How to manage my nosy parent's reaction to my artwork?
November 20, 2010 1:35 PM   Subscribe

How to manage my nosy parent's reaction to my artwork?

My parents have been incorrigibly nosy all my life. It's more of a naive "we love you and want to be supportive" kind of nosy, but it can also be somewhat judgmental and controlling at times. As an adult I've learned to manage this by moving away and not talking too much about my personal life or art.

I'm planning to promote my art more online under my own name, and would like to be upfront with my parents about this before they find my site though some other method. I'm not interested in using a pseudonym. My work's not that controversial, so they'd probably like the majority of my stuff. But some of my work is above their intellectual capacity and some of it might be PG-13 for their G rated sensibilities.

I could let them know that my art is not up for discussion, but then I'd be left to wonder if they're stewing about some art I did or not. However, a full on discussion of every blog post could be painful as well.

How should I manage my nosy family in the age of the internet where they can all look at my art work online? What does a healthy level of interest in my art look like, and how can I cultivate this level of interest in my family? Personal stories are welcome.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You don't manage them. You live your life how you like as an adult and let them deal with their judgments themselves.
posted by sanka at 1:43 PM on November 20, 2010 [15 favorites]

I have the same issue with my music, and to a lesser extent my acting, back when I was in plays.

Honestly, you don't have to make a big deal about it. I wouldn't bring it up and if they find it then you can say, oh yes, that's my stuff-could you pass the mashed potatoes?

If their comments are appropriate, then go ahead and discuss a bit, at a light level, and if not, change the subject. They WILL learn their boundaries. In my case, they just say they like my stuff and they don't bring up the theology of it.

Honestly, you might be worrying a bit too much. But even if you get some negative nosiness from them, consider it good practice for maintaining your equilibrium and your boundaries.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:44 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

"If you don't like it, don't look at it."
posted by amro at 1:47 PM on November 20, 2010

What does a healthy level of interest in my art look like, and how can I cultivate this level of interest in my family?

First, by getting rid of this attitude:

some of my work is above their intellectual capacity

I don't mean "don't say that to your parents," I mean "look back in shame at the fact that you ever thought that."

Also, you don't get to pick the terms under which your parents engage you in talking about your art. I mean, you can say "look, I'm not going to discuss that with you" and hang up, but if you want to be open to talking to them about it, you need to be open.

As with any potentially emotional family issue, you want to avoid making things personal, unless it really is personal, in which case you're stuck.
posted by adamrice at 1:51 PM on November 20, 2010 [37 favorites]

You know, it sounds harsh, but it's true: one of the most liberating things that can happen in your life is the day you stop giving the slightest shit what your parents think. It's a real joy. One of the best.
posted by Decani at 1:51 PM on November 20, 2010 [29 favorites]

No work of art is above your parents' intellectual capacities, and I mean this no matter what your parents' intellectual capacities are, even if their intellectual and cognitive functioning is limited by something like Down Syndrome. The sooner you understand this, the better an artist you will be.

That said, maybe your art isn't the kind of art they like to engage with, or maybe they don't have a context for understanding the influences or connotations of your art, or maybe they aren't intellectually curious about art, or maybe they just hate art in general. And?

The reason for cliches like "Different strokes for different folks" and "Not everything's for everybody" and even "Don't like it? Don't buy it" exist is because not everyone digs the same things.

And your parents aren't the boss of you anymore. So if they hate your art or think it's a shame for the neighbors, there it is. You're in honorable company!

You can choose to hear them out, or you can tell them to keep their opinions to themselves, whichever works best for you. It'll be good practice in managing bad reviews from professionals.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:07 PM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

"I'm really glad that you guys are enjoying looking at my art! It's something I'm not really interested in talking about because it's a little private and it's weird for me to talk about it at length. I'm really happy I get to share this part of my life with you!"


"I'm really glad you are enjoying my art! Art is about expressing things that I can't quite verbalize, so I'm not really very good at talking about it. Sorry that I can't have long conversations with you about it, it's just not how I work."
posted by stoneweaver at 2:08 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

some of my work is above their intellectual capacity

I don't mean "don't say that to your parents," I mean "look back in shame at the fact that you ever thought that."

Spoken like someone who's never had to deal with parents like this. I totally sympathize with the OP here--I don't know your specific situation (and don't really have good advice to offer), but, :ahem: some people have ardently anti-intellectual parents and there's nothing wrong with saying or thinking this if it's honest, like, say, if your father openly mocks Joyce (your favorite author) or your mom thinks that the book that won you over into your particular field is "erudite" and "pretentious" and why don't you come home and go to church anymore?
posted by johnnybeggs at 2:59 PM on November 20, 2010 [8 favorites]

Managing your parents' reactions and opinions is good practice for managing those of critics, gallery owners and potential buyers/clients. If your blog allows comments, you'll get a wide variety of opinions, and not everyone will be positive about your work.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:17 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't mean "don't say that to your parents," I mean "look back in shame at the fact that you ever thought that."

Uh, you have never met my parents either. There are different kinds of intelligence, so we are not calling our parents stupid-but not everyone engages with artwork in an intellectual manner. No need to insult or shame the OP.

My dad for example is a freaking genius with woodworking and building and making things and repairing things-but he is NOT intellectual and thinks that the only things that matter in life are things that make MONEY and if your interest isn't making MONEY then it's worthless. Making someone like this try to understand art on an intellectual basis is a fool's undertaking.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:18 PM on November 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

Making someone like this try to understand art on an intellectual basis is a fool's undertaking.

Fine. But the OP wants his/her parents to have a "healthy" engagement with his/her art, while at the same time denigrating their ability to get it. Can't have it both ways.
posted by adamrice at 3:21 PM on November 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

Well, I assume what he means as "healthy" is "nonegative" and not making fun of it or asking "why he is wasting his time" on it.

That's what I would be meaning if I'd asked the question.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:39 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

One thing I've learned not to do as a creative person is not to try to manage my parents' response to my creativity. It's hard--it's such a personal thing, and you just WISH they could appreciate it with the same level of expertise you put into it. But it may very well be that asking your parents to love your art is like trying to ask them to love your large, unruly dog--they'll just never see in it what you do.

A little two-bit psychoanalysis here: Your aggressive dismissal of their intellect and worldliness tells me that you care very much about what they think of you. Your problem is not a rare one: What your parents value in you is not the same as what you value in yourself, and that makes you feel misunderstood and unappreciated. It makes every interaction feel like a judgment or an intrusion.

You're never going to change this, so don't solve the conflict by simply dismissing their experience of the world, or your art, outright. Instead: Come out of the closet. Share your art with them. You might be surprised by what they see in it. My dad told me that even though I had gone to college and moved out on my own and gotten a job, he didn't really start to see me as an adult until he read some of my writing. It was difficult and literary and angry and R-rated, and I don't know what the hell he got out of it, but whatever it was, he saw me in it, as an adult.

To that end, send your folks the link and say, "Hey, I have a website for my art now! Here it is!" And if they go to it and look at your art and want to talk about it, TALK ABOUT IT. If they don't seem to get it, that's okay. It's just one piece, one series. If you talk to them about it, you can educate them. At the very least, you can give them a better look at that part of you that you value most in yourself. They may never value it as much as you do, but if you show them how much it means to you, they will start to value it more. That's huge.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:55 PM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's one thing to show your art to an audience of strangers; quite another when the audience is your parents. Just remember that they can't control you unless you let them. Don't try to hide your work from them. Try to react to their comments, criticisms & reactions the same way you'd react to the comments of a stranger. If they get personal, (is that painting about your childhood problem with bed-wetting?) try to give short, neutral, non-emotional responses. You can have a reasonable conversation about your art with them, as long as you know where your boundaries and hot buttons are, and avoid these areas.
posted by cleverevans at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2010

If you make an announcement or try to lay some ground rules beforehand, you might be sabotaging yourself by signaling to your parents that you actually want their active involvement. Just do it like the working adult you are. Their reaction will be their reaction. But they can't make a huge deal out of it to you or completely engage you in ways you find unpleasant if you refuse to make a big deal out of it (at least to them).
posted by Buffaload at 4:18 PM on November 20, 2010

This reminds me of a post on the blue a while back: How To Explain It To My Parents, a documentary series where conceptual artists where asked to explain their art to their parents.
posted by reynaert at 4:53 PM on November 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

I really don't understand your motivations here. You find your parents nosy, and you know they're going to ask a lot of annoying questions about and second guess everything you do. So why are you trying to come up with some way to "engage" with them about your art? Isn't this just more of a situation where adults understand that everyone has their own lives and respects those boundaries? I don't spend time giving my parents blow-by-blow accounts of my job and work. If I valued that above all else, I would have chosen to work in the same field as my parents where we could do that all the time.

However, is this is really a big deal to you, then here is my advice: I'm in the tech industry, and one of the things I have made a point of doing in my field is to come up with a 1 sentence description of what I do that laymen can understand. If people are excited about that, great. If not, it doesn't bother me so much.
posted by deanc at 5:21 PM on November 20, 2010

You cannot control how people are going to react to your work - this includes your parents. You can encourage your parents to ask you about your work but you can't control how they feel about it or what they are going to say about it.

And about the "intellectual capacity" thing - you may be underestimating your parents. They just may not have the capacity to verbally express what an art thing says to them. Some people look at a painting or a sculpture and just think, "I like that" or "I do not like that."

My dad is a schizophrenic and doesn't sound like he's that smart to most people because he stammers and stutters. However, he's actually really super intelligent and digs art in a huge way. He especially likes thinking about and discussing conceptual stuff.

On the other hand - my mom sounds like she's super intelligent to people and she just doesn't get art unless it involves a cat. I have to explain every single thing I make regardless of what it is. Today I was out shopping with my mom and picked up some ribbon to use on a wreath and she needed an explanation on the colors I was choosing and what exactly I was going to use the ribbon for and why, etc.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 5:57 PM on November 20, 2010

I'm planning to promote my art more online under my own name, and would like to be upfront with my parents about this before they find my site though some other method.

If you don't really want to discuss your art with your parents, why initiate a discussion about it?
posted by desuetude at 5:58 PM on November 20, 2010

My Name is Asher Lev.
posted by ovvl at 9:37 PM on November 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

If they say anything about it, bore the living shit out of them over-explaining motivations and meanings, etc. Basically, attempt to give them an entire art appreciation course from the beginning every time they don't "get" your art. If it makes them want to gnaw their own foot off to get away, then well, maybe they won't ask again.

On the other hand, maybe they'd be interested if they knew something about art. Sometimes "art"-art is a little inaccessible to non-art people, and the anti-intellectual attitude is a defense mechanism against feeling like an idiot for not having any idea wtf they're looking at.
posted by ctmf at 10:52 PM on November 20, 2010

Don't take this the wrong way, OP, but you might think about whether your parents are the only ones that are "judgmental and controlling." Aren't you trying to control their reactions and behavior here?

I think maybe you need to focus on what you can control--yourself.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 8:39 PM on November 21, 2010

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