Pardon My French
Artists are people who do things. We challenge the status quo, fight for peace, and quite frankly, we sometimes change the world. This often puts us in harm’s way of unsolicited nasty criticism. After many years of putting my work out into the universe, I can quickly identify those who approach me with sincerity and respect versus those who maneuver with an agenda that has nothing to do with me -- or my art.
For me, critics fall into two categories: Category 1 critics are helpful and empower artist/others to do better. They analyze and judge based on the merits and faults of someone’s work. They take their job seriously and they take your work seriously. You should listen to them and see what you can learn.
Category 2 critics are just that, a big number 2. I call them Dillweeds (DWs). DWs have no respect for work. They focus on destruction and see negative criticism as a sign of power. Successful and happy people are their prey and preventing others from moving forward is their manifesto. The more success you have in life, the more you are going to be visited by DWs. In fact, I would say that having a few DWs hot on your tail is a sure sign you’ve got game.
What does a DW’s nasty criticism say about you or your work? Not much. It provides little to no constructive content to improve art or anything else and it always stings.
Everyone in every profession has to deal with DWs. However, I find that most artists have a bit of fun with it. Andy Warhol said “Don't pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.” My brother, a writer and professor, keeps a book in his office titled How To Work With Very Difficult People. He gets it out and thumbs through the pages when visited by a DW. My good friend, a screenwriter, creates little flip book cartoons of the incident to rid herself of the annoyance. For me, I usually cuss the person out in my head while they are in my presence and then again after they leave.
Wasting time on DWs is a tragic indulgence we are all guilty of from time to time. There is no way to avoid nasty critics except isolation (just ask Aristotle). So, we might as well have some fun. I am going to share a mantra inspired by my interns for you to chant during your next DW encounter.
Here’s the story of the mantra…
One Friday at Studio Laura Loving, my interns and I were busy at work when we were visited by a real life DW. I am not going to tell you what the DW said to us, but it was super annoying passive aggressive stink bomb. As they left my studio, my interns had a few questions: Who was that? Why didn’t you slap them? I told the girls that people like this aren't worth your time. The girls wanted to do something. They asked if we could make a painting that said FU. They thought it would be a great piece to keep in my studio and reflect on when DWs came to visit. I told them that FU is too cliché, crass and pedestrian. I would never do something like that.
As my weekend progressed, I kept thinking about the symbolism of a FU painting of sorts. It would focus on humor and empowerment of Doers over Dill weeds throughout the world! The perfect statement came to me and it was in French!
I lived in Nice, France for 2 years before moving to New York. I worked for a French company where I was one of only two Americans in the building. When I first arrived in the office, there were only a handful of people who would speak to me at all, much less in English. Those early days were rough. My favorite Frenchie who would speak to me was Herve.
Herve was 23 and charming with green twinkly eyes, curly hair, glasses, and unmistakable finesse for casual chic that only French men have. He had spent a few summers in California with his cousins and his English was fantastic. Every Friday, Herve would come by my desk and say “Jesus Christ, it’s Friday!” and I would respond, “Why, yes it is!” It took me weeks to figure out he was trying to say "Thank God it’s Friday". As a beginner of a second language, I was just glad I understood what he said. The correct way to say it was just not part of the equation. Anyway, Herve’s version was much more passionate and original than TGIF. I never corrected him.
Many a Friday, Herve would also have a little yellow post it note with something he wanted me to translate written on it. The post it notes were always something fun: slang, expletives or even lyrics from a pop song. He once asked me to translate Destiny’s Child’s lyrics “I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly.”
One special visit, Herve brought me a post it and said, “Lawaa, can you translate thiz for me?” I looked at the post it and it said, "Tu te le mets au cul et tu fais l’avion." I gave it my initial translation, “Put it in your butt and make the airplane.” “Wow! Herve, we don’t say put it in your butt.” He went back to his desk and I kept the post it.
A few seconds later, I realized the correct translation and called him. “Allo” Herve said. “Herve, I’ve got it. We would say shove it up your ass and make like an airplane. Mostly, we just say the shove it part. Don’t repeat it. Ok? It’s really very rude.” “Ok, Lawaa” said Herve, “I won’t.” Then just before he hung up he said “Lawaa, one more thing.” “Yes”, I said. “Shove it up your ass!” he said. He was laughing so hard that I could hear him all the way across the office. Herve told everyone at work to shove it up their ass that day and for many days after.
Tu te le mets au cul et tu fais l’avion or Shove it up your #$% and make like an airplane is my FU mantra. I call it Pardon My French. The statement is powerful, playfully poetic and discrete (slang French not everyone can translate – I hope your DW isn’t French). Pardon My French can be ordered in a variety of media here and hung in your office, studio, home or kept in your purse or wallet. Saying this mantra to yourself will make you laugh and move forward. If someone successfully translates it, you can play dumb and tell them you picked it up at a flea market in Paris or even better just say, “Yes, that is what it means” with no explanation.
I was going to close with my Dillweed Hall of Fame stories. Inspired by my own advice, I changed my mind. Here are some of my favorite compliments of all time.
- “I wish the Cote d’ Azur was as magic as your paintings.” Isabelle, Photographer, Nice, France
- “Your cards are like sending a party in an envelope.” Frankie Lynn, School Teacher, Hampton, GA
- “I can hear music in your paintings.” Monsieur Pinot, Music Professor, Nice, France
- “You have the heart of a Lion!” Marc, Telecoms Executive, New York City
- “Your faceless characters are surprisingly not creepy.” Adam, Marketing Executive, Atlanta, GA
- “What a treat to own a piece of your art. As a native New Yorker, I get a big smile on my face every time I look at Lady Liberty.” Brooke Shields, Actress, New York City
- “My biggest regret is not buying more of your paintings before you left France.” Stephane, Antique Dealer, Nice, France
- “Your flowers are dancing.” Emily, 2nd Grader, New York City
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