Ostriches and Sponges

What is the popular conception of the artist?
Gather a thousand descriptions, and the resulting composite is the portrait of a moron.

— Mark Rothko

Artists in general get a bad rap. The only profession held in lower regard may be Congressman.

Mark Rothko believed the fault lies with artists themselves.

Weary of viewers’ irrelevant criticisms (“You should have made the bottle less purple”) artists feign a kind of constant dopiness.

“The artist might actually cultivate this moronic appearance,” he wrote in The Artist’s Dilemma, “in an effort to evade the million irrelevancies which daily accumulate concerning his work.”

In the face of most people’s criticisms, the artist morphs into an ostrich. It’s a defense mechanism.

But art teachers’ criticisms are another matter.

They tend to be savvy, laser-like, and frightfully relevant.

In the face of the teacher’s suggestion, the artist morphs into a sponge, greedy for know-how and ready to soak it up.

Sponges don’t have ears; but, regardless, in the face of the teacher’s criticisms, every sponge turns “all ears.”

The essayist Montaigne said: “We need very strong ears to hear ourselves judged frankly, and because there are few who can endure frank criticism without being stung by it, those who venture to criticize us perform a remarkable act of friendship, for to undertake to wound or offend a man for his own good is to have a healthy love for him.”