Monday, September 22, 2008

what the negative weighs

The first thing I do when I get out of bed every morning is get the water boiling for coffee, and then read whatever email came in during the night. Last week I woke up to a lovely email from a customer who was so happy with the pottery she bought from me that she wrote me an email to tell me how talented and wonderful I am. Never get tired of those emails. Then I opened an email from my blog that contained a comment from an anonymous source, and this is what the comment said:

"Your pottery is starting to look like old lady slip cast ware."

My first reaction was to laugh, then hit the "trash" button. I've had some hard comments on my blog from people in the past, but I always let them stand because I think they are valuable and interesting, even if I don't agree. This one was just obnoxious so I deleted it from the blog, made my coffee, and got on with my day.

Except... I realized about halfway through the day that the comment was haunting me. Was I wallowing in happiness that someone took time from their day to tell me how awesome I am? No. I kept hearing the old lady cast ware comment, over and over. And I was having a variety of negative feelings and responses. For instance, anger: "Fuck you!" Defensiveness: "You don't even know my work." Condescension: "Keep your negative comments to the other students in your grad school classroom." Fear: "Shit, I'm turning into an old lady." Sneering, "You can't even stand behind your opinion, you have to comment anonymously, you miserable person." And then a combination of all of the above, "Screw you, twerp-- at least I have a body of work, and here in the real world where I live, it sells! What are you selling, besides coffee?"

Finally, about halfway through the day, I had to stop and contemplate how was managing this comment and allowing it to ruin my day. I was also interested in how I was letting this comment play out against an equally positive comment, and the irony that I read both within 2 minutes of each other. I love it when lessons really smack you in the face like that. Unfortunately, I'm me, and more inclined to let negative feedback make me feel bad than let positive feedback make me feel good. I think a lot of people would feel the same way-- but why?

Negativity taps in our most basic fears about ourselves, fears that are even hard to talk about sometimes. I live with my own voice telling me I need to do better work than I'm doing, and when another voice comes along and says the same thing in such a negative way, some of my worst fears are realized: I suck. For whatever reason, the negative carries weight, it's powerful-- or rather, we allow it to be more powerful than the positive.

It's a loop, and I knew I was running on a squirrel cage and I still have some work to do before I can keep myself from jumping on on the first place. I also knew it would take a day-- or maybe two-- to shake that shit off, but I did!


  1. I like your work! In fact, I've recently started reading your blog in preparation for a pottery class come January and read you for inspiration and bookmark your work quite often.

    That negative comment was uneccesary. Sometimes we need to be critiqued so we can improve but the anonymous poster did nothing but stick his tongue out at you and run. What good does that do anyone?

    Eff them and keep doing what you're doing.

  2. I've seen a LOT of old lady slip cast ware, and it doesn't look like your work. I think there was some jealousy behind that comment, because it doesn't make much of any sense.

  3. I'm a potter wanna-be. You've got a gift for making wonderful pieces of pottery that make me want to blow the dust off my wheel and take my first pottery class. I love looking at your work. Thanks for sharing your creativity.

  4. My god, at times it's as if you are living my life. I respond the same way to negativity- and for the same reasons. I had a comment left where someone told me I was impolite to not respond to resumes. I know damn well, it is NOT impolite to not respond... it happens all the friggin' time- it's happened to ME. But the comment haunts me to this day. Sheesh! Think of all the good things I could be doing with all the energy this one stupid statement saps from me. Then I just get mad at myself, and that's no good either. Deep breaths... deep breaths...

  5. I'll keep this short and sweet!

    F that noise!

    You are great... soak up the positive...
    Now ,if I could take my own advice..We'd be good to go!

  6. Terrill11:09 AM

    I'm fairly certain whatever cretin wrote that has a day job where they assphyxiate on copier machine fumes 60 hours a week, occaionally burp out toxic comments meant to stunt other peoples creativity, and wonder why other people don't want to hang out with them.

    But Let's rally here and take a moment here to think of Beatrice Wood, and embrace old-lady-ness in full. I saw a video (yes the medium itself was old) about her, and throughout the video she made eyes at the camera man and said things about enjoying young men and chocolate.
    Let me also take you to this place: Georgia O'keefe who at the age of 95 (98?) had a 35 year old lover (and assistant)...Juan something (sorry I can't remember men's names). He was a talented artist in his own right, but more importantly he was a stud-muffin.
    So rock your old-lady stuff. I've heard old people need less sleep, and I'm starting to think that gives them more time to have sex with younger men and make awesome art work

  7. I just wanted to let you know that your pottery is really the most inspirational pottery I've ever seen. I was hesitant to take up pottery even though I love doing it until I saw your work. So much of what I saw was the same: dark, looked like something out of the 1970s and with that brown runny glaze. I don't mean to rain on someone else's parade who might like that kind of work but please know that what you do is sooo awesome and modern, I love it!!

  8. Anonymous2:59 PM

    I love your pottery - nothing old lady about it. The cake stand I bought from you is in use all the time (thankfully the cat has not yet broken it). I'm waiting to buy more once I'm more solvent. It's absolutely impossible to please everyone, but as long as you know your work has integrity, you should feel good about what you're doing.

  9. Yeah, unfortunately I think you are right...most of us find that negative comments stick around a lot longer than positive ones. They really seem to tap in to our deepest fears.
    A comment like this says a lot more about the maker, especially given they were so cowardly to make it anonymously. I'm glad you've managed to let it go now...that's not easy.

  10. Welcome to the real world Whitney! As you continue to become more and more well-known slings and arrows will come at you from anonymous and un-anonymous sources. You can write most of it off to jealousy and resentment, but always let it roll off you. You will get better at that part!

  11. This post caught my attention right away and I confess I came over from bloglines to see if you let the comment stand and which post it might have been attached to.

    A couple of things...

    1. If someone has the cajones to write something like that, they should have the courtesy of attaching their name to their comment. Who knows - it could open up new dialog and a connection.

    2. I like old lady work - slip cast or other. I'm a member of the Colorado Potters Guild and some of our founding members are still active and in their 90's. I love talking with them - they have so much knowledge and insight about life and kudos for them for not resigning themselves to an arm chair. I hope that I'll grow up to be just like them.

    3. So while the commenter probably meant it as an insult, their words don't hold much weight - it was a cheap sucker punch out of no where.

    Don't let something like this take any more of your oxygen. Keep reading the love notes instead.

  12. Hi Whitney- I am not going to say don't let the negative comment bother you or don't worry about it- cuz it is easier to say the words then to follow them through. What I will say- your work is BEAUTIFUL and not everyone will love and appreciate your work and that is OK because your fans are the ones that will surround,embrace and appreciate you and your gifted talent.
    I wish when someone has something negative to say they wouldn't hide behind "anonymous" and come forth. I could go on and on, but it isn't worth giving this person the energy.
    Continue adding beauty to the world with your art and enjoy it! I for one am a big fan of yours!
    BTW my friend LOVED the little vessel (special order) you did for me!!!

  13. WHITNEY...

    this is a HUGE COMPLIMENT !!!! except they are just slightly off....eva ziesal is the queen of old lady slip casting. but you are a close second !

    you should send a thank you note to this person.


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    We are just getting started and I'm on the lookout for amazing artisans like you! This is a personal invitation to join us... and there are no seller fees - Artfire is 100% FREE! Please take a moment and check us out.
    Celia ~ Sell Without Fees ~ Create Without Limits ~ Buy Handmade!

  15. I love your work and have read your blog for a while. Recently I just got brave enough to add some slip cast forms to my body of work after getting inspired that there are contemporary, inspiring ceramic artists like you out there using slip casting in a fresh way.