Advocating for Artists & Rewriting Toxic Perspectives: Part I

I want to help create a better life for artists.

That’s what I’ve wanted for a long time, but it really solidified when I saw what people were saying about BTS’ Jungkook. Jungkook unfortunately suffered an accidental injury requiring stitches while on world tour, and on top of that had a recent surgery to remove wisdom teeth. He recently performed at an awards show, and I read that some others criticized him for an alleged and apparent lack of reaction to some other artists.

This caused some fans to fervently defend him, and some even praised him for suffering through the performance. But I don’t understand why the criticism happened in the first place. Artists are humans and allowed to feel and express any way they want to (or don’t want to) just as much as any other human, in my view. The idea of artists being somehow more or less human than anyone else is a toxic and pervasive one.

But praise for pushing your body when it needs rest shouldn’t happen either. It is encouraging an artist culture where artists work themselves past the breaking point, and creating a fan culture where fans worship self destructive behavior. A situation that can never end well. I became very concerned about seeing young fans not only think that this is okay and normal to do, but actually encourage it without considering the negative effects.

When I say artists, I mean actors, musicians, writers, singers, game devs, animators, whatever form they take. I want to help protect those in the world who are so fragile, sensitive, and give the world so much beauty. They give so much of themselves, because they’re so passionate for their art and those who appreciate it. Unfortunately, there are those who would treat them like unfeeling robots, expecting them to exist and produce only for their personal enjoyment, and not exist as a normal human would outside of that.

But I don’t want to focus on me in this piece, or on blaming others. Rather, I’d like to focus on you. Just have a conversation with you. It will be hard and maybe even scary. No one wants to deal with the ugly things in life, especially when they’ve got their own struggles everyday. But if you want to be part of a change for the better, then you shouldn’t avert your eyes from the truth any longer.

“What if the next game isn’t perfect? What if people hate it? What if, through the course of action, I dishonor the company or dishonor myself through not performing well enough? Looking back now, I see I had kind of fallen into a trap, which is this cycle of performance. . . At some level, I just had this desperate need for validation.”
— Chris Metzen, Former Blizzard VP of Story Development

Pressure & Criticism

You’ve seen the headlines before, haven’t you? Illnesses, injuries, mental illnesses, illegal drugs, prescription overdoses, alcoholism, and suicides are tragically common to hear of amongst artists. After one particular musicians’ suicide, a friend asked no one in particular “What is it that’s taking away our most artists, our most sensitive souls?”

I thought about the answer then. But there wasn’t just one that came to mind, but many. From constant exposure in the public eye and not having any real freedom, to just non-stop work that burns out the body and soul, I could list reasons all day.

But pressure and criticism under the public eye is perhaps the largest one. Countless artists have cited this for being the reason about why they had panic attacks and breakdowns, or why they turned to drugs and alcohol, and it’s present even in some suicide notes that the pressure and constant criticism just became all too much. The pressure of having to continously work, meet deadlines, and the pressure to outperform what you did last time, to feel like you’re worthy of your fans and keep them happy. And the pressure to keep giving more and more of yourself and your work to people that often feel entitled to your entire life simply because they enjoyed and supported your work.

And what criticism? Well, it can range from anything like reading a negative comment online about their latest work to a news publication criticizing their fashion choice. It doesn’t SOUND that serious, does it? But just for a moment, imagine the work you just put a year of your life into being called “worthless crap” by pretty much everyone in reviews. Or a putting on that shirt you really like, stepping outside and having someone snap a photo of you without your permission and then posting it online and then hundreds laughed at your sense of style.

Let’s say you get anxiety from the experiences, decide you don’t want to be bullied anymore and come out and express your feelings. In any compassionate society, this might work, but instead you find that many people are now criticizing you for whining, saying you’re ungrateful to your fans, and that you should be happy because they are supporting you. Some may outright call you unprofessional no matter how good you are at your job just because you are expressing emotion.

This is the kind of environment anyone putting themselves or their work in the public eye must endure. Any fame even the newest amateur creative gets quickly becomes a double-edged sword when people become fans. While they will freely give love, admiration and praise for the positive things, many people often feel entitled to have more of your work, your time, your effort without considering what you may have to go through to produce what they love so much. Unfortunately, this usually leads to that inner creative spark within the artist dying and them being left to figure out how to cope without the very thing that made people fall in love with them.

A creative job is very physically and mentally demanding, and so if anything, artists are at even more risk for illnesses, injuries, addictions, and untreated mental illnesses. They’re even more likely to be tired and stressed than “ordinary” people, but can’t reveal it easily as society (wrongly) views all of these as negative things, defects to be avoided. So when these realities are shown, many people criticize artists, and some fans get angry at them for destroying their image of them and bringing this stress to the fan’s life.

The truth is, most people don’t want to know how much artists suffer for their art. They just want the beautiful and perfect end product. And those that do want to know often glorify that very same suffering.

> Continue to Part II