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Kindness online

It's random acts of kindness day, which feels a good time to express some thoughts on kindness, social media, and creativity.

An observation: When artists post work to Instagram, the comments received are 99% kind (an estimate, rather than an official stat!), encouraging and positive. If anyone says anything negative that was not asked for, they tend to be shot down by other members of the community. This behaviour feels as if it reflects how people would behave in person.

Conversely, if an opinion is expressed on social media (mostly Facebook or Twitter) about a work or exhibition (or indeed a television show!) and that opinion has not been invited, it seems to automatically become an invitation for others to share similar opinions, and the tone tends to become more bitter and unkind. Despite the platform being public and the opinion being open to be read by anyone, the tone seems conversational - the kind of dialogue you might exchange with a friend in the privacy of your own home. This is despite the fact the people conversing may not know one another and anyone can read in.

Constructive criticism is when a creator (of anything - a painting, a novel, etc etc) asks others what they think about what they have made - they might ask how they might improve a certain aspect of their work. It's only constructive if it is welcome and useful to the creator. No matter how strongly you feel about something, if no one asked for your opinion you're offering it speculatively and you cannot be sure that what you're saying has any value to whoever you wish to say it to. Those who create are often putting themselves in a place of vulnerability the moment they share their work, and if what they put their heart and soul into is deconstructed, perhaps even torn apart online, it can damage the creative journey of that person. They may not ever want to share what they make again. Worse still they may never make again! Critics might say the creator needs to grow a thicker skin, but how about people with unwanted opinions try to exercise a little kindness too, and we can maybe meet in the middle at best?

In my workshops and classes, I have learnt from previous experiences in art schools that my creative practice has never benefitted from a negative comment, and so I try to only offer positive constructive criticism, and try to only do this when it is asked for. Our creative spirits should be treated with kid gloves - it's essentially our inner child playing and exploring. No one can fully know what each individual feels most strongly about within their practice. Kindness and giving a little space and time for creative seeds to grow is opening up the opportunity for the unexpected to happen. I'm aware this sounds a little nauseating! But I believe it wholeheartedly.

I can't understand what benefit others gain from spreading unkindness about others (and I'm talking here about artists being unkind about other artists, which I simply cannot understand given the nature of creativity). There's space for all of us.

Rather than brand strangers 'kind' or 'unkind', I will assume that there are artists out there who don't understand, or don't think about how social media works. If you're making an unkind comment, that comment may reach the person you're being unkind about. Perhaps a random act of kindness might be to think about that before you allow your fingers to hit your keypad? Why not be proud of supporting others rather than proud of feeling right, because a stranger pressed the thumbs up emoji in response to your uninvited public opinion?

Daniel Lismore' s exhibition is titled 'Be Yourself - Everyone else is taken'. I absolutely love this title! If anyone's judgement or opinion of you or your work ever makes you feel a little crushed - just remember they have no idea what it really feels like to be you, they are lacking empathy and they are not thinking. Letting them hurt you is like depriving your creative plant of water and sun. Find what nourishes you - your paints, nature, music, animals....whatever, and give your creative soul the food it needs. The best way to combat unkindness is to bury it under kindness.

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