How to support your artist friends

I was thinking this week about certain of my artist friends, and that got me reflecting on the nature of creative support. Some people seem to think that the best way to support an artist is to gush to them about their work as much as possible, but that is definitely not the case. (Erik taught me a new word tonight: grinfucker. It comes from the corporate world, but is just as applicable to creative work.) Personally, I like about a 60/40 ratio of complimentary and critical feedback — but I want it to be intelligent, not just lip service. I’ve written before about how there’s an art to both praise and critique. But hey, I don’t expect everything from everyone. I have an amazing number of supportive friends, who all back me up in different ways. In thinking about them, I realize they break down into a few general types.

Taiwanese cheerleaders

The cheerleader

The cheerleader is usually a friend or family member, someone who knows me well and supports me in more than just my creative work. Cheerleaders are 100% positive: they come to my shows, they never say anything but wonderful things about my work, and I know I can count on them anytime for a friendly hug or a reviving phone call. Being with them is restful; I can relax with them and not have to mention my work at all. Their role is to be there for me in whatever I do, whether it’s writing a book or moving house.

AudienceThe audience

The audience fills much the same role as the cheerleader, but from a greater distance. An audience member might be an acquaintance, or a friend who lives far away or is ridiculously busy. They can’t provide as much on-the-spot support as the cheerleader, but they still check in with me from time to time and tell me they’re following my work and rooting for me.

The creative comrade (fellow artist)

In my experience, my fellow artists aren’t always as reliable as my cheerleader friends when it comes to material resources, time, or their social schedule. But they make up for it by knowing exactly what I’m talking about when I describe a project, or being able to give thoughtful feedback when I need it. My creative comrades include writers, bloggers, visual artists, crafters and entrepreneurs.

Study for 'Patrons and Lovers of Art, by Pieter Christoffel WonderThe creative connoisseur

The creative connoisseur fills much the same role as the creative comrade, but doesn’t necessarily identify as an artist. The connoisseur might be an enthusiastic and critical reader, a scholar, or a non-artist who’s dabbled creatively for years. She might not be as familiar with the ins and outs of the creative process (but then, she might be, from reading artist diaries or having a lot of other artist friends!), but she can give just as intelligent, relevant feedback as any fellow artist.

ChainThe mentor/the link

There are people in my networks whom I don’t see very often or even know very well, but who’ve stepped in at vital times to connect me to relevant people or information. These individuals are often older than I am, and they generally move in different circles. They might not have as much time to hang out, but they set me up with important resources and/or offer valuable advice from their life experience.

If you have artist friends and want to support them, think about which of these you’re best suited to be. If you can’t come up with critique to save your life, but love everything your friend does and are happy to show it, you can be a cheerleader or an audience member. If you’re more critical, find out what kind of feedback your friend can handle (tough love? very gentle comments?), and then give it to them when they ask for it. If you don’t have a lot of time, but have a lot of connections, find out what your friend needs and then hook them up whenever you’re able. (But please be discerning; constantly forwarding marginally-relevant NYT articles or saying “I know someone who ___” isn’t valuable, it’s just annoying. ;b) Be assured that all these roles are important and needed, and of course they’re not set in stone; one person can easily fill multiple roles, depending on the situation.

At any rate, what matters is that you give your support mindfully. I’d rather have silence than empty praise. I’d rather hear “hey, I hardly ever have time to check your blog, but today’s post really resonated with me” than “you’re so talented, I can’t believe you do all those things!” I’d also rather know “I feel really uncomfortable with the direction you’ve been taking recently in your writing” than hear your reservations on whether art is a viable career path. Don’t feel obligated to give anything more than you can, but when your intention is to lend support, do it with awareness and honesty and compassion, and that is all I can ask.

Fellow artists, do you have all these supporters in your own lives? Are there other roles you’d add to my list?

Images from Wikimedia Commons.