Being an artist means accepting that some people will not like your art...or you. I understand this. I do not need everyone to like my writing, my photographs, my eBooks or anything creative that I make or do. I do not need everyone to even like me, the person. Now, often times this dislike is shrouded in bigotry—often racism and anti-Black misogyny (misogynoir)—let alone prejudices, and has nothing to do with my actual personality being disliked. But the latter? Being disliked? I am okay with that, if people could kindly dislike me, away from me.
However, when people claim to "like" or "love" my art and "like" or "love" me, yet still cannot engage my art as actual work nor me as an actual person, I wonder what this "love" is about; usually it is unidirectional consumption masquerading as love. For example, there are people in my life—of multiple relationship types—who do not ask about my work, how it is going, what I have created lately etc., yet when they are in a financial/social bind, they desire money/time. (This includes people who used to ask about my work when I worked in traditional corporate jobs years ago.) My creative work is not of interest to them beyond the fact it may generate income that they would like access to. Being an indie artist means that they think that I do "nothing" and have "free time" available for them on demand. Another example is that some people regularly disrespect my work and my non-traditional schedule (most of the time it is night work/day sleep) and think that since I no longer work in a cubicle, I have "free time" to do free labor. This does not mean that no one is supportive of my work; many people are. I am grateful. This does not mean that I do not support people, projects and causes with money (the little I have) and time; I do. However, the presence of support is not the absence of disrespect and microaggressions; they occur simultaneously.
In the past, I have discussed the consistent devaluation and exploitation of Black women as writers, thinkers, creatives, and human beings, online and offline. Thus, my previous sociopolitical topics—things I wrote about on Gradient Lair, for example—are deemed "evidence" of "additional" education and labor that I "owe" anyone who slides into my Twitter mentions or emails. Nevermind if I am editing photographs. I am a photographer. Nevermind if I am curating a list to post to one of my blogs. I am a curator. Nevermind if I am actually writing. I am a writer. Nevermind if I am working on publications for 2016. I am a creator and author. My actual work does not matter since to these people, I am a mule that exists solely to drag a wagon filled with their deliberate laziness and parasitic behavior.
Nevermind the fact that even if I am not engaged in any of the activities that comprise my work, I still do not owe attention nor labor to anyone. But even in the case of labor, they deny or exploit what I do in the first place. I know because I have lived life in the cubicle, so to speak, and outside of it. Knowing that some people do not value my art nor me as a person, yet still expect everything from money to free labor from me feels especially violent. Sometimes it contributes to my experience with Anxiety and Depression. What is a lack of concern at best, willful sadism at worst, is not something that I can easily ignore when not only is it repetitive behavior, but is in fact targeted behavior for years on end now. Years.
I truly wish that my only worry about being an artist was "will people like my art; did I create something interesting; will people purchase the parts of my art that are for sale?" While this is legitimate and reasonably plagues the minds of many artists, this is the bare minimum of what I have to worry about. My worries also include "how much misogynoir as interpersonal, online and as economic violence will I have to worry about for daring to create, regardless of if whatever I create is good or not?" Other worries? "How much retaliation will I face for being an independent creator who is also a Black woman?" "How much copyright infringement and plagiarism will I deal with beyond what any artist does, as not only opportunistic plagiarism that any artist can face, but in fact as punitive plagiarism because I am a Black woman?" These questions are not hypothetical; my existence is not theoretical. I have already lived all of this, and continue to.
Sometimes when I describe these particular experiences, people with the most superficial understanding of Imposter Syndrome chime in, pretending that dealing with disrespect and microaggressions are "in my head" and the real problem is that I am "afraid" of success. Well...I do not really care about "success" in the traditional sense. I do not care. I have made it clear many times in many spaces that most of the things that I desire—respect, safety, the space to create art without experiencing disrespect and microaggressions daily, peace, good health—cannot be acquired on "the market" and are not about "success." I do not need to fantasize about how disgusting some people are towards me as an artist because I already live it. I am not interested in status.
It should be obvious, but none of these things have kept me from being an artist. This is actually not the point anyway. It is not about who I "let" harm me; the idea that I am "allowing" harm is victim blaming anyway; it is gross and removes responsibility from those who disrespect, disregard and devalue me. Instead, this is about the long term cost on my art and on myself from dealing with multiple forms of disrespect and microaggressions for daring to be an artist and daring to exist at all. There is more to this than "do not 'let' anyone stop you from creating!" What about the journey itself though? Why is what is experienced during the journey of creating art and creating a life not as important as whether or not those experiences "stop" a final product or a life decision? What the artist faces has to matter as much as the art. Otherwise, people are asserting that all that matters is what is made for them to consume and that the art has no connection to the artist's creative process or worse, to the artist's humanity itself. And well, in capitalism that is the inherent implication. Even so, facing this implication to my face on a daily basis is quite tiring.
I find a lot of beauty in creating art and not solely for survival—although yes, most of it has to be for survival since I am an unaffiliated Black woman (i.e. not in a traditional job with traditional social status; not a part of any mainstream media, business or the academe)—but also for pleasure. Whether for survival or for pleasure, the process of thinking about, creating and sharing art feels good to me. It does not feel good to have to deal with so much awfulness that is not even about whether or not my art is liked, but about the fact that I create it as a Black woman hypervisible in social media. The invisibility that I experience offline at times for not working in traditional work environments also contributes to this same awfulness. The awfulness is the consistent disrespect for my creative process and my work by people who also demand the fruits of that process and labor. I wonder what it would be like to create art without facing by the day or at times by the hour disrespect and microaggressions for daring to create at all and for daring to be who I actually am. I suspect that this particular wonder will remain in my thoughts indefinitely.