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The Artist Curmudgeon

Welcome back to Ask Artblog, a new bi-weekly advice column where special guest experts answer your most pressing art questions! We’re happy to welcome back comic, zine and performance artist Beth Heinly, as this week’s expert. Go ahead and submit your questions for her here, or email for a dose of wit and wisdom.

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Dear Artblog advice column,

I’ve been in the “art-scene” for a minute and have taken a step back into the art administration realm, but I’ve paid a lot of dues, done the “alternative space” running thingie a couple of times, etc. I find myself working with some way younger colleagues who think they are pretty hot shit for being a part of an alternative space right now and keep talking to me about it as if I should be really impressed. I am far from impressed and want to scream at them most of the time that I lived all that already, several times, and it is really not all that original. I like my colleagues and don’t particularly love the idea of being the bitter old head so I keep it to myself but it is getting harder. I also actually hate talking about all the shit I have done, don’t want to come across as showing off. . . though I wouldn’t actually mind them knowing that I have not only done what they are doing, but I did it WAY better.

Trying not to be a jerk here–what’s your advice?

Thanks in advance,

– Dealing with the kids these days

Dear DKTD,

One time I had someone who was a decade younger than me tell me they were proud of me and I wanted to slap them in the face. You’ve come to the right advice column. Let’s break this scenario down in three parts and go from there. Firstly, it is important to remember that arrogance is something that comes automatically with young age and then amplified tenfold through the ego of an artist. Poor things (artists & bystanders included). Secondly, ego again. Artists are actually the worst people you will ever have to work with due to their enormous egos. I do not envy persons who work in arts administration. I understand your frustration. As a way for myself to prepare for someone’s giant annoying ego I’ve linked the size of person’s ego with their profession. That way I can at least laugh at their predictability. In order from biggest to least biggest it goes; Poet, Artist, Lawyer, Doctor, White Man Riding a Bicycle. Right! Every! Time! Seriously tho, all artists ever do is go on about themselves. I blame their parent(s). Thirdly, ego again! Keep in mind you are mirroring yourself in these youngsters. Even though you seem proud of your young artist self – listening to them go on about their super cool “alternative space” (F.Y.I. no one says alternative space anymore) is the equivalent of going back to read your journal from when you were in 8th grade – a practice in self-hate.

Now that we basically understand (EGO) what is going on here. What do we do? (Hehehe)

I personally like curmudgeons. If you can pull it off in a humorous way – I say go for that angle. Try it for one day. Whenever so and so starts to brag about their next big group show or how great the last poetry reading/performance art/sound event went at the “space” – YAWN. Literally, yawn. And then relay your past experiences in a way that one ups them at every turn. From your inquiry, it sounds like you’ll be able to do this pretty easily. It also seems like these young people talk quite a lot about how instagram comment “AMAZING!!!” their art lives are, so you will have to alternate between one upping them and giving unsolicited advice. Now if you do this exactly with the yawning and speaking an octave lower with kind of a crick in your voice – you will pull off the quintessential curmudgeon. It’ll be funny and cathartic even; all the while getting the point across that you are not impressed.

Maybe play acting isn’t your thing? Be the better artist that you are. Listen, be patient. Their brains are still mushy after all. Try to relate them. If you share your past experiences in a relatable way you’ll be able to communicate that you’re well past complaining about patching drywall and not at all impressed with the amount of times you put your significant other in an art show without coming off like a bitter old art wench (wench being gender neutral of course). Confession: I want to be a bitter old art wench. *cackles* Engage in what they are doing. Try it for one month. First Friday to First Friday. Go to their “readings”.

DKTD, you should be flattered that they are trying to impress you! Do not let ageism reach both ways. As much as you think their younger, less experienced arrogance is insulting, they could be thinking you are out of touch and couldn’t possibly have advice to offer. I’m just recalling my own younger self and you should too. That was you once. We have a lot to learn from each other – at least trying to accept that fact will be emotionally less taxing on you.

And if all else fails – make fun of them behind their back.


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