Why do I hate showing my parents my artwork?
December 4, 2010 9:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm a graphics student and I make comics and my parents are completely supportive of everything I do. They've always praised any creative work I've shown them, so why does showing them said work make my skin crawl? My sister's the same way - she's a dancer and she won't let my parents come to any of her performances. I think they've only seen her dance a few times. I can tell they really enjoy seeing my work and I feel like a jerk for not wanting to show it to them. Does anyone else experience this or have any theories as to what it's about?
posted by Chenko to Human Relations (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it's that they're your parents, and even the mildest criticism (or lack of comprehension) from them will hit you harder than from anyone else, and you know it.

Or maybe you, and possibly also your sister, are expressing ideas in your art which transgresses your parents' values, even in subtle ways, and you semi-subconsciously know this and cringe from revealing it to them. Maybe you're mining your life with them for material and are afraid of how they will take it.
posted by zadcat at 9:48 AM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is common. You might want to check out Art and Fear.
posted by vienaragis at 9:48 AM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

When you express yourself creatively, you are stepping out as an individual - as an adult with individual ideas, goals, and dreams. Just the presence of a parent can be inhibiting when it comes to creative expression. It's like... many adults will talk about how, when they're home visiting their parents (after living on their own for years), they find themselves sliding right back into their old childhood roles. It's like that. The presence of parents encourages the slide into childhood roles, and that's the enemy of adult creativity.
posted by rhartong at 9:52 AM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

Because art is intensely personal. When I share a song I have written I feel as if I have metaphorically stripped in front of my audience....why would it be surprising if when you put yourself completely into your work you may not want to share with your parents? Many of us really do need a boundary with our parents that we may not necessarily need with our peers. I know I don't really want to show my parents that-in my case, they wouldn't get it, anyway.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:53 AM on December 4, 2010

Do they start "taking it over" as theirs? -- being almost too interested, sending you lots of random information about things related to it, and so on? (In your case, this might involve links to other cartoons, books, articles, whatever.) This has been a problem for some folks I know. If yes, your anxiety is about their blurry boundaries, which they might perceive as support and love. A tough one.
posted by sdn at 10:01 AM on December 4, 2010

Best answer: When everything's special, nothing is special. That is to say, their praise lacks value because you did not have to earn it.

Having people not support you sucks. But having people support you blindly...how does that validate your hard work and effort? I could see where that might make me reluctant to share something as intensely personal as art. Add on to that a tendency to wax overenthusiastic, and, well, yeah. If that's the way it is, I could see where you're coming from.

Plus, as Zadcat says, there's a lot on the line when you show stuff to your folks. Even when you *KNOW* (sound of grinding teeth) they'll be ridiculously happy about anything you do.
posted by Ys at 10:01 AM on December 4, 2010 [6 favorites]

What they all said, and I wonder if the absence of that reaction would be a bad sign. Either that you "took no risks" in your work, or were in some deep way estranged from your parents.
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:03 AM on December 4, 2010

My parents are also intensely supportive of anything i do, and while it's nice to be loved and appreciated by two people who are themselves so wonderful....ever since I was a child I hated to have praise heaped upon my, especially by my dad. As their only child...I just found their praise to be...not empty but...overzealous? As my parents I always felt that they may not judge me as harshly as others do, and I want my work to stand alone and be praised for what it is rather than the fact that their darling daughter did something good.

Just like how every parent thinks their baby is the cutest baby ever, they think their child's work is full of wonder and greatness even if it's only half-mediocre finger painting at best. Praise of any kind from practically anybody makes me a bit uncomfortable, so to have it heaped on by my parents for reasons which I may not be entirely certain are objective....you get the idea.

Could something like that be your reason?
posted by custard heart at 10:07 AM on December 4, 2010

Best answer: There could be a lot of reasons for this:

1. Do your parents broadcast or gush about your work to other friends and family? Sometimes parents can do that so much that you start to feel protective about showing your art -- in the worst case, people you know start to think you have an inflated ego. Let's take him down a notch, they say.

2. Do you interpret your parents' words as a feedback session? It's easy to do so, and we as artists have a natural sense for good feedback. Good feedback comes from many sources, but much of it is from 1) people we don't know well and 2) people who know what they're doing. Your parents will naturally be excluded from this group. Your brain has taught itself to be happy when you get praise from your parents in most any area, but in this area, you've also learned that really proper feedback is much different than what comes out of your parents' mouths.

3. What zadcat said -- much of comics culture is expressionistic. You reach beyond what your parents might feel proper. When they give you praise, you sense discord or hypocrisy.

With those reasons stated, here's my experience:

I had one parent who gushed and shared (Mom) and one who let me alone about it (Dad).

Mom gushed and shared to the extent that I had people challenege me, imply I was a fraud, etc. Nowadays I let her find out about my work if she searches for it, because I've learned I can't control what she does. But I no longer tell her about it directly.

Dad would always buy me art supplies but never asked about my work unless I showed it to him. He never gave much direct praise but would think about the work and then sit me down days later and sum up what he thought about me. It was cute.

One day Dad and I were sitting in the car, waiting for Mom. I was working in my sketchbook. All of a sudden he turned to me and said, "I will give you $10 if you let me look at your sketchbook."

That was really stunning. I thought maybe he had looked at it at other times when I wasn't watching. But he was genuinely interested in my privacy and wanted me to know about it. His big desire, though, was to see his kid's work.

Dad has since passed away, but I often wish I would have shown him more of my art. He was too scared to ask, scared that I might think he was an intrusive parent.

All parents want to see their kids' work. It recharges them, makes them feel good inside. So I hope you'll still share some of it with them, if not all.
posted by circular at 10:08 AM on December 4, 2010 [18 favorites]

It'll also make your skin crawl if your parents are encouraging of and happy for you having a great sex life, with people they know and like. There is nothing wrong with them being supportive, but also not much wrong with you wanting to keep private aspects of yourself that are easier to reveal to people who you don't have that relationship with.

(For your sister's dancing, this might not even be an analogy - her dance alter-ego might be very intertwined with feeling sexy.)

How about you create an artwork for them. (Something true to you and your current type of work rather than you trying to copy things they like). It's a gift that they'll love (and proudly display (probably somewhere even more prominent than the refrigerator door! :-))) but because you had them in mind from the outset, it won't be something that you feel weird about them seeing it, and it lets them know that their support is appreciated even though they don't often get to see what you do. Don't have it replace some other gift (like giving it at xmas) just give it to them out of the blue some day :)
posted by -harlequin- at 12:54 PM on December 4, 2010 [2 favorites]

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