By Rhea Cawsi Dhanbhoora
Kill Your Competitors
Artists and creative thinkers are an insecure, anxious and jealous lot — it’s intrinsic to who we are. But we really need to be more encouraging and supportive of our own
In school, I had the pleasure of being at the receiving end of several sexist statements. One stood out, a mix of everyday sexism with some depreciation for the arts for good measure.
I was in the art room, holding my latest creation — an earthen pot I had whitewashed and painstakingly painted with Florence blue vines.
A boy in the far corner of the room, picking his nose, was staring at it too so I smiled, inviting the comment (like every catcall and sexist comment in the future, of course).
“Nice. Want to be an artist?”
“I like to paint.”
“That’s ok. For a girl.”
I bristled, and readied myself for battle.
“What do you mean, for a girl?”
“Till you get married.”
“I don’t want to get married.”
“Sure.” A cackling laugh.
“Arts are just for girls and losers.”
I was sure my nose was flaring, like it did when I was uncomfortable, angry or both.
It’s been over ten years. I’m still angry. But this kept coming.
Maybe an author’s workshop would help, poetry societies, writing networks. Some were great. There are so many people who are passionate about the arts — I love them all. But then there was this other side.
First came the hip, urban writer society. I went for a few meetings, corresponded with others. They didn’t talk about art. One wouldn’t expect Ginsberg and Kerouac to be holed up together discussing nothing else of course. But, you wouldn’t expect them to pretend it didn’t exist either.
It was disappointing. No one wanted to read. Or listen. And when they did, it was only for a contest, if they also got to tell you why their work was better. You could see that most of them were in love with the idea of being artists instead of the arts, or simply there for the food (yes, that happened).
I moved on to a group who saw any sort of ‘frivolous’ work as an abomination. Enid Blyton was ridiculous, Shakespeare’s comedies and romances were rubbish — his histories may have had more standing if they were more realistic. If you weren’t talking about politics or something instructional, it was fluff. Every fault seemed so conspicuous. This turned quickly into a society of bullies.
Schools didn’t take the arts seriously either. Where I went to junior college, I was asked whether I was sure I didn’t want to be more practical. Take business, they said. Science, perhaps?
‘Think of the future.’
‘How are you going to support yourself?’
Maybe surrounding myself with people in the arts would change things. I was excited. I’d have a network of writers and readers and we’d be happy in our little bubble while everyone else moved on to practical jobs (get to your mid-twenties and tell me if you still think that’s the best idea) as we went on about Morrison’s iambic pentameter.
But people would hold assignments to their chest, shield laptop screens, cover up fashion pieces. We were suddenly all competitors, even though there were enough A grades to go around. We were encouraged to find the beauty in each other’s work — but there was silence there, where there had been chatter to find the faults. Rivalries aren’t new to the art world, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Hemingway and Fitzgerald, had been friends, rivals and bitter enemies. Wordsworth and Coleridge, we learned, were no bosom buddies. We’d laughed about it. How could it be possible? Here we were, texting in rhyme, talking about collaborations.
We’re not collaborating.
When it was time to face the real world, I was sure we’d be together in a melee of painters, sculptors, designers, authors, poets, playwrights… we were one and the same. We all wanted to create, to share and…
And nothing. We’re programmed instead to feel insecurity and jealousy. The first act had been so satisfying, my passions stirred and shaken — I was ready for the second. But sequels almost never work. All for one and one for all? One for one, you tell yourself. You against the world.
We’re privy to helpful advice from those in fields where you aren’t struggling to deal with the mad rush of inspiration and sting of rejection in the same hour. All of this is, of course, relevant. Maybe we should ask for tips. Get in touch with one another.
But you see, there’s just so many of you telling us exactly how, when and why we should market ourselves. We’re already stuck in a cycle of rejection. We should be celebrating our successes together, but we’re so bogged down by our apparent failures; how can we do both?
We want the comments, the likes, the shares. We will very rarely do the same for fellow artists. Look for comments under an article that sparks debate. The list will be long. Those under a pretty piece, you’d be hard-pressed to find. I get it. Competition is stiff. Everyone is a writer. Even people who really aren’t. Everyone has a blog. Everyone’s been published. I’m as guilty of weeding out those I don’t deem fit to be in the invisible society of artists I claim to be part of, as those pushing me out from the other side.
We’re never really going to solve the debate about who’s really a writer. So let’s stop, for a minute. Let’s encourage and share and help those who pour their heart and soul into everything they create. Healthy arguments are great. Critique? Necessary when constructive, not cruel. No artist wants you to blindly fawn over their work. But the arts have enough of the world rooting against them. In our battle to be taken more seriously, let’s try not to add our own to the body count.
About the Author: Rhea Dhanbhoora has been writing since she was seven years old, had a book of poems published at the age of 13, (Poetry Through Time) and currently writes and edits features for a daily newspaper as part of a full time job. She’s also contributed to literary reviews, written for travel websites and continues to dabble in fiction and poetry. She also enjoys a good meal, is an avid reader and loves music.