Critical Mass In Online Communities
Crowd theory seems to suggest that, when a few people group together they will tend to get along and treat each other with the respect that each deserves; but once the size of the group reaches a ‘critical mass’, that ‘utopian’ sense of belonging gives way to chaos, disagreement and conflict.
Online communities such as Twitter and Facebook are not exempt from this phenomenon. As we embrace that never-ending goal of more and more followers/fans/etc, we also have to embrace the fact that we will come across those individuals who think that they are God’s gift to that community, and who feel that they need to post public, negative comments on everything that we do within that community.
Having been on RedBubble for some time now, I was embracing the community under the guise that it seemed to be immune to this phenomenon: everybody seemed to live by the code of “if you like an artwork, stop and favourite/comment on it; if you don’t like an artwork, simply skip over to the next one unless the artist has invited your critique”. Sadly, it’s not so…
While I’m all for receiving other artists’ critiques of my artwork, I invite it as a private message rather than a publicly broadcast comment for all to read. To receive this rudely worded and uninvited critique on one of my featured artworks (that had already sold two prints within 24 hours of uploading to RedBubble) was most disappointing:
Aside from the obviously juiced-up and apparently perceived as “stunning” colors in the fog, what are you trying to say here? Is there in fact a message at all beyond the alien looking colors?
(Does the emperor have any clothes?)
So, what would make a member of the RedBubble community ignore the community’s published etiquette by posting such a comment publicly on an artwork that is displayed in RedBubble’s featured artwork gallery and selling prints, rather than via a private message to myself?
Superiority Complex: Could it be that the artist thinks they are God’s gift to the RedBubble community, or maybe even to the art world in general? Are they so great that they are in a position to write such comments on others’ artwork? This has long been the issue with ‘art critics’: they are artists who failed to produce anything of value themselves, taking out their frustration and disappointment on the rest of the world by berating the artists who have succeeded in adding value to the wider art community, all the while living behind a disguise of greatness themselves.
Inferiority Complex: Could it be that some artists realise their own work is not that great, and so they feel a need to bring everybody else down to their level by drawing attention to the areas of others’ artworks that they feel lack quality? Artists that fit into this category are sadly missing the opportunities for learning and artistic development afforded by online communities such as RedBubble: instead of taking the time to recognise what makes any given artwork successful and incorporating such things into their own artwork, they look closely for any faults and highlight them, all the while missing concepts and ideas that could make a difference to their own success.
Having looked through this particular artist’s folio, I would say the former of the two categories above is more likely in this case (although I’m sure he sees himself as an ‘artist’ rather than an ‘art critic’). That said, neither of the above reasons for sharing a critique of another’s artwork with the artist really offers any insight into the decision to do so publicly rather than privately…
Exposure: Could it be that some artists think that posting controversial comments publicly on popular, featured artworks is an effective way of gaining exposure? Do they think that other members of the community will see the comment, feel shocked, and be forced to click through the author’s profile to see just who the author thinks they are to post such a comment? Maybe it is an effective way of gaining exposure, and I should try it out by going through this guy’s folio and posting some critiques of my own? Or maybe that would just make me no better than him, and would only give me a negative image within the community?
Market Share: Could it be that some artists feel threatened when other artists start to develop a following of their own within any given community? When artists shoot similar subject matter that targets a similar audience, market share becomes a very real issue, and as new artists gain popularity, existing artists see their share of market declining. I really can’t see any other reason to publicly discredit another artist’s most popular artworks other than fear of losing market share.
These final two reasons seem much more likely! Rather than posting a critique on one of my artworks that is unpopular and has no following, he has chosen to post it on an artwork that is currently near the top of RedBubble’s Featured Art gallery and has gained a substantial following: he has done this for maximum exposure! Unfortunately for him, anybody understanding his comment about “Does the emperor have any clothes?” will realise that he thinks that the RedBubble community are nothing but a flock of sheep who comment favourably on featured artworks simply because they are featured and without considering the actual artworks themselves. As an aside, I was going to ‘name and shame’ the artist in question here, but decided against it when I realised that ‘exposure’ was likely his core reason for doing this, and that giving him even more exposure in that way would be playing into his hands. Coincidentally, this artist is a landscape photographer like myself, and has previously been featured in many of the community groups that have featured my artwork, giving some credence to ‘market share’ argument.
Having written all of the above, it is important to consider our responses to such comments carefully before publishing them to the world. As artists, we must be all-rounder marketing professionals, embracing the concept of ‘public relations’ in all that we do. While it would be tempting to write a scathing and personal response to the artist in a public forum (and I admit that my initial response was to do this as a public reply to his original comment), or to ‘fight fire with fire’ by writing similar comments on the other artist’s artwork, neither of these reactions shine a positive light on one’s self publicly. It is far better to look for ways to turn such negativity into an opportunity for positive public relations (such as this blog post, hopefully), or simply ignore the negativity and remove all traces of it from the community (as much as possible) if the former is not possible.
Coincidentally, the artwork in question is shown below (click to view larger)…