(Brought to you by our friends at Art Business Advice)
When you think about the word confrontation, what emotions do you feel? Nervous? Eager? Scared? Something else entirely?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines confrontation as, “discord or a clash of opinions and ideas.” Other definitions found on Dictionary.com include “a bold challenge” and “a hostile disagreement face-to-face.”
Where does confrontation occur in the art world?
The discussion of art is usually based around opinion—you either like a work of art, you hate it, or you don’t care (which can sometimes be the most confrontational response of all). So really, confrontation can occur almost anywhere that there is art.
To non-artists and new artists, art critiques often appear very confrontational. Obviously there’s a right and wrong way to give a critique, but the point of the activity is to discuss areas to improve upon—some confrontation will probably occur.
When selling a work of art, conflict can arise because of price. While discussing a future commission piece, the confrontation might be over the direction of the work.
Even more stressful is when a buyer wants something added, removed or changed in a current piece—especially if they want you to do it for free.
Finally, you can always face confrontation at any time from anyone who doesn’t like your art or just wants to let you know what you could have done better.
What’s wrong with avoiding confrontation?
Sometimes, nothing. But good art—no, great art—often arises out of passion and out of the differences of opinion or different points of view that people hold. Spirited conversations with other artists, whether at a gallery or during a critique, are always a great source of inspiration. Without them, something’s missing. Non-confrontational art critiques are the worst—I’ve been in groups where everyone is so afraid of hurting each others’ feelings that nothing of value gets said. And of course, avoiding confrontation when working with a buyer often means caving in on price in some way. Even more unfortunate is when that fear of confrontation exists only in the artist’s mind.
How to do you overcome the fear of confrontation?
If you find yourself avoiding places or situations just because of a possible confrontation, here are three simple steps that may help you be more confident and assertive.
1) Diminish your fear by really “knowing your stuff.”
No matter who you are, when faced with the possibility of confrontation, it’s always better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. For artists, the more you know about art in general (various art movements, contemporary artists, etc.) and your own niche in particular, the more confident you’ll be in almost any circumstance.
2) Practice by initiating confrontation in a safe environment.
Practice, practice, practice. You will gain confidence each time you speak up, make eye contact and state your own point of view. Start by choosing a place and time that you feel comfortable in. Pick a friend to practice on, if necessary. Once you’re more confident in asserting yourself, move on to tougher situations and people, even to places where you don’t know anyone and have no idea what will happen after you speak up.
3) Accept that other viewpoints are valid.
Confrontation doesn’t have to end in anger or with one winner and one loser. This misconception may be why so many people fear confrontation in the first place. The point is not to be argumentative, but to simply be willing and able to share your opinion, your art and yourself with others—to confront and be confronted—and then to learn from what comes out of that situation.