At the age of 36 I’ve been involved for multiple years with several big artistic “scenes,” including authors of various genres, classical musicians (particularly guitarists), flamenco musicians, and peripherally visual arts scenes such as comic artists.
In all of these, there is a character flaw that seems to occur at much higher levels than the background (and I have personal points of comparison – I’ve been lots of other things besides an artist).
That flaw is jealousy.
Artists are insanely jealous of one another. The worst is probably in the visual arts, but certain music scenes are simply intolerable once you spend time in them.
These scenes are full of people who want to “network” and have some sort of social support, but who actually spend time back-stabbing and undercutting each other, speaking ill to customers and other artists alike.
Comicsgate is a great example, if for no other reason than almost all of its ugly, stupid drama is public, but it remains only one among many. An inclusive movement became within a year a network of back-biting micro-cliques, whose relationships with one another are more complex than family relations at a poly-amorous commune.
You will find this jealousy for yourself whenever you as an individual find success. Camaraderie is short-lived, it seems, once your head pops up from the crowd.
I learned this first a long time ago, back in college. I worked my ass off as a musician, and when I excelled at productivity or commercial success compared to my peers I would become keenly aware of massive back-talking in cliques that I was suddenly not a part of.
This was all the worse in that I actively tried to support my fellow musicians by attending their concerts and promoting their shows. They not only never returned the favor on the way up, they started ankle-biting and begging for my gigs once I had something good actually going for me.
Yes, fellow musicians would be upset that I managed to book performances, and would actually ask that I put them on (which I would actually do sometimes – I’m generally very nice), or else pass them my job offers to help them out. I became very jaded about friends at one point because I felt like, as charitable as I was, people only saw what I could do for them and saw no value in me as a person (turns out I was right, but I just had bad friends).
As I went out in the world, I realized this was not a localized phenomenon. Classical and Flamenco guitar were both toxic scenes universally.
Flamenco was probably the worse of the two, filled with racists who resented anyone they saw as not of the right ethnicity (“white” despite the fact that Flamenco is Spanish).
Classical guitarists were petty in their own ways, sitting on the sidelines sniping at anyone who has a tiny amount of success. The typical bitching would be about something literally meaningless to the music, like somebody (me, often) repeating a finger in some line or another. This kind of bitching originates from people who couldn’t play more than a piece or two at any time and was directed toward those who could actually play an entire gig.
Jealousy as faux perfectionism. And it was at every university and every concert.
Turns out this attitude is just a prevalent online, where the nature of social media and the internet amplifies the annoying opinions of nobodies who have nothing to show for their existence in some little “scene.”
Where does this come from?
Inbreeding, I believe. No, not the literal kind (though maybe that, too), but inbreeding within subcultures and cliques.
Once the primary consumers of a particular scene are also the people who produce art for that scene, you will create an excess of jealousy. It doesn’t help that artists are frequently losers in the social-sexual game and therefore perceive the gain of others as being a loss to themselves.
This was definitely the case when it came to “classical guitar,” where a large portion of the audience at any formal recital is comprised of guitarists at various stages of development. Who would want to subject themselves to that?
Returning to comics and comicsgate, I see something similar. Almost every account on twitter I see talking about comicsgate is trying to make comics in some way.
The market contraction in the world of comics has resulted in a fandom that is either obsessed with the medium as a consoomer (Marvel/DC fanboys) or else is an aspiring artist. This actually started long ago, when the industry was taken over by nerds who took comics away from normies and converted them into soap operas.
Jealousy at this point is inevitable. Just look at how many people slither behind Rob Liefeld, looking for any opportunity to strike at his heel for having the success they wish they had – success they feel they deserve because they would never publish a comic with Rob’s crazy body proportions.
They are right, of course. They won’t publish art with his ridiculous proportions because they won’t publish anything.
Or, when they do publish something, nobody pays attention, which somehow makes Rob the bad guy for selling books to people who want to read them.
My friend Jesse White calls these people “Beam Breakers” – focused entirely on the destruction of others while creating nothing of value themselves.
This is part of why I do my best to tread my own path, and am quite happy to have others join with me according to my own judgment, rather than being part of a scene.
A rising tide lifts all boats, so don’t be jealous; be productive instead.