Kiss Kiss Kiss: On Fear of Rejection and Living in the Shadow of Male Artists (Part One)

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When I was 14 years old, I was lying in bed with my boyfriend, my first love, when he said to me: “I think I’m a better artist than you are.”

portrait of the artist

Young love. Photo by Shoshanna Cohen. Description: A white teenage girl with a shaved head wearing a The Cure teeshirt and blue jeans, holding up the middle finger in a messy bedroom. To her left is a white teenage boy with a brown bob haircut wearing a pink strapless prom dress with a fluffy skirt.

In hindsight, I don’t think I ever agreed with him. We both drew comics, but I never found his art to be that interesting or meaningful. This wasn’t about whether or not he actually was a better artist than me. It was the fact that he refused to validate my skill as an artist. His toxic masculinity was shining through in spite of his androgynous bisexual identity. He still needed to be the “better” artist in our relationship.

We broke up shortly after, and I would come home after school everyday and practice drawing for hours, in the hopes that someday my art would be “as good” as his art. He was no longer in my life, but it didn’t matter. What I didn’t realize was that my art would never be as good as his art in his eyes. His self worth depended on viewing his work as superior to mine, regardless of my level of technical prowess.

One of my major goals for 2018 has been working on my fear of rejection and failure as a creative person. The internet has made everything public, which is great in some ways, but it also means I’m always thinking about creating for an audience, instead of for myself. On some level I’m always performing for the nebulous *someone* who could potentially be very cruel behind the anonymity of a computer screen. In fact, online success will inevitably be accompanied by critics, trolls, and harassers. Welcome to the internet age.


A black and white photo of David Bowie reading while reclined. Photographer unknown.

I sometimes hold back due to this fear of rejection. The wonderful Chicago-based healer Blanche Black (who is a brilliant artist herself) told me that I should stop overly identifying with my creative output, that I should view my writing and art works as “widgets” that I produce. The muse moves through me, but the final product is not me. I have been working with David Bowie as a spiritual protector because he was never afraid to “fail up.” He kept creating, and continued to move forward, whether what he produced was mediocre, brilliant, or both. He was not attached to getting it right every single time. Instead, he focused on staying prolific until the very end of his life.

This New Year’s Eve I stayed in and watched Gaspar Noe’s “Love” on Netflix. I almost didn’t watch it, because it ranked a tepid 6/10 on IMDB. I’m really glad I did watch it, because I loved it, despite the negative criticism that it garnered. It helped me realize that I should go ahead and make the art I want to make, and not worry so much what other people think. My job as a creator is not to make other people happy, but to create. Admittedly, there’s more money in making people happy, but lots of people hate 50 Shades of Grey, so maybe not.


Still from Noe’s “Love.” Description: A white man and woman are walking in a wooded setting. The subtitle says: “I want to make movies out of blood, sperm and tears.”

I love a lot of art that other people dismiss as being too cheesy, sentimental, feminine, dramatic, or sexual. By sexual I should say sexual from a queer or female lens. Sexual in any way that doesn’t center white heterosexual masculinity.

It would be easy to dismiss these things I like as lowbrow and somehow less valid, and yet, I get a lot of grief for not being interested in the nerd culture that appeals to straight men: i.e. Marvel/DC comics, Star Wars/Star Trek franchises, video games, the majority of animated shows. I don’t dislike these things, and I think that they have a lot of creative value, but I always feel like I have to fake an overly enthusiastic interest in them or face mild hostility. And of course, when women and queers take a genuine interest in these things we’re still labeled NOT TRUE FANS. And there’s never seems to be much reciprocal validation of the pop culture that I find interesting. 

There is some level where I am terrified that if I write about the things that stir my soul creatively, I will be mocked relentlessly, especially as an artist who is perceived as, and partially identifies as a woman. Some of the things that inspire me include sex in general, queerness, bodies, drugs, spirituality, the occult, love, neurodiversity, disability, communication, emotional labor, conspiracy theories, sex work, aliens, and outer space. People have been creating art about these subjects for hundreds of years, but they still have the power to make people very uncomfortable.

So fuck it, what if I radically accept that the art I create is going to make people uncomfortable? Not in an edgy shock value kind of way, but simply because I like exploring things that are considered embarrassing or weird by the mainstream?

In part two I will talk about some of the artists who have inspired me in this process.