Artists and Other Prickly Creatures

GRANDVILLE 2I received an interesting piece of hate mail yesterday. It’s taken me sometime to process it and I’m still working through that. But the bottom line is that I had gone to a group of creative people who were not my primary art interest (we’ll say they were weavers, because they were not), and my selfish self had shown itself. A really dear friend of mine  who the letter was from, cataloged how I had offended everyone, and how I had no interest in being in a group of creative people because I was selfish and driven and rude.

I was pretty much raised in a barrel as a kid, so it’s not impossible that I was. Most of the manners I have I’ve learned from the kindesses of quilters. I do try. I have my failures.

I can’t quite dismiss what she said, although I have a problem with anyone who wants to tell me how I’ve harmed everyone else. There’s no way to fix that. Tell me how I’ve harmed you, and I will, if I can to my best to make it better.  There was so much rage in this.There was no way to back up, apologise, rework it. Which makes the friendship a dead duck on the floor. At that point there’s nothing to do but sweep things up. 

Then I remembered, they do for a hobby. I do this is a part of my job. I take it out in front of people, occasionally sell a piece, occasionally teach with it, and use it in a daily way.  I’m really not sure most of them do, except in this small class in this group.  And I am sure it puts me in a place where my needs creatively are quite different.

I’ve known so many amazing artists and quilters who were loathed in their groups or guilds. They were like an eye in a hurricane. All kinds of chaos swirled around them. And that was usually the complaint. “They’re self absorbed. They’ve very driven. They’re competitive.  They believe that they are geniuses.” I suspect that I am guilty as charged. It takes an amazing amount of courage to put all this stuff in public. And a huge amount of drive. And don’t forget arrogance.

I’ve believed always that everyone is an artist. It’s part of the human condition. We breathe, we dance, we tell stories, we make art. And what that is is imposing order and beauty on the random ugliness and cruelty that often is part of living. We re order it, redefine it, rework it until we make it something we can live with. Talk about selfish. Well, yes. To do that professionally takes immense drive and  compulsion and probably puts you lacking in the social skills. Because everyone will challenge what you’ve done, or what is worse, ignore it.

I’ve never much doubted my abilities, because I am so often alone with them, so often compelled by them. To doubt them would be like trying to breathe in a vacuum. You can. For a very short period only, you can.

I’m sad for this letter, this judgement, this failure of comprehension on their part and manners on mine. But I understand how threatening it can be to stand next to the eye of a hurricane. Even an older hurricane who’s weathered by time and experience. I wish everyone in this group the joy of their creation, and understand that the chaos of my own is probably not group appropriate. And that my own will have it’s own joys. That will come too.  I’m an artist. It’s an isolating process. I’m prickly like that.

This porcupine is another Grandville image I’ve played with on photoshop. He’s my alter ego today. He’s blue, sc^&*^ed and tattooed, which is pretty much how I feel. Ah, the glamorous world of art!

See Making Layers in Art if you’d like more information about how it was done.



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25 Responses to “Artists and Other Prickly Creatures”

  1. Monique says:

    Ellen, I can not change the letter how the hurt from it, but I did want to let you know that I spent most of today telling a class full of new quilters how much you changed my life in this art form. I told them countless “Ellen’isms” that I still use every day and encouraged them all to find their own voice and to not be afraid of how it sounds. You my dear did that for me simply by being my teacher and mentor and example. You may be told in life that you have adversly affected someone in this world–which may or may not be true. What I know as truth is that you have done so much good in mine and I’m grateful for you. Sending loves and a many many thank yous for the doors, windows, and walls that you blew out so that I could shine on my own.

    • Ellen says:

      Bless you love. You’re one of my babes. And I am always so proud of you.
      I feel like I just left a mean girl movie. And I hate mean girl movies.

  2. annie! says:

    I can imagine that this will wreak havoc in your mind in the days and weeks … and months to come…but I hope that you will be selective in your memory and not re-live any pain this has caused. Sweep this experience up with the dead duck…set it out for garbage pick up and get on with your fabulous creative self.

  3. julie gray says:

    My dear friend of the heart……….. YOU is YOU… a talented,funny,caring,sensitive,survivor of a PERSON!! You are one of the most talented people I know and you have touched MY soul. Does it really matter if people are hateful??? You are not, you are full of love and being “there” when it is needed!!

    I have gotten to the point in “me” life of 3 x 25 + 1 years that I will be ME, be respectful of others when they deserve it, accept what really is not important and remember where I hide the bodies of those who do not deserve respect!!! LOVE YOU!!!

  4. lili shane says:

    having survived art school in my 50’s i can tell you that the “group” dynamic of modern day artists is nothing to partake in unprepared. there is usually some fake socialite trying to parlay themselves into a cool group. cool, these days, means troll like, vicious or idiotic. i think its a compliment that you were attacked by this groupie. you could never stoop to their level… you were brought up too well. but, i think if you send that person a dildo, or something offensive, you will really win them over. they have probably torn out all their hair trying to fit in with this group and were just venting on you. hope this helps. (i remember you were a smash hit at a party i threw.)

  5. Yvonne Kleinhans says:

    Now that I have quit stuttering, I have to tell you how much you and all your magical talent, not to mention the fact that you so generously shared it with the world, is so appreciated. Please don’t let this poor sick person undermine all that you are and do. Thank you for being you!

  6. Lisa says:

    I don’t get moved by art very often but your art moves me. Several years ago,I saw one of your quilts at the Paducah Quilt Museum, the beauty of it brought me to tears. You are correct, it does take an amazing amount of courage to put your work out in the public, but I’m glad you do. I can’t imagine what prompted a fellow artist to rage at you like that. It says much more about the critic than it does about you. The wounds still hurt but know that there are many, many admirers out there that look to you for inspiration and beauty. Carry on.

  7. yasmin sabur says:

    This crafty, hobby, maker stuff can create issues for professional artists. My advice, stay away from them. The letter writer was ready for your relationship to end. It’s ended. Move on.

  8. VIVI Ginsberg Smith says:

    Oh my dear, dear friend,
    I’m sorry you received such a letter. That is something that is hard to shake. You put it away and carry on and the process, the process being, shock, sorrow, how do I fix this, can I fix this and then as one must we put it away to the back of our brain and it slithers out like a nasty snake, and we shoo it back and carry on with the tasks at hand, usually producing art, smile honey, and it slithers out again, right when we couldn’t be focusing more. How do I know? We all encounter such things. Thank you for putting into words what you felt/feel, what being an artist is about, how hard it can be, thank you for speaking for artists in that letter. Please don’t let it get to you. I love you.

  9. Caroline says:

    Sad this has happen to you Ellen its distressing when it hits you from the blind side…..I was banished from a small quilting group [that i started and yes out grew] over 30 years ago and it was sad and ugly and still makes me shake my head that it can happen….but they did me the greatest favour [by being mean so called friends and acting like school girls ganging up on me and all that kind of crap]it made me step up and follow my path to where it leads me today….the happiest most fulfilled artist that I can be…I am truely blessed to have amazing people in my life that are real because I learnt to only let the real ones in and share my dreams and moments…..So blessed as i am sure you are….its only a speed bump in your amazing journey!….filled with love and admiration from all the real people that count…Hugz to you.x

  10. Lyn says:

    Oh Ellen Anne, I am so sorry that anyone would hurt you. I know how deeply hurting words can be when we are the subject of someone’s mean spiritedness! She was a chicken to write it in a letter instead of speaking face to face so it could actually be a conversation instead of her just saying what she wanted to. I have been on the receiving end of such a letter and I let it eat at me for way longer then it deserved to! You can only be you and if she expects you to be someone else then she never really was your friend. The only reason she would say something mean to you is to make herself feel more important. You are a wonderful, deeply caring, and extremely creative person, and this shines thru in everything you do and say. Remember that this is her problem, not yours. And yes, by all means let it go. I love you as does everyone who truly knows you.

  11. Dear Ellen, I think your so-called “friend” is very spiteful to have sent you that letter. You must have been shocked and hurt, and angry, and let down.
    I don’t have much faith in Groups”.I find creative people are pressured to conform to the group and not stretch themselves.I think you are so creative, that people may be jealous.It takes much courage to put yourself “out there” while the rest of them just fiddle around the edges, and not jumping in like you do.
    Your work encourages me every day.I live a long way away, and only know you through your books and videos, but your involvement in your art is inspiring.All artists are “obsessive”. They have to be to be able to produce a body of work.
    Be kind to yourself these next few days while this is still raw. Criticism does sting doesn’t it!!

  12. I doubt there was a well-intentioned reason for this letter but rather a jealous one. Some people need to be cut out of our lives in order that we can be happy. Sad but true. We cannot be responsible for their feelings, only our own. If you look to your heart and feel you did nothing wrong, other than be yourself, then move on.

    (BTW – I have taken classes with you and found you to be a generous, giving teacher. Just sayin’)

  13. Janice hunter says:

    Ellen, for the introspection that your “friend” sparked, silently thank her and the universe and move on. If we try to please everyone who has differing opinions about us or our work, we might choose to do nothing and that’ not an option. I agree with Annie. Sweep the dead duck out with the trash, fumergate the place if needed and move on with your life. You must be doing something right.

  14. Pat Winter says:

    Oh Ellen, I’m sorry ugliness has reared itself again in the art world which is supposed to reflect beauty and all things we love, at least in my little bubble. I know it hurts my friend but you are way stronger than words from those unworthy of your skills and presence. Unfortunately some do not know skill and talent and never will so how can than understand being taught by one who is number one in her field? It just can’t be done. YOU know who YOU are,(never change) you are loved by so many (including me) and you only do good with your art which flows so freely from your beautiful hands., so shrug it off and pitty those who just don’t get it. Perhaps they need a lesson in manners?
    Big hugs, and a visit soon my friend.
    ~Dye cup fairy~

  15. Mary in VA says:

    I always question why people send letters like that. It shows so poorly on THEIR manners. If the behavior was a problem, there were so many other gentler ways of handling it than the way they chose. A true friend would not have chosen that path, even if you were “misbehaving” in their mind. I am sorry for the hurt they have caused you, it was not deserved. Create an ugly bug picture of the person and move on knowing that you are stronger than their pettiness is.

  16. Leslie Tidaback Hilmer says:

    Take heart and know that judgment is ego in it’s worst form. Those of us who “zoom” when creating are often in another world hard to comprehend and easy to misunderstand by those who do not go there! Love, Leslie

  17. Anthony Jones says:

    A dear friend? Really?

  18. Is it possible to subscribe to your blog by RSS feed or email?
    Thanks, love your work.

  19. Shawkl says:

    I am new to your blog…having found your through Pat Winter’s blog. My brief visit has left me in awe of your obvious talents. They say that time heals all wounds…they don’t say how long, or that it won’t be painful waiting. I’m reminded that often times when folks have low self-esteem; they try to uplift their own talents not by reaching for the stars…but by dragging down things around them. By beating down others talents…there own is seen as higher somehow. I also know how it feels to be totally misunderstood on a topic, and a big row happens because of it. No matter how many time you try to fix it…or explain…or clarify…the damage is still done. Rise above it…and forget it…and keep moving forward. Your “friend” will forget it, or forgive it, or she won’t…and you can’t change that.
    Hugs to you today!

  20. sue kluber says:

    I have loved your work since “Thread Magic” and had the pleasure of riding in the elevator at the des moines quilt show 2 years ago with you,you being one of the judges of the fabric art,and teachers at the touch lives- your work touches lives.i agree with the comment of making the bug art.rise above the muck and mire on those beautiful exquisite wings you have-you are an inspiration-

  21. Jeannie says:

    A very wise woman once told me to look at why I am angry. More often than not, it is because a behavior I do not like in myself is being shown to me by others – reflecting back – so to speak. So, perhaps something you said or did hit home with the letter writer or the group. Regardless of the reason, remember that you cannot control how others respond to you, you can only control how you respond to them. For me personally, your books opened my world to possibilites that would have been hidden and I am eternally grateful. xo

  22. Pippa says:

    Hi it is so horrible when this happens and yes it does take a long time to heal. On the few occasions when someone says something or does something hurtful. I tell myself that I wish all the negativity that has been sent to me be returned to them, it makes me feel better knowing that the negativity has left me. That stops my anger the hurt takes a bit more time. My Dad used to say only do unto others that you would do to yourself. They are the losers not you. Remember we live to fight another day. Love your prickly creature it reminded me of a drawing in the original Alice in wonderland book.

  23. linda jackson says:

    So sorry you got such a letter. The “friend” would have served better to have talked to you about what “she” disliked about the situation. For your peace of mind can you talk to someone else that was present? Not about the friend, but about how your dynamics misfit the groups dynamic, if it did. That might be a different perspective completely. Always hurts to find out a friend Isnt a friend. Hugs and thank you for the joy your talks Nd your art has given me.

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