life; instead, it served as an energizing fuel.”
I believe O’Keeffe may have placed that fear mudra right across from her bed where she could see it every morning to remind her to put her ever-present fear to work for her.
The delicate but powerful mudra hand may have reminded her upon awakening to use her fear as fuel in art practice and art business that day and every day.
“Courage is […] mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”— Mark Twain
Fear As Fuel For Creatives
If fear is fuel, NASA should be calling me any minute to have me donate my vast quantities of high-octane fear to cleanly power their next space launch.
But I guess just sitting around waiting for someone else to transform one’s fear into fuel isn’t the answer.
So I want to offer a real-life example of a colleague who displays “The Right Stuff.”
How Artists Can Tromp A Troll
A while back, Christy, a kind, vivacious British artist and Charmed Studio subscriber, logged in as usual to her DA account.
But on this particular morning, Christy saw something that would freak out most creatives — a nasty comment from an internet troll.
“It was incredibly juvenile, said Christy.
The troll had written: ‘Wow your art sucks ass. My grandma makes better art than you.’
Ok, so this troll was no Tolstoy, but his lame words still hurt Christy.
“I wasn’t feeling confident about my art at the time. So it was as if I was kicked by someone after I was already down,” said Christy.
“Being vulnerable as an individual in front of a pack is really scary.
I shut down my account.
But time went by, and I thought about it.
I remembered that for me, art is not supposed to be about people liking what I make. (Although of course, it makes me happy when people do!) I also realized that fear of vulnerability dogs all artists. I was no different than everyone else.”
Christy’s a hero of mine because:
1. She mustered up the courage to open a new DA account despite her fear.
2. She was brave enough to reach out to her friends on the site and share her experience for the benefit of others.
Christy received an outpouring of support from fellow artists who had been in her shoes.
Post-Troll Better Than Pre-Troll
I believe that thwarting a troll, combined with the uplifting support of her true community, contributed to a renaissance in Christy’s art practice.
In my opinion, Christy’s post-troll work is better than pre-troll.
How can an artist tromp a troll?
Christy showed me a way.
You feel scared but make a ton of new art anyway.
“The troll experience seems to have done a turnaround in my head, after which I’ve come back fighting,” said Christy.
“Oddly— I feel more secure in myself. It’s as if someone’s throwing rocks at me has allowed me to grow a rock-resistant veneer.”
Should you write them back? Writer Neal Stephenson says heck no:
“Arguing with anonymous strangers on the Internet is a sucker’s game because they almost always turn out to be—or to be indistinguishable from—self-righteous sixteen-year-olds possessing infinite amounts of free time.”
Art Trolls Are Often Wanna-Be Artists
Oh, and please remember these three other things if you are an artist who has been trolled:
- Folks who troll artists aren’t artists.
- Art trolls are almost always shadow artists.
- They’re people who desperately want to be like you and make art but are too chicken.
Trolls can be family members. ( I can’t tell you how many subscribers have told me they got off social media because of the harsh comments on their art by blood relations. So if that is you, you are not alone.)
Additionally, several supposed “professional critiques” from “professional art critics” can fall into the shadow artist/troll camp, too, in my opinion.
Clement Greenburg’s critique of O’Keeffe’s history-making MOMA show comes to mind as an example. (Greenburg, like so many painting critics, is not a painter himself.)
If you’re like me, after reading what I see as the below-the-belt words critics like Greenburg chose to print about O’Keeffe’s work, you’ll be inspired by Georgia’s seemingly herculean ability to throw off the idiocy mouthed by the “respected” voices of her day and keep painting anyway.
To get more help coming back to life after an unfair critique, head over to the Charmed Studio post How to Recover From a Harsh Art Critique.
But back at the ranch.
Why do art trolls mock you? Because secretly, they want to BE you.
I believe art trolls long to act or write or paint.
But most are too terrified to even pick up a brush, let alone have the courage to show their attempts at creativity in public. (As you have bravely done.)
So, take a moment to honor the guts it took to get up and join the dance of art in the first place.
It’s a dance trolls are too fearful to begin.
Art trolls can only gather at the gates, enviously looking on from a distance.
Unlike you, art trolls are immobilized by the fear of disapproval.
We creatives feel fear of disapproval too, but we keep shaking it off and jumping back into the ring to fight another day.
Sadly, most art trolls keep their straight jacket of fear on for the rest of their lives.
Speaking of fear, let’s get to the last lesson O’Keeffe and Christy have for us on not just surviving but thriving after being trolled.
Trolls Teach Us To Cross the River Anyway
O’Keeffe and Christy taught me I don’t have to deny when I feel terrified.
Nor do I need to stay frozen in that terror or shame.
The new game plan is to admit my knees are shaking… and get my butt across the river anyway.
“I’m still not completely rock-proof,” said Christy.” I’m still human. I still think a future comment from a troll would hurt me.”
“But the difference is; I feel like I’ll stay standing this time.”
This post is dedicated to everyone who has been trolled or bullied and has come back to make more art anyway. Need more help post-troll? Here’s a supportive article.
And to the memory of my Dad, Isidore T. Bloom, a crazy-brave union organizer who told me: “Remember, on the right day, you can take [triumph over] anything.”
Over to you. What do you think?
Ever encountered a troll?
Can you relate to Christy’s story or have troll-related advice?