When other people read what Charlie Finch wrote about art bloggers they were very happy to express outrage -- our own controversy, compared to which a tempest in a teapot is an extinction-level event. But I steadfastly refused to say anything bad about Charlie because I could see how easy it is for an art writer to end up in a perpetually defensive, angry, sarcastic crouch. I've only been writing for two years or so to an audience of about fifteen people and already I've had a couple of people angry at me in a way I consider unreasonable.
I didn't start writing this blog to be nasty to people. I wrote it, and I continue to write it, for one main purpose, and that is to keep myself going to see art. It's easy to walk by a work of art and dismiss it; it's much harder to stop and explain what you don't like about it. Developing and expanding your opinions is a journey of self-discovery, of exploring yourself. And that's what this blog is all about: It's me, exploring myself. I knew if I started writing it and gained an audience -- an audience of six or even an entirely imaginary one -- then I'd keep writing it, which would keep me on my journey. Otherwise it'd be too easy to stop. I set myself an assignment, in other words. And part of that assignment was -- is -- that I'd be as honest, open, and truthful as I possibly could. I'd write down what I truly felt and thought without editing it and without trying to water it down. I'd be true to myself.
I knew, if anyone noticed me, that I'd probably make some people angry. As long as I was being true to myself I didn't mind. Curiously, though, the people I've heard from have not been the people I've reviewed badly; they've been people I thought I was friendly with. Not to exaggerate: I didn't think we were friends, but I thought, when I'd met them, that we'd gotten along and enjoyed each other's company for a bit.
I've been of the opinion, for a while now, that everyone speaks their own language. Any linguist will tell you that every language has a number of dialects, some of them mutually unintelligible. For example, early in 2007 it was officially recognized that Venetians speak their own language distinct from Italian. What I think, similarly, is that every individual speaks their own dialect. Whenever you meet someone new, then, both of you need to learn each other's language. You may both appear to be speaking English, but you're actually speaking two different versions of English, and it can take a little while before you can really communicate. Until that happens you may misunderstand each other because one word may mean two different things in your dialects, or a turn of phrase might have wildly different interpretations.
The closer your dialects are when you meet, the easier it is to communicate. People with whom you "hit it off," then, are just people speaking dialects very similar to your own. People who "rub you the wrong way" or who "make a bad first impression" are people whose dialects differ so much from your own that clear communication is difficult.
People who speak different languages meet and manage well together all the time, partly because, I think, when your languages are obviously different you both understand that neither of you understand. The trouble comes, not in misunderstanding people, but in being certain that you did, in fact, understand someone. The trouble comes when you talk to someone and you think you're speaking the same language when you're not.
So I've been contacted by a couple of people who I completely misunderstood. I thought we were friendly but we were not. I thought things were going well but they were not. I thought the things I'd written were acceptable but they were not.
It's easy to extrapolate from this to imagine what it might be like if I had a large number of readers and this was my job. I can easily see myself becoming very cranky and doing nothing but sending out screed after screed attacking everyone. Because how many times can you go out there being open and honest and truthful and friendly when what you get back is anger and unhappiness?
And I admit I'm sensitive about these things. If an artist was angry with me for a bad review, I can understand that. We're speaking the same language as far as that goes. But when someone is upset about something I consider trivial or amusing or friendly, that I take badly. I can dish it out and I can take it, but I don't deal well with ambushes from people I thought I liked.
I'm not sure that anything's going to change around here -- I'm still going to be as open, honest, and truthful as I can be. I'm not sure I know how to be any other way. I'm not saying here I've never lied, cheated, or stolen -- I have -- but I'm not good at those things, they're not in my nature, and I don't want to be that way. I want to continue to be open. And so I will be.
And if that turns me, eventually, into Charlie Finch, so be it.