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Hard Truths: Art World Advice Column on Handling Overinflated Egos | ARTnews.com

Art world ethicists Chen & Lampert advise on how to deal with egotistical artists and working beyond commercial art galleries.

— Read on www.artnews.com/art-in-america/features/hard-truths-art-world-advice-column-overinflated-ego-1202676814/


I have an artist friend who’s smart, witty, and overall very fun, despite being a total narcissist. To be honest, his work is pretty terrible, and, what’s worse, he continually talks about all his “masterpieces.” I am OK with art people being brash and egotistical if it’s an intentional attack on bourgeois taste, but my friend is clueless and overconfident. I write art criticism, and he’s always fishing for compliments. I avoid talking about his art, but feel like a hypocrite. How long can I sustain our friendship if I can’t tell him what I really think? Can I even be his friend?

MY RESPONSE

YES! 100% you are being a huge hypocrite. Are you worried that your friendship hinges on your approval of his work? If so, I’d take another look at the basis of your friendship. I never expect my friends or family to like my work, if they do that’s awesome, if not, so what? That’s not why we are friends in the first place.

Furthermore, of course your friend has probably been, as you put it, “fishing for compliments.” Obviously he knows you do it professionally and most likely fully respects your opinion. It’s actually a compliment if you could get off your own high horse for a minute and see it. But it sounds like you’ve already placed this “friend” in a certain box and written him off as never achieving more.

So why should you bother to lend him your actual opinion? To get real, be honest, and offer some constructive criticism. Heaven forbid perhaps maybe your opinion might actually help him to improve his work! Because then, who knows? Maybe he may actually create something you actually like. But no, we can’t have that. Then he wins.

Instead you‘d rather hold your opinion hostage. An unspoken ransom is set as he blindly pleas for your acknowledgment. Obviously you don’t think he‘s worth the sincerity, honesty, or even time of day. You’d rather watch him naively make a fool of himself. And then of course by that logic, why would you even want to keep him as a friend?

Real friends are honest with each other. That’s the definition of friendship. Sounds more like frenemies to me.

If you see something, say something!

Take solace in knowing that you aren’t the only hypocrite at your friend’s opening. We all have close buddies who we support in life despite feeling deeply embarrassed by their art. Pained by their formal choices and easy gestures, the aesthetes among us are quick to denigrate their work as only worthy of hospital cafeterias and Panera Breads. One need not be a critical theorist to be made irate by your chum’s mental laziness and yucky art-dude vibe.    

Or wait, let me guess, you see his ego is so fragile and precious that he’ll fall to pieces of you say anything in a negative light about his work. His ego is a priceless bejeweledFabergé egg that you must handle with kid gloves.

Honestly, if you don’t tell your him your opinion, you’re only bringing this upon yourself. Either you tell him your opinion and say you do crush his spirit, my guess is he probably won’t ask you again. There problem solved again.

Or am I being irrational? Is it really that difficult these days to be honest and forthcoming? Am I so gullible as to believe that people actually mean what they say? I think I must be, or else the alternative is to only think that everyone is bold faced lying every time they open their mouth.

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