"Wow, awesome work! It reminds me of …" and the "You remind me of my ex" syndrome.
I make images because I have stories to tell.
I write too, for the same reason.
And I make games. Tabletop roleplaying games.
Making such games takes a lot of energy. Years of work, in fact.
I use social media to discuss my projects and stay in touch with the people interested in them.
Curse, one of my upcoming games, is a project I have been secretive about because it is still in the making. But I recently decided to talk about it and answer questions to those who want to know.
So the other day I sat at my computer desk to write a small text about the lore, the mechanics, the purpose of the game, the general mood, everything.
Trying my best to write concisely, to pick the interest of future players, revealing the essential aspects of this project that I have been living with day and night. For more than a year now.
I threw my heart out and finally clicked on "Post."
Then the first comment dropped:
"Wow, sounds so cool! Makes me think of …"
… (Silence on my side of the internet)
… (more silence)
… (typical feel of frustration for being irritated as fuck by a comment that was meant to be a compliment but instead creates the exact opposite effect on me)
… (Realization that I see artists, including myself, dealing with this type of comments weekly. And I remember the way some of us awkwardly answer "thank you".)
So this is what I wrote back:
"We work on a painting, a game, a song, a piece of poetry. It doesn't matter what it is. We work on it. We bleed. We give. We throw bits of ourselves. We doubt. We erase. We try again.
And we do that for hours.
For days, and nights.
We sleep on it.
We wake with it.
Sometimes for years.
And when we finally share it with the world, the first feedback we receive is:
"Wow cool, reminds me of John Billy Bob Doe!"
… usually coming from someone who has only good intentions and tries to connect the artwork in question with something they already know and comprehend.
But the "nice" comment carries a weight.
A real heavy weight: it denies the value and worth of the artwork.
Instead of appreciating the qualities the artwork presents, it is being considered only as someone else's shadow.
It is some kind of "cool, but it has already been done" situation.
Ultimately, it questions the relevance and validity of the artwork's existence. And therefore trashes the effort, the sincerity, the intentions of the artist.
So yes, a simple "It reminds me of …" is a stab.
A kind of "You are hot, you remind me of my ex!" type of comment.
Some could object that "it was a compliment, to compare you to this famous artist!", and to this, we could answer that “there were so many other options to show appreciation! So why diminish the artwork by looking at it only through the spectrum of a comparison?”
Another essential point is that artists are aware of their influences.
When you are a fantasy illustrator, and someone comes and asks you "do you know the work of Frank Frazetta?" … any other answer than a confused stare, followed by a facepalm, is just pure effort from the artist, mixed with a lot of self-control.
Artists know their influences.
And the artists who influence them have been influenced by others as well.
So we do, indeed, stand on the shoulder of giants.
But our influences do not invalidate our work.
On the contrary, they carry us, and we create something new with them in mind.
Something unique, coming from us and from all the things that influenced us.
At least we sincerely try.
And maybe someday we become strong enough to carry artists on our shoulders as well.
It is never a compliment to reduce artists to the things and people who influenced their work.
Oh … and on a final note, I would like to add that Brom and Benjamin Carré have had a son together that they don't know about.
I was heavily influenced by the work of my two dads. You can still see it in my work, among the fragments of BladeRunner, the King and the Mocking Bird, and obscure tragic music.
These influences will not disappear.
I wouldn't want them to.
They are part of me.
Yet, from time to time, someone walks in the “comments” section and drops a "I love your work. When I see it I know it's yours!"
And this always hits home.