“I could have painted that.”
“My 3 year-old could have painted that.”
“That probably took you 5 minutes to paint.”
“What does it mean?”
“I don’t get it.”
“That’s just decoration, it’s not actually art.”
“You don’t have an art degree, so you’re not a real artist.”
… I think you get the idea.
I started my instagram account about two years ago. I was still in school and just wanted a place where I could keep myself and others motivated to see beauty in the world. I didn’t have time for it throughout the rest of my degree. But after graduating, and failing to find a job, I had more time on my hands to paint. And… subsequently, to post pictures of my paintings online.
I did some reading on how powerful Instagram, as a tool, could be for artists who wanted to make connections and showcase their work. Opportunities started to appear literally in my hands. After about six months I had a few thousand followers and had managed to get into a couple of shows and a variety of small events, interviews and publications. It was really fun, and I was very surprised how supportive the IG community was.
Before I had this kind of reach online, the only real feedback I received on my work was from my friends and family or from gallery patrons whenever I happened to be present for an event or exhibition where my work was being displayed. I really never received any offensive comments online for quite a while. Once I reached the point where there were enough people seeing my work online, that there were naturally some trolls and general negative commentary, I mostly ignored them. But there have been a few particular comments which I feel warrant some dialogue. Two in particular I would like to discuss here.
I was asked, by a very large art page on Instagram, if they could share a couple of my pictures. I was flattered and immediately said yes. They didn’t ask for money or any deals, they just posted 2 of my pictures. I was really surprised how well they did on this page, and the amount of traffic I consequently received on my page. The dopamine hit was sufficiently indulging and I felt completely satisfied. I even went back several times to this page, to check how the post was doing.
One of those times, I decided to look at the comment section. An artist who I admire very much had left a flattering comment and the dopamine rush continued to soar. I then found a comment which said simply “#hamparte” – Obviously arte translate to English as ‘art’ in a number of languages but I was unfamiliar with the prefix, ‘hamp,’ so, I did what any curious, internet-addicted person would do… I googled it (which I encourage you to do as well).
“Hamparte” is an idea coined by an art professor from Spain, who, from what I can gather is generally frustrated with the direction that contemporary art has taken over the last century. He hates Duchamp, and Pollock and Frida Kahlo and well to be honest it’s difficult to understand what it is that he doesn’t hate. He explains that hampart can be one of two things; a) art which is created by someone who has no real title as an artist, little to no artistic background or education and wishes only to self-indulge or b) art which is created intentionally mocking the ease by which contemporary artists are able to create art out of anything and everything (think Duchamp and the Dada artists). This art professor published a manifesto of sorts which guides his followers through a step-by-step process to judge whether or not a piece of art or artist is hampart or a hampartist.
So I did what any curious internet patron would do, I messaged the person who left this comment. We exchanged a few friendly messages and I tried to gain a little more understanding as to why she believed my work was hamparte. She explained that it was because I’m not an artist, and that what I do is not actually art. I asked her, if it was not art, then what was it? She replied, “hamparte.” I told her that I simply because someone has created a made-up word to describe artwork that they do not enjoy, does not mean that it is not artwork. She explained that this was not the case. When I asked if she could explain further, she simply said, that not everything is art. It was at this point that I realized the fallacy in this ideology.
In my mind, everything is art. The same way that any action can be a meditation, if your intention is in the place for it to be a meditation (i.e. being mindful). The same way that allows us to appreciate a tender moment with a lover, or the sudden scent of a flower, the feeling of laughter, meeting the eyes of a stranger on the train. To me, the stains from various chemicals and oils that cover a parking lot is art. The way that crumbs fall across a table while my friends and I enjoy a meal is art. The way that several reflections bouncing from windows and cars morph into a dreamy mirror-like wonderland as I sit on a bus that drives through the city – this is art.
Hamparte is simply another idea to label and hide from things that an individual does not understand. I should mention that the conversation with my commentator was entirely in Spanish, as is the majority of what you can read online about the ideas behind hamparte. And for what it’s worth, I just don’t believe this is a concept which would ever gain traction in the US… I don’t know if there are any other cultures which have adopted this ideology, or at least explore it to some extent, but as an American, I feel pretty confident that we just don’t really give a fuck if you don’t like our art.
2. My 3 year-old could have painted that” / “I could have painted that” / “That probably took you 5 minutes to paint”
This is a comment which I am sure most abstract artists have received on at least one occasion. And my response is always simple and is always the same: you’re right. Though it did not actually take me 5 minutes to paint, I’m glad that it looks swift enough for you to assume this. Like, when my brother does some fancy skateboard backslide pop-shoveit grind switch foot or some crazy trick – he’s a fantastic skater, so it takes him no time at all, and it looks incredibly easy.
But what you are right about is that your 3 year-old probably could have painted this. You could have also probably painted this. But you didn’t. I did. You also could have won the lottery. You could have decided to save that money instead of buying that Lexus. You could have spent hours upon hours upon hours reading and learning and educating yourself on color theory and practice and visiting art galleries and museums around the world, meeting artists and discussing the expression of human consciousness and emotion. But you didn’t. The artist did.
That is not to say that you can’t, or that one particular artist can do it better. But the fact is that someone did take the time to execute this painting. And furthermore, you should do it too! Because it feels incredible and you’ll learn about yourself and gain a better appreciation of art and the work that goes into each piece. I could bet that you probably would make a few messes before you were anywhere near satisfied with the outcome. I could bet that it might take you a while to cross the thin line that is the threshold between complete and utter chaos and a well defined composition. But you can do it, and you should. So that we can see your work and not tell you that we could have done it. Because whatever it is that you will have created, no one will be able to reproduce. And that is the beauty of this world.
Someone recently told me that some people truly believe there is not enough love or success to go around, so they feel the need to take it from others. I think that spewing word-vomit onto someone’s work and passions is some people’s way of feeling more successful. But I take great pride in not succumbing to the lows of childlike bullying and insults, and I hope that inside these people they feel as disgusted with their actions as it appears to the rest of the world when they perform them… and I hope that they are inspired by the lack of response and attempt to move more towards becoming a little less judgemental of the things that they do not yet understand. I believe it’s completely natural to have a fear of the unknown, but when actions are based in fear and ignorance; we lose the part of ourselves which I believe makes us human.
And so my dear reader, in conclusion, rather than this be a jaded complaint about some mindless internet trolls, please allow these words to remind you of the sweetness that can exist between us creatures, and that because someone chooses to express their misunderstanding in the form of hate towards others- it does not mean you must respond this way. It is this potential for transformation that makes the hate and the fear have a purpose in our lives. At least that’s what I choose to get out of these very important and highly educated comments on my Instagram page. Thank you for coming to my Ted Talk.
All images by E. Wendt
Elaine Wendt © All rights reserved. 2019.