this isn't nice


Actually, I think this picture is really nice. I like it a lot. I'm calling it Rabbit Eater II, and I have a few more rabbit eaters planned. The first official Rabbit Eater can be seen here, but I think that the original concept actually dates back to the Woods series, with images of my rather toothy significant other. In a way, I think it hearkens back to the Woods series very much, with the branch patterning and the coloration. Here he's looking a bit blonder, and he's thoroughly enjoying his meal of rabbit. The idea of him eating rabbits stems from his penchant for chasing rabbits in the yard. Really. This was done with the usual mix of watercolor pencils, watercolors, gouache, and some inks on Arches paper (the most awesome paper ever that I got on sale for added awesomeness). The blood was fun to paint. Blood usually is.

This brings me, however, to something that's been bothering me lately. For the record, I really like this painting. I think it came out really nicely in terms of technique and how it captures the subject, and I therefore think it's a nice picture.

But that's apparently not the case.

When my mom saw this, she was quite vocal about the gore, and complained that it was "not nice." I'm like, yeah, Mom, biting the head off a rabbit usually isn't. (Our dog, as a side note, would disagree, as one of her favorite hobbies is snapping the necks of the bunnies that live in our yard.) This isn't the first time she's complained that the subject matter of my work isn't "nice," but rather "creepy," or "disturbing." Confounding this was the incident where my grandmother (my mother's mother) found an unfinished piece of a skullhead character, and basically said, "Why? Why would you make something so UGLY? Why can't you make something NICE? Art is supposed to INSPIRE." I was like, thanks, Nanna, you think my work is ugly, that's awesome. Luckily for both of us I intercepted her before she found Rabbit Eater II here.

But this is what bothers me. For one thing, art is supposed to cause a reaction in the viewer. It's supposed to make you feel something on a visceral level. It doesn't matter if the reaction is one of adoration or repugnance, it's supposed to cause a reaction. When my grandmother said that art was supposed to inspire, she was absolutely right, but what she didn't realize was that my unfinished skullhead had done just that; it inspired in her a strong reaction. Maybe not the reaction she wanted, but a reaction nonetheless. Simply looking at something and thinking, oh, that's pretty, isn't enough. You won't remember something you think is merely good-looking on a cosmetic level because it offers no real stimulus.

The other part of this is that I can't help but feel insulted by comments like these. Not because I need constant praise or that I want everyone to like everything I make, but rather on a deeper level. I don't always make "nice" images because the things that go through my head aren't always nice. They have to do with anger, fear, hatred, selfishness, and sadness sometimes, because these are things we all have to deal with on a daily basis. The things I think about are not always nice things, but they are real things, and they are worthy of exploration. To me, demanding that I only create "nice" imagery is like telling me that the less pleasant aspects of my psyche are not worth recognizing. It also suggests that my art is solely for the benefit of others, and not for myself. I understand that this is likely not the intent of my mom or grandmother, but that's how it feels. Making a less-than-nice image is cathartic, it helps me come to terms with the darker and scarier aspects of myself, and comes from a deep and intimate place. I can't help but feel that by deriding these pieces, they are deriding parts of me. And that kind of hurts.

I think that it's easy to want someone to always create "nice" images because that seems to communicate that the creator of those images is always happy. And of course we want our loved ones to be happy for the majority of the time. But you can't be happy without being unhappy. You need both, and we all need to accept the less-than-nice aspects of one another, because those are the aspects that make us human. Being able to recognize and express our own dark sides, through art or in other constructive ways, takes enormous strength, and makes us better people in the long run. Instead of demanding nicety, we should celebrate the not-so-nice, because it is just as important.