[[ For those that spend the last weeks under a rock, go watch this and read that to view both sites of the matter and form your own opinion -- I'm not gonna do that for you ]]
Of course, we all knew that the internet could be a very nasty place. It has been a nasty place before and pretty much every single one of us knew that there places out there that are better be avoided when you're a sensitive person (or a normal human being with feelings -- however you want to call it). What the recent issue confronted us with, however, that as artists we aren't safe either. I can remember the earlier internet raids. The victims were either big organisations (Paypal, Scientology, etc) or idiots that actually did something that would probably get them into jail like torturing or murdering animals. While the consequences were often incredibly hash, it somehow still felt justified. Because, be honest; everybody wishes animal torturers the worst.
The recent examples were people like Zoe Quinn and Phil Fish. Two independent artists whose behavior got them on the bad side of the public opinion. Apparently bad enough to have their info doxxed, and rumors said they had to go undercover for a while to wait for the shitstorm to pass over. While I would be the last one to say their behavior is acceptable, and they wouldn't be people I'd like to hang out with... they haven't actually done anything so bad to justify this. They haven't killed anyone. They haven't tortured animals. They haven't done anything that's worthy of a place in jail. They're just not being liked by the general public.
And that's what concerns me. Because if that's what possible when people "don't like you". Where is the limit?
Being an independent artistThe indie title that many of those game artist were is basically nothing more that a sign to show that they're independent. Unaffiliated with a big company. In that sense, most of us are indie. We're working on our own art, our own styles, and doing our own commissions and prints. We're doing our own thing.
Being independent mostly means that we don't have people doing our PR for us. We do our own communication and answer our own messages/inboxes for these simple reasons;
While the first is pretty obvious (starving artist meme, anyone?), the latter is often a personal choice by many artist. If you got another person to answer your messages, how much "you" will be left in your communication? Will it still be as personal as you intended? As art is a personal matter for many artist, this often is a deal for many single artist, hence they choose to answer their messages themselves.
All in all, this makes how the public thinks of you be heavily influenced by two things;
How experienced are you in handling PR?
How much of a likable person are you anyway?
Artists being experienced with PR, marketing... or anything else than art... are usually rare. I'm not saying it doesn't happen. But the more creative people are, the more they steer on emotion (and less on logic). Some have experience in PR by having worked in part time jobs. Most haven't. Which leaves us to the second; how much of a likable person are you? And this all comes down to the good old thing that we already experienced in school. That some people were just liked a little bit more than others for reasons most of us were unable to comprehend.
The thing with critiqueThe most heard argument for why people dislike an artist on the internet is that that "this person doesn't handle critique well".
The artist reacts fiercely to critique
The artist ignores/blocks critique
The artist doesn't improve fast enough, leading the audience to think he doesn't do anything with given critiques
I've thought long and hard about it, having had my own various experiences with critique. And up until today I'm not sure what it means to be able to handle critique well, since I'm pretty sure once you passed a certain point, you just can't do it right and people will judge you harshly because you have exposure and people somehow want to see it justified.
First of all there's a difference between critique and bashing.
Giving a person a critique means you have at least the intention of helping this person forward in his artistic career. "I think this is a great portrait, but the lighting on the nose is somewhat off" makes a simple but still good critique. It would be even better with a suggestion on how to improve it. But at least the artist now has a clue on what is off and what might need a bit of fixing. A comment like "your artwork sucks" is nothing more than burning a person down. Although to most people this difference is (hopefully) obvious, there's a large group of people that thinks anything is justified in the name of critique. And the more exposure a person gets on the internet, apparently the more it is 'justified' to make these kinds of remarks about this persons art. Because "if a person is that popular, he should be able to handle it"?
To be honest, I've never quite understood this flaw in logic.
The point is that popularity is a thing artists don't call onto their selves. It's decided by their public so it's outside their own influence. So how exactly should this whole justification thing work then?
Should it be considered normal that people are getting death threats and are wished the worst, just because they happen to have many fans? Because if that is the case, I'd like to know exactly how many fans does it take to rule out the human emotions of a such person?
In the end, critique is nothing but a helpful tool for an artist. Some people will use it to their advantage. Some will not. But no matter how you twist or turn words or views, an artist has no real obligation to put that critique to use. After all; the people on the internet are nothing but an audience. Expectations from people on the internet are often limitless and unreasonable. Can you really blame an artist for not being a role model when all he wanted to do is just make art? -- That seems to be the real question.
Change vs personalityThe thing that immediately comes with critique, is change.
If your audience says they don't like something about your attitude, you can always change it. And of course we all change, get older (and hopefully wiser) over the years, and toughen up a bit.
It becomes different matter when people say they don't like our art. And leaves us with multiple questions;
Where do we draw the line between "improvement" and "style"?
Wasn't that art the thing that got us well known in the first place?
Is there still a sense of "self" in adapting to the environment like a chameleon?
Censorship vs protectionAnd with removing comments (critiques) there's of course always the issue of censorship. Because when is something censorship and when is it not? The recent issue with Zoe Quin might've been the prime example of damage control and censorship, going as far as contacting moderators on other forums to get certain messages and comments taken offline. But in a lot of other cases the issue is a lot less black and white.
On DeviantArt every person is given the power to moderate the comments on his journals and artworks. I too have used this power in the past to remove comments that I found unsuitable (mostly foul language and swearing). I've explained in my recent journal about white knights, I've also purposefully removed people revealing names of 'haters'. Censorship? Maybe. But I don't want to be the one responsible when a few thousand angry fans go to the page of such a person to do god-knows-what kind of damage.
DiscussionThe reason why I brought this topic up is not because I wanted to discuss the recent issue involving the state of the gaming industry or Zoe Quinn. DeviantArt has already various topics on that so if you want to discuss that issue, I'd advice you to go there. What I wanted to know is how this recent issue influenced your thoughts about your art and the public opinion.
Do you think it's it's important to maintain a good public image?
Do you have people to help you handle hard PR related issues, or do you handle everything yourself?
How do you handle critique?
Do you think some artists receive an unreasonable amount of critique? (and does that make it reasonable they lash out sometimes?)
I'm looking forward to hear your opinion on the subject