[EDITORIAL NOTE: This blog has been lovingly enhanced with original art from my comic series "Seminal Works", featuring myself (Krumbine), the angry, drunk Professor, and a quick cameo by Lincoln Squatch.]
I can't believe I'm saying this (again), but don't be an asshole.
That's my job.
Let's set aside quality and whether or not a creative work is objectively (or even subjectively) good. Instead, let's talk about friends, family (chosen or otherwise), and other random internet people that are deserving of creative support.
I've spent the past 10 years in various professional creative environments and a 35-year-lifetime in the middle of personal creative development -- which is to say, I've experienced a spectrum of support, both good and (really, unbelievably fucking) bad.
Here are some helpful tips on how you can avoid being the bad kind of supportive friend.
(Or: How To Be the Bad Kind, if You're an Asshole)
THE SACRED ART OF CHEERLEADING
Art is like a waterfall.
Shit--fuck, never mind.
Art is like a flower. It starts as a seedling and needs to be lovingly nurtured and watered daily for it to grow into anything at all.
Not enough water? You're fucked.
Too much sun? You're fucked.
Ignore it completely until it withers and dies? You get the idea.
Creative people, like flowers, need someone to water them. To mix the metaphor, creatives need cheerleaders -- and I'd argue that there's nothing as important or sacred.
The support of a cheerleader -- even just one -- validates the very act of creation. It motivates. It inspires. It rewards.
If you say you support someone, ask yourself a simple question: are you being a good cheerleader? If you're not, ask yourself another question: should you just shut the fuck up?
SO YOU WANNA SUPPORT YOUR CREATIVE FRIENDS?
If you haven't figured it out yet, the worst thing you can do is say you support someone without actually backing it up with, like, anything. Empty words are worse than useless -- they're downright insulting.
Don't say you support your writer friends if you don't read their books.
Don't say you support your musician friends if you don't listen to their music.
Don't say you support your artist friends if you don't consume their art.
That's. Not. Support.
Don't get me wrong: you don't have to be an obsessive fan and consume every single thing your friends create (but, you know, you could). One of my musician friends was frequently performing live (pre-COVID) but loud, live venues are my kryptonite. I still actively listen, share, and throw down my own creative jus to support his creative endeavors.
THERE'S A TIME AND PLACE FOR ONE-WORD RESPONSES
Fucking bane of my existence.
Let's cut to the chase: if you actually, really support your creative friend ... at least try to do better than just "Cute!"
"Oh, WOW. That was so much better than I expected it to be."
I did a (small) amount of Twitter research before writing this and backhanded compliments was among the first examples that popped up. This feels especially grievous because the digital divide gives you time to consider and carefully shape your comments.
If you're taking the time to compliment someone's creative work, don't wrap it around a poison pill.
If you think your backhanded compliment is actually criticism -- then just offer your criticism (and don't be an asshole about it). I wrote about how to give feedback here.
AND SPEAKING OF FEEDBACK ...
... don't be afraid to give feedback.
Yes, if done wrong, bad feedback is a knife in the back. And in the front. Sideways. Spilling your guts out all over the floor like a so-bad-it's-good 80s horror flick. Feedback can also be the most helpful and genuine way to show your support to a creative friend.
Good feedback is the proverbial water and sunshine in our flower metaphor.
The thing is, people aren't creating in a vacuum. We're not crafting our art and immediately hiding it from the world. We're sharing it. Putting it out there specifically for other people to consume.
If the art is public, creatives want feedback. And if they say otherwise, they're probably lying assholes.
Don't be afraid to give feedback. At the same time, remember the power you wield with your feedback and be mindful of the delicate flower you're unleashing your feedback upon.
Don't. Be. An. Asshole.
THINGS YOU SHOULD DO
If you want to support your creative friends, just take the time. That's really all we're asking for. We're creating art for others to consume -- all you need to do is consume it.
Be empathetic and, if you can, positive. Empathy means understanding why your friend created something in the first place -- it means understanding the delicate nature of the creative spirit and that this art is infinitely more important to the creator than a casual observer might assume.
You don't have to like a piece of art to understand the passion that went into crafting it.
Maybe the art is good. Maybe it's bad. Maybe you just didn't "get it". Whatever your hot take, be positive if you can (which doesn't negate positive, constructive criticism). Your creative friends are going to face enough negativity, bad takes, and destructive criticism without you piling on in the name of "support".
A FEW NO-BRAINERS TO SHOW YOUR SUPPORT
BUT IT ISN'T MY CUP OF TEA!
But what if you say you support someone while simultaneously refusing to consume their art because it's not your "cup of tea"?
First: fuck you.
Second: stop saying you support someone. It literally doesn't work that way.
Let's also acknowledge that there's a huge difference between a piece of art that's so bad it's unreadable or unwatchable and something that's just not your "cup of tea".
We're having this conversation in the first place because -- read the title of the blog -- we want to support our creative friends. If you refuse to engage with any of your friends' creative, then you're not being supportive, plain and simple.
If something isn't your cup of tea, that's fine. Be empathetic and remember the passion that drove your friend to create the piece in the first place. Take a chance. Do a favor. Be honest -- there's nothing wrong with a little positive, honest feedback like "This wasn't quite up my alley, but I think you really nailed the dramatic tension!"
Remember that like the flower, art is organic. It grows and changes over time. If you've dismissed a friend because their art didn't suit your taste in the past, give them the decency of check-in to see if anything has changed. Hey, maybe something changed in you.
Finally, to reiterate the hardline on this point: if it's not your cup of tea and you can't deal with it, fine. Cut your losses. But don't get on a fucking soapbox and talk about how much you support this friend.
A FINAL NOTE
Don't underestimate the power you wield when supporting your creative friends.
Like any power, it can be used for good or evil. Your support can encourage a friend, lifting them up or it can literally crush them where they stand.
Your support, however, is only as good as the actions behind it.
Your friends deserve more than empty words.