Mea Culpa

Two days ago I did something really stupid (even for me).

My friend Josh Olson wrote a savagely witty essay for “Written By,” the official magazine of the Writers Guild. I’m a WGAw member, so I get the magazine.

The article’s Suessian-cadenced title was “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script.” It’s an extremely barbed but funny rant about the many ways he gets put upon by writers who demand that he read their scripts and give them his input or a critique. It’s out there on the internet. I recommend you Google it and track it down.

I immediately wrote an e-mail to Josh in response to his essay. In that e-mail, I told Josh about parallel abuses I sometimes have had to endure at conventions.

I was primarily inspired by one incident that occurred in Texas (Austin, I believe). Shortly after the convention opened to the public, a guy I’ll call “Corn Boy” (that’s what the convention organizers called him, as at their previous show he was first in line at the convention banquet’s buffet table. He proceeded to take every single ear of corn on the cob from the serving plate, piling them all on his own plate and leaving none for any of the other convention guests or attendees. Hence, the name: Corn Boy) came over to my table. Without asking my permission, he opened up a huge leather portfolio and spread his art all over my table, completely covering the books and art I was trying to sell. He insisted I carefully examine each and every piece that he had brought (and, believe me, he brought a lot). If I was a little too quick in perusing something, he’d shout, “WAIT! You didn’t really look at that one!” and shove it back in front of my face. If I made even the slightest bit of criticism (in an attempt to help him to be a better artist), he would turn on me viciously. Needless to say, my sales dropped to zero with this guy firmly in place.

He showed no signs of leaving until I came up with a plan.

“Do you know my friend Mark Schultz?”

I glanced across the room at Mark and caught his eye. Mark gave me a smile and a friendly wave.

“That’s him right over there,” I said as I grinned and waved back. “Mark’s a great artist who absolutely LOVES to look at artwork like this.”

Corn Boy reassembled his portfolio almost instantly and made a beeline for Mark’s table, where Corn Boy repeated his overwhelming act of intrusion.

Obviously, cruelty is not completely foreign to my nature.

But back to the mess I created: I was so in love with my own bit of self-indulgent navel-gazing (my e-mail to Josh) that I thought it would be a dandy idea to post it right here on my Journal.

Big mistake.

Whereas Josh’s essay was funny, mine was not (although I thought so at the time of posting). Whereas Josh’s essay was instructive, mine came off as hurtful, cruel, smug and mean, four attributes I never intentionally wish to project to anyone of my acquaintance.

My sincerest apologies to anyone out there who read it. There are no valid excuses for what I had written. I did indeed have a cold (as I explained the following day) and was pretty miserable that day (note to self: don’t write ANYTHING when you’re sick) but I should have known better.

The next day (yesterday), I tried to soften what I had written with a misguided attempt at humor.

I had a pretty sleepless night last night, worrying I had hurt someone with what I had written. As soon as I got up this morning I deleted both the posting and its follow-up.

Sure enough, there was an e-mail from a young artist who had recently sent me a link to his site. He thought what I had written was meant for him. It wasn’t, but there was no way of him knowing that until I had promptly e-mailed him back with an explanation and an apology.

I actually don’t mind giving out free advice, especially over the internet when I can do it to fit my own time frame/work agenda or schedule. Plus, looking at artwork on websites is as easy as making a click; very convenient. And the art I see on the net is never pale, barely legible pencil drawings on little dog-eared scraps of paper.

Counter to the attitude projected by my misguided rant, I often volunteer my time to groups of young artists, giving free lectures on negotiating, artists’ rights and writing contracts. I also don’t charge for the instruction I give at my figure drawing workshop.

I’m sorry if any of you took what I wrote that day personally; please know that it wasn’t directed at any of you, my loyal friends, fellow artists, fans and readers.

Please, just chalk it up to my gross insensitivity on one bad day.

Thanks.

5 Responses to “Mea Culpa”

  1. Tom Ortega says:

    YIKES! I read your two journal entries before you pulled them.

    Yes, your first one came out sounding pretty brutal … BUT HONEST. I first thought maybe someone had hacked your site and was impersonating you. Just as I was beginning to think, “What the hell?”, when you directed us to Josh Olson’s magazine article,
    http://www.wga.org/writtenby/writtenby.aspx
    I think if you had told us to read the article first it would of had the effect you were after. Well, you live and you learn. Maybe a smiling face would of helped in that first journal entry. 🙂 HA! AT LEAST YOU DIDN’T WRITE THE JOURNAL ENTRY IN CAPS!

    I was reminded of an old article you wrote on the realities of the origin of the artist we know as William Stout. You scared me straight. I am not as tough as you nor as savy in business. That article was also harsh but insightful.

    I hope this doesn’t mean you’ll soften your views. Please don’t go Alex Toth on us either and shut down. Heck, as long as I walk away learning something from you, I can take a little abuse (by the way, I love the magazine “Written By”, so far).

    So here I am today typing and enjoying this discussion with one of my art heroes … bonding (my perception)? I can accept the fact that I don’t mean sh*t to you on a personal relationship level but I enjoy the fact that maybe I am entertaining you with a well thought out response to an issue you put on the table. I LOVE IT! Was I too harsh? 🙂

  2. Matt says:

    I have to agree. Better to be honest about art as a business.

    I’ve had to throw a bucket of cold water over the odd animator who saw everything they did as perfection.
    This always resulted in slower performance and ironically poorer animation as they ‘finessed’ the *life* out of a shot.

    It’s hard to face up to but it’s also freeing as losing the preciousness allows you to see the flaws in your own work and address them.

    In the end it becomes a valuable skill.

    Oh, and welcome to the internet where you’re allowed at least 1 misguided rant per week.

    Matt

  3. filmfan says:

    Just curious as to whether Mark Schultz talks to you anymore.
    Cornboy, sounds like a charater from Dogpatch USA.

  4. Bill says:

    To Tom: I believe I did direct readers to Josh’s essay first but apparently I wasn’t emphatic enough. I will continue to call ’em as I see ’em. But I’m definitely not going go all Alex Toth on you (or anyone else). No, you were not too harsh. But you are mistaken in thinking I don’t care about you. I may be brutally honest with the folks who follow what I write and draw, but I’m also very protective of those same people. The fact that you (and they) pay close attention to what I create is both humbling and inspiring.

    To Matt: Hopefully, I’ll continue to write my rants and have them read — but just as hopefully I pray they won’t be as misguided and thoughtless as the one I withdrew.

    I find your comments interesting, by the way, about artists that get too precious with their work. It’s always a balancing act between being too loose and too tight. I think (and Roy Krenkel heartily agreed with me) that William Russell Flint over-designed the very life out of his book illustrations. I much prefer his more spontaneous life drawings.

    To FilmFan: Oh, sure, Mark still talks to me. I consider him one of my best friends, a guy who really gets the Big Picture. We usually laugh about Corn Boy whenever we get together.

  5. Matt says:

    The spontaneous initial vision has a lot going for it. Overworking an idea or image can kill it dead.
    One of the concept artists on ‘The Incredibles’ wrote that when he presented his designs to Brad Bird, Brad would almost always pick the first design the artist did.
    He mentioned to Brad that he’d done 20 drawings and Brad had picked the first, to which Brad would reply “Then why did you do the other nineteen?”*

    I still think you still really need to produce those other nineteen images to exorcise all the approaches. I actually had the same experience doing concept art for a TV series down here called ‘Erky Perky’. The inspired visual flash when you hear an idea is a valuable thing.
    I guess the real challenge is to know when the ‘inspired flash’ is a bollocks cliche!

    *I can’t find the passage at the moment so I’m not sure who actually said it.

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